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Part LXVIII: The Retaking of Constantinople (1538-1541)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LXVIII: The Retaking of Constantinople (1538-1541)

    In the decades after its liberation from the Ottoman Turks, the New Empire of Nikaia had gradually been integrated into the Trapezuntine Empire at large, not completely but to such a degree that it was a part of it in all but name. However, this state of affairs left Magnesia and the lands around it as a de facto backwater provincial capital, more than a thousand kilometers away from the Imperial capital by sea. This had produced a period of statutory neglect, as the Nikaians essentially ran their own state under Trapezuntine auspices, allowing them to continue their sporadic campaigns against the Turks to their west and south with little regard to Trapezous’ wishes. This period of neglect would come to a screeching halt, however, as a new foe appeared to the west: Albania.

    Nikaia was unique amongst the states in union under the Megalokomnenoi--the others being Trapezous, Kartvelia and the Principality of Gothia (sort of)--in that it had been forged in the fires of its own war of independence within living memory, a fact that gave it a very different culture and social structure than the rest of Greater Pontos. The armies of bandits, highwaymen, mercenaries and volunteers that had launched the revolt in Kolpazar and then held the line against the Turks until Trapezuntine reinforcements had arrived were somewhat intact, either having demobilized or turned to raiding across the Ottoman border. One of the main legacies of the war had been the Nikaian’s disinclination towards powerful, centralized authority and especially rule by outsiders, even if the Ponts were better regarded than the hated Ottomans. This left the string of regents that were appointed by Trapezous in a difficult place, needing to balance the demands of the central capital and what the people they governed would tolerate.

    Like Trapezous proper, Nikaia was nominally structured along the bandon system, with its division of land between groups of semi-professional soldier-farmers--called the akritobandons due to cultural differences--but unlike Pontos Nikaia also had a series of second-level divisions, the eparkhies (εпαρχεία). Nominally, each eparkhy governed a population of ten thousand, but given the difficulty of establishing good records and the constant movement of the klephtic raiders and the shepherds who dwelled in the highlands made these numbers a suggestion at best. The head of the Nikaian government was David, but given that David spent most of his time on the far side of Sinope, the practical ruler of Nikaia was the Grand Regent, who ruled in the name of the aftokrator but effectively was an aftokrator. The Grand Regent was chosen by and ruled at the discretion of the aftokrator, though he has a great deal of autonomy in his decisions due to the roughly six weeks it takes for messages to go from Magnesia to Trapezous and back.

    In the late 1530s, the Grand Regent was Konstantinos Paisophkis, a local who had fought in the War of Independence and who possessed an unusual loyalty to David and Trapezous and an unusual hatred of the Ottoman Turks. In his efforts to weaken the Ottomans and to strengthen Trapezous, and at the behest of a loose series of directives from Trapezous, he had undertaken an ambitious campaign that had, for the most part anyway, succeeded. The small farmers and fishers prospered, the larger semi-noble estates were cut down to a degree, but to such a great degree that they had cause to take up arms, and the amount of trade flowing through Nikaian tax offices rose greatly. Despite a series of complaints from the Trapezuntine press corps, however, he made absolutely no effort to curb the existing raids across the Ottoman border, even going so far as to unofficially support them. The reason was simple: they worked.

    Officially, the Ottoman and Trapezuntine Empires had been at peace since the end of the Nikaian War of Independence, and all hostilities between them had ceased. Unofficially, the two utterly hated each other, and with the Ottomans in the weaker position there was a considerable incentive to continue fighting an unofficial war to kick them while they were down. Because of the hilly nature of Bithynia and the lands around it, Imperial frontiers could be expanded one valley at a time in a gradual but constant process that made irregular warfare very appealing to an attacking force. The klephts were masters at that kind of warfare, and they continued to campaign against the Turks with great ferocity even after peace was declared. By 1530, the Askanian Valley had been cleared of Muslims, and the Saricakaya Valley to the south was in the process of the same. While officially partaking in these wars was diplomatically impossible, that certainly didn’t stop the Nikaians from moving in behind the klephts and akritoi to integrate the new conquests. Ottoman Orhangazi was rebuilt as the Nikaian Akritokastron, and dozens of other small fortresses popped in the surrounding regions. In 1536, a particularly daring group of irregulars attacked the isolated port of Gemlik, capturing it and restoring it to Roman rule under the name of Kius. While the klephts and their allies had numerous successes in the lands south and west of Bithynia, little action occurred to the north, where the Ottomans still held the heavily-fortified Sangarian Lines and were able to repulse most raids.

    That was, until 1539. With troops being pulled of the Sangarian Lines on an unprecedented scale to try and fend off the Albanian siege of Constantinople, a group of klephts led by Alexios Tagaris smashed their way across a fortified bridge and rode like hell into the interior, battering aside the forces that scrambled to try and intercept them. Within a few short days they had reached Nikomedia, storming into the barely-fortified suburbs and managing to capture several of the outlying fortresses. Tagaris came within a hair’s breadth of taking the city itself, but his lightly-armed men were repulsed from the main gate after several hours of desperate fighting. Still, the mere fact that a city of such importance had nearly been captured by what were essentially bandits sent shockwaves throughout Nikaia, and Paisophkis wrote to David asking him to come west with a large force as he himself mustered men for an offensive.

    David had been occupied with events in Rum and in a failure of the Trapezuntine intelligence system had been unaware of the Ottoman’s death spiral as anything more than a peripheral matter, but as soon as he was informed of Nikomedia--and hence Constantinople--’s weakness, he quit Rum and rode north with all speed, bringing along many of the eleutheroi and neostrategoi. While it was too late to sail in 1539, the winter was spent assembling a fleet of transports, warships and as many cannons as David could get, all in accompaniment of 6,000 neostrategoi and 10,000 (20) bandonoi. It was a long winter, but as soon as the sea was passable in April 1540, the armada weighed anchor and went west.

    They made landfall a month later at Kontolimni, whose port had been filled in slightly by sediment but which was still usable. David was eager to have a go at Constantinople directly, but any such attack was complicated by tw factors: Firstly, the lack of a Trapezuntine force in the Marmora meant that they would have to fight their way past the twin fortresses of Rumelihisar and Anadoluhisar, which guarded the Bosphorus; Secondly, there was still an Ottoman rump state that was effectively being run out of Bursa, and if left ignored they could potentially attack Nikaia, or worse somehow relief the city. As such, he and Paisophkis drew up the following plan: They would strike Nikomedia first, with the hope of capturing the Ottoman galley fleet, and depending on how that went a joint force of 8,000 Nikaians and 3,000 Trapezuntines would sail or march south to attack Bursa and occupy as much of the Mysian plain as possible. The rest of the force, meanwhile, would focus on taking the Straits and rolling down to Constantinople.

    Nikomedia fell rather quickly after its main gate was physically blown open by cannonade in mid-June, and Paisophkis rushed south on land to take the fight to the south. David then turned his attention to the Straits fortresses. They had been built by Mehmed II near the height of Ottoman power, and thus were very well-fortified, sported mostly intact garrisons populated by fanatical exiles who would rather die than be subject to Roman rule, and their great arsenals held overlapping fields of fire on the Bosphorus. In short, trying to force them would be suicide, so a siege would have to do. The Anatolian shore was cordoned off before Nikomedia was even taken, though it would take until early July for the cannons to be hauled up against Anadoluhisar and open fire. Despite its formidable construction, the fortress’ stone shattered like most rock, and after a month of continuous bombardment its landward walls had been reduced to rubble. Still, the defenders fought tooth and nail from the ruins, and any attempt to outflank them was driven back by fire from Rumelihisar. With progress going nowhere, David took extraordinary measures, and had the nearby Goksu Stream dammed as a weapon of last resort. After two months more of chaotic fighting, the fortress refused to surrender, and the half-filled dam was blown, hurling a wall of water at the defenders and then swarming the defenses while they were briefly knocked back. The Siege of Anadoluhisar had taken nearly four months and killed 3,000 men, and the coming siege of Rumelihisar seemed to be even worse. Even with one of the forts gone, the Fenaryan fortress further up the channel made a naval attack or even transport to the fort nearly impossible.

    Over the winter, David kept up the bombardment across the channel and conconcoted an elaborate plan that involved hiring local pirates to smuggle his men into a lagoon on the European side of the strait to attack the small fortified port of Castellonegro, securing a landing point for forces to be transferred to Europe to lay a similar siege, but ultimately it would be pointless. In January 1541, one of the fort’s defenders had his legs blown off by a cannonball, and as the pain overwhelmed him he begged for opium to ease his passing. One of his friends obliged, forgetting they were right above the magazine, and about three minutes later the entire fort exploded in a massive fireball. As soon as the seas cleared in April, Fenaryan was taken in a naval assault and the straits finally opened.

    The Trapezuntine fleet that sailed down the Bosphorus would’ve been one hell of a sight. A hundred and sixty-two galleys and transports, practically covered in double-headed eagles and chi-rhos and bristling with cannonade would have beaten their way along the narrow channel, more ships than the entire Ottoman fleet could have gathered. They were unopposed, the Muslim ships having either bunched up in the Golden Horn for a last stand or having wisely run for Anatolia with news of the destruction of Rumelihisar. To the young sultan Osman II--the last vizier, Ali Sidnan Paşa, had been killed in battle, and his powers had reverted to the crown--watching from the shore, it was obvious the game was up.

    Shkoze was furious at David’s arrival. He had just managed to get enough contacts inside the city to open one of its gates, and now the Trapezuntines were showing up to steal his victory! It sounds petty, but he had spent the last twenty years in unending war with the Turks, and for David, who had spent all of it sitting on the sidelines, to sweep in and take Constantinople, his ambition for decades, at the last second was absolutely infuriating. When David landed an embassy to try and negotiate with the Albanians over the city, they were turned away out of hand. Shkoze ordered a final assault on the walls, and to their credit the Albanians and their allies nearly broke through the demoralized Ottoman lines. Still, the threat of indiscrimant slaughter was enough for the Muslims to hold one final time, and after hours of fighting the crusaders were forced back.

    David watched all of this from the sea, glad that his enemies were bleeding each other. The fewer men he lost throughout all this, the better, and he wanted Constantinople as intact as he could get it. On the night of 26 May, he sent two embassies to shore, one to Osman and one to Shkoze’s camp in disguise. The latter went amongst Shkoze’s captains, who were getting increasingly fed up with bloody failures in the name of glory, and promised them support for their chosen settlement in post-war Albania if they turned against their leader, and a number of them quietly accepted. The embassy to the New Palace, on the other hand, was far less conciliatory. If Osman surrendered the city intact--a great deal of emphasis was placed on this part--then the people of the city would be allowed to take ship for Gallipoli or Proliava unharmed. If he tried to fight, then David would descend on Constantinople like the wrath of God and put every non-Greek within the city to the sword. Reluctantly, Osman agreed to surrender the city within three days. Further negotiations with Shkoze, meanwhile, proved pointless. Hoping to curtail any future problems, David even offered to allow an Albanian honor guard to accompany his triumphant entry into Constantinople, which was outright refused. It seemed entirely possible that Shkoze intended to continue the siege, this time against the Trapezuntines rather than the Turks, but on 28 May he had a sudden change of heart and agreed to David’s proposal, so long as his delegation was increased to two hundred rather than a few dozen. Although suspicious, David agreed.

    The period of Ottoman control in Constantinople came to an end at noon on 29 May 1541, exactly eighty-eight years after it had begun. 5,000 Trapezuntines and several hundred Albanians paraded into the city threw the open Golden Gate, finding the streets thronged with cheering Orthodox and Armenians and the city around it more or less intact with all of its finery. It was a facade, in truth, as the bulk of the city’s population had been or was currently being crowded aboard overloaded galleys bound for Gallipoli in the Golden Horn, but no-one cared. The parade proceeded down the Mese, which was even more of a ghost town than the rest of the city, then into the palace district. To David, the city seemed like a legend come to life--over there was the Column of Theodosios, and there the Hippodrome, and the Palace of Justinian, as regal as the New Palace even in its ruined state. Rising over it all was the Hagia Sophia, which he had dreamed of for so long. Everything even vaguely Islamic within was hastily torn down, dragged outside and burned, while army chaplains hastily blessed the church and a choir was quickly assembled from servants and locals. The Patriarch had fled to Mount Athos when the siege began, and the Imperial crown would have to be bought back from the Venetians, but though it was no regnal mass the mass that was celebrated that day was one of the most important in the church’s history.

    After the mass ended, David made a perfunctory inspection of the New Palace, then went north-west to his intended residence, Blakharnae. Every Komnenos who had reigned in Constantinople had resided there, and he would be no exception, for now at least. The palace was hastily swept before an impromptu feast was held, drawing thousands from across the city--they had been under siege for years now, after all--with promises of good wine and food, even if some had gone bad from the long voyage. David was over the moon, having finally realized the ambition of generations of his forbears, and though he didn’t really partake in the celebrations he took an audience from anyone who appealed to him, including a number of Turks asking for amnesty or permission to stay, and crusaders who’d slipped out of their camps. All but a few were granted their wish, whatever they may be. Throughout it all, the voice of Mgeli spoke caution--there was no way the Turks would have gone this quietly, there had to be a trap, this had been too easy--but for once David was happy to ignore him. He retired late that night, sure that his reign was just about to truly begin and that an age of prosperity would soon sweep Rome back to the heights of her glory.

    Shortly after midnight, the quiet of the night was torn asunder. Massive explosions roared across the city, and entire neighborhoods burst into flames as hordes of armed Turks and Greek Muslims poured out of the alleys and cellars of the city like fire ants. The New Palace was the epicenter of the attack, as Osman had expected David to be sleeping there, but the soldiers soon found their mark and swarmed towards Blakharnae. The bulk of Trapezuntine army was there, and although the bandonoi were caught off guard and inebriated and either killed or put to flight, the eleutheroi kept their heads and formed up around the palace, warding off the attackers with practiced skill. The blasts drew attention, and a force of crusaders fought their way through a side gate and came to the palace’s aid. By the time dawn had broken, the attack had been repulsed, but Osman’s perfidy scarred the city forevermore.

    David was a light sleeper and had been woken when the attack came, but found himself transfixed by his window, where glowing belts of fire burned across the city. He sat in a dark wicker chair, stock still, neither eating nor drinking with a perfectly blank expression, as Constantinople burned to ashes. He saw the dome of the Hagia Sophia fall, and the Tower of Galata be brought down by naval artillery, and the entire city be razed by fire. David sat and watched in silence as his hopes and dreams, his destiny, burned….

  • Eparkhos

    Alright, before I get to the comment response, there's something I'd like to say.

    The 1500s, and the 1600s and the 1700s and all of human history up to and including this year have been horrible places for most people. When I write descriptions of ethnic cleansing and what are unequivocally warcrimes, I am trying to show what would have happened at this time in allohistory if the events which have occurred in this timeline so far had actually happened. I AM NOT ENDORSING THE HORRIBLE THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THIS STORY. I include them for realism, and sometimes drama because none of this is really happening, but in no way, shape or form am I advocating for them. It's like Sons of Alexander: I show children being tortured, but I'm not advocating it.

    To be perfectly blunt, the next part is going to have David hurtling over the Moral Event Horizon at Mach 10, and I'm trying to make this as unambiguous as possible. I think most of my readers are smart enough to see that feeding children to sharks is wrong, but just to be sure and keep any reports from being filed I would just like to repeat that I do not endorse everything I write. I've toned down a great deal of the violence that would've happened, mostly because showing it all would get me put on several watchlists, but the story could be quite disturbing. Warning in Advance.
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    Part LXIX: Restoration (1541-1542)
  • Eparkhos

    Now, without further ado.... (also pls don't be too harsh)

    Part LXIX: Restoration (1541-1542)


    Sing, o muse, of the rage of the mad king’s son, David, the destroying rage that brought forth countless woes and which doomed to death so many valiant heroes and left them as spoils for the beasts of the earth.

    Sing, o muse, of the fires which destroyed the Queen of Cities, and which spread across the face of the earth as an all-consuming inferno which naught could escape.

    And sing, o muse, of the phoenix which the fires and the rage awoke….


    Osman’s plan had been a simple one, born of desperation. Surrounded and outnumbered like he was, there was little chance he could inflict more than a pyrrhic victory upon the Trapezuntines and the crusaders before Constantinople was taken. As such, he decided that his best option was to lure the enemy into the great maze of the capital’s streets, attempt a decapitation strike on David and Shkoze to cripple the enemy and sow chaos in his ranks, then attack out of the rat warrens and destroy them piecemeal. This might have worked, but he had made the fatal mistake of believing that he could seize both the land walls and sea walls and hold them against enemy assault while simultaneously surrounding and massacring the Trapezuntines within the city. This was foolish, to say the least, if not borderline suicidal.

    While the initial attack on Vlakharnae nearly succeeded in storming the palace, it was driven back with heavy losses, and this failure gave the Trapezuntines time to rally. Distress rockets[1] were shot off into the night sky, and even as the Ottomans began to converge for a second attack so did relief forces. As soon as it was light enough to see, a dozen of the Trapezuntine transports fought their way up the horn, blowing down anything that tried to stop them--including the Tower of Galata--until they reached the moorings closest to the palace. By now, David had recovered from his stupor, and rallied his men to push outwards and secure a foothold in the city. The fires raged without control, burning both friend and foe alike, but the south-western wind carried the bulk of the fire away from Vlakharnae, radiating outwards and driving back the attackers. Taking good use of this, and Shkoze forcing off one of the outer gates to the west, David fanned his force out along the Horn. The crusaders did the same along the land walls, essentially trapping the surviving Ottoman forces in a firestorm of their own making. Trapezuntine ships cordoned off the sea walls, killing anyone who tried to escape, but other than a small force landed to protect the remnants of the Hagia Sophia and the New Palace, the fires were allowed to burn themselves out, killing upwards of several thousand in the process.

    While the Ottomans were dealt with, this left David and Shkoze staring each other down over the ruins of what had once been the greatest city in the world. Shkoze was furious, not only that David had cost him his prize but that he had (in his eyes, at least) caused the city to be burnt-out, while David was increasingly sure that Shkoze had been aware of Osman’s attempt to kill him, which had been why he’d remained outside the city. Their forces were roughly equal, and doubtless they pondered whether a decapitation strike could leave the other’s army too unorganized to fight. Before they could turn on each other, however, two things intervened.

    Firstly, word came of a massive revolt against Shkoze’s rule in the Axios Valley, as a minor tax revolt had spun out of control due to being left alone too long, and with this grave threat to Albanian integrity blossoming a Moreote army had crossed the frontier and was marching up the river; of course, the rebels were greeting them as liberators. Constantinople, or rather the ruins of Constantinople, was no longer Shkoze’s most pressing concern, and he would have to abandon any plans of a siege before his empire collapsed under its own weight. Shkoze consoled himself with the fact that David’s empire was effectively eastern-looking, and that eventually there would be a crisis in the east large enough for him to take Constantinople without too much of a fight. Eventually. For now, though, he could cope with having to withdraw.

    Secondly, Osman II was pulled out of a sewer drain in a fish market on the Marmora. He was nearly beaten to death on the spot, but was instead dragged (slowly, and along sharp rocks) before David. David was surprisingly upbeat, grinning like a schoolboy as he walked arm-in-arm with Osman down to the Golden Horn in dead silence. When they reached the shore, he spoke.

    “I’ve seen a lot of men do a lot of stupid things, boy. But never in my thirty-three years have I seen a ruler willingly give his enemy thousands of hostages, especially not if he planned to betray me. For God’s sake, man, what were you thinking?”

    Then he described, in painstaking detail, how the transports had been burned, how the refugees had fallen from them like hazelnuts in the autumn, how rafts of corpses had covered the water, charred black from head to toe before they were pulled under and drowned, and how any who’d managed to swim to one of the Trapezuntine ships was pulled up and tortured before being thrown back in, and how the ships had waited for a full day, then shot anything that still moved at point-blank range with grapeshot before coming back. And of how those aboard the galleys--by the way, he knew where all of the royal family had been, and Osman should thank him for not singling them out for worse--had been hauled up on the deck and had their feet mashed off with poles or axes or maces and were then thrown overboard. The blood had drawn sharks from miles around, and it had taken two days for them to get everyone, and again they’d peppered the water with grapeshot to make sure no-one survived. He then bid Osman a cheery farewell, leaving behind a group of guards to flay him alive once he stopped weeping.
    Although the burnt-out ruins of Constantinople were far from an auspicious sight, David decided that he would not allow Osman’s perfidious attack to end his plans for the city. The Ecumenical Patriarch, Ieremias II, was hastily called back from Mount Athos, and despite the confusing jurisdictional overlap of the Megalokomnenoi domains--at this point, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Pontic Patriarchy and the Kartvelian Patriarchy all existed within the empire--agreed to officially recrown David for the fifth time in his life. As the Hagia Sophia had been all-but destroyed and would take years to rebuild, if it was rebuilt at all, the Anjeloviç[2] Mosque’s minarets were unceremoniously blown, the late vizier and his family’s corpses dug up and thrown into the sea and the mosque hastily converted into the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel. In the church, after Pentecost (June 21) Mass, David was crowned with the band Alexios I Megalokomnenos had taken into exile centuries before as David I, Emperor of the Romans. Emerging from Saint Michael the Archangel, David was cheered by his men in the (recently expanded) Anjeloviç, now Apokatastasi, Square. He then gave a short but powerful speech listing the sufferings the Roman people had felt in the millenia since the Empire’s decline began, of how the perfidious Latins and Turks had struck them with uncountable blows and how the true faith and true language had been perverted or trod into the dirt. No more, he said, would these outrages go unchallenged. Rome would return, in all her glory, and the proper order restored. For this he was cheered even further. After three hundred and thirty-seven years in exile, the Komnenoi had returned as the truly legitimate rulers of Constantinople, and with them Rome had begun her long return to power and glory….

