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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Hello! Welcome to the second attempt to do a Byzantine AAR. Unfortunately, broken save files and an unexpected trip to the desert killed the last one, but I've got a bunch of the campaign already completed this time. I'll be playing with the Extended Timeline Mod, starting in 1057 and hoping to roll through Victoria when we reach 1836. Updates will be in a history book style, with us following a Byzantine Empire that never suffered the disastrous defeat against the Turks at Manzikert.

Hope you enjoy the read!

Table of Contents:
- Prologue
- Isaac I Komnenos (r. 1057 - 1070)
- Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1070 - 1102)
- Anna I Komnene (r. 1102 - 1043)

Empire Overview Updates:
- 1100

List of Maps:
- Roman Empire in 1057
- Roman Empire in 1070
- Roman Empire in 1102
- Roman Empire in 1143
 
Last edited:
Prologue

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Before we can begin to analyze the success of the Komnenoi Emperors had in revitalizing the Roman Empire of the 11th century, it is only proper to look at how their dynasty came to power in the first place. By 1055, the once great Macedonian dynasty was but a shadow of its former self. The family which had produced the stable and lengthy rules of Emperors such as Basil II “the Bulgar-Slayer” and Romanos Lekapenos had crumbled under the weight of the bickering Constantinopolitan bureaucracy. It is perhaps no surprise then that it was under this failing regime that the final split occurred between the eastern and western halves of the Christian Church.

With Empress Theodora’s (the last living member of the Macedonian family) health rapidly failing, the formentions bureaucrats took it amongst themselves to gather together and nominate a successor-- the lifelong civil servant Michael Bringas. It is likely that this was the first move in a long-lasting power struggle in Constantinople between the professional bureaucrats who made up the civil service and the powerful military aristocracy, and that the former believed appointing one of their own to the Imperial throne would solidify their control of the government. It also certainly helped that the newly-crowned Michal VI was tangentially related to two previous Emperors. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the apple had indeed, fallen rather far from the tree.


A coin bearing the image of Michael VI “the Aged”, from Wikipedia

As Norwich tells us, wise government in 11th century Rhômanía “consisted above all in striking a prudent balance between the civil administration and the military aristocracy: Michael simply indulged the one and victimized the other.” [1] While it may seem petty from a 21st century standpoint, the generals responsible for the defense of the Empire did not appreciate being told to bugger off while they watched the Senate and magistrates being showered with gifts and adulation.

Perhaps unfairly, the military aristocracy viewed almost every Emperor that had reigned since Basil II in 1025 to be soft, weak-willed, dominated by their court eunuchs, or all of the above. Was it not time to return to the times of an Emperor-general, an imperator who could take charge of the army and lead the Empire to victory. The generals gathered in the capital quickly organized a conspiracy, and offered the crown to one of their own-- Isaac Komnenus. Rather than accept their offer though, Isaac decided it would be more prudent to retire to his estate in northern Anatolia. It was not until Patriarch Michael Cerularius pledged his support to the cause that Isaac relented, and allowed himself to be crowned Emperor on 8 June 1057. What had begun with mere insults during a palace ceremony had exploded into a full-scale civil war, with almost every Anatolian-based unit in the Roman Army marching against the Emperor.

What is also interesting about Isaac’s revolt is that it highlights one of the more unique parts of the Roman imperial system. After being raised on the shields of his troops in the style of old, Isaac was viewed by many Romans in all walks of life as the legitimate Basileus, rather than a simple pretender to the throne. While similar to any other medieval monarchy on the surface, the western concept of divine right to rule simply due to family connections or being raised to a position never quite made it to the Empire. Even in the 11th century, the old Roman idea of legitimacy still hung on, and it quickly became apparent that the majority of the population saw Isaac as more legitimate than Michael-- even if the latter still held the capital.


Map showing the troop movements prior to the Battle of Nicaea, the only major action in Isaac’s rebellion. Red is loyalist forces, while Blue is the rebel army.

Despite thoughts one way or another, there was still a civil war to be fought. The European themes [2] initially stayed loyal to Michael, and the loyalist army soon crossed the Sea of Marmara and made camp in Anatolia. This offensive effort was short-lived however, when Isaac’s rebel army soundly defeated them outside the city of Nicea, causing a broken retreat back to Constantinople. After hearing of this defeat, Michael opened up negotiations with his rival.

Despite the success of these initial negotiations (Isaac agreed to be crowned Caesar (second in command after the Basileus), this agreement was soon disrupted by the news of a coup in the capital. As it turns out, the Senate (supported by the pre-Isaac Patriarch) had seen the writing on the wall and forcefully deposed Michael. Shortly after, on 1 September, the rebellious general entered Constantinople and was crowned Isaac I Komnenus, Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans.



