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Feb 22, 2004
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The Queen of Cities: A Byzantine AAR


There was once a Greek of Megara named Byzas. Some called him the son of King Nisos, others termed him the mortal son of Poseidon himself. His life was to be as shrouded in myths as his birth for the only thing all could agree was that ninety-six years after Romulus slew his brother on the green slopes of the Palatine Byzas founded a city of his own. Byzantion rose on the shore of the Golden Horn were the deep blue waters of the Bosphorus shimmer at sunset giving the inlet its name.

For long centuries the city of Byzas prospered in a quiet, a half forgotten backwater as the city of Romulus grew to overshadow the world. It was not until a Roman of the Romans (born in Serbia) who had become an emperor and would end up a saint turned his eyes East that the city on the Golden Horn grew into a great city. Constantine re-founded Byzantion as a great and rich capital he called New Rome – and his successors would call Constantinople.

Constantinople now became the centre of the world, the heart of the mighty Roman Empire and one of the holiest cities in Christendom. Long after ‘old’ Rome fell to barbarians and destitution and despair Constantinople remained powerful. Two centuries after Constantine the first and greatest the Emperor Justinian reconquered the fallen West and the already ancient city truly became the Queen of Cities. From the Euphrates to the Atlantic Ocean there was nowhere else to compare.

The golden age did not last for even Justinian's empire did not posses endless resources and the Romans seemed to attract any and all misfortunes. Wars with the barbarians drained Roman wealth and strength from year to year. The Persians were never at bay for long and in the time of the Emperor Heraclius they nearly swept the whole Empire away. They were defeated after a long and terrible struggle but the weakened Romans could only watch helplessly as a new foe, the Muslim Arabs rose and conquered lands that had been Roman for six hundred years. Nor were the Arabs alone. In Italy the Lombards waged wars of conquest, in the Balkans the Bulgars and other pagan barbarians advanced deep into the heartland of the Empire. Even within their were enemies as religious tension erupted in revolt again and again, while ambitious men and women struggled for power. So began a long and terrible retreat, two centuries of retreat as the Romans were squeezed on all sides and weak, corrupt or simply helpless emperors held the throne.

In the year 866 AD the Emperor Michael III, better equipped by nature to be a tavern keeper than a monarch was overthrown and killed by his friend, a peasant turned courtier with the grandiose name of Basileios. The young usurper - for he was just thirty - became master of the Queen of Cities and an empire stretching back centuries, both of which had seen their best years pass.

Or so it seemed.


The Roman Empire at the accession of Basileios I, 866 AD.
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Volume I -Basileios I 'the Lionhearted' (866 - 908)

* Part One - A New Emperor
* Part Two - The Sicilian War
* Part Three - Leap of Faith
* Part Four - The Enemy Within
* Part Five - The Scramble For Italy
*Part Six - Fanatics & Families
* Part Seven - The Death of Princes
* Part Eight - Final Years
* Appendix - The World in 908

Volume II -Leon VI 'the Wise' (908 - 923)

* Part One - Leon the Wise
* Part Two - Wars & Weddings
* Part Three - Defining the Frontiers
* Part Four - Changing of the Guard

Volume III -Symeon (923 - 930)

* Part One - The Challenge
* Part Two - The Answer
* Part Three - The Revenge

Volume IV -Kyrillos (930 - 936) (restored) (937 - 948)

* Part One - The Boy Emperor & the (ex) Outlaw
* Part Two - Anarchy
* Part Three - The Reign of Emperor Porphyrios
* Part Four - War in the East
* Part Five - Shipwreck

Volume V -Adrianos II 'the Great' (948 - 998)

* Part One - The Eclipse of the Abbasids
* Part Two - Antioch
* Part Three - On the Danube
* Part Four - The Aleppon War
* Part Five - New Enemies, Old Enemies
* Part Six - Changed Plans
* Part Seven - The Last One Standing
* Part Eight - Adrianos' Last Years
* Appendix: The Roman Empire in the Tenth Century

Volume VI - Valerios (998 - 1008)

* Part One - The Triumph of Valerios
* Part Two - Settling the Succession

Volume VII - Eusebios I (1008 - 1019)

* Part One - Prince Phokas
* Part Two - A Question of Faith
* Part Three - Never Grow Old

Volume VIII - Anthemios 'the Blessed' (1019 - 1078)

* Part One - The Muradid Wars
* Part Two - Romanisation
* Part Three - Italy
* Part Four - The Eleventh Century Roman Army
* Part Five - Into Egypt
* Part Six - Wars: West and East
* Part Seven - All the Emperor's Women
* Part Eight - Jubilee
* Part Nine - The End of an Era
* Appendix - The World in 1078 AD.

