A Parting of Ways
The Private War
“Death solves all problems – no man, no problem”
- attributed to I.V.Stalin
IDIOT. Boris, Boris! The boys are hurting Nick.
TSAR. Give him alms! What is he crying for?
IDIOT. The boys are hurting me...they took my penny. Give orders to slay them, as you slew the little tsarevich.
– Pushkin, Boris Godunov
This whole thing is almost over, and the penultimate lecture; I’d finish it here, except I have to tie up some lose ends in the story. However, I’d have very much liked to finish it on that hopeful note, where the Greeks shake free of the Russians. That’s have made a nice contrast from the news. The election is over, Freedom Party won, and the Russian President sent his congratulations. That same week the head of our department went on to another position and a new head was promoted; he is from the Greek University in Constantinople, and I swear several of my so-called colleagues were smirking at me in the hallways. I was a little worried that they might send me to teach first-years General Antiquity again, but thankfully that didn’t happen. He met with me and said he appreciated the difficulty of teaching my class to undergraduates, and would like to come see me lecture next year. That means I’ve got a whole summer to find out what he wants to hear.
So back to the end of the Monomach Empire. Andrew Knýtling was exactly what the Greek Lords wanted in an Emperor, and despite all his failings as a diplomat and a war leader his reign was domestically the quietest since Theodore the Great. His one legacy that went against everything the Greeks wanted was give the Empire back to the Monomachs in the end; but by the time he did it was too late to protest. So today I will talk about the Monomachs, in particularly bloody-handed Boris, the future Nikephoros VI. While Andrew was busy keeping the Empire intact, protecting it from over-ambitious nobles and rampaging steppe barbarians, Boris fought his battles against the whole world using spies and assassins. The second son of Theodore, who was the bastard son of Ekaterine, Boris was born in Vidin, but soon moved to Constantinople as Constantine Nikomedikos gave Vidin to the Chervens. Boris inherited Ekaterine’s greatest talent - intrigue. Traditionally the Monomachs, despite all their tyrannical ways, did not particularly resort to any shadow networks to maintain their power; under Andrew - specifically under Boris’ supervision - the secret networks soon grew to cover all of the former Empire and beyond, far into the West and also into Central Asia, perhaps as far as Karakorum. As Prince of Kiev, Pereyaslavl and Chernigov, Boris was an exceptionally wealthy man, and the network of spies and assassins was always his private project, much like the Barbarian Empire was largely a private plaything of the Monomachs. It funded largely by him and served his own ends. When they coincided with the Empire’s interests, all the better; if not, so be it.
The last three "Barbarian" Emperors
His first big achievement was getting himself ingratiated into the court; Andrew himself was not hostile to the Monomachs, but his courtiers were, including most of the people in important court positions. Over the years, one cannot help noticing how these nobles either die prematurely, or are implicated in some scandal and removed (such as the Demestikos Andronikos Gavras), or suddenly change their mind and start getting closer to Boris. By 1252, the Monomach is firmly within the closest circle of Andrew’s advisors, a much-celebrated man. He is the master of spies in 1258, and finally Kaisar in 1266. Boris’ usefulness to Andrew, however, seems to have come from his dealing with the Mongols. Boris, very early, advocated an alliance with one of the factions forming within the then-united Khanate, but his advice was ignored. However, he still cultivated friendship with Sartaq and with Hulegu’s heir Abaqa, especially through Tmutarakan and Cilicia. His exact methods of dealing with the Mongols after his allies were removed are unknown, but it is suspected that he used many channels - from Jewish Keraite merchants to Orthodox and Nestorian churchmen to any of the myriad splinter cults of the Hashishin – to get closer to the heart of the Mongol Empire; so that he could rip it out, still beating, no doubt. His greatest find was in Yisu-Setseg, later Prince Theodore of Tyrnovo, a very interesting character. Yisu-Setseg is properly a female name, and was given as a child’s name to Sartaq’s first (perhaps because of Berke’s efforts) son to survive the first year - to confuse the evil spirits should they come seeking the infant. Although Sartaq was technically Orthodox and his wife a Merkit Nestorian, they sent for a famous Mongol shaman who suggested the traditional cure. After Sartaq’s death Berke made much of the prince’s female name and his overprotective upbringing; knowing full well what happens to Berke’s enemies, the courtiers sympathetic to the boy smuggled him to the Byzantine court together with his sister, who was later to become the wife of Boris Monomach’s son Franjo. Theodore the Mongol carried a lifelong grudge against Berke and provided Boris and his agents with a lot of information on Mongol politics, customs and the geography of the Mongol Empire. This information was invaluable in Boris’ long stand-off against Berke Khan. Yisu-Setseg married a princess from Rostov, and his daughter Anastasia became the wife of Boris’ grandson Stanislav, Tsar of Kiev.