    While Osman and the refugees from Constantinople got the worst of it after the sultan’s failed betrayal, the sheer fury which the Trapezuntines and Nikaians felt at the destruction of Constantinople--and especially the destruction of the Hagia Sophia, the namesake of thousands of churches across the eastern world--would be unleashed across the remnant of the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia. Massacres were commonplace, as those that would have normally been condemned to a life of slavery were subject to outright killing instead, and in particular ulema and Turkish nobles were subject to especially brutal treatment.

    After a long and arduous siege, Bursa fell a week before Constantinople did. Paisophkis was initially inclined to show mercy despite the strong resistance of the locals, viewing it as a final defence by a people known for their tenacity (or maybe he’d just gone soft in his old age, the Nikaians would never really decide) that didn’t merit an extreme response. There would be the usual three days of pillaging and all, but Bursa would be allowed to continue existing as a city of Turks subject to Trapezous. Once word of the burning of the Eternal City reached the Pontic army, though, things changed very quickly. Paisophkis ordered the hands of every man in the city to be cut off, and everything of value taken. His men, however, thought this too kind, and a Nikaian moirarkh hereafter known as Konstantinos ‘Kephalitagaris’ Dionos-- ‘he who carries as many heads as there are grains in 3.5 pounds of wheat’--declared that every Bursan man older than ten was to be put to the sword, and all the children and women older than thirty be sold into slavery. In the fury that the Ponts worked themselves into, they decided that Kephalitagaris’ orders were more legitimate and killed somewhere around 40,000 people in the next week.

    Throughout the rest of 1541, Roman armies--swelled in number by fanatics from back in Pontos and from across the straits in Morea or Bulgaria--would criss-cross the plains and hills of Mysia, brutally crushing any resistance. While the Rape of Bursa had no real purpose behind it other than sheer, white-hot rage, it was interpreted by most of the remaining Ottomans as either a) an attempt to destroy the Muslims of the region, or b) punishment for not immediately surrendering. This divided the locals into one of two camps, either those who would fight to the death against the Romans or those who rolled over and surrendered right away. While Paisophkis held decreasingly little control over his men, he and David--who would join the campaign in July--would treat those who surrendered quickly rather clemently, allowing them to keep their homes, freedom and lives, and on occasion even their weapons to ward off the bandits and irregulars who stalked the armies’ wake. Of those who resisted, a number were either veterans or just good at fighting, and were able to organize into flying columns of insurgents who posed a real threat to the flanks of the Roman forces; the rest comprised barely-organized militias which, in scientific terms, had their heads ripped off and shoved up their ass sideways. Of course, the Romans had a creative definition of resistance, with anyone who so much as looked at them funny likely to be horrifically brutalized. The constant Roman advance created a wave of refugees ahead of them as Turks gathered as much as they could and fled south and west towards Aydin, but these were mostly ignored in favor of capturing strategic hardpoints with as much speed as possible, before real resistance could form.

    Other than a narrow strip along the Hellespont which the Venetians had managed to conquer the year before, the Romans were able to secure all of Mysia and the Troas by the time the winter of 1541-1542 began. Hypothetically, they could’ve advanced all the way to Aydin in that time, but David was playing it safe and trying to crush all resistance they met before it could metastasize into something truly dangerous. It was also an early winter, so much so that the first snows began to fall just as the vanguard reached Balikhasir (Balikesir) in mid-November. David committed to a siege despite the adverse conditions, and after several weeks of bombardment the city was taken and given the Bursa treatment on 21 January 1542[2], also being renamed to its old Greek name, Palaiokastron.

    This delay would be fortuitous for the ever-increasing population of refugee Muslims and Turks that was gathering in what had once been the Thrakesion. Their exact number is unknown, but was likely upwards of a hundred thousand, driven by fear and desperation to flee their homes and run for their lives. Understandably, they were quite opposed to being subject to Roman rule, and though their presence threatened to cause a famine by overburdening the sole surviving elayet[3] of the effectively defunct Ottoman Empire.

    But fortune would smile upon these hapless unfortunates, for in the spring of 1542 a great field of sails was spotted approaching Izmir. They were feared to be Moreote raiders, or perhaps a Greek or Roman invasion force come to finish the job, but for once these fears were baseless. The first ship docked in Izmir harbor, and the admiral of the fleet came ashore and introduced himself to the restive crowd, including Elayetbeg Hasan Paşa, as Ibrahim Ahl Suleyman, servant of Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (al-Hakim), restorer of the Khandarhid Caliphate, here to officially proclaim the annexation of the Ottoman remnant as the caliphal province of Aydin. Most importantly, he brought 30,000 Egyptian soldiers with him, and the Ottomans had the option of either coming willingly and being granted certain privileges, or being conquered and utterly annihilated. Hasan Paşa quickly agreed to surrender.

    The Khandarhid Caliphate had been established a scant few years before in 1534 by al-Hakim, formerly Suleyman VI of the Fourth Çandarid Beylik, after he had successfully unified the warring statelets of Egypt. Given that the Abbasids had gone extinct during the war and that the Sharif of Mecca was his vassal, Suleyman saw no reason not to proclaim himself caliph. Normally, this would’ve been ignored--proclamations of a new caliphate were a dime a dozen in those days--but with the power and population of Egypt supporting him, al-Hakim forced the rest of the world to take him seriously. After a brief campaign against the Sultanate of Damascus, he confirmed his hold on Jerusalem, deposed Sharif in favor of his own man by force of arms, and thus came into possession of the three holy cities. A fanatic on the level of David, al-Hakim viewed the collapse of the Ottomans as a chance to shore up the position of Islam in the region and establish himself as the protector of Anatolia and the Turks therein. Thus the large invasion force was dispatched under his cousin, with orders to hold onto the western coast of Anatolia or die trying.

    The arrival of the Egyptians changed things dramatically. Not only was there a large army standing between David and finishing off the Ottomans, there was now the potential for the many, many people he’d displaced to organize themselves into another army to get back at him, essentially a ticking time bomb on his western frontier. However, Ahl Suleyman didn’t seem to be especially hostile towards him in particular, even sending multiple emissaries to him offering to split the Ottoman remnant. As David suspected, Ahl Suleyman believed that his cousin wouldn’t last long in the world of Egyptian court politics--far too much of the Mamluk system had survived for that to be the case--and was trying to set himself up with an independent powerbase in case things hit the fan back home. He didn’t want to lose any men for the same reason, and thought a peace with honor better than a war over the remnants of the Ottoman hellscape. David was inclined to attack--surely, God would be on their side--but Mgeli warned him of picking a fight with an empire more powerful than his and which he couldn’t really defeat, what with the Mediterranean making a direct attack all but impossible. Besides, they were overextended already, it would be best to step back for a bit and consolidate the gains he’d already made.

    Negotiations began in May 1542, but were given urgency two months later by word of the end of the Qutlughid Civil War and rumors that Siyavash planned to march on Trapezous. Refusing to let his empire be swept out from under him and his moment of triumph stolen again, David and Ahl Suleyman made a hasty peace. Everything north of Balikhasir was to become Roman, while everything south and west of it--including Edremit, which was under siege at the time--were to be integrated into the Khandarhid domain. It was a deal that left neither side very happy, but it was better for both than an all-out war would be, so it stood for the time being….

    [1] The Trapezuntines didn’t make much use of rockets for military purposes--not yet, anyway--but they were used by the navy as a means of signalling at a distance. Red rockets, such as those shot up from Vlakharnae, meant that the ship (or palace complex) in question was under attack and in danger of being captured, and thus needed help immediately.
    [2] I’m going to be honest, this one isn’t entirely justified, but given that Balikesir was one of the centers of the Greek Genocide OTL….
    [3] I may or may not have gotten elayets and villayets confused in previous updates. Heh.
    Map: Anatolia and the Surrounding Regions in 1541
  • Eparkhos

    Anatolia in 1541.png

    @Sphenodon: The Khandarhids didn't actually conquer much of Syria or Anatolia, they just have a rather strong navy.

    Also, I completely forgot about the Knights of Rhodes, so just imagine that they fought alongside Shkoze.
    Part LXX2: The Lion in Summer (1541-1542)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LXX2: The Lion in Summer (1541-1542)

    The Qutlughid Empire had morphed out of the Qoyunlu Horde, but the two states shared a common foundation: an overwhelming monopoly on force. Arslan’s empire had been held together at first by his ability to utterly destroy anyone who tried to resist him, but as his reign lengthened he had shifted into institution building in hopes of making his conquests last. Now that the institutions which he had strove to build had been ripped apart by his unworthy successors, Persia was held together by fear and inertia once more. To keep his realm together, Siyavash would have to rebuild his father’s institutions, and in order to that he needed to strengthen his legitimacy. The best way to do this would be by crushing a rebellious vassal that had made use of the internal crisis to try and break away. Eyes of the east turned to west….

    The Qutlughid Civil War raged from 1534 to 1541, seven long years that had torn Arslan’s empire asunder. The early phases of the war ought not to be repeated, but the latter parts were almost remarkably simple. Despite coming under attack from two flanks at once, Siyavash had managed to beat back Mohammed Khosrau and Alp Temur for long enough to build up his army into a semblance of Arslan’s old force, recruiting veterans and mercenaries alike to fill out the ranks of his armies. The Zagros formed a natural fortress girding the Iranian Plateau, and after years of banging his head against the stones of the narrow paths his cause had begun to flag. Correctly identifying him as the weaker enemy, Siyavash turned his atten eastward, where Alp Temur had also begun to flag because of infighting amongst the tribal chieftains that formed his base of support and attrition from constant attacks over the Hindu Kush by Rana Sanga. In 1537, he conquered the oasis cities of the Karakum Desert and Cisoxiana, cutting off the northern frontier of rebel lands, then swept south in two more campaigns, defeating Alp Temur in three battles at Herat, Gizab and finally Kandahar before finally trapping him in Kabul in 1539. The city turned against him and cast him out, and Siyavash hacked his head off and mounted it on the Gate of Herat. However, his puppet, Arslan the Younger--only fifteen--managed to crawl out of the city in a sewer drain and escaped into exile across the mountains. Siyavash decided this was an acceptable loss, and turned his attention westward. By now Mohammed Khosrau’s cause was disintegrating around him as repeated failure, tribal infighting and a blockade by the Antolekoi crippled both his army and the lands loyal to him. In 1540, Siyavash proclaimed that all Arabs who abandoned his brother would be spared, and Mohammed Khosrau’s cause finally collapsed. Siyavash and his host crossed the mountains that summer after a brief series of skirmishes against the mountain tribes, and at Kirkuk the remnants of the would-be caliph’s forces were destroyed. Without hope of support--the Rumites hated him, the Syrians hated him, the Khandarhids wouldn’t look kindly on his caliphal ambitions and the Antolekoi would torture him for longer than his brother--Mohammed Khosrau attempted to flee into the desert. However, as he crossed the Tigris near Tikrit, his horse stumbled and he was drowned. The civil war ended not with a bang but with a whimper, and Siyavash was secure upon his throne.

    Siyavash had never been entirely comfortable with his father’s system of tributaries. They could be useful in some places, sure, like how the Lodis’ brief period as a client state had helped to hold off the Sisodis for a few years before their final collapse, or how the Antolekoi helped to funnel trade from India into Qutlughid coffers, but in his mind the proper thing to do was to outright crush a defeated enemy and incorporate them into the empire, rather than inflicting a painful but not fatal blow that would turn them against him forevermore and then give them time to recover before coming back for a second round. He had kept these thoughts to himself for the most part, but now that he was the unquestioned shahanshah he was in the position to enact them. It should also be noted that he was quite suspicious of Trapezous in particular, seeing as they had paid only lip service for so long, had never actually been defeated, and moreover had a friendly population on the other side of the empire but of great economic importance, the Antolekoi. Moreover, David’s actions during the civil war--dethroning Arslan’s chosen vassal Mamia in Kartvelia, establishing Kartvelia in a personal union without telling him or even seeking his permission, and then effectively subvassalizing Rum--looked like he was attempting to form his own power block in defiance of Tabriz, which was exactly what he was doing.

    After the war had ended, Siyavash also had another problem. While Mohammed Khosrau and Alp Temur had both been killed, a number of their former supporters were still drifting around the Qutlughid Empire, something which the newly-legitimized shanashah could hardly permit. Selling them all into slavery was impractical and could very well cause the civil war to flare up again, killing them all would be impossible and trying to exile them all would just be giving veteran supporters to his realm’s many enemies, not least of them Arslan the Younger in Bukhara. However, if he ‘provided’ them with an opportunity to get back in his good graces by, say, occupying the front ranks of an army sent to crush a restive vassal, then that would solve his problems. They would have either proved themselves loyal or been killed, either of which was good for him. He began emptying out the prison camps established during the war in 1541, forming them up in several large units in Bitlis. The shahanshah, meanwhile, began planning.

    The resources of the Qutlughid Empire were vast, and though Siyavash wouldn’t commit everything to what he hoped to be fairly minor campaign, all things considered, he could still raise a force of some 60,000 men against the Romans. Their quality varied quite severely, of course, between cannon fodder recruited from his defeated brothers’ armies to the 5,000-strong elite Tavrizi Guards[1] he had formed during the civil war. What little scouting he did informed him of the qizilibash and their settlements along the border, but he dismissed these as either overestimation or simply his advisors being unnecessarily cautious over some scattered Turkmen. Arslan had crushed such men time and time again, and as far as he was concerned he could do the same. The bandonoi, meanwhile, were a legitimate threat to any invasion force, especially given the dispersed nature of their settlement on both sides of the Pontic Mountains, which were themselves a major strategic problem given their tendency to freeze over and their long, narrow canyons. However, the nature of Kartvelia changed this situation to a degree, and this effected Siyavash’s ultimate plans. As orders were sent out in late spring 1542--the shahanshah had waited to begin the campaign rather late in the campaigning season, given the colder temperatures at altitude--the plan was as follows:

    The smallest force would consist of only 10,000 men, mostly cavalry with no artillery whatsoever, under one his captains, Shirazi. Shirazi’s force would advance from Shirvan up along the Mtkvari and into Kartvelian territory in something broadly similar to the Latin chevauchee, intended to draw resources away from attacks on other fronts and most importantly distract forces in Kartvelia loyal to David--Siyavash was under the impression that there was still a good deal of opposition to the rule of the Megalokomnenoi. The second-largest force, another 15,000 but this time a mixture of footmen and horsemen under Ali Eshragi, would attack up the Euphrates from Malatya, hopefully distracting the Safaviyya, taking Erzincan and then threatening the Lykos Valley. Finally, the main force, led by the Shahanshah himself and numbering 30,000 with the bulk of the artillery, would hang back in Bitlis. If Eshragi was successful enough to draw off the defenders of the Pontic passes then the Persians would move on to the passes directly over the mountains; if not, as was likely, then they would attack north into Samtskhe, then force their way over or around the mountains to attack Trapezous from the east. Worse plans had been made, and it seemed entirely possible that Trapezous would be under siege by the end of 1542 as it was talked over in Bitlis.

    However, no plan survives contact with the enemy, and Siyavash’s would-be masterstroke was no exception. The first problem occurred before the armies had even broken camp, in late May. Qizilbash ‘herders’, crossing the frontier on perfectly legitimate business, mind you, happened to get into a disagreement with a well-laden caravan on the Upper Aras within earshot of one of the forward camps. The Persians fired off several cannons to scare them off, which succeeded but caught their attention. They returned a few days later to investigate, saw the massive force camped out on the plains, and then rode like hell back to Erzincan to report this to Sheikh Ismail. Ismail realized this could only mean one thing, and shot off warnings to the various moirarkhs of the region, the regent back in Trapezous and even David himself, and then set about mobilizing the followers of Safaviyya. Siyavash would not be taking the enemy by surprise, but rather would be taken by surprise.

    Of the three armies, Shirazi’s met unmitigated disaster, Eshraghi dropped the ball repeatedly, but Siyavash managed to make up for his mistakes, somewhat. Shirazi’s eastern offensive launched several days before the others to make up for his longer travel time and in hopes of keeping the element of surprise, but this had already been lost. Hatzimarkos, the eastern march-ward, had detected his approach even before Ismail’s men had, and even if he had not he had made a number of preparations for any invasion from the east. By the time Shirazi reached the frontier, every bridgehead across the Mtkvari above Qirmizisamukh had been blown, and every well on the northern bank stuffed with corpses. Hatzimarkos had used the south-bank tributaries of the Zayamchay and the Tovuzchay as the basis of a series of defensive lines, forcing any attacker to charge over a series of spike-covered berms in the face of point-blank cannon fire to even reach the bridges which would funnel them into the real kill-zones. He manned these defenses with 6,000 men; Shirazi decided a head-on assault was his best plan. After three weeks of fighting, nearly half of his army was dead, the rest threatening mutiny and he had failed to cross even the more southerly and less heavily defended Zayamchay. A night time raid on 9 July saw the Qutlughid powder reserves (and several hundred men) blown sky-high, and with the Mtkvari practically turned into a river of corpses Shirazi’s men finally snapped. The general ‘had a riding accident’, and a popular young captain named Khalid Beg was elected to retreat back to Shirvan.

    In the west, meanwhile, Eshraghi was also having difficulty. While he had correctly deduced that any assault on the Ovacik Valley would be a pointless waste of resources, he had decided that the best way to circumvent it was not to go west, which would have completely bypassed all but a handful of decrepit fortresses and allowed him to attack Erzincan from behind, but instead to march straight up the Klamata (Purumur) Gorge. It took the Persians two weeks to cross the length of it, throughout which they were under near-constant assault by qizilbash from the heights above the river; only a miracle kept the roads from being washed out or blown. Despite, or maybe because of, the loss of a third of his army, Eshraghi reached the Erzincan Valley otherwise unopposed. His actions had been so incredibly stupid (it should be noted that his leadership experience to this point was fighting a mob of pro-Khosrau Arabs near Kirkuk) that Ismail had decided there was no way he could possibly reach the valley with anything even resembling an army, and had dispatched the bulk of his forces to defend Erzurum. Caught off-guard, Ismail fought a delaying action on the plain to buy time to evacuate civilians into the mountains, unknowingly nearly killing Eshraghi himself, before the more numerous Persians forced the qizilbash behind the city walls. A highly mobile style of warfare is good for many things, but not really defending cities, and despite his lack of siege train Eshraghi was a legitimate threat to the city.

    This was especially true given Siyavash’s success. He had crossed the frontier in late June and had managed to reach Erzurum by mid-July, swatting aside the small forces of bandonoi and qizilbash that tried to slow him down. Once he had reached the city, he made good use of his siege train and began turning the city walls into finely ground rubble; if nothing else, he excelled at contemporary siege warfare, and after a few well-placed cannonballs cracked the city walls, it fell. The city was subject to a brutal sacking that does not bear repeating, and the relief force which Ismail had sent was turned away after a brief but bloody battle. Seizing his moment, Siyavash dispatched a small cavalry force under Sharaf al-Din to keep the Safaviyya at bay while he made for his real target, Trapezous. By late August, he had reached Bayburt, and though the city successfully resisted several days of intense assault, its garrison was too small to severely threaten him. Had he gone east and attacked Erzincan, he likely would have conquered all of Lykia, but he remained focused on Pontos. By mid-September, he had reached the passes, but the rapidly approaching end of the campaign season threatened to destroy his progress. Before that could happen, however, he ran into two problems. The first was an avalanche, likely triggered by the Ponts, which closed the pass for the better part of a month. The second was Siderokastron (Chamlica). The Alek’sandritskhe of the Pontic Mountains, it had been built by Alexandros II with the implicit intention of resisting a Persian invasion, and though its defenses were fare from top-notch, especially given recent developments in terms of cannonade, it was still a fairly capable fortress. For three weeks, Siyavash’s army threw itself at Siderokastron, but even as the walls were reduced to rubble the defenders fought on, reinforced by a steady stream of bandonoi coming down the pass. The shahanshah himself even attacked the walls, he and his guards hacking their way to within feet of victory before he was knocked unconscious by a mace; although the Tabrizi would carry him back to safety, by most accounts he would never be the same. The defense seemed a miracle--indeed, one of the chief commanders, Ioannes of Douphanos, would later claim to have seen angels on the walls--as time after time the Persians were forced back down the valley. Finally, with winter closing in, Siyavash gave the order to retreat.