Volume IX - Eusebios II 'the Wise' (1078 - 1083)

* Part One - A brief interlude.

Volume X - Basileios II 'the Young' (1083 - 1112)

* Part One - The Age of Heresy
* Part Two - The Young Emperor
* Part Three - The Damascene War
* Part Four - The Regents

Volume XI - Konstas III 'the Hammer' (1112 - 1154)

* Part One - The Cost of War
* Part Two - When it Rains...
* Part Three - Into Persia
* Part Four - Gains and Losses
* Part Five - The Two Princes
* Appendix - The Roman Empire in the Twelfth Century.

Volume XII - Konstas IV (1154 - 1166)

* Part One - Stargazing
* Part Two - Heresy!
* Part Three - Turmoil

Volume XIII - Kallinikos 'the Hammer' (1166 - 1215)

* Part One - The Empress Evanthia
* Part Two - The 12th Century Crisis
* Part Three - The Emperor's Majority
* Part Four - A troubled inheritance
* Part Five - Friendly Rivals
* Appendix - The Romans and India.

Volume XIV - Konstas V (1215 - 1229)

* Part One - Enter the Khagan
* Part Two -Preperations

Volume XV - Agne 'the Hammer' (1229 - 1252)

* Part One - An Empress on the throne
* Part Two - The Second Roman-Mongol War
* Part Three - Keeping the Peace
* Part Four - Sunset

Volume XVI - Gerasimos (1252 - 1256)

* Part One - Promise Cut Short

Volume XVII - Prokopios (1256 -)

* Part One - Turmoil in the East
* Part Two - The Emperor Comes Of Age
* Part Three - Ships & Horses
* Part Four - A Few Years Peace
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Part One – A new Emperor

Emperor Basileios I.png

Emperor Basileios

Basileios Makedon was born a peasant in Macedonia, though his family originally hailed from the distant mountains of Armenia. By the time he reached manhood Armenia proper had long slipped from Roman rule but the Empire remained home to many of Armenian descent. The young Basileios was clever and capable, good looking in an impressive and masculine way. Famously strong he was a skilled wrestler and horse tamer, abilities he took delight in showing long after he came to prominence and though not a warrior born he had a tough and martial temperament. He was known as a just and fair man by those who worked under him in his days as the Emperor’s chamberlain, though others claimed he never told the truth if a lie would serve him better. Above all Basileios was ambitious.

Michael III who was then emperor was much impressed by Basileios and the former peasant who had risen through the ranks of the civil service became a boon companion, bodyguard and confidante. Basileios rose so high that in 866 he was made first Caesar and then co-emperor – the second man in the Empire. Yet all was not well; Michael was a weak and indolent man with far more passion for wine than ruling properly. He was also, it was rumoured, the true father of Leon, the son of Basileios and his wife Eudokia. Eudokia was the daughter of a Norse barbarian, a sensual and envious woman whose ambition perhaps outstripped even her husbands. Their marriage was known to be tempestuous and whispers in the Forum of Constantine, at the Hippodrome, on the great city docks spread tales of Eudokia’s wantonness that grew more sordid – and eagerly told – with every telling.

Matters came to a crisis in September 866. Basileios was falling out of favour with the Emperor who had turned his attention to one Basiliskianos who eagerly joined him in drunken debauchery. It was said that Basileios was due for a fall and that his position and perhaps his life was in danger. Perhaps it would have been had Basileios been made of weaker stuff. Yet he had not risen from peasant to Caesar without honing his wits and he struck first. Finding Michael and his companion in a stupor from a banquet of more wine than food Basileios and his closest allies, including his father Bardas and half-brother Marinos entered the Imperial chambers. The Emperor and his new favourite perished by the sword and in the morning Basileios was sole Emperor.


The new Emperor on horseback.
Few mourned Michael the Drunkard, or if they did they kept it quiet. The great figure of Basileios, tall, darkly bearded, grey eyed and as broad across the shoulders as a Varangian looked like a new Achillies for all his lowly origins. His physique was not the only thing impressive about him for if his rhetoric was unpolished and blunt it was forceful and a great change from his predeccessor. Basileios dominated attentioned wherever he went in a manner that had nothing to do with donning the purple. The Senate and the Patriarch raised no objection, the people, awed by their new monarch cheered him to the heavans as he appeared in public at the Hippodrome to watch the races. The swords flashing red in the palace and even the scandals of his wife were forgotten, at least for now.

