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SeanB

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The Soaring Eagle: Rise of Maniakes - A Byzantine Empire AAR

The Soaring Eagle: Rise of Maniakes

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'Standing nearly ten feet tall with a voice like thunder'
Georgios Maniakes

It is the 11th Century AD. The legendary Autokrator Basil II 'The Bulgar Slayer' is dead. Succeeding him were a series of less than spectacular Emperors who, either through ineptitude or lack of desire, began the gradual process of undoing all their predecessor had sweat, bled and finally died to accomplish. Dark clouds of uncertainty hang over an Empire that is ostensibly still the undisputed master of the Medieval World. But the Roman Empire is not without its champions...

The Maniakes family were wealthy land owners in central Anatolia, their estates primarily based within the province of Kappadokia. Georgios Maniakes, eldest son and heir of his families estate, could never have imagined the destiny that would await him and his progeny. Following the wishes of his father, he attended the University of Constantinople during the latter years of the reign of Basil II the Bulgar Slayer, before beginning his military career in 1020.

His brilliance as a soldier and a commander quickly brought attention to the young Maniakes, and by 1027, he had been promoted to the rank of Strategos and assigned to the town of Teleuch on the border with the Emirate of Aleppo, a vassal of the Empire. In recent years, however, the Emirate had began to slant heavily towards the Fatimid Caliphate, and Roman influence over the Emir had nearly evaporated.

In 1030, Emperor Romanos III, feeling the shadow of his predecessor Basil II, desired to emulate his success by leading an army of 20,000 to force the Emir back into submission and put an end to the Saracen raids upon their borderlands. Upon seeing the imposing army's approach, the Emir fearfully offered to submit to Constantinoples authority once more, but Romanos, seeking a great military victory, refused this offer.

This ultimately lead to the Battle of Azaz, where Romanos splendidly displayed his lack of military expertise by allowing the Saracen forces to drive his army to the brink of dehydration with their effective raiding upon his camp. In the end, the battered Emperor was forced to withdraw back to Roman territory, but the Saracens launched one final attack against the retreating army, seizing their baggage train and even the Imperial tent with all of its wondrous treasures. It is said that the Arabs required over 25 camels in order to transport its riches.

Greatly emboldened by this victory, the Emirs forces moved on Teleuch and demanded that Maniakes surrender the city to them and evacuate the area, falsely claiming to have captured the Emperor. Maniakes feigned compliance, offering a tumultuous amount of food and wine as a sign of his sincerity. The Arabs eagerly indulged in the gift, giving in to sleep in their drunken state.

It was at this point that Maniakes sallied forth and caught the confused and inebriated Saracens by complete surprise. Quickly overwhelming the Muslims, the Roman forces recaptured all that was lost at Azaz, along with over 250 supply camels of the Arabs own wealth. Maniakes then had the ears and noses cut from the dead, quickly riding with them to the Imperial camp where he dumped them at the feet of Romanos III.

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Maniakes attacking the Saracens at Telouch

As a reward for his humbling victory, he was given command of the entirety of the Roman Euphrates. Under the overall command of the Domestikos ton Scholon (Domestic of the Schools), Symeon, he proceeded to launch an attack into the rebellious Emirate alongside Niketas of Mistheia. Azaz soon fell to the conquering Romans, with Maniakes himself leading the eventual siege of Edessa in 1031, where he successfully bribed the governor, Sulayman ibn al-Kurgi, into opening the cities gates. All subsequent attempts by the Muslims to dislodge him ultimately proved in vain, with Emir Nasr sending his son to Constantinople to ask for peace in exchange for becoming a vassal to the Emperor once more.

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Georgios Maniakes and his forces laying siege to Edessa

But all was not well within the Roman Empire. The Berbers of Sicily had launched an impressive rebellion against their Arab overlords, nearly ousting them from power entirely. To preserve his power, the Arab Emir had approached Constantinople with an offer of alliance. This alliance ultimately proved incapable of preventing his death at the hands of the rebels, and in 1032, they launched a massive invasion of the Empires holdings in Southern Italy, quickly overwhelming their defenses in Calabria. By 1037, their invasion reached its apogee and it seemed as if nothing could prevent the loss of this last piece of Rome's birthplace.

It was at this point that Mikhael IV of Paphlagon, whom had succeeded Romanos III as Emperor in 1034, ordered Maniakes to settle things in Italy and drive the Saracens from Sicily once and for all. To aid him in this momentous task he brought a force of mercenaries comprised of both Italian Lombards and Normans under the command of Harald Hardrada and William Hauteville.

With the assistance of these mercenaries, Maniakes quickly stabilized Italy and then proceeded to launch his invasion of Sicily. After two years of hard fighting, Syracuse fell to the Romans, with William Hauteville earning the epithet "Iron Arm" by slaying the Emir of Syracuse in single combat with his sword when the Saracens attempted to sally out during the siege.

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Maniakes and the Normans attack the Saracens in Sicily by sea​

By 1040, both Messina and Syracuse itself lay in the hands of the Empire thanks to Maniakes and his formidable mercenaries. Unfortunately, his admiral, Stephanos, the uncle of Emperor Michael IV, had failed in his primary task: Preventing the escape of Sharaf ad-Dawla al-Muizz ibn Badis, the leader of the African forces sent to assist the Sicilian Berbers. Insulting and humiliating Stephanos, even allegedly hitting him, Maniakes caused the enraged Admiral to write to his brother-in-law, Ioannes the Orphanotrophos, possibly the most influential person in the Roman court at that time and a trusted confidant of Basil II during his reign. This ultimately resulted in him being recalled to Constantinople, having been accused of treason by Stephanos.

He was only spared the fate of a traitor by the death of the Emperor. Mikhael V, who was far from a fan of Ioannes, exiled the Eunuch to a monastery at Monobatae and had all of his male relatives castrated, Ioannes having plotted to place his nephew upon the throne and possibly having assassinated the epileptic Mikhael IV.

