- Apr 20, 2012
”You must destroy all the nations the LORD your God hands over to you. Show them no mercy and do not worship their gods. (…) But don't be afraid of them! Just remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt. Remember the great terrors the LORD your God sent against them. (…) He will throw them into complete confusion until they are destroyed. He will put their kings in your power, and you will erase their names from the face of the earth. No one will be able to stand against you, and you will destroy them all.”
- Deuteronomy 7:16-24
- Deuteronomy 7:16-24
Aegyptus had been liberated and the war against the Timurids had been won but for a price. Both the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy suffered heavy losses and despite increased taxation of the Roman citizens, the Aerarium was struggling with a heavy burden of numerous loans and exhausting war effort. Dozens of new dromonoi would have to be built if the Imperium was hoping to face the might of the xenoi fleet – a hugely expensive undertaking, especially given the circumstances. Nevertheless, the sacred Emperor was adamant in his resolve and soon imperial shipyards were buzzing with activity. But even a hundred dromonoi would not be able to stop the immense wooden-castles of the xenoi which, as many believed, the Westerners had more than there were sailors in the whole Imperium. Whatever was the truth, the indisputable fact was that all it took was a small scouting force of the xenoi to cripple the whole Imperial Navy. Many were whispering in Konstantinoupolis that surrendering to the Westerners after a single battle was a sign of great weakness of the Imperium. The truth was – as always – hidden from the eyes of the foolish man. His Imperial Majesty understood that war on two fronts would unavoidably end in a disaster and so, fulfilling the sacrosanct duty of the Angeloi – to protect the Imperium and Christendom at all costs - the sacred Emperor agreed to the outrageous and blasphemous demands of the abhorrent invaders.
And so when on 20th February 1464 after almost 6 years of devastating war Menggei, son of Timur, accepted the harsh terms imposed on him as a righteous retribution for the suffering of Romaioi, the plan of blessed Autokrator bore bittersweet fruits. The silence has fallen on the battlefields, interrupted only by shrieks of crows and vultures, feasting on the dead Romans and Mongols alike. Dry land was now soaked with blood of the martyrs but Aegyptus has been reclaimed – and with it the whole Africa.
Gate to the East
Like a withered garden after a long drought, Aegyptus was slowly coming back to life as a part of the Imperium. With a land connection to Konstantinoupolis restored and the whole province guarded by the Imperial Army, unruly doukes could no longer ignore orders of the Throne. Whatever little autonomy they gained during the Mongol occupation of Aegyptus, while the whole Abyssinia was practically cut off from the Queen of Cities, was taken from them. Every case of corruption or treason and collaboration with the slaves of Menggei was severely punished, as it was ordered by the sacred Emperor. Ruthless subjugation of aristoi from the southernmost themata was the final nail in the coffin for the dynatoi. Their power and influence, severely undermined by the great purge orchestrated by megas domestikos Demetrios Komnenos, reached its nadir when the handful of the Powerful who had not yet completely submitted to the Throne were eradicated, their lands and property confiscated. None was spared and none was left who would've dare to oppose His Imperial Majesty – and so in a few years order has been restored in Africa. Aegyptian and Abbysinian administration, purged from corruption and particularism of aristoi, soon started to provide much higher revenues from taxes and more recruits to the Army.
The sacred Emperor however gave little attention to these matters, for in his wisdom he knew that the African themata could serve the Imperium not only as a breadbasket, but something of much greater importance – a gate to the Far East.
Centuries ago, before the false Prophet led the wild tribes of Arabia against Persians and Romans alike, the Imperium and Hindustan were connected by numerous trade routes bringing great wealth to merchants from both states. Myrrh, pearls, ebony, silk, textiles, skins and feathers of exotic animals, gold – the chronicles of old tell us about unimaginable treasures which were enriching both the Romaioi and Hindoi. Alas, the age of prosperity ended when the Arab tribes united under black banner of the First Caliphate spread from the deserts like cockroaches, bringing death and destruction wherever they went. The once mighty Persian Empire, defeated by great emperor Heraclius, was unable to resist the hordes of fanatic warriors of islam and in the end was utterly destroyed. The Imperium itself was – as always – protected by God himself and survived the onslaught, but not without heavy losses. After disastrous battle of Yarmouk in year 636 not only Syria and Aegyptus, but also Armenia, Mesopotamia, Cyrenaica and all African provinces were lost and even the Queen of Cities was besieged twice by the barbarians.