As the old year turned into new the Emperor had found his feet and won acceptance. Now he was faced with the first crisis of his reign; Sicily, which had been slipping from Roman control for many decades seemed about to be lost entirely.
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Basil Makedon is strong! Basil will break puny infidels with his bare hands!!!

Heh, hopefully! :D

I wanted to do a Byzantine AAR and I was torn between Basil and Romanos Diogenies, but I figured this was an interesting time period you don't see that much of. Thanks for the interest by the way!
Part Two - The Sicilian War


Contemporary depiction of Arabs vs. Romans
Sicily had suffered Muslim raids for over a century before the Carthaginian based Aghlabid emirs launched a true invasion forty years before Basileios took the throne. The hills and woods of the island amongst the richest and most beautiful in the Roman Empire passed to control of the Arab invaders. Perpetually in trouble elsewhere there could be no strong response from Constantinople.

The fall of Michael III had coincided with peace in the east. Relations with the Caliph were cool but not hostile and a thin trickle of pilgrims was once again travelling to the Holy Places. The Bulgars, the other great foe of Rome were also quiet, their attention riveted to the great movement of the bloodthirsty pagan Maygars. For once the Empire could spare an army, led in person by the Emperor. Collecting troops mostly from Thrace, Epirus and eastern Greece Basileios sailed for Rhegion. By the end of March 867 an army nearly six thousand strong was assembled in the southernmost tip of Italy. It was a larger army than the Romans had sent West in years but it could easily have been bigger. The Emperor was no fool; war with the Caliph could come at any time so most of the army would have to stay home. What he had would be more than enough.

The Romans crossed into Sicily, bypassing Muslim held Taormina. Basileios marched to relieve Caltagiorne, under siege by the Arabs. If that fortress fell Syracuse itself – one of the greatest cities of the Empire – would be next. At the approach of the Romans the Arabs, who were outnumbered two to one retreated to the small village of Lentini and it was here that the armies clashed. Shamir, the Muslim commander had cleverly occupied the southernmost of the two hills surrounding the village, counting on the steep ground defeating the Roman cavalry. He was right but unfortunately for him the Romans had brought many more archers. For three long hours in the sunlight of a Sicilian spring battle raged till finally the Arabs broke, leaving most of their infantry behind. The Romans had suffered too but the Emperor did allow a moment's rest for his weary soldiers, marching north after the fleeing Arabs. The Romans caught them at Lipari and in the rout that followed hundreds of Arabs fell for the loss of thirteen Romans. A small band less than six hundred escaped but scattered and broken they could act as little more than brigands. The Emperor did not bother to give chase this time, instead settling down to besiege the Muslim fortress of Taormina.

For the rest of the year and into the next the war turned into one of siege as the Romans took Taormina, then Messina and finally Lipari itself. Basileios, an unmistakable figure even at a distance regularly rode to within shouting distance of Taormina and Messina's walls and hailed the garrisons calling on them to surrender - and reminding him that these cities had recently been Roman. None of the garrisons watching could forget that at their backs were a large Greek speaking, Christian populace who were watching, praying and waiting. Perhaps it was awe of the Emperor that stopped some enterprising Arab archer sending an arrow towards the magnificent figure in purple cape, perhaps it was lack of bowmen, or perhaps it was a healthy fear of being torn limb from limb by outraged Roman townsfolk.

The Emperor had many great qualities but patience was not one of them. When not riding out to gates of Taormina putting the fear of God into the Arabs he went boar hunting with his father Bardas and participated in wrestling matches with volunteers from the army. On a more elevated level he studied his Saint Augustine [1], approved a tutor for his daughter and received letters. Letters from his wife glazed with icy politeness, letters from his oafish half-brother Marinos wondering if the girls of Sicily were as darkly beautiful as he heard, letters from the Patriarch imploring him not to damage any of the churches when he sacked cities. Hundreds of letters, shipfuls of letters for the business of Empire did not stop with the Emperor on campaign. In turn the Emperor sent back word of his wars, and the Emperor did not feel bound to a mindless repetition of the facts - was it three thousand Arabs at Letini or was it thirty thousand? Was it boars he hunted on horseback through the lush Sicilian countryside or was it bears he hunted on foot?

