King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia, 860 - 903 (Part 1)
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    King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia
    Born: 844
    Reigned: 860 - 903


    Part 1: The Rise of Kievan Islam

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    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]

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    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.”

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    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.

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    [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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    King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia, 860 - 903 (Part 2)
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    King Dyre “the Stranger” of Ruthenia
    Born: 844
    Reigned: 860 - 903


    Part 2: Politics By Any And All Means

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    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.
     
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    King Halfdan of Ruthenia, 903 - 925
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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.

    MEirgxp.png


    [1] The real answer is of course that I didn’t notice until I was writing this AAR.
     
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    Tsar Vasilko of Ruthenia, Part 2
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    Tsar Vasilko of Ruthenia

    Born: 904
    Reigned: 925 - 972

    Part 2: The Rise of a Tsar


    FKjwvVO.jpg


    I've been writing this updates from Tsargrad the past couple of months, dashing out a quick Ruthenian post for fun here and there when I have time at the end of the day. I’m here doing work for my dissertation on the great Sunni schisms of the eleventh century, so this silly little history blog of mine is what my grandmother calls a busman’s holiday. Being more or less alone in this foreign city, thousands of miles away from my girlfriend Natalya and my apartment in Ann Arbor, I find it easy to drift between past and present. Perhaps that’s why, on my day off yesterday, I found myself wandering into the Bol'shaya mechet' Ayya-Sofiya, the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque.

    Standing inside, I couldn’t help but imagine the first Russian warriors to step into this place. It would have been four hundred years old, and already a great wonder in the eyes of the world. I imagine the warriors standing in awe, feeling both intimidated and enthralled.

    Of course, the Ayya-Sofiya doesn’t look exactly like it did when they first arrived. Many of its most valuable treasures would have been looted in 952, as Vasilko permitted his men three days to sack the great city and the Ayya-Sofiya was believed to have the most to loot. Even then, there were limits. Vasilko had a Vlach warrior executed for attempting to pry loose one of the paving slabs on the Proconnesian marble floor. The minarets, the mahrab and the minbar all date to the rule of King Sviatpolk, fifth son of Vasilko, who was granted rule over Thessalonica

    The story of the mosaics is particularly interesting. The Byzantines had lavishly decorated their greatest monuments with mosaics depicting Christ and the Virgin and various mighty emperors of Byzantium. You can’t see them now, as they have been covered up by the plaster of pious Russian craftsmen many centuries ago. King Sviatpolk was, however, curiously reluctant to cover up the striking mosaics, and indeed had a deep appreciation for their beauty. According to a Greek convert to Islam, the mosiac of the Virgin Mary seated with the Christ child was still visible in the semi-dome above the apse in the east end well into the reign of King Sviatpolk II (ca. 1000 CE).

    It was just this sort of practice that led to the al-Muwaḥḥidūn reaction in the 11th century and the sectarian strife of Tsar Ivan’s reign. But I’m getting ahead of myself, of course.

    2ruaUQd.png


    The great conquests of Vasilko began in a not-terribly-promising cell in Kiev. Antavas Palemonaitis was a notorious rogue, a disgraced heir to tribal holdings in Lithuania who had sold his sword to whomever could promise to restore him to his family’s lands. He had plotted together with Feodor Halfdanovich in the Moldavian rebellion, and at the end of that sorry affair Antavas was brought before King Vasilko in chains.

    The king’s advisers expected a swift execution, but Vasilko had other plans. He had been harboring an ambition to unite the land of the Rus under Dar al-Islam, and it would be useful to have a Lithuanian staging ground for his northern campaigns. The captive said the shahada with alacrity (if not much sincerity), and then Vasilko announced his deep conviction that Antavas Palemonaitis was the rightful ruler of Samogitia on the Baltic coast, and called his swords for war.

    The war itself was swift, lasting perhaps a year, and by 930 Ruthenian traders were setting forth from the port in Memel to sail the Baltic Sea. However, Samogitia proved more challenging to hold than to take. It was not long before the rogue Antavas was assassinated and a Vidilist pagan took the high chiefdom in his stead to scheme against their new master in Kiev. For the next four decades of Vasilko’s reign, he would struggle in vain to impart stable Islamic rule in his Lithuanian holdings.

    PIuGb52.png


    The conquest of Samogitia was but a precursor, however. Vasilko’s true aim was Khazaria, which then bordered Ruthenia to the north and east. The crafty Ruslan Ruslanovich, once King of White Rus’, had subjugated the Khazar hordes in the 910s. As a deliberate provocation to Kiev, whose kings named themselves Kings of the Rus’, Ruslan took the title Tsar of the Rus’ and the Khazars. Tsar Ruslan proclaimed that the true ruler of the Rus’ needed no foreign gods, and implied heavily that he considered Kiev part of his natural domain.

    Ruslan’s commitment to his Slavic gods would prove to be his downfall, however. While the White Rus’ worshipped in the pagan fashion, the Khazars had long since adopted Jewish practices, and they would not give up their own god in exchange for Chernobog. Civil war soon became endemic in Ruslan’s realm, sapping his strength. As one Arab wit later put it, Ruslan might have been Tsar of the Rus’ and the Khazars, but never at the same .

    With Antavas (seemingly) secure in Samogitia, Vasilko began to plan his next campaign. He meant to show this Ruslan exactly who the true ruler of the Rus’ was by forcing him to bend the knee, and then to stabilize Ruslan’s lands himself through his superior diplomatic acumen and the power of the Russian ulema. Vasilko’s Lithuanian army would invade Minsk from the west while his Russian warriors marched from the south. In September, 931, as marauding peasants set Minsk aflame while Ruslan was battling Khazar rebels in the south [1], Ruthenia declared war.

    The War of Khazar Subjugation, as it would later be known, was neither easy nor quick. It was not Ruslan’s strength but his weakness that plagued Ruthenia. On May 8, 932, Vasilkov took Minsk and captured Ruslan’s son Vsevolod, shattered the morale of Ruslan’s loyalists--but the rebel armies marching through Khazaria cared little for Vsevolod, and were just as hostile to Kiev as Minsk. As the Ruthenian army divided itself to occupy the Khazar lands and put down Ruslan’s many rebellions, the Tsar himself slipped past their lines and attempted a daring march on Kiev in 934. In August of 934, Vasilko was obliged to dispatch three thousand warriors to lift the siege of Kiev, an embarrassing necessity. It was not until April 9, 935, that Vasilko could settle the Khazar lands and receive the subjugation of Ruslan.

    On the tenth anniversary of his ascension to the throne, Vasilko was crowned Tsar of the Rus’, the Khazars, the Vlach and the Lithuanians, Master of the Pontic Steppe and the Black Sea. Ruslan was permitted to retain the title of King of the White Rus’, a title which made him preeminent among the boyars of the realm. Within five years, Ruslan’s son [2] would marry Vasilko’s daughter Marina in exchange for the family’s conversion to Sunni Islam. (It seemed that Ruslan had need of foreign gods after all.)

    Converting the Khazars proved a bigger challenge. For many Russians, Islam had melded with vestigial elements of Slavic religious practice, which made the faith seem almost familiar even to those who did not practice. The Khazars, however, had adopted the Jewish faith to declare their independence from Christian and Muslim powers, and they would not surrender that independence so easily. Vasilko’s first success came when the high chieftain of the Ashima clan died suddenly after being thrown from a horse, leaving his young daughter Özlem to inherit.

    Özlem, then perhaps six months old, was swiftly placed under the care of a Kievan nanny. In short order, Vasilko declared that the child was to be raised in truth of Islam and would in her maturity be raised to the title of Queen of Zaporizhia. In time, the pious young queen of indisputable blood would be far more effective in converting her people to Islam than any Russian army.

    6Xew7Nj.png


    The fall of Constantinople had its birth in Jerusalem. Tsar Vasilko had slowed the pace of his northern conquests, intending to avoid Ruslan’s mistake by ensuring the stability of his realm first and foremost. By 945, Islam had made substantial inroads in the lands of the White Rus’ and the Khazars, permitting him a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to tend to his foreign alliances. The tsar was in mourning after Feodor’s untimely death, and restless to cross swords with the unbelievers again.

    While Vasilko’s strategic ambitions pointed north, his most determined rival was to the south, in Constantinople. Much to his chagrin, the mighty Byzantines were wealthier, more advanced, and their rule more stable than the Muslim tsardom of Ruthenia. Their conquests in north Africa ensured that their strength was steadily increasing. Their position on the straits of the Bosphorus allowed them to stop Russian trade to the Mediterreanean. Even the act of taking a longship to the hajj was potentially fraught, and many pious Russians had to slip through the straits under cover of darkness like common smugglers. Beyond that, I think the splendor of Constantinople was its own sort of provocation. Nothing in Kiev matched the strength of the Theodosian Walls, or the majesty of the Hagia Sophia, and the boastful Russians knew it.

    (Nat rolls her eyes when I say things like this; she says any girl from Tekamah, Nebraska [3] is bound to be easily impressed.)

    Vasilko had recently been smuggled through the Bosphorus himself when he had a crucial encounter with Shahbaz, the Shahzada of Transoxiana. Shahzada Shahbaz was a long-time ally of Kiev, having married one of Halfdan’s daughters twenty years earlier. In 940, the Tajik king had courted international controversy by privileging the Maturidiyyah school of Islamic jurisprudence above the then-dominant Ashari school, leading to a tense diplomatic situation with Caliph Nasraddin. Vasilko’s open support for his brother-in-law had been crucial then, and Shahbaz was now eager to return the favor. Like Vasilko, he was restless for foreign glory after years of agonizing diplomacy.

    With the support of Shahbaz’s seven thousand Tajik riders, Vasilko realized that the rare chance existed to strike against Byzantium. The Orthodox king of Bulgaria had died, leaving his kingdom to several squabbling sons; with Bulgaria in crisis their alliance with the basileus had also broken down, leaving Constantinople with no allies of consequence. Now was surely time to move, to not simply defeat the Byzantines but leave them crippled forevermore. And how better than to take their capital and wealthiest lands and split the empire in two?

    The war was launched four years later, on July 5, 949. Like his grandfather ninety years ago, Vasilko raised hundreds of longships and sailed for Constantinople, this time for conquest. The battle plan called for Vasilko to besiege the city from land and sea, expecting that years might be required before the city itself fell.

    It was a perilous moment. Basileus Symeon commanded an army as large as Vasilko’s own, and the riders from Transoxiana were hundreds of miles away. Symeon’s commanders urged him to attack the Russians and lift the siege, but the fretful emperor feared a trap and kept his forces east of the Tauros mountains. In 951, the Russians caught out a pro-Byzantine mercenary band some two thousand strong and slaughtered them nearly to a man, reinforcing Symeon’s fears. The Greeks might well have saved their city then, but their emperor’s premonitions of doom became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The starving city opened its gates on January 22, 952.

    vJa7W5p.png

    Symeon did not advance until that summer, and by then it was far too late: Vasilko caught his army while crossing the Bosphorus and defeated them piecemeal. Four thousand Greek soldiers died beneath the Theodosian walls on September 22, 952, while the Ruthenians lost perhaps half that number. In their haste to retreat, hundreds of cataphracts spilled into the strait and drowned as their armor pulled them to the bottom. The battle of Byzantion, as it was called, was a strategic catastrophe for the Byzantines, and when Symeon returned to Anatolia, he found the Tajik riders there waiting for him.

    On March 30, 953, Basileus Symeon was forced to surrender his claims on the Kingdom of Thessalonika. The loss was devastating, but Vasilko’s next actions were worse. The tsar meant to hold this mighty city, and so he opened up his treasury to pay the smallholders of Ruthenia to take lands and houses in the duchy of Frakiya (i.e., Thrace), in an explicit (and unusual) campaign to replace the Greek population with more loyal, Muslim subjects. The violence inherent in this process is perhaps the largest stain on his reign, as thousands of ordinary Greek speakers were subject to violence or even death so that the Rus’ might claim their lands.[4]

    In this way, Tsar Vasilko would destroy Greek-speaking Constantinope and leave the Russian city I sit in now. Maybe it’s the isolation of the past couple of months, but I confess I often find myself thinking of the blood that resulted in that mighty and terrible deed.

    Op4xW8o.png


    [1] According to some analyses, Ruslan was facing five separate rebellions, a striking example of his realm’s instability.
    [2] Prince Vselovod died in a hunting accident in 938; this was Ruslan’s second son, Ruslan the Younger.
    [3] Population 1,736. Birthplace of early western actor Hoot Gibson, which it turns out nobody cares about.
    [4] One might call this ethnic cleansing, but a pre-modern ruler like Vasilko was more concerned with religion than ethnicity as we would think of it.
     
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    Addendum: Religious Map, 952
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    The religious map of Eastern Europe, 952:

    WAAIRSR.png


    By the time that I invaded Byzantium, Ruthenia was almost entirely Ash'ari, as you can see. There were some Kabarite provinces to the east and some Slavic provinces to the north, but we were mostly religiously unified. The Asatru blob to the north is the Norse kingdom of Holmgarðr (Novgorod), and the big Slavic blob is tribal Poland. (Poland often rivals or exceeds Ruthenia in military strength, well into the 11th century.)

    ------

    Hmm, I think Constantinople fell a few hundred years too early but that is a good way to one-up the Ottomans!

    Yeah, I really threw the timeline out of whack--but I learned from my last AAR that the Byzantines will go bananas in this game unless you go after them early.

    The Byzantine Emperor was a coward unfit to rule! Fearing defeat like that ;) Interesting that as a Muslim Rus, you've simultaneously pre-empted the aspirations of both the Ottoman Sultans and the Muscovite Tsars a good five hundred years ahead of schedule!

    It's true! Vasilko is one of the greats. And I too am disappointed with the Basileus--with cowardice like that, he was practically begging us to take his city away from them.

    Quite an impressive feat, I wonder if the West will react to the fall of the second Rome?

    I'll get into that in my last Vasilko update, but the short version is, it ain't pretty.

    There’s Vasilko’s glory, then, although not without the stain of “cultural conversion”, an exceedingly dark bit of CKIII. Still plenty of time on the clock for our tsar, too. Is it two decades of stable consolidation, or are there twists to come yet?

    There is more to his story, that's all I'll say. And yes, I find the 'cultural conversion' mechanic to be dark too! In CK2 it was more random but it has the air of natural cultural evolution; here I don't know how you could read what happens except as violent purges. And while we're at it, maybe I shouldn't think too hard about what the religious conversion mechanics would look like on the ground.
     
    Tsar Dyre II Grozny of Ruthenia, 972 - 1000
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    Tsar Dyre II Grozny of Ruthenia

    Born: 929
    Reigned: 972 - 1000


    QcJhdrY.png


    I want to give a shout out to loyal blog commenter Alscon, who writes his own delightful medieval history blog The Right Hand Of The Karlings. Alscon reminded me of the classic Russian saying, Vasil'ko stroil na krovi svoikh vragov, a Dayr stroil na krovi svoyego naroda: “Vasilko built on the blood of his enemies, while Dyre built on the blood of his own people.” I’ve always been fond of that saying. It tells you immediately why Vasilko I is remembered with pride by the Russians while Dyre II is seen as a villain. But to my mind, it also tells us something else: Dyre’s villainy didn’t come from nowhere. All of his most infamous tricks, he learned in his father’s service.

    Vasilko rode with his sons to war against the Byzantines in 949, and each son was given a task in accordance with their gifts. Gallant young Matfei led the farsan into battle, while careful Sviatpolk was to administer Tsargrad after the conquest. Dyre was given an equally crucial task: it was he who led the great Russification of Frakiya through terror, subterfuge, and exemplary violence. While Vasilko rode back to Kiev in triumph bringing the spoils of an ancient capital, Dyre was marshalling his informants and leg-breakers to terrorize the Greek-speakers into leaving. Tsar Vasilko surely instructed Dyre to do as much, but the great man found it politic to pretend that he ‘disapproved’ of young Dyre’s ‘excesses.’ He never disapproved enough to order Dyre home, just enough to mollify those with weak stomachs.

    Nor was that the only thing that Vasilko disapproved of. Prince Dyre was cunning, introspective and secretive, all qualities that his father found alien. Dyre did not have the charm or the gravitas that a tsar should have, nor was he beloved by the people. Tsar Vasilko would occasionally drop hints that he was thinking of naming another to serve as his heir, and Tsaritsa Duha--the senior wife--saw the opportunity to push her own son’s claim. Matfei was a leader more in the vein of Vasilko and his predecessors: a gallant warrior. Vasilko permitted this uncertainty to remain for the final two decades of his reign, leaving it to Dyre himself to defend his inheritance through guile and assassination. Or so the prince saw it.

    Whether Dyre had his father murdered or not, we will never know. We do know that Dyre came to power already notorious as a savage participant in court intrigue, with an affinity for the darker arts of torture, blackmail and assassination. As the bells rang in Kiev to proclaim the death of Vasilko, Tsaritsa Duha and her immediate supporters were fleeing the city in a longship. Duha stayed for a time in Tsargrad under the protection of King Sviatpolk, but soon enough she was on the move again to the Maghreb, to the home of her father and brothers. Clearly she had realized that Ruthenia would not be safe for her.

    yzx2EMw.png


    For a time, Tsar Dyre defied expectations by aping--however awkwardly--the magnanimity of his father. He was, to all appearances, genuinely happy. He had claimed the ultimate prize that he long sought, and watched as his most determined enemies fled before him. He was also, unlikely as it may sound, in love. He had a new mistress, a common crofter’s daughter named Agafya, and could often be seen indiscreetly mooning over her. Most infamously, the high-spirited tsar pushed his sister, the Chieftess Marina, into a water trough at a wrestling match in the winter of 976. This behavior was boorish and unbecoming of a tsar, and many in the ulema were appalled, but compared to what might have been it seemed almost innocent.

    The tsar had an early diplomatic coup as well. The once-mighty Christian kingdom of Bulgaria had suffered a serious collapse of authority since their apex at the beginning of the tenth century. By the 970s, the former kingdom of Bulgaria was now in three parts, all ruled by feuding members of the Chrysos dynasty: Pannonia, Wallachia, and a rump Bulgaria. Tsar Dyre understood the dynamics of this internecine dynastic struggle as well as anyone, and in October 977 he shocked his courtiers by embracing the Christian King Gavril II in an alliance against his brother kings.

    Things began to take a turn early the next year, following the untimely death of his own brother King Sviatpolk. Tsargrad was now in the hands of the bold King Pavel Sviatpolkovich, a daring young faris with aspirations to rule as an emperor in his own right. Pavel began immediately to agitate against his uncle. In early 978, he strode into the Tsar’s court and arrogantly demanded that Dyre grant him control over Kiev itself. Dyre sat on his throne trembling in fury but dared not respond, as Pavel could command nearly as many troops as the tsar himself. Pavel’s claim went nowhere, but the young king returned to Tsargrad and began to agitate for independence.

    The blatant challenge to Dyre’s authority set his mind racing. The young king would have not acted without allies. Had not his old enemy, the Tsaritsa Duha, spent a considerable amount of time ensconced at the Svyashchennyy dvorets (Sacred Palace) of Tsargrad with young Pavel? Surely this Pavel was nothing more than her cats’ paw, and his challenge a sign that her intrigues against him had not ended. And if Pavel was her agent, who else might be? The tsaritsa had been well-liked in Kiev, once upon a time.

    Dyre’s paranoia perversely made it easier for him to accept the weakness of his position vis-a-vis his vassal king in Tsargrad. If Pavel had fallen under the sway of a sinister woman, then it was easier to justify, at least psychologically, responding to his effrontery with a campaign of flattery. The young Pavel was to be wooed away from Duha’s imagined influence, and after a time he would even be married to one of the tsar’s own daughters to secure an alliance. However, even as Dyre was making peace with his nephew he was planning a purge of Duha’s agents--real or imagined--in Kiev itself.

    S4kjzjm.png


    The first victims of Dyre’s internal purges were lowborn, servants who worked for the tsaritsa or who were believed to be sympathetic to her. Dyre would quietly determine who should be seized, but his mistress Agafya would see to the rest. She received the reports and marshalled the leg-breakers and assassins on her lover’s behalf. A servant would simply, without warning, be dragged down to a dank cell and Agafya would inform the tsar that they awaited the torturer’s blade. Dyre would attend to such things personally: he got no pleasure from inflicting pain, but he put great stock in his own ability to discern truth from falsehood.

    Of course, the primary function of torture is to tell the torturer what they want to hear, and indeed in these long grueling sessions Dyre learned (or rather, ‘learned’) that these minor servants were simply the cat’s paw of far more powerful figures. First, suspicion fell on Chieftess Marina, she of the water trough. Dyre’s victims told him that she was gathering an army of Khazar riders, or that she had paid assassins to kill Sviatpolk in service to the Basileus, or perhaps that she had been in the pay of Pope Callistus. Each story was more unlikely than the last, but they sufficed to convince Dyre that his sister needed to go.

    Agafya hired a team of highwaymen to waylay the Chieftess on a ride outside of Kiev. Marina and her party were attacked as they were setting up camp for the evening, and a pitched battle soon ensued between the bandits and Marina’s guards. In the fracas, Marina was killed by a stray arrow--or so her guards believed. Tsar Dyre led the court in a thin facsimile of mourning for his hated sister, but his mind was elsewhere. By then Agafya had learned of a more urgent matter.

    The Tsaritsa Darya Esfandyardukht of House Tahirid had traveled to Kiev from Transoxiana when she was but sixteen, to marry the prince of Ruthenia and cement the great alliance that secured the conquest of Tsargrad. Only after her wedding had she learned, to her horror, what kind of man she had married. Dyre was cold and forbidding in her presence, repeatedly humiliating her and the other wives while lavishing attention on a series of mistresses, of which Agafya was only the last. His cruelties in the torture chamber were nearly matched in the marital bed, and soon Darya began to fear for her life.

