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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Cecasander

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Enewald - I agree, if only because these three leave a very awkward whole in my national map. It's not like the Georgians didn't brought it onto themselves. Their turf is the Kaukasus, not Anatolia.

RGB - I reckon these days were hard for everybody with power. Which is why they tried to relief tension by killing, looting and oppressing :D

asd21593 - Glad you approve :D
 

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What was her name?

Doesn't matter, now listen!
We need a new update. :(
 

Cecasander

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I have been busy trying to make a map of modern-day Constantinople for the next update, and now I actually started writing. Muses willing, should be done in a day or two...
 

VILenin

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I have been busy trying to make a map of modern-day Constantinople for the next update, and now I actually started writing. Muses willing, should be done in a day or two...

Good to hear.:)
 

Cecasander

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A date with destiny

Pottericon.jpg

So I found myself on the Theodosian Square that Saturday afternoon, freezing my ass off as I stood there waiting for Kalina. The clock on my cell phone indicated I was fifteen minutes early – as usual – and now it had actually started to snow. Thankfully my flat mate Markos had reminded me of that possibility that morning, so I had brought my black woolen scarf and ditto oversized hat. I actually had to frown a little in order not to let to slide over my eyebrows.

From the column in the center of the square I had a good overview. The Theodesian Square was one of the six main squares that lay along the ancient axis of the city. In fact, it had been the site of the Forum of Theodesios, one of Constantinople’s main market sites. Nowadays the only thing that reminds of this ancient past was the name, and the spiraled column behind me. The modern square was shaped like a stretched half circle, with busy roads encircling it on all sides. In fact, the safest way off the square was through one of the pedestrian tunnels. To my left stood the Imperial Parliament – a neoclassical sandstone behemoth that housed Romanion’s parliament for over two hundred years. According to some, like my father, the prime den of corruption. Well, my father was kind of an Imperial, unlike him I always thought democracy brought us a lot of good. The only reason he went to vote was because he believed it entitled him to nag on for another four years. Before me laid the Perama district, which Professor Sisinis had once called the ‘National Show-and-Tell Cabinet’ in his lecture. The Perama district harbours the National Library, the National Gallery and the National Theatre, so I guess he was right in a way. The Constantinople City Hall was around there somewhere too. I had only been there once, to have myself written into the city registry when I went to live here. I remember it was another sandstone giant, much younger that the Parliament, but somehow it fit into the cityscape much better. You notice these things as a historian.

“Alexandros!” I turned around, and saw Kalina running towards me, her black hair waving up and down under her red woolen hat. Her face was red as well, and she blew big clouds of steam as she slowed down. “Hey,” I said with a smile, and I noticed I was blowing steam too. It’s kind of strange that you eventually get used to the cold. She smiled broadly and whipped a few of her hairs from her face. Her cheeks seemed to me shining a bit. Had she ran the whole way? She certainly looked cute this way, all wrapped up in red and black. “You are quite on time. Did you run?” I inquired. “Yeah,” she nodded. She seemed to regain her breath pretty quickly though. “I like to run. Keeps me warm, you know?” I did. “So, where do you want to go?” I asked. She looked around for a second. The snow formed tiny white dots in her hair. “Well, there’s this nice new café across the station, which serves the best Ethiopian in the city. Should at least keep us warm.” I agreed, and I followed Kalina across the square. I noticed how crowded the city was, how many people were outside, despite the cold and the snow. Kalina kept quite a pace. She was clearly more familiar with the city than me. We left the Theodosian square at the eastern side, and followed the busy Central Avenue. On our right another square laid across the avenue, with behind it the steel and brick abomination that was Constantinople Central Station. Unlike the parliament or the city hall, the architect of this monstrosity hadn’t even begun to try to fit it inside the cityscape. Once it had a neoclassical sandstone façade not unlike the parliament building, but it had been demolished after an earthquake and had been replaced by a brutalist construction of steel, concrete and orange and red bricks. Only the columns of the square, remains of the old colonnade that once lined the old Mese Avenue. Suddenly Kalina tugged my arm. “It’s in here,” she said.

CafeAxum.jpg

Entering Café Axum was like going a century back in time. Apart from the flat computer screen behind the bar and the light signalling the emergency exit, the café was the exact copy of a late 19th century coffee house with mahogany furniture and ceiling and thick dark red curtains. It actually smelled warm inside – though that was probably the scent of fresh coffee beans – and they played some calm jazz music. I was all at home. “You like?” Kalina said when she saw me looking around. “I love,” I said grinning. We took off her coats, and she told me to find a seat at the wall, as she went to get coffee. I was surprised how quiet it was, seeing how busy it had been on the street. Nowadays a lot of people preferred to get their coffee on the go, rather than sit down in one of the traditional coffee houses. Such a shame. The newspaper on the table opened with a big article on the latest Armenian bombing in Adana. The whole issue about the so-called ‘liberation of South Armenia’ was something that annoyed me more than that it bothered me, so I just put the paper back unread. Kalina got back with two big steaming cups of pitch black coffee. Ethiopian coffee one of the favourites of the people of Constantinople – very strong but also very sweet. For a people who practically lives off this brew of ground beans and water, this was what kept them going though the hard, cold times.