It was in these days when the ancient routes connecting Romaioi with far Hindustan were abruptly severed. Like a toxic cloud the unholy Caliphate was spreading from Arabia to both West and the East, covering the world in darkness. One by one the free kingdoms of Christendom fell to the power of the caliph and soon the fanatical ghazis reached the Latins, enslaving good Christians and burning whole cities. Corruption of islam was tainting everything, poisoning minds and souls from the Pillars of Hercules to the river of Hyphasis, where in the ancient times soldiers of Alexandros ho Megas mutinied against him. A moonless night has fallen in the East, one that was to last for centuries – and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth and for over half thousand years the distant realm of Hindustan passed out of all knowledge. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it - ancient maps were destroyed and whole libraries were burned during innumerable wars and so when descendants of Saint Markos Isapostolos reclaimed Aegyptus for the first time and pushed the Caliphate out of Abyssinia, the whole knowledge of the Far East was contained in a few surviving manuscripts, meticulously preserved in the archives of the Great Pandidakterion. It took almost complete eradication of the followers of the false Prophet before Roman traders could hope to meet some of their counterparts from the East. But only a handful of merchants who – allegedly – came from Hindustan were allowed to trade with Romaioi before the arrival of the Iron Khan, whose realm created another almost impenetrable barrier between the Imperium and the East.
Sacred Emperor Markos III Angelos in his wisdom understood all this. Guided by Iesus Kristos himself he knew well that if the Imperium is to survive, it has to seek out knowledge of the Unknown Lands – Terrae Incognitae – for there may lie the instrument of its salvation or its destruction. It was written by the scholars of the Great Pandidakterion that the Treasure Fleet which arrived from the Far East in the year 1414 counted thousands of soldiers and hundreds of ships of immense size. From these days it is known that somewhere beyond Mare Orientale lies a godless realm of a titanic size and unimaginable wealth, ruled by master of all Serikoi who call him „Son of Heaven”. But where is Serica and how one can travel there by sea, just like the exact location and nature of Hindustan, remains hidden – even despite claims to the contrary made by some of the imperial merchants.
His Imperial Majesty understood however that he could not waste scarce resources on exploring the mysteries Far East – at least not now, while the Imperium was still vulnerable. And so in his wisdom he sent agentes in rebus of Scrinium Barbarorum beyond the southernmost imperial limites to make sure that there's no threat to the Imperium in Africa. Great was the surprise of all the Romaioi when the agentes brought worrying news, because were only tribes of savage Negroes were expected to be found they encountered a small but united realm called Ajuuraan ruled by Great Imam. For all the barbarians who lived there turned out to be followers of the false Prophet and to make things worse they were members of the Sunni heresy, long thought to be completely eradicated. It was obvious that their very existence was a blasphemy in the eyes of God and that they had to be destroyed to secure the southern limes from raiders.
But not only the southernmost themata were endangered.
Fall of the Hungarian Khanate
The Hungarian tribes for a long time were a thorn in the side of the Imperium, harassing the Roman citizens living nearby the limes. But not the barbarian raiders were the main concern for the Throne – His Imperial Majesty knew well that imperial limites were most vulnerable in Pannonia and Dacia, and so if the day comes in which the Horde subjugates the Hungarians, the horse-lords will find a gaping hole in the Roman fortifications stretching for thousands of leagues. The blessed Autokrator already broke the power of the khanate but in his wisdom he knew that the frontier would be secured only when the khan is either dead or in chains.
And so on 15th September 1468 the Imperial Army marched on Sopron, the last stronghold of the Hungarian tribes.
Hopelessly outnumbered and lightly-armed raiders stood no chance against the brave Roman soldiers and just in a few days were utterly crushed. The siege of Sopron was to last for months but in the end even the stone walls couldn't protect the barbarians from the Emperor's righteous anger. Sopron surrendered on 9th March 1469 and with its downfall the khanate was destroyed. Alas, even when cornered the steppe raiders don't lose their fierceness – quite the contrary, when facing imminent death every barbarian fight with a strength of a ten men. It was during the final assault on the walls when megas domestikos Komitas Kyrillos bravely led his men against the tribesmen only to be beheaded by the Hungarian khan himself. The savage would have not succeeded if megas domestikos had not been wounded with a poisoned arrow by one of the barbarians but, alas, he died on this day. „Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour”, as the Holy Bible teaches us; truly live of every man is like a candle in the wind, therefore we shall trust in the Lord with all our hear and lean not on our own understanding, for He made the world and all things therein.
For this act the khan and all his subjects were punished terribly, their eyes removed, their hands put in chains and iron rings put on their necks. They became slaves to the Imperium they dared to oppose, destined to work as miners or oarsmen until the end of their short lives. The khanate was destroyed but His Imperial Majesty decided that before its lands could be integrated with the Imperium as a new thema, the northern limites had to be rebuilt and reinforced. And so in his wisdom he decided to create katepanikion on the ashes of the barbarian realm naming son of Komitas Kyrillos, who also was an officer in the Imperial Army, as a katepano of Hungary.
Such was the end of the Hungarian khanate – but the war waged by good Christians against savages never ends.