    The Persians would winter on the plains on the southern side of the mountains, the shahanshah still intending to press the attack the following spring. Once the passes had thawed, though, the foe of winter would be replaced with another: The combined might of Rome.

    [1] Supposedly, Tabriz’s named came from the Old Armenian term for ‘avenger’, so this is a play on that.
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    Part LXXI: The Defense of Khaldea (1542-1544)
  • Eparkhos

    My schedule is growing more and more constrictive as the school year approaches, but I think I can at least get the rest of David's reign done before then. I wrote another update last night but it just doesn't seem to have the 'spark' or 'energy' most of my writing does. I hope its tolerable, but if its not I'll do a rewrite. Please let me know what you think, it'll remain unthreadmarked for the time being.

    Part LXXI: The Defense of Khaldea (1542-1544)

    The sudden Persian invasion had struck the Romans like an avalanche, sending panic across the empire and especially the capital, which lay less than fifty miles from their furthest point and would have been left high and dry if Siyavash had been able to batter his way through the mountains. Bad communication in Pontos, especially between the regent Konstantinides and the provincial bandons, paralyzing the initial response to the invasion, and by the time word reached David in the far west it seemed as if the entire empire were about to be torn apart in the lion’s jaws. Though the ongoing negotiations with the Khandarhids complicated things severely, David was suitably spooked by this and began scrambling forces eastward in hopes of holding the passes and the capital long enough for true help to arrive. Finally, as July drew to a close, he himself took ship with the majority of the army left in the west, determined not to have bought Constantinople for Trapezous’ price….

    Ultimately, David was unable to reach his capital before winter made the seas impossible due to logistical problems, a series of disastrous crashes on the Paphlagonian coast and pure bad luck in terms of storms. With the winter came an all-too brief pause in the fighting, though, and he was determined to use this break as an opportunity to rally his empire against the invaders. Most of the western army had been rushed to support Siderokastron while it was under assault, but the bandons from Pontos proper were either unraised or badly-positioned, again due to administerial incompetence and miscommunication. After sacking Konstantinidis, he organized the bandonoi into the fighting force that they were intended to be and made preparations to counter-attack across the mountains come spring. An army such as that of Siyavash could not be allowed to remain so close to the imperial capital, and it was of the utmost importance amongst the Roman command to push them as far away as possible as soon as possible.

    By the time the passes began to thaw again in April 1543, Roman forces were distributed as follows: 30,000 footmen, including the best surviving veterans of the western campaigns and the war against the Dadianis, were camped under David himself directly at the mouth of the pass, with most of the few thousand cavalry that could be mustered up on such short notice with them to create a total force of around 35,000. A smaller force of 15,000 bandonoi was held in reserve at Matzouka near the Mylos River, which flowed along the pass, with orders to fight to the death against any Persian force that managed to get past the main force, while another reserve of 10,000 (mostly non-bandonoi militiamen from within Trapezous itself, of highly various quality) would remain within the capital to fight alongside the people of the capital in its defense if things came to that. God willing they never would, but David couldn’t take that chance. As he broke camp and marched southward on 16 April, the fate of the newly-restored Roman Empire seemed to rest on the shoulders of the Imperial army.

    Seemed is the operative word. Siyavash had pulled back out of the pass as the snows began to fall, but he had not withdrawn far enough. The Persian army took atrocious losses from the cold, hunger and various camp diseases that winter, dwindling from 25,000 in November with only some 15,000 of the original force surviving to see the end of the snows. Luckily for the Persians, however, a smaller force dispatched the previous year into Samtskhe under Farrukhan Mehrani had turned back to reinforce them, bringing their total number to around 25,000. Still, the shahanshah could tell that his men’s morale had gone through the floor, and that he would need to withdraw southward to reform and prepare for the campaign to resume in 1544. In hopes of hastening this process enough to resume campaigning later that year, he sent orders for a force of 15,000 to be mustered at Bitlis as both a reserve and an auxiliary. He then began making preparations to depart in mid-April, once the region was warm enough to do so, but these plans would be dramatically altered by the arrival of the Romans.

    After nearly four weeks crossing the pass--it wasn’t completely clear of snow, and the Romans were forced to brave onwards through the ice--David emerged onto the plateau on 9 May, now with an army numbering only about 30,000. Still, it was quite the force and he decided that he could and should engage Siyavash while his army was effectively coming out of hibernation and thus not at its best form. In addition to his not-completely-functioning force, Siyavash had also been caught nearly completely flat-footed by the sudden appearance of the Romans, not expecting them to arrive for a few more weeks, and was forced to suddenly break camp to meet them.

    In this unready and slightly panicked state, he made a hasty and nearly disastrous decision, retreating towards the south-west rather than facing David outright. In doing so, the Persians scrambled directly into sight of the Kozokastron Fortress, a minor outpost in the mountains which was in contact with the Romans via signal fires. Their path was revealed and David scrambled a force to intercept them, but the light cavalry that rushed over the mountains was overeager, and rather than waiting to ambush the Persians they attacked them outright. They were driven back, and Siyavash managed to redirect his force southeastwards and escape into the open country. The qizilbash were still thick on the ground in this region, but it would take time to gather them, and as the mountains started to shrink behind him Siyavash was just as aware as David that in the interim the Persians would hold the upper hand.

    However, this advantage would not last, and having already decided that a strategic withdrawl was in his best interests Siyavash decided to get while the getting was good and move southwards. Bayburt and Erzincan both remained in Roman hands, and while he had bypassed them the year before now that there was a proper Roman army coming after him the fortified cities formed the beginnings of a cage that could trap him in hostile territory. By the end of May, when the first major Qizilbash forces began to rally to David’s camp in the Pontic foothills, the Persians had managed to reach Erzincan. While Shirazi’s incompetent siege had continued for months at this point and his army was a shattered wreck of its former self, Siyavash’s arrival was able to abruptly turn the tide of the affair, pounding through the city walls with a vast array of cannonade. Most of the city’s defenders surrendered in exchange for good treatment, though Ismail and most of the Safaviyya retreated into the citadel to await relief.

    Though Erzincan and Erzurum were both now in Qutlughid hands, at least to an extent, Siyavash felt that he was too exposed to enemy counter-attack to remain at Erzincan, as the sudden arrival of a large Roman force--he was unsure just how large David’s army was, nor if it had been reinforced by another--could see him pinned inside the city and between Romans outside the walls and inside the walls. Not enjoying the notion of an eastern Alesia, he decided his best option was to hastily refortify Erzincan’s outer walls to allow a smaller force to stay behind to try and take the citadel while the bulk of his force went south into Bitlis to link up with his reinforcements. The Qutlughids departed in the middle of May, before the wall was even completed, and this left the siege force to finish repairs a mere six hours before David arrived.

    David had chafed in the Pontic foothills, watching the enemy which had come to within a hair’s breadth (or so he believed) of destroying his empire slip away into the high steppe without a fight, one which he was sure he could win. Once the qizilbash necessary to cover his force’s advance had assembled at his camp, he was eager to give chase, believing that the Persians could finally be crushed and the insults which Arslan had heaped upon him be done away with, and gave the order to march at once. In friendly country and moving along well-established supply networks, the Romans were able to move quite quickly, and came within days of catching the Persians at Erzincan. The brutal treatment which the people of Erzincan had been subjected to infuriated the Romans, as many of them had relatives in the region which could easily have faced the same fate. The valley was filled with the roar of cannons as the hastily-rebuilt walls were laid bear, and after coordinating an assault with the defenders of the citadel the Romans swept into the remnants of the city, slaughtering the remaining Persian forces and ironically causing even more damage than Siyavash’s army had. After restoring Roman rule in Erzincan, David’s army swiftly moved south-eastward in pursuit of the Persians.

    As they approached the frontier, the road network which the Romans had used to speed their advance began to falter, their speed being hurt by the sudden lack of supplies they faced in country that had already been devastated twice by passing armies within the last year. The locals, mostly Armenian highlanders, were standoffish at best given the Romans’ less than stellar treatment of their neighbors across the border, and their advance became much slower. The Persians, meanwhile, finally held the advantage in terms of speed and familiarity, and were able to fairly quickly outstripe the Romans as they withdrew back towards their staging bases. By early July, with heat rising and the supply situation getting steadily worse, David began to suspect that Siyavash was attempting to draw him out past his supply lines and ambush him in the high steppe. Mindful of what had happened the last time he had ignored the voices in his head, he pulled back across the border, albeit after dispatching several thousand light horsemen to pursue the Persians further and harass them to the best of their extent.

    Thus, Siyavash was able to escape into Bitlis. Humiliated by the forced retreat across the countryside, the shahanshah could practically feel his power starting to slip away from him like the foundations of a house made of sand. Still, he retained control of the forces available to him, and with them there was the possibility of a victory to restore his prestige and the control over his empire. He spent the autumn of 1543 and into the winter and spring of 1544 reorganizing his army into a proper fighting force, sacking, banishing or executing incompetent officials (Shirazi was tied to a cannon and, well, you can picture the rest) and creating a secondary supply corps to keep his main force fed.

    David, meanwhile, had turned east to lay siege to Erzurum, in hopes of driving the Persians out of Roman territory that campaign season. Upon arriving, however, he found the city’s Roman and Armenian population expelled into the lands surrounding its walls, and the Persian forces holed up within with a great deal of cannonade, powder and enough supplies to last for several months. The Romans laid siege to the city, pressing the walls with everything they had, but ultimately the walls had been too well-fortified (by themselves, ironically enough) or reinforced and were defended too fiercely--none of the Persians were willing to surrender after the massacre at Erzincan--to be taken quickly, and David quickly decided they had to be starved out. The siege continued throughout the winter, and by the spring the defenders showed no sign of surrender. The bandonoi, meanwhile, had been in the field too long, and their absence from their farms was threatening famine. A decisive battle was needed, and quickly.

    Fortunately for the Romans, Siyavash decided that now was the time to strike. He marched north from Bitlis, hoping to relieve Erzurum and inflict a crippling blow on the Trapezuntines that would allow him to sweep to the coast, as he was also experiencing supply problems. The two armies met in early June, or rather didn’t meet, dancing around each other to try and gain the upper hand in terms of natural positions. Eventually, on 16 June, the Romans managed to bait the Persians into anchoring their flank on the hills west of the city, putting themselves under the guns atop the ridgeline and breaking up their front in the irrigation canals of the region. The Romans attacked the leftmost section of the army first, crushing it easily before turning to attack the larger sections. However, because they were slowed by the canals they were able to make little headway, and the Persians were able to pull back in time to avoid encirclement and inflict heavy casualties on the Romans in the process. Luckily for the Romans, a cavalry force sent to outflank the Persians would become disoriented and blunder into their camp, which they would set fire to before fleeing. With a rematch almost certain to be a Roman victory, Siyavash retreated south, away from the city and into the mountains. The highlander groups--qizilbash, Armenians and Kurds--sensed the opportunity for loot and began to stalk them as they retreated southwards, attacking and managing to capture parts of the supply train, making the whole affair a very public and very humiliating defeat.

    In the aftermath, Erzurum surrendered. David stood down most of the bandonoi, remaining in the region with 15,000 men to secure it and ward off any Persian return.
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    Part LXXII: The Lion in Autumn (1544-1552)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LXXII: The Lion in Autumn (1544-1552)

    The wars following the death of Arslan II had almost completely gutted the Qutlughid state, and the troubled reign of Siyavash had done little to restore them to their former glory. While much of the empire was still ravaged by years of internal conflict and bad weather, the shahanshah had foolishly invaded Trapezous without bothering to determine their true warmaking abilities, sending thousands of (mostly) loyal soldiers to their deaths and receiving only a series of humiliating defeats in return. Ruling an already destabilized empire in an even more destabilized region and with next to no support outside of the army whose members he had just gotten slaughtered, the shahanshah’s downfall became a question of time within years of his consolidation of power. The only question was if the Qutlughids would fall with him….

    As he retreated from Trapezuntine territory in the summer of 1544, Siyavash had succeeded in alienating most of his supporters. The bureaucracy had never supported him, and the members of it that he had allowed to escape his purges out of a need to keep the empire running only hated him more for killing so many of their colleagues and moreover holding the power to do the same to them over them like a cudgel. The ulema in Tabriz still nominally supported him, but their fellows in the outer cities and countryside had mostly supported Mohammed Khosrau, and were both bitter that he had lost and that so many of their followers had been killed in an ultimately pointless civil war, while the commoners were tired of fighting and dying for lines on a map while bandits and foreign raiders became increasingly common. All of this could have been managed if he had kept the support of the army, but after leading so many of his men to their deaths in Khaldea their support for him was quite shaken, and that was before the humiliating debacle at Erzurum. If he were to keep his throne, Siyavash would need to gird up his support amongst the military, but at present he was hemorrhaging men to both desertion and ambush by the many highlanders who were circling his surviving column like vultures. Many of those still loyal to the shahanshah were picked off by the Kurds and the Qizilbash, neither of whom were inclined to show mercy to the Persians after years of heavy taxation and the Sack of Erzincan, respectively. To his credit, Siyavash tried to stop them--at the plain of Vartan, he drew up a fortified camp and then sent away the bulk of his force before having them return that night: when a large force of raiders attacked two days later they were met with pikes and grapeshot at point-blank range--but ultimately, it was like trying to build earthworks out of sand. By the time he reached relative safety back at Bitlis, his force had dwindled to around 15,000, which was the only force in the empire whose loyalty he could really be assured of.

    While Siyavash was no great man of history, he wasn’t a complete fool, and realized that after having failed to legitimize himself by foreign conquest in such a dramatic and humiliating way he would need to change tack quickly to keep from being pushed out. In a move made by countless rulers before him, he sought the support of a semi-civilized warlike group from his frontiers: the Turkmen. These were not the Turkmen who had been crushed by Kayqubad or fled into Syria and then Egypt with Suleiman, but instead the residents of the north-eastern frontier of the Qutlughid Empire, whose most redeeming features were their bellicose nature and their burning hatred for the Uzbeks, who were quickly becoming something of ancestral enemy. There was the slight problem of Arslan’s attempt to eradicate them as an ethnic group, but Siyavash was running out of options and could only pray that they would take their pay and move on. After all, it wasn’t like they were a group of fierce warriors known for their long-running clan feuds who he was obviously trying to hire to make up for his own military weakness, was it?

    The first city the Turkmen burned was Weyhnisarslan[1] (Ashgabat), a small colony town which Arslan had built to secure his control of Turkmenistan and to oversee a section of the Silk Road. Having been hired in the winter of 1544, a horde of 25,000 Turkmen led by one Sokmen Beg went south in December, reaching Weyhnisarslan in January and completely destroying it in less than three days. By the time word of this reached Tabriz, the Sokmeni Horde had reached Shirvan-in-Khorasan, sacked it, attempted to sack Bojnurd before being fought off by the town militia, then gone on a raping-and-pillaging spree all the way to the gates of Mashad. The Turkmen weren’t exactly subtle, and truthful rumors that Siyavash had hired them to replace the army abounded in the capital. Realizing that his plan had backfired horrifically, Siyavash summoned his generals to the palace to prepare an expedition east to deal with the problem he had created. Feigning sickness, Farrukh Mehrani--being the only subcommander who hadn’t completely humiliated himself during the brief invasion, he had been made the second-in-command of the Qutlughid armies--asked to speak to the shahanshah in the barracks just outside the capital on 13 February. Siyavash obliged, and as soon as he was outside the walls he was mobbed by Khorasani soldiers and hacked to shreds.

    Seizing the initiative, Mehrani talked his way inside the town, let his army in and then seized the palace. He found Siyavash’s children all present and swiftly had them put under house arrest, guarding them with fairly mild-mannered soldiers while he consolidated his power. He had the youngest prince, Nader (b.1542) crowned as shahanshah, proclaiming himself regent, then started preparing for the inevitable civil war that would follow. Given Mehrani’s prestige, he, er, Nader, was able to rally a good part of the Empire, mostly the western half of the Iranian plateau, to his cause, promising a return to the stability and prosperity of Arslan the Great’s reign, and among these were a number of the Qutlughids’ greatest urban centers and recruiting grounds. Parts of the west broke away under minor independent rulers of either Armenian or Kurdish extraction, who then immediately turned on each other and resumed their pre-Qutlughid patterns of ancestral genocidal warfare, while the Azerbaijani plain came under the rule of its former governor, xxx Shirvani, who neither proclaimed support for or fought against any of the claimants, instead biding his time and looking for a way to return his polity to its former independence. As usual, the Antolekoi proclaimed their neutrality as well. In Iraq, meanwhile, a young sufi claiming to be Mohammed Khosrau, who had in fact survived in hiding (which was patently false, as the sufi couldn’t even write Farsi) and would now restore the caliphate which the Abbasids had left vacant. With social discontent built up by years of warfare and drought, Iraq and Jazira struck for him almost universally, and within a few short months Nader/Mehrani’s forces had been driven over the Zagros or behind the walls of well-fortified citadels.

    To the east, meanwhile, Muhammed Rezim Khan opened the war-gates of Bukhara. If the Qutlughids were weak enough to be unable to drive out some ragged Turkmen, then it was high time that Arslan the Younger be returned to his throne--for a price, of course. By now Arslan the Younger was twenty-two years old and had grown into a charismatic and dashing young man who bore a mirror-like resemblance to his grandfather, and he was well aware that he would be a puppet of the Uzbeks in all but name. Still, it was the best way to get power for himself, and once he was on the throne, well, there were millions of Persians and only a few hundred thousand Uzbeks. For the time being he would play the part of a loyal puppet, but in doing so he would set himself up for eventually becoming a completely sovereign ruler.

    In mid-1545, he convinced Muhammed Rezim Khan to give him a small force to prepare the way for his return, and rode south to Bojnurd. Sitting astride a black horse outside the city gates, he proclaimed that he had come to take up the mantle of his father, the rightful shahanshah, and of his grandfather, the greatest ruler of Persia since its conquest by the Arabs, and with God willing he would right the innumerous wrongs which the last civil war had left across the region and restore the prosperity, security and good fortune that the golden age had brought. The Bojnurdis threw open their gates and cheered him into the city, proclaiming him shahanshah as Arslan III. Word of his return spread across the east like wildfire, and in a region that Siyavash had ignored and scorned, where raiders and bandits had overrun the countryside and were entire clans had been shattered by constant warfare, promises of a return to the greatness of Arslan II’s area found fertile ground. Within a few short months, most of the eastern half of the Qutlughid Empire had struck for Arslan III as many suppressed followers of Alp Temur took up arms once again, but many who had remained neutral or fought for Siyavash the last time around supported the return of the young shahanshah. By 1547, when the real fighting began, many cities that had remained steadfastly loyal to Tabriz in the 1530s had struck for Arslan, even those such as Yazd and Shiraz which had lynched Alp Temur’s supporters less than a decade before. In a strange twist of fate, though Kabul remained neutral, more focused on increasing raids from across the Hindu Kush than on a fratricidal to the west.

    Unlike the last war, Nader/Mehrani in Tabriz wouldn’t have to fight a two-front conflict, or at least not a two-front conflict against an organized enemy. Pseudo-Khosrau was more focused on securing his hold on Arabia and fending off the Khandarhids, who were very interested in his claims to be the rightful caliph, than he was on fighting on the far side of the Zagros, which allowed Mehrani to turn his attention to Arslan and vice versa. Still, he struggled to raise forces to fight off Arslan and the Uzbeks, as the regions which supported him were often quite opposed to further conscription, if not already on the verge of revolt against the tax collector. Thus, despite the larger population of the regions which struck for Tabriz, Tabriz wasn’t able to field forces as large as those which the poorly organized and supplied Arslan and his Uzbek backers were.

    With the region around Fars primarily in Arslan’s camp, the theater of fighting was shifted much further to the west than the previous civil war, as the long roads through the salt flats and the foothills of the Alborz that had played host to most of the combat were much less useful and thus less important than the roads leading up along the Zagros through the south. The Sokmeni horde had settled down to an extent in Tabaristan as well, which only further reduced the import of fighting in the north. There were still maneuvers on the northern side of the plateau--most important in terms of overall strategic action was the capture of Tehran and Qazvin by Abdulloh Ozjoni and a predominantly Uzbek force in 1540, which would help open the road onward to Tabriz itself a year later.