One letter came from Mutimir of Rashka, a Serbian prince who pledged his army to saving Sicily, much to the Emperor's amusement for Mutimir's heartfelt pledge arrived in January 868 as the beleaguered garrison of Lipari were pledging to surrender [2]. Amused and strangely touched the Emperor sent an embassy to Rashka thanking him anyway. Hardly had the ship sailed when Lipari surrendered, and with it the Aghlabids sued for peace. In the palace of Syracuse the Emperor signed a treaty with the representatives of the Emir that saw an immense fortune change hands. So great a fortune that Shamir (who had survived the war and was living a brigand life till news of the peace reached him) wept bitterly at the sight of hundreds of chests being loaded onto the Roman ships. He was not by nature a grasping man but as he said to Bardas: 'Would that your son let us die as warriors than live as beggars.'


The peace of Sicily, 868

There was one last event before the Emperor, his army and all that gold departed for Constantinople. As soon as Lipari fell the Emperor sent a monk to the Count of Neapolis, bearing a letter:


Rejoice! The barbarians are defeated in Sicily; God in His wisdom has granted us a fine victory. However I have heard word that the foe, with the wickedness and cunning of infidels has sent a fleet north. The monk who is delivering this message has heard the true story straight from enemy lips, for after I took Lipari the prisoners babbled their secrets as quickly as gossiping slavegirls. If your fine city was of my Empire again they would never dare to attack, such is the might of the Romans.


The monk in question, one Simon of Armenia was noted for his loyalty to his Emperor and his faith and his flexible approach to the truth. Poor Count Gregorios was a simple trusting soul and listened in horror to the story of the Arab fleet whose sails were bound to appear on the blue horizon of the Bay of Naples any day now.

The Emperor was not long back in Constantinople when a letter reached him:


I pledge my undying loyalty and that of my city to you and your heirs in the name of our Lord and all his saints.


The Arab fleet never did appear off Neapolis.


The fruits of inventive diplomacy...

[1] Basileios was trying to increase his Learning and I recieved the 'copy of St Augustine's works' event. Evidently he had spare time during the siege! His daughter also grew old enough to need a tutor during the war.
[2] This actually happened when my war score was 98% won. I appreciated the sentiment if not the timing!
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Part Three - Leap of Faith


The Roman navy vs. pirates off the coast of Crete.

The Emperor sailed into Constantinople on 10th February 868, almost a year to the day he had left. The morning had produced a thunderstorm of limited length but extraordinary downpour and Basileios was met but sodden garlands of flowers and water filled streets. Yet nothing could dampen the spirits of the Roman people who cheered their hero til they were hoarse. In the glow of victory no one mentioned that three quarters of Sicily was in infidel hands. Without that towering bearded figure in purple robes, imperiously aknowledging the ecstatic cries of his people as he rode towards the Great Palace all of Sicily would have belonged to the infidel.

In fact, Basileios was already planning his next journey. The Emperor would remain in Constantinople only long enough to order the raising of two Kataphraktoi regiments as his personal guard, composed of men who had impressed him in the Sicilian War [1], dispatch a diplomatic mission to Mutimir of Rashka and show his wife a thing or to a Sicilian peasant girl had taught him. Before the court could fully find its feet he was off again, this time heading east and without an army.

The holy cities of Antioch and Jerusalem had been in Muslim hands for centuries but with the Empire and the Caliphate enjoying one of their long spurts of peace pilgrims were once again able to move east. Even without the threat of war it was a hard trail via the cursus publicus through the harsh terrain of Asia Minor along a route that was unbearably hot in summer and icy cold in winter. The great roads built by earlier Romans were in some places in poor repair, in others gone altogether destroyed by flood or earthquake. Bandits were a constant problem. No wonder then that some decided to sail directly to the Holy Land but even at sea there was great danger as Muslim pirates from Crete and Cyprus ruled much of the sea.

Basileios decided to sail, more out of impatience than fear. His court was aghast but none dared challenge the war hero when he declared his intentions. Prestige and authority aside the Emperor was a strong man. So Basileios went to Antioch by sea, and God must have been looking over him because he arrived safely in the port of St Symieon and from there road to ancient Antioch where he prayed at the shrines of the Apostles. The Emperor had caught a fever on route but some combination of his prayers and natural resilliance saw him through and he returned home recovered. Basileios was not by nature a zealot (there was too much of the pragmatic peasant to him) but his piety was genuine and he returned a wiser man having studied religious texts in Antioch.