Conquest of Stolp
It was on 10th May 1469 when Kingdom of Poland declared war on count of Stolp, the last remnant of the long-gone Kingdom of Germany. Ruled by „king” Ekber von Pula, the tiny realm was barely worth the attention of the Crown, surrounded by both soulless xenoi and horse-lords from the steppes. Alas, as the years went by the arrogance of count von Pula grew and soon, confident in inviolability of his small „kingdom”, he started sending his brutes to pillage the countryside on the Polish side of the border and to rob the merchants and common folk traveling to Szczecin, a Polish province separated from the rest of the Kingdom by his petty realm. Finally the constant raids and harassment became a major problem for the guilds of Gdańsk – one of the biggest cities in the Kingdom known also under its old name of Danzig – and they were pressing king Miłosz II of Spis to deal with the unruly count once and for all. King wasn't eager to start a war, even with an enemy so small, but in the end he was convinced by his subjects to deal with the treacherous count.
And so the imperial allies marched to war.
When Polish envoy arrived in Konstantinoupolis to ask sacred Emperor for help against the common enemy, His Imperial Majesty in his magnanimity agreed and ordered tagma ton Moldavon to assist army of his brother-in-law's son, for as a child of king Szczęsny of Spis and porphyrogenita Zoe Angelos he had blood of the Angeloi flowing through his veins. War was won after the first and decisive battle against the small forces of count von Pula and before the end of the year it was over. Count von Pula was executed for his crimes against his brothers and sisters in Kristos and his lands were incorporated into the Polish Crown – a clear victory for the whole Christendom, however small.
There are enemies who can't be defeated solely with a sword however.
Purge of Armenia
Sacred Emperor in his great wisdom knew well that although the soulless beasts from the Far West and barbarians from the East continued to threaten the very existence of the Imperium, they were not the only enemies of Kristianoi. The Enemy, Diabolos, in his malice can cause far greater damage than even a whole army of savages and it is known that lies and deceit can harm in a way even the wound from sharpest sword could not match. After all, those of Romaioi who were fighting countless barbarians in the Imperial Army or Navy were risking only their lives – and could there be something more terrifying than a threat to the soul itself? This threat was made visible to everyone when in April 1470 the heretics dwelling in Armenian mountains have risen in an uprising against the Throne, soon to be joined by anti-Chalcedonian fanatics. With great casualties the Imperial Army managed to quickly put down the revolters but it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before they rebel again. Especially the taint of heresy spreading from Armenia was worrying, for if the heretics rebel during the war against the Horde or son of Timur they could pose a great danger to the imperial forces. And so the sacred Emperor decided to deal with Armenian themata once and for all.
The local bishops were recalled to the Queen of Cities and properly punished for their negligence in their place the Holy Church sent the most pious servants of God whose sole purpose was to help the misguided see the light of Iesus Kristos. Such great was the mercy of sacred Autokrator that even when dealing with heretics he was able to hold back for a time the righteous anger and retribution for their sins. Alas, although some of the misguided returned to the fold after repentance, the vast majority of Armenians remained stubborn in their heresies. And not Armenians alone – constant incursions of the horse-lords and mugahidun saw the inaccessible mountain passages settled by Mongol bandits, frequently raiding Roman citizens and, what's even worse, spreading the cult of daemons like Tengri the Sky-Father or god of the false Prophet. In the end there was no other way to save the souls of the Romaioi but to wipe out the heretics altogether and to this end His Imperial Majesty sent 5,000 Athanatoi to the mountains of Armenia. Only after the purge was completed the Holy Church could complete its blessed work and save the Romaioi inhabiting easternmost themata from eternal damnation.
This, however, was just a beginning.
Legal code - Kathartikon
In the aftermath of the successful Armenian purge of 1470 the sacred Autokrator decided to continue much needed reforms of the imperial administration while the Imperial Army and Navy were slowly being rebuilt. And so for the first time in years not the imperial domestikoi but officials and eunuchs of the Sacred Palace and metropolitan bishops of the Holy Church who enjoyed Emperor's favor the most. In the following years His Imperial Majesty introduced many new laws, all of which were carefully devised to strengthen the Imperium and to ensure the protection of the imperial citizens from harm both to the flesh and to their souls. Together they created a small code of penal law and to a lesser degree administrative law, called Kathartikon.
However, against the wishes of some of the bishops and the Ecumenical Patriarch himself, most of them were much more merciful than expected. Death by burning as a punishment for heresy was now preceded by a possibility of repentance for the heretic; likewise the great sin of apostasy was no longer punishable by death. In many cases mutilation or capital punishment for witches, sorcerers, Jews, apostates and heretics were substituted by expropriation. Those found guilty by the imperial courts were to suffer confiscation of all their possession and be sentenced to row in the dromonoi of the Imperial Fleet for 10 to 30 years and after this period they were to be freed, although with a mark burned on their foreheads so that everyone could know their crimes.