“So, you come here often?” Kalina laughed, and I realised it had sounded like a very cheesy pickup line. “Not so often. It’s only open for a month or so.” Now I suddenly saw the table we sat on looked too faux-old to be actually old. “I usually hang around the coffee houses closer to my place,” she said. “Which is where?” “The artisan district, just east of the city hall.” “You actually live in the artisan district?” I asked amazed. The artisan district was probably the most authentic part of the old city, with winding streets and alleys and countless traditional crafts shops. Although it’s mostly for the tourists now, all these things were hand-made in those small ateliers. I never realised people actually lived there. “Yeah,” Kalina said somewhat shyly, “A friend of my father is a copper worker there, he lets me rent an apartment above his shop.” “Oh, that must be a really interesting place to live,” I said excited. “It is, once you get used to those bloody tourists,” Kalina smiled. Her smile and her eyes seemed to fit the whole setting of Café Axum, her beautiful piercing emerald eyes that seemed to follow my lips as I spoke and her kind smile that make it seem she thought the exact same things I would say.

We talked about the artisan district and the about my dormitory, and then about school and the city. She told me she had spent quite a bit of her youth in Constantinople, which explained why she knew her way around the city so easily. I told her I had only visited the compulsory highlights so far, and that the city itself was pretty much a maze to me. “I should show you around then!” she said, “Have you ever been to the old Prosphorion Harbour quay? The Great Tower really looks very pretty at night.” Three minutes later we were outside again, following the Central Avenue further east. It was twilight now – it was just past seven – and it became even colder. Moreover, it was still snowing and now the snow actually stayed on the places people didn’t walk or drive. Kalina took me across the Constantine Square and then further towards the lit domes of the Hagia Sophia. When we actually stopped before the ancient basilica, it was at the Milion Crossroads that were once known as the starting point of all Imperial routes and thus the de facto centre of the Empire. And it is still apparent why. Apart from the enormous domed Hagia Sophia and its little sister the Hagia Eirene, the crossroads bordered the stretched Hippodrome Square – once the site of the famous ambiguous racing stadium – and the Basileion Square. Behind these two squares, currently hidden behind the trees, were the remains of the old Imperial Palace. And on the other side of the Hippodrome Square stood the massive Imperial Museum, I knew. There was some kind of event going on on the Hippodrome Square now, though, as a big white was pitched up and I saw something that looked like a marry-go-round.

Hippodrome.jpg

Kalina waited for me, and asked if I wanted to go there, but I said it was too crowded for me. She laughed and then took me across the street and then left, past the Hagia Sophia. On the way she told me her mother had been a historical advisor for the renovation of the ancient basilica, about ten years ago. And although I didn’t want to break the ban on the topic – although, hadn’t she just broken it? – I became increasingly curious as who her mother was. As she talked about how often she had been inside the Hagia Sophia and the two cisterns with her parents, she suddenly held my hand. My heart skipped a beat as she folded her fingers between mine. Her hand was much warmer than mine and a bit moister too. And although she didn’t say anything about it, she smiled as she continued talking. And it felt good, and strangely familiar. Wait, was this an actual date now?

We walked past the Steps of Wisdom – the traditional place for students to study for their finals – and along the many monumental buildings that harboured the National Archaeology Museum. There were so many museums I haven’t visit yet, I almost felt ashamed as a historian. But then again, I should already feel sorry for not having spent more time in the old city. “We’re almost there,” Kalina said, and the pointed ahead. I could see only the lights of the next major crossing.
“You’re hungry?” I asked. Kalina nodded. “Yeah, a bit. I know a place where they have really good souvlaki pita though.” Still holding my hand, she led me around a big, mostly dark office building. Just around the corner, but also inside the building, was a pita shop. The shop was nearly empty, but as we got inside my jaw almost dropped at the sight of the choices. Most pita shops I knew had only six or eight fillings, but this place had more than thirty! Souvlaki, cevapi, shoarma, kabab, falafel, gyros… “Wow, what is this place?” I asked as I marvelled at the signs above the counter, “some kind of pita heaven?” Kalina laughed. “Not quite. We’re at the Strategion, you know? This is where the people of the Ministry of Defence eat, and as they are from across the Empire, so is the food.” It took me three minutes before I settled for gyros with tzatziki.