A coin struck by Isaac I, depicting him with a drawn sword, from Wikipedia

And what of Michael VI? In the cutthroat and dangerous world of Roman politics, many a former Basileus had been maimed or killed after being overthrown-- often their families (even children) suffered similar fates. Isaac was not that type of man however. He allowed Michael to retire peacefully to a monastery, where he died two years later as a private citizen.

The first major Roman civil war in over a century was over, and it had resulted in relatively little bloodshed. Surely no one in Constantinople knew it at the time, but a new era in the Empire was dawning. The coronation of Isaac I marked the beginning of what would become known to history as the Komnenian Restoration.

-----

[1] John Julius Norwich, “Byzantium: The Apogee”
[2] The military provinces of the Empire
 
Chapter 1

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By all accounts, Isaac I was an incredibly active ruler. Perhaps more importantly though, he seemed dedicated towards a singular goal from his first day in office-- the restoration of the Roman Empire to a level of greatness he believed it had lost in the previous 50 years. While there is much bickering between academics about the quality of the men (and women) who had ruled the Empire since the death of Basil II, it is very clear that Isaac viewed them as incompetent at best and downright irresponsible and malicious at worst. With this guiding philosophy, the newly crowned 50-year old Basileus set down to the task at hand; a complete reform of the Empire’s military.

Unlike his predecessor however, his approach to governmental reform did not include victimizing one segment of imperial society (the civilian bureaucracy) in the vein he and his fellow Anatolian aristocrats had been treated a few years before. Ironically, his first move was to immediately pay off the soldiers and generals from the east that had formed the core of his army, sending them back to their lands with the instructions to begin the efforts of retraining and reforming the eastern army units. Wisely, he saw that many idle military personnel in the capital as another coup waiting to happen-- only this time he would be the one likely being overthrown.

These military reforms however would not pay for themselves, especially since the Macedonian dynasty had destroyed the massive surplus Basil II had left on the occasion of his death only 32 years previously. Isaac dealt with this problem in two phases:

The imperial budget had always been supported primarily by the land tax (generally, the government considered it too impractical to effectively tax trade profits or income in a way we would recognize today), and since 1025, the Macedonian Dynasty’s efforts to legislate away the problem of large landowners illegally acquiring the small farms of the peasant freedmen could be described as an astounding failure. Isaac immediately began enforcing older imperial edicts, confiscating and redistributing any land that had been acquired by the Anatolian magnates that was not part of their original family estates. While there was significant griping from this demographic, these complaints were generally ignored as these plots of lands feel into the gleeful embraces of waiting imperial tax collectors.

Secondly and much more dangerously, Isaac turned his attention to the church. The Patriarch (also named Michael, because why not?) viewed himself as being one of the primary individuals responsible for Isaac’s ascension to the imperial throne-- an assessment which was not necessarily inaccurate. The Basileus and Patriarch initially agreed to a number of conditions; including an agreement that there were fundamental parts of state and church administration that the respective authorities would leave to each other, thus reducing the chances of any ‘cross-border’ meddling causing political instability. While this proto separation of Church and State would be looked upon by historians as an important moment in the relationship between the Roman government and the Church, in 1057 it left quite a bit of wiggle room.


Patriarch Michael I Cerularius: Isaac’s one-time ally and most-often rival

This wiggle room of course, resulted in serious conflict within a year. The Patriarch went as far to threaten the Basileus with deposition, a threat he likely felt comfortable making as he himself was incredibly popular among the urban masses of Constantinople. Isaac eventually had Michael arrested during one of the latter’s trips to a monastery outside the capital, immediately sending him into exile. However, the troublesome priest refused to resign from the office of Patriarch, forcing Isaac to begin the process of calling a church council solely for the purpose of deposing him. This show trial never reached a conclusion though, when the elderly Michael Cerularius died in January 1059. Having completely spiraled out of control, Isaac’s expected victory over church power (in practical terms the ability to confiscate and thus tax monastic land) resulted in massive rioting inside Constantinople. In an attempt to fund the army that protected the Empire, Isaac had turned almost every group of people inside of it against him within 18 months of taking the throne.

Likely in response to these political problems, Isaac turned to the one realm he felt comfortable in: warfare. Since the days of Basil II, all of the former Bulgar khanate had been absorbed into the Empire. By 1059 however, the situation on the ground had deteriorated significantly. Swathes of eastern Bulgaria had devolved into relative anarchy, and Imperial troops were usually forced to remain behind the walls of their fortifications on the southern banks of the Danube River. This situation had allowed the massive Turkic tribe known as the Pechenegs to encroach further and further south, raiding and pillaging as they went.