Oh, how great is the mercy of the sacred Emperor, how great his love of his subjects! Truly only the mightiest of rulers could allow themselves to be such forgiving. Castration in general was prohibited completely in case of Roman citizens under penalty of death and blinding was reserved for those guilty of high treason – only slaves could be subjected to such treatment in other cases. The prohibition of enslavement was extended to all Kristianoi, imperial citizens or not, who were also banned from working in the mines and in harsh conditions in general. All of the barbarian prisoners of war and captives were to be enslaved instead of being killed to serve the Imperium for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, not only the Poles and Bavarians and other Kristianoi but even the Jews were allowed to become minor officials in the imperial administration.
Such great was the benignancy of the sacred Emperor.
But even leniency of His Imperial Majesty has it bounds and for those unrepentant, unregenerate and hardened in their sins there could be no mercy – and justly so. For isn't it said in the Holy Bible that when even ten righteous people could not be found in Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord rained upon them brimstone and fire and He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground? And so shall perish all those who reject a second chance given to them by sacred Emperor, in fire they shall be consumed and their ashes shall be tossed into the sea so that no memory of them remains. Praised be Saint Markos who guide the faithful!
The glorious work of blessed Markos III Angelos was not done however. Having dealt with corruption consuming the Romaioi, the blessed Autokrator decided to complete his endeavor by undertaking the greatest reform of all – to reshape the foundations of the Imperium themselves.
The Great Reform
During centuries the Imperium have faced innumerable invasions and although in the end it was always victorious, the cycle of expansion, stagnation, decay and rebirth caused the imperial administration to resemble truly bureaucratic nightmare. Always having lower priority than the imperial military or diplomacy, after the introduction of themata system over 700 years ago the administration was only adapted ad hoc to the ever-changing threats the Imperium was facing at the moment. Initially this allowed for a great flexibility in dealing with constant stream of new enemies but in time the imperial administration completely degenerated. In its nadir during the First Doukid Anarchy, following the disastrous battle of Manzikert in 1071, the themata system all but collapsed entirely. In the following years it was slowly being rebuilt until the Second Doukid Anarchy (1172-1177) when it was destroyed completely. In chaos of Anarchy only small forces of mercenaries paid by the Throne and soldiers of Markos the Just – doux of Samos, Thracesia, Cibyrrhaeot and Anatolia – were trying to restore order. When the Second Anarchy finally ended however no reforms were introduced by basilissa Euphrasia Doukas. Her long rule lasting over 50 years marked the complete decay of the administration and it was during these years when doukes became de facto rulers of imperial themata given them to govern, transforming them into fiefdoms and further eroding the power of the Throne.
It took Saint Markos himself to finally reform the rotting body of the imperial administration and it's obvious that if it wasn't for changes introduced by him, the Imperium would have fall, be it during the Years Without Summer, the Great Plague or the Sunset Invasion. It shouldn't be surprising though that when the not only Imperium but the Christendom itself was facing complete annihilation from the hands of invaders from the Far West and Mongol hordes of the East the reforms were never completed. Nor Saint Markos nor his descendants were given enough time to finish this great work and every invasion threatening the Imperium immediately caused all resources and attention to be diverted to the Imperial Army.
Sacred Emperor Markos III Angelos decided to change this once and for all.
What was later called „The Great Reform” composed in fact of three reforms, each completely changing the way in which the Imperium was functioning in its respective domain.
The first and the most fundamental reform was the one which introduced a new administrative division of the whole Imperium. The obsolete and simplistic themata system with doux assigned to every thema was deemed inefficient and completely abandoned. Instead a new division was introduced as follows:
[size=+1]IMPERIAL ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISION (STANDARD)[/size]Ancient thema remained the basis of the administrative division but was greatly reduced, encompassing now several municipia or towns, numerous villages and at least one kastro or fortified camp of the Imperial Army. Its former place was now taken by kephalon – completely new administration unit governed by kephale – which in turned where included in provinces. Each of the governors were to be nominated by the Throne, with the position of eparchos limited only to eunuchs. Furthermore, since every governor was granted executive power by the sacred Emperor himself, giving the whole region under supervision of one individual was deemed too dangerous. That's why in case of a region encompassing dozens of themata there were no single governor – instead his place was taken by special sekreton – department in the Great Palace – to oversee eparchoi who were in charge of provinces. The new stratified system introduced a highly sophisticated interdependence between all levels in matters of taxation, public order and others, so that it was virtually impossible for any governor to seize too much power. And so for instance eparchos of province of Aegyptus was supervising several kephalai - each of whom was in charge of several archontes – but eparchos himself was under constant scrutiny of sekreton of Africa, which was also controlling eparchos of Abyssinia.