During his absence from Sicily, his hard won gains were quickly being reversed by the resurgent Saracen forces, and so Mikhael V quickly returned him to the front, with a promotion to Katepano of Italy, making him the effective ruler there. He then quickly suppressed a Norman uprising that had taken place during his brief arrest in 1042. Unfortunately, Mikhael V was soon overthrown and was succeeded by Konstantinos IX Monomachos, now being the third husband of Empress Zoe. Maniakes reputation at the Imperial Court was then soured through the efforts of one Romanos Scleros, a rival who held estates in Kappadokia that bordered his.

Having engaged in both verbal and physical confrontations with Scleros over land in the past, his name was effectively dragged through the mud at court. Scleros took it a step further when he seduced Maniakes wife and then ransacked his home, making no effort to hide these acts. He then had his beautiful sister, Maria Skleraina, seduce Konstantinos IX, giving him a great degree of influence over the Emperor.

Using this influence, Scleros had Maniakes removed from his post as Katepano, and was sent to personally deliver the news of this to him by the Emperor. Maniakes responded with his usual temperance by having Scleros' ears, eyes, nose and mouth sealed with feces, before slowly torturing his hated rival to death. He was then declared Emperor by his forces in Italy, including his remaining contingent of Normans.

Arriving on the mainland in 1043, he was met by the Roman army at Thessaloniki. The Imperial soldiers knew well of his prowess as a commander and his viciousness as an individual, and this sowed the seeds of fear and doubt amongst their ranks. Scoring a decisive victory over the Emperor's army, he continued to press on towards Constantinople with the intent of dethroning Konstantinos IX.

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Maniakes and his army march for Constantinople​

With the news that his army was mere miles away from reaching The City, the populace began to panic. Maniakes had amassed a fair bit of popularity amongst the people for his victories, while Konstantinos and his affair with Maria Skleraina had alienated a large segment of the population. Wishing to spare Constantinople a brutal siege, a massive uprising quickly wrested control of the streets from the Emperor and forced him into hiding within the Chrysotriklinos (Golden Hall).

Offering to allow Maniakes to enter The City unopposed in exchange for sparing the lives of Empress Zoe and her sister Theodora, the would-be Emperor quickly vowed to their safety and proceeded to march triumphantly through the streets with his army at his back. Konstantinos IX attempted to make a stand within the Golden Hall using the Varangian Guard, but they were hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded by a hostile city.

Using bribery and promises of amnesty, Maniakes had Konstantinos' remaining servants poison his food, the Varangian Guard immediately standing down with the death of the reigning Emperor. Making good on his word, Maniakes had Theodora and Zoe peacefully escorted to the Horologian, the clock tower of the Hagia Sophia. They would later be exiled to monasteries in Ephesus and Myra.

Four days later, Georgios I Maniakes was crowned Basileus by Patriarch Mikhael I Carularios in the Hagia Sophia.


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The coronation of Georgios I Maniakes, founder of the Maniakes Dynasty​

---

And that is the opening post of my new AAR, the Soaring Eagle: Rise of Maniakes.

Greetings, everyone! If you've been on this site long enough to remember me, I am SeanB, writer of The Fallen Eagle: A Byzantine Empire AAR. I've been wanting to do another Byzantine Empire AAR for a very long time, but I just couldn't find the inspiration. I always lamented the admittedly ridiculous premise of the Fallen Eagle - the idea that the Empire could be saved in the 15th century - and even more so, I lamented how I had essentially disregarded the butterfly effect in that story. The former I can blame on gameplay restrictions, the latter I can only blame on myself.

I present this AAR to you today as my attempt at genuinely credible Alternate History. While I will have a game that I shall be playing alongside it, make no mistake. This isn't a world conquest or challenge-based AAR. The story will drive the game in this, not the other way around. Unlike in The Fallen Eagle, I will allow the world of this AAR to diverge from history, and diverge greatly I am positive it will. But I will still prune the game on occasion to avoid truly ridiculous things that would be realistically impossible, such as Ireland owning territory in the Urals, or a Shiite Muslim Papacy.

In any case, I do hope you will all enjoy this AAR. I believe I have improved greatly as a writer since I stopped writing The Fallen Eagle, but I want to hear your thoughts, your criticisms and just share in the experience of writing with you all. So please, read and reply, whether you read The Fallen Eagle or have never heard of me before and are coming into this fresh.

I look forward to all of your replies. :)

PS: Thanks to Elfwine for helping me with certain historical details, and for inspiring this fascinating POD.
 
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Elfwine

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If this is half as good as The Fallen Eagle, it will be a great read. Looking forward to seeing what the Maniakei (?) do with the pesky barbarians to the West.

Silly Germans, there is only ONE Roman Empire, and you aren't it.
 

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The Reign of Georgios I Maniakes
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Nature had bestowed on him all the attributes of a man destined to command. He stood ten feet high and men who saw him had to look up as if at a hill or the summit of a mountain. There was nothing soft or agreeable about the appearance of Maniakes. As a matter of fact, he was more like a fiery whirlwind, with a voice of thunder and hands strong enough to make walls totter and shake gates of brass. He had the quick movement of a lion, and the scowl on his face was terrible to behold. Everything else about the man was in harmony with these traits and just what you would expect. -Psellos

Georgios I Maniakes' road to the crown had been a rocky one, and his reign would prove to be no less turbulent.

One of his very first acts after taking the city, even before his coronation, was to have the body Konstantinos IX Monomachos strung up in the hippodrome, where it was symbolically castrated on his orders in front of the assembled citizens as a punishment for his actions against Maniakes, which was ultimately the result of his adulterous relationship with Maria Skleraina.

After it leaving it to hang in spectacle for several days, he had the body removed and buried in unconsecrated ground, much to the shock and chagrin of Patriarch Mikhael I. Nevertheless, it served to further establish the new Emperor as a man to be feared by those that would call themselves his enemies.

Following his coronation, Georgios I ordered for the entirety of the Scleros family's estates to be seized and distributed amongst the lesser noble families in the region in retribution for their actions against his House, and for every Scleros male to be castrated, ensuring the end of the family line.