Emperor Basileios arrives in Antioch.

He had travelled safely but others had not. In Antioch the Emperor spoke with pilgrims who had escaped from the Cretan pirates by the skin of their teeth, and who had seen others who had not been so lucky. The Patriarch of Antioch had told him of the shrunken trade with the Empire, even in these days of peace between Roman and Arab. The Christian merchants in Antioch were a paltry, poverty stricken lot for who but the fearless or the feverent would risk the pirates? Basileios listened and grew thoughtful. When he returned home he began to invest more money and manpower into the poorly neglected Imperial Navy.

In August Eudokia fell pregnant to their mutual surprise. Basileios did not have an easy marriage but he drew closer to his wife as their child - his fourth (or third for there were still questions over which tree Leon sprouted from) - grew inside her. Eudokia, while happy was more annoyed that she could not engage in her favourite hobby and more than once the Emperor had to remind the Empress that frequent practice at that hobby had led them here in the first place [2].

The Serbian prince Mutimir had been well wooed by Roman envoys who spun him a scarcely exaggerated account of their Emperor the great Christian Achillies. In late December Mutmir enthusiastically agreed to swear fealty to Basileios. It was a victory to rival Sicily; in a few words the great Duchy of Rashka was added to the Empire.

The year 869 was a mixed one for the Emperor. Eudokia gave birth to to their son Bardas in March, named after the Emperor's father. It was a timely choice for Basileios's father died two months later having never shaken off his blunt serf origins. Grieving Basileios appointeed his similarly half brother Marinos to lead the great expedition to Crete late in the year. The Roman campaign against the Hafsid Muslim pirates lasted well into 870; as a soldier Marinos brave enough but no great intellect. Eventually the island was brought back under Roman control and Marinos was rewarded with governorship of the whole of Crete, along with nominal command of the fleet.

The war against Crete had been another gamble because it was framed as a Holy War and there was always the possibility the Caliph would intervene, and he was an enemy no Roman Emperor wished to fight if he did not had to. Basileios trusted to God and his own instincts that the young Caliph, a sad shadow of his great forebears would have no interest in fighting for the sake of pirates, nominal co-religionists though they might be. He had been proved right, though none save Eudokia knew that even the fearless Basileios had slept uneasily at times in the days and weeks after the war began.

If the true faith was advancing in the Mare Nostrum it was under retreat elsewhere. In July 869 as the shipyards of the Golden Horn rang to the sounds of construction and Marinos Makedon studied maps of Crete ominous news reached Constantinople. The Bulgars - the seemingly all powerful foe of the Empire to the north - had been defeated by the Maygar pagans who now held a kingdom of their own on the Danube. It was far from the current borders of the Empire but some of the cooler heads in the Great Palace heard the distant rumble of barbarian hooves...


The Roman Empire 871 AD.

[1] I spent some of my newly won gold on two retinue regiments. I'm trying to resist setting up the Varangian Guard just yet, as historically it dates from the 10th century (not that Norse mercenaries were not a presence before then.)
[2] The doubt over Leon's parentage is historical. As for Eudokia... well in game she does have the Lustful trait. :eek:o
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I always appreciate the use of the Byzantine manuscripts as images! :cool: I always fondly remember your The Harp and Crown, although I can't quite remember if I ever actually commented on that AAR. Looking forward to what you have planned!

I always appreciate the use of the Byzantine manuscripts as images! :cool: I always fondly remember your The Harp and Crown, although I can't quite remember if I ever actually commented on that AAR. Looking forward to what you have planned!


Ah the Harp and Crown... one of these days I will try and get back to that!

Thanks for the comment and I hope you'll stick around! I also much admire your Footsteps of Rome AAR. :)
I'm flicking between making my AAR and yours because they are very similar (both the byzantine empire (mine is the spartan aar)) Im wondering how you are planning on keeping your narrative interesting, im 6 generations deep into my playthrough and im just too powerful, I can defeat any of my neighboring kingdoms without even raising my levies. This is the point in the game I usually get bored so im wondering how I can keep it interesting?
I'm flicking between making my AAR and yours because they are very similar (both the byzantine empire (mine is the spartan aar)) Im wondering how you are planning on keeping your narrative interesting, im 6 generations deep into my playthrough and im just too powerful, I can defeat any of my neighboring kingdoms without even raising my levies. This is the point in the game I usually get bored so im wondering how I can keep it interesting?