|1st||Thema||Archon (pl. Archontes)||1 thema|
|2nd||Kephanate||Kephalos (pl. Kephalai)||2-4 themata|
|3rd||Province||Eparchos (pl. Eparchoi)||8-20 themata|
|4th||Region||none (Sekreton)||40-80 themata|
[size=+1]IMPERIAL ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISION (SPECIAL)[/size]Furthermore, two special units were created – exarchate for distant provinces especially endangered by barbarians and thema nautikon which were to be governed by droungaroi of the Imperial Fleet and serve it as naval bases and sources of manpower. In these two cases both exarchos and droungarios had unified control over both military and civil affairs – in stark contrast to standard units of administrative division, were all of the governors including archontes had very limited authority over the Imperial Army. They were responsible only for securing the imperial limites with conscripted soldiers of themata and stocking supplies for the true units of the Imperial Army, that is for the tagmata. A strict separation was henceforth introduced between these two formations.
|Exarchate||Exarchos (pl. Exarchoi)||4-20 themata|
|Thema nautikon||Droungarios (pl. Droungaroi)||1-3 themata|
[size=+1]IMPERIAL ARMY – THEMATA AND TAGMATA[/size]With the introduction of this reform the ancient themata transformation into border guard or limitanei was completed. The training, arming and provisioning of the themata was left entirely in the hands of eparchos and its main goal was to hold back the enemy until the arrival of the tagmata. For this reason the reformed themata was sometime called „Provincial Defense” - the vast masses of conscripted peasant-soldiers were grossly inferior to experienced troops of tagmata, who were not only better trained and better equipped but whose regiments consisted of a mix of infantry and cavalry units. Although every thema and every tagma was lead by strategos of the Imperial Army, the best of them served in tagmata which alone could be commanded by domestikos.
|Themata||Defense of the imperial limites, fortifications and cities||Compulsory conscription of Roman citizens|
|Tagmata||All other land-based military operations||Compulsory conscription of the best soldiers of themata and volunteers|
The second reform introduced pronoia – a system of granting dedicated streams of state income to individuals, in most cases to aristoi. The new stratified system of the imperial administration made it effectively impossible for any of the imperial Houses to control more than just a handful of themata, every one of them being supervised by kephale nominated by the Throne. Ancient offices of doux or katepano were superseded by new ones, with greatly reduced independence and increased responsibilities. Furthermore, after the Great Reform every archon was not only in charge of a much smaller territory but also was basically deprived of any authority over the Imperial Army, with themata being organized on a level of a province by eparchos and structure of command of tagmata completely separated from local administration. Obviously the dynatoi of the greatest Houses opposed this reform with passion, for by doing so His Imperial Majesty was greatly limiting their ability to interfere with the will of the Throne. But even the most powerful of the noble Houses were just a mere shadows of themselves, their wealth and might greatly diminished after the purge orchestrated by megas domestikos Demetrios Komnenos.
In his great wisdom the sacred Autokrator decided to compensate not only dynatoi but all aristoi by introducing pronoia in proportion to the titles held by them. Furthermore, every Roman aristos was not only granted pronoia and allowed to keep his titles, although as purely honorific ones, but also every noble House was given a choice. Head of the House could choose whether to keep its lands and holdings in themata given his House to govern or to renounce them and cede them to the Throne in return for greatly increased pronoia for all members of the House and tax-exempt mansion in Konstantinoupolis with servants and slaves. And although many, especially dynatoi, in their pride refused to the Emperor's offer many aristoi agreed and soon one by one noble Houses waived their right to the office of doux in distant themata and changed their holdings for manors in the City. Since all aristoi regardless of their choice kept their honor and sacred duty as those privileged to serve as the officers in the Imperial Army and Navy, as well as serving as high officials in the imperial administration, the opposition to this reform of His Imperial Majesty was smaller than expected.
The third and the last reform was the introduction of a new coin – basilikon. The Imperial Aerarium was still facing huge difficulties after the costly war of Aegyptian liberation and even increased taxes seemed to not ease the burden of the Treasury. The old golden hyperpyrron was slowly being debased decade after decade and its value was much lower than it used to be. To prevent it from eroding even further, the sacred Autokrator decided what follows: firstly, to reinstate the hyperpyrron to its former glory by ensuring that it was made of pure gold in nine parts out of ten and greatly increasing its weight. Secondly, to introduce basilikon, a coin made not of gold or silver but of white gold, known by the scholars as electrum. This allowed to use hyperpyrron, now much more precious than ever, as an unit of currency in transactions of great value, while simultaneously introducing basilikon in its old place as a basic currency of the Imperium. And since the imperial coin was made from white gold – that is, alloy of gold, silver and copper – this allowed the Imperial Treasury to mint much more coins from the same amount of gold, further enriching the Imperium.
And so by the time when on 24th March 1474 sacred Autokrator honored his son and heir tot he Throne Belisarios Angelos with the most prestigious title of symbasileus, the Great Reform was completed.
