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Cora Giantkiller

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We're coming up on the holidays here and with some additional time off I've been playing CK3 again. After futzing around with some different ideas that I may revisit (a Vidilist Baltic empire, Armenia/Hayastan, a Nestorian run in Asia), I decided to try a campaign idea that I've had for a long time: forming Russia as a Sunni empire and claiming eastern Europe for Islam. I read an AAR years ago where the AI Russia went Sunni and I thought the idea was so delightful that I've been meaning to try it ever since.

So here we are. I've started as Dyre the Stranger in Kiev, I converted as soon as possible, and my medium-term goal is to form the Empire of Russia. I've got some notions beyond that (taking Constantinople and crippling the Byzantines, demolishing the papacy, stopping the Mongols through science or magic, etc.), but I'll let that develop organically. My African campaign was tucked away in the corner away from the main action of CK3, but this time I should be right in the middle of everything.

(Just as a note, I am neither Muslim nor Russian; I am going to do my best to be respectful and tell an entertaining story, and if I make mistakes along the way I am happy to hear constructive criticism.)

With all that said, I hope you'll join me for a different kind of Russian campaign. It should be fun. :)
 
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King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia, 860 - 903 (Part 1)

Cora Giantkiller

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King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia
Born: 844
Reigned: 860 - 903


Part 1: The Rise of Kievan Islam

knDXyAd.jpg


The origins of Dyre are obscure. In the traditional accounts, he was descended from Halfdan Whiteshirt, and Ragnarr Loðbrók. No record exists of his birth or childhood, however. He first appears in the Primary Chronicles as a young warrior, petitioning King Rurik of Novgorod for permission to raid “Tsargrad”, that is, Constantinople. King Rurik was happy to see a young rival eager to get himself killed in Thrace, and granted permission with alacrity. The young Dyre left with a compatriot, one Oskold, and two hundred warriors, sailing down the Dnieper for glory.

On the way to Constantinople, Dyre and Oskold came upon a small Slavic village in the hills on the western coast of Dnieper. The village of Kiev, known as Kyiv to the locals for its legendary founder, was humble but promising. The lord who controlled Kiev could control the river trade on the Dnieper (“from the Varangians to the Greeks,” according to a contemporary description), as well as trade between the land of the Khazars and the Germanic lands of Christian central Europe. It would serve admirably as a base for Viking raiders, but it could be much, much more.

The conquest of Kiev is not detailed in the Chronicles. [1] However, we are told that Oskyld and Dyre raised a navy of some two hundred boats and waited to strike against the Greeks. When Basileus Michael the Drunkard warred against the Abbasids in the east, raiders sailed to the Bosporus, “made a great massacre of the Christians,” and attacked Constantinople. The basileus was forced to return to his capital, where he fought his way inside the city. He and Patriarch Photios prayed for the intercession of their god, whereupon--according to Greek tradition--a sudden storm scattered the Norse longships and obliged Dyre to retreat.[2]

6yuBsnB.png


Patriarch Photios, known as St. Photios the Great to Orthodox Christians, was moved to send the missionaries Cyril and Methodios to Kiev, in hopes of fostering a Christian kingdom on the Dnieper. The mission failed, however. Early in his reign, Dyre had spoken often of the great potential of Kiev. It was in his mind not just a defensible settlement on the river but potentially the capital of a prosperous trading empire. His kingdom would not be a mere Christian satellite of the Byzantines, however, but in all ways their equal and rival.

To stand against mighty Byzantium, Dyre reasoned, one would do well to make friends with their enemies. So by the late 860s, he was slipping unseen through the Bosporus and visiting the lands of the Abbasid caliphate. He negotiated trade rights with the wealthy emirs in Syria and Palestine and his own nascent kingdom, relying on his considerable charisma and the notoriety of his assault on Constantinople. To secure an alliance with the Abbasid dynasty, Dyre would pledge himself and his kingdom to their god for all time. [3]

On December 9, 874, in a public ceremony in Kiev, Dyre and his sons stood before their bemused people and said the words of the Shahada: “I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

GbcpJfZ.png


When Dyre began to treat with the Abbasid emirs, they were desperate for allies. The power of the caliphate was at an all-time low, the result of a brutal independence war led by the Bagratid kings of Hayastan several years before. Byzantium under Basileos I was beginning a new era of territorial expansion. There were even rumors about Frankish interventions in Palestine to protect pilgrims to the Christian holy sites. The arrival of a swaggering warrior prince from the north willing to proclaim the Muslim faith was a desperately needed shot in the arm.