The Pechenegs had been on-again-off-again allies of the Romans for over a century-- often being paid by Constantinople to raid the Bulgars, something they did effectively numerous times in the 900s

The Basileus desperately needed a win, and he believed a military expedition into the eastern Balkans was his best bet. While the Empire technically controlled all of Bulgaria, Pecheneg raiders regularly crossed the Danube River, causing significant havoc. Isaac gathered the western segments of the Army (made up primarily of the Tagmata [1] with local thematic troops and mercenaries filling the gaps) and pushed north across the Danube to put the barbarian nomads in their place. Isaac had a handful of successes, as the Romans were triumphant in most skirmishes with Pecheneg horsemen, but the main body of the barbarian army refused to give battle.


Advance of the Roman Army into Pecheneg-controlled territory north of the Danube.

As the spring turned into summer, Isaac’s army approached the Pecheneg’s notional capital Tighina, where he eventually forced the tribesmen into a set piece battle. Familiar by this point with fighting steppe nomads, the Roman Army’s superior discipline seems to have carried the day, as records show that the Basileus returned to Constantinople in August laden down with treasure and a not insignificant number of prisoners. [2]

By the end of 1059 Isaac was still not a popular figure in the capital. By securing the northern border he had increased his prestige, but by all accounts, the army was the demographic that he needed to impress the least at this point in his career. However, what we do know for sure is that the influx of wealth and goods from the war helped stave off the need to conduct further confiscations of church property. Furthermore, it is also likely that by the end of his second year in office, Isaac’s fiscal policies began to bear fruit, providing him a financial foundation he could build the rest of his reign on. The future looked bright, but political intrigue and instability were never far in the medieval Empire.

-----

[1] Professional standing army of the Roman Empire, or as close as you’re going to get to one in the 11th century.
[2] Historically, this victory led to Isaac taking a vacation, catching a fever, abdicating the throne, and eventually dying a few years later.
 

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Troublesome priests - they pop up in so many placces :)
 

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Great start, and masterful history book style writing. :)
 
Chapter 2

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By mid-late 1059, Isaac was not a popular man in Constantinople. While the sparse records we have from the period do show that the economic situation of the Empire was steadily beginning to stabilize, this fact had not ‘trickled down’ to the average member of the urban mob in Constantinople. The situation in the provinces was only slightly brighter, with the Basileus beginning to hear rumors of discontent among his peers in the Anatolian aristocracy. Despite rewarding them handsomely for their assistance in the civil war which raised him to the throne two years previously, there were no shortage of ambitious Strategos’ [1] that commanded the provincial military forces of their respective theme, possessed large land holdings to support themselves economically, and had the ego to believe they could do something with the resources available to them.

With this situation in mind, it is no surprise that Isaac acted the way he did, when in September, a scandal broke out in the palace. One of the many holdovers from the previous regime of Michael VI was a system of patronage that had been built up among the civilian bureaucracy in the capital. During the yearly distribution of salaries and stipends to the military men of the court [2], it became increasingly apparent that a number of well-placed eunuchs and courtiers had managed to weasel their way into the imperial system of imperial donatives. While this was not inherently a bad thing (medieval empires require civilian administrators as well as generals), it became a serious point of contention among the members of the nobility. Isaac wisely chose to dismiss a large number of these bureaucrats, either via direct exile or via reassignment to other, less prestigious positions. While this bought the Basileus the short term loyalty of the Anatolian magnates (and thus more resources to spend directly on his military reform program), it became the first step in what could be described as a ‘see-saw’ of political decision making, where Isaac simply took the side of whatever political faction recently presented him with a complaint.

One need only wait another year to see a prime example of this, with Isaac choosing to remain on campaign in the Balkans the following September. By missing the donative ceremony, he stewed up significant ire among the aristocrats and provide an avenue for the more prominent bureaucrats such as Michael Psellus to re-enter the fold and award themselves not just more positions in the government, but also the salaries and influence that came with it. Perhaps the only way for this situation to become more confusing was for the Church to enter back into the fold as well. Sometime before 1063, the Patriarch Constantine III (generally allied with the Anatolian aristocracy) approached the Basileus with the intention to summon a church synod, although it is unclear if he intended it to be just a minor gathering of Bishops, or a full-blown gathering of church officials. The Patriarch was being lobbied heavily by the aristocracy to support their efforts to re-acquired significant tracts of land that had either been confiscated directly by the state, or bee returned to its original peasant owners. Why the Patriarch believed a church synod was the appropriate place to discuss this piece of policy also remains unclear, but Isaac evidently saw it for what it was and refused to support the Patriarch’s idea. The Basileus clearly believed his enforcement of Basil II’s edicts supporting the peasant farmers out in the provinces at the expense of the aristocracy had resulted in an influx in soldiers into the Imperial Army. This power struggle could have resulted in significantly more political problems for Isaac if the Patriarch didn’t conveniently die a few months later.