Before the storm
The Great Reform was a crowning achievement of the great work of sacred Autokrator and the Imperium under his blessed guidance was growing strong, quickly replenishing losses suffered in war for Aegyptus. But just like His Imperial Majesty didn't neglect the administration while expanding the Imperial Navy and rebuilding the Army, he did not forget about the other pillar of the imperial might – Christian Kings. Although their armies couldn't possibly match forces of the Imperium, both Kingdom of Poland and Kingdom of Aquitaine remained valuable allies for the Throne. To further secure the prosperity of the Romaioi and all other remaining Kristianoi, in his wisdom the sacred Emperor decided to sign trade agreements with Christian Kings. In his great mercy he allowed even one of the daughters of House Angelos to marry third son of the ruler of Aquitaine as a token of friendship between Romaioi and all other Kristianoi. But despite constant pleas of Latin envoys he decided not to enter a formal alliance with the kingdom – a decision motivated mainly by the desire to not provoke the xenoi to another attack. For the blessed Autokrator knew well that the Imperial Army is still not prepared to face such terrible foe – and truly such great was the power of the Westerners that it took them a single battle to enforce their demands. Oh, how wise is the Emperor, how far-seeing are his eyes! For indeed victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. It was obvious that the Imperium could not afford to face all of its enemies at once and His Imperial Majesty was greatly concerned that as soon as the truce with son of Timur expires, the endless hordes of fanatical mugahidun would pour through the imperial limites to reconquer lost provinces for their false god.
But even despite the fact that the moment in which ten years will pass since the war for Aegyptus was nearing, one could not ignore the threat from beyond the seas. With every passing year the Shadow in the West grew more and more dangerous. Some were even whispering in Konstantinoupolis during these nervous days before the end of the truce about a terrifying new weapon of the Westerners, allegedly discovered by imperial agentes in rebus, with which the xenoi wanted to finally crush any opposition against them and conquer the whole Europe. Despite hearsay of fire-breathing monsters tamed by xenoi spread by gullible and superstitious, the truth was to remain hidden from Romaioi for a time being. But even rumors of horrors of the Far West seemed to fade away when the long-awaited news from the East reached Queen of Cities - in this case the report brought by imperial agentes in rebus was not a harbinger of doom but of great joy.
Khagan Timur II and war in the East
For on 24th June 1474, mere months before the truce was expiring, khagan Menggei, son of Timur, suddenly died and with him gone was the furious anger and burning desire for revenge against Romaioi. His son and heir – Timur II, named so to honor his grandfather – was barely 20 years old when he became khagan of all Shia. Suddenly all plans made by his father were changed and great armies amassed near the imperial limites prepared to be unleashed upon the Imperium were called of. It seemed that Iesus Kristos himself was protecting His children from the wrath of ghazis. Soon it became obvious however that orders of a young khagan weren't issued on the spur of the moment.
On 17th September 1474 followers of the false Prophet led by grandson of Timur the Accursed attacked the Horde and the steppes were set on fire of war. All Romaioi rejoiced at these news for two mortal enemies of Kristos turned against each other. Eternal discord between Mongol tribes frequently erupted in civil war or feud but this conflict was different. This time Timur II led his warriors under banners of Islam, determined to purge Mongol heathens and all those who were worshipping false god Tengri the Sky-Father. In his fervor and zeal, surely because of such young age, he dreamed of spreading the words of Muhammad to the north and uniting all Mongol tribes under his rule. Despite his great and delusional ambition the experienced mugahidun were a force to be reckoned with and soon Shia scum overrun lands known as Turkestan. No mercy was given and none was asked – the steppe was burning and barbarians were killing each other in great numbers.
Sacred Emperor was pleased, for with every dead Mongol savage the Imperium grew stronger. But seeing how month after month the vast armies of the Horde are beaten by Timur's ghazis and forced to retreat, in his great wisdom blessed Autokrator – after long and careful consideration – decided to deliver final blow to wavering power of the Horde.
Reconquest of Taurica
And so on 2nd December 1475 tagmata of the Imperial Army crossed the limes separating the Imperium from horse-lords. With the support of the Imperial Navy, a huge force counting more than than 50,000 soldiers led by domestikos of the East Antonios Theophylaktos was swiftly deployed in Mantrega. By the time barbarians arrived in Kuban all former themata were under siege of Roman soldiers. Not wasting any time, domestikos of the East ordered his men to cross the river and attack the enemy before reinforcements arrive.
The armies of Romaioi and the Horde clashed once again.
Battle of Kuban ended on 30th March 1476 with a complete victory of the Imperial Army. Most of the horse-lords were dead or taken captive, the rest of them scattered in the steppe. Mongol khagan was furious but with majority of his armies fighting the mugahidun in the East he was unable to muster forces which could oppose the Roman soldiers. He could however ask his allies for help and that's exactly what he did. Tribes of Chernigov and Turkestan were nothing more but slaves of the khagan and like the vile Muslim savages inhabiting realm known as Ajuuraan their participation in war was to be expected. Nobody however expected treachery of Tirol. False Kristianoi led by prince of the Reich marched from the mountains to lay devastation to Roman citizens and according to agentes in rebus a huge army of the Horde was sent to the west to join them. Before His Imperial Majesty could dispatch tagmata to intercept them however, the barbarians marching to the West were met by army of the Kingdom of Poland.