For all that, many in Baghdad were skeptical that these Russians knew much about the faith that they had adopted. They were particularly concerned that Dyre had proclaimed as allamah a native Russian named Ivan who was once been priest to the Slavic god Perun. This Ivan had little command of Arabic, and his interpretation of the Qu’ran and attendant commentary was thus deeply idiosyncratic. Dyre’s Abbasid allies soon made it clear that Ivan would not do, and the king accordingly had him replaced with a reputable young Egyptian scholar known as Ibrahim of Alexandria. Ibrahim was a scholar with a mediocre reputation, but most in the ulema felt that he lacked the creativity to be a blasphemer and thus would be a safe choice.

Ibrahim and his students would end up working miracles in Kiev and the surrounding lands. The young Egyptians taught themselves Russian in order to evangelize to the local population. Learning that the local Slavs had no written language, the scholars created a new alphabet that relied heavily on Arabic script. (The “Abrahamic alphabet,” as it is known today, is one of the most commonly used writing systems in the world, used by hundreds of millions the world over.) They identified promising young Russian men to be trained in traditional Islamic jurisprudence, creating a cohort of native Muslim scholars who would be accepted by the local Slavic population. By the end of the 9th century, there were thriving Muslim populations on both sides of the Dnieper.

Dyre had not been a Muslim long before he decided that the time was right to bring his new faith to the surrounding chiefdoms. He declared holy wars against pagan chiefs in Turov, Chernigov and Karachev in turn, and he attributed his victories to the power of Allah. These victories, as much as anything, made Sunni practice appealing for ambitious young men. On the strength of his triumphs in battle, Dyre proclaimed himself king in 877. In the west, he is typically referred to as the King of Ruthenia, but in Old Russian his title is grander: King of the ‘Rus, implicitly claiming the lands from Novgorod to the Black Sea coast. Few could mistake the scope of his ambition now.

IoLW2Oy.png


[1] The full account reads as follows: “[A]fter gathering together many Varangians, they established their dominion over the country of the Polyanians at the same time that Rurik was ruling at Novgorod.”
[2] Here Oskyld disappears from the historical record. According to the traditional account, Oskyld perished in the raid on Constantinople and Dyre took the family name Oskyldr as tribute to his great friend. Other accounts suggest that Dyre simply had Oskyld killed while far from home, to secure his own position in Kiev.
[3] Again, the traditional Kievan account presents Dyre’s motives as thoroughly pious, but contemporary Arab chroniclers were remarkably more skeptical.
 
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Nikolai

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Very happy to see you got started on this! :)
 

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It is very unusual to see that... islamic Kievan Rus. I suppose that you will face a great amount of difficulties. Pagan neighbouring rules and western christian duches will always against you. Your potential allys are far away on the south.
 

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Sounds interesting - I'll be following.

How did you convert?
 

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Muslim Kiev... this'll be interesting.

Subbed!

How do you deal with the ban on alcohol, though (the reason Rus didn't convert in OTL)?
 

Cora Giantkiller

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Very happy to see you got started on this! :)

Thanks! I'm glad that I did too. I think it should be fun.

It is very unusual to see that... islamic Kievan Rus. I suppose that you will face a great amount of difficulties. Pagan neighbouring rules and western christian duches will always against you. Your potential allys are far away on the south.

It certainly can be hard. I've done a few runs like this in CK3, and one thing that I've noticed is that if the surrounding AI nations sense weakness you can easily get dogpiled all of a sudden and then you're in real trouble. Having said that--it doesn't take too too long for allies to get to southern Russia, and I'm not convinced that the AI calculates how long it would take an ally to get someplace when deciding whether to start an aggressive war.

Sounds interesting - I'll be following.

How did you convert?

I gave Dyre the theology focus, took a few Learning Lifestyle perks, and converted once I had the piety. (Of course, Dyre in my game had the Cynical trait, so I had to add that little bit in the story about him being opportunistic.) It wasn't super expensive in piety terms, because Ashari is a reformed religion and Asatru is not, and Ashari had a higher Fervor at the time.

Muslim Kiev... this'll be interesting.

Subbed!