Despite these initial attempts to cement his authority, the childless Maniakes knew his hold over the reins of power was tenuous at best. Already 46 years old with a wife only slightly younger, his chances of producing an heir appeared grim. Fortunately, the infidelity his spouse had engaged in with Romanos Scleros gave the newly crowned Emperor options.

Divorce was greatly frowned on in the 11th century Eastern Church, but if a wife had been proven guilty of adultery, it was within the husband's right to divorce her. Patriarch Mikhael I Carularios, reluctant to oppose this seemingly vicious new Emperor, was quick to approve of the divorce with his unfaithful spouse. This enabled Georgios I to seek out a new, far younger bride for the sake of his new dynasty.

While securing a strong alliance with Hungary or even Germany held appeal for his military plans, the other monarchs of Europe were reluctant to offer their support to a usurper, and thus Georgios I was forced to search within the Empire for a wife. To this end, he settled upon the 19 year old Alexia Lekapenos, great granddaughter of Mikhael Lekapenos, himself the grandson of former Emperor Romanos I.

Mikhael, although initially relegated into clerical duties, eventually became a rhaiktor, a high ranking administrative position within the Imperial palace. He eventually married Hristina Bryennissa, a union which bore him three children. Alexia's father, Isaakios, would later serve as Maniakes's Optiones, a civilian official responsible for distributing pay to the soldiers, during his first attempt to conquer Sicily. This connection between her father and the Emperor made her an ideal choice for a wife. Through his marriage to Alexia, Georgios I would gain the support of both the wealthy Lekapenos, and the militarily influential Bryennios family.

In 1044, Maniakes first and only son Harilaos would be born in the Porphyra, cementing him as his legitimate heir apparent. The child would be raised primarily by his mother and the other senior members of the Lekapenos and Bryennios families while his father was away on campaign. Although his military expertise would never match his fathers, his balanced education resulted in a highly skilled and ingenious administrator and politician, areas that Georgios I in many ways found himself lacking.

The reign of Emperor Georgios I Maniakes was unsurprisingly focused upon expanding and securing the borders of his Empire. After guaranteeing some measure of political stability through his marriage to Alexia, the Emperor immediately returned his attention to Sicily. Appointing Isaakios Lekapenos as his Parakoimomenos (Essentially the Chief Minister of the Empire), it was nominally he that ruled the day-to-day affairs of the Empire while the Emperor was away from The City.

By 1045, Sicily had fallen back into the hands of the Arab Emirates, virtually all of Maniakes previous gains having ultimately been for naught due to the actions of his predecessor. Worse yet, rebellious Normans had managed to seize much of Southern Italy under none other than William "Iron-Arm" Hauteville, one of the finest soldiers to serve with Maniakes during his Sicilian Campaign from 1037 - 40. This was not Hauteville's first attempt at rebellion, however, with Maniakes having suppressed a previous uprising he had taken part in upon being made Katepano in 1042. In his extended absence, however, the situation had now become far more dire.

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Division of Southern Italy in the mid-11th century

Landing near the besieged city of Taranto with an army of 10,000, which included a significant portion of the Varangian Guard, Emperor Georgios I successfully lead his forces to relieve the Lombard Katepano of Italy, Argyrus. Argyrus had also served with Maniakes in Sicily before being cheated out of his rightful spoils and, some sources say, seeing his leader Alduin flogged by former Katepano Mikhael Dokeianos, causing them to rebel; the Emperor would quickly forge a strong and lasting alliance with him. Although willing to compromise with the Normans, Maniakes understood that it was too late in the rebellion for them to lay down their arms without a show of force.

While Argyrus had once lead the rebellion they now sought to crush, only switching sides after an immense bribe of both wealth and political power, the Emperor understood his reasons, having himself been stung by betrayal on more than one occasion, to the point of rebellion. Argyrus, a capable leader in his own right, harbored a deep respect for Maniakes, who had defeated him in the Battle of Manopli in 1042. Wishing to rally the support of the Lombard population once more, Georgios I made Argyrus the strategos ton kontaratoi(general of the pikemen, most of whom were comprised of Lombard residence of Italy), a rank unmentioned in previous texts that was likely created specifically for Argyrus. Being able to command the loyalty of a significant portion of the Lombard populace guaranteed the Emperor a reliable source of soldiers.

Meeting William "Iron-Arm" once more near Canosa, the Roman Army adopted Georgios I's favored three-line formation, with the infantry forming a tight shield wall to absorb the charge of the Norman cavalry. This plan proved successful, managing to repulse the notoriously unstoppable cavalry charge of the northerners. He followed this up by having his prokoursatores harass and move to pin down the cavalry before they could establish the necessary distance for another charge, whilst allowing the heavier cavalry within his army to close the distance with the Norsemen.

With his new authority as Emperor, Maniakes was able to handpick the precise composition of his forces, allowing the Roman Kataphractoi to make their debut in Italy for the first time in history. While the typical Roman cavalry were somewhat inferior to their Norman counterparts, the elite, heavily armored Katephracts were able to match the Norse warriors blow-for-blow and, more crucially, slow them down long enough for the infantry in the center to catch and envelope them. Sending in his Varangian Guard as a final coup de grâce, the remaining Normans began to break and scatter, ceding Apulia to Georgios I.

It was at this point that Hauteville, perhaps being shocked into remembering the ferocity of his former general by this defeat, opted to strike a bargain with the Emperor. They would lay down their arms and once more fight for Constantinople in exchange for both amnesty, and their rightful portion of any spoils obtained in the Emperor's planned Sicilian campaign. With Mikhael Dokeianos but a memory, Georgios I quickly agreed to this, guaranteeing them proper compensation.

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Georgios I pardons William "Iron Arm"

Once the Norman rebellion had ended, Emperor Georgios I turned his attention to the Principality of Salerno, which had been one of the main supporters of the Lombard rebellions against the Empire in the past few decades. Having broken away from the Duchy of Benevento in mid-9th century, it had at different points drifted between outright independence and vassalage to both Germany and Constantinople. Wishing to put the final nail in the coffin of any future uprisings, Norman or Lombard, the Emperor marched his army on the Principality.