    The first major battle of the Second Qutlughid Civil War was fought in the spring of 1547, after Mehrani and Arslan the Younger had spent the better part of two years building up their forces and after all attempts to resolve the situation diplomatically (not that they had held much promise, any settlement would really just be delaying the inevitable, really) had failed. Arslan marched north-east from Kerman, where he had established his temporary capital, with a force of 10,000 infantry and 20,000 horsemen, most of both light and with fairly little artillery. Mehrani had advanced to Qom, where he was positioned to intercept any eastward attack, with a force of 20,000 heavy and light infantry and 5,000 horsemen, and upon hearing of Arslan the Younger’s advance he correctly guessed that he planned to attack Isfahan. Isfahan was a shadow of its former self, having been turned into a charnel house by Timur and having never recovered since, but Mehrani didn’t want to give Arslan the propaganda victory of taking an ancient capital, nor the more concrete benefit of taking a major fortified town, its cannons, and the roads which it sat upon. As such, he moved to engage in March 1547.

    The Battle of Isfahan, fought in mid-April, was indecisive. Mehrani dug in on a ridge overlooking the road approaching the city, and it seemed that Arslan would march directly upon it and attempt to batter his way through. The regent found this suspicious, and even as his cannons began to roar he dispatched a force of infantry to reinforce his camp and supply lines. These reinforcements arrived just as the Uzbek horsemen that had been sent to encircle Mehrani’s army did, and they managed to hold the camp against the initial assault and send word of the attack back to the main force. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he pulled back from the ridge to the Shahdiz Fortress (rebuilt by Arslan the Great), where he could prevent Arslan the Younger from advancing to Isfahan, but could not himself retreat to it. Arslan the Younger was quite irritated that he had failed to encircle Mehrani but kept his cool and ordered the fortress kept under constant bombardment with captured cannonade while his main force crossed the Zayandeh to lay siege to Isfahan itself. After two weeks, Mehrani fought his way clear and retreated westwards, leaving Isfahan to be taken by Arslan the Younger, who proclaimed it his future capital on 3 May.

    Isfahan set the pace for most of the civil war. Arslan the Younger held a decisive advantage in cavalry and oftentimes morale, but Mehrani was able to muster sufficient forces to make a pitched battle unfavorable for the rebels. Instead of outright stand-and-fight battles to decide the fate of the empire, the war instead consisted of skirmishes, flying columns and lengthy sieges, as Arslan sought to drive Mehrani back without offering battle and Mehrani sought to defeat him outright, but was forced to split his forces into numerous smaller forces to try and keep up with the more mobile Uzbek horsemen. While such a dearth of decisive actions could potentially spell doom for a revolt, the frequent taking of cities helped to fire Arslan the Younger’s supporters, while the lack of a decisive action slowly ground down Mehrani’s support. While not directly asymmetrical, the way in which the civil war was fought almost seemed to preclude warfare in the contemporary manner.

    1547 saw the capture of Isfahan in May, a lull in the fighting during the bitterly hot summer months, when more men could be lost to heat stroke than to enemy actions, and then further skirmishing that autumn before the harsh winter set in. No great cities would be captured, but by May of 1548 the rebels had advanced to the walls of Hamedan, which fell that October after a loose siege lasting months. One of the rare pitched battles would be fought outside the walls on 18 October, where despite a slight numerical advantage Arslan the Younger’s men were forced back and the city retaken; despite a mild winter, though, poor logistics and dwindling supplies would force Mehrani to abandon the city in January 1549 and retreat northwards. There was a lull in the fighting that year with another round of negotiations playing out as the rebels laid siege to Khorramshah, which despite their best efforts refused to fall. The city’s pro-Tabriz commander was clever and feigned having a large number of troops under his command by constantly marching them and lighting great fields of watch-fires, so that Arslan refused to march northward with such a threat in his rear. That ruse would eventually be discovered, though, and with the capture of the Alborz foothills the road to Tabriz was finally cleared.

    The final battle would be fought just west of Maragheh, on the plains outside Bonab on 22 February 1551. Mehrani rallied every man he could, some 20,000 footmen and a few thousand horsemen, while Arslan the Younger and Mohammed Rezim Khan both took the field in person to command a combined host of nearly 25,000 footmen and 20,000 cavalry. Despite being outnumbered, Mehrani knew the ground well and had an advantage in firepower, using Lake Urmia to anchor his flank on one end and the Qadim Hill the other. Arslan and the Khan, meanwhile, organized his infantry into a rough wedge, intending to break through the center of the Tabrizi line, then rush through with light horse to exploit this and roll up the enemy line. The battle was joined shortly before noon, but the dust that Arslan hoped would blind Mehrani instead blew the other way, slowing his advance and leaving his men open. Mehrani’s cannonade was accurate and merciless, but despite their heavy losses Arslan’s men pressed onward, hitting the enemy line and beginning to press inward, and for once fortune was on their side as it began to turn concave and pull back. Arslan himself was in the fray, and it seemed as if the battle were about to be won. But it was all a trap, for the concave line served to draw the rebel forces into the center of the Mehranid line, where the long rows of spikes were placed and where the cannons couldn’t miss. The guns which had fallen silent roared once again, and a sudden counter-attack halted the Arslanid advance, and under attack from all sides they began to waver. The Uzbeks charged forward thunderously and slammed into the Mehranid line, knocking them back and buying space and time for Arslan, and a shout went up on the left that Mehrani was dead. Mohammed Rezim Khan then led a second charge personally, and the demoralized Regency left was broken. The light horsemen thundered through and swung around, encircling the remaining line, and the battle was lost. Mehrani famously rode out into Lake Urmia, intending to drown himself, but instead found a sandbar and escaped to Kaboodan Island, but most of his men were either killed on the spot or captured and killed later. Total losses amounted to almost all of the Regency force of 20,000, and the loss of 15,000 Arslanid and Uzbek soldiers, making it one of the bloodiest days in Persian history.

    With an exhausted army, Arslan and Mohammed Rezim Khan limped north to Tabriz, arriving a few days later to find the city in anarchy and much of it in flames as looters and brigands used the chaos to steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. Rather than trying to pacify the capital, Arslan was hastily crowned with the Crown of Arslan--the Qal’i Sword was missing, presumably with Mehrani and thus at the bottom of a mound of corpses--and then left, abandoning Tabriz to its fate. It was clear to all at this moment, if not before, that Arslan the Younger and the Qutlughids both were a shattered force, and as Mehrani crawled out of Lake Urmia the circling vultures began to land….
    Part LXXIII: Looting a Burning House (1544-1551)
  • Eparkhos

    Well, here goes nothing.

    Part LXXIII: Looting a Burning House (1544-1551)

    The sharp and sudden decline in Qutlughid power that occurred during the civil war caused the equally sudden unraveling of the western half of their empire. The tribes and clans of the region, be they Armenian, Kurd or Qizilbash, had been fighting for land and hegemony for years by this point, but in the power vacuum that the civil war brought they became the epicenter of a regional power struggle that would slowly spread outwards in all directions, drawing in all those lands which surrounded Greater Armenia and Kurdistan like a maelstrom. Of course, the state in the best position to exploit this power vacuum was Rhomaion, and after centuries of absence Roman armies would march into the former Armenian heartland in the 1540s….

    In the aftermath of Siyavash’s failed invasion of the Trapezuntine Empire in the early 1540s, the eastern half of the realm briefly came under the threat of food shortages, caused by the bandons being in the field for too long, bad weather and minor crop failure in Crimea. Faced with following up his victory over the shahanshah or letting this relatively minor problem spiral outwards into a serious crisis, David reluctantly chose to deal with his internal issues and stood down most of his army in Khaldea, allowing them to return to their fields while he stood guard over the border. It was a fortuitous decision, both because any fears of a famine were belayed by hastily-arranged grain shipments from the untouched eastern half of Kartvelia and an excellent spring harvest in 1545, and because the lack of a Trapezuntine invasion in that year or the next gave the governors of the Qutlughid west just enough rope to hang themselves. With the central government humiliated and weakened, the always independent-minded governors and headmen of the Taurus began to scheme against each other, jockeying for power and influence and quickly descending into infighting as the civil war raged on to the east. In other words, it was the perfect opportunity for Trapezuntine expansion.

    The Armenian Highlands, a vaguely-defined region stretching across the broad arc of the region’s mountains and plateaus, had been one of the heartlands of the old Qoyunlu Horde decades before, and had seen heavy settlement by Turkmen coming from both east and west. When most of these Turkmen were killed or driven out by Arslan during the early part of his reign, the old regional rivalries and hatreds which their presence had sequestered through weight-of-numbers came back with a vengeance, and the Qultughids had no small deal of trouble dealing with them. The Armenians had lived in the region for literal millenia, and though the Turkish invasions had driven many of them out of the region or into urban settlements, a number of them still lived in the hills and valleys of the interior highlands; meanwhile, the Kurds were also ancient and native to the region, but unlike the Armenians they had profited from the Turkish migrations by not occupying the Turkmen’s pastureland, thus effectively standing on the sidelines while the Armenians and the Turkmen went at it. Once the Armenians were weakened, they moved into the region and began pushing them outwards in a slow but steady process of raids and irregular warfare. The Armenians reciprocated in kind, and with the Persians occupied elsewhere this slow, long-term and low-intensity warfare suddenly exploded outwards into a bloody(er) major conflict, the sort which could not be ignored but which Tabriz was in no position to deal with. The governors of the region were either killed or cast their lots in with one faction or another, and within a few short years the Armenian Highlands were engulfed in flame.

    The conflict proper began in mid-1545 and was sparked by the massacre of a dozen Armenian merchants by the Kurdish governor of Bitlis, Shamsaddin Rokji after one of them got into an argument with Rokji over an unpaid bill. Rokji had been nothing but cruel to his Armenian subjects before this, and as soon as word began to spread of the massacre many of them panicked and assumed that the governor would try to kill them all, which was entirely possible given existent tensions and conflict between the two groups. Unfortunately for Rokji, both the city of Bitlis and the province of Bitlis had a sizable Armenian majority, and it wasn’t long until an angry group of militiamen dragged him out of his palace and threw him off of the city walls, then burned his corpse for good measure. Word of this spread rapidly, reprisals began, and by the time winter hit the region was consumed in all-out war.

    With this being an effective war to the death, it didn’t take for long leaders and centers of power to emerge. By the end of 1546, the situation was as follows: The Armenians had rallied around the governor of Beyazit-in-the-east, Levan Kardashian, and held many of the walled cities of the region as well as their heartlands, the lowlands around the upper Aras Valley, the eastern shore of Lake Sevan and the lowlands surrounding Lake Van. Kardashian had nominal command of tens of thousands of subjects, but in practice could muster only around 20,000 men of good fighting quality, a force too small to take the offensive in any meaningful way. As such, he used the Trapezuntine/Kartvelian borderlands and the mountains around Lake Sevan to support the small number of regular soldiers and much greater number of militiamen in the north-east, while he fought a desperate and increasingly losing struggle to hold the less defensible region around Lake Van and the isolated cities to the north and west. The Kurds, meanwhile, were much more decentralized--without the pressures the Armenians were facing, some clans were inclined to stay neutral or loot the burning house that was Persia--and had a number of clans which were fighting both the Armenians and each other, but the most powerful figure and their nominal leader was Khalil Ayyub, the satrap[1] of Hisyn Kayfa who had managed to unite many of the south-eastern Kurds under his banner before the war and was currently making quite the name for himself by making the Armenians’ lives hell. While he lacked the forces to directly besiege any major settlement, his light horsemen could ride circles around the primarily infantry-based Armenian forces, and used this to harry the countryside around the walled towns, spreading the defenders thinner and thinner as they were gradually worn down and their supplies destroyed. Bit by bit by Bitlis the outlying settlements were starved out and destroyed both by Ayyub’s forces and others, and as the streets of Beyazit (renamed Daruynk), Bitlis and countless others were swelled with refugees, Kardashian and his commanders began to grow increasingly desperate and exhausted. They were putting up as good a fight as they could, but they were surrounded, outnumbered and often outgunned, and it seemed as if the walls were closing in.

    Up to this point, the Qizilbash had been mostly neutral. This wasn’t because of any moral compunction, and indeed their ‘neutrality’ was essentially raiding both Kurds and Armenians at roughly equal rates, as well as forays against the relatively undefended Persians and Azeris to the east, but instead because of orders from Erzincan itself. Esmail was quite miffed at the Qutlughids about the whole ‘trying-to-kill-him-and-annihilate-his-followers’ thing, and given that the Kurds were more closely related to the Persians than the Armenians that was enough justification to deny them his support. And that was what he was doing, most of his men despised the Armenians as urbane weaklings and would doubtless side with the Kurds if they had to pick a side. There was also another reason for the nominal neutrality of the Qizilbash, that being David.

    David’s...interesting….religious beliefs will be dealt with in the next update, but though there was little love lost between he and the Armenian Apostolic Church, he regarded the latter as being lost or confused Christians, a step above the devilish infidels and ultimately a necessary ally in the war against Antichrist. On a practical level, the Armenians would also be more likely to support Pontic rule than the Kurds would, both from the basic differences in terms of lifestyle and from the decades of raids and counterraids. As such, David watched the ongoing struggle in the highlands with open support for the Armenians, but hesitated to send aid, both because of the conflict he was facing down between the different branches of the Orthodox Church within his borders over the inclusion of new Apostolic subjects, and because of a hurried series of legal and military reforms to retool the Trapezuntine state for large-scale warfare. He had plans, very big plans that he needed Armenian support for, and didn’t want to screw up his best opportunity to be welcomed as a liberator by angering their church. Once these issues began to be wrapped up in the autumn of 1546, though, he was more than eager to intervene on the Armenian’s behalf….

    As the spring of 1547 dawned, and horsemen pillaged the land around Daruynk and Karakilisa, three armies crossed the Pontic Mountains. The first was a small reserve force of around 5,000 to reinforce the garrisons of the frontier fortresses with the hope of keeping raiders out of Khaldea. The second was a Kartvelian force of some 15,000 footmen and 10,000 cavalry under a Svan named Mikheil Oniani, which emerged onto the Samtskheote plain in April and crossed the frontier into Armenian-held territory less than a month later. The largest, of course, was under David himself and numbered 15,000 footmen and 20,000 cavalry (many of them qizilbash) when it marched out from Erzurum on 26 April, not counting the small artillery corps and the men who tended it. Of note was the presence of Evangelos Kantakouzenos Megalokomnenos, a dynast who David had coaxed back to the Empire to be groomed for the throne[2] and who was present to gain experience as a general. As usual, most of the Trapezuntine army were veterans or at the very least well-drilled bandonoi, and with all the propaganda that had flooded Trapezous and Pontos at large since the previous autumn, describing (often fictitious) atrocities committed against the Christians of Armenia most of the Ponts, Lazes and Pontic Armenians were raring for a fight.

    As soon as they had crossed the frontier, David made a beeline for Arjesh, one of the lakeside cities under the most dire siege. Advancing before the army of Trapezous was an army of papers as bulletins printed in both Greek and Armenian were circulated in all directions promising support and protection for all Armenians who supported the Romans and warning the Kurds of the region to flee or be crushed. The latter had about as much effect as telling a murderer not to kill people, but the propagandic boost it offered was enormous, as many of the besieged and outlying Armenian settlements were swept through and refortified by Roman soldiers and the pall of certain coming doom which had hung over the Armenians of the region the season before was lifted by news of a powerful and official ally. Most importantly, Romano-Kartvelian forces from Samtskhe allowed forts to be expanded and freed up Kardashian’s men to begin their first real counter-offensive. In the six weeks it took the Romans to reach Arjesh, the road between Daruynk and Karakilisia was cleared of raiders and relief forces were rushed to Lake Van to bolster the garrisons of the cities along its edges.

    Khalil Ayyub, meanwhile, recognized that the balance of power had suddenly and dramatically shifted against him and moved to rectify this. He would only have one shot at victory, he knew, because as soon as he showed weakness his coalition of tribes would shatter and their budding victory would be lost. However, he did not allow this to force him into a rushed and hasty attack. After all, the highlands were bare and riven with hills and valleys that would be excellent for ambushes and the Romans weren’t exactly familiar with it. The Ayyubids could wait until they passed through a choke point and then waylay them. As April turned into May and then into June, the largest Kurdish host of about 10,000 hurried north-west to stalk the path of the invaders. Unfortunately for them, the Romans would reach Arjesh without passing through any such choke point under the right conditions to attack, and Khalil was forced to draw back into the hills and continue waiting for the right moment to attack. This opportunity would never come, as despite the attacks on smaller outlying fortresses and occasionally even columns on the march, Ayyub was unable to provide the dramatic victory which his subordinates desired. Over the following months and years, chieftains and clans would drift away, either making (almost always failed) direct attacks on Roman and Armenian forces or gradually drifting away to the east or to the west.

    Meanwhile, boats and ships of all kinds criss-crossed the surface of Lake Van, bringing supplies and reinforcements to the populations huddled behind the string of walled cities that surrounded it. The Romans had no shortage of experience in fighting off hosts of irregular raiders, and with their support the battle-hardened Armenian militias soon began to turn the tide. By the end of the year, most of the lowlands surrounding the lake had been more or less secured, with their defenses varying from place to place in the form of forts or berms or other defenses, always as the first line before the fortified towns. Unlike David’s following wars there would be no climactic victory that decided it all, no great battle where centuries of hostility were poured out onto the field. Instead there would be dozens if not hundreds of smaller battles between individual clans or tribes and the unforgiving steel of the Armenians and their allies. Gradually, lines of fortification would be dug further and further out into the countryside and gradually, one by one or in small clusters the Kurdish clans would be crushed or driven suitably far away and the lands they vacated doled out to Armenians or Romans. There were Kurdish victories, of course, but against the combined weight of the qizilbash and the Romans they lacked the organization and desperation necessary to obtain victory. To a modern audience this seems anticlimactic, but to the Romans and Armenians it was perfectly satisfactory: After all, a decisive victory would have been nice, but as long as the Kurds were no longer a threat it was well enough, and besides, nobody’s ever wanted to be the last guy killed in any war.

    By the time the fighting began to subside in 1550, the Romano-Armenians had secured most of the Armenian Highlands, from about Chapaghjur (Bingol) in the west to Gedikbasi in the south-east to about Qaban and the Trans-Aras region in the northeast. A great deal of raiding still occurred, but the bulk of the Kurds had been pushed into the more difficult terrain beyond the region. Now with victory seemingly confirmed, the usual bouts of infighting that followed a major conquest began to loom. Kardashian had never officially declared himself King of Armenia, fearing a sudden Qutlughid resurgence, but he had been treated as such by most of his followers. However, now that the Romans had helped springboard independence and David was making remarks about the importance of ecumenicism in a world where the End of Days and the war against Antichrist could come at any time, the future of the Armenian state, assuming that it even was a proper state now and not a de facto Roman province, which it might have been, or about to become a Roman province, which was a serious possibility, was in doubt. Deciding that the risk of trouble down the road was better than forcing a confrontation now, David and Kardashian sidestepped the issue: Kardashian would be officially titled ‘Satrap’, a title which the Qutlughids had used for both independent tributaries and semi-autonomous governors, and the use of which did little but kick the can down the road.

    By 1551, the newly-liberated territories of Armenia were still quite unstable and prone to conflict both internal and external. The logical thing to do would have been to wait and consolidate the gains which had been made there, but by now David had begun his bizarre downward spiral. There would be, no, there could be no waiting. God had set a deadline, and David intended to fulfill it. As the campaign season dawned, the Trapezuntines would cross the mountains and descend into the plains of Syria, overstretching their supply lines and crossing far beyond the realm of good sense….

    [1] ‘Satrap’ was used for both semi-autonomous (and often semi-hereditary) governorships and foreign tributaries.
    [2] Evangelos (b.1525) was born in Calvi to one of the exiled Megalokomnenoi dynasts, Markos, and the Phanariot Anna Kantakouzena, and was named as such because his parents feared that they were infertile before his birth. Despite speaking Greek as his birth tongue, the limited Greek population of Calvi meant that he would speak for the rest of his life with a Maniot accent, and consequently did a great deal of fighting in his boyhood in both the Italian and Maniot fashion. After getting involved in a clan feud in 1539, the Kantakouzenoi Megalokomnenoi fled Calvi and went to Trapezous, hoping for a new life in their ancestral homeland. Unfortunately, Markos caught ill and died on the voyage, but because of his death Evangelos was left as the only male Megalokomnenoi in Trapezous upon his arrival. He and David met, found each other tolerable and quite promising, respectively, and afterwards became the heir apparent. Already fluent in Greek and Latin, he learnt Farsi, Turkish, Armenian and Kartvelian as well as the usual education for noblemen of the period, taking well to financial and mathematical topics but little else. By the time of the story he had gained a (correct) reputation for being short-tempered and prone to fits of rage, but otherwise somewhat kind.
    Part LXXIV: Dueling Patriarchs (1545-1547)
  • Eparkhos

    Hey, you know what's interesting? Not this.

    Part LXXIV: Dueling Patriarchs (1545-1547)

    As always in the 16th century, religion and politics in the Trapezuntine-turn-Roman Empire were deeply intertwined. With three separate patriarchates incorporated under one banner in that most Orthodox empire, not to mention the Latins, Apostolics and the Muslims, keeping the balance of power within the realm would be a daunting task for even the most experienced rulers. David, however, had absolutely no intention of doing so. Instead, throughout the 1540s and 1550s he would strive to play the different religious groups and jurisdictions off each other for the benefit of all the empire and the Megalokomnenos, even as he himself began to spiral into insane delusions about a prophecy describing the coming end of the world….