    In self-defense, Tsaritsa Darya sought the protection of certain conservative members of the ulema, who disdained this tsar who flouted the laws of Allah. They soon decided that there would be no safety or justice until Dyre was dead, and began to plot the murder of the tsar. The Scholars’ Plot, as it would later be called, stood little chance of success. Darya lacked her husband’s cunning, and the clerics had little experience in palace intrigue. In January, 983, Agafya discovered the plot and Dyre was immediately informed.

    As fate would have it, the Tsaritsa Darya had recently become with child. Dyre, uncharacteristically, was slow to act on his wife’s treachery, and as he pondered what to do next the tsaritsa became more and more infirm by the latest in a series of difficult pregnancies. As she was forced to take to her bed, the tsar found it easy to deny her access to her favored scholars (who would themselves being to disappear one by one). On July 6, Darya went into labor. The tsar abruptly appeared by her birthing bed, which was not his practice, with a pair of women that he described as midwives. Shortly thereafter, Tsar Dyre emerged cradling his infant daughter Praxida in his arms; he announced grimly that the tsaritsa had died in childbirth.

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    While court intrigue had taken a grim turn in Kiev, to the outside world Dyre was very much his father’s son. With the Bulgarian kings in disarray, Dyre launched a series of wars aimed at uniting his holdings in Russia and Thessalonica. First, he claimed Moldavian lands that had fallen to the Bulgars a century before: the mountain province of Suceava and the coastal duchy of Bugeac. On May 9, 985, however, he launched a war against his father’s great rival the Byzantines, hoping to claim their Bulgarian holdings in Phillipopolis. The treacherous Gavril II rode forth with the Ruthenians against his fellow Christians.

    Byzantium was by 985 a pale shadow of what it had been. Shorn of its richest lands, the empire could command perhaps six thousand men to Dyre’s ten thousand. The remaining territory was split into three parts: the Bulgarian holdings in Phillipopolis, where Basileus Isaias held his capital at Rhodopes; the lands of Hellas and Epirus on the Adriatic, and the remaining lands in Anatolia. This compounded Dyre’s numerical advantage.

    At Thasos on October 14, 985, a Byzantine army of some six thousand was defeated soundly by a Russian force nearly twice its size. One in three Greeks soldiers perished on the battlefield, and Basilesus Isaias fled in terror back to Rhodopes. There his cowardice and failure on the battlefield prompted a palace coup, leading to the ascension of Basileus Leon VII from the family of Makedon. Leon was a man of scholarly bent and unimpeachable rectitude, but he had no skill for battle and suffered much as his predecessor had. Leon’s army would lose twice more to the Russians, at Kavurskoto Kale and Ustra, while Rhodopes fell to Gavril’s Pannonians. On November 8, 989, the Basileus was forced to surrender.

    On June 5, 990, it was time for Gavril II to call in the debt that he believed Dyre had incurred. Pannona was facing an invasion by the notorious Slovenian warlord, Vyšebor the Flayer of the tribal kingdom of Balaton. Gavril sent his son to request Ruthenian aid in defense of their homeland. The young Bulgar prince was invited to make his case before the tsar, and made a passionate speech about the bravery of his father’s knights and the peril that they faced. Tsar Dyre is said to have shrugged and said that he did not get involved in disputes between Christians. The alliance with Pannonia was over, its purpose served.

    Dyre was, in any case, facing a bigger threat: Pope Callistus had proclaimed, in 988, the Third Crusade, this time for the Kingdom of Syria. Caliph Al-Mutawakkil dispatched emissaries to Kiev at once, intending to revive the alliance of Caliph and Tsar that had defended Dar al-Islam so successfully twice before. Dyre cared little for the sanctity of the holy land, but he saw an opportunity and took it. He asked King Pavel Sviatpolkovich to lead the Ruthenian forces in Syria, filling the young king’s head with tales of bold farsan who had heroically led the caliphate army from the front and dived headlong into battle. Pavel was not immune to such heroic fantasies, and at the great battle of Tyre, he took a grievous head wound from a crusader’s lance. The king was carried off the battlefield and died in his tent several days later. The malleable child Sviatpolk II Pavelovich took the throne at Tsargrad.

    With victory in the Third Crusade assured by the end of 991, Dyre launched his great military triumph: the lightning invasion of Bulgaria proper. The conquest would be over in all of six months, when a smashing victory at Vratsa led to the capture of King Bozidar himself. Dyre reorganized his Bulgar holdings into a vassal kingdom, and named his son Iziaslav Dyrovich King of Sunni Bulgaria. Then the triumphant king returned to Kiev.

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    While Dyre would never surpass his father’s accomplishments, he had attained a creditable number of conquests and victories, and an esteem among Muslims abroad that he had never achieved at home. And yet the aging tsar was falling into a deep melancholy. In his mind, none of his victories had truly mattered because he still discovered internal enemies sprouting up like weeds, and wearied of perpetually being on his guard.

    The great drama of his final years, like that of his father’s, revolved around the succession. Prince Alexei had once been one of his father’s loyal enforcers. His application of the torturer’s arts were so lusty that prisoners often died too soon, before they could affirm the tsar’s latest notions. Soon enough he was sidelined, and so the prince applied his arts to others that had not attracted his father’s attention: peasants, or beggars, or traveling bards. The sheer glee that the prince displayed was enough to concern the court that he might be even worse than his father. And this was before Alexei began to opine that Dyre had been on the throne too long, and might best serve Ruthenia via a quiet retirement.

    Alexei’s subsequent death is often attributed to Dyre as well. The father was on a hunt with his retainers and loyal allies shortly before the prince’s body was discovered along with the body of a local farmer. It appeared that Alexei had struck and killed the farmer, for reasons unknown, and then was struck in turn by an unknown assailant. If it was the tsar, one can only guess at his thought process. Had he a sense that Alexei was a monster of his own creation? Was he disgusted at his son’s sadistic indulgence? Was he simply acting out of self-preservation, believing that Alexei was a rabid dog that would turn on his master? We will never know.

    Whatever his reasons, the murder of Alexei seems to have taken something out of Dyre. In the final years of his life he settled into a sour and defeated mood, convinced that his reign had been for naught and his best efforts wasted. He retreated to his private quarters and would see only Agafya. When fever caught him in late November, 1000, the tsar slipped quickly and almost gratefully to his end. On December 1, 1000, Tsar Dyre II Vaslikovich, called Grozny, breathed his last.

    Dyre’s savage reputation at court and his many excesses had prompted a moral crisis in Kiev, convincing many in the ulema that Russian culture was tainted and corrupt and must be purified by true religion. They looked to Dyre’s successor, his soft-spoken and pious grandson Tsar Ivan Daryovich, to lead the great cleansing of Ruthenia. So, indeed, he would--and in doing so, he would divide Dar al-Islam in two.

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    Tsar Ivan Bogolyubivyy (“the God-loving”) of Ruthenia

    Born: 975
    Reigned: 1000 - 1038


    1. Those Who Profess the Unity of God

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    In 922, the famous traveler Ahmad ibn Fadlan was obliged to stop for the Eid al-Fitr festival at a small village outside of Chornobyl. Ibn Fadlan was a faqih (i.e., an expert in Islamic law and jurisprudence) as well as a diplomat for the Nasraddin caliph. This educated, courtly Arab could not have been more different from his Russian hosts. During the feast, Ibn Fadlan observed a man lift up a bowl in a ritual fashion and mutter a few words softly in Russian. This man then passed the bowl to his neighbor, who did the same, and on down the line. Ibn Fadlan asked the village ‘alim what manner of prayer these men were offering. The ‘alim responded that they were petitioning the spirits Bialobog and Chernobog for good fortune and security in the coming year. Ibn Fadlan was disgusted, writing later that the villagers were “like asses gone astray. They have no religious bonds with God, nor do they have recourse to reason.”

    The vast majority of Russians in the tenth century lived in a world that accepted the existence of powerful spirits as readily as they did the boyars and the ulema and the tsar. All were powerful forces to be reckoned with and appeased. Many of their beliefs regarding these spirits dated to the pre-Islamic past and had deep roots in their shared cultural understanding. The distinction between natural and supernatural that seems so obvious to us would not have made sense to them.

    Educated outsiders like ibn Fadlan often concluded that most Russians were committing the sin of shirk (polytheism). The village ‘alim would not have seen things that way, however. He would not have seen the local spirits as gods, just another set of authorities that humble villagers are obliged to respect. There were always some Russians, particularly of the clerical class, who found the remnants of the pre-Islamic paganism among the common people profoundly embarrassing, even heretical. These clerics conceived of Russia as a kingdom that was half savage and half civilized, half-pagan and half-Muslim. They proved very receptive to the al-Muwaḥḥidūn (lit., “those who profess the unity of god”; typically westernized as ‘the Almohads’).

    The Almohads began as a religious movement among the Musmuda tribal confederation in the Maghreb. They were distinctive among Sunni Muslims for preaching a strict version of tawhid (the indivisible oneness of god). As a minor Sunni sect, Almohads faced persecution from a hostile Shi’a sultan, forcing many to flee for more accepting lands like Ruthenia. There they found followers among the Russian ulema, particularly in influential cities like Gdansk, Novgorod, Minsk and Kiev.

    This was, at first, primarily an abstract intellectual debate. However, during the reign of Dyre II, Almohadism took on a different, altogether more political character. Pious Muslims who were horrified by Dyre’s familial purges, particularly the execution of ulema that followed the Scholars’ Plot, became convinced that the long shadow of Ruthenia’s pagan past was the cause of the present bloodshed. What Kiev needed was a true Muslim tsar, not some half-savage beast. This was dangerous stuff, to be sure, and the Almohadi clerics were used to writing their thoughts in highly abstract letters, written in Arabic so that few would be able to read them. This gave the first generations of Almohadism a distinctively elite quality, without popular support.

    The popularity of this Maghrebi sect among Russian ulema might have been a minor historical footnote, were it not for one supporter in particular: Prince Ivan Daryovich. The soft-spoken young prince had habitually retreated into spiritual contemplation in order to escape the cruelties of his father and the horrors of his grandfather’s reign. His education was placed under the care of a faqih known as Ruslan of Odessa, and Ruslan’s quiet Almohadi sympathies were instilled in his student.

    The murder of Prince Alexei in 997 cleared the way for Prince Ivan’s accession to the throne much sooner than anybody had expected. This was the cause of some concern: the prince seemed too otherworldly for mundane matters of state, and his talent for administration and skill at arms were both mediocre at best. And yet Ivan had a calm and reassuring nature that kept his paranoid grandfather at bay while keeping himself at one remove from the most egregious atrocities, a political dexterity that would serve him well as tsar.

    After the death of Dyre, Ivan made a definitive break from his grandfather. The infamous Agafya was sent into exile with two dozen of her cronies. The tsar denounced Dyre’s crimes in an emotional monologue at court, his voice cracking as he confessed that he had not even undertaken the traditional three days of mourning for Prince Alexei out of fear of Dyre’s reaction. The admission resonated with the boyars and courtiers, many of whom were ashamed of their own complicity in the tsar’s actions. When Ivan announced at the end that he would be going on hajj to submit himself to Allah, fourteen powerful boyars clamored to accompany him.

    Ivan’s remarks were sincerely felt, but they were shrewd nonetheless. For those who had debased themselves before Dyre II, the possibility of catharsis and repentance was a powerful thing. The hajj of 1002 would bind tsar and boyar together in a way that went far beyond mutual self-interest. The long journey also gave Ivan time to introduce the teachings of the Almohadi school to his court. When the hajjaji returned to Kiev in February 1003, all had become followers of the Almohads. (Only King Sviatpolk II of Thessalonica, who had stayed in Tsargrad to scheme for independence, remained loyal to the Ashari teachings.)

    The unity of Ivan’s court would be sorely tested over the next two years, however, as a sudden invasion from the north threatened to stop the Almohadi restoration before it even began.

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    It was the last great invasion of the Viking Age. King Hjalmar Tjudmundsson of Noregr had pledged to claim the throne of Kiev and make the soft greenland Russians kneel to him. He boasted that he would return Ruthenia to the gods of the Rurikids and the Ivarings, burning the mosques and dragging the prideful ulema to be sacrificed to Odin. The Norwegian army numbered twenty-three thousand, more than twice the size of Ruthenians, and included some of the most fearsome heroes from Sweden and Jorvik.

    Word reached the tsar’s company of the invasion just as he was returning to Kiev. The reaction was grim. As doubts about Ivan’s capacity as a war-leader resurfaced, many feared the worst. Ivan alone was serene. “May Allah send winds to confuse the enemies upon the seas,” he said with a quiet smile, “and lead them on a winding chase through our fens and forests, and may he yield up their cities to our warriors. He will not abandon us just as we have humbled ourselves before Him.”

    Ivan’s war plan called for the smaller Ruthenian army to use their superior knowledge of the terrain to evade Hjalmar’s forces and set sail for Noregr itself, to besiege Hjalmar’s capital and force an early end to the war. It was a bold plan, but it reminded many older warriors of the doomed raid on Rome that Halfdan had led eighty years earlier. The Ruthenian army bore the same risk: what if the Norwegian forces were able to return before the capital fell?

    However, Ivan benefited from a stroke of luck--or as he interpreted it, divine intervention. A spring storm on the Baltic sea scattered the Norwegian warfleet, separating Hjalmar’s army across two hundred miles of coastline. On May 2, Russian warriors came upon an army of two thousand Danes in Weiksla and slaughtered them to a man while losing less than a hundred themselves. On July 17, the Russians found another isolated force of five thousand men in Drweca and killed one man out of every two. Local irregulars raided the Norse supply lines, so that starvation and hunger claimed thousands more Norse lives.

    While Hjalmar was slogging through the kingdom of Novgorod, the Russian army set sail from Gdansk for Noregr. As Halfdan had before him, Ivan had his men split up into three forces to siege down Hjalmar’s land. It was a foolhardy move and one that might well had backfired, except Russian raids on Hjalmar’s forces meant that the Norwegian king did not learn that his homeland was under attack until it was far too late. By the time that intelligence did reach him, Ivan had already taken his capital and taken his sons as hostages.

    On November 15, 1005, two and a half years after it began, Hjalmar Todmundsson ceased his invasion of Ruthenia and offered a cart full of gold and plunder to purchase the return of his sons. Tsar Ivan Daryovich accepted this surrender serenely. Alone among the Russian warriors, he had expected this victory all along.

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    The first five years of Ivan’s rule cemented the hold of Almohadism among the Russian elite. After the death of Sviatpolk II in 1006, his son Vasily Sviatpolkovich adopted the new creed and promulgated it in his court. His conversion gave the new school of jurisprudence universal support--among the boyars. The peasantry, on the other hand, scarcely followed doctrinal arguments and saw no reason to abandon their established folk religion. Conversion of the lower classes would be fair from smooth, and religious violence was common during Ivan’s reign.

    On December 17, 1009, a powerful ‘alim in Novgorod proclaimed that the Vepsian solstice feast was a pagan ritual, and any who attended would be guilty of shirk. Rumors spread quickly that the King was sending warriors to attack those who celebrated on the solstice, which sparked a revolt among the Finnic Muslims that plagued the Baltic coast for the next four years. In Bulgaria, King Iziaslav Dyrovich used the new doctrine to justify additional extractions from the dhimmi population, prompting an uprising of Avar and Bulgar Christians that outnumbered the tsar’s army itself.

    Tsar Ivan would not countenance a compromise with the enemies of Allah, and so these revolts were put down with enormous bloodshed--six thousand Vepsians dead, over ten thousand Bulgars and Avars slaughtered. His harsh tactics made him deeply unpopular with the commons, and helped to fuel future revolts.

    In the empire’s Russian core, a more moderate practice emerged, which a later generation might call ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Ivan may have believed that the Russian peasants stopped making offerings to local spirits and supernatural forces, but in fact they simply learned to do so discreetly. The boyars were inclined to look the other way because so many in their own household gave offerings to Bialobog and Chernobog on feast days as well. In that sense, Ivan’s great purification of Ruthenia had a limited effect.

    By 1014, Ivan had reason to believe that the worst days of religious violence was behind him. The Avar, Bulgar, and Vepsian revolts had been put down savagely, and Almohadi practice was beginning to spread--at least in the major population centers. With some semblance of peace at hand, the tsar began to ponder the state of Dar al-Islam as a whole.

    Kiev had been rocked by the news that the Nasraddin Caliph had been forced to submit as a vassal to a secular Yemeni adventurer, who named himself Malik al-Muazzam Taimur ibn Muhammad. Al-Muazzam was notoriously irreligious, and his subjugation of the caliph and possession of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina drew outrage across the Muslim world. Ivan began to wonder if some greater mission awaited him. Perhaps it was his calling to save Dar al-Islam from itself.

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    Mahdi Ivan Bogolyubivyy (“the God-loving”) of the Russian Caliphate

    Born: 975
    Reigned: 1000 - 1038


    Part 2: The Caliph of the 'Rus

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    On June 18, 1014, Tsar Ivan Daryovich declared war on Malik al-Muazzam Taimur, with the stated aim of liberating the holy cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem from heathen rule and re-establishing a strong caliphate. He called on the old alliance with Transoxiana, and Amir-e Amiran Faraz the Foolish’ sent six thousand Tajik riders to join the nearly fifteen thousand Russian warriors. For the first time a tsar of Ruthenia marched against Arabia and not in defense of it.

    Tsar Ivan’s stated aim at this time was to restore the power and prestige of the caliphate, a carefully phrased statement that fooled many into thinking that he was marching in support of the Nasraddin caliph. (Certainly, this is what the Amir-e would claim later.) As a result, many pious Ash’ari emirs withheld their support from the Malik, fatally weakening his defense at a critical moment. On January 17, 1016, the Ruthenian army won a stunning victory at Ar-Azraq, crippling the Arabian forces and capturing the Malik’s son. The defense of Arabia quickly unraveled, and the Malik was forced to surrender.

    Whether the Sunni potentates had truly believed that Ivan was promoting the Nasraddin caliph’s interests or not, the notion quickly evaporated once Ivan held the territory. He instead placed his twelve-year-old son Sigurdr Ivanovich on the throne as King of ‘Araviya’, with Ivan ruling in his son’s stead until the latter reached his majority. The new Russian king would rule not only the traditional Arab lands but also Jerusalem and the duchy of Oultre Jourdain.

    Ivan’s commitment to restoring the prestige of the caliphate would remain unmentioned for another four years, until--after a pilgrimage to Medina and other, very public acts of piety--he summoned his boyars together for a lavish formal ceremony. It was there, on August 28, 1020, that Ivan declared himself the Mahdi and Ruthenia the true Muslim caliphate. HIs declaration was met by clamorous assent (no doubt highly stage-managed) by the most loyal members of the ulema. Ivan spoke in sweeping terms about building a network of powerful Almohad kingdoms, independent in political matters but loyal to the spiritual authority of the Russian caliph.

    Ivan’s declaration was well received by his boyars and by the Russian ulema, but outside of Ruthenia, it was greeted with hostility. As a pious king, Ivan had been admired; but as the man who would supplanted the Nasraddin, he suddenly seemed dangerously arrogant. Some clerics in Baghdad opined that he was no Mahdi, but instead al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl, the false messiah sent to impersonate the Mahdi at the end of days. To serve such a one as he was to betray true Islam. Notions like this made it difficult for many emirs to seek alliances with Ruthenia as once they had.

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    To cement his position as the Mahdi, Ivan called for a great holy war against the Christians. It would be fought, he declared, in the manner of the Crusades--when the Mahdi succeeded where the popes had failed, all would see the truth of Islam. To ensure the fulfillment of his prophecy, he chose as his target the weakened and unpopular Byzantine Empire. Thus on February of 1021, the Almohadi Muslims rose the banners of holy war for the kingdom of Nikaea.

    The Greeks were likely doomed from the beginning. They were abandoned by their Catholic neighbors in the west and faced an army of Muslims more than four times their size. According to some reports, the Almohadi army numbered over sixty thousand. They faced several shattering losses in Nikaea and Honorias to numerically superior Muslim forces, and were forced to retreat beyond the Taurus mountains. On June 20, 1023, Basileus Leon VIII was obliged to surrender.

    Ivan placed his 17 year old son Iakov Ivanovich on the throne of Nikaea. Iakov was a young man whose considerable piety was not matched in ability, sadly. King Sigurdr of Arabia was more talented, albeit with an admitted cruel streak, but his personal power base was limited and his Ashari vassals despised him.. When Ivan granted Arabia and Nikaea their independence, he did them no favors.

    On October 24, 1024, the Greek Christians of Nikaea rose up against their king Iakov, and he was obliged to call his father’s army in to defeat them. The Orthodox rebels claimed some sixteen thousand in their number, easily enough to overwhelm Iakov’s meager forces, and indeed the Christians occupied most of southern Nikaea while the Ruthenian army sailed back from fighting a war in Transoxiana. The caliph’s army did arrive, however, and the rebels were slaughtered in a terrible defeat at Chonae. Rebel leader Damianos Monachites was seized and executed in Kiev, a decision that unfortunately made him a martyr to Greek Christians for centuries.

    When the Greek revolt was finally put down, Kiev received an urgent message from Arabia, announcing that a rebellion of Ashari Muslims had risen up to defeat their king and his father the Deceiver. The Russian army was obliged to sail to Jerusalem, and then march deep into Arabia to put down this new revolt. Once again they won a staggering victory once it came down to pitched battles--including one savage assault just outside of the holy city of Mecca--but all their violence could not re-establish peace.

    When the Arab revolt was put down, the caliphal army was obliged to once again return to Nikaea. There a young noble, Alexios Makedon-Krichim, had gathered the surviving leaders of the Monachites rebellion together to rise up against King Iakov. This rebellion was even more ill-fated than the last, and in the spring of 1028, the Greek Christian rebels were rounded up and executed in a series of brutal displays in Phrygia, Nikomedia, and Cratea. The rebellion was finally over on May 16, 1028, after Makedon-Krichim was strangled in his cell and his body dumped anonymously into the Black Sea.