Faced with the loss of much of his support amongst the Norman and Lombard population, Guaimar IV, Prince of Salerno, did not prove difficult to bring to heel. By 1046, Salerno had once again submitted to the suzerainty of the Empire after suffering a crippling defeat against the Emperor and his allies at the battle of Aarenxa. Prince Guaimar IV was permitted to continue ruling his principality under the watch of Constantinople. As a sign of his loyalty, he contributed some 1,500 men to the army of Georgios I. With Greater Langouvardia having at last been stabilized, the Emperor felt that he could once more focus on his personal quest to return Sicily to Christendom.

With an army that now numbered some 15,000, Georgios I renewed his offensive into Italy and by 1047 had recaptured the major cities of Syracuse and Messina once more. With matters in Southern Italy settled and with the ability to appoint his own Droungarios to command his fleet, the Emperor quickly began his push into Western Sicily. Palermo fell to the Roman army in 1048 after a three month long siege, breaking the Muslim forces on the island, which had been devastated in the civil war between its Arab rulers and the Berber peasants that had risen up to overthrow them. With their armies in a poor condition to wage war, the Saracens could do little to stop the Roman advance.

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The Roman army took Sicily, and the Saracens, by storm

The final conquest of Sicily would again suffer a momentary detour, however, when a deadly new enemy appeared on the Empire's eastern border. Known today as the Seljuk Turks, these deadly eastern raiders were lead by one Ibrahim Inal. Looting and plundering without remorse, they ravaged the eastern territories of the Empire, in particular the theme of Ibrhias. Forced to put the consolidation of Sicily aside for the moment, the Emperor placed his Sicilian army under the command of Argyrus and traveled by sea to Trapezus, where he joined the Imperial Army in Ibrhias in opposition to Ibrahim's marauders.

Sighting the approaching Roman army, the Seljuks began to quickly retreat from Imperial territory. Realizing his enemies' primary goal was to escape with their spoils, Georgios I once more employed his prokoursatores light cavalry to launch raids upon their immense camel train which contained all of the stolen wealth of the Ibrhias theme. Having already been slowed by the strong garrison of the theme under the command of Leo Tornikios, Ibrihim quickly realized he would either be forced to abandon a sizeable portion of their riches, or stand and fight. He chose the latter.

Confronting the Roman army a short distance away from the city of Artanuji, the fiercely fought mid-day battle ended with the decimation of the Seljuk raiders at the hands of Georgios I, and the capture of Ibrahim Inal. Wishing to send a clear message to these marauders, the Emperor first had their vast camel train emptied of the various riches they had plundered from the theme before ordering some 10,000 of the Seljuk raiders to be slain and dismembered, their body parts being stuffed into the sacks that had once carried the wealth of Ibrhias. At the head of this camel train was the partitioned body of Ibrahim himself, with the survivors being told to lead the train back to Toghril Beg with a warning to never enter Imperial territory again.

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Decimation of the Seljuk Turks

The remainder of the 1040s would be the conclusion of the Roman efforts to reunify Sicily under its rule, with the last of the Saracen defenders falling at the Battle of Assores (March 1050). Making good on his promises, he allowed his Norman and Lombard allies to partake in their rightful spoils which had been denied to them by Mikhael Dokeianos. Granting them land in Western Sicily, Palermo would, over the next several decades, be transformed into a bastion of Norman culture.

With the task he set out to accomplish more than decade prior finally complete, the Emperor returned to Constantinople to assume direct rulership over the Empire and it's affairs. The political policies of Emperor Georgios I favored the Lekapenos and Bryennios families that made up a great deal of the Imperial Court during his reign, but his reign was also one that rewarded competence and efficiency. The Imperial fleet, the dominant maritime force in the Mediterranean during the 11th century, was kept at full strength, a measure than ran counter to the plans of his predecessor, Constantine IX Monomachos, who had deigned to see the fleet broken up into smaller units as a cost cutting measure.

It was, after all, in no small part thanks to the superior Roman navy that Sicily was now ruled from the Ieron Palation. The navy would continue to prove it's worth throughout the reign of Georgios I, capturing the Russian port city of Timutarakan in 1061.

Further military reforms enacted by Georgios I included the reorganization of the Thematic System, which under the previous Emperors had began a slow but steady decline from its peak under Basil II. The interior themes were organized into Ducates much like those on the Empire's borders, with Doux (Dukes) being assigned based upon a combination of political connections and personal ability. These Ducates were in essence a grouping of dozens of thematic counties, with the numerous counts answering to their ducal administrators, who in turn would answer to Constantinople.

Georgios I also presided over several border clashes with both the Seljuk Turks and the Fatimid Caliphate, although the latter was often seen as a nominal ally during his reign. The coastal city of Tripoli was seized in 1058 in one such confrontation, several fortresses and towns along the Seljuk border also being occupied throughout the 1050s and 60s. Overall, there were no sweeping changes in the Empire's eastern territories, with the Emperor adapting a strategy of a strong defense combined with a lightning fast response to raiders that entered Roman territory.

Heavy reforms were carried out in Italy, with the local themes, which now included the theme of Sikelia, eventually being able to raise a combined army of more than 12,000. Under the leadership of Katepano Argyrus, the Duchy of Amalfi and Principality of Capua were forced to yield to Roman suzerainty by 1060, with Benevento following in 1064, after a decisive victory against a German army under the command of Conrad of Bavaria. This marked the final consolidation of Southern Italy, along with the expulsion of Germanic political influence there.

The reign of Emperor Georgios I was undoubtedly a positive one for the Empire, with its string of military victories under his leadership and the appointment of, for the most part, competent officials to military and administrative positions, he brought stability to a state that was in danger of decline due to the mishandling of his predecessors. He is popularly known as the Sikeliakrator (Lord of Sicily) for his conquest of Sicily, the best known act of his reign.