    Like their imperial forebears, the Roman/Trapezuntine Empire and the Orthodox Church were effectively partners in governance. Despite a sizable number of religious minorities of both Christian and heathen persuasions, the Orthodox faith was both the most numerous and the state religion of the Empire, and its followers were awarded certain privileges above all other populations within the realm. Many churches were built with state funding, were guarded with state resources in many parts of the realm, and in some cases members of the church’s hierarchy were treated as effectively being part of the government. In exchange, the Church provided a strong source of legitimacy beyond the general populace’s support for the Megalokomnenoi, legitimized David’s de facto annexation of Kartvelia as well as allowing its branches to operate as an effective extension of the Trapezuntine bureaucracy in some of the more far-flung parts of the empire. The fact that the two went hand in hand also had many diplomatic benefits, helping the Trapezuntines wield greater influences over their neighbors to the west and north-east, with the missionaries of the Caucasus and beyond also helping spread Pontic influence in those regions.

    However, this was a somewhat….simplified….view of events. The presence of Orthodoxy as the state religion had knock-on effects within the minorities of the Empire--for instance, how the other Christian groups, primarily Italian and German Latins and Armenian Apostolics, occupied a notch between the Orthodox and the Sunnis, who were by far the largest minority within--but moreover it had a serious impact on how the lands beneath the Megalokomnenos Throne[1] were governed. The Orthodox Church was not a monolithic block, and in fact the Orthodox Church within the Roman/Trapezuntine Empire was in one of its most divided forms across its entire existence. The reason was simple: The unprecedented state of having three separate de jure patriarchates, one of them the Ecumenical first-among-equals Patriarchate and the other two being legally completely independent autocephalous patriarchates, those of Pontos and Kartvelia. With these three organizations forced to share not only an umbrella but jurisdictions within the same country and under the same ruler at the same time, tensions were bound to rise and the only thing David (and the patriarchs themselves) could do was try to manage the outbursts and conflicts which would result as best they could.

    That was, assuming they had any intention of doing so. Even moreso than their Latin counterpart, the Orthodox Church was a meritocratic institution, with men being promoted to the high offices of the organization through a mixture of competence, ambition and backroom politicking. In theory, this meant that only those who were most able (and thus more favored by God) could attain power, but in practice this meant that the patriarchal seats were occupied by either uncompromising fanatics and ambitious, manipulative politickers, both of which had a tendency towards egomania. Had the three patriarchs--Ieremias II in Constantinople, Eugenios II in Trapezous, and Shio III in Kutaisi--been willing to work with David to establish a mutually beneficial system, the problems caused by this unusual situation could have been resolved fairly easily. Unfortunately, there were two major problems to this, mainly Ieremias’ and Eugenios’ swelled heads. Eugenios would’ve been a doge if he was born in Venice, possessing a talent for persuasion and rather cynical power-dealing, and was very much intent on preserving the power which his predecessors had held as the sole patriarch in the Empire, no matter what it cost his nominal brothers. Ieremias, on the other hand, had become patriarch only with Ottoman support--in this case, a literal army crowded around the Church of the Holy Savior in Khora[2]--and had been chosen by the vizier for his vacillating nature, short-temperedness and general paranoia. Ieremias couldn’t be sure that his own subordinates weren’t plotting to remove him, how much less could he trust his rivals, er, equals? He had to secure both his own position and the power of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the true first-among-equals. Only Shio was more concerned with spiritual than secular issues, and was willing to go along with most of David’s plans so long as the rights of his flock, the Kartvelians, were given their proper due. David, meanwhile, well, more on what David wanted later.

    The simmering tensions between the three patriarchates came to a head in April 1545, over, of course, Gothia. Despite its small size, Crimea was one of the most legally complicated parts of the Empire, divided between the semi-autonomous vassal state of the Grey Horde on the northern plains, the Principality of Gothia in personal union with Trapezous in the south-central highlands, the formerly Genoese colonies along the coast which were governed under their own specialized eparkhoi, mostly descendants of the Genoese governors which had sworn fealty to Alexandros II, and which were subject to Old Genoese law, and finally the parts which were ruled as bandonoi of Trapezous proper. Traditionally, all of Crimea was within Trapezous’ jurisdiction, but in May 1545 Ieremias sent an embassy to the Hagia Sophia of Trapezous demanding that Ghazaria and Gothia be put under Ecumenical authority, citing the fact that the bull creating the Patriarchate of Pontos only gave Basileios of Funa authority over the borders of the Trapezuntine Empire, and as Gothia and Ghazaria were in personal union and in stewardship for the no longer existant Republic of Genoa, respectively, they did not fall under Eugenios’ control. Eugenios refused to do so, then refused to do so again under the threat of excommunication, supposedly even daring Ieremias to do so. In June, Eugenios appealed to David to settle the issue, citing Constantine the Great’s intervention in church affairs, and David quickly recognized that this was going to go south very quickly if he didn’t stop it now. He ordered Eugenios to transfer Ghazaria to Constantinople’s purview--it was ‘Genoese’, and Genoa was under the ersatz Patriarchate of Rome, so really Ieremias ought to have it anyway--but refused to do so with Gothia. Ieremias was partially satisfied and decided to bide his time, while Eugenios grumbled but did nothing. This resolved things for about four months.

    In October, Eugenios demanded that the Bishop of Vatoume pay homage to Trapezous once more. Previously, Vatoume had remained under Kutaisi’s jurisdiction despite its decades within Trapezous’ political and spiritual control, as David hadn’t wanted to rock the boat so soon after acquiring all of Kartvelia. David found it hard to disagree, but forced Eugenios to conclude an agreement with Shio over what ought to be done so no further disputes could arise. Things seemed to be getting along well until January 1546, when Eugenios decided to push his luck and demand the Metropolitanate of Khuzakh be transferred to him, citing its foundation by Basileios I as his justification. Shio refused, and Eugenios appealed to David, threatening to void their agreement over Vatoume if his demands were not met. As this was a transparent power grab, both Ieremias and Shio threatened to excommunicate him if he did so, and David essentially told him to give up Avaria or give up his position on the Patriarchal throne. Vatoume was transferred to Pontos, but nothing else was.

    The Armenian population of the Trapezuntine Empire made up about an eighth of the Empire’s total population by 1545, but held an outsize political and economic importance due to their majority population centers being clustered along the borderlands and their role as merchants and bankers across the Black Sea and the Middle East at large. According to the existing legal code, which had existed since the reign of Alexandros I and which David had been preparing to reform for years, the Armenians paid a slightly higher tax rate than the Orthodox population did, as well as being subject to greater restrictions on what they could and couldn’t own, especially in regards to the Apostolic Church. In David’s mind, these distinctions were an important reminder to the Armenians of the fact that they were in the wrong, spiritually speaking, but they also had the potential to handicap the spread of the True Faith in the lands around the Empire by handicapping its conquest of lands from the Sunni. As such, in the Lex Davidikon law code, which officially became law in 1546, the restrictions on non-priestly Armenians were struck down and those on the Apostolic Church itself greatly reduced.

    This alone would have ruffled feathers in the Church, but even worse (from their perspective), David used it to get his foot in the door with the Apostolic Church itself. The Catholicos, Sarkis III, was pressingly aware of the dire straits that his flock found itself in the middle of the 1540s, with Kardashian’s forces barely able to keep increasing numbers of raiders away from the walls of Holy Etchmiadzin itself, and even with that aside was inclined to support the liberation of Armenia from rule by the Muslims at just about any price short of outright union beneath the Orthodox Church. Through a secret (and often gap-ridden, thanks to the Kurds) correspondence, the two agreed that the Trapezuntine Apostolics would be given equal rights and treatment under the law if the Catholicos supported the integration of the region into the Roman domain. This was decided by the summer of 1546, but before David could intervene there was the slight problem of informing the patriarchs of this agreement.

    It went over fairly well, at least at first. David approached Shio first, knowing he was the friendliest, and emphasized the fact that he was not trying to force a church union but instead providing the basis for a united front to presented against the hostile Muslims which surrounded Rome and Kartvelia, as well as emphasizing the fact that many of the Armenian refugees created by the ongoing war might be sufficiently shaken to embrace the true faith. Next he went to Eugenios, speaking of how the Apostolics would be bound to drift further into the Orthodox (and implied Trapezuntine) orbit once they were physically integrated, and how this would open thousands of new souls to conversion and help add a massive buffer to predominantly Orthodox territories within the Empire already. If nothing else, Eugenios was a staunch Pontic nationalist, and the thought of finally turning the tide against the Persians[3] was enough for him to overlook his misgivings about the plan. Finally, Ieremias was brought onside by David telling him that the other two refused to do it; Naturally, he took this as a chance to prove his superiority as Ecumenical Patriarch and to save tens of thousands from the fires below, and agreed. As the winter of 1546 approached and preparations for war began, David must have thought that that had been surprisingly easy.

    Then someone asked whose jurisdiction Armenia would fall under.

    Obviously, Eugenios said, it ought to be Trapezuntine, as it would be (it was assumed) be under direct control from the capital. Obviously, Shio said, it ought to be Kartvelian, as the region had last been under Kartvelian control before it was conquered by the heathens, and it would be impossible for Trapezous to administer it when the winter passes froze. Obvious, Ieremias said, it should be controlled by a Metropolitan subservient to Constantinople. Then the Patriarch of Antioch (Greek Rite), Sabbagh II, wrote to them all, demanding that governance be given to him. With the state funding and tithes from the new swathes of land on the line, none of them were willing to back down, and it seemed as if another crisis was brewing.

    By this point David was on the verge of losing it, and refused to sit by and twiddle his thumbs as these self-righteous idiots cost him Armenia and thus the salvation of all Christendom. He personally took a walk down to the Hagia Sophia with several hundred eleutheroi and had them drill on the courtyard outside while he gave Eugenios a lecture on the teachings of Christ and bluntly told him to drop the matter or be deposed. Missives to similar effects were sent to Kutaisi and Constantinople, and David successfully coerced the patriarchs into agreeing that the Orthodox Armenians would stand under Antioch’s jurisdiction until exactly 3 PM on 4 April--Easter Sunday--1554, at which point it would be ‘permanently decided’. None of them were quite sure why this exact date and time had been chosen, but David specifically demanded that they do so, and none of them were inclined to argue with him after his show of force.

    The true reason behind the date was known only to David….

    [1] I meant to write this earlier but forgot about it, so let’s say that it’s an ornate throne created by Alexandros II in the 1490s.
    [2] Alternative seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the Ottoman rule, and temporary seat until the Hagia Sophia is patched back together
    [3] The Byzantines (and likely the Trapezuntines) had a habit of conflating the Turks and Persians together under one umbrella.
    Appendix: The Apocalypse of David
  • Eparkhos

    Well, I won't mind. It certainly does show David's POV.

    Appendix: The Apocalypse of David

    ….And, though I am hesitant to shatter the fourth wall in such a manner, the audience. By the 1540s, after nearly a dozen major battles and having been witness to and even committed innumerable killings and atrocities, having seen nearly everyone he’d ever cared for killed, even seeing his father dying right in front of him, and having been reduced to confiding in and eventually relying entirely upon the voices in his head, David had, in scientific terms, started to lose it. Unfortunately for many in the Near East, this had not taken the form of insane ramblings that would have seen him packed off to a monastery, but instead in a fundamental and apocalyptic change in his thinking that left the hard, calculating edge that had allowed him to rise this far intact. For all his faults, David was quite good at compartmentalization, to the extent that many historians in-timeline have (incorrectly) postulated that he had multiple personality disorder. Like I said, he didn’t have that, he was just really good at compartmentalization (which was probably worsened by one of his mental illnesses. When exactly this descent began is impossible to say, but the events in Constantinople, as well as the massacres against the Armenians, certainly didn’t help, likely being the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

    This period of emotional turmoil caused a dramatic shift within David, as for the first time in around twenty years the ‘ghost’ of Mgeli within his mind suddenly disappeared. With his constant companion and steadying factor gone, David was left alone in a profound silence, one that left him increasingly adrift from reality, but in such a way that he was still somewhat grounded, his deluded fantasies feeding upon what he saw in the real world in a bizarre feedback loop. And when the voices came back, he would be more than willing to listen to what they had to say.

    After years pouring over old religious (and often apocryphal) texts, David had come to the conclusion that he was Antichrist. It was a grim and solemn realization for him, but it was the only way in which his calculation of the true millennium could be true. The Byzantine calendar, which the Romans and Trapezuntines used, marked 5509 BC (0 EK) as the beginning of the world, and thus AD 1491 was 7000 EK, a number of great significance which could mark the beginning of the end of days. A wave of hysteria had passed through the empire during that year, which Alexandros II had dealt with admirably, but David was sure that the septmillenium was in fact a date of great significance: However, Christ’s lifespan (32 years) would extend this date to 1523--but Christ was God incarnate, but not from the Holy Spirit, which meant that God had also spent thirty-two years on the earth, for a true millennium date of 1555 (7064 EK). David was sure of this, but Christ had clearly said “As for the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36), so this couldn’t be the true date, unless David’s knowledge came not from God, but from the Devil, or rather that God had allowed Satan to tell David the date for some nefarious reason. The only explanation was that he was Antichrist, and Satan was preparing him as his vessel for the Tribulation and the Millenium and the Apocalypse, and God had allowed him to do it. It made sense: Katsarina had been a whore in the literal sense, and had she been from Iraq, or Babylon? He didn’t know, but she might have been, an ironic foreshadowing of the war for the soul of the world. As for the Antichrist’s allies, well, the Beast of the Sea had to mean the Trapezuntines, a naval power, and in ancient times he thought the dragon had been a symbol of Kartvelia!

    But back to God and the Devil: Why would God allow Satan, and thus David, to know the date? Simple--because it didn’t have to be the end of the world. All of history since the Birth of Muhammed had seen the Christians driven back in all directions, and even when there were occasional victories, such as his own reconquest of Constantinople, they were tainted and set ups for later failures. In particular, the Greek Muslims stuck with him: But for a few generations, they would have been Christians, part of the elect and bound for salvation rather than doomed and damned as they were. It was becoming clear: God would not allow His people to perish, but he would allow those who feared to be martyred, who were lukewarm, to be spit out of His mouth and thus be doomed and damned like the Greek Muslims had been. If things kept going as they had, all of Christendom, or nearly all of it would be destroyed, especially Pontos and Kartvelia as shown in their role in the end of days as servants and allies of Satan. But if he struck now, if he could force Satan’s hand while they were still righteous among the nations and while the Greeks and Kartvelians stood in the light of Christ, then millions of souls that would otherwise be lost could be saved. It was the only future for the nations he ruled, the Greeks and the Lazes and the Goths and the Kartvelians and the Svans and all the others! GOD HAD MADE HIM ANTICHRIST SO HE COULD SAVE HIS PEOPLE!

    It was an incredible notion, so engrasping but so terrifying that he knew that it had to be true. He spent countless nights grasped by a fever of his own creation, pacing back and forth across the shuttered halls of his palace and making frantic notes in languages he neither spoke nor understood. He knew what he had to do, God knew it, and He would not put a task before him which he couldn’t do, but he wasn’t sure, he didn’t think he could knowingly damn himself, and surely the God who so loved the world that He gave His only Son wouldn’t make him do it, would He? After hours of meditation and countless thoughts on the terrible future which must lay in store for him, David realized that like everything else there was only one way to escape the fires of hell. He would trust in God and the plan which He had made for him and fulfill his predestined role, the one that would earn him an eternity in the Lake of Fire through no fault of his own, and he would pray that Christ had seen he had done this because it was his duty to Him and all the Christians and the souls of the world, and knowing this he would be restored to the New Jerusalem. Or not. After all, God had said that it would be bad for the pregnant women and those with children, and many of the philosophy and priests believed that a ruler ought to act as if his subjects were his children. He ought not to doubt God, of course, or test him or tempt the Enemy, but it was the only way. It would be a sacrifice, as close as that to His which any mere mortal could make, and he would do it for the sake of all the world and hope against hope that he was right to trust God in such a way and escape Gehenna.

    It was becoming clear, like he was emerging from a fog, but he still could not understand.e There was another prophecy, he knew, said to be from Saint Ioannes of Patmos, called the Emperor of the Last Days, which said the last Roman Emperor would go to Golgotha and throw down his crown and be killed so the tribulation could begin and the world finally be saved. Time and however many retellings had distorted it, though, but he could understand the truth of its message, and he realized how Rome as it was in the Bible could be reconciled with the Rome he knew and loved, and indeed a new voice spoke in his mind like a clarion, that which he primally knew to be the best since Mgeli had fallen silent, the voice of Gabriel. He would gather a host of every Christian nation, Latin and their splinters, the Orthodox and the Apostolic and the Nestorian, and he would lead them to Armageddon, so that they may wait with Evangelos--truly God was wise to have named him so--the true Last Roman Emperor, while he himself went on to Jerusalem, the City of David--truly, God was wise to have named it so--to cast down his crown and accept his fate as Christ and God and the Holy Spirit had ordained it. And then the Four Horsemen would come down from Heaven, but the King of Kings would come down with them upon a white horse to meet the armies of the Whore and the Beast and David, and he would take the army of Evangelos and march against them and shatter them so that the Tribulation might be hastened and countless souls saved. And the gates of the New Jerusalem might be opened….

    In 1567, more than a decade after David’s death, a primmerikos named Ioannis Theodoridis would happen upon the ledger in which David wrote his vision of the End Times languishing in a dark corner of the palace complex. Not realizing the significance of it, he dismissed it as the ravings of a madman and took it back to his home intending to show it to one of his children as a warning against smoking opium. Instead, he would set it down, forget about it, rediscover it a few months later and decide to write about his possession of it on a note tacked to the front, then put it in his basement and never touch it again. A few decades later, in 1632, his great-grandson Iakobos Theodoridis would stumble upon it, realize parts were written in the same kind of purple ink as the imperial monograph was, and then piece together that David had written it. After editing out the spelling mistakes, revising it into a coherent order and writing a preface describing the document’s history, he would publish it in 1634 as the Apocalypse of David. The government would deny that this text was anything more than a collection of insane ramblings not even worth the justification of blinding Theodoridis, but it would gain a degree of popular interest. Especially once it fell into the hands of one Sabbatai Zevi as much of the heartland was swept with internal turmoil. But that’s a story for a different time. Let’s jump back to 1552, as David leads an army of Romans and Armenians, the spearhead of his great crusade, across the mountains and into Syria, and their date with destiny….
    Part LXXV: The White Horse (1551-1553)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LXXV: The White Horse (1551-1553)

    The Romans had been exiled from Syria hundreds of years before David’s time, and as an army of Armenians and Romans crossed the eastern edge of the Taurus Mountains into the lands the Arabs called Jazira they almost certainly believed that the time had come for them to return, that they were bound to restore the lost territories to the empire. Their general, however, held no such delusions as to the bounds of Roman power: there was no way Trapezous could hope to govern territories this far to the south. Instead, he bore another delusion, that the coming End of Days dictated that the Romans once again march to Jerusalem at the heed of a divine mandate. And nothing, David was sure, could stand in their way….

    David pitched his invasion of Syria to Kardashian and both of their soldiers as being a natural follow-up to the hard-fought War of Liberation. After all, the Kurds had not been completely defeated but merely forced into exile across the mountains, and as long as there were Kurdish states extant on the Armenian border there was a legitimate threat to the Armenian’s lives and freedom. For crying out loud, Khalil Ayyub still ruled in Hisn Kayfa, less than a month from the closest passes; how could this thrice-damned blaggard be allowed to maintain his power and status after all he had inflicted upon the righteous peoples? It would be simple: They would cross the mountains, crush the Kurds of Jazira--more specifically, Hisn Kayfa and Diyarbakir--in a campaign season or two to cement their victory, then pull back to the mountains (or so he claimed). With practically every man under arms having either lost a relative or having known someone to the bloody raids, the prospect of revenge against their ancestral enemy was a tempting one, and after a few weeks Kardashian and his subcommanders were on board.

    The force that crossed the Taurus Mountains in the spring of 1552 numbered around 35,000, 10,000 of them horsemen and 25,000 footmen, the latter being both Roman and Armenian. All were veterans of previous wars in Armenia, Kartvelia and Khaldea, and bore a near fanatical hatred for the enemy born of years of constant marching and fighting. Also accompanying the force were several dozen cannons, most of them lightly-cast guns on trevases but with some heavier siege cannons as well. Because of the long and narrow nature of the passes over the frontier, the logistics of the invasion force were limited, but after a great deal of debate David, Kardashian and Sheikh Mirza--one of Esmail’s sons, and the commander of the qizilbash units that accompanied the Romano-Armenians--decided against splitting their forces to move through the Birkleyn and Bitlis passess simultaneously, fearing that doing so would leave them open to defeat in detail. Instead, the larger Birkleyn Pass would be the main invasion route. The supply plan, in rough terms, was to supply themselves in part by caravans coming over the mountains, but mostly they would rely upon pillage from the plains of Jazira: A humane invasion this would not be. After several weeks of preparations, the army left Chapaghjur, their staging point, in late March 1552, just as the passes were thawing and before the oppressive heat of the Syrian summer began to settle over the region.