    Years of perennial rebellion had left prominent boyars wondering if Ivan had become Mahdi only to slaughter peasants. Ivan decided that his people needed another victory, and so he once again targeted a weak Orthodox king: Kresimir of Wallachia, who commanded perhaps three provinces and no more than six hundred men. Mahdi Ivan duly declared war on Wallachia on May 23, 1028, and as expected the war was over quickly: Kresimir was captured at the battle of Râmnicu Sărat on July 11, forcing a quick surrender. By August, Prince Yuriy Ivanovich was named the vassal king of Wallachia. It was a swift and nearly bloodless conquest, but there was no glory in it.

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    The conquests of Arabia and Nikaea had been truly glorious, at least those on the winning side, but since then the bloom was truly off the rose. The royal treasury was nearly exhausted, while years of constant rebellions had left the caliphal retinue demoralized and verging on mutiny. Relations with Muslims from overseas, with the notable exception of the Amir-E of Transoxiana, were strained to the breaking point. To make matters worse, Ivan was about to damage his standing in the eyes of his boyars.

    As a young man, Ivan had been slender and abstemious, the very picture of pious Muslim living. Once he had become Mahdi, however, he seems to have decided that he was above the rules that applied to normal men. In his final years, Ivan became a man who could not help but indulge his baser appetites, be they for excess food, or hashish, or (most notoriously) drink. His drinking became legendary, the worst since King Halfdan a century before; but while Halfdan had been free of hypocrisy and cant, Ivan had far more than his share.

    The most notorious scandal of the 1030s concerned another matter, however. High Chieftain Koryboutas, ruler of Samogitia on the Baltic coast, had plagued Kiev by holding insistently to his Ashari faith. It was said that he even acknowledged the supremacy of the Nasraddin caliph over Mahdi Ivan in spiritual matters. The Lithuanian chieftain would not back down on matters of faith, so Ivan decided simply to have him killed in favor of his pious elder son. On April 4, 1030, the high chieftain was found with his throat cut on the road, the work apparently of bandits. That might have been that, except that a courtier got wind of the truth and made it known the following year: the Mahdi was not only a drunkard but a murderer to boot.

    This sort of thing might have made another leader seem fearsome. Ivan had once been seen as the pious objector to the cruel excesses of Tsar Dyre II. When he employed his grandfather’s methods against a recalcitrant boyar, it simply disgusted the others. Even pious Almohadi boyars who had welcomed his ascension found it hard to defend him now.

    Mahdi Ivan spent his final years engaged in a series of minor holy wars against Bulgar and Serb Christians. His demeanor was increasingly haggard, as his lavish lifestyle took a visible toll on him. Worse, like Dyre II he was nagged by the feeling that his energies had been for naught. King Iakov of Nikaea was assassinated by a follower of Damianos Monachites, obliging the Mahdi to take formal control over Nikaea again and end the dream of a powerful independent kingdom.

    King Sigurdr’s Russo-Arabian kingdom would outlive him, at least, [1] but from a strategic point of view the conquest of Arabia had been a disaster for Dar al-Islam. The empire of Malik al-Muazzam Taimur collapsed with the lost of its Arab heartlands, leaving a power vacuum in the Middle East that neither Sigurdr nor his Ashari rivals were capable of filling. The great alliance between caliph and tsar that had defend Islam from the Christians for a century was sundered and Mahdi Ivan had not built a suitable replacement.

    Mahdi Ivan Daroyvich suffered a massive heart attack while on campaign in the spring of 1038, and on May 10, 1038, he died beside his loyal son and heir Vasilko. The Mahdi had shed left enduring divisions, both within and without Ruthenia, and the new caliph would struggle mightily to overcome them.

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    [1] There remains a native Russian-speaking minority in the Arabian peninsula to this day, in fact.
     
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    Mahdi Vasilko II of Ruthenia, 1038 - 1059
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    Mahdi Vasilko II Proklyatyy (“the Accursed”) of the Russian Caliphate

    Born: 998
    Reigned: 1038 - 1059


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    It was with a sense of quiet relief that the great men of Ruthenia greeted the ascension of Mahdi Vasilko II Ivanovich to the throne in 1038. The late Mahdi Ivan had left a great and troubling legacy, and those who fought in his wars and enforced his decrees were none too sad to see him go. Vasilko was by all accounts a different sort of man entirely, an honorable and well-liked man who embodied the best of his father’s legacy.

    Vasilko had been a gallant young faris, winning his spurs fighting in Arabia as a youth and then leading the triumphant conquest of Nikaea as a young man. He was perhaps the most talented warrior to hold the throne since his ancestor Halfdan more than a century before. With his skill at arms, his famous smile, and what we’re told were a pair of piercing blue eyes, Vasilko made quite an impression on the young women of the court. Unlike many young farsan, Vasilko was scrupulous in his dealings with women, combining his charm with a courtly reserve that only made him seem more attractive.

    In matters of religion, the new Mahdi maintained a simple piety that was free of cant--a contrast from his father, who had little but cant by the end of his life. He was known to indulge in drink, particularly in middle age, but unlike his father, Vasilko genuinely struggled with his alcoholism. He would earnestly consult an ‘alim for guidance, attempt a strict sobriety for several weeks, and upon his inevitable failure seek repentance and further guidance. As regarding the status of the dhimmi, Vasilko was known to err on the side of tolerance. This stance prompted no end of conflict with his father. After the excesses of the second Greek revolt, Prince Vasilko is said to have stormed out of the castle.

    He was, in short, exactly the sort of caliph that the boyars were hoping could succeed Ivan: a man who was honorable with the boyars and respected by the people, moderate in his approach while accepting the basic premises of the Almohadi reforms. In addition to those fine qualities, he was both attractive and hard-working. Had it been possible to meet the many challenges that Ruthenia faced through the application of personal virtue, Vasilko II would doubtless have succeeded in doing so. Unfortunately, the struggles of the realm were too much for any one man to tackle, and even an admirable caliph could only be subsumed by them in his turn.

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    Vasilko’s reign began promisingly enough. Early in his reign, the new Mahdi introduced the Pravda Rusĭskaya [1], a dramatic and thorough-going codification of Russian law. None of Vasilko Ivanovich’s predecessors had given much thought to law-making, and thus the practice of justice in Ruthenia was quite diverse. In the Greek and Bulgarian lands, the patriarchs [2] adopted much of the Byzantine codes, ruling over complex, socially stratified societies; in Novgorod and Lithuania, old Slavic traditions held sway and social stratification was much less complex. Similarly, the use of Islamic jurisprudence differed strongly among the subject kingdoms.

    Vasilko’s interest in a new legal code began while he was still Ivan’s heir, and it soon became a vehicle for his reform ambitions. Before his father, he maintained the new code, whenever it was introduced, would confirm the religious revolution that had taken place three decades earlier. This was true as far as it went, but in Vasilko’s mind the way to confirm the Almohadi revolution would be confirm the rights of the dhimmi and otherwise moderate Ivan’s excesses.

    As Ivan’s health deteriorated in the late 1030s, another issue raised its head. The boyars, who had spent much of the past three decades fighting in the Mahdi’s wars, demanded greater control over their own men and the ability to reserve more taxes for themselves. With the boyars angry and Ivan visibly failing, Vasilko was not in a place to refuse them.

    Another thorny problem involved the imperial retinue, which then numbered some three thousand men. Traditionally, warriors in the imperial retinue were more skilled and highly trained than the peasant levies, and in turn for offering years of service to the crown they were promised land grants at the end of their service. As they were obliged to endure one brutal slog after another in Anatolia, these soldiers began to resist in ways both big and small. In 1031, Ivan decreed that a soldier protesting his Mahdi’s wars in any fashion would forfeit his land.

    The decree was shocking to the rank and file, who had held their land rights sacred; and as a result they increasingly began to insist on payment in coin, not land. Prince Vasilko had ridden with the imperial soldiers for most of his life, and he was well aware how deep their resentment of the 1031 decree went. Fearing a mutiny from the caliphal retinue at the same time as a revolt from the boyars, the prince quietly let it be known that he would decree the payment of the Mahdi’s soldiers in coin.

    The resulting code, issued on August 9, 1038, was a landmark in many ways. It implemented feudal institutions in large parts of Ruthenia that had never had them, and the code codified the rights of the dhimmi and forbade certain Islamic teachings deemed too extreme for the peace of the realm. Vasilko was successful in forestalling future religious violence--the uprisings of Ivan’s reign would not recur under his descendants.

    However, the resulting compromises greatly empowered the boyars at the expense of Kiev. Ivan could call up twenty-seven thousand warriors at the end of his reign, while Vasilko could expect no more than seven thousand. Due to his concessions to the retinue, the Mahdi could not hope to keep his troops raised for long without exhausting his treasury. His father’s loyalists were horrified, and whispered amongst themselves that the new madhi had fatally weakened the throne.

    Another source of criticism came from the ulema. Ivan had greatly weakened the independence of the ulema, taking away independent lines of funding and making more and more clerics dependent on the Mahdi and his vassals. Vasilko codified this new arrangement in order to oblige the ulema to recognize his new spirit of moderation. To a younger clerics, particularly in southern cities like Tsargrad and Adrianopolis, Vasilko’s code was an attack on the traditional freedoms of the ‘alim. This new movement, which was derisively known as the Grecheskiy (“Greek”) school, agitated for a more decentralized faith and more power for the clerics. There was little appetite for religious reform, but the influence of the Grecheskiy school would later be felt in the religious debates of the Twelfth Century.

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    Although Vasilko had made numerous concessions to the boyars, it was not enough for some. Patriarch Ruslan Alexandrovich, who ruled Thessalonica, could see the weakness of the new caliph and decided to push still further. He longed to fashion his own empire, a mighty Almohadi successor to the Byzantines to command the eastern Mediterranean trade, and so he began to scheme with the patriarchs of Novgorod and the White Rus’ to plot a war for independence. Ruslan could by himself field nearly as many men as the caliph, and any independence war involving the three kings would have left Kiev deeply outnumbered from the start.

    Vasilko felt backed into a corner, so he made his most infamous concession of them all. In the spring of 1043, Ruslan was commanded to appear before the Mahdi in Kiev, not for a reprimand but to negotiate the terms of his independence. Ruslan was happy to agree to stay out of Ruthenian affairs in exchange for his own freedom and a mutually agreeable toll for the Bosphorus trade. It was from the Mahdi’s point of view a necessary move, to prevent a rebellion that might shatter the realm; but to Vasilko’s growing body of critics the Mahdi had simply conceded his namesake’s great conquest without a struggle.

    Contempt for the Mahdi was growing in Ruthenia, and subsequent misadventures did not help matters. In 1047, Vasliko II ordered the invasion of Crimea, a duchy that had split off from the Byzantines. The Ruthenians greatly outnumbered the army of Crimea, but morale issues had remained among the caliphal retinue and greatly impeded the war effort. Just before the battle of Prokop in February, 1048, a rumor started among the retinue that the Mahdi intended to hold back soldiers’ pay, leading to a mutiny among the professional soldiers that permitted Duke Sermon to win against a Russian force twice as large as his own. Vasilko rode to the front and personally worked out the dispute, permitting the ultimate success of the campaign, but the humiliating defeat of the once legendary Ruthenian army became notorious throughout the western world.

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    In 1057, Pope Gregorious, noting the weakness and division of the Muslim forces, began to call for a Fourth Crusade, targeted against the Almohadi lands of Jerusalem. Stories about mutinous Russian soldiers and Muslims killing Muslims in Arabia encouraged the great Catholic nobles of western Europe to believe that, for the first time in history, a Catholic Crusade promised success. By contrast, the Ash’ari emirs sat on their hands, and Vasilko could not even get full support from his fellow Almohadis. Patriarch Ruslan of Thessalonica, most notably, spurned the Mahdi’s demands, saying that the king of Arabia should see to his own defenses.

    The lopsided nature of the Fourth Crusade can be seen in the size of the army on each side. The crusaders could claim sixty thousand men between them, making this the largest crusade yet, while the Mahdi’s army numbered no more than forty thousand. Pope Gregorious was also a talented logistician, permitting the crusading army to arrive in the Holy Land en masse to take full advantage of their numbers. As Vasilko’s scouts watched the crusaders arrive, one remarked that they seemed to outnumber the grains of sand on the beach.

    Mahdi Vasilko II led his men personally, riding out to face the crusaders on two heartbreaking occasions. In Ascalon, on December 19, 1058, the caliphal army was defeated soundly by a French crusading force numbering half again his own numbers. Vasilko was forced to retreat, but undaunted, he rallied his men for a second battle, in Jaffa. The loss of Jaffa was even worse, as the Almohadi warriors were outflanked by a papal army that scattered Vasilko’s lines and sent his men tripping over each other to flee. In two months, ten thousand Russian warriors had died, with no hope of reinforcement.

    The rout at Jaffa was devastating for Mahdi Vasilko. He was a commander, first and foremost, and he felt the loss of so many of his veterans keenly. The Mahdi’s drinking became acute and he became given to morbid thoughts. In these dark moments, he would say to his generals that no commander should outlive his men. One night he simply took a jug of wine and left the camp alone. He was found dead the following day.

    Vasilko II Ivanovich died on March 16, 1059. The new regent decreed that he had died of alcohol poisoning, but the whispers began that he had been found dead by his own hand. He had been an honorable, hard-working man, but upon his death, he left a war effort in tatters, a divided realm, and an eleven-year-old successor with an uncertain hold on the throne. The realm was at its lowest point in over a century, and few knew whether it would survive.

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    [1] Literally, ‘Rus’ Justice’ or ‘Rus’ Truth.’
    [2] Almohadi kings from this period began to adopt the title ‘patriarch’ to reflect that they, like the Mahdi, wielded both temporal and spiritual authority.
     
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    Mahdi Dmitry Konstaninovich of the Russian Caliphate

    Born: 1047
    Reigned: 1059 - 1085


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    The death of Vasilko II threw the security of the caliphate itself under serious threat. The imperial forces were in shambles on the coast of Palestine, and would indeed suffer a third brutal defeat by the crusaders in Jaffa on April 9, 1059. In Kiev, power was nominally held by the new Mahdi Dmitry, Vasilko’s eleven year old son. This young boy had only a few hundred men pledged to him alone: a small imperial bodyguard, a garrison of greybeards and young men manning the walls, a small coterie of warriors in the Mahdi’s Crimean holdings. The council was obsessed with turning around the failing effort in Jerusalem, while Dmitry’s uncles began to gather swords to themselves, eying the throne themselves.

    Dmitry might not have survived were it not for the bold efforts of his tutor, Grand Allamah Vasily. Vasily was born of common stock and had few academic talents, but he was practical enough to see what his brother councillors could not: they could not win Jerusalem, but they could quite easily lose Kiev and their heads beside. While the others dithered, Vasily quietly summoned the mahdi’s flagship and had an urgent order sent in Dmitry’s name: the imperial retinue was to abandon its positions outside Jerusalem and return to defend their mahdi.

    The Grand Allamah was surely correct in assessing the state of the war, but his pragmatism was not appreciated at the time. Patriarch Terentiy Sigudrovich of Arabia, who could not retreat so easily, cursed Russian perfidy and maintained ever after that Kievan betrayal had lost the war. As Gregorious V claimed victory late in 1059, and the young French lord Adhémar Toulose-Foix was crowned King of a Christian Jerusalem, the Grand Allamah took the blame as the man who lost Jerusalem to the infidels.

    On March 9, 1060, the Grand Allamah was stabbed thirty-two times by unknown assailants while he prepared for Friday prayers. He was regarded with contempt by most Russians, but loved by one, young Dmitry Konstaninovich. Mahdi Dmitry learned from his mentor Vasily that being the caliph might mean being unpopular and even hated--and that one must sacrifice even one’s honor in the name of the realm.

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    Dmitry Konstaninovich was at the time of his ascension a precocious young boy with a delicate constitution. The young prince had convinced a number of tutors that he would be a caliph of uncommon ability, and like Vasily they were prone to dramatic acts of loyalty in defense of their charge. Equally charmed was the late Mahdi Vasilko II, who disinherited two mediocre sons in order to ensure that Dmitry alone would inherit the throne and all of his personal holdings.

    Counter-factual scenarios swirl around the story of Mahdi Dmitry, and one common one is this: had Vasilko II held the throne through his son’s childhood, how might Vasilko have been able to mold his son’s character? The new Mahdi, through the incipient rebellions of his uncles and the assassination of his tutor, was exposed to the cruelty of the Kievan court at a very young age. Perhaps, with his father’s guidance, Dmitry would not have developed the pronounced cruel streak and deep memory for grievance that he would later display. Perhaps.

    The story has a sentimental appeal, but I personally don’t believe it. Dmitry was shrewd, and unlike his ancestor Dyre Grozny, the Mahdi did not imagine his enemies. The caliphate was beset by the overweening powers of its boyars, and it was quite possible in 1059 to imagine the Almohadi caliphate falling under the thumb of a powerful secular adventurer. Such a fate would have been grave not only for Dmitry himself, but for the institution of the caliphate. In these precarious circumstances, the Mahdi claimed one of the few tools still left to him: the use of terror to intimidate and divide his internal enemies.

    The affair of Andrei Lukinich is illuminating in this regard. Lukinich was a poacher of little import, whom Princess Svetlana of Novgorod had bribed to map out the various approaches to Kiev in preparation for a revolt. He immediately began to spend the princess’ gold on wine and women, bringing him to the attention of Mahdi Dmitry’s spies. Dmitry, then only thirteen, saw to the interrogation of Lukinich personally, orchestrating the poacher’s tortures with the patience of a much older man.

    Princess Svetlana escaped the capital before she could be arrested, but a highly incriminating cache of letters was found in her rooms detailing a proposed uprising by the northern boyars. Andrei Lukinich was executed before a screaming mob in Kiev in the winter of 1060, while Svetlana’s correspondence allowed the Mahdi’s spies to arrest more than a dozen other conspirators. The great northern conspiracy collapsed as powerful boyars were swift to disclaim any knowledge of Svetlana’s plot.

    Dmitry’s eerie poise in the interrogation chamber left a great impression on his courtiers, and it was surely meant to. The Mahdi may have enjoyed suffering for its own sake, but beyond that he knew instinctively the value of a good performance. He was a child with a frail constitution that prevented most of the traditional masculine virtues of a young Russian prince; and his every move was scrutinized for weakness by his courtiers. The Mahdi would thus grow into a man learning that every move he made had to be calculated for effect. He would become a caliph capable of striking fear in the hearts of his enemies, and his enemies were legion.

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    Dmitry would never forget the loss of Jerusalem. As the great families of Catholic Europe began to forget King Adhémar’s tiny holdings, Muslim nobles came to believe that the holy land might be vulnerable for a recapture. The Mahdi gathered his farsan perhaps once a year to plan the attack. And yet, given the instability of the realm, he would inevitably conclude that it was better to leave the assault for the next year. The next year would never come. However, the Mahdi would not ignore the rising power of Catholic Europe. His true legacy would not lay in contesting the Mediterranean trade routes or claiming the holy cities, however. Under Dmitry, the caliphate’s attentions were to the north and west, as Kiev became swept up in the Baltic Jihads.

    For most of its history, Ruthenia had been separated from Catholic Europe across much of its border. The Sunni holdings of Lithuania and Novogorod were separated from the Catholic empires of the Franks by powerful pagan nations. The Slavic nation of Poland commanded central Europe as far west as Holstein, while Scandinavia was ruled by powerful Norse kings who feared no one. Following the death of Vasilko I, Ruthenia made few aggressive moves against their pagan neighbors, choosing instead to conquer the lands of the Greek Christians to their south. But after the unsuccessful Norse invasion of 1003, the might of European paganism began to break down.

    The Catholics had a great victory when missionaries from East Francia convinced King Ulfr Markusson of Sweden to take up the cross in 1041. Ulfr’s hold on his realm would be immediately challenged by pagan jarls, but Christianity held in Stockholm. In 1050, the king of Estonia would also convert, although conflicts between Ukonusko pagans and Catholics would destroy Christian Estonia almost before it got started.

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    The Sunnis were hardly idle during this period either. With an eye for Baltic and North Sea trade, the Patriarch of Lithuania sent out his farsan to claim important ports in the Pomeranian and Prussian coasts, and even as far west as Friesland. Frisian Muslims from Leeuwarden would become a common fixture in the markets of Christian cities of Paris and London, cultivating a reputation for scrupulous honesty in hopes of overcoming religious differences. They maintained a discreet worship in small portside mosques but would occasionally be the target of religious violence.

    The greater opportunity for Sunni expansion laid closer to home, however. Constantly succession struggles in pagan Poland split the great kingdom apart into feuding duchies, leaving the ground fertile for foreign adventurers. Most successfully, a chieftess from the Lithuanian Radvila clan was able to consolidate multiple duchies into a new Almohadi Polish kingdom. The new queen took up the language of her adopted people, and henceforth she was known as founder of the Radziwiłł dynasty. Sunni Poland was not as strong as its predecessor, however, and the Radziwiłł queens were plagued by pagan uprisings.

    By the second half of the eleventh century, therefore, the lands of the Germans and the Poles were in serious flux. Sunni lords commanded much of the Polish-speaking lands in the esat, but even the most powerful, Matriarch Łucja Radziwiłł, was vulnerable to internal revolt or invasion from the Christian Swedes. Small Slavic pagan lords ruled German holdings in Pomerania and Stettin, where they might be invaded at any time by the Catholic kings of East Francia. In the words of a later historian, central Europe was a dagger lying on the ground; the only question was who would be wielding it.

    Mahdi Dmitry was the first ruler of Kiev to take an interest in these contested lands. He was uncomfortably aware of the continued weakness of the treasury, so his strategy was threefold: small Muslim counts and dukes would be obliged to bend the knee to Kiev, through diplomacy or force. Pagan rulers were executed savagely, more acts of exemplary terror to show the danger in opposing the caliph. Łucja Radziwiłł alone was deemed too powerful to challenge, so Dmitry married his son and heir Vasilko Dmitriovich to her daughter Aldona, pledging Kiev’s support to any challenge to her throne.