One of the ways the Basileus attempted to counteract his lack of political acumen was via using some of the wealth captures from the Pechenegs to fund a number of building projects around the Empire. Military matters were taken care of first of course, but significant investment was also poured into more ‘civilian’ infrastructure. We see reports of the fortifications in both Antioch and Trebizond getting significant upgrades—probably because of the cities’ location on the Empire’s eastern border. Building and reinforcing existing fortresses was hardly a new approach towards military spending in the medieval era-- what made Isaac’s spending plan unique was his approach towards the road system. By the time he ascended to the throne, the Roman road system was a far cry from the well-maintained network of highways that it was during the reign of Trajan some thousand years previously. The building project thus began in January 1060 by slowly revitalizing the Empire’s primary avenue to the west, the Via Egnatia. Shortly after that, workers began making their way east from the capital towards the aforementioned fortresses in the east. Besides the obvious military benefits of these projects, the roads also had the secondary effects of increasing trade between the cities on these routes, with new or expanded marketplaces following quickly behind the builders as they paved their way across the landscape.

The Via Egnatia, one of the few remaining Roman roads by 1059 that was still in use. Terminating at Dyrachium, the Via Egnatia allowed troops and merchants to move relatively quickly from Constantinople to southern Italy.

Despite this investment in infrastructure, most of Isaac’s reign was characterized by difficulties in the realm of trade. Goods leaving the Empire (especially to go towards Italy or the Frankish realms) almost always had to be packed onto vessels and shipped west. This presented a serious problem, since Sicily had been under Muslim occupation since 827. Sicilian and Tunisian pirates were a menace in the Mediterranean, and no Christian state in Europe (including the Roman Empire) had the naval capability to counter them by the 11th century. This situation was made all the worse as the independent Emirate of Sicily began to be influenced heavily by the Fatimid Caliphate, eventually signing a treaty of alliance in 1059. With enthusiastic support from the Fatimids, Arab slavers from Sicily began actively raiding the Roman coastline in the Adriatic, almost certainly causing the Empire a large chunk of money, both from theft and in ransoms.


A mosaic from northern Italy showing a Norman knight fighting an Arab pirate, dating to the 11th century.

The situation brewing in Sicily then presented a serious concern for Isaac and his advisors. The Fatamids were one of the Empire’s primary Muslim rivals in the eastern Mediterranean. Allowing them to gain a foothold in Sicily was unacceptable, as it put the remaining Roman-controlled provinces in the toe of Italy under serious threat. When envoys arrived in Constantinople in January 1060 with an alliance offer from the Duchy of Solerno, Isaac was quick to act. He sealed this new alliance, offering the 48-year old Duke the hand of his niece Maria in marriage. The moves were followed up with a similar agreement of alliance and marriage with the Serb Kingdom of Duklja and the Kingdom of Hungary. By the end of 1062, Isaac had secured his northern flank along the Danube River, allowing him to begin preparations for an expedition to southern Italy, which he could then use as a staging ground for an invasion of Sicily.

Despite the Basileus’ diplomatic efforts in the west, he never launched his Sicilian expedition. Sources are scarce regarding what exactly sparked the conflict, but only a year later we find Isaac again focusing most of his time outside the capital towards his eastern armies. It seems that sometime in 1063 or 1064 that a minor revolt had broken out, led by one of the numerous generals of the Imperial Army. Although quickly defeated by Isaac and his Tagmata, the rebellious general escaped with a small group of supporters, and was granted shelter by the Marwanid Kurds, who made it clear that they had no intention of allowing the Romans into their territory to retrieve the treasonous officer. Isaac retreated with the bulk of his army to Antioch, providing the Kurds ample opportunities to conduct cross border raids, further infuriating the Basileus. Taking the winter to explore his options, Isaac decided it was political suicide to allow the Kurdish Shah to continue to spit in the face of the Roman Empire. Thus, as soon as the snow in the mountain passes began to thaw in the spring, Isaac would begin the march east-- something that a Roman army had not done in almost one hundred years.

-----

[1] Military governor of a Theme
[2] This ceremony was one of the foundations of the Byzantine political system. Doling out state salaries to imperial office-holders provided an opportunity for all the major players in the system to swear loyalty to the Emperor in return for their yearly stipends.
 

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The Kurds will rue the day they dared oppose Rome.
 

