The Barbarian Empire
The Wages of Sin
For the wages of sin is death
- Romans 6:23
I have finally realized where the Ekaterina that I have in my head comes from, and, sadly, it isn’t the deep past. However, what is more important to me, at the moment, is how this discovery was made. I remember the Professor telling me to come see him if I had more questions about this segment of the course while in lecture. Now I wouldn’t normally consider this, given my opinion of him, but I was hoping he’d know more about some contemporary treatment of her – not just the Civil War but Ekaterina of Tripoli as a person. So I approached him, except he hastily excused himself and said he needed to go to his office and could I wait for him a few minutes please. So I did wait. He came out in a new shirt and looking a lot fresher. Then he apologized once again and said that he was really hungry and tired and hadn’t had breakfast, and would I mind talking this over some coffee.
So, half an hour later we were still at the café and even though I only had that one simple request he managed to draw me into conversation. He does talk well in person; much less obnoxious than in class. But then, of course, as I keep asking questions, I see him getting impatient, slightly at first and then more so. At last he says:
“Well, really, who cares about dead queens? Tell me about yourself”
The simple truth, of course, was that I really did want to talk about dead queens and I don’t want to tell him about myself. Not at all. Still, if I wasn’t instantly as annoyed, I’d have been completely speechless, it was that sudden. As it was, I made my excuses and told him I needed to go home. He looked at me then, bitter, and said the most important line of the entire conversation.
”You know, proud women always get a good education in disappointment in the end.”
And that was the key, of course. Pride. Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, you see, and there was a 19th century priest called Arkadios Alexiou who was much given to writing lengthy, serious, historical novels one of which proved an incredibly popular work because of its thorough understanding of the Greek Experience. That one was set in the days of the Byzantine Civil War, and there were seven volumes to it, and one was about Pride. We all read it in Greek Literature, superficially, of course, and only from the interesting parts where there is clashing of swords and the like. I had almost forgotten about the novel since, of course. But there are seven characters Alexiou focused on, and one of them is Ekaterine, and since all of them are sinners in their particular way, she is most guilty of Pride. It is the gravest of the sins, of course, and the root of all the rest perhaps, but even a priest cannot help but admire the proud queen whose claims were denied, ambitions thwarted, and whose warnings were ignored. His Ekaterina is very sympathetic, and she is the one in my head. Now of course I didn’t remember all of this at once when the professor said “proud”, but it gave me a direction where to look and so I went home and found the books and leafed through them and that’s how I know that my Ekaterina is from 1830 and not 1221.
That made me think, of course. You don’t question the persistent images in your head, even when the professor contradicts them, not if you had first seen them as a child and accepted them without doubts. But then, it isn’t so terrible, of course. I bet you the professor has some book that he read as a schoolboy that he’s reading in his head and presenting to us as history.
Well, of course, St.Nikephoros is Sloth, because although doubtlessly a man of great ability, he did not capitalize on it, and his efforts in securing his posterity were especially lax. He is also a saint of course, so Alexiou plays around it by reinforcing the redeeming nature of the Christian Faith, so that saints may still be saints even if they struggled with that demon Sloth all their lives. Heraklios, the Emperor’s son, is possessed by Lust, which is very generous and clever of Alexiou, because if Ekaterina was the one representing Lust she’d have been yet another fallen woman Nineteenth-century literature positively teems with, and not have the gravitas to be the focus of the most terrible and cathartic last part of the novel. Anyway, Heraklios is Lust because he cheated with his Princess on his wife. Alexiou agrees that there indeed was a secret wedding involved as well, just like Ekaterina insisted.
Ioannes Elegemites is of course, Envy, as a collective figurehead for the Greek Nobles who wanted the Monomachs off the throne at all costs, and his brother, the Butcher of Tripoli, is Wrath. Niketas Petzikopoulos is Greed, as a man who already had all he could have by rights, but still wanted more, especially that one thing that wasn’t his – the diadem. Gluttony is Theodore, Ekaterina’s son, who proved to be wholly unremarkable and in fact was more famous for indulging in food and wine than furthering his clan’s fortunes.
Well, Ekaterina’s Pride is of course her refusal to accept her place, and not knowing when to settle with the gains that she could possibly achieve. Her last major decision – the reunification of the Empire under Andrew Knytling – is the point of redemption for all of the cast of sinners, and a second chance for the Empire. Unsaid but glaringly obvious is the fact that the Empire didn’t use the second chance; a political lesson for those in the last century and this one who wished to pursue Greek-only ambitions without regard for the rest of the Orthodox world.