When I play Paradox games for fun, I just roll over the AI because it's not that hard. Whenever I decide upon an AAR, I generally "handicap" myself and play "semi-historical" (trying to roughly keep similar geopolitical and religious configuration per OTL with some exceptions) because I find that to be much more fun and allows for the AAR to be simply more interesting than "Hey look, I conquered the world" (perhaps different had you taken a complete minor to accomplish that). I never play the same when I plan on writing an AAR for the game for the reasons you already are experience. It's too easy for the human to become a superpower and, seemingly departing history, crush the AI (reflective of other powers, cultures, religions, etc) for the entire duration of the game.

Perhaps you'd consider handicapping yourself. For example, in my Byzantine EU4 AAR, I've promised a "Decline and Fall" somewhere in the game after a revival (keeps everyone guessing when and how its going to happen). Also, in my Austria EU4 AAR, I'm deliberately not going to unify the HRE or form Germany, and I've planned to release vassals (like Styria or Tyrol) upon an emperor's death to reflect the monarchy being 'divided' among heirs. It adds a certain flavor to the game if you promise yourself to stick to a set of reasonable objectives and goals. Just my two cents.
I'm flicking between making my AAR and yours because they are very similar (both the byzantine empire (mine is the spartan aar)) Im wondering how you are planning on keeping your narrative interesting, im 6 generations deep into my playthrough and im just too powerful, I can defeat any of my neighboring kingdoms without even raising my levies. This is the point in the game I usually get bored so im wondering how I can keep it interesting?

Volksmarschall's advice is very good and I'd go with that. I have to say I do try and behave realistically and 'in-character'. For instance I'm deliberately trying to avoid kicking off a war with the Caliphate. As a player I could probably win but a Byzantine Emperor (at least a smart, sane one like Basileios) would be very reluctant to start that kind of war.

I also find the Byzantines are good at creating their own drama - rebels and conspiracies. Allow a faction to build up and you will be fighting for your throne in no time! :D

Also I'll go check out your AAR pronto!

My self imposed limit was to resrict my use of levies to be used in sieges only (as to keep my main army on the move. Along with this I have avoidey any kind of gamey tactics until the latest of my kings took the throne where because my dynasty is literally all over europe I pressed a cousin's claim to italy and got it all in one war. I've mended the great schism and just need to gobble one or two dutchies to form the Roman empire again. After that I will treat that as the 'peak' of the empire and do something to put myself back to square one. The real question is what can I do? My dynasty is everywhere and controls most of the map. I can't think of a good way to push my realm into instability, for the most part my vassal kings deal with any rebellion that pops up.
(by push into stability I mean nudge, I want a realitic implosion of the empire not just me destroying it)
If it wasnt an ironman game i would load up as a minor lord bordering on some hostile nation.

I started as the one province count where sparta used to be so didnt see the need to impose limits on myself early, the bulk of the conquering was done by one Emperor who I want to write up Alexander the great style. I guess I find it hard to walk the line between making the game 'realistic' and trying to win. The first years were really quite hard getting onto the throne and staying there.

Thanks for the advice, i think I will form the Roman Empire and then write up the climb to the top, then I will destroy the title or something and let all the successor kingdoms duke it out. A more technical thing but how do you size images in the text? Mine are little boxes you have to click on?
Very nice! I'm glad to finally see a Byzantine AAR that doesn't use Mediterranean portraits.
Part Four - The Enemy Within


Fanatical Iconoclasts at work.

The years 871 to 874 were not idle; the Romans drove the Muslim pirates from Cyprus and warred successfully with the Bulgars for the province of Ohrid, taking advantage of the weakness of King Boris. Eudokia gave birth to another son Valerios. Most remarkably 'King' Kyrillos the Magnaminous, a pirate lord of the Euxine Sea stole the secret formula for liquid fire from right under the Imperial nose and was only tracked down and defeated after much cunning on the part of the Emperor. This amazing tale is best told elsewhere but it ended with the would be monarch languishing in the Emperor's dungeons - for Basileios had it within him to admire so remarkable a rogue and commuted the original death sentence [1].