Kalina had finished her falafel pita and her fries in record time, so I gave her some of my fries as we walked down the waterside. The Golden Horn was pitch black, but across the water the waterside of Pera and Tophanion arose as mountains in a desert. In the distance, the sky scrapers of Diplokonion and Kounopetra rose, and the illuminated Bosphorus Bridge spanned the straits. When I had finished my souvlaki, Kalina linked her arm in mine, and we slowly walked further down the water. Across the water the big round tower simply known as the Great Tower stood fully lit like a beacon. Once, it had been used to house the enormous iron chain that the Imperial navy used to close off the Golden Horn. Now it housed a hotel, Kalina told me as we talked about the holidays. “It’s so strange, I can’t get over the feeling we’ve done this before,” she suddenly said. “What?” “You know, walking together, arm in arm, talking…” “You mean, here?” Kalina shook her head. “No, not here, not necessarily. Just… ah, forget it.” I suddenly remembered how familiar it had felt when I held her hand. She looked up at the dark overcast sky. “You believe people can be destined for each other?”, she mused. I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’d like to make my own destiny.” She looked at me, and she smiled. “You’re right, of course. Why bother speculating when you should just follow your own intuition.” Then she kissed me on the cheek.

We walked all the way to the head of the Byzantion peninsula, which had a beautiful view on the Golden Horn and the Bosporus, and Chrystopolis on the other side of the Bosporus. We watched the little boats sailing by in the night. When we walked back, it was past eleven. I walked her back to her place, through the quiet and mostly dark artisan district. She stopped at a bend in one of the narrow back streets. “Here’s my place,” she said as she pointed at a couple of dark windows above one of the closed shops. “Thanks for walking me home, Alex.” “What? Of course!” I laughed. “Listen Kalina, thanks for tonight, I had a really good evening.” Kalina smiled sweetly, and she took my hands. “Me too. We should do it again some time.” Her eyes, which looked obsidian in this light, seemed to suck me in as she looked at me. “Can I call you tomorrow?” “Sure. Would at least be a pleasant distraction to the pile of homework I have to work through.” “Oh, then perhaps I shouldn’t…” “Didn’t you hear me, silly? I want you to call me tomorrow; else I’ll have to start murdering people to relief the stress.” “Yes ma’am,” I said semi-serious. She grinned at me, and blew a few strands of hair from her face. “Just… errr, get at home in one piece,” she said. Before I could respond with something witty, she leaned forward, held me by my scarf and kissed me on the mouth.

It could have been either a minute or an hour afterwards that I walked alone through the artisan district, unaware either of my surroundings or the time. I still fell her lips against mine, and her hands in mine. Until quite recently, I hadn’t really been interested in girls – real, physical girls – and I must certainly had never received much attention from them. Or maybe I had just been blind to it in high school. Having a pretty girl like Kalina express serious interest in me – as in actively hitting on me – did miracles for my self-esteem. So when I walked alone through the dark artisan district, I began whistling, and I had to resist skipping. Being so occupied with the girl in my mind, I didn’t realise I was being watched from behind the dark blinds of one of the pottery shops.
 

humancalculator

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OH NOES! :eek: :eek: :eek:
 

unmerged(59077)

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I've had decidedly varied experiences with Ethiopian food. Wouldn't go on a date to one, at the very least :D
 

Cecasander

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I appologise for this late update, but it's just that writing four pages of character development/background is much more burdensome on my poor inspirational gland than five pages of making sense of CK screenshots. I'm still not very happy with it, but I hope it gives you a glance at what I was aiming for.

humancalculator - Oh noes indeed!

RGB - You have a good point there. Though the coffee is usually pretty good (seeing how coffee originated from Ethiopia, the Ethiopian coffee farmers sure know how to grow their beans :D)
 

Enewald

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Maybe the Armenian Separatists wants to kidnap him or he forgot to pay for the coffee and now the Abyssinians are after him. :rolleyes:

Hmm, a quite romantic update considering the game is based upon intrigues, conquering, crusades and heathen bashing. :cool:
 

VILenin

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Hmm, an ominous end to an otherwise light-hearted update. Who would be surreptitiously observing our innocuous protagonist?
 

Cecasander

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Enewald - Abyssinians are particularly well-known for hunting down, killing, skinning and eating the scrotums of the people who steal their coffee. Please don't joke about them. Also, intrigues, conquering, crusades and heathen bashing will soon recommence. I would consider the last post as intrigue though ;)

VILenin - An unseen character with an interest in our innocuous protagonist, very likely

asd21593 - Thanks :) Well, to be honest, I based quite some things on modern Istanbul though.