How do you deal with the ban on alcohol, though (the reason Rus didn't convert in OTL)?

I'm so glad you asked this. The truth is that I hadn't given this much thought, but I did a little research just now and think that I've come up with a fun bit of worldbuilding for a later part. (I have a king coming up who has the Drunkard trait, as it happens.) But you'll have to read and find out, of course. :)
 
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DensleyBlair

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Oh goodo. First Jewish Polish Russia and now Muslim Kievan Russia. Great to see you back writing, Cora. This will be excellent.
 
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Brisingr

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Now this is...different. It still sounds just as plausible as the historical conversion to Orthodoxy was, though. Also, I like the added detail of Ibrahim creating an Arabic-based Abrahamic alphabet, instead of Cyril creating a Greek-based Cyrillic alphabet. That's a nice touch. Will definitely be following.
 
King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia, 860 - 903 (Part 2)

Cora Giantkiller

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King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia
Born: 844
Reigned: 860 - 903


Part 2: Politics By Any And All Means

KCwX5Bk.jpg


The kingdom of Ruthenia was surrounded by three powerful rivals: the Khazar nomads to the east, the Slavic kingdom of Moldavia to the southwest, and the Mogyër Confederacy to the southeast. Of these, the Mogyërs were the most hated. The Ruthenian warriors were feared in the ports and coastal villages of the Black Sea, but would reliably fall before an equal number of the nomadic riders to their south. On more than one occasion, King Dyre returned from a triumphant conquest to find that Grand Prince Almos’s raiders had left Kiev in flames. As simple as that, his victory would taste like ashes in his mouth. The king was even-keeled by nature, but the subject of the Grand Prince would prompt him to towering rages.

The Mogyërs posed a practical obstacle as well. The longships that Dyre and his successors employed could sail through Mogyër land swiftly, but fat-bellied merchant ships were more vulnerable to raids, giving the Grand Prince a near strange-hold on Kiev’s trade potential. While Dyre was reluctant to face the Mogyërs in open battle he also resented their presence on his borders and felt that his grand ambitions depended ultimately on their conquest.

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The chance came in 885. Grand Prince Almos had launched an invasion of the Khazar lands, only to be fatally wounded in a battle on the plains of Samar. While his great rival lay dying on the Pontic Steppe, Dyre launched an invasion of the Mogyër lands. When the new Grand Prince returned from the front, it was he who discovered a capital in flames and his son in chains. The battered Mogyër warriors were smashed by a combined force of Ruthenian infantry and Arab riders from Basra and Palestine, the first time these forces had fought side by side.

Dyre would claim the Grand Prince’s holdfast in Cherkassy for himself, but the rest of Yedisan he granted to his fourth son Alexandr, who had already demonstrated a nose for trade at the age of twenty. Alexandr soon discovered the ruins of an ancient Greek port on the Black Sea coast, which he used for the site of his new capital. The seaside port, Odessa [1], became a thriving trading city and a key part of Ruthenia’s prosperity.

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The conquest of Yedisan in 887 gave King Dyre space to consolidate his rule. While he led a few small wars of conquest to consolidate his position in the Cherven cities, the king was able to spend much of his time seeing to the consolidation of his rule. He placed many of his sons in control of his kingdom, be it treacherous Feodor in Chernigov or capable Alexandr in Yedisan. His heir, the plain-spoken warrior Halfdan, became the commander of his armies.

In his middle age, it pleased the king to spend much of his time dedicated to spiritual matters. While one must admit to the opportunism of his reasons to convert, King Dyre was nonetheless dedicated in the promotion of Islam within his kingdom and in his own religious education. He may have seen this as a matter of statecraft, but he was nonetheless dedicated. So, for example, Dyre went on the hajj in the summer of 880, and in 888 he made a pilgrimage to the mosque at At-Tur in Jerusalem. At home, he met frequently with the young Russian ulema that Ibrahim had trained, and also became a leading proponent of the new Abrahmic alphabet for written documents. In 900, he began work on a Russian-language commentary on the Qu’ran, although he scarcely managed to begin before his death.

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What ultimately distracted Dyre was, well, statecraft of a different sort. The neighboring kingdom of Moldavia was ruled by a Slavic tribal leader known as Vasilko Mstislavovich, from the Dniprich dynasty. Moldavia was then a Slavic kingdom, and while Vasilko commanded several thousand warriors, he had watched with unease while Christanity had consolidated to his southwest and Islam to his northeast. Determined to maintain his independence, the wily Vasilko attempted to play Ruthenia and Bulgaria off of each other. He never promised to convert, exactly, but was always hinting that he might if the time was right.