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The Empire remains truly beset
 
Chapter 3

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As Winter finally turned to Spring, Isaac’s army finished final preparations for the coming campaign, likely leaving their garrisons in Antioch in early April 1065. The force (probably around 10,000 strong, mostly Tagmatic cavalrymen with the usual supporting cast of Thematic infantry) made good time heading east, crossing the Euphrates River and arriving in Kurdish territory only two weeks later. The Romans apparently ran into very little resistance, and Isaac’s army was able to lay siege to the Marwanids’ capital of Amed on the 17th. While the Kurds had left 3,000 militia to defend the city’s fortifications, Shah Nasr al-Dawla and the bulk of his army were conspicuously missing. Evidently this didn’t concern the Basileus much, as he soon received word that his eastern flank was secure, thanks to a second Roman army advancing south towards Kurdish territory from Theodosiopolis. [1] This pincer movement of sorts was planned over the proceeding winter, where Isaac made a very uncharacteristic decision-- letting another man command a field army.

Romanos Diogenes was a member of that ever-threatening group of Anatolian aristocrats, which too often were the lynchpin of security and political instability in the eastern Themes. His combination of military skill and theoretically royal blood (the nephew of the emperor Romanos III) had led him to a successful career in the Army, where he had served under Isaac in the battles against the Pechenegs along the Danube frontier. These talents, connections, and experience of course led him to be viewed by the Basileus as a potential rival claimant to the throne [2], which is almost certainly why Isaac chose to award him command of 10,000 Thematic troops which were gathering in the Armenian highlands. Hailing from the central plateau region of Cappadocia, the Basileus likely also viewed his familiarity with the eastern borderlands as strategically useful. The intent was to use Diogenes’ army as a slow-moving distraction force which would provide the anvil that Isaac’s more mobile Tagmatic troops would be able to push the Kurds into. As is typical in warfare however, this plan did not survive the opening moved of the conflict, and the Basileus’ uncontested advance on the Kurdish capital was the first indication that this was the case.


Initial Roman plan of attack into Kurdish territories.
Events quickly came to a head by June 15, when the garrisoned town of Van fell to a surprise attack from Nasr ar-Dawla. Evidently the Kurdish Shah had snuck his 7,000-strong force through the rough terrain around Lake Van, and seized the area around the city, eventually securing Bayazid to the north as well. As part of this flanking maneuver, the Kurdish raiders also sacked and burned numerous churches and monasteries, including the prestigious Cathedral of the Holy Cross. With one move, the Kurds had swung north of the Lake, outflanked both Isaac and Diogenes’ armies, and threatened the now lightly defended Theodosiopolis.


The Holy Cross Cathedral, a 10th-century Armenian church and monastic complex located on an island in Lake Van.
Upon receiving reports of the situation, Isaac immediately lifted the siege of Amed and moved east, believing it was more important to surround and crush the Kurdish Army before it could cut both of his armies’ supply lines in the north. Sending orders to Diogenes to do the same, the Romans spent nearly the entire months of July and August maneuvering inside Kurdish territory, attempting to convince the Shah to come south out of the Armenian highlands. Despite a small battle outside Hisn Kayfa (which saw Isaac’s army stumble across and wipe out a detachment of 1,000 enemy cavalry), this period of the war saw little action besides posturing on both sides. This stalemate of course, could not last forever.

On August 18th, Isaac received a letter from Diogenes stating that his army had rounded the northern coast of Lake Van, re-secured Bayazid, and pushing ar-Dawla’s troops south. However, Roman scouts had lost track of the Kurdish positions, and there was telling if the Kurds had decided to sit tight in Van itself, or retreat back into their own territory. Unfortunately for Isaac, his army would soon be the ones to stumble across the missing Kurdish troops, who had once again outmaneuvered the Romans by moving significantly faster than any of Isaac’s generals believe they could. Only two days later, the lead echelon of the Basileus’ army found itself ambushed along the Tigris river. The Roman troops very quickly found themselves surrounded, with a second group of enemy soldiers advancing rapidly from the south and west. The initial reports of the Shah’s army being only 7,000-strong were clearly very, very wrong.

Evidently, ar-Dawla had negotiated the recruitment of at least 7,000 Harwan Syrian mercenaries sometime earlier in August. This force was advancing north-east, aiming to link up with the Shah, eventually doing so only a few days before engaging the Romans. With this combined force, Isaac was outnumbered by nearly 4,000 men, and fighting on both the east and south. Despite the superior discipline of the Basileus’ well-drilled Tagmatic troops, the Romans were handily defeated in the hills outside Hisn Kayfa by the more mobile Muslim army. To his credit however, Isaac managed to keep his army together as a coherent unit, retreating in good order back towards Cilicia. Unfortunately for the beleaguered emperor though, the bad news was not over. The Kurds had called up on another ally in the north, and only a week after the disaster at Hisn Kayfa reports started arriving that Roman territory in the Crimea was being ravaged by Gazakh raiders. With Isaac’s army retreating all the way into the Taurus Mountains, and Diogenes alone on the coast of Lake Van, there was little the Romans could do to stem the tide of the Kurds. As Autumn turned to Winter, ar-Dawla advanced further west, capturing Edessa and eventually putting the great city of Antioch under siege in early December. As 1065 came to a close, the situation for the Romans looked bleak at best, and potentially disastrous at worst. Michael Psellus (who claimed to be on campaign with Isaac at the time) writes that there was significant discontent in the army camp. Even the news of Diogenes’ successful recapture of the city of Van on December 18th could do little to improve overall morale. Despite this, the Basileus remained committed to the war, adding 3,000 local troops from the Cilician Theme and beginning the cold march south towards Antioch, braving the passes of the coastal Taurus ranges in order to relieve the city.