She fought hard. The first few months of the war were remarkable in the swiftness of action and the ferocity. The army of Kiev, incensed after Ekaterina’s denunciation of the treacherous Petzikopouloi, was sent south, marching across the lands of Moldavia and into Wallachia. The Moldavian princes were too scared to oppose the might of Ekaterine’s armies, letting her generals pass in peace. The troops marched through the studiedly-neutral Cherven domains of Bulgaria, and met the Imperial Army outside Severin. After a three-day face-off battle was joined. This first engagement was hard for the men of the Empire, by all contemporary accounts, and the first skirmishes were fought half-heartedly. Many, especially the nobles, on either side knew each other quite well and the encounters in the thick of battle are described in Homeric terms, with this or that man calling his opposite number out. Reality must have been different as Byzantine tactics of the time emphasized group action. Finally, the Monomachs broke the army of the Emperor. Upon news of this, Gabriel Palaelogos found himself without many places to flee to; his Armenian domains fell to the Trapezuntine Ariminicoi several weeks before that. As Ekaterina marched towards Constantinople, the Regent, having gauged the mood of the demos of the capital, decided to flee. As it became clear that the Imperial Court removed themselves to Thessaloniki in secret, and that the Kievan forces were at the approaches to the city, the confidence in defending the Petzikopoulos cause was shaken irreversibly. The City opened its gates to Ekaterina after several days of intense negotiation. The terms at first seemed lenient. Notable Petzikopoulos supporters were to be handed over for execution; their wealth and estates were to be partitioned between Ekaterina’s war effort and the city itself. The city granaries were to feed the troops, and the command of the navy was to be turned over to a pro-Monomach loyalist. However, when her opponents were presented to her, Ekaterina was livid – it is for this particular event she is called Eyes of Storm in Russian sources. Her superb spy network had revealed the names to her long before, and the number of men before her was much smaller than the number on her list. She demanded the rest, one by one, and the number of the executed grew and grew. The noble class was paralysed in fear, but could do nothing except hope for mercy. The people were largely won over to Ekaterina’s side with distributions of coin gathered from the estates of the proscribed; but in her revenge, she lost support among the wavering Greek lords outside Thrace; terrified of the possibility of ending up like the nobles in Constantinople, the Anatolian, Greek and Macedonian nobles resisted vigorously for the rest of the war.
Meanwhile, the Knytling forces joined with the pro-Imperial North Russian detachments from the Oka region, and crossed the Don, driving back the forces of Arsenios Petrovich and his general Itlar Dimitrievich. Novgorod Severskiy and all the Crimean fortresses were invested within two months. Arsenois’ capital fell just a few days after Ekaterine entered Constantinople. The Imperial forces pressed on towards Chernigov and Pereyaslavl. Although Itlar’s Cuman army continued to resist in the Don steppes, it was effectively all over for the widowed Princess Sofia and her son; they fled to Lithuania. In Syria, warfare was half-hearted, with both sides withdrawing large amounts of troops for campaigns elsewhere. The Novgorodian and Lithuanian allies of Ekaterine defeated the Imperial army besieging Chernigov, and, with the winter setting in and fortunes changing, Dimitri Knytling retreated towards the Crimea. Both sides spent the winter in quarters, recuperating and building up naval readiness for next year.
The spring offensive began early, mostly because the snow melted early. Ekaterne’s Rus troops and Steppe mercenaries, more used to campaigns in the cold than Greeks, struck first. The Petzikopouloi forces were once again crushed, and the boy-Emperor was once again surrounded in his own capital - this time in Thessaloniki. Things looked good for Ekaterina. Then, of course, the situation changed dramatically. Sweden landed an invasion force in Denmark, and Lithuania and Novgorod declared war on them in return, because the revenues from the Danish sound were of more immediate worth than the gratitude of the Monomachs. Ekaterine’s allies withdrew their troops, and the Knytling-led Imperial forces once again advanced at the core cities of the rebellion, entering Kiev and Pereyaslavl peacefully and investing Chernigov. By then, the Greeks have had enough of the Petzikopouloi. Pretending they were bringing reinforcements, a large force from the Elegemites territories landed in Thessaloniki, and the Emperor Andronikos and Sebastokrator Gabriel were dead within a day; Ioannes Elegemites was proclaimed Emperor by the Thessalonian faction, together with his brother Theodore. The Petzikopouloi declared this an outrage and usurpation, but their own forces were weak, after so many defeats by the Monomachs, so other than declaring themselves the rightful Imperial line, they did not oppose the Elegemitoi. However, the Petzikopouloi lands formed the core of the Ionian Empire that would persist for several generations and challenge the Byzantine Empire for regional supremacy.