Georgios I passed away on August 14th of 1066, his son Harilaos I being crowned two weeks later in the Hagia Sophia.​

---

Ah, sorry for the wait, these two opening posts required me to do some significant research. My posts will come much faster once the actual game starts. In any case, enjoy, read and reply. :)
 
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Tapscott

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Huh, Georgios I was one hell of an Emperor! Here's hoping that Harilaos I can follow in his father's footsteps.
 

Mr. Capiatlist

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Count me in. I recall Fallen Eagle quite fondly, so I have high hopes for this one as well!
 

SeanB

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Emperor Harilaos I Maniakes in 1066

It was a strange feeling, to at last sit upon this throne. To have felt the lips of the most powerful men within the Empire touch your knees in deference. He knew the day would come, when he would be hailed as Emperor...but he could scarcely say he was prepared to step into his father's illimitable shoes.

The throne Harilaos now sat upon felt every bit as large as the man that had occupied it. A plush and luxurious seat build for both the Emperor and his wife, it was more a canapé than a chair. Violet silk offered cushioning to the Autocrat as he eased into his new throne, his face coming to rest upon his knuckles as he lay at ease within the golden halls of the Chrysotriklinos.

He indeed felt small, sitting where his father had only weeks earlier. How could he live up to a man that was praised alongside the likes of Basil II? He was possessed of neither his physical stature or his military ability. Reigning for a mere 23 years, he had brought the Saracens of Sicily to their knees, humbled the would-be rulers of Salerno and Benevento, turned back the hordes of the Seljuks on multiple occasions and sundered the rebellious King of the Croats.

Where would he even start in his quest to equal the man known as Georgios Maniakes? Had the hearts of Basil II's successors indeed been gripped by this same anxiety? This same desire to live up to a legacy they were perhaps ill-suited to parody? He could feel the eyes of his court even now gazing upon him with great expectation. He could see through them the will of his people and their no less grandiose forecast for his success.

His father had left him a wealthy and powerful Empire, and a stable throne. Like Basil's immediate successors, he had little to fear in the form of rebellion. He was legitimate, with powerful families backing his ascendance to the throne. But if he failed in the coming years to live up to the pedestal he had been placed upon, Harilaos knew well that this would change.

Casting an eye to his feet which now rested upon the unoccupied space that his mother had at one time regularly sat upon, he immediately understood his first concern. A successful Emperor needed a consort, and having an heir would greatly aid in further cementing his rule. To this end there were many prospects he had considered since ascending the throne. His father had married within the Empire to secure the support of the Lekapenos and Bryennios families, and because he was viewed as a usurper by the Latin Kings.

This stigma still hung over the fledgling Maniakes Dynasty, but should his reign be successful, it would most certainly pass. For the time being, internal opposition to his families' rule was minimal thanks to his father's successful reign. This made a union within the confines of Rome unnecessary, when there were perhaps better alternatives available. One such alternative in particular had already seized his eye.

While most European Monarchs were still leery of the son of a usurper, there was one man that had held a great deal of respect for his father. Once a member of the Varangian Guard that had fought side by side with the Emperor in the initial contest for Sicily, he had since then ascended to the throne of a King. Known to his fellows as 'Harald Hardrada', he now reigned over a realm of his own in the frozen lands of the Vikings.

He recalled a visit by King Harald some years prior, where he had been introduced to his daughter Ingegerd. Wedding her would strengthen his relationship with the Northmen, and help to encourage more to make the journey from the frozen wastes to Constantinople, strengthening the Varangian Guard. It would be a somewhat controversial marriage amongst members of the court, but it was no worse than bringing Sklavinias into the court.

Signaling for his Parakoimomenos, Nikephoros, the Emperor swung his legs to the floor in order to stand. "Bring to me a shred of parchment."

2OL5e.jpg

Princess Ingegerd

From this moment on, he would need to act with decision. The age of Georgios I had passed...this era belonged to him.


rRwKx.jpg

Roman Empire upon the ascent of Harilaos I Maniakes

---

Hah! Finally, the game is afoot! I had to modify the scenario a bit in order to fit with my alternate timeline of a more powerful Byzantium, so that was the main delay. I'm still inexperienced with working on CK2. Anyway, more soon now that I have finally started the game! And yes, I omitted the details of Georgios I's Balkan campaign. I want to revisit the character a bit posthumously, what with him being the big cause of this timelines POD.
 
Last edited:

LordTempest

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This AAR is absolutely brilliant; it puts just about every other currently active CKII AAR to shame.

I'm very much a Byzantine novice (I'm like three-quarters of the way through the Alexiad) so I cannot quite appreciate the level of historically-accurate detail you've gone to as much as your average Paradoxian (whom by and large, are Byzantine fetishists.) but nevertheless I always enjoy a well-written alternate history so count me in!
 

SeanB

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To his most Christian Lord, Harald Sigurdsson, King of the Northmen

From the most Christian Emperor of the Romans and God's Vicar on Earth, Harilaos I Maniakes

Strong is the friendship between our families, since days long past when you fought at my father's side in the former lands of the Saracen. Tales of your heroism are still told within the hallowed halls of the Sacred Palace of Constantinople. Sadly, my father has been called to the breast of the Creator and now it falls upon my shoulders to continue the work you both began, side by side as brother in arms.

I write this letter to you, trusted friend and eternal alley of me and all my kin, requesting the hand of your daughter Ingegerd in sacred matrimony. To this end, I offer you a dowry of a ship laden with the finest of silk and this army of 1,000 mercenaries that will fight loyally at your side in your efforts to secure your rightful claim on the throne of the Angles.

I eagerly await your response, my brother in Christ and eternal friend of my House.


---

A letter, written in only the finest Latin, from the Empire that he to this very day still held a certain fondness for. Harald 'Hardrada' lowered the piece of parchment and offered a glance to the Captain of the mercenaries sent to aid him in his bid for the Angles. A Northman, like himself. Good, hardy stock; he could tell.

He had made camp within the ruins of the town of Scarborough, and soon he would march directly on the Lords of Northumbria. Crushing them would be the first step in claiming the throne from Harold Godwinson, the craven whoreson. The roar of the campfire contrasted well with the embers that still clung to life in the charred remains of Saxon holds that had stood in defiance of him earlier this day.