While all this was going on something even more serious was brewing. The spectre of Iconoclasm rose in the themes of central Anatolia, in particular this province Tyana. This sparse, poor land was border country with the Muslim Emirate of Cilicia far closer than the Imperial court in Constantinople and banditry was a more common occupation than farming. The influence of the Arabs with their own laws against idoltary, the poverty of the people and the streak of lawlness simmered throughout the 870s and in late 874 it erupted into outright violence. Tryphon, a military man of obscure origins who claimed to have served under Michael III led a fanatical band of rebels in the sacking of a church. Within days Tryphon's rabble had swelled to two and a half thousand and were looting villages and monasteries across the eastern borders. This was no badit raid; it was a major rebellion.

Basileios had recently demobilised his army after his war with the Bulgars. Though successful it had been a bloody conflict and he was reluctant to call upon the European themes to supply his soldiers so soon after they had suffered so much. So he turned to Asia and quickly raised a force there. It was not a large force, nor a battlehardened one for most of the east had long been in Muslim hands and in recent years the Emperor had raised his soldiers in Greece. Still, reinforced by the Emperor's personal retinue of Kataphraktoi (now grown to three regiments) it should be enough. Baileios took command himself, determined to nip the rebellion in the bud.

Baileios caught Tryphon at Tyana on 20th April 875, just as the Iconoclasts were trying to flee. Instead they went down heavily, with Tryphon's second in command falling into Imperial hands - his location betrayed by peasants as tried to hide in a well after the battle. The Emperor went on to defeat the Iconoclasts as Asponia the following month, and destroy them for good in May. Unfortunately neither battlefield victory nor the public executions of Tryphon and Michael quashed Iconoclasm completely, and even as the Emperor turned his attention to other matters hatered and fanaticism grew anew in Tyana... and now there were a pair of martyrs to avenge.

Basileios was not thinking of heretics or martyrs. He was thinking of Pavlina. Pavlina was a woman of the court, though she had no great standing or even great beauty. It was her bravery that impressed the Emperor, a brave man himself. Like him she loved to ride, in particular a great black stallion she'd called Bucephalus (she was brave not modest.) One thing led to another and within nine months that led to Thekla.



The gossipy court historian Demetrios, writing much later claimed that Basileios' recognition of his daughter was revenge on Empress Eudokia for her own past with the late, unlamented Michael III. this seems unlikely. The Imperial couple had continued to have children after the birth of Leon and relations between the two had by all accounts grown closer. More likely Basileios had bowed to a sentimental streak - Thekla very much had the Makedon looks.

The Emperor perhaps had much to be sentimental about. In 876 he turned forty and that same year was also his tenth anniversary on the throne. His reign had been a success but his greatest project still lay in the future: a return to Sicily. Amhad II, the Aghlabid ruler was a child of three and the Caliph would be unlikely to intervene for distant Sicily. There were other reasons too, more pressing ones for the Romans and Arabs were not the only presence in southern Italy.


Emperor Basileios at 40.

[1] I was very tempted to use the screenshots to tell this story but I decided against it. Partly because it would be too long and partly because it is such a fun series of events I don't want to spoil it for anyone interested in playing the Byzantine Empire. :)
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Ceranai: I look forward to reading your Roman Empire. :)

tuareg109: Thanks! They add a lot of character I feel. :)

Next up: Sicily.
Sweet, another Byzantine AAR!

I'm assuming the hint at the end of the last chapter suggests warring with one of the Italian Roman Catholic states on or near Sicily?
Part Five - The Scramble For Italy


Sicily & Southern Italy in 877.

The Roman victory over the Aghlabids in Sicily had saved Syracuse for the Christians. It had also dramatically upset the balance of power in Southern Italy. Within a decade the Muslim possessions on the mainland had been seized by ambitious powers. Louis II, the Frankish King of Italy who had the gall to claim the purple was in possession of Bari, once the richest port on the Adriatic south of Venice and held in turn by Roman, Muslim and now the Franks. The growing city state of Amalfi had seized the port of Taranto and its hinterland and in some ways the Romans viewed them as a greater threat than the heirs of Charlemagne. The merchant republic was wealthy, growing wealthier and greedy to boot. There were many Amalfians in Constantinople and they probably had a better idea of roman strength and limits than any of the other Italian states. The rest of Southern Italy, two-thirds of it, belonged to three Lombard princelings - based in Capua, Salerno and Benevento.