    Mahdi Dmitry’s strategy of exemplary terror was not simply for the edification of Polish pagans. His captives were transported down the Dnieper to Kiev, where their agonizing deaths were displayed for the benefit of the Russian crowds. In this way, Dmitry demonstrated his piety as well as his ability to punish his enemies.

    The territorial gains made by Dmitry were modest enough. His largest conquest was in the forced submission of High Chief Budo of Masuria, a Prussian Muslim who ruled part of northeast Poland. His efforts to bring central Europe into the caliphate were cut short by his untimely death, and none know what he might have accomplished had he lived another two or three decades. However, Dmitry’s Polish ambitions would not be forgotten by his successors, and they would, in time, change the face of Europe.

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    Dmitry’s constitution was notoriously frail, making him a poor warrior. To compensate, perhaps, he was fond of indulging his temper with long harangues at the target of his ire. (Most notoriously, he ended an acrimonious council session by ordering the execution of his brother-in-law, Patriarch Yuriy Janosescu of Wallachia.) His willingness to order the execution of his enemies on the spot no doubt inspired particular dread in anybody who caught the mahdi’s attention. As they increased in bile and frequency, his councilors began to suspect that these outbursts were not only dangerous for his enemies. The Mahdi, in full rage, would be flushed red with a vein throbbing prominently on his forehead. As he approached middle age, his healers became concerned that his rage was more than his heart could bear.

    There are many colorful stories of what actually did prompt the Mahdi’s untimely death. Was it perhaps a spilled goblet, or bad luck at a game of chance? Was it a minor slight or a true insult? In my favorite version, the Mahdi discovered to his horror that a young servant had released several valuable prisoners, and literally screamed himself to death before her disbelieving eyes. We may never know for sure.

    However it happened, Dmitry Konstantinovich died suddenly on December 16, 1085, at the age of 38. He left a child on the throne and great plans for the future that he would never fulfill. His reign was not as glorious as his son’s or as tragic as his father’s, and for that reason it receives relatively little attention. Given the uncertain condition of the realm upon his ascension, Dmitry’s ability to survive and gradually extend his power were significant victories for the throne.

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    Mahdi Vasilko III Krasno Solnyshko (lit., “the Fair Sun”) of the Russian Caliphate

    Born: 1070
    Reigned: 1085 - 1118


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    Anxiety filled Kiev when it was announced that Mahdi Dmitry had perished from an unexpected heart attack at the age of thirty-eight. The Mahdi had not been loved, was indeed not the sort of man one could love, and yet his cruelty had seemed necessary to contain the divisions of the caliphate. The prospect of a new boy caliph, even a talented young squire like Vasilko III Dmitriovich, was not something to welcome.

    To be fair, Vasilko III claimed the throne in far better circumstances than his father. Dmitry had been twelve, with his armies being slaughtered in distant Jerusalem and his uncles plotting for the throne at home. Vasilko was by contrast nearly fifteen, skilled at arms, beloved by young ladies, and possessed of a raw masculine beauty like his grandfather, Vasilko II. The young caliph exuded the martial values of furūsiyya [1] while wearing his spiritual authority lightly. One could not see Vasilko’s eyes twinkling during Friday prayers without reflecting that this was not a man to overturn the religious order of things.

    Vasilko III has lived for centuries in the Russian imagination, and one suspects that the Mahdi himself was instrumental in promoting a heroic image. The Tale of Vasilko’s Campaign focuses particularly on his wars in Poland. Evidence suggests, however, that it is a fragment of a larger epic chronicle that describes the entire reign. Legends swirl around the Mahdi’s great love (Princess Agrafena of the White Rus’, who became his mistress and then his primary wife), his famous steed (Zaljanah, named for the horse of Husayn ibn Ali), and even the Mahdi’s beloved cat Plamya (lit., ‘Flame’). Even his early defeats would be captured in myth.

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    The crusader kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen into factionalism, with half of the crusader lords rejecting the authority of King Adhemar and pledging themselves to the King of France. With Adehemar’s rule weakened, the Almohadi emir Afanasiy II launched a surprise attack and claimed the holy city for himself. In response, Pope Gregorius called a Fifth Crusade in 1092 to drive the Muslims from Jerusalem once more.

    The Catholic lords of Europe were dispirited at the notion of a crusade called to salvage the victory of their previous effort. For similar reasons, Russian lords were not as invested in the fate of Jerusalem as they had in previous generations. The Catholics had proved utterly incapable of expanding on their foothold in the Middle East, and the fate of King Adhémar Toulouse-Foix suggested that they could not hold the Holy City for long as it was. Regardless, the Mahdi could not ignore the fate of Islam’s third holiest city, and so Vasilko III called the banners and set sail for Palestine.

    The defense of Jerusalem began triumphantly. Vasilko’s Russians defeated the first crusading armies again and again, at Saida (on March 13, 1093), Damascus (on May 9), and Nawa (on June 10). The Almohadi warriors began to hope that the curse of the Fourth Crusade was broken. While Vasilko was winning battles, however, the crusaders were landing more armies, and once again the Catholic nobles had half again the Mahdi’s numbers. As the crusading armies began to coalesce, Vasilko could no longer stand up to their numerical advantage. The Mahdi suffered two terrible losses, at Anjar (July 23, 1093), and Mujib (October 4, 1093), and was driven out of Palestine to regroup. Unlike his enemies, Vasilko did not have endless waves of reinforcements to draw on.

    The great struggle would continue for an additional four years, and the Russians were able to win isolated victories here and there; but the strength of the Catholic forces won the day, and on February 21, 1097, Pope Gregorius claimed victory in Jerusalem. It was, for the crusaders, more a saving of face then a triumph in and of itself. For Vasilko, the loss was a momentary setback. He had learned from his father that the true contest between Christendom and Dar al-Islam would be waged in Europe, and there he would make his greatest victories.

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    According to legend, Vasilko III was planning his next campaign while still on horseback in the Levant. In Sunni Poland, his mother-in-law Łucja Radziwiłł had lost her throne in a palace coup to her niece Pechna, and the division among the nobles sparked a revolt by Slavic pagans led by a charismatic priestess of Piorun [2]. The pagan lords of Pomerania, Mecklenberg and Silesia began to plot their own invasions. Nobles loyal to Matriarch Łucja wrote to Kiev, professing that the Mahdi needed to restore her to the throne in order to save Polish Islam.

    Vasilko was concerned that the already weakened kingdom of Poland might fragment further, giving the Catholic kings of Sweden or East Francia an opportunity to invade. Simply restoring Łucja to her throne would not suffice, however. The campaign that Vasilko envisioned would be known to history as the Polish Jihad, and it took place in a number of stages.

    First, Vasilko did declare war on Matriarch Pechna Radziwiłł, but it soon became clear that he had no intention of restoring Łucja to the throne. Pechna’s small royal army proved little match for the hardened veterans of the Fifth Crusade. By the fall of 1098, Vasilko had arrived at the captured castle of Kraków to discuss the terms of Pechna’s surrender. To Pechna’s surprise, Vasilko promised to affirm her throne, along with the landed titles of her supporters, once she bent the knee. This was a much more generous deal than she had any right to expect, and so the Sunni kingdom of Poland fell under the rule of Kiev.

    Vasilko returned to Kiev during the year 1099, to manage affairs of state, but his thoughts frequently returned to Poland. When his great love Agrafena suffered a miscarriage that spring, the Mahdi returned to his maps as an escape from heartbreak. Missives were sent out that fall, summoning loyal Almohadis from Frisia to the shores of the Caspian to Kiev to hear of the Mahdi’s call for a new jihad. Eighty-four thousand warriors were mustered, more than twice the size of the Almohadi army in the Fifth Crusade; among them, some of the finest warriors in the Muslim world.

    When Vasilko appeared before his farsan on January 6, 1100, he had, standing by his side, Matriarch Pechna Radziwiłł. The savage pagans of Pomerania and Mecklenberg were squatting on lands that properly belonged to the Radziwiłłs, he proclaimed, and as Mahdi he would lead a war to claim them for Kraków and for Islam. He left unspoken an equally important consideration: if the prosperous cities of western Poland were not claimed for Islam they would likely fall to the Christians.

    Divided and outnumbered four-to-one, the Slavic chieftains had little chance against the finest warriors of Dar al-Islam. Vasilko delivered three savage routs (at Gostynin, Kalisz, and Krajna), shattering the pagan forces and leaving their holdfasts open for Russian assault. Before 1101 was out, the caliphate held all lands east of the Oder river. The Mahdi had a mosque erected in Poznań to make the occasion, where he, his wife Agrafena, and the Matriarch Pechna heard Friday prayers in the summer of 1102.

    While most of the mujahideen celebrated the great victory in Poland and departed for home, Vasilko and his retinue stayed in Poznań, putting down rebellions and fighting minor pagan lords. Traditionally the end of the Polish Jihad is marked on June 29, 1113, when the Mahdi’s army triumphed over the child ruler of Pomerania at Santok and a Sunni high chieftain was installed in his place.

    As Vasilko rode back to his capital in triumph, he left behind a Poland that was greatly changed. Over the course of the Twelfth Century, Islam would sink great roots into Poland; and the traditional Muslim ethos of furūsiyya would mesh quite well with the Polish cavalry, creating a warrior ethos among the Polish farsan unique in the caliphate. By the end of the century, the power of the Polish martial class would shake the caliphate to its roots--but of course I’m getting ahead of myself.

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    The people of Kiev were triumphant as their Mahdi returned to them at long last, but privately Vasilko’s mood was anything but. By middle age it was plain that he had inherited the melancholy of the Oskyldr line. Notions of being older than his father had ever been began to plague him. His depression was, if anything, fuel for the fire of his heroic reputation, and it would become transformed in the public imagination to a peculiar wistfulness that made him more appealing as a romantic figure. Vasilko was plainly suffering, but he was ever a man to escape his larger problems by throwing himself into work, and so the Mahdi began to plan his next conquests.

    The medieval kingdom of Croatia had long served as a bulwark for Christendom on the southwestern border of Russia. Croatia could command nearly as many warriors as Ruthenia herself, and their storied dynasty of Nitrava was nearly as impressive as the house of Oskyldr. However, in 1113 the Croatian king Rastislav died abruptly and unexpectedly. His son inherited the throne, but the powerful dukes of Bihar and Nitra accused Vid of poisoning his father and rose up in rebellion. With the kingdom divided, Vasilko launched an invasion in January 19, 1115. The conquest was swift and devastating; by November, King Vid was a prisoner of the Ruthenia and surrendered his throne at swordpoint.

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    Vasilko was far from finished--he had planned a jihad against the southern Slavs to match his Polish jihad. Nitra and Bihar were still independent, and some of King Vid’s loyalists claimed outposts in the Carpathians in the name of their fallen liege. The Mahdi would not live to see it complete, however. While besieging the castle of Spiš, Vasilko III became plagued by a racking cough that quickly revealed itself as consumption. Soldiers were dispatched to find a local healer, but by the time that one was found, Vasilko was too weak to be saved. He died in his war camp on April 17, 1118, at the age of 47.

    Perhaps he did, at least. The Russian people say something quite different, that Vasilko Krasno Solnyshko did not die but merely sleeps, in a deep cave in the Carpathians. They say also that in times of great need, he will awake again and ride out on his mighty steed Zulnajah, and in those days Ruthenia’s fair sun will shine down on her again.

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    [1] Popular in the Muslim world, furūsiyya--like chivalry--evoked not just skill at arms and bravery in combat, but a broader ethos of honorable conduct.
    [2] Perun, in Russian paganism.
     
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    Mahdi Yuriy Vasilkovich of the Russian Caliphate

    Born: 1089
    Reigned: 1118 - 1154


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    The Pověstĭ vremęnĭnyxŭ lětŭ (lit., ‘Tale of Bygone Years’; known in the West as the Primary Chronicle) is traditionally dated to the 1130s, although the chronicle is a composite work and early sections appear to have been done under the direction of Mahdi Ivan I. Work seemingly ceased during the troubled reigns of Vasilko II and Dmitry, and again during the triumphant conquests of Vasilko III, only for Yuriy to have the work resumed under a faqih known to history as Nestor the Chronicler.

    As befits a pious Muslim narrative, the chronicle begins with the Prophet Muhammad receiving the revelation of Allah in the cave Hira in 610 CE, before describing the arrival of the Varangians to the Rus’ and the rise of the Oksyldr dynasty in Kiev. The emphasis of the material changes based on the patron responsible for each section: the eleventh century material that Mahdi Ivan’s scribes prepared contains a defense of Almohadi doctrine generally and the rise of the caliphate specifically, and tends towards the theological. Mahdi Yuriy’s scribes are more interested in burnishing the achievements of Vasilko III. The final passage, describing the prayers said at the great mosque of Poznań in 1102, may well have been based on Yuriy’s own memories.

    This, as much as anything, shows us the fundamental nature of Mahdi Yuriy Vasilkovich. Vasilko III was the sun in the sky, and his son merely in orbit around him. Yuriy had little direct experience with his father, having been left in Kiev while Vasilko was campaigning in central Europe; when his father returned home, he would have been moody and distant, increasingly so over time. Yuriy did not know his father, but observed him from a distance and was overawed by him. As caliph in his own right, Yuriy seems to defined his role as maintaining the great edifice left by his father. If there is sometimes a streak of complacency in his thinking, it’s here: he could not quite imagine that the works of the great Krasno Solnyshko would ever pass from the earth.

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    The Mahdi’s first ten years on the throne were modest, in accordance with his ambitions. His armies rode forth to handle a rebellion of Slovienian Catholics, primarily led by minor nobility loyal to King Vid; and again in a war to enforce an Almohadi claim on Moravia, but otherwise the realm was at peace. Yuriy Vasilkovich was too busy lionizing the conquests of the past in the Primary Chronicles to imagine further conquests in the present. Most significantly, Mahdi Yuriy promulgated a new update of Russkaya Pravda, the first in ninety years, to better integrate the Polish and Croatian lands conquered by his father. The most significant changes were in the area of inheritance law, although the new code incorporated a number of previous decrees that broadly tended to centralize power in Kiev.

    The new legal code invited a fresh round of criticism from dissident Grecheskiy clerics, who had long objected to the centralization of religious authority in the hands of a secular prince and now saw an opportunity to broaden their appeal. The Grecheskiy school of Islamic jurisprudence had long objected to the Almohadi caliphate as an institution, and in the twelfth century, this critique was developed further. The Greki envisioned a supreme cleric independent of the court of Kiev, supported by rents and levies from his own land, with the spiritual authority that the Mahdi currently enjoyed.

    The name Grecheskiy (“Greek”) was originally used as a term of derision by the Almohadi establishment, who saw the dissident school as just so much crypto-Christian nonsense. While the Greki were more numerous in lands with a historical memory of Christian rule, they eagerly dispute the charge that they were somehow less Islamic than their opponents. Rather, they argued, all the great founders of Islamic schools of jurisprudence had been able to maintain their independence from the political establishment, and it was a subversion to force all clerics to submit to the rule of princes.

    The new face of the movement was Mitrofan Vladimirovich of Adrianopolis, a young cleric of noble birth. As a scholar he was mediocre at best, but Mitrofan was charming and able to speak equally well to the commons and the great noble families. While he might adopt a conservative style for the great boyar families, Mitrofan could also be a rabble rouser who would swear to the crowds that Jerusalem would remain in Christian hands until Islam was purged of al-Masīḥ ad-Dajjāl (“the false messiah”), a reference to Mahdi Yuriy. After the furore regarding the Russkaya Pravda, Mitrofan saw an opportunity to court the boyars, arguing that he was their ally against the centralizing forces in Kiev that meant to strip them of their traditional liberties.

    Some of Mahdi Yuriy’s advisors urged him to take a firm stand against Mitrofan and his allies, seeing them as a threat to the caliphate. Yuriy was more sanguine. He had deep confidence in his ability to assuage the bruised feelings of his nobles, and in the short term that confidence was justified. However, Mitrofan did not need to worry about dining alone. The great boyars of the realm were, of course, loyal to Yuriy and tied to the caliphal Oskydlr dynasty through ancient ties of blood and marriage; but they also knew that a time may come when they wanted a club with which to beat their liege into submission. If the Greki were willing to be that club, then it was best to keep them around.

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    The peace of Yuriy’s reign was broken on October 16, 1131, when King Gauthier of Lotharingia declared war on the caliphate. The initial cause was Gauthier’s (somewhat spurious) claim on the Ruthenian port of Lubeck, but the larger object was to lay a claim on the Baltic Sea trade and undermine the Sunni presence there. Gauthier had long resented the competition of Almohadi merchants from Frisia and (more recently) Jutland, and he intended to take the fight to the enemy.

    Lotharingia was a vassal of the Emperor of Francia, and commanded no more than eight thousand men himself; and so Mahdi Yuriy ordered an immediate invasion of Guathier’s lands, hoping to end the war swiftly. However, Gauthier had many friends among the nobility in Brittany and England, and his numbers were far more than Kiev had realized. Russian warriors in Dortmund were astonished on January 4, 1133 when Gauthier’s grandson Eudes arrived on the field with twenty-two thousand men behind him. The resulting battle, and a second in Aix-la-Chapelle, cost the caliphate nine thousand lives and forced them to retreat to their German holdings.

    The dramatic losses in the winter of 1132-33 raised the alarm back in Kiev. Mahdi Yuriy called upon old family ties to secure the support of Thessalonika. Tsargrad had long stood to one side in Russian affairs, even sitting out the last two crusades; but Yuriy’s prestige was such that the Patriarch declared that his twelve thousand men would defeat the Karling menace no matter what the cost. Back on the Baltic coast, the Russian army adopted a more conservative posture while they awaited the arrival of reinforcements. A contingent of Polish horse routed the Catholic force besieging Lubeck itself on July 1134 and captured the heir to the Breton throne.

    In the winter of 1134, King Gauthier died, leaving his grandson on the throne as King Eudes II. Eudes was a cautious youth, and he could see the cost of Guathier’s war plainly enough. Russian forces were able to despoil the Catholic holdings in north Germany and interdict the Elbe river trade, even if Eudes was strong enough to keep them from the Lotharingian heartland. The war was by now nearly four years old, and stuck in an expensive stalemate. Catholic and Sunni lords met in Emden in the summer of 1135, and negotiated a peace on the basis of status quo ante bellum, to the relief of both Eudes and Yuriy.

    The invasion of Lubeck was a dramatic wake up call for the court at Kiev. The caliphate’s European holdings had not been under attack since the Norse invasion more than a century before, and the notion that a collection of minor Catholic powers could fight the caliph’s army to a standstill was startling. Gauthier had not even been the most powerful of the Christian princes--his liege, Emperor Savary of the Karling-Melun house, commanded over thirty thousand warriors in his own name and had powerful allies beside.

    A great clamor rose from the boyars and ulema alike for a great war of conquest, like those of Vasilko III, to demonstrate the supremacy of the caliphate and strike a blow against the Catholics. A target was even at hand: the German kingdom of Bavaria on the Ruthenian border, which remained diplomatically isolated thanks to the heterodox Christian leanings of King Markwart Ermengardeson, himself a Karling from the Geisenhausen line. Mahdi Yuriy knew that the caliphate already struggled with a large and restive Catholic population in their southern holdings, and he privately doubted the wisdom of adding hundreds of thousands of Bavarians to their number. However, he was also diplomatically attuned enough to know that he would need to give his boyars something, and so in the summer of 1138 he called the banners for Bavaria.

    Alarmed, King Markwart called on the support of the ten thousand strong Knights Templar, but even so fortified Bavaria struggled from the start. The western holdings of Friestadt, Krems, and Wien fell swiftly to an invasion from Poland. Superior Russian generalship was able to outmaneuver the Catholic defenders, leading to a series of victories at Hohenhau, Ernstbrunn and Sankt Pölten. Markwart finally gathered his army into a single force over the winter of 1140, but when he faced off against the Russian force at Linz in the spring of 1141, Markwart was captured and the war was over prematurely.

    Yuriy’s terms of surrender for the Bavarian king were surprisingly generous. He would remain with his titles and (most of) his land intact as a vassal of the caliphate, provided that the king agree to adopt the Almohadi faith and marry his daughter to one of Yuriy’s sons. The Mahdi hoped that the Karling prestige might help anchor the stability of his new Bavarian holdings, but internecine warfare between Catholic and Sunni Karlings in Bavaria would remain for decades. However, the learned Markwart would prove an asset elsewhere: the Christian convert proved himself a lucid and subtle defender of Almohadi orthodoxy, writing some of the most eloquent defenses of Islam in Latin. (His surviving correspondence with the archbishop of Paris is well worth reading.)

    To counterbalance the new influx of Bavarian Catholics and secure his western border, Yuriy sent his warriors to oblige the Sunni kingdom of Bohemia to submit to Kiev. King Zygmunt II was indeed so obliged after a two and a half year struggle, and his surrender in March of 1148 inspired celebrations and a fresh round of acclaim for the Mahdi’s glorious reign. Yuriy considered his true victory to be elsewhere, however: in the death of Emperor Savary of Francia, from a draught of poisoned wine, and the internecine warfare that followed.

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    By 1150, the learned people of Ruthenia considered themselves to be living in the golden age of the Oskyldr caliphate. The Mahdi had a shrewd political mind and wielded his fighting strength and his prestige adroitly to maintain stability at home and lead to triumph abroad. As his health declined, however, it became clear that the caliphate was facing long-term problems that the Mahdi had been unable to reckon with and had perhaps exacerbated. Bavaria and the southern Slavic holdings were still largely Christian and viewed Kiev as a hostile occupying power. The great boyars were increasingly concerned that power was once again centralizing in Kiev, posing a threat to their traditional liberties, while the influence of Mitrofan Vladimirovich and his fellow Grek clerics gave this divide between court and country a troubling sectarian character.