Similar to the year before though, 1066 began well for the Romans. Almost immediately after exiting the mountains, Isaac’s troops cornered another detachment of Kurdish cavalry and slaughtered them almost to a man. The loss of this force (likely intended to reinforce ar-Dawla outside Antioch) convinced the Shah that his position so far west was untenable, especially with the steady advance of Diogenes’ army in the east. Isaac’s scouts reported this movement almost immediately, and he quickly swung his troops round to pursue the Shah’s retreating army.

Luckily for the Romans, the Basileus’ Tagmatic troops were mostly mounted, and even most of the auxiliary infantrymen from the surrounding themes had mules to ride on. Isaac was able to make up the gap between him and the retreating Kurds within ten days, cutting them off from the fortress city of Ayntab, where the Romans forced a battle on February 18th. While strategically a sound move, Isaac’s gamble to engage the Kurds in the broken and hill terrain surrounding the city could have very easily backfired. Despite this, Psellus tells us of a relatively straightforward battle, where the Roman Kataphraktoi easily drove off the Kurdish light cavalry, enabling the Thematic infantry to move in and disperse the Shah’s remaining troops into the hillside. When all was said in done, the Romans lost over 4,500 soldiers (nearly 30% of the troops in Isaac’s army), while the Kurds probably took slightly more casualties. Despite the heavy casualties, the Battle of Ayntab quickly turned the tide of the war, as the Shah was now unable to put an army into the field that was capable of resisting either of the Roman hosts approaching his territory. Follow-up Roman victories outside Edessa in March paved the way for Diogenes’ troops to completely occupy the eastern half of Kurdish territory by the end of April.

The remainder of 1066 is relatively fuzzy to historians-- at some point in the summer Isaac was able to advance back into ar-Dawla’s territory and put his capital Amed under siege. Diogenes followed suit by swinging south of Isaac and capturing the last Kurdish fortress in the south sometime in December, engaging and defeating 6,000 enemy infantry in the process. The next major event Psellus speaks of in his history is Isaac marching victoriously into Amed on 1 June, 1067, and accepting the Shah’s surrender. This gap of a year makes it even less likely that the infamous bureaucrat was actually on campaign with Isaac, but his incessant need to place himself at the center of Imperial action during his lifetime is endearing to readers nonetheless. Commentary on medieval historians aside, the Isaac’s only major expedition eastward ended in a successful peace shortly after the Kurdish capital fell. The Shah agreed to surrender the city of Amed and the surrounding land to the Roman Empire, provide yearly tribute payments as reparations, allow Roman traders full access to Kurdish markets, and a final donative of 10 ducats. What is interesting about this peace treaty is that it resulted in the first time a Sunni-majority city was absorbed into the Empire and the Muslim population was not forced to either convert or leave. Isaac (supported by the civil service and infuriating the Anatolian magnates) likely figured that there was no way to successfully expel and re-colonize Amad with a Christian population so quickly after the conflict. For now, the Kurdish city would be given a high degree of autonomy and allowed to continue much as it did before-- only their taxes would now go west to Constantinople.


Modern-day ruins of the Amed city walls, which Isaac broke in a siege in 1067.
Unfortunately, after the conclusion of hostilities in Kurdistan, we know painfully little about the rest of Isaac’s reign. The political problems he faced before the war certainly still remained, but likely to a lesser degree now that he had proven himself militarily on both the east and western frontiers of the Empire. Romanos Diogenes by most accounts proved himself relatively capable (and loyal) during the war, and was rewarded handsomely with promotion to become Strategos of the prestigious Armeniakon Theme. Unfortunately, Isaac still suffered ironically poor relations with the military aristocracy throughout the rest of his reign. By the time of his death, the bureaucratic faction (led by Michael Psellus of course) cemented their control over the institutions of government in Constantinople.