J. Passepartout - Not too high, I reckon. It's outside the nightlife area and there are a lot of people living above these shops. It's also quite quiet though. Not a place you'd want to walk through unless you have to be there, or if you have to drop off cute Bulgarian girls :p
 

Cecasander

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Workshop I - The new nobles and the Iron Council

Pottericon.jpg

Sunday and Monday buzzed by in a blaze of homework and snow. And although we talked on the phone twice after Saturday night, I really looked forward to seeing Kalina again. And as fate would have it, we were both scheduled in the same workshop class for Imperial History, which would coincidentally also be given by Professor Doxiadus. She hugged me when we met outside the classroom, and we both wondered what this workshop would be about. Doxiadus already stood at the door, and welcomed us as we entered the classroom. As I smiled at him, he gave me a big fat wink. Did he suspect about us? We found sat at two tables near the rear wall. As this was not an ordinary lecture, it was held in a small classroom and the people here were either in my normal class or seniors – like Kalina. Professor Doxiadus waited for two more minutes before he closed the door and tapped on the smartboard on the wall. A horseman in stone appeared.

510_cataphract_in_stone.jpg

“Good to see you all survived the weekend. So today we’re actually going to start with the workshops I announced two weeks ago. In this class we’re going to discuss a few things in-depth that will be important for the finals, and I am going to give you several assignments that will be added up to your credit. So if you fail the tests, but make the assignments, there might be hope for you yet. Now… today’s class won’t be too long. I’ll start out with a little lecture now, and afterwards I’ll explain the assignments. As you might have guessed, the normal lecture class has been split in six – three teacher, twice a day – and so these meetings are supposed to be much less formal. Therefore, if you have something to ask or say, don’t feel constricted, although I would appreciate it if you’d raise your hand first.”

Professor Doxiadus chuckled. He looked kind of tired to me, actually.


“Okay, Thursday I covered the rise of the Council of Nicomedia, or the Iron Council, during the Era of the Child Emperors. I told that the Iron Council was a collective of the most powerful strategoi who would act as the de facto regency council for the three child emperors. Now it is time to put the Iron Council into a greater perspective, though. As you might remember from the first lecture, I told you that the last of the Komnenoi emperors, Andronikos I, was notoriously unpopular with the aristocracy. He had tried to subdue them by simply attacking them and taking their land, but this made them even more upset. Eventually he would be brought down – although admittedly by the people, not the nobility – and he would be replaced by Isaakios Angelos. And although the aristocracy was happy at first, Isaakios’ financial and military mismanaging quickly made him loose the respect of the aristocracy. Then the strategoi would come onto stage and would place Mikhail Kantakouzenos on the throne. Thus far you should know, if you reread our notes.”

“Now, the point is that by the time Angelos was disposed, the old aristocracy was barely in place. Although the sources of that time would not admit it – as the patrons of these writers were mostly noblemen – it is currently believed that in 1187 the aristocracy has shrunk to a fourth of its size it was before Andronikos Komnenos took the throne in 1183. That is right, the three quarters of the members of the noble class would not be considered such when Mikhail Kantakouzenos took the throne. Now, there is one major side note ofcourse. With nobility, we consider the people who held land and titles. Andronikos took away a lot of land and titles, but could not destroy these noble families. He did try, and he might have forced about a third to either seek refuge elsewhere or seek the patronage of another family. But Most of the nobility stayed in place as the people with money and prestige. And although Andronikos and Isaakios were very wary on not awarding these people new power, it did not prevent the old aristocracy to support others to do their bidding. Oh, yes?”

A girl called Dora has raised her hand.

“Sir, do you mean Isaakios fought the aristocracy too?”

Doxiadus laughed a bit sheepish.

“Oh, yes… I guess I forgot to tell. Yes, Isaakios Angelos also saw the aristocracy as one of his opponents. Because you shouldn’t forget that the nobles were Isaakios’ greatest critics. It was they who suffered the greatest losses at the emperor’s disastrous tax management and his defeats on the land and on the sea. In fact, quite a number of noble families lost sons to this. And let’s also not forget that it were the citizens who put Isaakios on the throne. And the nobility hated the common people almost as much as they had hated Andronikos. So, although Isaakios would never openly prosecute them like his predecessor had done, he wasn’t above revoking titles and giving their land to his supporters – mostly commoners.”

“Anyway, with the old aristocracy mostly defeated on the political stage, but not beaten, this allows for significant shifts in the spheres of power. For Isaakios nor Mikhail, and especially not Demetrios and his sons, would be able to fill the gap of power the old aristocracy had filled before Andronikos. So we enter the strategoi. As you are all aware, the strategoi were both the governors and the military commanders of the themata – or military provinces – that the Roman Empire was divided in. A number of them were born commoners, most were from families of lower nobility, and only a few had their roots in the high aristocracy. In fact, the Kantakouzenoi were only one of the few of fairly high noble families whose land and power was untouched by Andronikos. The rest of them were essentially considered paupers by the nobility. But as the strategoi rose in importance at the ascend of Mikhail Kantakouzenos, a number of noble families understood that supporting these new powers would mean a new chance for them to rise again. In the first years of Mikhail’s reign, when the new emperor was still underage, it was thus the strategoi who would rise to actual power with the money, power and prestige of the old nobility. And it was this new power that would lead to them making the demands of inheritable titles and an elective succession, and thus the civil war.”