    The Mahdi’s son and heir, Prince Ivan, was a much different character from his father. Ivan was perhaps the most eccentric member of the Oskyldr dynasty: an arrogant rake in his youth that had murdered more than one man on the dueling fields without consequence, before becoming overcome by fear of death in early middle age and devoting himself to an idiosyncratic (and indeed heretical) spiritual practice. As Yuriy slipped into death on August 15, 1154, it was reasonable to wonder if the good times were finally over.

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    Mahdi Ivan II Clarovich of the Russian Caliphate

    Born: 1116
    Reigned: 1154 - 1176

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    Prince Ivan Clarovich was once the most popular man in Kiev. An attractive youth with a confident swagger, Ivan cut a rakish figure in the staid court of the caliphate. Court gossips love to repeat tales of his dueling victories and the women he’d loved. In one popular story, Ivan was with his lover when her husband arrived home, and he was forced to jump out a second story window and sneak back to the castle--while nude, perhaps, or in her gown. (The gossips told it both ways.)

    As he grew older, however, this popularity began to evaporate. In his mid-twenties, the prince began to experience periodic episodes of psychosis and other symptoms of schizophrenia. The gossips stopped saying that he was a rake and started suggesting that he was possessed by demons. Ivan began to challenge those who said that he was controlled by shayatin, but this did not endear him to the commons like it had when he would duel for a woman’s hand. If he slew his opponent, it was little better than murder in the public’s eyes.

    In one particularly savage contest, Ivan lost badly, breaking his left arm and several of his ribs as well as losing the use of his right eye. His wounds became infected soon after, and he spent several months bed-ridden lingering between life and death. During this period, the prince had a powerful experience with the numinous, which he found life-changing. Ivan credited his survival to the assistance of the divine. He began to believe that his experience with psychosis opened his perception to a higher knowledge about the cosmos, and began to consult with mystics and spiritual teachers to understand his experiences further.

    The court might have seen this as a harmless eccentricity, were he not due to inherit the caliphate. Pious Almohadi became concerned to hear of their future spiritual head earnestly questioning Sephardic merchants about the Kabbalah or seeking to purchase the writings of the gnostic Christians. The caliphs of the past had not always been perfectly moral individuals, to say the least, and the Russian Almohadis were able to reckon with their caliph’s indiscretions. Ivan’s apparent possession and his freewheeling heterodoxy were a far bigger challenge.

    Mahdi Yuriy would not hear of disinheriting his eldest son, however. The caliph had a father’s love for his son, and while he did not understand mental illness as a modern observer might, he understood Ivan to be afflicted by something out of his control. The prince was otherwise an exceptionally talented young man, and Yuriy was happy to believe that his condition could be overcome through will and personal discipline. In the meantime, the Mahdi would not punish his son for struggling.

    As Yuriy’s health deteriorated, Prince Ivan made a sincere effort to portray himself as the orthodox Muslim ruler-in-waiting. He attended Friday prayers regularly, lavished patronage on esteemed scholars. When his father passed away, Mahdi Ivan was in preparations to leave on the hajj with a distinguished retinue as a symbol of his conviction. However, this display of orthodox conviction was all for show--and the court knew it.

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    Shortly after Ivan acceded to the throne, the caliphate’s eastern frontier erupted into revolt. In Bavaria, a pious Catholic by the name of Werigand Wüllersleben-Villach raised an army of disgruntled veterans under the flag of a Catholic Bavaria. The army overwhelmed the local Karling retinue and ambushed an imperial army at Leuchtenburg, briefly holding Ivan’s brother Stepan hostage. With Prince Stepan in hand, however, the rebel leaders fell out on larger strategic questions and split into rival factions, permitting Mahdi Ivan to defeat each army piecemeal.

    In Poland, a fāris known only as Jakub led a second uprising. Two generations after the Polish jihad, the warrior class of Poland had absorbed Islam thoroughly into their self-conception, and many of these pious farsan were outraged by the rumors of their Mahdi’s heterodoxy. However, like the rebels in Bavaria, the farsan were not united behind a single solution. Jakub and his supporters favored an independent Almohadi kingdom based out of Kraków, but a majority held to the authority of the Mahdi and would not rise. While Jakub’s rising was easily put down, the notion that the farsan might serve as a guarantor of orthodoxy proved quite influential.

    With central Europe in flames, the ambitious king of England saw a chance to make his own play against the hated caliphate. King Eudoxios, the Greek-speaking monarch of England [1], launched a holy war for Russian holdings in Jutland, hoping to claim valuable ports while the Mahdi was distracted with internal troubles. The caliphal army was forced to march from Wien to Slesvig, where they encountered the English army. In a two day battle, the Ruthenian army was able to drive Eudoxios north, taking one casualty for every three in the Catholic forces. From there, the numerical advantage of the caliphate made the difference, leading to a series of defeats for the English. The highlight of the campaign was a brief Russian invasion of the English mainland and the capture of Dover, which ultimately forced Eudoxios to surrender. It was the first time that a Muslim army had invaded the British Isles.

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    With the surrender of Eudoxios in 1162, Ruthenia was once again at peace for the first time in years. However, the turmoil had taken a personal toll on Ivan. His psychotic episodes became more severe, prompting him to return to his spiritual questing in an attempt to understand what precisely these episodes were meant to teach him. On multiple occasions, he invited his Grand Allamah to a private meeting to ask him earnest questions about methods to identify jinn--the better, he said, to identify their influence on mankind.

    The rumors swirling around Mahdi Ivan were shocking to pious Muslims in the caliphate, none more so than Mitrofan Vladimirovich and the Grecheskiy school. The possibility of a so-called Mahdi who was under the influence of shayatin, who was being led into possible apostasy, demonstrated how corrupted the institution had become in the hands of a temporal ruler. Their concerns were amplified when a high chieftain in Thessalonika of indisputable Oskyldr publicly renounced Islam in favor of the gnostic Christian writings. Clearly the shayatin were at work all around them.

    The great boyars were increasingly concerned about Ivan’s instability as well. When the Mahdi issued a series of revisions to the Russkaya Pravda further centralizing authority in Kiev, it set off a fresh round of outrage in Novgorod, Minsk, and the other holdings of the boyars. Mitrofan began to play to their outrage: what was the caliphate except another unjustified power grab by Kiev? Wouldn’t an independent ulema be able to serve as a bulwark against overweening imperial authority? Now the boyars were listening.

    On April 8, 1172, a few dozen of the most powerful nobles in the caliphate arrived at Kiev. Accompanying them was Mitrofan Vladmirovich, who was now seventy and trembling with a sense of promise. They filed into Ivan’s solar and issued an ultimatum: Ivan II would affirm the liberties of the boyars and renounce the title of ‘Mahdi’. Henceforth, the clergy would be independent of the crown, funded by land taxes and led by a supreme cleric of unquestioned authority. By now, there was no question who that would be.

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    Now recognized as Mahdi in his own right, Mitrofan had no doubt what his next goal was. Almost immediately, he issued a call for a great jihad to retake Jerusalem, seeing no better way to demonstrate the power of a purified Islam. Jerusalem was held by Emperor Jean of Francia, who had been diplomatically isolated after a series of disputes with the papacy and the kingdom of Asturias. Mitrofan wagered, correctly, that most Catholic powers would sit on their hands rather than fight for the unpopular French emperor.

    He wagered also that Ivan, now known as Grand Patriarch Ivan II of Ruthenia, would call the banners and march for Jerusalem. This was also not much of a risk: since the ultimatum on 1172, the power in Ruthenia had drained away from Kiev and back toward the boyars. They would not be satisfied if Ivan bucked the authority of the true Mahdi. And indeed, when the great Jihad for Jerusalem was called, Ivan was the first to pledge his support, with a dozen Grecheskiy boyars at his heels.

    There was a message, if one wished to hear it, in those who did not show up for the jihad. In Poland, Lithuania, Novgorod and the lands of the White Rus’, very few of the minor nobility or the farsan acknowledged the new Mahdi’s call for jihad. Even in the empire’s southern holdings of Bulgaria and Nikeae, where support for the Grecheskiy was at its height, many smallholders sat on their hands. The end of the caliphate, like its beginning, had been a largely elite-driven process; the lower orders had not had a chance to weigh in, although they would make their feelings known soon enough.

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    To Mahdi Mitrofan and his supporters, however, the jihad began in a spirit of great triumph. Ivan led the imperial retinue personally to a series of victories over the divided French forces, including a smashing rout in Beirut against a Catholic force half again the size of the Russian forces. Behind him, the boyars occupied most of the prominent castles in the kingdom of Jerusalem, including the holy city itself. Mitrofan was thrilled to see his prophetic expectations fulfilled. Older men said that the Grand Patriarch, too, began to resemble the rakish blademaster he had once been--at least for a time.

    Then, while riding down a fleeing French army in Tall Hamid, Ivan took an arrow wound to the side. The wound was superficial enough, but it became infected overnight and his health quickly declined. On June 12, after eight agonizing days, Ivan II died in a tent in the Levant. His heir, now the Grand Patriarch Yuriy II Gorislavovich, was all of thirteen, alone in Kiev with his army in the Levant.

    The trouble was only just getting started.

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    [1] England was, of course, a predominantly Norse kingdom with some Germanic-speaking and Celitc minorities in the hinterlands.
     
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    Grand Patriarch Yuriy II Gorislavovich of Ruthenia

    Born: 1163
    Reigned: 1176 - 1180


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    The end of the Russian caliphate was met with shock and dismay by traditionalists everywhere, particularly in Poland and northern Russia. The Greki were largely unknown in Ruthenia’s northern holdings, and rumors spread quickly that the good and wise Mahdi Ivan had fallen prey to a cabal of crypto-Christians. When the Grek Mahdi, Mitrofan, sent clerics north to call for pious Muslims to claim the lands of Jerusalem, they were met with hostility nearly everywhere. In Poznań and Warszawa, the crowds greeted Greki clerics with stony silence. In Kraków, a mob of rowdy apprentices threw stones at the esteemed faqih Boris of Adrianoplis and assaulted his small crowd of supporters; the Patriarch was forced to send a detachment of light cavalry to retrieve the terrified cleric.

    Even had the lower orders been aware of the Greki arguments, it was unlikely that they would have been sympathetic. The great boyars often saw Kiev as an impediment to their traditional liberties, but the Mahdis were simply too remote from the life of a peasant or even a minor landholder to appear domineering. They feared the interference and tyranny of Kraków (or Novgorod, or Minsk), and saw the Mahdi as a distant figure who cared for the common people. Stripping the Mahdi of his authority would mean that nobody could stand in the way of the local patriarchs.

    As with the religious revolts under Ivan I, the Almohadi revolt began with a local dispute. In the fall of 1174, the unpopular high chieftain of Lower Silesia summarily stripped the ‘alim in Świebodzin from his responsibilities for failing to recognize the authority of Mahdi Mitrofan Vladimirovich. The ‘alim (known to history only as Andrzej) protested and refused to leave the Świebodzin mosque. The high chieftain sent in a detachment of heavy infantry to remove Andrzej by force, but they were met by an angry crowd of merchants, craftsmen, and peasants standing in defense of their ‘alim. Perhaps somebody in the crowd threw a rock, perhaps the commander gave a hasty order--in any case, a riot was sparked that obliged the high chieftain’s men to make a hasty retreat. The triumphant crowd ejected the high chieftain’s representatives and claimed the town for the Mahdi and for true Islam.

    The following day, the high chieftain rode out himself with a complement of warriors to confront the rebellious town. There he discovered that the town had been reinforced overnight by a large number of deserters from his own retinue, led by Stefan Godziemba, a popular young fāris (about whom more later). In the ensuing battle, the high chieftain was captured and his men scattered. Overnight, Godziemba urged his captive liege in vain to take up the banner of the Mahdi against the Greki conspirators. This having failed, the high chieftain was tried by a court of the rebels on charges of treason and apostasy, and executed in the village square.

    The uprising in Świebodzin inspired a wave of imitators over the winter and early spring of 1175, until most of Poland was flying the flag of rebellion. The rebellions were led by farsan, small landowners and prosperous burghers, typically with the sympathy of the commons. Many who served as professional soldiers in noble retinues deserted for the rebels, while loyalist garrisons were quickly overwhelmed. In smaller towns and cities, they frequently had the gates thrown open as they arrived. So far as we can tell, the rebellion of the farsan was still professing itself a war in defense of the Mahdi and Islam. Supportive clerics described the rebellion as a sacred struggle and its warriors as mujahideen.

    In late August, 1175, the rebels invested the city of Kraków with a force numbered in the tens of thousands. Kraków had been the seat of Polish kings for centuries, since before the advent of Islam, and the populace there was more hostile to the rebellion than elsewhere. The lengthy siege exposed serious deficiencies in the rebel leadership, which had perhaps several dozen local champions all squabbling for control. As a result, they struggled in logistical matters and it seemed for a time that the besiegers might starve before the besieged.

    The sack of Kraków in February, 1176 was particularly brutal--disorganized rebels, enraged at the hostility of the city’s townspeople and full of their own righteousness, looted the wealthy merchants of the town and set the dhimmi quarter aflame. Dozens of Christians and Jews died before the farsan could restore order. The farsan were horrified at the sacking and hanged two dozen of the worst offenders, but dhimmi leaders were not assuaged and many gravitated to the side of the Greki.


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    The fall of Kraków was greeted with alarm in Kiev, where the imperial council had fully expected the Polish patriarch to defeat a disorganized peasant mob. The fastest ship left in Kiev was sent with alacrity to the Levant to alert the Grand Patriarch of the rebellion and urge him to return home to restore order. However, the ship was delayed due to springtime storms and did not find the imperial army until Grand Patriarch Ivan had already perished. The urgent message went instead to Dmitry Konstantinovich Oskyldr, High Chief of Dubrovnik and Ivan’s second-in-command.

    Dmitry was a kinsman of the Grand Patriarch, who could trace his descent from Dyre the Stranger via a younger son of Vasilko III and thus had a colorable claim on the throne. The fact of a man like this in sole command of the imperial army would generate suspicion, then and later. He was not, however, a man with particular ambition for himself. Rather, the High Chieftain had been raised with the expectation of service to the throne, and this ideal is one that he held deeply. During Ivan’s reign he had been less a commander than an enforcer in the organized crime sense, who had delivered maximum punishment to rebel armies and invading heathens alike. With Ivan dead and Poland up in arms, however, the Butcher of Bavaria would need to decide a different way to proceed.

    Dmitry’s first decision was to sail his men--some eighteen thousand weary mujahideen--to Ragusa rather than Kiev, anticipating (correctly) that the Polish rebels were likely to march south in order to rally the Sloviens to their side. When the army arrived in Ragusa, however, he learned that the situation was much more than he had realized. After news of Ivan’s death reached Ruthenia, the Bavarian Catholics had risen up in rebellion as well, and he was hearing disturbing rumors that the southern Slavic boyars were planning to revolt for their independence as well.

    Dmitry and his commanders reached a basic understanding of the situation: the revolt of the Polish farsan was a critical threat to the throne, and the other two revolts were not. Riders were sent to the Catholic rebels in Bavaria and to the High Chieftain of Bihar, who had orchestrated the southern Slavic cabal: Kiev would not interfere with their legitimate claims to independence if they did not interfere with the suppression of the Polish revolt. For the rebellious farsan, Dmitry would offer an amnesty to all who laid down their arms. Those who did not would be put down with maximum brutality. He hoped to use the disorganization of the rebel army against them, attacking them piecemeal until the survivors finally made peace.

    Dmitry Konstaninovich was acting well outside of his established authority, hoping to present Yuriy II and his regency council with a fait accompli. For all practical purposes, the commander of the imperial army was the only figure on the loyalist side that mattered, and he made decisions on that basis. When word of Dmitry’s conduct reached Kiev, however, the Grand Patriarch saw things differently. Yuriy II, with the inborn suspicion that came from years of coping with his father’s psychosis, determined that Dmitry was using the rebellion in order to place himself on the throne.

    The one advantage that Dmitry had was the disorganization of the rebels. On May 20, 1177, the imperial army found and routed a rebel army numbered perhaps twenty-five hundred men, effectively ending it as a fighting force. He secured a much larger victory on October 21st, in Avlonas, leading to the death of seven thousand rebels. The farsan still outnumbered his army, but as long as they remained divided, the loyalists would have a crucial advantage.

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    The rebel army retreated northward for the winter of 1177-78 to their strongholds in Poland. The losses at Danji Kraji and Avlonas had been a shock to many in the rebel forces, who genuinely had not anticipated that the Mahdi himself (as many still considered Yuriy II) would have opposed his loyal subjects. The leading farsan saw it as particularly grave. They had received Dmitry’s offer of amnesty but could not believe such an offer coming from the Butcher from Bavaria. It would surely be victory or death. But to achieve victory, they would need a single commander, not a multitude of voices.

    It was, therefore, a long, dark winter of internecine struggle, but in the end a cohort of western Poles known as the Ślązacy (lit., “the Silesians”) emerged victorious, centered around the figure of Stefan Godziemba. Godziemba had credibility as the first to draw blood during the rebellion, and over the course of his life he proved a master at managing rival factions without making enemies. In order to assuage rival factions, the Ślązacy promised that lands seized from ‘apostates’ (i.e., the Greki) would be given to the righteous. On the question of Dmitry’s amnesty offer, Godziemba adopted an all or nothing line. Kiev could not be trusted, so in order to protect Islam he would not sheathe his sword until a righteous Muslim sat upon the throne. Few missed that he was referring to himself.

    First, of course, the imperial army would need to be defeated. The rebels had been receiving reports from Dmitry’s camp that made them optimistic at such a prospect. Morale in the imperial winter camp was low, as common folk who had expected to fight Christians for Jerusalem found themselves instead in Croatia fighting Muslims like themselves. Dmitry could not use religious rhetoric as effectively as the rebels because--as he well knew--the bulk of his peasant levies sympathized with the rebel cause. The professional soldiers of the imperial retinue, meanwhile, were once again anxious that a bankrupt imperial crown would try to dock their pay, and rebel agents were eager to suggest just that. Desertion was rampant that winter, leaving the High Chieftain with a fraction of the men he had commanded in Jerusalem.

    During the campaigning season of 1178, therefore, Godziemba and his rebels refused to meet the imperials in open battle. The Polish light cavalry launched raids on the imperial supply lines, disrupted communications, and ambushed isolated patrols, only to retreat before battle lines could be drawn. In the spring of 1178, the imperials had perhaps twelve thousand warriors in their army; by the end of the fall, it was closer to nine. In the spring of 1179, with the imperial retinue nearly mutinous, the rebels finally chose to give battle. Stefan Godziemba met Dmitry Oskyldr in battle at Visegrád, their numbers seemingly even. Unbeknownst to the imperials, however, a complement of rebel cavalry had crossed the river Danube to their south; late in the afternoon, while the imperials and rebels were locked in combat, the rebel heavy horse appeared on the imperial right and led a devastating flanking maneuver. Thousands of imperial soldiers died and just as many fled. Dmitry was captured attempting to organize an orderly retreat, and brought before the rebel farsan in chains.

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    The defeat at Visegrád stunned the imperial court in Kiev. The Regency Council was desperate to raise men from the great boyars, but they received nothing but excuses in return. The boyars now saw that Kiev might well lose the war, and in such a case there was no point alienating the rebel leadership. Attempts to raise money for mercenaries proved similarly futile--the crown was unable to pay interest on the debt it already had. Grand Patriarch Yuriy II Gorislavovich, now only months away from manhood, took a dark and suspicious view of events. His correspondence with selected boyars was full of conspiracies, most of which revolved around Dmitry himself.

    Once in captivity, Dmitry became the object of a Ślązacy charm offensive. The victorious rebels were beginning to think of the future, and it seemed prudent to win allies from the imperial side. He was invited to dine at Stefan Godziemba’s table, and healers tended to his wounds and those of his compatriots. He was even asked to appear by Godziemba’s side while the rebel leaders said the Salat al-Janazah for the fallen of Visegrád, pointedly including the imperials and rebels alike.

    After several weeks of this generous treatment, Dmitry was suddenly given a letter--written by Yuriy II to a Slovien ally and intercepted by a rebel fāris. The High Chieftain had corresponded primarily with the Regency Council, who treated their commander with cool courtesy. Yuriy’s views, therefore, came as quite a shock to him. The boy did not simply think that Dmitry had exceeded his authority; in his view Dmitry had been against him from the start, acting in consort with elements in the rebel leadership to seize the throne for himself. Perhaps, the boy darkly hinted, Ivan II had not simply perished from a wound taken in battle in either.

    The following day, a shaken High Chieftain was invited for a private stroll with Stefan Godziemba. The rebel leader was in an expansive mood, recounting tales of derring-do in border skirmishes with the Christian Franks and praising Dmitry’s victories during the recent jihad. He then began to question Dmitry about the boyars who had remained neutral in the rebellion thus far, expressing with evident sincerity a desire to bring them into the fold peacefully and limit further bloodshed. Finally, without mentioning Yuriy’s letter, Godziemba turned to his companion and offered him a seat on the imperial council.

    Over the course of the year, High Chieftain Dmitry Oskyldr would travel to Memel, Minsk, and Novgorod, to treat with the patriarchs there. They were troubled by the instability of Ivan II and his son and unable to see a path to victory for the imperials. There was no better envoy for the rebels than Dmitry Oskyldr, and he made his case bluntly: even if Yuriy Gorislavovich could have won the civil war, he could not bring peace to Ruthenia. Only one man was capable of that now.

    Late in the winter of 1180, the great boyars arrived in Świebodzin, to the simple castle that served as Stefan Godziemba’s castle. They watched, stone-faced, as Stefan Godziemba accepted the imperial crown of Ruthenia by an Almohadi cleric, standing with solemn dignity while the rebel farsan whooped and hollered. Godziemba called then for a hush. These mighty lords, tied to Yuriy Gorislavovich by deep ties of blood and honor, stood before the Polish knight and knelt before him, one by one. The dynasty founded by Dyre the Stranger three centuries ago had been overthrown.