They had chosen to resist him, when he had offered mercy. In response, he put them and their earthly possessions to the torch as a lesson to the other villages in this region. A lesson they learned well, for they now bowed to his authority as the rightful King of this land. Folding his arms over his chest, Hardrada once again eyed the man, in his late 20s by the looks of him.

"Where do you hail from, boy? What land do you call your home?"

The younger man tightened his fists at the question, responding with a deep rumble from his chest. "Bertnem, Your Majesty. A village that sits against the great river Namsem in the lands of the Jarl of Trondelag, your son."

Offering only the briefest of nods, Hardrada slowly swept his eyes over the army that the Greek Emperor had sent him. There was little doubt in his mind that they would fight and die by his side. They had Norse blood coursing through their veins, the same as he. They had served with the Romans, the same as he. He knew precisely what he could expect from them...for they were Varangian.

It was so very many moons ago that he had stood against the hordes of the Saracen alongside the Greeks, alongside Gyrgir. Despite the passage of time, however, his memory of those days was still fresh. Now, the son of his former General asked for his daughter's hand in marriage...and had sent him an army as a dowry. It was more than he could say that sansorðinn Svend ever offered him.

The old wooden chair released a sharp creak as the imposing figure of Hardrada stood, the last of the great Viking Kings gesturing towards the sea, the fires of ambition clearly alight within his pallor blue eyes. He could taste his coming victory in the air. It was a feeling that hadn't touched his old bones since his days within the Guard. Glory and power would soon be his for the taking, with his fellow Varangians at his side.

"You may send word to your Lord in Constantinople. I accept his dowry. Ingegerd belongs to him, now."​

---

Alright, with that update, I think some responses are in order.

Dovahkiing: Thank you very much for the awesome compliment. Things like that greatly motivate me to write more!

Elfwine(1): Thank you, always great to see someone from the Fallen Eagle times back here!

Tapscott: He's hoping right along side you, as you'll soon see!

Mr. Capiatlist: Yo, Mr. C! Awesome to see you here, too! Hope I manage to live up to your expectations! :)

Elfwine(2): If you get on his bad side, then Arsenic. ;)

Hardradi: Glad to be fulfilling an old Alternate History fantasy, then! I too really like Maniakes, and a dynasty founded by him is a very enticing thought.

Tanzhang (譚張): Yeah, that's right! I kept your Chinese characters in my response! Anyway, thank you for the awesome compliments! I don't know if I can claim to put everyone to shame, but it means a lot that you think so! Also, the Alexiad is always a fun read. I hope you're enjoying it. :)

Anyway, folks. More to come soon!
 

LordTempest

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I really like how you were able to turn what must have been a routine and remedial few seconds of gameplay into something genuinely interesting and fun to read, filled with atmosphere and mood. Do continue!
 

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The arm of Rome is long indeed if they help with the invasion of England.
 

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Her betrothal had been a brazen, garish thing that had perfectly exemplified the excess and pretentiousness of the Greeks and their society. The political atmosphere that permeated every aspect of the ceremony had been almost suffocating to her, and caused her already to long for home again. Ingegerd knew next to nothing about the man she now called husband, this Harilaos. She understood only that he was the son of the man her father had fought beneath during his battles in Sicily, the great Gyrgir.

Worst of all, not a word spoken in the court of the Romans rang true to her ears. It was an utterly alien tongue that bore nothing in common with her own. Every day since her arrival she had been surrounded by men of high stature whom she could neither speak to or understand, and so she was to be lead about like a dog with hand gestures and gentle prods.

It was only when she met her future husband directly that her burdens had been alleviated. In the accompaniment of his trusted guardsmen, they had provided her with a voice at last. But her questions had remained few at the time, limited merely to introductions. Apparently, 'Harilaos' was their way of pronouncing her father's name, meaning that Gyrgir had honored their friendship through his son.

After the lavish wedding ceremony had followed a coronation some days later. Never before had she witnessed such an ostentatious display of self-importance. And worse, it was to be focused solely upon her, their new Empress.

Having been guided from her quarters by an entourage of maids whom she was to understand were her personal servants, she soon arrived before her husband and the 'Patriarch', as they called him, of Constantinople. She had been dressed in clothing that was, as with all things here, obtrusive and florid. Consisting of only the finest gold and purple silk, she had in addition been made to wear some froppy hooded cloak they referred to as a Maphorion.

The Patriarch then said a word of prayer, after which the cloak was removed from her and she was dressed in another similar to the one her husband was wearing. These "chlamys" were commonly worn by those of high station here, but those dyed with purple were seemingly reserved for only her and the Emperor.

The Patriarch then began to pray over a crown, which was soon taken up by her husband and placed upon her head. Following this, a grand procession had lead them to the chapel of St. Stephen, where she was seated upon a throne beside the Emperor, symbolizing her new status as Empress. What happened next, she honestly found repulsive. The various men of noble blood began to prostrate themselves before both her and her husband, and kiss their knees.

Following this, their wives would come to her, one after another, and do the same. It required all of her resolve and restraint to shelter the disgust on her face. These ceremonies were simply to reinforce the authority of weak rulers that lacked the personal strength to grasp firmly the reins of power and bring their rivals to heel with blood and steel. She didn't share her father's respect for these Greek lady-men.

Her father had not even consulted with her, as was customary, before arranging this marriage. But she knew better than to oppose that man they called 'Hardrada'...so here she was, amongst these soft, effeminate Romans.

She still liked them better than Svend.

Now standing before a large gathering of what she presumed to be yet more of the high born of the Empire in a horse-shoe shaped room called the "Onopodion", whatever that meant, she watched them all prostrated themselves before her in deference. There was thankfully to be no more kissing of the knees at this point, as she understood it. Following the instructions she had been given, she offered a curt nod to a gaudily dressed Eunuch who then babbled off a command that drew them all immediately to their feet.