“Demetrios Kantakouzenos would of course give in to some of these demands, prime of which the right for strategoi to pass their title and their themata on to their family. This made a lot of the old noble families start to intermarry with the strategoi families, and thus end up taking their share of the newly shared power. These new families of old aristocracy and new military rulership are therefore considered to be the new nobility of the aristocracy. And when they learned that they needed the emperor as much as the emperor needed them to maintain the greatest power, they would form into what could easily be describes as the Roman derivative of the western feudal system. For that was probably the biggest lesson the strategoi learned from the civil war against Mikhail VIII and the later uprisings against Demetrios; as long as the Imperial Throne existed, their power was legitimised. Should they loose that, they were small and relatively weak shard states, which could be an easy pick for Turks, Arabs or Slavs.”

As Doxiadus tapped on the smartboard, it showed a map. It looked like a themata map we had seen before, albeit coloured.


Thermae1222Blank.gif

“Thus introducing the Iron Council. Although people have often argued otherwise, the Iron Council was actually meant to keep the Empire in once piece, and the strategoi in one line. They believed in a puppet emperor, of course, but one that was strong in the saddle. This would put them against the Queen-Regent of course. The map here shows the spheres of influence of both the spheres of influence of both the Iron Council and the Queen-Regent and emperor Basileios III when he began to effectively rule in 1222. The areas in purple are of course the lands ruled directly from Constantinople. The two areas in red are the so-called demoted themata of Paphragonia and Armeniacon, which due to their past uprisings had been demoted to themata-in-name-only. In practice they answered directly to the emperor or of course the Queen-Regent. The same goes for the archontia, here in orange. The lands coloured in dirt brown are ruled by the members of the Iron Council. As you can see, the Iron Council has most power in the European part of the Empire, while the Queen-Regent and Basileios have their power base mostly in the newly conquered parts in Asia Minor.”

“As I said last week, the power of the Iron Council would shrink and grow with the relative power of the reigning Emperor. With the reign of Basileios – an exceptionally strong ruler – their power would fade after their initial height, but they would always be present at the background. As time got by and the membership increased due to the increase of themata, the Iron Council would more and more become an advisory board rather than a standing political party. Emperors in the late 13th and early 14th century would begin to rely on the Iron Council to such degree, that it would actually become absorbed into the Imperial administrative apparatus as an Imperial body rather than a group of meddling noblemen. And although the Iron Council would rise up and show its true power more than once, it would always act as a safeguard for the Empire rather than an intentional internal divider. And thus, it became the cornerstone of the Imperial Parliament, and thus a founding body of the modern Roman Empire.”

“So wait… what you’re saying is that these strategoi, these noblemen just stopped scheming and plotting for their own gain, and suddenly starting acting for the good of the Empire?” Nikos, another classmate, asked.

“No! Well, not really, of course. Mikhail VIII’s civil war was most certainly not the last civil war of uprising the Empire suffered. But most of these were the work of nobles and strategoi who acted on their own accord, behind the Iron Council’s back. The goal of the Iron Council as an institution became to keep the Empire alive and peaceful, but the goals of individual strategoi, archons, aristocrats et cetra never really changed. In the end it was the Iron Council that would clean up the mess, and punish the rebellious nobles. You could see the Iron Council a bit like a labour union for nobility. And a lot of people never join a labour union.”

Nikos nodded, and I heard Kalina say; “That finally makes sense,” next to me.

“Now, as I said, I got a couple of assignments for you. First is the major assignment, that you’ll have to hand in in order even to be able to do the finals. For this assignment, for which you have all term, I want you to work in pairs and write an essay on which you argue what you two believe to be the five most pivotal events of the period we are covering in this term. Next week I’ll tell you more about this, but I would like to suggest you to find a partner, and consider reading up in the text book. Also, take notes in the lectures of course.”

“Want to be my partner?” I asked Kalina before she could open her mouth. “Of course,” she said resolute. I didn’t even have to ask.

“For next week, I have another assignment however. Next week we’ll use this class to discuss the city of Constantinople around the year 1250. And to get you in the mood, I want all of you, individually, to find a place or building in the modern city that already existed in that time, and write a little review about it. It doesn’t have to be very long or even very detailed – a maximum of 200 words should suffice – but it needs to be relevant to the theme ‘Constantinople in 1250’. And in order to have everybody write about something else, I want you to pick a subject before the end of tonight’s lecture so I can assign other buildings to people who picked a double. And… here’s the final catch; I want you to have it finished and e-mailed to me before Monday morning, 9 o’clock so I can have it checked and bundled, and handed out back to you next week. Also, I might ask some of you to present your subject.”

There was some grunting. So far Imperial History had been the only class that didn’t give a whole pile of homework. And although 200 words weren’t a lot, they did add up.

“Well, that’s all for this week. So, pick a place and find a partner, and don’t forget the lecture tonight will start on its normal time; half past five. We’re going to cover the first years of Basileios III’s reign, so don’t miss it!”