During battle of Zhytomyr which took place on 7th February 1477 allied Polish forces led by hetman Karol Gniewomir with the help of tagma ton Moldavon managed to stop the advance of the Mongols, killing thousands of eastern savages. This allowed the Imperial Army to dispatch proper Roman forces and consequently destroy the treacherous Germans, now facing the might of the Imperium alone. Since all tagmata were concentrated in Taurica, army of abhorrent Negroes from Ajuuraan could freely roam Abyssinia, pillaging southernmost themata with no opposition. Seeing that it would take months before brave Romaioi soldiers could reach distant province, sacred Autokrator ordered dynatoi from Aegyptus and Abyssinia to assemble their own private guards and hire mercenaries. This patchwork army led by eparchos of Aegyptus was sent to the south to stop the black Muslims from Ajuuraan.
Meanwhile the Horde was suffering one defeat after another as the glorious Imperial Army together with auxilia from Kingdom of Poland, Duchy of Bavaria and kephanate of Hungary. Especially important in the war waged against horse-lords was tagma ton Moldavon, whose soldiers experienced in a steppe warfare served the regular tagmata as scouts, spies and guides. This allowed the Imperial Army to advance with unprecedented speed. One by one old imperial themata were liberated, one by one cities and great yurts of the Horde were conquered. The Romaioi and auxilia went deeply into the Mongol territory, reaching even Pereyeslav during successful counter-offensive, where on 26th June 1477 army of the Horde was crushed by allied forces of Kristianoi led by Polish king Miłosz II himself.
Alas, mere days after this great victory reached the City an envoy from Christian King arrived in Konstantinoupolis, bringing the most feared news.
Invasion of Aquitaine
On 7th July 1477, while the whole Imperial Army was still engaged in the East, treacherous Pisan vipers attacked Kingdom of Aquitaine. Polish king Miłosz II of Spis answered to call of arms of his brother in Kristos and so did the heretic king of Leon, to great surprise of everyone. Their combined forces could hope to overcome sell-swords and mercenaries hired by the Republic. Alas, little did they know it was all part of the Pisan scheme. As soon as the war escalated, abhorrent merchants asked their Aztec overlords for help and protection from Latins.
And xenoi answered.
Joining the war on 4th August the same year, the Westerners tip the scales in favor of accursed Pisans. Now not only Kingdom of Aquitaine, but also Kingdom of Poland and even petty heretic realm of Leon ruled by House Godwin faced complete defeat – or rather extermination. King Miłosz II, with most of his forces fighting in the East, ordered to muster additional troops in a desperate attempt to prepare for the inevitable - a futile attempt, one may add. For as soon as on 20th February 1478, when scouting fleet of xenoi wiped out whole Polish navy, it became painfully obvious that no matter what he does, king Miłosz II is doomed to failure.
There was only one force which could hope to stop xenoi from wiping out realms of the Christian Kings – the Imperial Army.
The armies of soulless xenoi were innumerable, counting more fierce warriors than there are stars on the dark indifferent sky, their warships dwarfing imperial dromonoi or any other known ships. However, the xenoi had one weak point – their forces were so massive that it would take a long time before they could fully engage the Kristianoi in an unplanned war. But it was also obvious that as soon as they are ready, the fate of the Christian Kings will be sealed. And so while the Imperial Army was pushing the Mongol barbarians further and further into the East, countless xenoi beasts were mustered to be unleashed upon Europe one more time. Only the Imperium could save them from complete destruction – but a price which would have to be paid for this could prove to be unaffordable.
And so sacred Autokrator faced a terrible dilemma: whether to continue the most successful war against the Horde so far but abandon good Kristianoi to a terrible fate or to withdrawn from the East and face the Archenemy of whole Christendom together with Christian Kings but risk everything.
His Imperial Majesty spent months thoroughly considering all arguments in favor of and against both courses of action. Army of Kingdom of Aquitaine was wiped out by Pisans and its cities and castles under siege while the Imperial Army continued its offensive in the East. Thousands of Kristianoi were enslaved or killed by Pisans and what little soldiers xenoi sent to boost their forces while the sacred Autokrator was thinking how to save hundreds of thousands without endangering millions. Day after day envoys from Aquitaine begged for audience before His Imperial Majesty and every time they were refused it, instead being invited to meetings of the Imperial Council. They desperate pleas for alliance were ignored, for alliance with Aquitaine meant war for which the Imperial Army was not prepared – and yet it was a war which had to be waged sooner or later.
In the end the moment came in which the Imperium could not wait anymore.