One area where Isaac’s reputation was rehabilitated though was with the urban mob of the capital. Military victory always breeds popularity, but the Basileus’ wife was arguably the real reason why the Imperial Family felt confident leaving the confines of the Palace occasionally. During the Kurdish war, the Balissa Catherine invested significant resources into rebuilding public health infrastructure in the city. Leper Hospitals, poor houses, and other public facilities were refurbished with gold captured in the east, all of which endeared her to the urban mob. Catherine was also likely responsible for negotiating another marriage, sending an unnamed princess to Georgia to solidify the bond between Constantinople and Kutaisi. By all accounts, she acted as something of a regent while the Basileus was off on campaign. With no male children of their own, it was probably Catherine that began grooming her nephew Alexios as heir, a situation that became official upon Isaac’s return to the capital. The young Alexios was crowned Caesar sometime in late 1067, and began accompanying the Basileus during all major court ceremonies. Noticeably, Isaac allowed the young Caesar to preside over the Ambassador of Salerno’s visit to Constantinople in August, where the small Duchy willingly offered itself as a vassal to the Empire.

The remainder of the 1060s was relatively quiet. The Basileus spent a good deal of time in Constantinople trying to keep the balance of power between the bureaucrats and the aristocrats, but he conducted at least one small-scale purge of the civil servants sometime in early 1069, eventually also having to confront the monasteries again for accumulating too much land around the Capital. Although he was approaching 63 years of age, Isaac had lost none of his characteristic energy and work ethic, and began laying the groundwork for a major campaign to the west. Taking advantage of the remaining captured Kurdish wealth, Isaac began to plan a major series of military reforms. While he would not live to see the results of these efforts, these changes almost certainly allowed the Roman Army to more effectively conduct expeditionary-style wars in Italy over the coming decades. Isaac’s long-term plan to begin the reconquest of Sicily was beginning to come to fruition, but the Basileus was realistic enough to realize it would take years of preparation to both the military and the Empire’s infrastructure to allow him to sustain such a campaign. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to see these preparations through, as word reached the Capital in June of 1070 that a massive revolt had broken out in the Duchy of Salerno.

While Salerno had been an Imperial vassal now for over three years, this decision had been extremely unpopular with most of the elites of the Duchy. Principally, this resentment festered in the predominantly Catholic clergy and nobles, who still believed they owed their true allegiance to Rome-- not Constantinople. The 20,000 or so peasants which were convinced to rebel quickly overpowered the Duke’s small regiment of guardsmen, and the entirety of the countryside was soon lost. This news (as can be imagined) did not please Isaac, who immediately ordered the Imperial Navy to set sail for Dyrrachium on the Adriatic coast. The Basileus quickly gathered the Tagmata, summoned the western Thematic troops to meet him, and began marching across the Balkans. It came as a huge shock to all when one the morning of August 2nd, 1070, the Besieus Isaac I Komnenos was found dead in his tent, probably from a heart attack in his sleep. It was now up to the young Alexios to carry on the torch of Roman civilization against the Catholic forces in Italy.

-----

[1] Modern-day Turkish city of Erzurum.
[2] Historically he became Romanos IV, the Emperor who lost the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 and was captured by the Seljuk Sultan Arp Aslan.
 

Kandiru

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Alexios has a pretty decent fundament to rule it seems. Isaac did well.
 

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subbed!
 

Crimson Lionheart

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Chapter 4

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As August 1070 began, the 22-year old Alexios found himself master of the Roman Empire. While he had been appointed Caeser three years previously by his uncle Isaac, neither he nor the court in Constantinople likely expected his ascension to the throne would come so quickly. Despite his youth and the geopolitical events surrounding his coronation, he would go on to be one of the most influential Emperors in the history of the Empire, and perhaps the most important factor in the revitalization of the Roman state.


Image of Alexios I later in life, taken from a Greek manuscript.

More than any other member of the royal family however, Alexios was uniquely positioned to take advantage of the Empire’s current military and diplomatic situation, and he attacked almost every challenge during his 31-year long rule with the same tenacity that his uncle had shown before him. As the son of Isaac’s brother and Domestic of the Scholi [1] John, Alexios had spent most of childhood accompanying his father and uncle on campaign, which made him intimately familiar with the men and lifestyle of the Army. It took less than a day after Isaac’s death for the Tagmata to raise him on their shields in the ancient Roman tradition, and the army’s march towards Dyrachium continued with little delay. By early September, the new Basileus and his troops from the Makedonian Theme had reached the Adriatic coast, and were transported by the Navy to their staging area in Rhegium on the southern tip of Italy.


Alexios arrived in the small slice of southern Italy still under Imperial control with around 14,000 soldiers.