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    Grand Patriarch Stefan of Ruthenia

    Born: 1148
    Reigned: 1180 - 1217


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    On February 2, 1180, Stefan Godziemba was crowned the Grand Patriarch of Ruthenia in his new capital of Świebodzin. A week later, he rode forth to evict his predecessor from the ancient capital of Kiev [1]. Yuriy Gorislavovich could muster perhaps two thousand troops, a small fraction of his opponent’s, but he remained in his palace in a spirit of stubborn defiance. The campaign would be a simple matter, tactically, but the political questions raised show the tricky currents that the new monarch would need to navigate in order to maintain his throne.

    Many of Stefan’s Silesian supporters, who were more responsible than anybody for his ascension, insisted that Yuriy II should be executed. They held him personally responsible for enormities against the rebels committed during the late war, and regarded his claim on the throne as a constant source of instability. The ‘Russians’, former Oskyldr loyalists who had switched allegiance in the last year, blanched at the notion of their former liege being tried. They were motivated less out of affection for Yuriy and more in fear of a precedent that might be turned against them in turn. As a consequence, many boyars proposed that he be permitted to retain Kiev and the surrounding lands once he acknowledged Stefan Godziemba as liege. The Silesians retorted that this would simply give Yuriy a powerbase in order to work further mischief.

    The Grand Patriarch’s initial reaction was to stall: he turned the march on Kiev into a grand procession, throwing feasts and tourneys at every crossroads to show himself to his new subjects. Travel slowed to a crawl, giving Yuriy ample time to change his mind and flee into exile. When Yuriy declined to do so, Stefan settled in around Kiev for a leisurely siege. His disposition, at least in public, was supremely self-confident: the day would be his, it was simply a matter of time.

    When Kiev finally surrendered, the Grand Patriarch split the difference between the two factions in his court: Yuriy would lose Kiev and the surrounding land, and he would be expected to renounce his claim to the throne by oath, but he would be granted a measure of land in the crown’s remaining holdings in central Europe--enough to permit him to live out his days in dignity, if he had the wisdom to do so. The Silesians were quick to point out that Yuriy might still seek out allies to claim the throne, but Stefan Godziemba felt assured that he could master any political difficulties that came his way. He’d gotten this far, hadn’t he?

    The incident demonstrated the fundamental nature of Stefan Godziemba’s rule. Conscious that he ruled a divided realm, Stefan would split the difference between rival factions and trust to his own diplomatic skill for the rest. On religious matters, for example, Stefan reinstated the rule of Almohadi clerics, and strongly encouraged his Grek vassals to do the same. He did not, however, claim the title of Mahdi, instead declaring that--in the view of the court--Ivan I Bogolyubivyy had been the one true Mahdi and it behooved pious Muslims to venerate his memory and adopt his principles. In this way, he sidestepped the thorny issue that had consumed the last two occupants of the throne.

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    The truly vexing issue of his realm was not doctrine, it was land. Stefan had kept the rebel factions happy by promising them land seized from apostates, i.e., Greki boyars. He then triumphed in the battle of Visegrád and found that he might sway some of those same Greki boyars by promising to confirm them in their lands and titles. “The Sultan [sic] has promised every patch of earth to two or three different men,” wrote a Venetian merchant resident in Kiev, “and now he must either fashion himself a second empire to put them all on or make enemies in the one he has.”

    Given the option, however, it was plain that his hold on the throne relied on the power of the Polish farsan who had fought for him. Thus, the great boyars were rewarded with marriage alliances and patronage from Kiev, but smaller noble families were very often uprooted from their historic lands so that rebel Poles might rule in their place. Most dramatically, when the Oskyldr patriarch of Novgorod died without issue in 1188, Stefan granted the throne to a Polish rebel who had only recently been granted lands along the Baltic coast. The boyars seethed with rage, but with Stefan’s considerable army behind him, there was little they could do.

    Most of these new Polish nobles quickly adopted the customs of the lands that they ruled. However, in the Pontic steppe the transformation was far more dramatic. These lands had been depopulated thanks to centuries of raids from Khazars to the west and Greeks to the south. To secure these lands from future raids, Stefan encouraged the distribution of steppe land to the peasantry in Poland. The new settlers eventually mixed with natives there, creating a new ‘steppe-Polish’ culture that would endure in Ruthenia for centuries.

    The primary losers of the land redistribution were, perhaps predictably, the farsan who had intrigued against Stefan’s ascension as leader of the movement during the rebellion. During the war against Yuriy II, they had been mollified with promises of land as well, but in the aftermath they emerged without favor or power of their own. Some were granted small holdings on the Black Sea shore, some were simply ignored. In 1185, a small coterie of the latter began a rebellion in Poland under the leadership of Strasz Lanckoronski, premising their rebellion on the statement that the Grand Patriarch had fallen under the sway of malign Grecheskiy counselors. They were politically isolated and unable to claim the loyalty of the common people, and Stefan Godziemba dispatched his Polish cavalry, who put down the rebellion easily in the spring of 1186. The Lanckoronski rebellion showed the logic of Stefan’s political calculus, as it was the only revolt of his reign.

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    During the rebellion against Yuriy II, many boyars in the southern Slavic lands rose up bloodlessly to achieve their independence, leaving a fait accompli that Stefan was obliged to accept. The political landscape was complex: some lords continued to swear fealty to Kiev in order to forestall invasion from their more powerful neighbors. In the former kingdoms of Wallachia and Nikaea, successful local revolts overthrow the Grek-worshipping Oskyldr monarchs and installed local Almohadi dynasties of their own.

    Many feared, and some hoped for, a revival of Christian influence in the Balkans. The newly free kingdoms of Bavaria and Croatia adopted the Catholic faith once again, although internecine between Catholic Karlings and Sunni Karlings would define Bavarian politics until well into the fourteenth century. In general, however, the Christian powers were too weak or distracted to take advantage of the collapse of Ruthenian influence in the Balkans. The Byzantines were in the midst of their final death throes; their empire would consist of a single county by 1230 and would finally collapse by mid-century. The Papacy was in the midst of internecine feuding with the Francian emperor and the Asturians.

    Instead, it was the successor kingdoms of the Oskyldr who threw themselves into the fray. Thessalonika was the most powerful and prestigious; they could claim an unbroken descent from King Dyre the Stranger via Vasilko I’s fourth son Sviatpolk, as well as command over Tsargrad, once known as the City of Man’s Desire and still a formidable metropolis in the eastern Mediterranean. Previous rulers had successfully taken the kingdom of Hellas as well as the lands of Magna Graecia in the Italian peninsula, extending the borders of Dar al-Islam to within a hundred miles of Rome itself.

    Now they saw a chance to expand their borders northward into Bulgaria. Standing against the Thessalonikans was an alliance between the peasant regime of Munetania and the Grek king of Moldavia. The two regimes were divided by both class and religion but united in their suspicion of Tsargrad. As a result, politics in the Balkans turned into a cold war filled with intrigue and counter-intrigue as Tsargrad hoped to bring the Bulgar allies into discord while the latter sought to undermine the Thessaloniki throne.

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    The Grand Patriarch’s instincts, as in domestic politics, were cautious. He was reluctant to pursue a major war to reunify his lands, knowing that the loss of too many loyal Polish veterans could fatally weaken his regime--as, indeed, the jihad against Jerusalem had done for the Oskyldr caliphs. So rather than march his armies south, as many in the imperial court wanted, Stefan marched his armies north in 1191.

    His targets were a collection of chieftains centered around Yaroslavl'. The late revolt of the farsan had brought with it a wave of violence against Christians and Jews. A wave of Christian emigres, dominated by old Byzantine families, fled to Vepsian chiefdoms in the far north. By the 1190s, these Finnic chieftains were beginning to adopt the new faith, leading to a brief period of Orthodox Christian rule in northern Russia.

    Nobles in Ruthenia, and in particular the new patriarch of Novgorod, became concerned that the Christian lands to their east would inflame discontent among the dhimmi. (This was, of course, getting cause and effect confused.) At their urging, Stefan raised an army and marched on their lands, bringing Islam to Nizhny Novgorod by the sword. The divided Finnic peoples were no match for the Silesian veterans who led Stefan’s army, and with a series of triumphant victories in the north even the Silesians began to believe that a larger conquest was possible.

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    In 1198, Stefan and his commanders began to plan a campaign against Moldavia. Moldavia was chosen for a number of reasons: first, the conquest of Moldavia had been launched by Dyre himself and completed by his son Halfdan, and so Kiev’s claim to rule there was as solid as any. This made Moldavia a target that the Russian boyars wanted to reclaim as much as Stefan did. Second, old King Yaroslav had been assassinated by a Thessaloniki agent, leading to a breakdown of the Muntenian alliance and the possibility of a quick conquest. Finally, holding Moldavia would give Kiev a stronger hold on the Dniester river trade.

    The war against Moldavia began in triumph in 1200, with the Ruthenian army advancing quickly and occupying land as far as the enemy capital of Suceava. However, Stefan and his Silesians did not know the land nearly as well as their enemy. The Moldavian king Lev Yaroslavovich took advantage of his superior knowledge of mountain passes to attack Ruthenia piecemeal. In 1201, he caught out an evenly matched Ruthenian army in Siret and inflicted thirty-five hundred casualties (compared to fifteen hundred for the defenders). With the bulk of the Russian force in full retreat, he surrounded a smaller army in Hotin and slaughtered them utterly: nearly seven thousand Russian warriors died that day.

    Enraged, and aware that his credibility was on the line, Stefan ordered a second advance in 1202. The full Ruthenian army met the Moldavian force in battle at Piatra Neamț, and after trading blow for blow King Lev was forced to retreat. But if Kiev thought that this would end things, they would soon learn otherwise. The Russian occupiers would again suffer defeats over the winter, at Tushina and Iași (the latter to a numerically inferior force).

    Stefan ordered a retreat until a new army could be raised, and in January, 1204, Ruthenia triumphed over a small Moldavian army at Dorohoi, obliging King Lev to flee alone horseback from the battle. Once again, however, victory would turn into defeat: in the second battle of Dorohoi, on March 31, 1204, 30,000 Ruthenians lost to 12,000 brave Moldavians in one of the most famous battles of Russian history, leading to a devastating nine thousand as compared to less than half that on the defender’s side.

    By this point, it became clear to Stefan, if not some of his most enthusiastic courtiers, that the Moldavian invasion had turned into a quagmire. Ruthenia was much larger than Moldavia and could win a war of attrition, given time; but Stefan himself could not afford to lose so many of his loyal veterans without jeopardizing his throne. He dispatched his chief diplomat, the charming Khazar Patriarch Nisi II, to treat with King Lev Yaroslavovich and find a face-saving peace on the basis of status quo ante bellum.

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    The failure to take Moldavia reveals the essential limitations of Stefan’s rule. He offered in many ways a more stable reign than his last two predecessors, which was itself a notable accomplishment considering the nature of his accession to power. He was ever cognizant, however, that many in his realm considered him to be a usurper sitting upon a stolen throne, and this bred in him a deep caution that would define the Silesian rulers. His near constant focus on internal stability meant that, under his rule, Ruthenia narrowed her horizons--practically ignoring Palestine and the Balkans that had been areas of traditional concern, and leaving the struggle against Christendom to others. The empire was both literally and figuratively smaller than it had been.

    Grand Patriarch Stefan Godziemba spent his final years on the throne much as he spent his first: treating with powerful boyars and grandees, winning them over with a series of legendary feasts and festivals, tending carefully to a network of internal alliances. This was necessary work. And so, perhaps, his most improbable victory in life was this: at the age of sixty-nine, Stefan Godziemba died peacefully in his bed with his children and wives around him.

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    [1] Godziemba conducted his affairs in Polish, so during the Silesian Ascendency the city would be known in court documents as Kijów.
     
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    Grand Patriarch Andrzej of Ruthenia, 1217 - 1248
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    Grand Patriarch Andrzej of Ruthenia

    Born: 1191
    Reigned: 1217 - 1248


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    Prince Andrzej Godziemba was born eleven years after his father’s successful seizure of the Ruthenian throne, and while he bore the name of the cleric whose removal sparked the rebellion he (of course) remembered nothing of the fighting itself. As a cheerful and contented child, the resentments and factionalism that still exists from that late war and from the sectarian disputes that preceded it were of little concern to him. He was a child of summer and winter’s chill held no meaning for him.

    The throneroom of Kiev has been occupied by depressives, recluses, and men who drank themselves to death, and the presence of a happy Pole with a clear conscience was unusual. His good cheer served a political purpose, however. The failure to take Moldavia had reignited tensions in Stefan’s regime, as pious Polish farsan blamed Grek treachery and old Russian families blamed the incompetence of upjumped West Slavic peasants. Stefan’s credibility with the farsan could keep a lid on rebellion, but Andrzej would need to go further.

    Andrzej began by returning the capitol to Kiev, placing his Silesian holdings in care of a castellan. He made dynastic marriages to his boyars, as his father had. The most consequential joined his eleven year old daughter Elżbieta with Sviatpolk Glebovich Krivichi, Patriarch of the White Rus’ and scion of a Russian dynasty with older roots than the Oskyldrs themselves. Andrzej then went on to marry an Oskyldr princess descended from Ivan II, and when she bore him a son, Prince Davyd was named heir apparent above the grand patriarch’s older sons.

    Andrzej intended to go further still in his bid for conciliation. He bade the deposed Yuriy Gorislavovich Oskyldr sit on his council as marshal of the imperial army. Now fifty-six and Chieftain of Požega, the former grand patriarch had attained a fearsome reputation for his battles in the Slovien and Bavarian border wars. However, his role in the imperial council was a bridge too far for the aging veterans of the farsan rebellion; they protested mightily and forced Andrzej to back down and replace him with a reliable Polish commander, the redoubtable Eustachy Uszyca who had served under Stefan at Visegrád.[1]

    The contretemps over Yuriy’s inclusion in the council shook Andrzej, prompting him to bring in his half-brother Jaksa to serve as his loyal right hand and help quell the troublesome Poles. Jaksa would cultivate the Polish nobles, not just the older rebel veterans but the growing number of Polish nobles who were born after the rebellion and could not be won over by bonds forged in battle. Andrzej and Jaksa would together bring the Godziemba dynasty to its greatest heights.

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    The most significant development in the reign of Andrzej was the revival of the Baltic jihads. The civil war within Ruthenia and the immediate fallout had led to a stall in Islamic conquest, and in even in some cases the revival of Catholic fortunes. As noted above, Christian nobles had established a kingdom of Bavaria, although Catholic and Greki factions would roil the new kingdom in civil conflict until well into the fourteenth century. Some Slovien Catholics in the Carpathians swore fealty directly to the pope, and the protection of the Vatican throne preserved their independence for decades as well. And in Pomerania, the Sunni duke who boldly threw off the yoke of Kiev soon lost his land to Swedish nobles invading from across the sea.

    Andrzej and Jaksa concluded that the revival of jihad would serve to ameliorate factional tension by permitting disgruntled nobles to carve out their own new lands out of formerly Christian lands. They began by announcing an invasion of Pomerania in March of 1224, using as justification a number of border incursions by Norse Catholics into the imperial lands in Silesia. Andrzej led the Ruthenian armies himself, riding with the Polish cavalry in a series of daring assaults on Norse positions. The Jarl of Pomerania surrendered within a year, and the Grand Patriarch placed the new lands in trust for his young son Sȩdzimir.

    The victory in Pomerania led to a revival in Ruthenian morale, which had struggled ever since the failure to take Moldavia twenty years earlier. On the heels of his conquest an ebullient Andrzej then announced a more ambitious project. In a fit of grandiosity he stood up at a victory feast and promised Estonia to Prince Davyd (then seven years old) as a birthday present. The Catholic kingdom of Estonia had long since fallen, and feuding nobles had quarreled over the remains ever since.

    The conquest of Courland, announced with great fanfare during that victory feast in 1225, began inauspiciously with a pair of bruising defeats. Unbeknownst to Kiev, Duke Kalle Kuressaru had allied himself with an order of Catholic holy warriors known as the Teutonic Order, who commanded ten thousand fervent swords for Christ. Thus fortified, the duke led an unexpected savage counter-attack, forcing Andrzej to hastily retreat after the battle of Zemigalians (June 16) and again at Neuenberg (September 8). Some of the boyars began to whisper that Estonia was simply Moldavia redux.

    Andrzej was not so easily daunted, however, and he regrouped with the support of Eustachy Uszyca during the long winter of 1225/6. Chieftain Eustachy left a dummy force at their winter camps in Memel, and quietly led the Ruthenian army in a large counter-clockwise circle to ford the Daugava River and fall upon the Estonians in their camp in Livonia. The Catholic forces were caught totally off-guard, and in the battle of Ikškila (March 8) Andrzej Godziemba smashed Duke Kalle’s army and led the Grandmaster of the Teutonic Knights back to Kiev in captivity. With the duke’s army in tatters, the Ruthenians led a swift siege of Grobin and forced Kalle’s surrender by October 24, 1226.

    The other duchies of Estonia would fall in a series of successful campaigns, but Kiev would never again be as successfully challenged as they were during the fall of 1225. By 1231, Prince Davyd would be named Patriarch of a Sunni Estonia by his proud father in a ceremony at Grobin. The prince was then twelve years old.

    The biggest victory against Christendom of Andrzej’s reign, however, does not belong to the Grand Patriarch. The vassal kingdom of Novgorod was in those days held by Patriarch Jarosław Lewicki, who was a feared reaver, a mystic, and an esteemed translator of the neo-Platonists. Jarosław’s father had been a respected Polish commander installed in the kingdom of Stefan Godziemba; but his father’s early death from a possible stroke led Jarosław to inherit at the age of fifteen. Jarosław led a series of successful raids in Estonia and Finland in his youth, but as an older man he claimed for himself a more substantial prize: Sweden.

    The Catholic af Munsö dynasty was struggling with dynastic infighting, as King Freyr Baldrsson feuded with his younger brothers for control over the throne and the family lands. As he mobilized to defeat the third in a series of noble uprisings, King Freyr received a report that he was being invaded by sea by Russian Muslims who were claiming Sweden for Allah. Freyr attempted to broker a peace with his rebel nobles to unite against the Sunni threat, but bad communication and infighting prevented an effective response. Jarosław’s army quickly overran the Swedish Catholics, and he raised his flag in triumph on September 1, 1242. The House of Bjorn Ironside would rule in Sweden no longer; it would be henceforth a Muslim kingdom.

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    The conquest of Estonia and Pomerania raised the confidence of Andrzej and his imperial troops, but nothing was as meaningful as his next campaign. By the 1230s, fierce old King Lev was long dead and the kingdom of Moravia was in the uncertain hands of his great grandson, the Patriarch Vsevolod Gremislavovich. Vsevolod was all of seventeen, beardless and bookish, and the prospect of weakness in Suceava prompted a series of invasions on all fronts. With the kingdom vulnerable, Andrzej announced his invasion in the early spring of 1237.

    Ruthenia now outnumbered Moldavia twenty to one, and the latter was friendless and facing wars on three fronts. The invasion proved blessedly swift; Andrzej led an invasion across the Dniester, using Odessa as a staging point, and quickly occupied the coastal counties while a second army marched inland to find the defending army. Vsevolod and his meager forces were found in Bârlad, where they were enveloped and slaughtered nearly to a man. Only the Patriarch and a small personal guard escaped the enemy lines. With his army now numbering in the dozens rather than the thousands, the young king surrendered. Andrzej named his son Mirosław king of Moldavia and rode back to Kiev in triumph.

    Having lost his capital and most of his personal land holdings, Vsevolod proved unable to control his Pannonian land either. His vassals throw off allegiance to him and began to feud with each other, while other lords moved in in an attempt to claim the richest lands for themselves. The largest beneficiary was the duchy of Munetania, whose ruler was shortly naming himself King of Wallachia and the natural master of the lands of the Slovien and the Bulgars. In Kiev, meanwhile, the mood was triumphant as Andrzej cleansed a long stain on the Godziemba family honor.

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    With Moldavia in hand, the Grand Patriarch largely put an end to his personal ambitions for conquest. He and Jaska turned to another urgent project: the revision of the Russkaya Pravda, whose authority had been in some doubt after the fall of the Oskyldr. The legal code needed to incorporate two generations of decrees and precedents, and be promulgated in new lands like Sweden and Estonia. Most consequently, Andrzej revised the laws of inheritance for the first time since the reign of Mahdi Yuriy I, greatly strengthening the rights of the primary heir and even permitting the inheritance of a daughter under limited circumstances.

    In the 1240s, the Godziemba dynasty hit its zenith. While Ruthenia was not as large as it had once been, Andrzej could command over sixty thousand men, more than any previous ruler. The treasury was flowing and the Grand Patriarch’s personal largesse to religious scholarship as well as orphanages and provision to the poor became justly famous. Conquest, as well as Andrzej’s personal diplomacy, had healed the rifts between Pole and Russian, between Greki and Almohadi. The borders of Dar al-Islam had been expanded to new lands and an ancient Christian dynasty had been humbled. When Andrzej passed away on January 27, 1248, it seemed that the Silesian Ascendancy would last for a thousand years.

    Instead, it was nearly over. Andrzej had healed the wounds of the rebellion, but he had also inadvertently fanned the flames of ambition that would put his children and grandchildren against each other in the largest civil war that Ruthenia had ever seen. As always in Kiev, triumph contained within it the seeds of future tragedy.

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    [1] Yuriy Gorislavovich would return to Požega and again plunge himself into the long-running Bavarian sectarian wars, where he was widely feared by his Catholic opponents. The ‘Butcher of Požega’ was eventually captured in battle at the age of 59, and died of malnutrition in a Karling dungeon in 1223. He died without issue and left Požega to his nephew.
     