Berke and Boris both ruled by fear and secrecy, silencing their enemies by bribery, assassination or blackmail, and the war of shadows they waged against each other is perhaps as epic as the Mongol conquest itself. Berke, having poisoned his way to the title of Khan of the Blue Horde, attempted to eliminate Russo-Greek influence in his domain when he burned Tmutarakan, and started a war against the Empire and its allies; Boris, estimating the military might of the Rus and Greeks insufficient, sent his assassins to kill him, but they failed time and again. Berke became aware of who his adversary was through means of his own, and fired back, wounding Boris himself and killing his son Franjo in 1163. Boris, furious, redoubled his efforts to rebuild a spy network; this was the beginning of a very long and personal struggle between the two. That same year, Boris successfully struck against Berke’s 15-year old son Atragh Timur, likely through a female assassin, ending any hope of Berke’s line inheriting. Berke, to ensure his own power and succession, took to grooming protégés from among his nephews but Boris’ agents assassinated Bat-Hursan (and his entire retinue, probably through poisoned wine) during a feast in 1265, and Tode Mongke in 1266. Berke’s agents retaliated by killing Boris’ daughter Maria, as well as several important members in the government of Kiev; the final target of a narrowly failed assassination was Boris’ wife - the daughter of Emperor Andrew. Boris, however, had the last word. Though the means of the success are still unexplained, Berke was dead in 1266, and his protégé Mongke-Timur in 1267, leaving the young, pliable Gunqan, a shamanist with Christian sympathies, as Khan. The young Khan struggled in establishing power over the Horde, but recieved assistance from Boris and his new ally, the great Mongol general Nogai. In return for retaining power over the Blue Horde, was easily persuaded to ally with Byzantium and strike against Catholic Moldavia and then against Cherven Bulgaria, returning coveted Vidin to Monomach hands. Whether he fell to Boris’ assassins, or someone else’s, or simply died at the ripe old age of 20 is hard to say, but his very young sons - Asep Qutlugh and Tortogul - were both brought up as Nestorian Christians, in the care of Nogai Khan, a non-Jochikhanid nobleman and one of the architects of the fall of the Ilkhans, at one time ally of Berke and later his rival. Nogai himself was also a shamanist, perhaps favouring Islam, but pursuing Christian alliances, one of the most lasting ones of which was with the Byzantines. He and Boris - Emperor since Andrew’s death in 1271 - had clearly reached an understanding of sorts, and frequently joined forces against the Seljuks and the Chaghatids. Nogai’s own sons, both of whom later converted to Byzantine Orthodoxy, were the power behind the Khans of the Blue Horde during their lifetimes, until the true descendants of Batu could shake the influence of long-dead Boris and Nogai from their nation.
Boris’ reign - as Nikephoros VI - is then to be taken as the culmination of Monomach ambitions since Ekaterine’s time; however, it only lasted 6 years - six years of terror for both his enemies and his subjects. While Emperor Nikephoros lived, nobody dared oppose him. This serious, quiet man held in his fingers all the chains that bound the Empire captive to the Monomachs, but he held them too tightly, trusting few with the knowledge he had; once he died, the control slipped forever since his successors - his hapless son Stanislav in particular - knew little of the nature of Nikephoros’ power. The War of Shadows that he played so well left too many assassins looking for employment and more than a few enemies seeking revenge; and the War took its last victim shortly after his own death. In 1277 Nikephoros’ son Stanislav was crowned as Emperor Heraklios III; within just four months, he was dead, thrown unexpectedly by a horse off a cliff; the horse was a coronation gift from Cyprus, and the grooms who prepared it for the ride were nowhere to be found. The popular story is that the horse was trained to throw the rider at a secret signal, which must have been given by a member of Heraklios’ retinue. The election saw Ioannes Elegemites as Emperor almost immediately, because all major heirs to both the Knýtling and Monomach houses were undearage; and the memory of the reign of Andronikos Petzikopoulos was still fresh. Among angry accusations, the boyars serving the nest of underage Monomachs and Knýtlings claimed their titles and broke with the Empire; the Slavic ares of the Empire were used to having their way, and seemingly held loyalty only to the descendants of Rurik, abandoning the Empire in a difficult hour. Alexei Bayan, ten years old and son of the slain Franjo, became Tsar of Bulgaria. Stanislav, 6, son of Heraklios, became Tsar of Kiev, and Alexios Knýtling, 11, became Tsar of Tripoli. Ivan Knýtling, 14, was proclaimed Tsar of Tmutarakan, while still hiding out in Crimea by the local nobility, perhaps under Mongol pressure. This must have amused Nogai Khan who restored the devastated city to Ivan, provided that Ivan was once again willing to become a vassal of the Blue Horde.
The Barbarian Empire was officially no more. The Greek Empire, however, was no worse off for all that; under the Elegemitoi the Greeks seemed to have found a new purpose, expanding everywhere through diplomatic means, and allying with Western powers to help them fight the Seljuk adversaries. Had the the Russians not spent the last hundred years bleeding Greece to keep the Empire bound to them, maybe the spirited Elegemites revival would have been successful; but as we all well know, the real world is hardly an ideal place.