Applause and cheering soon followed as she continued to silently be lead out of the strange structure and to what she had been told was called 'The City Hall". She was now lighting candles, of all things. A pity none of them managed to catch some of their fancy garments on fire. That would have made this entire day worth it. Following this, there was more incoherent shouting in their incomprehensible tongue.

And at last, at the end of the entire ordeal, they were treated to a feast. This would prove to be the only part of the day she enjoyed, even if the food was a bit rich for her tastes. Well, no matter. At least things were at last over. She was now the "Basilissa", an awfully grandiose title and ceremony for a mere consort. Though, there was one thing out of all of this that she could appreciate. One thing that was never a possibility for her back home.

Women in this Empire could, under the right circumstances, hold real power. When that trinket was kept in mind, perhaps these Romans weren't entirely bad after all.

Byzantine-600s.jpg


---

Mr. Capiatlist: For Hardrada, 1,000 men is an impressive amount. But for the Byzantine Empire, it's really just a token force.

Tanzhang (譚張): Why, thank you! I hope this post accomplished more of the same for you. :)
 

LordTempest

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Hi Sean, just thought I'd stop by and say I've nominated you for this week's WritAAR of the Week award! Congrats, keep updating and for the love of God, nominate someone else in exactly one weeks time! :)
 

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An excellent start, you have a very dramatic writing style Sean. You may be less than a page in but I'd say well deserved on the award. Congratulations.
 

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xcnN1Yu.jpg
gji8Zxw.jpg

The Emperor Harilaos, after a shave and visit to the tanning bed. (Had to restart the game for The Republic, Ingegerd's stats are a bit different and I redid Harilaos)

---



To say there was a feeling of awkwardness between the newlywed rulers of the Roman Empire would be to grossly understate the situation. While marriage between the noble families of Europe was a common practice, the linguistic barrier between them was easily circumvented through the use of Latin, which was still often the lingua franca of high society. The cultural and religious practices between the realms of Christendom also carried certain similarities thanks to the oversight of the Papacy, and this could greatly help a foreign consort adjust more comfortably to her new environment.

None of these conveniences that might otherwise be taken for granted were present for Empress Ingrid, as she was now known. Not a single word spoken could be given sense to her without translation, which only exacerbated how very different Roman court and religious practices were from those of Norway.

3oNvz.jpg

A rather simple dining table, for the personal use of the Emperor and his wife.

Eating across from her husband in their private chambers, it was only with brevity that they would cast a glance to one another. The candlelight at the center of the rectangular dining table served to offer illumination for their meal, but darkness still encroached upon them from the room's outer edges, once again reminding her of how very large the aptly named 'Great Palace' truly was.

In the days since her coronation, she had been made to adapt quickly to Roman life. The differences were many, but they did share a surprising number of things in common...they bathed daily, for example, as they had in Norway. This had proven to be of great comfort to her, who had been told many a times before of how the people of the southern Christian states would allow dirt and refuse to encrust over them while the smell of rot lingered in the air above.

Her husband had taken her to a place called Zeuxippus, near the Great Palace. It was a grandiose bathhouse where both men and women - in separate rooms, of course - bathed daily. As she was lead to understand, it had at one point been converted into a Barracks during darker times, when the Empire fought for its existence against the Saracens and Bulgars. With a better era upon them, it had been reopened to the public, to their jubilation.

Accompanying the pair at all times was a member of the Varangian Guard who was thankfully able to speak both the Greek and Norse tongue fluently. He offered a means of communication between the new couple, and the possibility for Ingrid to one day learn how to speak to her husband herself, if she deigned to learn. There was certainly plenty of incentive, politically. Being unable to voice her own thoughts without a translator placed her at a distinct disadvantage at court.

For now, however, she would strive towards success in the situation she was in, rather than the one she desired. Deciding to break the uncomfortable silence between them with a question, she watched the translator presumably repeat it to her husband in Greek.

"Why do you call yourselves 'Roman'? You do not hail from the city of Rome, nor does your realm hold dominion over it. Is Greek not the language you and the people of this city speak?"

From the expression on Harilaos' face, she could tell that she had perhaps offended him with her question, although it had not been her intent to do so. They did not speak the language of the city of Rome. Latin, which was so common elsewhere amongst the clergy and nobility due to the legacy of the old Roman Empire, was bizarrely absent from the state that still clung to its name.

"I am Roman because my father was Roman," the translator responded with indifference, "The name of Maniakes has been a part of the Empire since the days of Great Constantine, if not long before. To be Roman is to be the continuance of a legacy stretching back more than fifteen hundred years. It is not a thing of geography or language, but of lineage. Quite simply, it is to be a citizen of the one, true Empire."

"The Frankish Lords refer to us as 'The Empire of the Greeks'," he continued, "To this I say that before Rome, there was Anticoh...there was Alexandria, and that without their shining examples to guide Latium, there would have never been a Rome to begin with. Rome's classics, it's theater, it's literature, it's architecture, it's very way of life...the core of the Roman Empire has always beat with a Graikoi heart. Was it not, after all, in old Byzantium that Great Constantine chose to lay the foundation for the spread of Christendom? To be Roman is to dip ones bread in oil, to cross their heart from right to left, to, by all means, bathe regularly and know well the lessons of the great philosophers and scribes of the past. These are all concepts that the barbarous heirs of Charlemagne sadly struggle to comprehend, and until the day when the Almighty deigns to cast away their ignorance, they shall be wholly unworthy of the name Romaioi."

Easing back into his chair as the air surrounding him thawed, the Emperor gazed across the table at his wife with a clinical eye, "The Franks and their so-called Emperor even now envy the life that has been lain before you. Learn better the ways of civilization so that you might earn the respect of your peers and the adoration of your people which you so rightfully deserve, dear wife, for there is no woman on God's Earth that could claim to be your equal...you, Basilissa Ingrid."

Ingrid could tell she had really touched upon a sore spot, to set him off on such a diatribe against the Germans. There must be no love lost between the two, and she could see the unfortunate Varangian Guardsman having to translate all of this release a great sigh of relief when the Emperor became silent. She was tempted to question him further, feeling as if, despite the sensitive nature of her previous inquiry, that she was beginning to understand her surroundings better through their exchange. His last words, after all, had been to encourage her to better learn of Greek...of Roman civilization.