    After his humiliating defeat by inaction, Khalil Ayyub had retreated back to Hisn Kayfa with his tail between his legs, facing the daunting prospect of holding his state together in the face of his severe loss of prestige. Without a complex system of legitimacy and governance, the only thing holding the Ayyubid rump state together was a fragile system of loyalties, and after his failure to defeat the Armenians this patchwork could easily come apart beneath his feet. From 1548 to 1550, he fought a brief but bloody civil war with his brother, Nasir, who was based out of the second city of the satrapy, Mardin, that resulted in a hard-fought victory for Khalil, albeit one that allowed Nasir to flee into exile in Baghdad. As such, his martial forces were even weaker than they had been in previous years. Taking advantage of this, the nearby Satrap of Diyarbakir, Ahmed Ustajlu, invaded Ayyubid territory in 1551, forcing Khalil to submit and pay tribute to Diyarbakir. This was all a part of Ustajlu’s long-term ambitions to carve out an independent state between the Khandarhids and the Qutlughids in Upper Syria, and even as the Romano-Armenians massed on the southern edge of the Armenian highlands he was preparing to move against the smaller Satrapy of Arslanabad-on-the-Khabur (Hasakah), hoping to consolidate his hold Jazira by the spring of 1553. Unfortunately for him, there would be no such opportunity.

    The Romans blew out of the passes and into Jazira in the early days of April, pounding the handful of decrepit fortresses along the passes into charred rubble in a series of bombardments that lasted mere hours. By 3 April they were at Kheder, and three days later they had reached the flatlands of Jazira proper, meeting next to no organized resistance. Finding themselves in a barely-defended countryside populated predominantly by the Kurds, many wished to turn their attention on the lands surrounding the byway and get to the usual bouts of looting, raping and pillaging, but David and Kardashian united to oppose this. Their eyes were on the real prize of the campaign: Diyarbakir. The city was a fairly major regional center, well-fortified and a natural crossroads of Jazira, but with a sufficiently large Armenian and Syriac population to make a capture by deception reasonably possible. Moreover, it was the beating heart of all of northern Syria: If they could take it easily, then the entire region (or at least the important part) would fold and be pacified enough for the Romano-Armenians to hold it for the short-term future. Everything else, even Hisn Kayfa and Ayyub himself, would come after the enemy capital was taken. Qizilbash outriders fanned outward in all directions across the plains, sweeping for enemy forces and taking many outlying defense positions and minor garrisons by surprise, effectively crippling Ustajlu’s ability to retaliate on a comparable scale as the main force plowed onward.

    The satrap first received news of the Romans’ arrival on 13 April, less than a day before the advance elements of the invasion force reached his capital. Suddenly thrust from the heights of expectant victory and unification down to the depths of fighting for the survival of his realm, the satrap was left with only the 2,000 horsemen and 6,000 men from his own domains and the 3,000 Kayfans that accompanied him as he marched down the Khabur. The march was halted immediately, but the exaggerated reports coming from the north told of a force far too large for him to march, and for a few crucial days he vacillated as to what he should do. By itself, this might have been a fatal mistake--the only thing keeping Ayyub from cutting and running was the knowledge that David and Kardashian would come after him next--but with the momentum the Romans held, there was no time to delay. Finally, on 20 April, he decided to march northward to either reinforce the defenses of the town or try and wear down the siege camps of the defenders outside. He would do neither.

    By the time Ustajlu’s army reached Diyarbakir on 8 May, the city had been held by the Romans for the better part of two weeks. With about half of the total population within the walls being Armenian or Syriac, it had taken exactly two days for one of the lich gates to be thrown open and hundreds of skirmishers to flood into the city. After a half-battle, half-riot that lasted for the better part of two more days, the city had been secured. David went to work at once, expelling the most militant Muslims from the city, refortifying the walls (many of which had barely been maintained and dated from the time of Uzun Hasan) and giving the Christian residents of the city a crash-course in warfare. Diyarbakir was important, but he didn’t want to leave behind too large a garrison--or rather, didn’t want to split the force for a garrison army off of his main force--with the fate of all of Christendom riding on the line. In the meantime, he ordered the qizilbash to keep an eye out for any forces approaching from the edges of the satrapy: It wouldn’t take long for Ustajlu’s army to be spotted on 6 May, approaching Diyarbakir from the flatlands to its south.

    The satrap was a fairly experienced general, but panic and fear had overridden much of his good sense as he raced northwards to try and relieve his capital, allowing his army to string itself out along the road, with the cavalry in the distant front, the main force drawn out in its battalions and the Kayfans in the very rear. Mirza struck shortly after dawn on 7 May, outside the small town of Tell Qadim (Tevsantepe), slamming into the left side of the exposed army with 5,000 men before turning and wheeling away, vanishing back into the fields as quickly as he had come. The cavalry gave chase, not realizing how badly outnumbered they were, and the qizilbash fell back even further, luring them in before turning upon them, surrounding them and slaughtering them to a man within sight of the rest of the formation. By the time rumors reached the Kayfans this was reported as half the army being killed, and they broke and fled only to be run down like dogs in the nearly perfectly flat fields. The Diyarbakirites hastily drew up a square and dug out a series of makeshift earthworks, managing to hold off the qizilbash until nightfall in a series of hit-and-run attacks. With morale in tatters, Ustajlu made camp inside the defenses. At about midnight, the qizilbash returned with flaming arrows, setting the camp alight and scattering the defenders. Many escaped into the darkness, but most did not. Tell Qadim was an utterly brutal but equally decisive Roman victory, and the first of many in Mirza’s long career; for the death or desertion of the entire force of 9,000, the qizilbash took less than a thousand dead or severely wounded.

    With the secondary force of 10,000 men which had been mustered to crush Ustajlu no longer needed, David dispatched it and 3,000 qizilbash under Kardashian to lay siege to and hopefully destroy Hisn Kayfa; of course, all of the infantry involved were Armenian, their obvious grievances hopefully precluding any desertions or failed sieges. However, he was not content to rest on his laurels, and after three months of drilling and fortification, as well as the securing of many minor fortresses in the area around Diyarbakir, David was ready to move onward. There was also a number of supply issues which prevented the Romans from loitering in the area around the city, and so he left only 4,000 Armenian militiamen and a few dozen gunners behind to defend it. The rest, a force of some 27,000--8,000 qizilbash, 3,000 Syriacs and 16,000 Roman and Armenian infantry--went westwards.

    Diyarbakir was without a doubt the capital and chief city of the satrapy, but it was not the only major settlement. A little over a hundred and eighty kilometers to the southwest was Edessa, a large fortress city that straddled the border between Jazira and Syria proper. It was of great importance both as the next step on the road to Jerusalem and because it offered a potential power base for another Muslim warlord to try and oppose David if given enough time, something which he had no intention of allowing. After departing Diyarbakir on 2 August, the Romans made good time towards the south-west, albeit slowed due to additional need for water beneath the harsh Arab sun, and arrived outside the town on the 27th. Like the previous city, Edessa sported a large Syriac population, but upon their arrival the Romans found said Syriacs huddled in camps on the plains outside the city. The governor and de facto ruler of the city after Ustajlu’s disappearance months before was al-Adil, who fancied himself the next caliph like so many others, and who considered himself merciful for allowing the Syriacs to escape with their lives. The initial Roman attempts to parlay were driven away by (inaccurate) cannonfire, and it soon became clear that there was no way the city would surrender. With little time to waste, David refused to wait for the defenders to starve.

    The expelled Syriacs bore two crucial things: a knowledge of the city and a burning desire for revenge. It was soon revealed that there was a limited number of wells inside the city, and that the citadel was both antiquated, having been built in the 12th century, and accessible from outside the lower town. A plan was quickly drafted. On the night of 4 September, cartloads of firebrands were hurled over the wall of the lower city, spreading fire and chaos as cannons roared to life opposite the citadel and infantry advanced under cover fire towards its walls. Within an hour a breach had opened in the citadel and Romans had swarmed inside, capturing it easily as the defenders were torn between the assault, fires and phantom attacks across the walls of the lower city. With the citadel captured, nearby gates soon fell as well and waves of angry attackers burst into the city. Edessa was subject to a brutal three days of sacking as the Syriacs avenged themselves upon their persecutors and the Romans looted anything (and anyone) who wasn’t nailed down. Most of the city’s male population was dead by the end of it, and many of the survivors were sold into slavery.

    With the second city of the satrapy captured, the Satrapy of Diyarbakir effectively extinguished and the Ayyubid strongholds under siege in the east, the nominal cause for the Roman invasion of Jazira had been satisfied. To the east, across the span of the Euphrates, lay the swarm of vassal emirates which the Khandarhids used to control Syria, which on their own might have been manageable but which were insurmountable together. David wouldn’t, no, couldn’t let this stop him though, and spent the autumn and winter of 1552 camped on the plains west of Edessa, planning his move the coming spring. The Roman force, dwindled to 22,000 by casualties and garrison forces in September, swelled to nearly 30,000 by the coming of spring in 1553, bolstered by Syriac and Melkite militias, Latin and Assyrian mercenaries and volunteers, a limited number of Arab mercenaries and reinforcements from Armenia and Pontos. In November, the Romans advanced to Bile on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. David’s plan was to try and provoke an attack by the Emirate of Aleppo as an excuse to invade, threaten Aleppo and draw Khandarhid forces there before moving south into the Holy Land, relying upon the hastily expanded and reinforced (though still quite formidable) defenses of the eastern bank and the Rumites[1] to keep the Egyptians distracted long enough for him to reach Jerusalem.

    But like all plans, his would not survive contact with the enemy. Sure enough, one of the sub-emirati governors, the sheikh of Nizip, would grow uneasy at the continued presence of the Romans on the far shore of the river and send a reconnaissance detachment across it, which David would construe as being a probing force sent to test their readiness. The Romans would cross the Euphrates on the pontoon bridge they’d been quietly building for weeks on 28 February 1553, scout cavalry fanning out across the countryside to identify enemy strongholds. The sheikh of Antep gathered the other sheikhs of the region, again without waiting for the emir’s permission to do so, and marched against the Romans with a whopping 6,000 men of various quality. This army was surrounded and crushed on 6 March, with the Romans losing less than 3,000 dead or wounded in a very one-sided battle. Afterwards, Anteb and Rumekale were both occupied by minor forces, the former having recently suffered a number of tax revolts that alienated most of the locals.

    However, after this quick victory, the Emir, Harun al-Khandarhi, refused to offer battle, gathering his own forces and calling in reinforcements from his colleagues and superiors as he withdrew further into his own territory, hoping to draw the Romans off their supply lines so they could be decisively defeated once he had enough support to do so. As reinforcing armies arrived from Homs and al-Haffah, a fleet put out from Alexandria and the Romans drew ever closer to Aleppo, the fate of Syria and Rome hung in the balance….

    [1] The Rumites weren’t in a position to take part in the invasion, but David hoped their status as a Roman vassal would provoke the Khandarhids into attacking them, distracting them from the real target, i.e. him.
    Part LXXVI: The Invasion of Syria (1553-1554)
  • Eparkhos

    Part LXXVI: The Invasion of Syria (1553-1554)

    As the Romans advanced further and further into Syria, marching through lands that had not seen their rule in centuries, they met strangely little resistance. David first took this as a sign of God’s providence, but he and his generals soon began to realize that this was not the groundwork for a divinely-inspired victory. The Syrian emirates, rather than rushing into battle and being slaughtered one by one, drew together and waited for their enemy to come to them. As reinforcements came from north and south, roaring maelstrom of war was beginning to form, one that would decide the fate of the Middle East in the decades to come, and moreso the fate of Rome herself….

    The Khandarhid Caliphate had existed as a functional state for a scant few years by the time of David’s invasion, and its limited bureaucracy--much of it inherited from the old Mamluk Sultanate--limited its direct control to Egypt and the southern Levant proper. Much of its fringe was controlled by effectively autonomous vassal lords, especially in Anatolia, the Hejaz and Syria. The largest cluster of these vassal states was in Northern Syria, where they formed a bulwark and a buffer against the Qutlughids and the Rumites, shielding the more valuable territory in the caliphal heartland from raid and invasion. There were four such states; the Alawite Emirate of Haffah along the Syrian cost, the Emirate of Homs in west-central Syria, the Emirate of Aleppo in the far north and the Emirate of Damascus in the south, albeit stretching across the desert to the western edge of Iraq. al-Hakim played these states off each other, content in the knowledge that a major revolt was unlikely since the neighbors of whichever state tried to revolt would invade and crush it before it could spiral out into something major. As such, he felt confident enough to appoint one of his cousins, Harun al-Khandarhi, as Emir of Aleppo, despite the risks of an usurpation that giving a relative power in a frontier zone posed. This would be both a blessing and a curse.

    Firstly, Harun was a capable commander and administrator, and when the Romans crossed the Euphrates in the spring of 1553 he was smart enough to realize that rushing in to attack them immediately would be suicide. Instead, he gathered as many of his men as he could, sent demands for aid to Homs and al-Haffah, and word of the invasion to Cairo via sea, then pulled back towards his capital at Aleppo, hoping to lure the Romans away from their supply lines so they could be enveloped, or better yet destroyed piecemeal. With forces totaling only 22,000--12,000 Aleppans, 4,000 Homsites and 6,000 Haffans--this was the best strategy he could’ve chosen, and it briefly seemed to be on the verge of success, as April came and the Romans had neither forced a battle nor laid siege to anything that could not be recovered.

    However, it was also a curse, as in appointing his cousin as emir of Aleppo, al-Hakim had neglected to install him in Damascus. Damascus, and much of southern Syria, was ruled by Ashraf al-Ghazali, the grandson of the region’s last mamluk governor and the self-proclaimed Sultanate of Syria. While the Ghazalis had been cowed by the overwhelming force of Egypt, Ashraf still dreamed of the glory and power which his dynasty had once held, and had every intention of reclaiming said prestige while killing every Egyptian possible in the process. al-Hakim had inflicted the sort of moderate wound which hardens a man’s heart, but had failed to deliver the mortal blow which would prevent him from acting upon it. As David’s army crossed the frontier and as forces began to be shuffled around to meet the invasion, Ashraf smelled blood and began quietly mustering out his own armies and hiring the services of the desert tribesmen….

    David, like all Romans, was ignorant of this. By April, his men had advanced to Kiliza (Kilis), a small fortress town that lay less than seventy kilometers from Antioch, but in doing so had taken several weeks longer than anyone had expected. The Aleppans had carted all grain and pretty much everything edible behind city walls or burned it outright, leaving the army in a poor logistical position. Several cities and fortress of note had been taken--Nizip, Antep, Rumikale, and even Manbij, which had been found abandoned by a qizilbash force and subsequently garrisoned--but the Romans had yet to see hide or tail of any army sent out to meet them. With no immediate victory to be had, David could almost feel the morale of his men slipping as he and they both began to fear they were walking into a trap. After a council of war in Kiliza, the Romans decided that the original plan, to attack Antioch and Aleppo at roughly the same time, wasn’t feasible, not that anyone had really been that attached to it anyway. They would march directly on Aleppo, either take the city or force battle, and open the road into the heart of the Levant.

    On 6 April, the Romans reached Azaz, a relatively small but well-fortified town defended by fanatically loyal Turkmen. After a cursory bombardment, David realized that he wouldn’t get anywhere and prepared to move on: however, an artilleryman named Iasonidis observed that it had been a dry winter, that Azaz would be of little use to them anyways but could pose a serious danger if left intact, and within a day the large grain stores behind the walls had turned the town into an inferno. The Romans pressed onward towards Aleppo, and Harun was supposedly woken in the middle of the night on the 7th with word that Azaz had been destroyed. He had been relying upon Azaz and the nearby fortress-town of Afrin to stall the Romans until reinforcements arrived from Cairo and Damascus, but evidently he would have no such luck. The force he had assembled was too large to withdraw within the city entirely, as it was already choked with refugees, the support fleet couldn’t possibly arrive in time, and Ashraf was being infuriatingly cagey with his plans. He had to either offer battle at Aleppo despite bad odds or retreat to Sarmada and pray his capital could hold out. Reluctantly, he chose the former.

    On 12 April, Roman scouts returned to camp telling of an army camped out on the plains to their south-east, a bit to the north of Aleppo proper. Further investigation revealed an estimated 20,000 Khandarhi soldiers spread along the east bank of Queiq River, which had dwindled to a glorified stream after two years of poor weather, arranged behind a rather impressive series of earthworks. With the land around his city not exactly full of force multipliers, Harun had drafted the people of the city into digging out a series of trenches, palisades and other earthworks, helping alleviate his numerical defects, to some extent. He also possessed superiority in cannonade, albeit by a slim margin. The Syrians were arranged with the Alwaites as their own formation on the right/northern edge, the Halabis in the center and left/south, and the Homsites as a reserve and blocking force behind them, with what little Bedouin and Mamluk cavalry that had been scrounged up across the earthworks as a screening force. David sent feelers across the lines to the enemy commanders, then arranged his forces to give battle, overloading his left/northern flank with light horse and infantry while leaving most of his heavier infantry on his center and right. Battle was joined the next day, 13 April.

    With no artillery preamble such as usually preceded a battle, the Romans advanced in the early morning twilight, armor hastily muffled and relying upon drill and whispered commands rather than the usual shouts and trumpets. Several bandons became disoriented and fell out of formation, but the lion’s share of the force was in position when the silent dawn was shattered with clarion calls, surging forward and charging the earthworks as the Syrians scrambled to man them. Fierce fighting ensued, in some places breaking down into dozens of individual duels as orders and formations were lost in the chaos and screams in Greek and Arabic, but for once the weight of numbers was on the Romans’ side where it counted and after a few bloody minutes they broke through in the south, capturing the earthen ramparts and hastily wheeling the cannons there around to fire down into the Syrian reinforcements swarming up to hold the line. Meanwhile, now that there was enough light to properly move, the traitorous Alawite commander, Husayn al Shughuri, sounded the order to retreat[1], allowing the horsemen and the skirmishers on his Roman opposite to flood in through the gap he left and pin down the edge of the Aleppan right flank, threatening to roll up the entire Syrian line just as Harun was struggling to hold the left. Orders flew up and down the line as forces rushed to take up positions, and a fatal mistake was made by the Homsite commander, Iskandari, who was caught trying to reinforce three segments of the line at once. He ordered his men to pull back to try and reposition themselves, but all the men in front of them saw was the ranks behind them suddenly scampering backwards. Morale collapsed, and within minutes the Syrian center was streaming southward, towards Aleppo and coincidentally towards the captured battery. An absolute slaughter followed as men trampled each other trying to escape, only to emerge directly in front of the enemy cannons, and several hundred were killed before the Romans were finally driven back. The survivors fled into Aleppo or the wilds to the east. About 8,000 Syrians and 3,000 Romans were killed, while thousands more of the former disappeared into the desert.

    The Battle of the Queiq was a clear-cut Roman victory, but a very hard fought-one as well. David’s men were in no shape to move on on the 13th despite having routed the enemy before noon, and it took until the 14th for them to move the few scant kilometers south to Aleppo. They need not have worried, though, as with Haroun missing and presumed dead his secretary took command, offering the Romans tribute in exchange for not sacking the city, completely unaware that the Aleppans outnumbered the Romans two-to-one and the latter were in no state for a siege. Quickly thinking it over, David demanded tribute in the form of grain, coin and valuables to feed and pay his men, as well as the installation of a token force of 800 men (most already on punishment duty) in the citadel. The latter held little value--after all, there were some 75,000 people within the city walls at any given time, not to mention the war refugees and the remnants of Haroun’s army--other than focusing any Aleppan resistance inward, rather than allowing them to pose a threat to the Roman rear.

    With Haroun missing and the Aleppans rudderless, the Homsites a spent force and the Alawites currently making their way back over the mountains, the road southward was effectively clear. There was still the possibility of Khandarhi forces being sealifted into the Roman rear, but David was sure that God would not let such a thing foul his advance now. The Romans, now numbering a little under 25,000 marched further into Syria, making better time now that they could support themselves off the countryside. The small groups of militiamen that organized as they approached either withdrew in the face of overwhelming odds or were batted aside with ease, while most of the fortresses en route either hunkered down and tried not to get involved or were, again, battered aside with ease. They reached Hama on 8 May, then Homs five days later, where David made contact with Ashraf, who had seized the town only a few days before under the guise of protecting it from the Romans. The two men quickly calculated that they would be better off letting their enemies bleed each other and warily continued on their way, David to the Khabir Valley and Ashraf to Masyaf.