Vasilko may have intended to keep this game up for the rest of his life, but in 899 it all came falling apart. In 897, a young Vlach warrior led a populist rebellion in the Cherven Cities. When the lad was dragged back to Kiev for punishment, he was recognized as a warrior in the service of King Vasilko. Dyre questioned the young man personally, and discovered on his person gold coins struck with the visage of the Byzantine Emperor, Basileos I. Using this slender reed, King Dyre claimed that Vasilko was working with the Christian kings to undermine the spread of Islam in Ruthenia. After days of grueling torture, the young man confirmed the tale, and added the helpful detail that Vasilko had been secretly baptized years before in Constantinople.

It’s doubtful whether Dyre actually believed this story. For him, paranoia was always a servant and never a master. However, the claim served the admirable purpose of enflaming the emirs of Basra and Palestine, who soon professed themselves eager to assist Dyre into putting down this crypto-Orthodox threat to the faithful in Kiev. Vasilko’s own record of very public indecision made the tale more credible as well. On August 1, 898, Dyre and his Arabian allies declared war on the ‘treacherous’ king, insisting that he bend the knee to Kiev and be converted to Islam.

The subjugation of Moldavia was the longest and bloodiest of Dyre’s campaigns. He was fighting in the mountains, hard terrain that the Moldavians knew well, and he won many tactical victories by taking more losses than his opponents. (In the third battle of Halych, in 901, he lost nearly three times the men as the enemy, even though they retreated from the field.) Deprived of a decisive early victory, Ruthenia settled into a long war of occupation and attrition, knowing that they could call on more men from the Abbasid heartlands or hire mercenary bands while Moldavia could not.

Among the war’s notable casualties was the king himself. Dyre was in his late fifties now, and did not have the stamina for campaigning in rough terrain that once he had. A chill caught in Suceava became a cough, which became a fever. Finally, on March 3, 903, King Dyre the Stranger, son of Halfdan Whiteshirt and grandson of Ragnarr Loðbrók, first King of Ruthenia, died in a small military tent in the mountains of Moldavia surrounded by his warriors and loyal retainers. The kingdom that he had founded would need to survive without him.

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[1] The name reflects the Ruthenian belief that the Greek settlement was the ancient city of Odessos. This has since been disproved by modern archaeological research.
 

Cora Giantkiller

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very interesting, I follow it!
Sounds like a rather intriguing story, I can't wait to see how this goes.

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it. :)

Oh goodo. First Jewish Polish Russia and now Muslim Kievan Russia. Great to see you back writing, Cora. This will be excellent.

Thanks, Densley! I had a lot of fun writing my Nigerian AAR, and I kept hoping to have time to write more.

Now this is...different. It still sounds just as plausible as the historical conversion to Orthodoxy was, though. Also, I like the added detail of Ibrahim creating an Arabic-based Abrahamic alphabet, instead of Cyril creating a Greek-based Cyrillic alphabet. That's a nice touch. Will definitely be following.

I'm glad you enjoyed that! When I noticed that the Cyrillic alphabet wasn't introduced until after the 867 start date, it started to give me ideas. And of course now I have them founding Odessa about 900 years early too.
 

DensleyBlair

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Nice that Dyre was able to make pilgrimage in his life. Not only good for the soul, but handy to show one's commitment to the faith for many other reasons, too.

Let's see how Halfdan fares.
 

Brisingr

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Can I just say that I appreciate your dedication to putting the correct diacritical markings everywhere (in words like Mogyër, Loðbrók, etc.)? It's nice to see.

Looking forward to when Dyre's descendants convert the land to Islam, and adopt Russian culture, and spread across the steppes.
 

Nikolai

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An unfortuante time to die, but he did well; may Halfdan do even better!
 

alscon

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I'm always a fan of a "now for something else" story, so I'll follow this one attentively :).

Opprtunistic and cunning, Dyre at least upheld his new faith in more than just name. Perhaps that was the cost for ruining the Emirs in a campaign in far-away lands, but it certainly brought the king no problems. Save for blisters on his feet, maybe.

We shall see if his successors truly embrace the faith or keep it mostly for political reasons.
 