"Tell me, dear wife," Harilaos spoke, placing his wife's curiosity on a temporary hold, "How does your father regard us? The honored Harald Sigurdsson."

Ingrid could feel a slight lump form in her throat, but she hid her discord well; "He remembers his service under your father fondly. He sung only praises for your Empire." She lied, neglecting to mention his frustration over being imprisoned and nearly executed. Nevertheless, it was true that her father still held a strong admiration for the Empire of the Romans, praising them to his jarls even to this very day.

Seeming pleased to hear this, Harilaos reached out to grasp his table fork and sank it into an imported olive from northern Syria...now under the rule of the Assyrian Turks. He enjoyed them, olives. At one time in the Empire, many more than he were able to appreciate them, and the fine oil that could be ground from them. Before he drew his last breath, he would secure these orchards for the Empire again.

Awkwardly lifting her fork in mimicry of her husband, Ingrid plunged it into one of her own olives, her face doing its best to maintain a veneer of stoicism as the strange taste marinated over her tongue. There were most certainly things here that would require more time to adjust to...

***

Having taken the first steps towards ensuring the continuation of his still uncertain dynasty, Harilaos I began his rule in earnest. Immediately following the news of his father's death, a revolt erupted in Sicily amongst the Berber peasants, hoping to exploit the Sikeliakrator's demise. His son, it was hoped, would prove weak and be unable to hold his predecessors gains.

Over the past several decades, however, much of the Berber population had taken flight to Africa as their privileged status was stripped of them. By 1066, the initial revolt only numbered some 5,000 in strength. Nevertheless, they were successfully able to seize the fortress of Caltagirone and kill the governor of Syracuse, Kyrillos Basiliakos. This victory spurred other parts of Sicily to rise up in rebellion, with the Katepano of Sicily, Sergios Synadenos requesting aid from Constantinople after his outnumbered themata was defeated by the Muslim rebels at the Battle of Kefaloidion, during which many were driven into the sea to their deaths.

Understanding his own shortcomings as a commander, the Emperor placed an army of 7,500 men under Theodoros Gavras of Trebizond, and dispatched him to put down the rebellion. Landing with his army near the city of Messina on November 17th, he marched them towards the besieged town of Omphake. Catching word of their approach, the rebels broke the siege and marched to meet Theodoros' army head on.

With their victory having spurred yet more disenfranchised Berbers to their flag, the rebels now numbered 8,200 according to contemporary accounts. Theodoros would prove a capable general, however, and quickly claimed the upper hand in the opening volley by maximizing the use of his superior missile infantry against the Muslims. Things continued to worsen for the rebels as the mayor of Omphake had rallied his militia following their departure and sallied them out the gate in pursuit, soon joining the battle by attacking the Berber's vulnerable left flank.

vtly3.jpg

Theodoros Gavras' army fighting against the Sicilian Berbers.

The Muslim army's morale was soon shattered, sending them into a panicked retreat. Over the next several weeks, Theodoros would seize the remaining rebel holdouts and restore Roman authority over the island. Returning to Constantinople on December 8th, he was rewarded by Harilaos with a grand Triumph through the Forum of Constantinople in commemoration of his victory, a tradition revived for Basil II, and continued under Georgios I.

It was, however, perhaps not in the best interest of the young Emperor's reign to delegate the responsibility of crushing the Berber revolt to another. His personal metal was still yet unproven, and many within his court and amongst his people expected a great Warrior-Emperor as his father had been. This was, perhaps, the motivating factor behind his decision to invade the lands of the thirteen tribes of the Pechenegs to the north of Bulgaria.

The Empire had suffered the sporadic raids of these Pechenegs for centuries, in particular since they were driven from the Steppes by the Kipchaks. By 1067 they primarily ruled over Christian lands inhabited by cousins of the Vlach people of protectorate states of Wallachia nestled in the mountains of Thessaly. Sensing an opportunity to both end their incessant raiding into Bulgaria and paint himself as a savior of good Christians from Pagan barbarism, the Emperor drew upon the Themes of Greece, the Balkans and western Anatolia to assemble a great army of more than 45,000 men.

This time, he would personally assume command in order to reap the full glory of a Roman victory and to secure the confidence of his peers and the people of his Empire.​

---

So, with The Republic now released, I decided to just restart the game I had been playing, since it wasn't all that far in anyway. Lets me use the latest versions features and everything. I really love the new Mediterranean faces. Adds a great feeling of atmosphere.

Tanzhang: Wow, thanks! That's awesome, I'm surprised this already won an award given that it isn't even off the first page. I was starting to think it wasn't really peoples cup of tea due to the lack of response. I'm glad a lot of people seem to enjoy it, though. :)

Dr. Gonzo: Thank you very much! I hope you enjoy future posts equally as much.

Oh! And I almost forgot, I'm suppose to do this...


^ So yeah, that. :p
 
Last edited:

Specialist290

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Well, this is certainly another pleasant surprise! Didn't realize you were still writing, SeanB. I remember Fallen Eagle as being one of my favorites back in the day, and seeing this thread has reminded me why. I'll be following this with interest.
 

LordTempest

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I did rather like that little exchange between husband and wife. Those little conversations between characters are what make this AAR!

Unfortunately these days, if you're not writing a comedy or gameplay AAR you probably aren't going to get a great deal of comments at first. All you can do is keep on posting quality updates and pray to whatever gods motivate you that at least someone posts a comment before you post the next update.
 

Jedrek

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Well, finally managed to read through. All I can say is that this AAR is perhaps the finest-written piece history I've seen in a long, long time. I usually have difficultes reading wall-of-text style AAR (although I tend to use this style myself), but your story manages to keep me interested, no matter how long the text is.

Out of curiosity: what are your plans towards the northern Orthodoxy? All in all, your emperor has at least some ties with Rurik's Norse kin ;)