    The seaborne invasion force which had been sent to repel David had in fact landed in early May. However, because of a miscommunication about the Romans’ location, its admiral, Tariq ibn Nashid had chosen to bypass Latakia and instead sail for Iskandarun, the seaport of Antioch--and a Rumite city. The Khandarhis landed 10,000 men in a city that had been seized by the Savonese after a local dispute, seized it in turn and installed a garrison in preparation for marching over the mountains to Antioch and then onwards to interdict the Romans. However, the next day a Venetian fleet arrived in the harbor, having been dispatched to seize the city themselves, and a battle ensued that saw most of the Khandarhi fleet burned at anchor. Three days later, 15,000 Rumites arrived from Adana under Kadir himself. The resulting battle saw the Khandarhids chased into the sea, their surviving ships and guns seized and all prisoners slaughtered; supposedly, fishermen would find rings of mail in their catch’s stomachs for years to come. Thus ended the primary Rumite contribution to the war, at least on the Syrian front.

    Meanwhile, as June began, the Romans advanced along the Lebanese coast. David had hoped that doing so would rally the region’s significant Christian population to his cause, but the Maronites were slow in taking up arms, fearing that David’s success so far had been a mere fluke, and that like those who had supported the Crusaders before they would eventually be rounded upon and abandoned to persecution as soon as the region was retaken. Nonetheless, the string of victories gave enough hope for some to take up arms and join him, and cowed several of the coastal cities into surrendering without a fight. Rather than spreading himself thin, he extracted light tribute from most of these cities, concentrating his resources on the Mina of Tarabulus as a supply port and garrisoning it with three bandons. The local Venetian merchants were more than happy to bring in food at severe markups, something which David could afford to do in the short term because of his loot and pillaged goods from Syria. In doing so, he helped reduce the burden upon the locals, which he hoped would entreat more of them to join his cause. It worked, and things were going quite well as he swept down the difficult terrain of the coast in June and July.

    Then he reached Beirut.

    Ever since the decline of the Mamluks, Beirut had been held by the Ma’anids, a local dynasty of Druze mystics who were high on the hit list of pretty much everyone in the region. During their years of governance, they had turned Beirut into a true fortress city, with a series of overlapping land and seawalls defended by fanatical tribesmen who saw weapon training as a religious duty. Already on thin ice with Cairo and suspecting that David’s string of miracle victories was just that, the sitting emir, Yunis, refused to submit to the Romans. Beirut was too large to be left in the rear, as it could allow thousands of Khandarhi soldiers to land in their rear and attack, and so David refused to advance. He ordered a round-the-clock bombardment of the walls, and when that failed to make headway, sat down for a siege while he tried to find a way to take or disable it. He would spend the next eight months banging his head against the walls, and even as outriders captured Sidon and Tyre, Beirut remained too strategic to leave in the rear.

    Meanwhile, in Cairo, a crisis of confidence was at hand. The Khandarhid Caliphate was already beset with problems on all sides--rebellions in the Hejaz, a brutal war against the Nubians arising from an attempt to force them to convert, and a war with the Venetians--and this string of humiliating defeats to the Romans and even worse, the Rumites, was inauspicious at best. Even worse, the already senile caliph al-Hakim was found dead in his bath in November 1553, which plunged the realm into a succession crisis lasting the better part of the next three months as his sons struggled for control, during which Ashraf would finally declare his independence. Finally, in February 1554, Ibrahim ahl Suleyman returned from Anatolia with much of the region’s 15,000 garrison troops, joined shortly by the Cairo garrison. He unceremoniously executed his nephews and installed himself as regent for his own son, Khalid[2], then sued for peace with the Nubians on the ground of restoring the ancient Baqt Treaty, freeing up tens of thousands of men, and turned his gaze northward. There would be no more half-assed attempts to stop the Romans, and there would be no more half-assed governance by vassal emirs. He held every card, and it was about time he played them….

    [1] al-Shughuri was one of the few survivors of the alt-Telal Massacre, in which the Aleppans massacred tens of thousands of Alawites in 1523. Neither he nor his emir had any intention of actually helping Haroun, and were instead waiting for their sudden betrayal to have the most impact.
    [2] Islamic jurisprudence rather strictly forbid an uncle from usurping his nephews, and no matter how Ibrahim really felt about this he was trying to run a Caliphate and couldn’t just flaunt the law
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    Part LXXVII: Armageddon (1554-1555)
  • Eparkhos

    Hunh. Finally caught up again. WHAT a ride!!
    Not over yet.

    Part LXXVII: Armageddon (1554-1555)

    As the summer of 1554 began, the Khandarhid Caliphate would finally assemble in all its might to meet the Romans on the field of battle. No longer would David and his men defeat the badly-trained and badly-led armies and militia of northern Syria: Now they would face the strength of a proper armies many times their own size, blessed with a fury against the outsiders and led by men determined to win or die trying. Had the window of timing and fortune that had allowed the Romans to come this far closed while they were still in it?

    The armies which had been routed at Nizip, Aleppo and at Iskandarun were pale shadows of the full military might of the Khandarhid Caliphate, composed of local recruits and trained to varying degrees by the commanders of far northern Syria, who more often than not were local nobles chosen for political reasons. Not so were the caliphal armies proper, which were formed and led by hardened warriors who had worked their way up from the lower officer corps, possessing both little political danger and a great deal of strategic and tactical skill. Though predominantly infantry like the armies of the northern vassals, the caliphal armies also possessed a number of Bedouin and mamluk cavalry near equals to the qizilbash and Latins that the Romans fielded, and moreover the vast ranks of footmen were professional soldiers of quality. And, most importantly, there were tens of thousands of them, far more than the Romans or some upstart in Damascus could ever hope to field. Their fleet, while not exactly up to snuff, was far larger than any force which could hope to match it, even outnumbering that of Venice in sheer number of hulls, and would possess de facto naval superiority in the regions they would be operating in. In short, the Khandarhids held far more advantages than the Romans did, and as Ibrahim drew up his plans he had no qualms about using them to their full extent.

    It was absolutely imperative that the Romans and the Damascenes, who were assumed to be their de facto allies, not be allowed to pass beyond the hilly country north of Mount Carmel, as there was a possibility they could use their superior mobility to evade Ibrahim’s men and make for Egypt. As such, they would be caught up in the mountains and killed like dogs. A fleet of a hundred and forty-six ships would put out from Alexandria, carrying 5,000 men and supplies for countless more, which would speed the march of the Egyptian armies by alleviating their dependence on foraging and caravans for supplies. The main force, an army of 35,000 footmen and 10,000 cavalry under the caliphal regent himself, would advance along the coast to Hayfa, which had been refortified by al-Hakim years prior. There they would wait until the secondary force, 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry under Qadir Tlass, the commander of the largest expedition into Nubia and a man known for merciless triumphs, arrived near the Sea of Galilee. Tlass would take the initiative, pushing up along the coast to take the ports which the Roman advance elements had already captured, while Ibrahim would follow at a distance. The hope was that David would offer battle with Tlass, who would then pin him down until the main force could strike, but if the Romans failed to take the bait then Tlass would take the initiative and engage. Their arrival was scheduled for August, and they began to move out in April. All signs were promising.

    Just as the first Khandarhid battalions were leaving the Egyptian delta, things were coming to a head outside the walls of Beirut. After spending the better part of a year knocking their heads against the city’s ramparts, the Romans were becoming increasingly exhausted, and the memories of the victorious wave that had carried them there had begun to fade. Supply issues were becoming increasingly evident, and the morale issues that always followed were close at hand. Attempts to batter down the walls came to nothing, and though one of the outer walls had been destroyed, the locals had rallied to the Ma’anids and held the ruins against the subsequent assault. David was beginning to feel the tide turning against him, and felt that he would have to either move on or eventually destroy himself via attrition. There was no room for error when the stakes were this high. With direct assault having failed terribly, in late March he decided that deception was his best chance at crippling Beirut and thus being able to move on. Over the next week he made a big show of abandoning the siege, withdrawing into the mountains beyond the defender’s view. On 7 April, the Romans finally left their winter siege camp, leaving their casualties in shallow graves and much of their camp intact, because of a disease outbreak that had occured over the winter. While the Ma’anid soldiers were busy combing through the camp for anything of value, a small group of Roman spies scaled an abandoned section of the wall and crept down into the city. A few hours later, a series of explosions ripped through the city, destroying several key gates, destroying an interior wall and starting fires in the more-run down parts of town. A number of diseased body parts were also tossed down wells and into storehouses. As David had hoped, this delayed the Ma’anids long enough for disease to take hold, and soon Beirut was under a new siege, an effective quarantine.

    Even so, David didn’t want to leave a trail as he forged onward into the Holy Land, needing to make up for all the time he had lost outside the walls of Beirut. He abandoned the coastal road and moved into the hills, following the gorges and ridgelines to bypass the numerous fortresses that still dotted the region and hone in on Jerusalem. The country was difficult, but with local guides it was manageable. By May, the Romans had reached the Awali Valley, gone south out of it and reached Jezzine, a minor fortified town in the highlands where several dozen bandits proclaimed themselves supporters and were promptly inducted into the scouting corps, and less than a month later they had taken the old Beaufort Castle and moved into the Litani Valley. They were forced to wait in the region for a time due to supply issues, but reached the plains west of the Golan Heights around the Upper Jordan by late July 1554. David made camp here once again, planning to resupply his men for a few weeks until the weather became cooler--most of his men were from the Caucasus, and couldn’t move as efficiently in the region’s hot summer.

    Unfortunately for them, Tless’s army was moving ahead of schedule and arrived in the same region less than a week later, with little to no warning. His men were exhausted by the long march, but he had the good sense to withdraw southward, trying to draw the Romans after him while he sent requests for support westward towards Ibrahim’s army, which had just reached Hayfa. While somewhat beleaguered by heat and casualties thereof, the regent was eager to finally settle this once and for all and moved to intercept, rushing eastward across the hills of the region. David, meanwhile, found himself suddenly having to break camp and flee, but having exhausted his supply routes to the north east and with little room to maneuver to the north and west.

    Had Ibrahim been faster or Tless decided to attack alone, this could have been the end of the Roman army, but fortunately for them, Ashraf intervened first. He regarded David and the Romans as little more than a temporary nuisance that would eventually have to withdraw, and so had every intention of letting his two enemies bleed each other. However, a third of the Khandarhid force off by itself was too tempting a target to pass up and he decided to attack it before reinforcements could arrive. On 2 August, a Damascene army forded the Jordan and attacked Tless’s supply train on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Rather than being caught between two enemy armies, Tless decided that Ibrahim could handle the Romans himself and moved to engage, pursuing the Damascenes eastward and into the country of the ravines.

    This opened up just the window David needed, and the Romans broke camp and fled into the hill country to the west. Ibrahim attempted to pursue, and the two armies spent the rest of the year in the rough terrain of the region, the Romans seemingly always only a few days’ march away. The Egyptian forces were growing increasingly split and seemingly ragged, although this was in fact a deliberate effort by the regent to bait the Romans into standing and fighting long enough for the main force to close and engage. David, meanwhile, was able to stay just ahead of hsi pursuers by judicious use of local scouts and fast-moving cavalry patrols and raids that kept his army in supply for just long enough to find more supplies. However, unlike the Egyptians, the Roman morale was in near perpetual decline. What were their chances of victory if they were constantly in flight? Where had their victories of the previous years gone? Why persist in what was obviously a doomed effort? They had beaten the Kurds, hadn’t they? And then the Syrians? Why put their lives on the line for cities that they probably couldn’t even hold? David’s forceful personality kept things together for a time, but the doubts began to spread, and as the apportioned date drew closer and closer the basileus himself began to crack. In October, Evangelos and several of the other generals approached David and begged for him to give it up before more good men died. David refused, babbling on about how God would not allow them to fail so close. Then, as winter began to set in in November he appeared in a hagged fuge before all his men, who by now barely numbered 20,000, and promised that they would withdraw by the end of March.

    He kept to his word: As February 1555 came, the Romans marched out of the hill country and towards Jerusalem. The Egyptians moved to intercept, and the two armies met on the plains east of Lajjun.


    Battle was joined on 17 February, a clear day that was relatively warm for the time of year, around 60*F with no breeze. The attitude in the Roman camp was surprisingly good, as David appeared to have returned to his ‘normal’ state, and it seemed as if they were once again going to win a spectacular victory, buoyed by a half-dozen speeches over the preceding days and the ministrations of dozens of priests who had descended upon the camp. Constantinople and Jerusalem would be reconquered under the same ruler! What state David was in, let alone his thoughts on the predicament he had placed himself in are unknown. In the Egyptian camp, meanwhile, the soldiers were also confident of victory, eager to at last crush the enemy who had taunted them for so long and to avenge the insults their country had suffered before in Syria.

    The Romans positioned themselves in a line stretching across the plain, with its left flank anchored by the heights around OTL Migdal HaEmek, and its right shielded by the depression of OTL Kfar Baruh Reservoir, making any attempt to cross the depression effectively suicide. Irrigation ditches stretching out beyond the right made any attempt to flank it unlikely, but just in case a small cavalry force was held in reserve. The bulk of the cavalry, around 4,000 men, was positioned in the foothills of the northern ridge, while the main line was split into the standard three groups, 8,000 in the center and 5,000 in each wing. Again, what David’s ultimate strategy was is unknown, but he himself commanded the center with Evangelos on the left and a moirarkh named Ralleis on the right. The Egyptians, meanwhile, formed up on the plain opposite them, spreading out into three divisions of 10,000 each plus the reserve, with cavalry mixed in on the edges of the divisions. Ibrahim’s plan was to pin down the right and center, then swing around, drive back the Roman right and roll up the center and left.

    Battle was joined at noon, artillery roaring to life as the first units began to move forward, cannonballs tearing bloody trails through ranks of men. The Egyptians held a numbers advantage, but many of their guns had been accidentally set up out of range, while the Roman guns on the northern ridge were nearly impossible to hit and could fire down with impunity, giving the Egyptians the worst of the exchange. Trying to minimize losses, Ibrahim ordered his advance elements forward at a run, soon coming to within range of the arquebusiers within the Roman ranks but taking few losses because of their speed and the heavier armor of the advance elements. Deafening shouts and war cries filled the air as the two centers joined, gunners getting off their last shots before the charging Egyptians hit the wall of pike. They had moved so quickly that many of them had lost formation, and with the weight of men behind them the Khandarhis struggled to reform, instead being swept forward into the defenders by the rush of men behind them, killing hundreds and marking the field with mounds of the dead before the order to pull back and reform was given. During this window the surviving Roman horsemen charged forward onto the field, slamming into the Egyptian right and cutting deeply into their ranks, but as they wheeled and pulled back the leading edge of the formation turned to meet them, forming into a pike wall as the cavalrymen turned and charged again, and once again the weight of numbers carried them forward to their deaths. The flower of Roman cavalry was torn asunder and the survivors forced to flee the field in disarray, outnumbered and pursued by the Khandarhi cavalry.

    The thunderous artillery duel continued as the battle raged, but a lucky shot destroyed one of the Roman powder stocks, blowing a half-dozen cannons sky high and scattering much of the rest of the battery. By now the Egyptians had reformed and plunged back into battle, their sheer mass making itself felt as they pushed forward into the Roman ranks, fighting raging hand-to-hand as dozens were killed every minute, two bristling walls of pikes rushing into each other, life or death depending on the length of its handle. The Romans began to be pushed back, bending but not breaking as the wall of men and steel thrust forward, and after three hours of fighting Ibrahim deemed that the Roman reserves had to be committed, and gave the order for his left wing to strike.

    They charged forward like an unstoppable force, racing over the uneven ground with the strength of a typhoon and slamming into the Roman right with the force of ten thousand men and their arms. The din and the roar were epic, deafening out any individual shout or cry into a single impenetrable storm as men waded through the soaked fields and into the slaughter, bodies falling left and right and the ground turning red with the fallen, masses of the dead rising up and giving footing as they fought on atop the plateau of corpses. The strength and number of the Romans had been depleted as men had been pulled back to reinforce the other two divisions, and suddenly the cannon shells were falling among them as the Egyptian cannons were moved up and joined the frey for the first time, but still they held, standing there as sturdy as the mountainside as the sea of flashing metal rose up to meet them, and the orders were gone now, everything was gone now except for the will to survive and the need to stand firm. Any man who ran was dead, any man who ran was dead, and the Egyptians were surging towards them, a screaming mass of fanatics, and the line wavered but then rallied and they fell back, and any man who ran was dead, and here they came again. The Khandarhis roared up the mound, crashed down like a breaking wave and then fell back. A wave of cavalry swept across the plain, angling towards the depression, and the horsemen in the reserve realized it was now or never and the order to charge was given and they hurtled out of the rear and into the pit, catching the enemy there and falling upon them like lions upon a stag and the whole center of the left was in confusion, and the Egyptians were wavering, and Ralleis sounded the clarion to charge and the bloodied veterans hurdled downwards screaming O STAVROS NIKA, and struck the Egyptians like a tidal wave, stronger and fiercer than anything they had faced, and the Khandarhis wavered and began to route….

    ….and in came the enemy reserves. The Egyptians rallied, shoring up the line and then beginning to turn back, and the Romans were exhausted and couldn’t hold a wall like that on level ground but fought to their last, knowing they were already dead but trying to buy time and then the Khandarhis broke through, charging up the mound unopposed and swinging around behind the Roman lines. David needs to swing around, where’s David?, goddamnit! Where is he? A shout went up the line that David had been killed, and the morale of the Romans finally broke. Men turned and ran for their lives, only to find the enemy closing in on them like the devil’s jaws, which only worsened the panic, and soon the whole army was streaming away to the north-west. Only the left remained, Evangelos’ section of the line, but he knew he was beaten and shifted his forces to cover the hillock as he began to pull back. It was dusk now, and the left regiments were able to fade away into the darkness, escaping as the Egyptians ran down those from the center and right.

    The Battle of Lajjun, as it would be known, was an absolute charnel house. Of the 20,000 Romans and 45,000 Khandarhis that took the field, an estimated 18,000 Romans and 10,000 Khandarhis were killed. The battle exhausted Ibrahim’s army, and he withdrew south confident in the knowledge that the enemy could not advance further.

    This was a saving grace for Evangelos, who suddenly found himself the general of his own force and likely the emperor in his own right, stranded more than a thousand miles from the frontier and nearly five hundred from the nearest neighbor who wouldn’t reflexively kill him with less than 3,000 exhausted and demoralized men. He would fade away into the countryside, gradually moving north into the Lebanese foothills and becoming a bandit in all but name to keep his men fed, embracing every hardship which they came across to prove himself worthy as a leader and a comrade and to try and stop the desertions that plagued his army. After three months on the brink of starvation, hunted like beasts in the forests and mountains, the surviving 2,183 Romans (all would be granted titles later) reached Tarabulus, which by some miracle had not yet been retaken. Evangelos sold off everything of value within the town, including all of his personal goods except for his sword and a tunic, to hire ships to carry his men back to Kayqubadabad. Including the garrisons of Nizip and Rumikale, which wisely fled into the mountains when word reached them, only 4,000 of the 30,000 men who had followed David across the Euphrates would escape back to the Empire.

    Evangelos would arrive in Trapezous to find a situation worse than he could’ve imagined….

    Appendix: al-Sirozi
  • Eparkhos

    Sorry for the long delay. This isn't an official restart or anything but an idea I wanted to get down and put out before I could talk myself out of it. Might make some normal posts this weekend, maybe not. For now....

    December 1551, Smyrna[1]

    Izmir had declined in the last decade, everyone knew that, but the loss was always sharpest when Selim took up his nightly vigil. He shifted slightly, leaning his spear against the palace’s alcove while he pulled his coat tighter, and scanned the abandoned road for anything interesting. A slight wind kicked up, blowing a few specks of snow through the window of a dilapidated house. Somewhere further down the road a hunched figure staggered out of one of the ruins, crossed the street and then vanished into another, followed a few minutes later by the flicker of firelight from the second building. Selim looked away, pretending not to see. Officially, the buildings were to be left untouched so they could be taken down for scrap. Unofficially, the bey could shove it up his ass. God only knew he wasn’t getting paid enough to roust out some poor bastard from the only warmth on this side of the palace doors.

    He shivered as the wind kicked up again. It carried with it faint laughter, so fleeting and distant that he might’ve ignored it as a delusion if it had been the only time it had happened. Inside, through three layers of doors and guards such as himself, Kizilsakal Bey, was living it up with however many whores and cooks he could afford. Did the whores get paid better than he did? Maybe, he couldn’t be sure. And it wasn’t like he had much grounds for complaint. At least he was fed, that was more than most in Izmir could say. Really, he should just try and get along as well as he could until the next jackass with an army took over, or Cairo sent some new jackass to run things or at least stir the pot back up--

    “Good evening, brother.”