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    Grand Patriarch Davyd of Ruthenia, 1248 - 1267
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    Grand Patriarch Davyd of Ruthenia

    Born: 1219
    Reigned: 1248 - 1267


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    At noon on the summer solstice in 1232, Prince Davyd Godziemba--then thirteen--had a pole precisely three dhira high erected in a field outside of Reval, and carefully noted the length of the shadow it cast on the ground. He had dispatched a scribe to Odessa to do the same; and when this scribe returned in the middle of August, Davyd retrieved his measurements and disappeared. That evening, he announced to his bemused courtiers in a boyish soprano that he had refined Eratosthenes’ calculation for the circumference of the Earth.

    The young prince had been named Patriarch of Estonia at the age of nine, and he was to be given a taste of rule there before inheriting his father’s throne in Kiev. Davyd’s thoughts, however, turned instead to astronomy. The great astronomers of the age were Arabs, Andalusians, Persians, and Saloniki Russians, working from the work of the ancient Greeks; few had made observations so far north, and the possibility for discovery was endless. The child king would pore over Ptolemy and al-Khwārizmī at night and doze during council meetings the following day.

    When Davyd became Grand Patriarch in 1248, his observatory on Estonia’s Suur Munamägi (“Egg Mountain”) was well under construction. He had anxiously sweated the details of the construction for the past decade, drafting and revising plans with his court of scholars. When the prince called upon the ulema in those days, it was for assistance in drafting the terms of a waqf [1] to ensure that the observatory would be funded long after after his death. On the day that he learned of his father’s death, the new Grand Patriarch wrote a long entry in his journal describing struggles with construction during the cold northern winter and speculation on the existence of other solar systems before adding a brief postscript: “Must ride for Kiev.”

    Once the observatory was complete, Davyd’s writings were filled with detailed notations on the motions of the planets, eventually resulting in his landmark work, Estonskiye stoly (lit., “Estonian Tables”). His planetary model was extraordinarily accurate, and served as a standard reference until the advent of heliocentrism in the Gallic taifas in the sixteen century. He developed a geometrical technique, later called the Godziemba couple, that generated linear motion from the sum of two circular motions.

    His later scholarship is more purely mathematical, including one of the early works on trigonometry as an independent discipline. In his Na Risunke Sektora (lit., “On the Sector Figure”), one can find an early mention of the law of sines; he shares credit for this innovation with several court geometers in Cordoba and a Tajik scholar writing in Temujin’s Mongolian Empire.

    Although he was certainly one of the most learned men of his generation, Davyd had his share of disappointments. His model was never able to accurately track the motion of Mercury, a problem that he would leave to his descendants. His writings were critical of the Ptolemaic belief that the Earth was at rest, but he was not able to come up with a suitable alternative model. His final writings, left unfinished at the time of his death, are primarily theological--they are tantalizing but incomplete, and we will never know quite what he would have come up with.

    We do not know what the Suur Munamägi observatory would have looked like, and despite the terms of the waqf, it would not long survive Davyd’s own death. During the Smutnoe vremya (“Time of Troubles”), the observatory was seen as a potential stronghold for rebel soldiers. It would be burnt to the ground, while the scholars inside were put to the sword. Today only the foundation of the observatory remains.

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    There was, of course, an empire to run, and the Grand Patriarch showed little interest in running it. As a leader, Davyd had his high points--he had a certain charm, and even a level of cunning. He was curiously aloof, however. The company of women held little interest for him, at least in a carnal sense. He might rage from time to time, but he rarely cared enough to hold a grudge. He cared little for personal displays of power and wealth, which made him indifferent to the symbols of power and encouraged a level of contempt that other rulers would not have tolerated. When he chose to attend council meetings, it was with hair still tousled from the previous night’s rest and in robes still spotted from a spilled goblet of wine.

    Increasingly, however, Davyd was simply absent from Kiev. For most of the 1250s he was in Estonia studying the motion of the planets or discerning the nature of spherical trigonometry. Power in Kiev gravitated to his primary wife, the Grand Matriarch Agrafena. She was a woman, a foreigner, and Grek besides, and so she drew the ire of courtiers who resented her power as mother of the heir apparent. The death of her son Piotr of smallpox in late 1260 left her vulnerable, prompting the male councillors of the realm to charge her with scheming against the Grand Patriarch. Forewarned, however, Agrafena fled from Kiev and returned to her home in the Maghreb.

    The flight of Agrafena obliged Davyd to return to Kiev, if begrudgingly. There he remained for three years, and to his credit he spent much of this time on practical concerns. The Grand Patriarch had been studying the arts of fortification as practiced in other lands, and he suggested a number of improvements in the castle of Kiev, as well as the imperial holdings in Yuriev and Zdvyzhen. He also decreed the expansion of barracks for the imperial retinue and saw to the formation of several craft guilds. He lost interest in mundane matters again, however, and left the capital in the fall of 1264, never to return.

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    Had she been a prince rather than a princess, Elżbieta would have been a natural ruler. She had an intuitive understanding of warfare that her brothers lacked, and a fierce personal courage. Her father Andrzej had been overheard once observing that it was a shame that she would never command an army, for surely she would be a fearsome conqueror. Instead, because of the strict gender laws of the period, she was betrothed at the age of eleven to Sviatpolk Glebovich Krivichi, Patriarch of the White Rus’. Sviatpolk was fifteen years older than his new wife but in her he had met his match.

    The Krivichi traced their lineage back to Kriv, a legendary Russian tribal leader from the sixth century--making them, as dynasts were happy to point out, more Russian than the Oskyldr family. It was a Krivichi, Ruslan Ruslanovich of Minsk, who first subjugated the Khazars and first named himself Tsar of the Rus’. In their own mind, the family had a claim on the throne of Russia as good as the Oskyldrs, and much better than the upjumped Polish peasants who sat the throne now. For this reason, perhaps, the Krivichi scions proved to be very unruly vassals who were quick to scheme against Kiev.

    Patriarch Sviatpolk had, while he lived, tended to downplay this rebellious inclination. He was a cautious player of politics and he seems to have genuinely admired Andrzej I. When the patriarch died of a stroke in 1261, however, there was nobody formidable enough to check Dowager Matriarch Elżbieta. As the mother of a Krivichi son, Andrei Sviatpolkovich, her political interests were those.

    It was at this time that the rumors began to spread among the family that Andrzej I had intended to offer the throne to Elżbieta. Hadn’t he said that Elżbieta should be commanding armies? Hadn’t he gone out of his way to change the inheritance law to permit the rule of a woman? Surely he must have intended to grant the throne to Davyd at one time, but seeing what an unmanly, unnatural creature Davyd turned out to be, Andrzej no doubt changed his mind as he grew older. He wouldn’t be the first man to do that.

    This was self-serving hogwash, to be sure, although arguably Davyd would have been just as happy to give the throne had he been left to his study of the planets. But so long as he sat the throne, it amounted to little more than griping; he was not formidable but few boyars would fight and die for the narrow dynastic interests of the Krivichi. Unfortunately for Ruthenia, however, Davyd died of a sudden heart attack, on September 17, 1267, leaving the throne to his ten year old son, Andrzej II--the youngest to ever inherit the throne. The peace of the Silesians was over, and the time of troubles was about to begin.

    giLZDIa.png

    [1] An inalienable charitable endowment, provided for under Islamic law.
     
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    The Time of Troubles, 1267 - 1287
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    The Time of Troubles, 1267 - 1287

    Grand Patriarch Andrzej II of Ruthenia

    Born: 1257
    Reigned: 1267 - 1269

    Grand Matriarch Elżbieta of Ruthenia

    Born: 1208
    Reigned: 1269 - 1279

    Grand Patriarch Andrei III Sviatpolkovich of Ruthenia

    Born: 1232
    Reigned: 1279 - 1287


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    Ruthenia had suffered through civil wars before. What made the period between the ascension of Andrzej II and the death of Andrei III so distinct was not one war, but a cascading series of wars that lead to a near collapse of central authority. In the aftermath, it would be easy to point fingers: Andrzej I’s favoritism, Elżbieta’s overweening (some said unwomanly) ambition, Davyd’s indifference, the hubris of the Krivichis. However, the larger problem was with the Silesian rule itself: the legitimacy of the throne had been destroyed during the revolt of the farsan and the Godziembas had been unable to rebuild it. The monarchy had become a house of cards, that needed only a stiff breeze to knock it over.

    With the announcement of Davyd’s death in 1267, the conspiracy to place Elżbieta on the throne began in earnest. Her son, Patriarch Andrei Sviatpolkovich of the White Rus’, ensured that the Krivichis would support her. The patriarchs of Novgorod and Lithuania were quick to support her as well, and as we shall see, not out of love for her. Her most prominent supporter was High Chief Leszek of Crimea, a renowned warrior who would later serve as her chief commander and adviser on martial matters. It was he who delivered the ultimatum to Andrzej II’s Regency Council on December 7, 1268, which was predictably refused.

    Many boyars stayed loyal to Andrzej II during the crisis, but not always out of loyalty. Some, particularly in the area around Kiev, supported the Godziemba dynasty but just as many saw opportunities with a weak child monarch who might be influenced. So then, on March 13, 1269, Patriarch Jarosław II of Sweden demanded that the crown renounce several of its powers arrogated under Andzej I’s revision to the Russkaya Pravda, or else Sweden would join the rebels. Left without much choice, the Regency Council conceded.

    Even with the crown making concessions such as these, the rebels could raise more than twice their number on the field. The motivation of such men varied, but they were not necessarily self-serving any more than the loyalists were necessarily patriotic. The patriarchs of Novgorod and Lithuania seem to have expected that Elżbieta would be more responsive to the boyar’s demands, while her Polish supporters largely hoped that the dynastic connection with the Krivichis would give her the legitimacy to be a more ambitious monarch than her predecessors. Elżbieta, so close to her long-held ambition, wound up telling both sides what they wanted to hear. She was by her own reckoning an old woman, who had the past two decades of rightful rule stolen from her, and this gave her action a heedless quality. The rightful matriarch would not be denied now.

    The Krivichi army met the royalists on the plains of Chornobyl in a cool spring morning in 1269. Liszek commanded the Krivichi left, while Andrei held the right. Elżbieta led the vanguard herself, riding in front. Her warriors were concerned that the leadership of a woman might invite bad luck; to rally her troops, Elżbieta gave a speech, ending in the famous claim: YA znayu, chto u menya telo slaboy i nemoshchnoy zhenshchiny; no u menya serdtse i zheludok tsarya, a takzhe tsarya Russkogo. ("I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a Tsar, and of a Tsar of the 'Rus too.")

    In the popular imagination, Elżbieta’s Chornobyl oration inspired her warriors to ride forth and defeat the royalist army and force Andrzej II’s surrender. In reality, as we have seen, her army far outnumbered the Regency’s and she was herself a sound commander--the royalists quickly crumbled under the weight of superior numbers and began to flee back to Kiev.

    Elżbieta ordered a march on the capital and then settled in for a siege. She was prepared to wait for a year or more, but in truth divisions among the regents revealed themselves almost immediately. It soon became clear that a strong faction within Andrzej II’s court were willing to surrender the throne to her if he was confirmed in his rule over Kiev and the surrounding environs--what was called the kingdom, rather than the empire, of Ruthenia. Two months into the siege, Andrzej’s Grand Allamah snuck out a postern gate under cover of darkness to extend this offer informally.

    Elżbieta was amenable. If her nephew would willingly submit to her rule, it would help to bring around his most ardent supporters. She had not intended to rule from Kiev in the first place, preferring to rule from the Krivichi capital of Kernave surrounded by allies. However, this proved to be a strategic mistake: Kiev had been the historic capital of Ruthenia since Dyre the Stranger, and so long as Andrzej continued to rule there--even as a vassal--he would seem to many as the grand patriarch in waiting. This would be disastrous for Elżbieta’s rule.

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    Elżbieta was crowned in a grand ceremony on October 3, 1269, the first female head of state in the four centuries of Ruthenian history. After much discussion among the clerics and scribes, she took the title Grand Matriarch--while this was typically the title of an imperial consort, she saw it differently. She was, in the imperial edicts of the period, mother of the ‘Rus, both protective and fierce.

    If she was the mother to all, however, it was of a squabbling and dysfunctional family. At issue was the proposed revision to the Russkaya Pravda, which Andrzej’s regents had drafted but never published. Jarosław II was adamant that the revision be promulgated, and although he had been a loyalist during the late rebellion he found support from Novgorod and Lithuania. The Krivichi faction opposed this, seeing no reason why the powers of the patriachate should be watered down to appease--in Liszek’s inflammatory words--’the mewling of traitors and apostates.’

    The tense political deadlock exploded when the Grand Matriarch sided with the Krivichis, declaring that she had not taken the throne in order to leave it a shell of itself. Krzesław Lewicki, patriarch of Novgorod, exploded in rage that he had been misled; he stalked out of Kernave and was soon seen calling upon his cousin Jarosław II in Uppsala. Soon the patriarch of Lithuania had joined them, and the three mighty boyars were deep in plotting a rebellion of their own. This time, they would settle for nothing less than complete independence.

    War broke out in the spring of 1272. The boyars had planned a lightning strike on Kernave, hoping to seize the capital and force a deal with a minimum of bloodshed. However, their treachery had been discovered, and while they were attempting to ford the Neris High Chieftain Lieszek led twenty thousand Belorussians to repel them. The result was a pyrrhic victory; Lieszek was obliged to retreat but countless numbers of Swedes and Lithuanians died on the riverbank or drowned in the river.

    In the east, a new rebellion flared up. The young patriarch of Mordvinia, a steppe-Polish noble who fancied himself a warlord in the model of Temujin, declared his people destined to consolidate the fractured Mongolian empire. He had an emissary from Kernave executed and sent his horse archers to pillage the nearby Ruthenian holdings. The landscape was shifting in Kiev as well. Andrzej, now a strapping youth of fifteen, was furious at his regents’ surrender, and lent his support to a takeover by the warhawks on the regency council. The new regents began a series of internal conflicts to seize land from vassals--all the while building allies for a war for the throne. Andrzej was growing into the model fāris, a talented warrior with a pious commitment to Allah and good courtly manners; with Elżbieta’s reign sparking chaos in the north, the loyalties of the southern boyars began to drift back to their deposed grand patriarch. Most significantly, Andrzej’s Oskyldr blood won him the loyalty of the Patriarch of Thessonlika--now considered the informal head of the imperial dynasty.

    The war in the north settled into a bloody stalemate. The Grand Matriarch was too powerful to be dislodged but any incursions into Novgorod or Lithuania proved to be costly failures. What’s more, Kernave was just on the border with the rebel-held lands, leading to repeated assaults by Baltic raiders burning farms, slaughtering villagers, and then riding back to their homeland. Attempts to defend the capital bled men away from the offensive, making it that much more unlikely that the war would end sooner. As things became more grim, Elżbieta’s stubborn resolve alienated her from her courtier. Meals were delivered outside her rooms, and left untouched often as not. In the last years of her life, only her son Andrei would be permitted to see her. Otherwise, she communicated through notes written in her careful Abrahamic script.

    On November 18, 1277, Andrzej II issued an ultimatum demanding that she step down for ‘the rightful patriarch.’ The missive was left for Elżbieta with her morning meal. Two hours later, it was returned to Andrei with a single word added: nyet.

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    The campaign season of 1278 went well for Andrzej and his restorationist army. They advanced into the traditional lands of the White Rus’, and by the fall most of Belarus (including the wealthy city of Minsk, once the Krivichi capital) was in his hand. With his Saloniki allies, Andrzej outnumbered his opponents, but his instincts were cautious and he saw no reason to overextend himself. He would march on Kernave in 1279, he vowed.

    In Kernave, Elżbieta issued repeated orders for offensives from her bedchamber. Her seclusion had provided a useful cover for her declining health, but as the year progressed it became increasingly clear that her grasp of the strategic situation was slipping and she would not have long to live. Prince Andrei took more control over day-to-day operations, but as his mother lingered between life and death, strategic decision-making in Kernave was effectively stuck in neutral. It was not until the early morning of January 8, 1279 that Elżbieta finally died in her bed. She was then seventy years old.

    The new Grand Patriarch, now known as Andrei III Svaitpolkovich [1], sprung into long-delayed action. He issued an immediate cease-fire with the rebel boyars of Sweden, Novgorod, and Lithuania, tacitly recognizing their independence as a de facto reality. He then left Kernave in the hands of his oldest son, Gleb Andreovich, while he led the royal army on an offensive against the restorationists. Andrei would not face his opponent in battle, however. Instead, the Grand Patriarch led his army on a large looping route around the enemy, to lead an attack on the traditional lands of Ruthenia.

    Andrzej II was too powerful to be assaulted directly, but his people were not. The restorationist army depending on food and other supplies from the farmlands around Kiev, so Andrei III marched there and attacked their supply lines from the source. Peasant farmers were slaughtered in front of their burning farms, and their corpses dumped into nearby wells. Merchant ships on the Dnieper were intercepted and their cargo stolen; the merchants either swore fealty to their rightful liege or were killed.

    Predictably, disruption in the restorationist supply lines obliged their army off the land in Belarus, leading to raids on local farms. When Andrzej learned of the atrocities being done in his homeland, moreover, he flew into a rage and swore to meet the Krivichi blow for blow. He took Kernave in late 1279; Prince Gleb was kept in a genteel captivity but the rest of the imperial household was slaughtered to a man. The Slaughter of Kernave, as it became known, inspired Andrei III to respond by seizing Odessa and slaughtering their garrison in turn.

    These scorched-earth tactics had largely been a feature of the great holy wars, where Christians and Muslims both saw fit to dispense with normal rules of war when the heathen was concerned. The repeated cycle of rebellion and civil war visited them upon the Russian heartland as well, with a tremendous human cost. In addition to the direct atrocities, Andrei and Andrzej’s assaults disrupted the harvests from 1279 until 1285 in some of the most productive agricultural lands in Ruthenia. Food shortages led to famine, which led in turn to outbreaks of cholera and other infectious diseases.

    And for all the human suffering, neither side seemed likely to win the war. Andrzej II came the closest in 1279, when he had seized Kernave and held Andrei’s heir hostage; but so long as Andrei III was in the field, there was little Andrzej could do to secure the peace. Andrei refused battle, however, and when Andrzej would advance he would retreat into the steppes. The Grand Patriarch reached a tacit alliance with the mad king of Mordvinia, and neither would move against each other.

    So the war continued, year after year. The countryside burned, the peasantry fled or starved or were killed, trade on the Dnieper slowed to a trickle, the debts of the realm mounted. Morale was rock bottom on both sides. Andrzej II once gave a blistering address to his men that barely staved off mutiny. Andrei III preferred to simply execute those opposed. And yet neither side seemed closer to victory in 1285 then they were five years before.

    Finally, Andrzej II was confronted by a group of his senior councilors, who told him flatly what had been apparent long before: he would never again sit the throne of Ruthenia, and he was wasting the lives of his people by trying. To his credit, Andrzej listened. A peace mission was sent to Andrei’s camp, then in Cherkassy, to offer a truce. When the councillors arrived at the imperial war camp, they made it clear to all that the Patriarch Andrzej intended to renounce his claim on the throne. This effectively boxed Andrei in; he could not refuse a peace on those terms without facing a revolt from his own soldiers.

    The peace of Cherkassy did not truly end the bloodshed, however. In Poland, a crofter’s son named Imran Czetwertynski declared that the violence of the civil war signalled the end of the world and the rise of the true Mahdi (by which he of course meant himself). This apocalyptic religious fervor won the support of many in the peasantry, who were angry, fearful, and desperate to understand the horrifying events of the past twenty years. The Poznan Mahdi--as he would be known--led a peasant’s army that numbered thirty thousand at its peak. Andrei would spend the campaign season of 1286 putting down this rebellion until Czetwertynski and his followers were cut down to a man.

    When he finally returned to Kernave in the fall of 1286, Andrei was a broken man: exhausted and depressed. He bore a wound on his side from the final battle against Czetwertynski’s rebels that would plague him off and on until his death. That he remained on the throne at all was no mean feat, of course, but it had come at a profound cost. The death toll was impossible to contemplate. The crown was deeply in debt, and commanded less territory than it had even during the fall of the Oskyldrs a century before.

    It would take considerable leadership to bring the empire back from the brink, and Andrei didn’t have it in him. In his final year, Andrei seems to have just given up. While he did not become a recluse like his mother, he was a listless presence at court and said little in council meetings. He was seen often wandering the ramparts of his castle late at night, staring at the moon with a haunted expression. When his death finally came, on October 15, 1287, Andrei seemed almost grateful to go. The task of knitting Ruthenia back together would fall to Prince Gleb, while he could rest at last.

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    [1] The war between Andrzej II and Andrei III is sometimes called “the war of two Andrews” in older English textbooks.
     
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    Grand Patriarch Gavriil of Ruthenia, 1320 - 1340
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    Grand Patriarch Gavriil Glebovich of Ruthenia

    Born: 1295
    Reigned: 1320 - 1340


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    Europe in 1320 was dominated by three old polities. The Empire of Francia claimed descent from the old Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne, and was ruled by a cadet branch of the storied Karling dynasty. They were the leading Catholic power by far, with a reliable command of some eighty thousand men. Francia had spent much of the twelfth century embroiled in a three way struggle with the Papal States and Asturias; but in the thirteenth century, the Karling king Francois I led a reconciliation between Paris and Rome that permitted the Catholic powers to regroup in western Europe.

    The Lubbid Empire dominated nearly all of Hispania, having defeated the attempted ‘reconquista’ of the Christian kingdom of Asturias. The Lubbid dynasty claimed descent from the Umayyads, who had been the second major dynasty to rule the Muslim world; after their overthrow by the Abbasids in the eighth century, an Umayyad emir had established rule in Cordoba and claimed his land as the true caliphate of Islam. The Lubbid caliphs traced their descent back to the prophet, and beyond their eighty thousand men Cordoba could count on deep familial and economic ties to Muslim Arabia.