After rendezvousing with the two thousand local troops of the Calabrian Theme, Alexios wasted little time marching north. While his spies informed him there were two major groups of rebels occupying the country, he chose to move his entire army northwest along the coast, aiming to surprise and defeat the 6,000 traitors who had chased their Duke out of Salerno. The Romans arrived outside the city on the 12th of October, briefly engaging and destroying a hastily assembled group of rebels. It took less than a month for the city to surrender, and the Emperor marched triumphantly in, where he placed Duke Gisulf back onto his throne. This victory was quickly followed up with a second, as a force of over 3,000 rebels attempted to relieve the siege, only to find out that they had arrived two weeks late to do anything but break and flee at the first sight of Alexios’ armored kataphraktoi. [2] With the threat dealt with, Alexios provided funds to the Strategos of the Calabrian Theme for the funding of two cavalry regiments. This enlarged force would be responsible for not just watching the Catholics to the north, but also the Muslims in Sicily to the south.


Alexios quickly took control of the situation in Salerno, defeating the rebels handily.

In terms of Alexios’ political survival in the early days of his rule, it is hard to understate how important the quick and decisive success in Italy was. With the Komnenoi dynasty still in its infancy, the aristocracy could have easily taken advantage of any disasters that befell the young Basileus. Returning to Constantinople with success in hand however, Alexios had the political capital to continue the reforms his uncle had started, as well as immediately begin military and diplomatic initiatives of his own. Perhaps most interestingly, he shelved Isaac’s plan for an invasion of Sicily, and quickly turned his attention north.

While Alexios still had powerful allies at court (among them the previous Empress Catherine who had championed his appointment as Caesar in the first place), it’s curious that he bucked custom by seeking a bride not among the aristocracy, but in the lands of the Barbarians. In this endeavor he did not have to wait long, as King Andreas Árpád of Hungary soon sent an ambassador to the Romans, offering the hand of his daughter Anna in marriage. Despite the serious problems this caused among the leading families of the Empire, Alexios was smitten, and the two married on New Year’s Day, 1071, cementing an alliance with the Hungarians which would form the cornerstone of the Empire’s westward-facing foreign policy throughout the Middle Ages.


Imperial Seals showing the image of Anna Árpád of Hungary, the new Basilissa.

Contrasting with the early months of his reign, the next five years of it were relatively quiet, with the Emperor focused on the consolidation of both his internal political position and the relations with his neighbors. His marriage to Anna quickly proved to be one of the major political problems of his early rule, and the birth of two daughters (Anna [3] in 1072 and Maria in 1075) gave him no son to raise as Caesar-- a fact only substantiated by the death of his younger brother and heir Nikephoros in April 1072. [4]

The Basileus’ handling of the court factions also became a notable struggle, with Alexios quickly favoring the bureaucrats as a counterweight to the dissatisfied aristocracy. By 1074, he also found himself in another classic dispute with the Constantinopolitan monasteries over land usage inside the city walls, a spat which was only smoothed over when the Emperor arrived at the Hagia Sophia in person to present a significant personal donation to Patriarch John VIII. This only quieted the religious components of the grumbling for less than a year, as Alexios’ soon had to deal with Catholic missionaries successfully converting one of the border provinces in the Balkans. While the diplomatic relationship between Alexios and his father in law in Hungary grew closer, the latter’s’ inability to prevent his own citizens from crossing the border to cause trouble continued to be a thorn in the Basileus’ side for years to come.

By June 1075, the religious situation in the Balkans had stabilized somewhat, with Alexios mimicking Uncle Isaac’s strategy of relying on the bureaucrats to balance out the clergy. Michael Psellus once again claims responsibility for driving this political strategy, and it is likely the wiley historian-turned-politician did convince Basileus to appoint the well-known merchant Nikolaos Melissinos as a primary diplomatic advisor to the royal court, a move which certainly snubbed the noble aristocracy as well, and probably invited the small rebellions which broke out in northern Anatolia in 1075. Altogether, Alexios found himself on relatively shaky footing.


Drawing of Michael Psellos speaking to Basileus Alexios I, dating from the 1060s.

Once again falling back on what he knew best, the Basileus began to plan another campaign across the Danube River. For the past few months, traders coming into Constantinople from the north had been bringing stories of infighting in the Pecheneg Khanate. While these types of struggles between rival clans were relatively common inside these nomadic civilizations, Isaac ventured that they provided him an opportunity. Alexios figured he could quickly sortie north, secure slaves and other plunder, and then return to the capital with an even stronger power-base among the rank and file soldier in the western segments of the Imperial Army. What could go wrong?

-----

[1] Roughly the top general and military adviser in the Byzantine army.

[2] Very heavily armored cavalry, basically a medieval tank. Bad news bears for any unwashed peasants who decide to get uppity.

[3] So many Annas in one family tho

[4] Isaac's first in-game heir who decided to keel over and die.
 
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