    Selim twitched, taken by surprise, then forced himself to adopt a casual pose as his mind leapt into action. A man stood rigid against the wall a few paces away, dressed in plain clothes and with no notable features on his shadowed face. If the stranger had meant to kill him, he would’ve been dead by now--nice, really nice, wasn’t he just the crack soldier in the caliph’s armies?--so he would be best off trying to act normal and pray this wasn’t some rich jackass trying to start shit or get him in trouble.

    “I’m not your brother.” he said, hoping he sounded aloof. Please let this be some random beggar who would--

    “Are you not a follower of the Prophet? A true follower?”

    A sufi, of course. Why did it have to be a sufi? Selim glanced around, desperately looking for an excuse to make the man someone else’s problem.

    “I am, but I--”

    “Then we are brothers, or at least should be brothers.” the sufi said, sidling up beside him with an air of quiet confidence. There was something strange about the man’s lilting tone of speech, but he didn’t want to hear anything more.

    “Listen, sufi, I’m on watch. If you don’t leave I’ll have to call my captain, and if the Bey in there’s feeling pissy you might end up in irons or dead.”

    “I am not a sufi.” the man said, something resembling anger rippling through his voice. “I am nothing of the sort. I do not consort with demons, nor profane myself with the abominations of intoxication. Indeed, I am a true follower of the law.”

    The man’s speech was stilted in a way, but seemed as fluid as the river Selim was born beside. He blinked, wondering if he should call for reinforcements or try and run the man off again, but before he could decide the man continued.

    “Selim, what do you think God thinks of us?”

    Selim blinked. “How do you know my name?”

    “Your comrades do not guard their tongues. Answer the question.”

    There was something strangely melodic about him, almost hypnotizing in a way.

    “I don’t know….” he said. “I suppose that He cares for us at least a bit, or He wouldn’t have sent Muhammed His message and left us to whatever fate we would’ve had otherwise. But if He--”

    “If God cared for us enough to send the Seal of the Prophets centuries ago, why does He now turn against us and allow the infidels to drive us out of Konstantiniyye, savaging countless innocents in the process and causing countless appostasizations?” the man replied.

    Selim paused, the words having been stolen out of his mouth like a bird out of the sky. “I....yes, I guess.”

    A bitter smile flickered across the man’s face, then vanished as quickly as it had come. “You are not alone in wondering, brother. It is simple, we do not follow God.”

    He turned to face Selim, and the dim flicker of the torches cast his face in yellow half-light. Selim guessed he was in his late thirties, with dark hair, a full beard and sharp features, and most of all dark eyes that glittered with a strange energy in the fire. Any uneasiness he might have felt vanished, replaced with a strange mixture of relief and concern.

    “The first generations followed the will of God completely, trusting only in the uncreated body of His word in the Quran and the carefully chosen sayings of his messenger. They conquered the infidels, driving them out in all directions and spreading out to encompass all the peoples in the world who believed, and the greatness that God bestowed upon us and our ancestors knew was unimaginable. But it was only because they kept to these ways that He gifted them thusly. Once they began to turn against the true ways, to abandon the eternal truths provided from heaven that allowed them to live in the correct way and provide for themselves in both this world and the next, He withdrew his favor and an era of darkness and evil fell over the House of Islam. Corruption and indecency ran rampant, and the faith in its true form was almost destroyed. Poisonous hearsay was collected and taught that gave the people freedom to do whatever they wished, not what God wished for them, and with these false hadiths they justified even the most immoral acts and allowed the most degenerate of the caliphs to hold power over them. The great demons of the steppe came forth and slew the so-called faithful in such great numbers that they realized what great peril they were in, and they threw themselves at the feet of God and begged for forgiveness, and He stayed His hand and allowed the khans to be driven back onto the steppe. Ibn Taymiyyah….do you know who he is?” the man paused with a slight frown.

    Selim felt a sudden shame, like when he had messed up in front of his grandfather. “No, I’m not an educated man. But God used him to help restore the true ways, didn’t he? Or else the old Osmanoglu wouldn’t have driven out the Romans.”

    The man grinned. “You are a quick one. Yes, Ibn Taymiyyah helped reform the morals of the people, and because of this God once again looked upon His righteous in all their favors and looked over them with ease. The Farangs were driven into the sea and thence hell, the pagans of India in all their numbers and with all their great cannons and warbeasts were defeated and conquered, and of course the degenerate Romans were conquered in turns, and all the other nations of Rumelia that paid homage to the Osmanoglu.”

    “But they didn’t stay righteous,” Selim interjected, the truth flashing before him in one instant. It all made sense now! “They grew haughty, and thought that they had done all they had done without God’s support, and they abandoned the true ways to take up the same customs which had made the Romans fall before them. The sultans started drinking, and raping and murdering and preying upon the child slaves and adulterating and all other sorts of evils, and they turned God away from them.”

    “Exactly!” the man replied. “The Osmanoglu destroyed themselves through their corruption and their refusal to listen to His warnings. That is why the Farangs defeated them twice before they were destroyed, both attempts to turn the hearts of the people back to the true ways. God’s wrath fell upon them with such force that even some of the innocents were caught up with the evildoers, although their souls were redeemed, like my--.” he cut himself off. “That is why the Romans were allowed to return from the edge of the abyss for one final test, so that they might finally be defeated and cast out. But do you realize what this foretells for us.”

    Selim paused for a second, then realized. “By God,” he breathed, “The fall of the Osmanoglu was also a warning, this time to us. We still live like they did, and that means that His wrath his still building up against us. The horrors that they met will be put upon us many more times over….” The horrors that had followed the Fall of Konstantiniyye flashed through his mind, children boiled alive and their parents savagely raped and then hacked apart, the sharks that had turned the sea red with the blood of the fallen for days, the gnawed child’s hand he had found washed up on the shore beside his village, fleeing in the night into the hills as the Romans burned his village behind him and so much worse.

    “What must we do to stop it?” he asked, voice hollow.

    “Live in the way of the first generations.” the man said, equally grave. “Smash the idols to the sufis, burn the vineyards and the grape-presses, silence the blasphemous music and all that follows once and for all so that His wrath might not be stirred up against us once more. And countless other acts of purification must be done in all things so that this fate might be spared. Once all of this is done, we shall avenge ourselves against the infidels and so-called Muslims, Romans, Farangs, Mongol and Turk alike. The fate of Konstantiniyye will be visited upon Trapezous many times over, I am sure of it. God would not forsake his people.

    “And you, Selim, will be needed most dearly of all. This purification must come swiftly lest all be lost, and we cannot undertake our own Hijrah to a more righteous country. We must act here as soon as we can, and for that we will need men from the palace and the garrison. Can you bring them to the rightful path?”

    “Of course,” Selim said, “But I am not sure that I am….worthy, I suppose, and I’m definitely not a cleric. I’ll need your help.”

    “And I yours.” the man said, reaching out and clasping his hand. “My name is al-Sirozi, and I will return to you as quickly as I can. I must find others, and once we are ready we must act before God turns his wrath against us once more.”

    “Go in peace.” they said in unison.

    With that, Alexios Doukas Philanthropenos, known to history and theology as Iskas al-Sirozi, turned and vanished into the night. It was a meeting that countless millions would curse or die for in the coming years and centuries, yet all Selim felt was a strange sense of peace.

    [1] Most proper nouns are rendered in their Turkish forms.
    Part LXXVIII: Long Live the Aftokrator? (1556-1559)
  • Eparkhos

    Alright, I'm not sure how my form is on this one, but I've spent a week revising and rewriting and just want to get it out and keep the story moving. Please be patient with me, and comment if you have any questions/concerns.

    Part LXXVIII: Long Live the Aftokrator? (1556-1559)

    “The emperor has such wonderful friends: hither the hungry mob with their torches and clubs, thither the jealous noblemen with their daggers and poison and yon the angry soldiers with their swords and muskets.”
    -- Nikolaos Eugenidis, O Sevastos ke o Asevastene (1602)

    Ioannes was an unremarkable man, a Lazic herder living in the hills east of Kapnanion, and in fact he was so unremarkable that he is an effective embodiment of the average commoner living in Pontos in the middle of the 16th century. Ioannes lived in a small village in the foothills with a wife (Elene), three sons (Isaakios, Konstantinos and Ioannes) and a daughter (Anna), and spent most of his time in the fields with his sons. Ioannes liked David. Had he actually met him? Eh, no, but did it matter? It was plain as day that the aftokrator was doing a good job. It had been years since the local bandon had been called up, and in that time there had been several bumper harvests, no major mudslides or earthquakes and foreign merchants had raised the price of wool enough for Ioannes to send his middle son off to a seminary. Always a bright boy, Konstantinos. Hopefully he’d find a wife before he took holy orders. Anyway, where was he? David. If he wasn’t doing a great job, then why would God bless the people of Pontos like he had? Simple as.

    Then things started to change. First the bandon was called out, and because Ioannes had hurt his leg a year before Isaakios went instead and they marched down to the coast to join the main army. A few years later the storms start to hit, and after weeks of heavy rain the whole village is swept away in a mudslide. Thank God Ioannes Iunior was up in the hills with their small flock or they would’ve been ruined, but most of their neighbors weren’t so lucky. Then a bad flu, the worst one Ioannes can remember, hits what’s left of the town and Anna dies and he himself nearly does as well. Then they hear that David’s dead, has in fact been dead for a year and a half, and that Isaakios probably isn’t coming back, and that some man named Evangelos has returned from Syria claiming that David made him his heir. David is dead in a foreign land, some stranger has returned from Syria saying he’s the rightful aftokrator with no proof and now God is punishing them. Ioannes starts to wonder if maybe God doesn’t want this Evangelos to rule….

    The failure of Evangelos’ reign was built on a near complete inability to gain support from the general population, both noble and commoners, and ultimately his falling out with the church. Each of these failures will be addressed in turn, but it is important to note the kind of man that the new aftokrator was. Born in Calvi, he spoke with a strong Maniot (or, as far as the Ponts were concerned, hick) accent that could be almost unintelligible depending on the time, and this handicap did little to assuage his already poor rhetorical skills. On a personal level, he was at least somewhat personable, or at least tepidly kind, but combined with a violently short temper, tendency to hold grudges and fly into rages at seemingly no provocation made him seem like a hypocrite or just a general prick. While he was quite good at mathematics and the natural sciences of the 16th century, he also had a tendency towards obsessiveness and a need to oversee everything done in his name. Altogether, he wasn’t exactly an inspiring figure, and had little natural charisma to help win over the already hesitant population of the Megalokomnenoi domains, with the notable exception of many of the bandonoi that he commanded personally, winning respect through a willingness to endure everything his men did and perfrance for common people over the nobility, who he always (correctly) suspected hated him or at least saw him as unqualified. He wasn’t inept, of course, and his potential to be a good ruler was what had brought him to David’s attention in the first place, he wouldn’t have been the most clear-cut ruler in a state familiar with internal regime changes and palace coups if he was a direct son of the previous ruler, as opposed to a distant cousin who held power only by the seignority of a deadman. If nothing else though, he was quite hard-willed and would execute any goal he decided on to the best of his abilities, a trait that would both save him and doom him at different points in his reign.

    In hindsight, any aftokrator who took power in the 1550s would have faced an uphill battle. Many of the bandons had been out of the country on campaigns in the east, west and south for years by then and their presence was still bitterly missed in many of the marginal farms of the empire, causing minor food shortages and no little amount of grumbling from families who had not seen their sons, husbands or fathers in many seasons. The government reserves established by Alexandros II and kept well-stocked by David were already being called upon by the time that the real troubles began. The winter of 1552 was unusually cold and stormy, and a great deal of snow fell in the Pontic Alps and the Paphlagonian and Caucasian Mountains. When spring arrived, all this excess snow and ice melted, and the many small rivers that flowed down through the forested hills were suddenly flooded, washing out many fields just as planting was due to begin and seriously damaging the infrastructure that connected the outlying provinces. With planting delayed and the soil disturbed, that year’s harvest was much less than the preceding years’, which could have been overcome were it not for another cruelly long winter that delayed planting. The harvest of 1554 was passible, and the nearly exhausted granaries seemed to be able to get some relief, but then 1555 saw another hard winter and another flood in the spring of 1556, which again washed out fields and roads, delaying the delicate farmer’s calendar and causing all sorts of havoc. Things weren’t quite yet at famine levels, but they were still quite bad, and the growing discontent that emerged whenever there was a string of harvest failures such as this was only worsened by the outbreak of a new strain of consumption which, though thankfully not a major killer, killed enough people to make the survivors angry and desperate but not enough to keep said survivors from doing something about this new ruler who had clearly angered God.

    Evangelos acted quickly, but found his options limited. After a harrowing journey through the rapidly collapsing Neo-Rumite state that had taken several months, he had returned to Trapezounta[1] in the early spring of 1556 and was immediately confronted by this crisis, with little time to secure his hold on the throne from the many circling vultures of Trapezuntine politics, leaving his ability to deal with this crisis in a precarious position. Nonetheless, he persevered, becoming determined to use this as an opportunity to shore up his position. The obvious solution was to import grain from somewhere else in the Black Sea regions, but such grain was in short supply; Kartvelia had experienced similar problems with their crop, Rumistan[2], Armenia[3] and Persia were all in chaos, Shkoze’s Albania was standoffish over Constantinople and for some reason Moldavia refused to sell any grain to the Trapezuntine government, coming within a hair of breaking the Black Sea trade cycle and keeping it intact only by selling to a handful of Pontic trading companies. Ultimately, most of the limited amount of grain that Evangelos imported was shipped down the Dnieper from the Polish frontier at a worryingly high expense, limiting the amount of grain that could be purchased and given to the hungry. Indeed, most of the bandonoi outside of Pontos proper in Paphlagonia, Kartvelia and Khaldia got little to nothing from the central government, a fact with lasting ramifications in the short-term future.

    Trying to salvage the situation, Evangelos made a great show of personally helping give out food and sending out broadsheets[4] crowing about the imperial disaster relief, but this backfired hard in the regions not reached by the relief, leaving to grumblings amongst the commoners that Evangelos was incompetent because of his inability to get them the grain he was bragging about, and moreover he was an insulting incompetent because he thought his propaganda would make up for their hungry stomachs. He didn’t, of course, but they didn’t know that, and the black cloud that this episode produced would hang over Evangelos long after the harvest of 1558 was brought in and ended the burgeoning crisis. The lower classes would never regard the aftokrator with anything regarding the affection they showed David, and though the tax revolts that would mar the latter section of the First Time of Troubles wouldn’t emerge during his reign much of the rural support for anti-Evangeline forces could be traced back to this period.

    In part, Evangelos’ failure to adequately deal with the crop failures can be connected to the other failure of the early part of his reign, namely his inability to reign in the nobility. The Trapezuntine nobility had been a persistent concern for almost every ruler to sit in Trapezounta since Alexios I Megalokomnenos had conquered it, and the reigns of Alexios V and David I were together one of the few exceptions. Alexios’ insane murderous rampage had gutted the ranks of the upper nobility and driven most of them into exile, and David (as well as Ratetas during his regency) had seized upon this as an opportunity to codify stronger powers for the aftokrator. However, no man is an island, and as the Megalokomnenos territories expanded and David began to lose some of his capacity as a ruler he was forced to delegate power to men beneath him. Mindful of past history, most of these positions and titles had gone to men whose loyalty he was certain of and who held little social standing or power in and of themselves, but over the decade-spanning remnant of his reign many of them began to accrue power in their own right, carving out niches for themselves within the bureaucracy and rear-echelon parts of the military. Their power was far from that of the old aristocracy, but they still wielded a great deal of indirect influence, especially in the countryside and the outlying cities of the realm. With Evangelos’ ascension to power, many of the more corrupt members of the bureaucracy and army were nervous and began quietly watching the new ruler to see how he would attempt to wield the levers of power. With the problems posed by the famine as well as the sudden influx of raiders from Central Anatolia that saw little response above the moirarkhate level, there seemed to be an opportunity for them to expand their power, a possibility that many of them seized upon with relish. There would be no open or direct opposition--any grifter or would be novo homus wouldn’t be stupid enough to pick a fight with the short-tempered new ruler--but they would certainly quietly test the limits of their power and begin to expand their influence within the government. These inefficiencies and corruption would begin to gradually wear away at the government’s power, especially as outside pressures grew tremendously, and filled Evangelos with a great deal of not-entirely-paranoid concern about elements within the bureaucracy seeking to undermine his hold on power.

    While his support from the common populace and the bureaucracy were limited, to say the least, Evangelos had somewhat decent relations with the patriarch, Eugenios II. Recognizing that his support from one of the major pillars of the state was weak to non-existent and that the army was in a delicate enough position as it was, the aftokrator decided that his best option was to throw his lot in with the church and pray it could keep him on the throne long enough to reform the military. As such, he made a number of major donations to both the Patriarchate and the church at large, making sizable gifts from his own personal funds and to a lesser extent the Imperial treasury and ‘suggesting’ that some of the more hostile nobles and bureaucrats transfer their properties to the church. This only further worsened his conflict with the latter, but the ever-mercurial Eugenios was won over and the influence of the Pontic Patriarchate grew. On the other hand, he effectively sidelined the Ecumenical Patriarch in government policy, being able to wield far less influence over it due to its location in Constantinople, and made only tepid efforts to win the support of the Georgian Patriarch, the now rapidly-aging Shio III. In fact, Shio would die in 1558 and his successor, Zebede I Bagrationi, would barely receive any attention from Evangelos, being effectively ignored in a manner similar to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the only difference being that Zebede had the resources to do something about it directly….

    Finally, there was the army. Crippled after Meggido and the loss of most of the eleutheroi and the neostrategoi, Evangelos was forced to reconstitute everything above the bandon level--not that plenty of those hadn’t been lost as well. He attempted to muster the neostrategoi from the local Pontic and Kartvelian population, then soon realized that arming the people whose loyalty he was unsure of was a really bad idea and began recruiting from the warlike tribes of the Caucasus, especially the Pkhovelians, Abkhazians and Circassians. After moving them around enough to prevent mutinies based on ethnicity, he then began the process of training them into a fighting force, something which would take years to be fully accomplished. The eleutheroi, meanwhile, would be difficult to reconstitute given the destruction of the steppe slave markets that had proven their best recruiting grounds, and the notion would be abandoned entirely for a few years. In the meantime--and to put an end to the raids coming out of Anatolia and the Azeri plains--he hired a great deal of mercenaries, typically also from the Caucasus, Italy or Persia, all of which had no shortage of experienced men who needed to abandon the countries of their birth for whatever reasons. In 1557 he campaigned against one of the Turkish raiding captains, Ghazi Yusuf, and defeated his host outside Mersyphon, scattering it and recovering many of the slaves and loot taken by him. With this victory in hand, he returned to Trapezounta far more confident, believing that he had legitimized himself and could tighten his hold on power to begin his reign properly.

    Then everything went to hell all at once.

    [1] Turns out this is how it’s supposed to be spelled. I’ll be phasing it in.
    [2] Name of Turkish Anatolia from hereon
    [3] Will be dealt with in a few updates, but suffice to say they’ve broken away from direct Trapezuntine control for the indefinite future.
    [4] The development of Trapezuntine press will be dealt with later.
    On the Future of the Timeline
  • Eparkhos

    Forgive me if this comes off as rambling, I have a bunch of thoughts on the subject that I want to get out.

    I enjoy writing this timeline. That's kind of obvious, of course, given that I've written more than 200k words so far, but I feel like it has to be said. I don't think there's much of a future in writing like this. I'm getting to a point in life where I want to focus on doing things that will increase my future prospects of employment and/or publication, and there's not really a market for alternate history essays. I love doing this, of course, and I love interacting with everyone who reads my works---a hearty thanks to all y'all for the likes and the comments, they mean a lot--but I just don't think it's a good idea for my future prospects. I only have so much time in the day (if I even have any free time) and if the choice is between writing AH essays or writing and drafting short stories and novels that would make me a legitimately-published-in-IRL author I have to choose the latter.

    In short, I won't be resuming writing, at least not in the current form.

    This brings me to two options:

    1. Make a final 'capstone' essay/update covering Trapezuntine History up to 1668, the beginning of the personal union with Albania-Morea, which would probably be around 5-10k words posted in 3-5 updates once it's all been finished. I like the finality that this option gives me, but I'm afraid that covering it mile-wide inch-deep like this would be a bad ending to a timeline I've put so much effort into, and that it would make some developments I feel I can justify in 'normal' update style come off as unrealistic and borderline ASB.

    2. Ditch the essay-style updates and go full in on the narrative. This'll take a lot more time and effort, but it would allow me to keep the story going and hone my talents as a narrative writer, maybe even be the groundwork for a compiled e-book. On the face of it I like this option more, but it'll also take a whole hell of a lot of time and drag the story out by quite a bit. But maybe that's a good thing? I'm not sure. As a final note, my midterms will start a week after Thanksgiving, so I won't be able to get out more than a handful of updates in the case of Option 2 for about the next month.

    I'll be happy to work on either option, but before I embark on something I'd like to ask the audience what y'all think. Which option should I take?
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