    The third power was, of course, Ruthenia. In the twelfth century, Kiev had been the most feared among Christian Europe, a reliable enemy in central Europe and in the Holy Land. Many Catholic dynasties included in their personal history a story about crossing swords with the dreaded Russian farsan. However, religious turmoil, civil war, and Godziemba isolation had taken its toll. Ruthenia in 1320 was a rump state compared to its territorial heights under Yuriy I Vasilkovich nearly two centuries earlier, and they had struggled to master even their own boyars. Kiev could command perhaps sixty thousand men, but they had not intervened overseas in quite some time.

    With the ascent of Gavriil Glebovich, ambitious councillors began to dream of a return to the days of Vasilko I with their great alliance between tsar and caliph that had stood as a bulwark against Catholic treachery. The most prominent of the warhawks was Patriarch Żegota of Novgorod, who had retired from military command following a grievous injury and took his place as chancellor to the new Grand Patriarch. Gavriil Glebovich had the family tendency to depression and introversion; he was scarcely seen in court and it was whispered that he often failed to get out of bed. As a result, rule fell to a series of powerful councillors, who ran Kiev as de facto regents with the rubber stamp approval of their sovereign. Of these, Żegota was the most successful.

    In 1323, war broke out between Cordoba and Paris over Lubbid claims to the county of Asturias de Santilana, who was then in Catholic hands. The two great powers were evenly matched and after three years of brutal fighting had fought each other to a near-stalemate. All of Kiev sympathized with the Lubbid cause, to be sure, but Żegota and his warhawks went further: they traced dynastic links between the Krivichi and the Lubbids to justify a formal alliance between west and east. Żegota then obtained approval from the Grand Patriarch (or so he claimed) to sail to Cordoba and carry out negotiations to enter the war on the Iberian side. On January 10, 1327, the Patriarch returned to Kiev with a formal request from Malik al-Muazzam Utman II ibn Utman to fight against the treacherous French.

    After fierce internal wrangling between the council and other leading boyars, the crown only sent a third of its army to Barcelona. Among the twenty thousand was the imperial retinue, largely veterans of Gleb’s wars against the rebel boyars in the past two decades. These men arrived in Hispania to discover that Barcelona was in Catholic hands while the French Prince Adrien led an invasion of the old kingdom Asturias with fifty thousand men. The stalemate was beginning to look like a Lubbid defeat.

    The Russians, under the formidable general Drahoslav of Balaton, made all the difference. They quickly lifted the French occupation of Barcelona and launched an invasion of Francia’s Mediterranean coast. The prospect of a second front caused Prince Adrien to divide his forces in Asturias; this proved a crucial error when the Lubbid army attacked Adrian’s now smaller force in Alava on February 18, 1328, leading to a French rout. The French emperor led thirty thousand men against the Russians in Narbonne on September 15, 1328, winning a costly victory that proved of little strategic importance. By then the Lubbids were invading Aquitaine.

    Żegota’s influence was not without controversy. A year into the Hispanian war, a clique of conservative western boyars led by Sȩdzimir II of Pomerania attempted a putsch to remove Żegota from power. As nobles in the German marches, they naturally feared an expanded war with the Catholic powers that would hit their own lands the hardest. On January 8, 1328, Sȩdzimir forced his way into Gavriil’s private quarters and helpfully ‘informed’ the Grand Patriarch that Żegota was plotting to seize the throne for himself. He might have succeeded a year earlier, but Gavriil was not a decisive man and he was hardly willing to renounce a war effort that he had himself approved. The Grand Patriarch promised to give the matter due attention, and then had an underling impress upon the High Chieftain that Żegota was not going anywhere.

    Paris finally surrendered in June, 1330, as the Muslim invasion of Aquitane forced the hand of now-Emperor Adrien I. The victory proved deeply symbolic, as Asturias de Santillana was the last piece of Iberian clay in Catholic hands; but more importantly, the alliance between Kiev and Cordoba was tremendously important for the balance of power in western Europe. [1] They could between them defeat nearly any combination of Catholic powers. Perhaps even the great loss at Tours might be reversed now.

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    Over the winter of 1330/1, Patriarch Żegota Lewicki suffered a grievous fall, breaking his left leg in four places. Żegota had lived with considerable pain due to the injuries he suffered at Czersk and in subsequent battles. He walked only with difficulty and wore a mask to conceal the grievous facial scar he had received. This final injury would be his undoing, however. Bedridden from his fall, Żegota developed pneumonia and soon passed away on January 13, 1331. His heir, Żegota II, would rule in Novgorod but there was no one who could take his place at court.

    In Cordoba, Utman II ibn Utman was also dying, and power would soon devolve to his son and heir, Utman III. The younger Malik Utman quickly renewed the dynastic alliance with Kiev, marrying Gavriil’s daughter Sviatoslava in 1332; but the first years of his reign would be dedicated to securing his throne over rebellious emirs. With Żegota and Utman II both dead, pressure for foreign adventurism diminished and Gavriil’s council returned to the important business of retaking lands lost during the Time of Troubles.

    To appease the anxious marcher lords, Kiev dispatched soldiers against troublesome Catholics on their western borders, retaking both Bihar and Moravia for Allah and installing well-regarded farsan to rule there. During Gavriil’s reign, the rebel kingdom of Estonia also fell back under the sway of the patriarchate. It had become diplomatically isolated after the fall of rebels in Novgorod and Lithuania, permitting nobles loyal to Kiev to take back the land piece by piece.

    The largest prize of the 1330s was Mordvinia, however. For the past two generations, the steppe-Polish kingdom had been a plague on Ruthenia’s eastern frontier, as successive would-be khans led raids or fomented rebellions among their kinfolk in Crimea. This all changed in the late 1320s, when a young prince named Skarbimir Rogala fled from his homeland’s fratricidal internal politics for safety in Odessa. There he was feasted by the local patriarch, who was soon championing his cause among the court in Kiev.

    For Kiev, Prince Skarbimir’s arrival could not have come at a better time. His manners seemed quaintly rustic to the sophisticated court of the Grand Patriarch [1], and the prince was charming enough to capitalize on their condescension. Soon enough, most of the court was dressing in ‘Mongol’ fashions and challenging each other to archery contests on horseback. With this swell of elite enthusiasm for Skarbimir’s cause, war with Mordvinia became a foregone conclusion.

    The war itself was brief and triumphant. Skarbimir led a small group of riders into Mordvinia to rally supporters from his father’s retinue. With the defending army divided against each other, it was simplicity itself for Ruthenian armies to seize the major strongholds. The rebel king, Leszek Rogala, would be forced into exile in Mongol-dominated Transoxiana, while his victorious youngest son quickly bent the knee to Gavriil. With this, the borders of Andrzej I had been restored. [2]

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    Gavriil Glebovich is an under-studied monarch, and in a sense for good reason. He was a depressive recluse and most of the accomplishments of his reign were done on the initiative of others. The success of Ruthenia under such a weak emperor is nonetheless revealing and says much about how the empire was changing. The reforms of Gleb I had ensured that the monarch’s personal holdings were substantial enough to give his successors the men and the gold that they needed to keep the boyars at bay. Increasingly too, the Grand Patriarch and his council was supported by clerks and scribes who formed the core of a nascent bureaucracy. While far from a modern day policy-making institution, these court officials were far more sophisticated and capable of maintaining smooth operations than those in generations in past. In a sense, it was a sign of the renewed strength of the throne that Gavriil’s weakness could so easily be accommodated.

    In the final years of Gavriil’s reign, power increasingly revolved around his son and heir, Prince Vasilko. While not yet the legend that you probably recall from your secondary school history books, Vasilko Gavriilovich was already being lauded for his genius before he even came of age. To some degree, courtiers were simply currying favor with their future ruler; but Vasilko was indeed different. As a boy he was enthralled by learned texts by al-Kharizmi and Davyd Godziemba, but the prince also showed a practical intelligence for warfare and administration as well as an undeniable charisma.

    When Vasilko came of age in 1336, he quickly took the role of power behind the throne that Żegota Lewicki had recently held. He would soon ride off with his father’s army to retake the Duchy of Transylvania in a brief and successful holy war. While fighting with the Catholics was always fierce, the prince began to demonstrate a level of savagery that left even his courtiers uneasy. Courtiers watched as Vasilko celebrated the victory over the Christians by gleefully organizing a mass execution outside a captive monastery, and they began to wonder whether they truly wanted to see this young sadist on the throne.

    By then, it was too late. Gavriil Glebovich was always a sickly man, among his other affiliations, and on April 12, 1340, he died of heart failure at the age of forty-five. Like it or not, Kiev was now in the hands of Vasilko the Bogatyr.

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    [1] Indeed, Kiev’s reaction to Skarbimir was not dissimilar from the Abbasid reaction to the Varangian Muslims five centuries earlier.
    [2] Save for the kingdom of Sweden, which few in Kiev considered to be part of the empire’s core territory. The Nordic Almohadis of Uppsala would remain independent through the medieval period, although struggles with Catholic nobles in East Francia and Norway ensured that Scandinavia remained a place of constant religious warfare.
     
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    Grand Patriarch Vasilko IV, 1340 - 1385
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    Grand Patriarch Vasilko IV Bogatyr of Ruthenia

    Born: 1320
    Reigned: 1340 - 1385


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    Vasilko IV Gavriilovich was the first Russian monarch to hold that name in over two centuries. Two of his namesakes were legendary conquerors, with their deeds echoing throughout history. Contemporary Ruthenia was indeed built on their conquests. The third, the ill-fated Vasilko the Accursed, had been a legendary failure, who abandoned the mighty city of Tsargrad, who lost the Fifth Crusade and consigned the holy city of Jerusalem to the Christians for a hundred years, and who then died of drink in the desert. [1] As the young prince Vasilko Gavriilovich grew up and demonstrated his characteristic genius, it became an article of faith that he would be a historic figure--but for good or ill, who could say?

    Nobody felt the crushing weight of this historical legacy more than the young prince himself. He was given to cruelty, even sadism, and would in his lifetime commit monstrous crimes. He was also plagued by the sense that to give into such dark desires would bring Vasilko II’s curse upon him as well. He would confide to intimates later in life that he thought there was a demon inside him, who wanted to work mischief, and that it was the monarch’s life’s work to master this demon and thus abide by the example of his ancestors.

    Vasilko IV was thus a man in conflict with himself, and frequently in deep psychic turmoil. It was only on the battlefield where he could work out these internal conflicts and find a unity of purpose, where his ambition and his cruelty and his idol-worship of his ancestors fused into a single desire to crush Kiev’s enemies and build a great empire on their lands. He was, perhaps not coincidentally, at war nearly all of his reign. When Gavriil died in 1340, the new monarch had even planned a brief battle-field coronation that would not interrupt the campaigning season. It was only the united opposition of his advisors that bade him to return to Kiev for the full ceremony.

    Christians spoke of a secret meeting between Utman III and Vasilko IV, where the two emperors stood over a map of Europe and decided which nations would belong to whom. This was propaganda, but there was a grain of truth to it. Both men hoped to break the power of the Catholic monarchs for good. To carry out this strategic aim, Utman III would take his armies north of the Pyrenees, and into the Italian peninsula; while Vasilko IV intended to reunite the empire as it had once been under a new pan-Slavic Islamic creed. Christianity would survive the defeats of the fourteenth century, but it was now clear that the future of Europe would be an Islamic one.

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    The invasion of Frangistan began in earnest in 1345. [2] After patiently securing alliances among his emirs, Utman III became eager for foreign conquest, and his eye fell on the French coastal lands of Languedoc. The symbolic appeal of establishing Muslim hegemony north of the Pyrenees--long the ‘natural’ border between Christendom and Dar al-Islam--was tremendous in Cordoba. Languedoc had also served as the staging ground for the Christian invasion of Barcelona, and the lands were quite prosperous as a center for Christian trade in the Mediterrean. (As we shall see, Lubbid concerns were as much about trade as about religion.)

    Utman III launched his invasion of Francia on May 6, 1345. Vasilko was in the midst of a war for Uzhorod, but there was no question that Kiev would fight alongside Cordoba. Thus in early 1346, with Uzhorod safely taken, twenty thousand Russian warriors landed in the Lubbid port of Janua [3] and marched for Languedoc. The fighting was once again savage: at Montpellier in 1348, six out of ten Russians died after being enveloped by a numerically superior French force. But the weight of numbers were on the Muslim side, and Emperor Adrien could not prevent the occupation of Aquitaine. After nearly six years of brutal fighting, Francia surrendered.

    Less than six months later, Utman III was at war, again with the support of Kiev. This time the target was the duchy of Provence, which would connect Janua with the Lubbid lands in Frangistan. King Renaud of Sardinia was a shrewd commander who forced several early reversals at Castellane (May 1352) and Draguignan (October 1352), but Sardinia was outnumbered more severely than France. At the battle of Grasse (November 23), over a hundred thousand Muslim soldiers faced against a Sardinian army less than half their size. When the sun set, twenty-two thousand Catholics lay dead on the field of battle, a staggering loss from which Renaud could not recover.

    Kiev would spent the next quarter-century focused on Vasilko’s own prodigious appetite for conquest, but in 1379, Utman III would again call on his old ally to cross swords with Francia. Catholic rebels with Frangistan had been a constant irritant for Cordoba in the past decade, and the great Malik al-Muazzam became convinced that Paris was responsible for supporting them. To punish Adrien, he launched a punitive war for the duchy of Viennois in northern France. The conquest took three years, but Paris could offer little serious resistance. By the end it was plain that the once great Catholic power had been broken by repeated losses to the Muslim alliance. Francia would remain independent until the fifteenth century, but it could afford no more ambitions for hegemony.

    It is worth mentioning the most famous conquest of the Cordoba-Kiev alliance, although it takes us a bit beyond the scope of Vasilko’s life. In retaliation for the Seventh Crusade, Utman III declared a war to subjugate the most powerful remaining potentate in Christendom: Pope Callistus III. The Hispanian invasion of Romagna is remembered for the heroism of the papal armies; fighting in defense, they frequently bested armies twice their size by using their superior knowledge of the local landscape to their advantage. Tsar Andrei, who had complacently dispatched a small retinue to support the Lubbids, was obliged to call up his boyars and dedicate time and treasure to the conquest.

    In the end, however, Rome’s defenses were little match for the siege weapons of Kiev and Cordoba, and soon enough Callistus was in Muslim captivity. His Holiness was taken in chains to Cordoba, where he was forced to kneel in submission to the Malik al-Muazzam. Henceforth, the papacy--once one of the most powerful monarchies in Christendom--would rule little more than Vaticano itself. Romagna would be ruled by a Muslim sultan of Rum, who swore allegiance to Cordoba.

    The humiliation of Callistus III was a moment of profound importance. For Christians it signaled the triumph of Muslim hegemony in Europe; exiles from Italy would flee to Christian courts in Trøndelag, Paris, and Dover to spread horrifying tales of Muslim rule. Among the Muslims, the victory would prove ultimately ambiguous. Already in the final years of Vasilko IV’s reign, many in Kiev would wonder if the decline of Francia made the Lubbid alliance irrelevant. The conquest of Romagna only made these voices louder: after the blood and treasure sacrificed for Rum, Kiev gained little except a powerful rival on their southwestern border. The great alliance that defined the fourteenth century was soon to fall, as younger generations saw Cordoba as a rival rather than a friend.

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    The great accomplishment of Vasilko’s reign was not in France, but at home. As noted, the Grand Patriarch was nearly always at war in his quest to reunite the lands of Vasilko III and Yuriy I. Early on, many of these conquests were small, against the minor lords of Liptov or Uzhorod. When the Catholic duke of Nitra fell under the sway of the Holy See, Vasilko fought a bloody war with Rome from 1354 to 1359 to regain the land.

    In 1360, Vasilko launched his first war against Thessalonika. Saloniki kings had proclaimed themselves ‘protectors’ of the Slovien Muslims two centuries earlier, and on this basis had extended their rule into the former kingdom of Serbia. Tsargrad was the most powerful of the Oskyldr successor kingdoms, and perhaps for that reason, Vasilko’s prosecution of the war was particularly brutal. Twenty thousand Saloniki were slaughtered in Bithynia on May 16, 1361, and countless more died during the sack of Tsargrad in 1362. On January 27, 1363, Fedot II Ingvarovich surrendered rather than face more ruinous losses.

    With Fedot’s surrender, Vasilko began to make war in Germany. He took Steyermark from Sunni Bavaria in 1365, Wolkenstein in 1366, and Meissen in 1367. Parts of Pomerania had fallen under the sway of Catholic East Francia, and so Vasilko IV pronounced jihad against the Karlings. At Naumburg in 1367, six thousand East Francians fell before the Russian sword, and at least a thousand after they had been taken prisoner. When King Hupold surrendered, Vasilko claimed the Catholic kingdom of Croatia: the slaughter at Ljubljana would put Naumburg to shame, but King Dobromir would fall to the Russians on March 25, 1369 and Vasilko would claim another great triumph for Kiev and for Islam. Then he was marching back to Germany, to claim Mecklenburg from Lotharingia.

    The pace of warfare was brutal even for the victorious Ruthenian army. Peasant recruits were called up every season, and forced to march hundreds of miles. The fighting was savage but for many the atrocities that inevitably followed were worse. Average men returned to their homes having witnessed, and perhaps participated, in brutal slaughter, and believing themselves to be forever changed. For the professional imperial retinue, however, the constant stream of conquest was liberating. Many began to see themselves as a warrior elite, free of the laws of Allah or man by their holy mission of conquest.

    With Mecklenburg taken from Lotharingia, Vasilko declared his second war against Thessalonika. The battles were dreadful affairs; only three Saloniki survived in Tsargrad on April 21, only two at Nikomedia the following month. All told, thirty-four thousand Saloniki soldiers died in the year of 1372, not including those who died in the second sacking of their capital. Fedot II surrendered (again) in the winter of 1374/5, and spent the rest of his days in his palace a broken man. Vasilko scarcely noticed; he was already planning his next campaign for Nordmark in Lotharingia.

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    With the seizure of Nordmark in 1378, Vasilko IV finally paused the pace of warfare to return to Kiev. In a lavish ceremony in Kiev, he marked the successful retaking of Vasilko III’s empire by declaring himself father to all Slavic peoples [4]. He crowned himself Tsar Vasilko I of the Empire of Slavia, which spanned from Berlin to the Urals and commanded nearly two hundred fifty thousand warriors. By then, the common folk had begun to call him Vasilko Bogatyr. The bogatyrs were figured from Rus’ legend, heroes of great renown and battle prowess, who fought dragons, trolls, and Christians with courage. To them, Vasilko had achieved the greatness that he had sought his entire life.

    There were many in Ruthenia who could not see heroism in Vasilko. Many peasant soldiers returned home to their farms plagued by invisible wounds from the atrocities committed during his wars of conquests. The courtiers knew him to be erratic and paranoid, driven by conflicting urges: expelling all from his court one day and welcoming them back on another. He had a popular young noblewoman, Tatyana Vysheslavich, executed on charges of cannibalism, which outraged the court. In 1371, his daughter Liubava died under mysterious circumstances; while her husband Abdul-Lateef was accused of the crime, many scholars now believe that Vasilko himself was responsible as part of a failed blackmail scheme.

    The establishment of Slavia would not quell Vasilko’s troubled mind. He was still plagued by doubts about the demon that he believed lived inside of him; even when he was--by far--the most powerful ruler in the known world, the Grand Patriarch was convinced that greatness was just out of reach. He would spend the final years of his life in intense physical pain, plagued by the cancer that--he was convinced--had been a punishment for his many sins.

    On November 15, 1385, Vasilko IV finally succumbed to the cancer. He had entered the pantheon of great conquerors. The empire of Slavia that he as much as anybody had forged would be a formidable force throughout the early modern era. He is ever-controversial (among Muslim scholars, that is; Christian writers are quite clear on how they feel about him), but the Bogatyr is remembered fondly by everyday Russians even now.

    Challenges for Slavia lay ahead. The unity of Dar al-Islam would not survive the fifteenth century. With the Christians in decline, Sunnis in Cordoba, Kiev, and Quhariyah were finding that seemingly minor doctrinal differences loomed larger than they had in the past. In 1462, Kiev would celebrate the fall of the Lubbid empire, which was by then a hated rival; little did they expect that the taifas on the Atlantic coast would be even more powerful, drawing on the riches of a continent halfway across the world.

    Slavia would make its own efforts at colonization, expanding inexorably past the Urals and into the steppes beyond. Kiev would sponsor these efforts, but the colonists were largely Polish-speakers from Mordvinia and Odessa. The steppe-Polish would be Stefan Godziemba’s most enduring legacy, and the dream of an eastern steppe empire would endure among the colonists. The split between a multilingual cosmopolitan west and a conservative, Polish-speaking east grew more profound every year, as the united Slavic people proved not so united after all.

    Every year, I have students who knew the Slavic Empire as the ‘sick man of Europe.’ They see every rebellion or civil war as the mark of an irreversible decline. (One popular history book traces the decline of Kiev as far back as the revolt of the farsan in the twelfth century!) Hopefully I’ve successfully challenged that viewpoint. The story of Kiev has always been of triumph and tragedy, of great achievement and human suffering. Nothing is inevitable, everything is contested.

    Slavia, at its founding

    [1] As we have seen, this assessment is unfair to Vasilko II; and yet it was how learned fourteenth century Russians saw him.
    [2] While Frangistan had once served as a word for European Christian nations as a whole, over the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth century it increasingly became the name for Muslim-ruled lands in the ‘land of the Franks’, i.e., medieval Francia.
    [3] Formerly Genoa.
    [4] The Saloniki spoke a language that was descended from Russian, although it included many Greek loan words; but they were considered, by Russians and themselves, to be a hybrid culture, as Greek as they were Slavic.
     
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