The class was pretty much wrapped up after that, with Doxiadus leaving before any of us and it left me wondering how this ‘workshop’ was really anything else than another lecture. By the looks of it, Kalina had thought the same as she put all her pens, her pencils, her two notebooks and her textbook back in her back. Well, maybe next week would be more interactive. “So, what are you going to pick for next week?” I asked her as we walked out of the room. She shrugged. “I’m not sure yet. Perhaps Leander’s Tower. What about you?” “Not a clue,” I laughed. It was still snowing, and the main square between the faculty buildings was covered in almost ten centimetres or so. A couple of guys were holding a snowball fight. I recognised two of them to be from my class. “We’d better get something warm,” Kalina suggested as she looked outside.
 

General_BT

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Iron Council... that's actually a smooth move on the part of the strategoi. :)
 

unmerged(59077)

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Old vs. New nobles, sounds like a familiar theme.

How often does it snow in Thrace?
 

Cecasander

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asd21593 - Thanks :)

General_BT - well, it mostly sounds neat

RGB - I never would have guessed myself, but according wikipedia snow is actually pretty common in winter. Although the story takes place in March, and the snow is just a dramatic plot device :p
 

Cecasander

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Pottericon.jpg

When we arrived at the lecture hall, we were one of the first. The door was already open though, and professor Doxiadus cheerfully greeted us while he was apparently ordering papers at his lectern. “Oh, professor?” Kalina suddenly stopped in her tracks. Doxiadus looked at her inquisitively. “I, uhm… I want to do next week’s review about Leander’s Tower.” “Ah, yes… such a beautiful building, with an interesting history too,” he said, “And Alexandros, have you picked a building yet?” Not having a clue, I just said the first that came into mind. “The Hippodrome, sir.” “That’s a popular choice, I guess. But as you’re the first, it’s yours. I’ll, ehm… I’ll add you both to the list then.” We found a place somewhere near the very middle of the lecture hall. In the following minutes the lecture hall would begin to fill. In fact, there were even more people than there were in previous lectures. Had professor Doxiadus’ lectures become so popular, or were these people just seeking a place to warm up after being outside? When everybody was seated – some people sat on the steps or against the walls – Doxiadus began by showing a picture of three portraits behind him.

AitakateninaRomanosBasileiosIII.jpg

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy so many of you had the courage to brave the cold and snow to be here tonight. We also have some guests tonight, which are students of my dear colleague at the archaeology department, Professor Bokova. Mrs. Bokova’s class is currently studying artefacts of the high medieval Roman era, and she has therefore asked me to allow her students to follow some of my lectures, to give them a proper background.” As he gestured to his right, the pantsuit woman sat there on a seat against the wall. Wait, was that Mrs. Bokova? I wanted to ask Kalina, but she gestured me to be quiet.

“You probably remember last week that the Imperial Throne was occupied by the three young sons of Demetrios I, who would go down in history successively as Nikophoros IV, Anthemios I and Basileios III. You’d also remember that Nikophoros and Anthemios were both murdered by unknown assailants, who we now expect to be on the payroll of the Iron Council. And of course you still know who the Iron Council was – as we covered them this afternoon – their roll in Imperial politics in that period, and the political battles between them and the mother of the three boys and willow of Demetrios, the Queen-Regent Prokopios. And most likely you remember Aitakatenina Kantakouzenos, who was the sole surviving child of the unfortunate first Kantakouzenos Emperor Mikhail, and who was in fact a secret pawn of the Iron Council in the Queen-Regent’s court. She was also married to the Megas Domestikos – or supreme commander of the Imperial Army - Mavros Meschos. Although her husband was no less than 27 years older than her, she would have eight children - though only three would survive childhood.”

“Last week, our story ended in August 1222, when the Queen-Regent began to share her power with the youthful Emperor Basileios III, who was twelve at the time. Basileios is believed to be a very active Emperor from the start, although he has shown a somewhat cruel tendency in his childhood. It was therefore quickly realized by the Iron Council and most of the other nobles that this young man – who outlived his brothers – would be destined from greatness. The Iron Council had tried to control this boy through his aunt Aikatenina – who had recently been allowed to rejoin the regency council – but then she would catch a very unpleasant case of lingering pneumonia and she would have to resign from the political stage. While Aikatenina would retreat to her husband’s extensive domains in Macedonia, her post at the regent council would be given to the court bishop and the right hand of the Patriarch, Romanos Argyropoulos. Romanos was very young at the time, but he was the son of the previous court bishop, Nikophoros, who himself was good friends with the Patriarch. It was Romanos who would extend his family’s influence beyond the eclectic field and make the Argyropouloi one of the main players in the Imperial politics at the reign of Basileios III.”