In Sicily itself the Muslims were slowly recovering their strength but the Aghlabid emirs were distracted by their rivalries with the Egyptian Tulunids. Amhad II the new Aghladid ruler was a child, completely under the thumb of a feuding palace cabal. How long before one of the Italian powers decided to take advantage of that weakness? Basileios was determined to beat them to it and in June 877 the Romans declared war on the Aghlabids.

The Roman expedition of 877 was similar in size to the one that had sailed for Sicily a decade earlier, and as then the Emperor was in personal command. However as the war continued the need for more soldiers became urgent. Basileios's forces were thinly stretched maintaining sieges across Sicily and vulnerable to a Muslim counterattack from North Africa. Worse the Iconoclasts had risen again in Anatolia and the Asian themes could not spare the manpower. So the Emperor turned to barbarian mercenaries. Individual northerners had served in the armies of Constantinople for decades. No less a person than Empress Eudokia was the daughter of a Norse sellsword. The so called Varangian Guard were different however. Formed early in 878 this three thousand strong force were personally loyal to the Emperor and more like a permanent standing army unit. The hiring of the Varangians was not a universally popular move but they would prove their worth at the Battle of Taormina in May 879. In a war composed mostly of long sieges Taormina, fought on a long warm spring day on the easternmost coast in northern Sicily was the only decisive battle. At the end more than two thousand Arabs lay dead and any hopes of winning the island back for Islam were gone. As soon as the battle was over the Aghlabids sued for peace.


Basileios recieving the Muslim surrender after the Battle of Taormina, May 879.

Taormina was as atypical as it was decisive. Long drawn out sieges were not glorious but no one knew better than Basileios that Rome could not throw away men on storming walls. Better to starve out the defenders. After two years at war the levied soldiers were relieved to be demobilised and sent home. Surprisingly the Emperor did not go with them. Nor did his personal Kataphraktoi retinue. Nor did the Varangians. Basileios had other plans. In June 879 the Roman army crossed into the toe of Italy and advanced on Amalfi held Taranto. Basileios's conquest of Southern Italy had begun.

The Italian War of 879 to 882 was not just one war, but several. At different times the Romans were fighting the Franks, all three Lombard principalities and Amalfi. In fact the odds were more in the Roman favour than might first appear. Taranto had only recently been taken by the Amalfians and their rule was weak and unpopular; when the garrison surrendered cheering crowds of civilians greeted the Emperor and his men. The Frankish King Louis II was distracted by a war with his own nephew in Lothargia and could only send limited forces to recover Bari before eventually giving it up entirely. Benevento, the most powerful of the Lombard principalities was split by a civil war allowing Foggia to fall like a ripe plum into the outstretched Roman hand.

All this would have been for nothing had it not been for Roman command of the sea [1]. With most of the fighting on the coast Basileios was able to count on a steady stream of supplies. Control of the Ionian Sea had firmly passed to Rome with Sicily and Venice, the one power that might have contested the Adriatic was pragmatically neutral.

In September 882 Capua fell to the Romans after a long siege. From Sicily to the borders of the Papal state only Amalfi and Benevento, both much reduced remained independent. After more than five years of warfare Basileios had brought Southern Italy firmly back into the Roman orbit. Most of the new territory was a patchwork of Roman governors, though here and there Lombard barons had kept their castles after swearing fealty, as had several bishops. Sicily, were no native Christian leaders had been left in power by the Muslims was given over to new governors in Agrigento and Drepanon. Panormos and Messine became part of the Emperor's personal patrimony.

Basileios was about to return home after five years absence. To many minds, especially his own the wars had been a tremendous success. The Roman position in Italy was stronger than it had been in generations. Not everyone agreed. Basileios had received troubling letters from his half-brother Marinos. Marinos wrote of the discontent in Constantinople at the Emperor's long absence, of the fear and anger at the recurring Iconoclast problem and doubt as to whether the war devastated Italian conquests could be held easily and of those who felt the campaigns could have been better spent in Anatolia, regaining land from the Arabs and Armenians.

Then there were the personal issues to attend. Basileios had a new wife to spend time with and two sons who had come of age and were worried about their inheritance. He was not going home a moment too soon.


Sicily & Southern Italy in 883.

[1] I love CK II but not having any sort of naval combat mechanism is a big drawback, especially considering so many of the medieval states were important naval powers. For story purposes the Romans are investing heavily in the navy, especially having regained control of Crete, Cyprus and now Sicily.
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Glad you like it Henry v. Keiper and Viden. :)

Next: A return to Constantinople and a closer look at the Makedon family and our old friends the Iconoclasts.