- Feb 22, 2011
The Eagle Becomes a Phoenix
Chapter Five - Conflict in Italy
Chapter Five - Conflict in Italy
The Empire of the Romans had faced near constant war for 32 years, with the only extended period of peace being the three years between the end of the civil war in 1354 and the beginning of the Aegean War in 1357. Emperor John VI, at the age of 38, had already established himself as the most successful Eastern Roman Emperor since Basil II, more than 300 years earlier. As the Balkan War ended, John VI began to shift his focus from military matters to civic matters, and ensuring that the empire that he had reestablished would last longer than himself. The first, and by far the most controversial, action that he would take would be the implementation of a set of laws that would gradually give religious freedom and tolerance to the citizens of the empire. While this was almost unheard of at the time, nearly a third of those living within the new Roman borders were Islamic, and John VI saw that it was the only way to keep a lasting hold on the newly reconquered Anatolian lands. The laws would prove to be incredibly effective, with any chance of a massive Islamic uprising disappearing almost immediately. However, while Orthodox Christianity remained, in name, the only true religion of the empire, the Orthodox church privately condemned the actions of the Emperor. To appease the church, and to prevent them from sparking any public discontent within the Christian lands of the empire, John VI funded missionary endeavors in Anatolia with the goal of converting the Islamic provinces to Orthodox Christianity.
The second major action that he would take to reform the empire would be to reestablish the Theme System. This system ensured that the Eastern Roman army would have enough manpower reserves to draw upon in the case that a conflict arose where the standing army would not be able to handle itself. By providing citizen farmers newly conquered land to work and own, they were now obliged to serve in the Roman military if they were called upon in a time of need. This also had the added effect of repopulating the Roman countryside, and of creating an incentive for Orthodox Christians, namely those within Constantinople, to migrate from Europe to Anatolia.
The reforms of John VI in 1373 - Laws of religious tolerance, and the reestablishment of the Theme System.
By 1375, it seemed that the Empire of the Romans was destined for an extended period of peace. With the Anatolian nations pacified, and the only other neighboring nations either allied or afraid of Roman military might, there were no real rivals for the empire to be weary of. This changed on February 27, when the king of Gorizia died and a succession war broke out between the Kingdom of Naples and Hungary. Two days later, when Genoa entered the war with their Neapolitan allies, the Hungarians issued a call to arms to the Empire of the Romans, and John VI was thrust into yet another war.
The War of Gorizian Succession.
The war between the Neapolitan League and the Roman-Hungarian alliance would quickly prove to be an opportunity for the Romans to seize dominance of the entire eastern Mediterranean. When the war broke out, a Genoese fleet set sail to the Black Sea to keep order in the Genoese coastal territories in the area and prevent them from revolting. The only problem, however, was that as they neared Constantinople, they had no idea of Roman intervention in the war two weeks earlier. Instead of receiving a toll from the Genoese, the Romans greeted them with the Imperial fleet. Not a single Genoese ship survived the Battle of Marmara, and the Romans had dealt a heavy, though not crippling, blow to the navy of the Neapolitan League. The Roman navy didn't lose any of their 35 warships, and immediately set sail to Southern Italy. Before reaching the Italian coast, however, they would have to go through the much larger and more prepared Neapolitan navy. The two fleets met in the Battle of the Ionian Sea on August 6th, in what would become the most decisive battle of the war.
The Battle of the Sea of Marmara between Rome and Genoa (top), and the Battle of the Ionian Sea between Rome and Naples (bottom).
The Battle of the Ionian Sea was a monumental disaster for the Neapolitan League. As the battle was winding down and victory was imminent for the Romans, an allied fleet arrived to prevent any escape for the Neapolitans. The last four Neapolitan galleys surrendered to the Romans, and as a result, two thirds of their navy was lost. The Romans lost only five galleys, but with the acquisition of the four surrendered ships, the loss was negligible. In the last months of 1375, the Roman navy defeated the remainder of the Genoese fleet in the Aegean Sea in September, and then the remainder of the Neapolitan fleet just off the coast of the Neapolitan capital in November. As a result of these four naval battles, the Neapolitan League lost 73 warships, while the Romans gained four captured ships. The Italian states were both astonished and humiliated, and Italy was wide open for an invasion.
The major naval battles in the closing months of 1375 between Rome and the Neapolitan League.
In June of 1376, the Roman invasion of Italy finally came. The I. Legion Thrace landed unopposed in Salento in Southern Italy, but the legion of 15,000 men were still unwilling to meet the Neapolitan army, 11,000 strong, on their own terms. Instead, two thousand Romans remained in Salento, while the rest marched north to Abruzzi. Instead of besieging Salento, however the smaller Roman force concentrated on fortifying their position in the hopes that the Neapolitans would take the bait and attempt to relieve the southern city. The plan worked, at first, and as soon as the Neapolitans began their march, the majority of the Roman legion was on their heels. The Neapolitans, however, realized the trap that they were walking into, and attempted to withdraw back to the capital. The retreat was in vain, as the Romans met them in the Battle of Basilicata. The Neapolitans were able to withdraw to Naples without suffering too many casualties, but the battle had completely broken Neapolitan morale. On October 15, the Romans decided to move against the capital and the entire Neapolitan army surrendered almost without a fight. Over 10,000 Neapolitans were killed or captured in the battle, and Rome quickly occupied all of Southern Italy.
The Neapolitans take the Roman bait (top), and the Battle of Naples allowed the Romans to occupy Southern Italy (Bottom Two).
By December of 1376, Naples had been broken, but remained defiant to Roman occupation. The Romans had demanded a full annexation of the Kingdom of Naples, and the Neapolitan King vehemently refused to accept these terms. The Romans were unwilling to compromise until, on May 15, 1378, the Hungarians were drawn into another succession war, this time against the Holy Roman Emperor in Bohemia. The Hungarians opened peace talks with the Neapolitans, and Emperor John VI knew that he had to either negotiate a separate peace, or be satisfied with the terms negotiated by the Hungarians. On September 2nd, 1378, the Kingdom of Naples finally accepted peace with the Romans. In return, the Romans gained the province of Abruzzi from Naples, along with the Genoese territories in Anatolia and Crimea. Within two years of the peace deal, the remaining Genoese provinces along the Black Sea would rise up and join the Empire of the Romans as well. Yet again, the Roman Empire under John VI had emerged victorious in a war against a major foreign power.
A new war for Hungary (top left), which forced the Romans to make a peace deal with Naples (top right). Roman borders after the Gorizian Succession War and the rebellions in Genoese Black Sea territories (bottom).