“Now, pretty soon after Basileios became a co-ruler together with his mother, he began to show the ambition to extend the reach of the Empire and to strengthen its weak points. This manifested the first time when the young Emperor ordered his armies to retake the Ionian Islands, off the coast of Epirus. These islands had long been part of the Empire, but they had been lost to the King of Sicily during the disastrous reign of Andronikos Komnenos. The Sicilians had however soon lost them to the Arabs during the Third Crusades. The Arabs on their turn could not hold onto the islands which lay so close to the Christian homelands and it would a small powerless sheikdom ruled by… yes, a woman. To keep it short, the conquest of the Ionian Islands was a short and easy one, and the islands were added to the thema of Epirus. There was another, much bigger and much more strategic hole in the Empire.”

A map showed up of central Anatolia.

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“This is, of course, Georgian Anatolia. If you remember last lecture, I finished with the rise and fall of Queen Thamar and the Kingdom of Georgia. By this time Georgia had been reduced from a leading regional power to a collection of shattered lands and fiefdoms spread around the periphery of the old kingdom. Its heartland was located in central Anatolia, which Thamar’s armies had conquered in the first years of the thirteenth century. Thamar herself had moved her court from the Alan lands to Lykandros quite recently, again showing these lands – known then as Georgian Anatolia – were the core of her kingdom and in fact her last serious sanctuary against the Khwarezmi Persians who had ravaged her realm. Emperor Mikhail had been allied with Thamar, and Demetrios and later Prokopios and the Iron Council had tolerated the Georgian occupation of central Anatolia, even through it basically cut the Imperial parts of Anatolia in half. But in that time, Georgia continued to wane, and by 1224 the young Basileios had decided that respecting the Georgian possession of the land – or in fact the sovereignty of the Georgian kingdom as a whole – was not in the best interest of the Empire. It was thus decided that it would be taken, even though it would mean the definite destruction of a former ally.”

“The Imperial Army crossed into Georgian Anatolia in early October, 1224. As Basileios was still not of age, its commanders in the field were the Megas Domestikos, Mavros Meschos and Nikophoros Argyropoulos, who you know was the former court bishop but also an accomplished leader of men. Mavros would lead the main army from Sinope to Kaisareia, where it would receive reinforcements from the archons of Galatia and Koloneia. Nikophoros would then lead another, somewhat smaller force from Ankyra and would head directly south to Tyana. These movements were largely successful, and Nikophoros would even be able to take Tyana before Kaisareia fell. Queen Thamar had dispatched her entire army – commanded by her marshal Davit – to hold Kaisareia, but when it became evident they could not lift the siege Mavros was performing, it returned to Lykandros. When Nikophoros marched to Lykandros to meet Mavros’ army for the final assault on the Georgian holdings, the two armies met and although the Georgian army was outnumbered more than two to one, it was a very tough fight. In the end, the Georgian army routed, but not before leaving a bloodbath and having Nikophoros Argyropoulos as a hostage! However, the messenger who was to bring this news to the Megas Domestikos was attacked by bandits on the road, and thus Mavros would only hear about it after the Imperial Army had taken Lykandros after a fierce battle. And after, it needs to be said, Nikophoros had died in the crossfire.”

“So, with Mavros Meschos having taken Georgian Anatolia in under half a year, his fellow commander dead and his body lost, and Queen Thamar on the run to her final stretch of land somewhere along the Caspian coast, I think this would be a nice time to get us some coffee. When you get back, I’ll cover what happens to these newly conquered lands, how Basileios comes to age and how the children of Nikophoros Argyropolous take the political stage.”

Professor Doxiadus walked off with the pantsuit woman. They were followed by some senior student. “She is an archaeology professor?” I asked Kalina as we also got up. “Who, Bokova? Yeah, she’s one of the core professors at the department.” I remembered she was also a friend of Kalina’s mother, and judging from her name she would also be Bulgarian. “You have classes from here?” Kalina shook her head. “No, she mostly handles pre- and postgratuates and all the really advanced stuff. These students are probably from one of her so-called hand picked classes, you know, for if you only get straight A’s” Judging from that, it sounded kind of snobby, and I liked her even less. And I thought she was just Doxiadus’ assistant or something. I wonder if she knew my grandfather. She seems quite a few years older than Professor Doxiadus though. After coffee, we got back into the lecture hall. Professor Doxiadus already had a number of portraits projected on the wall behind him. The first three actually looked quite alike.