King Halfdan of Ruthenia, 903 - 925

Cora Giantkiller

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King Halfdan of Ruthenia

Born: 864
Reigned: 903 - 925


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King Halfdan was often called the last Viking of Kiev. He was old enough to remember standing with his father at Jól in the winter while men were sacrificed to Odin, and hearing him offer the traditional toast, “for a good year and frith.” One imagines Halfdan reflecting on this memory when, later in life, he would listen to his father pledge his sword to defeat the pagan chiefs. Whatever the reason, Halfdan Dyrovich Oskyldr cared little for religious observance. He was a man of large appetites, he spoke with a warrior’s candor and with a warrior’s rough humor, and he desired nothing so much as meat and beer and battle and song.

While many in Ruthenia would come to rue his ascension, even Halfdan’s fiercest critics agreed that he took the reins admirably in a challenging time. He took command of the army in Moldavia quickly and decisively, and swore that he would not rest until the enemy had bent the knee. At the same time, he sent a messenger to the enemy at Suceava, striking a conciliatory note. Vasilko would be allowed to offer his surrender in private, and might thereafter be seated on Halfdan’s council as an esteemed high chieftain. Halfdan even hinted that he would not be overly concerned if the Moldavian lords continued their Slavic rites in private.

The king was operating in the spirit of pragmatism, of course, but his affection for the Moldavian king as an honorable enemy seems quite sincere. How else to explain Halfdan’s decision, in 904, to name his first son and heir Vasilko? [1] The elder Vasilko was touched by this gesture, in any case, and it more than anything convinced him of his enemy’s good intentions. Vasilko would surrender two weeks later, putting an end to six years of bloody war. He came to regard his namesake like a son, and it was the younger Vasilko who finally convinced him to adopt the Sunni faith some seventeen years after his surrender.

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Halfdan would spend the next few years assuaging the wounded pride of his new Moldavian subjects, particularly the restive Vlach tribes. However, his taste for battle eventually got the better of him. Even in peacetime, he and his marshal, the fearsome war-chief Dobrynia Mstislavich of Volodymyr, spent many days poring over maps and planning campaigns that never happened. By 911, he marched against the lands of Pinsk to his north. The High Chieftess of Pinsk was no warrior and a woman besides, so Halfdan brusquely declared that she must be protected from the treacherous White Rus’ and led five thousand warriors to do just that.

As soon as Chieftess Tatyana Dregovich was subjugated, Halfdan and Dobrynia were sailing off to war again. Emir Jaffar II of Palermo was the last Muslim prince in Sicily, and when he wrote Kiev proposing a joint invasion of Benevento Halfdan was only too happy to agree. The Ruthenians launched two hundred longships to Italy, and smashed the Christian army at Palermo before laying siege to Benevento. On October 16, 915, the city fell to the Muslim armies, and Halfdan and Emir Jaffar celebrated the great victory for Dar al-Islam.

As soon as the muezzin led the call to prayer in Benevento, however, Halfdan and Dobrynia were sailing back to Ruthenia to plan another war. The once-mighty Khazars were at war with the treacherous King Ruslan of the White Rus’, and Halfdan saw an opportunity to grab the Ruthenian lands of Romen. The king was in notably high spirits during his many foreign adventures, and his men would long remember the ferocious grin he made when the enemy was spotted, and the roar of laughter that they could hear over the din of battle.

The war with the Khazars would ultimately prove successful, but it came at a grievous cost for the realm: Dobrynia of Volodmyr fell in battle on March 1, 920. Halfdan was heart-broken to have lost a friend, but more significantly, Dobrynia was a vital voice in military councils. He could be the voice of caution for his headstrong monarch when Halfdan would listen to no one else. The king would struggle without him.

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As Halfdan ascended to the throne, some began to believe that Ruthenia may fall away from Dar al-Islam and return to Dar al-Harb. In Baghdad, rumors began to fly that Halfdan had returned to the worship of Odin, while in Byzantium the Ecumenical Patriarch funded a new mission to Kiev in hopes of converting the new king. However, these outside observers did not understand Halfdan. Apostasy requires its own sort of piety, and Halfdan had little enough of that. He hoped to leave the religious order untouched and go about his business. This soon proved impossible.