On 28th December 1479 grim news reached Konstantinoupolis. The whole realm have fallen to the Pisans and xenoi, with only Bordeaux - capital of the Kingdom - still resisting the invaders, with just a handful of soldiers defiantly protecting the walls in a hopeless attempt to delay the ineluctable. It was only a matter of time before all Aquitaine is conquered – and then the Westerners would surely turn their attention to Kingdom of Poland. Finally on 30th December envoys from Aquitaine were granted an audience before His Imperial Majesty. On the same day the Imperial Council assembled in a special meeting to debate matters of state and, above all else, fate of Christian Kingdoms and the Horde....
30th December 1479
Chamber of the Imperial Council, Sacred Palace, Konstantinoupolis
Piles of documents, maps, reports and other papers almost completely cover the heavy ebony table standing in the middle of the chamber. Golden plates with food lying on the nearby tripod table are almost empty, just like bowls of wine and other beverages standing on it. The darkness of the moonless night is kept away from the chamber by half-burnt candles in silver candelabra. Single eunuch pours water mixed with wine to the jewel-encrusted chalices of three people sitting at the table, each of them in intricately ornate clothes. The tallest of them, wearing white silk robes embellished with golden embroidery and a huge hat, looks at the other two with a faint smile on his smooth face. The oldest one, wearing simple paludamentum blue cloak with a huge brooch of megas droungarios encrusted with sapphires, has white hair and tired eyes. The last of them has a perfectly trimmed black beard and, despite late hour, wears red chlamys cloak on ceremonial armor. His right index finger, with ring of megas domestikos on it, points at the tallest of the three men.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: …which leaves only one thing to be discussed. Why?
THEODOROS LASKARIS: Excuse me, megas domestikos?
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: Why His Imperial Majesty wants to know the opinion of the Senate on this matter? Why ask these hoi polloi about whether we should intervene in Aquitaine?
THEODOROS LASKARIS: Such is the will of the sacred Autokrator.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: Oh, I know what he decided, megas logothetes – what I want is to know why.
THEODOROS LASKARIS: The Emperor, long may he reign, answers to nobody.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: But you do, before this Council, which today's meeting I *points at himself* am presiding. So you will answer to me, megas logothetes: why His Imperial Majesty decided to send you to represent this Council in the Senate during session?
*Theodoros Laskaris smiles faintly*
THEODOROS LASKARIS: You will have to trust me and have faith in Emperor's judgment, noble megas domestikos.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: Trust you? *leans on the table* I will tell you something about trust, eunuch. I had a friend once who was very trusting and highly valued advice of others in all matters. He was a good man, honorable man, very kind even to his enemies.
THEODOROS LASKARIS: Indeed? And what happened to him?
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: He's dead. *looks Laskaris in the eyes* Poisoned by his own brother.
THEODOROS LASKARIS: How unfortunate.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: Very.
THEODOROS LASKARIS: My condolences – it always brings sadness to my heart when good servants of the Imperium leave this world. Although his behavior doesn't strike me as reasonable. *smiles* Perhaps you should reconsider whom do you find worthy of your confidence as a friend.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: You dare to instruct me?
THEODOROS LASKARIS: Not at all, my lord megas domestikos, not at all.
IULIANUS KANTAKOUZENOS: Listen, you spider, when I was fighting-
*megas droungarios hits the table with his golden chalice*
ISAAKIOS THEOPHILOS: Enough! We don't have time for pointless bickering and arguments. This is not a Senate. *turns to Laskaris* Now, I'm not the one to seek whatever His Imperial Majesty decided to keep in the shadows for the time being. *briefly looks at Kantakouzenos* Therefore I won't demand any answers from you concerning your task in the Senate. However, as megas droungarios of the Imperium I have to ask – can the Imperial Fleet be of any use in the mission given to you by the Emperor?
*Laskaris smiles widely*
THEODOROS LASKARIS: Definitely.
Even having listened to the envoys from Aquitaine and having read numerous reports prepared by Scrinium Barbarorum and eunuchs of the Great Palace, even having listened to the counsel of the Imperial Council and having spent countless nights on prayer, His Imperial Majesty was determined not to make hasty decisions. For the dilemma faced by the blessed Emperor required great prudence, consideration and all the knowledge of matters of diplomacy and art of war to be solved in a way securing a favorable outcome for Romans and all Kristianoi. And it was clear that failure to untie this Gordian knot could have tragic consequences to the whole Christendom.
And so in his great wisdom sacred Autokrator Markos II Angelos, before giving answer to the plenipotentiaries of king of Aquitaine, decided to call a special session of the Imperial Senate to deal with this and other matters of utmost importance for the Imperium. His Imperial Majesty decided that only then, with a full understanding of the dire situation from all points of view, he will – with blessing of Kristos – make the right decision and protect His children from harm.
Saint Markos preserve us.