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“So, with the conquest of Georgian Anatolia in the spring of 1225, the Roman Empire now once again had control over entire Anatolia – with the exception of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia of course. The main city in the area, Kaisareia, would become the seat of a bishop who would also wield worldly power. This was a rarity in the Empire at the time though – only the archbishop of Macedonia would also wield worldly power as a strategos – but it also meant he would be one of the highest ranking clergy in Anatolia. And it was another Argyropolous, namely Romanos’ older brother Manouel, who would become this bishop of Kaisareia. It needs no explanation that he had gotten this prestigious job through his brother’s influence at the Imperial court, seeing Manouel was only 18 at the time. Nontheless, Kaisareia would militarily fall under a newly formed thema, the Thema of Charsianon whose strategos was the former archon of Galatia. Apart from the bishopric of Kaisareia, Emperor Basileios would give another post in the newly conquered land to someone in his court, and actually someone very close to him. For the archon of Lykandros would be none other than his cousin Aitakenina Kantakouzenos. Some have reasoned that this was an elaborate plot to finally get her out of the Imperial court and out of Constantinople, but most historians believe the main reason for this appointment was to have her hold the place for her husband until he would retire. This appointment is also an important one, because it was the first appointment of a post that was immediately made hereditary, instead of having this privilege bestowed upon after a few years of service. This was probably done to provide the de facto heirs of Mikhail VIII with an apanage.”

“The portraits behind me picture the four children of Nikophoros Argyropoulos, who would play a significant though sometimes short role in these following years. The first and oldest son is Matthias, born in 1205. He was an able military commander and he would be the Megas Domestikos’ right hand after his father’s death. After the destruction of the Sultanate of Erzurum – I’ll come to that later – he would become Basileios’ personal bodyguard and spy master though, and one of the Emperor’s most trusted friends and advisors. Second is Manouel, about whom I just spoke. He was born a year later and he would become the bishop of Kaisareia in 1225, at a very young age but with the consent of the Patriarch. Third is the man who I showed before; Romanos Argyropoulos, who had succeeded Nikophoros as the court bishop and who would essentially bring his brothers and sister in favour with the Emperor. And finally there is Alexandra, the only surviving daughter of Nikophoros. She would, through the mediation of Romanos, marry Basileios on September 1st, 1226. A lot has been said about Alexandra Argyropoulos, who was only a few months older than the Emperor. Most of these story portray her as a lusty, indulgent and lazy woman, In fact, it has been said that after the two youths were married, they had locked themselves up in the Imperial bedchambers for two full weeks. In any case, she quickly became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son named Nikolaos on August 24, 1227, in fact less than a week before his father’s birthday. Nikolaos was Basileios’ first heir and certainly the thing the Emperor loved more than anything in the world. Sadly however, Alexandra would die a year afterwards, while giving labour to her second child, at only the age of eighteen. Basileios would eventually marry another girl named Glykeria Bryennios.”

“Before Alexandra died, the Imperial Armies had already been on the move again, and had destroyed the last remains of what was once known as the Turkish Sultanate of Erzurum. The Empire had now reached the sources of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and thus the newly conquered land would soon be collectively dubbed as Mesopotamia. It was Basileios to use these newly conquered lands as a point from there to conquer the Levant. That is right, after he had undone the Turkish invasions after the Battle of Manzikert, Basileios had made it his goal than to no less but to reconquer the lands the Roman Empire had lost since the 7th century and fully restore it to its former glory. Now, had it been any other moment in time, or had the Emperor been any other man, this would probably have been madness. But now the Roman Empire was it the apex of its power, it’s Emperor was young and strong and possibly the most capable man who sat on the Imperial Throne for at least a century, and the Levant was a patchwork of squabbling crusader states and rebellious Arabian sheikdoms. So next lecture, where we start in 1230, we will see if the renewed power of the Empire will be able to cope with the ambitions of its new Emperor.”

The themata map appeared on the screen. The Empire’s shape had become a bit less awkward.

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“Before I end this lecture, however, it’s time to take out the good old themata map. As you can clearly see, the big hole in the Anatolian holdings has been filled. Georgian Anatolia had been partitioned into three. First there is Aitakatenina’s archontia of Lykandros ofcourse, as number 27 on the map. Secondly Kaisareia was made a worldly bishopric, but it was also merged with the archontia of Galatia to create a whole new thema; Charsianon. And finally Tyana would be added to the Imperial controlled lands. These lands, commonly referred to as Phrygia, had actually grown pretty large by now, and as you can clearly see they effectively divide Anatolia in two; a western half which is divided into themata and which is therefore ruled by the strategoi, and a western – recently conquered – half which is mostly divided into archontia, who answer directly to the Emperor. This division is most certainly intentional, in order to keep the western strategoi in check. Wheter it’s efficient in doing that… we’ll see that later on.”

“So, that was it for today. I hope that my guests didn’t find my lecture too boring, and I hope my students learned something too. Alas, see you all Thursday again!” We started packing our bags. “I’m sorry Alex, I really have to go,” Kalina said as she quickly stood up and stuffed her notebook, textbook and pens in her bag. “Oh, that’s a shame,” I said somewhat disappointed. “I know, I’m really sorry. I’ll make it up to you Thursday, okay?” “Yeah, yeah, sure,” I said, “but what’s the rush?” “Well, I got a job interview, actually. Well, bye love!” And she was gone in the masses. A job interview at this hour?