Halfdan’s impiety, and in particular his drinking, would have set Ibrahim’s teeth on edge in the best of times. However, a generation after Dyre’s conversion found Islam in Ruthenia at a crossroads. With King Dyre’s support, Ibrahim and his ‘Alexandrine’ coterie of conservative clerics had successfully steered the development of Russian Islam in line with the orthodox Sunni teachings promulgated by the caliphate. Among the peasantry, Muslim practice mixed liberally with older Slavic rituals and folklore, but the ulema largely sang from the same hymn sheet, as it were.

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However, Ibrahim’s belief that Russian believers must align themselves with Arabian practices as he defined them began to rub some Russian clerics the wrong way. By the early tenth century, Ruthenia was a powerful and ascendant power on the Black Sea, and her people began to carry themselves with a confident frontier swagger. Surely Ruthenia’s success meant that Allah had shown her people favor? Surely the internal chaos of the caliphate showed that they still had some things to learn? Openly questioning the authority of the caliph was dangerous stuff, but for some younger Russians a slight note of skepticism could be heard when they spoke of the Caliph. Dyre was able to tamp down the factionalism, but Halfdan was scarcely interested in trying.

A rising clique of Russian clerics began to push back against Ibrahim’s authority, the most prominent of which was Gleb of Chernobyl. A chief’s son with a gift for languages, Gleb had once been one of Ibrahim’s star pupils. The older cleric had even arranged for Gleb to go on the hajj and then study in Baghdad. While in Baghdad, however, Gleb learned that the debates between Islamic scholars were broader and more far-ranging then he ever could have imagined. The intellectual ferment was intoxicating to him, and it made Ibrahim’s propriety seem narrow by comparison. Furthermore, it was patronizing to assume that young Russian clerics like Gleb and his compatriots were incapable of discerning truth from falsehood, and thus needed to be protected. Gleb returned to Kiev convinced that Ibrahim’s time was past.

This brings us back to Halfdan’s drinking habit. Dyre had banned alcohol at royal feasts as well as abstaining himself, a gesture that made it easier for Ibrahim to overlook occasional indiscretions by the boyars. Halfdan had no interest in such niceties, and in fact his drinking and feasting only increased with age. Ibrahim could not ignore a violation that was shoved into his face, and so relations deteriorated between the king and the allamah. Once again, it seemed like the throne would cast off Islam entirely. Halfdan’s senior wife, Queen Jaida, was concerned enough about the situation that she reached out to Gleb to find a solution.

Gleb won the queen over by arguing that Ibrahim’s interpretation was far too strict. Gleb had been heavily influenced by Imam Abū Ḥanīfa, the respected Persian jurist, and in accordance with Abū Ḥanīfa’s teachings on khamr (i.e., intoxication), he argued that the Qu’ran only prohibited alcohol fashioned from grapes or date palms, not that derived from honey, grain or millet. If the king wished to continue drinking beer or vodka, this would be permissible so long as he didn’t descend to a state of near annihilation. Jaida immediately saw how this tactful compromise would allow Halfdan to reconcile with the ulema without losing face. So it was, then, that Ibrahim was expelled from the court at Kiev, and the young Russian ‘alim ascended in his place.

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The rise of Gleb of Chernobyl did not stop the religious division within Ruthenian Islam. His relaxed approach to religious debate permitted a great flourishing of Islamic thought. Members of disfavored sects, like the once-powerful Muʿtazila and the Shi’a Zaydi school, flocked to Kiev where they were able to debate their ideas in relative peace. While Gleb and his fellow reformers welcomed this diversity, his conservative opponents insisted that he was introducing error and confusion to a people who had not yet properly internalized proper Islam in the first place. Meanwhile, some among the reformers continued to question the authority of the distant Caliph, wondering if perhaps Ruthenia had found a better way.

These tensions did not have a chance to spill over into something more significant, however. Soon war with the Catholic powers of Europe would unite the Muslim word in defense of the holy places.

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In 921, Pope Clemens proclaimed a great holy war for Jerusalem. His Holiness was deeply concerned by the ascent of Islam in the past fifty years, particularly in Ruthenia. The persistent issue of safety for pilgrims in the Holy Land provided a potent rallying cry for a war to check the enemies of Christendom. In Dar al-Islam, men from all factions and peoples were enraged by this blatant act of Christian aggression, and a great push to defend Jerusalem attracted supporters as far east as Sindh.

In Ruthenia, there was no question that King Halfdan would lead his warriors into battle against the papal forces. He may not have been pious, but he had grown to admire the Palestinian warriors while fighting in Moldavia and he could not resist a foreign adventure. However, when the Abbasid caliph wrote to call all Muslim forces to Jerusalem itself for a cautious war of defense, Halfdan was dissastified. It was not in his nature to wait patiently for the enemy to approach, and in the biggest war in living memory he was not about to start.

Halfdan summoned his warriors together for another, bolder plan: an advance on Rome itself. He had campaigned in italy already, and felt that he understood the terrain well enough. The king reasoned that they might strike after the papal forces had departed for Jerusalem, giving Ruthenia time to seize Rome before anybody could respond. Beyond that, sacking Rome would be a fear on par with his father’s sacking of Constantinople sixty years earlier.

In times past, Halfdan would have proposed this idea to his marshal, and Dobrynia would have listed all the risks of the assault. With Dobrynia gone, however, Halfdan was free to be the bold adventurer that he always wished to be. So it was, then, that the Ruthenians set sail for Italy again in 923, this time to attack Rome itself.

When their army arrived, Halfdan received word that the papal forces had already taken ship to the east. Reassured, he ordered that his forces be split into two armies of 3500 warriors each, one under his command and one under Prince Vasilko’s, and set about sieging the papal lands. However, his intelligence was wrong--the papal forces had departed for Napoli to sail east, but the ships that they arranged had failed to arrive. As a result, Pope Clemens and fifteen thousand men were waiting in southern Italy when they heard about the Slavic invasion.

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On January 29, 924, Halfdan got word that the papal army was still in Italy, on the march to Rome. He prudently ordered a retreat to the longships, but disorder in the ranks delayed his departure. Vasilko and his army were able to retreat in good order, but Halfdan’s army was caught in Velletri by the papal army on February 26, 924. The Ruthenians were caught out of position and heavily outnumbered, and Clemens’s army simply smashed them. According to legend, only two Russians survived the attack: a young stripling boy who played dead on the field, and King Halfdan himself, who was taken as hostage to a minor Slovenian count.

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The loss was utterly shattering--half of the Ruthenian forces were dead in a day, and the capture of the king created a power vacuum at the worst possible time. Prince Vasilko repeatedly offered to ransom his father, but there could be no ransom for the notorious Muslim warlord--not in the middle of a crusade. Halfdan himself made an abortive escape attempt, but that only made his captor more insistent on holding him. The king would spend the last year of his life rotting in a Slovenian cell, while his shattered army limped back to Jerusalem to assist in the caliph’s strategy of defense. Word finally came to them that King Halfdan had suffered a fatal heart attack in his cell on April 15, 925. He was 61 years old, and had once been a prodigious warrior.

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[1] The real answer is of course that I didn’t notice until I was writing this AAR.
 
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Cora Giantkiller

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I said something very unladylike when the battle of Velletri happened, y'all. I was so mad.

Nice that Dyre was able to make pilgrimage in his life. Not only good for the soul, but handy to show one's commitment to the faith for many other reasons, too.

Agreed. Dyre's sense of religion was so thoroughly self-serving that it was almost sincere.

Can I just say that I appreciate your dedication to putting the correct diacritical markings everywhere (in words like Mogyër, Loðbrók, etc.)? It's nice to see.

Looking forward to when Dyre's descendants convert the land to Islam, and adopt Russian culture, and spread across the steppes.

I'm glad you like diacritical marks, because this is another good chapter for that.

An unfortuante time to die, but he did well; may Halfdan do even better!

Halfdan had his victories, but I suspect the abject nature of his final years will color his historical reputation.

I'm always a fan of a "now for something else" story, so I'll follow this one attentively :).

Opprtunistic and cunning, Dyre at least upheld his new faith in more than just name. Perhaps that was the cost for ruining the Emirs in a campaign in far-away lands, but it certainly brought the king no problems. Save for blisters on his feet, maybe.

We shall see if his successors truly embrace the faith or keep it mostly for political reasons.

It's a curious thing that neither of the first two Muslim kings of Muslim Ruthenia were terribly Muslim in their personal inclination, but I don't think that'll always be true. In any case, by now Islam is entrenched enough in Kiev to have a life of its own.
 

Nikolai

Basileus Romaion
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Jun 17, 2001
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What a sad end to a successful martial life.