Midgard's ATL Dark Ages Map
540 - The Byzantine military campaign in Italy under the leadership of Belisarius is in full swing. The Goths are severely beaten, and propose a treaty, under the terms of which Belisarius would be crowned the Western Emperor in return for cessation of hostilities. Belisarius accepts the offer, and sends envoys to Constantinople to inform the Emperor Justinian of the new state of affairs. Unlike OTL, Belisarius follows through with the coronation ceremony, and does not use the occasion simply as a guise to obtain Ravenna for the Empire. Simultaneously, he is crowned the King of the Goths, being raised on a shield in their ancient custom. From here on forward, Rex Gothicus becomes one of the titles of Roman Emperors.
541 - Justinian, furious at what he perceives as insubordination and outright rebellion, attempts to recall Belisarius, sending a detachment of troops under eunuch Narses to bring rebellious general home for trial. The result is a civil war. Belisarius and his troops, which by now include large detachments of Gothic warriors, defeat Narses decisively, largely due to greater numbers available to him. After several defeats, Narses realizes he does not have too much to lose, and reluctantly (for the two commanders had not been getting along well personally) throws his lot with Belisarius.
542 - While Justinian attempts to raise another army to retake Italy, the Persian king Khusro I invades the Eastern provinces. Thus the troops and resources that would have been used in Italy now have to be used to repel the Persian attack. Still Justinian does not accept the idea of a rogue Western Emperor, and attempts to buy the Persians off.
543 - The Persian war is going badly for the Romans, with two of their best generals in Italy in open rebellion. Armenia is virtually lost, and there are reports of plague, while the Persian raiding parties reach as far as Palestine and even Egypt. In Italy, Belisarius finds himself in a strong position, able to consolidate his realm, although not to expand. From his capital in Ravenna he watches with concern as flames of war consume the East, and the provinces fall away one by one.
544 - The remaining Vandals in North Africa revolt, and are successful due to the Roman forces being distracted elsewhere. Knowing that their independence is largely due to Romans being occupied elsewhere, they offer Belisarius to become "foederati" in return for him guaranteeing their independence. Thus, the state of Neo Vandalor is born, technically a subject to the Western Emperor, but practically independent. Also, a group of Pagan Greek philosophers, fleeing persecutions against Pagans initiated by Justinian, lands in Arabia. Chief among them is a scholar of some reknown named Artemius.
545 - Plague finally reaches Constantinople, where one of the deaths has been that of Emperor Justinian. With no clear successor, the Senate votes to confirm Belisarius as the Emperor of both East and West. Leaving Narses as his viceroy in Italy, Belisarius departs East with an army consisting both of the Latin Italians and Goths, who by now are considered full citizens of the Empire.
547 - With Belisarius in command, the Roman armies sweep through Armenia and Syria, expelling the Persians. A great battle ensues under the walls of Edessa, where the Persian army is virtually annihilated by the Roman army under a brilliant young Gothic commander Totila. Now that the positions are reversed, the Persians are suing for peace, which is granted only because of rumours of discontent in Constantinople that could become a serious disturbance if left unchecked. By the terms of the treaty, status quo is reestablished, with Persia paying an annual tribute.
548 - The Greek philosophers led by Artemius are by now somewhat well established in Arabia, having found their way into graces of a local ruler whose sons they are now tasked to educate.
551 - After a reign of eleven years, Belisarius could congratulate himself on succeeding where his former master has nearly failed. His borders secure, and the West once again in his Empire's possession, he turns his attention to consolidating and reorganizing his Empire. The territories are divided into Exarchates, each under the military ruler appointed directly by the Emperor. The exarchates are: Italy (covering all of Italy, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia), Africa (covering the conquests west of the Vandal kingdom as far as Gibraltar), Carthage (the Vandal kingdom, being a vassal of the Emperor, is considered an Exarchate, the Vandal king being an Exarch - or at least so the Imperial propaganda would lead one to believe; practically the Vandals are independent), Egypt (including the province of Egypt as well as the Sinai), Achaia (covering Greece proper, Epirus, and Moesia), Anatolia (being the Western part of Asia Minor), Mesopotamia (including the eastern portion of Asia Minor all the way to the Persian frontier), and Syria (including Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria).
556 - After death of his first wife Antonina, Belisarius remarries, producing a son. His son is named Tiberius, and is crowned co-Emperor shortly thereafter.
559 - The monophysite controversy gains strength again, beginning much of the religious infighting that would mar the following decades. Most of the fighting is in Constantinople itself, but there are significant outbreaks of violence in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria. The revolts are suppressed by force of arms, with hundreds killed in street battles. The heaviest casualties are in Alexandria.
562 - In response to the Avar and Bulgar incursions into Thrace, Belisarius leads an expedition into the Transdanubian regions. While no major conquests are made, the war seems to have gone well for the Romans, that is until a stray arrow hits Belisarius in the skirmish. Belisarius lives long enough to be transported to Constantinople, but is dead before the end of the year. His six year old son is now Emperor Tiberius II, although the real power is in the hands of Goth Totila, who by now is magister militum, the commander of the armies. Totila arranges for Tiberius to be married to his daughter, and continues to direct the Imperial affairs with competence and conviction.
565 - Another outbreak of hostilities in the East results in another Persian war, which will drag on for most of the decade. Fighting is inconclusive, and by 574 both sides are exhausted with no gains to show. Peace is not slow to follow.
569 - In Arabia, a young prince named Omar ascends to the throne vacated by his late father. Omar is educated by the renegade Greek scholars, and thus has many ideas on the republican government, philosophy, and ideas of religion. He founds a university at Medina, which becomes a haven for pagan philosophers and scholars who are fleeing the Roman Empire en masse. The university will prove its worth in the decades to come.
574 - With the Persian war over, and Tiberius now reaching majority, a power struggle ensues in Constantinople. Totila, though long an actual ruler of the Empire and the Emperor's father-in-law, is now viewed with suspicion by the Senate party, who would like him removed. Young Tiberius, tired of being a figurehead and no longer content with paying lip service to either the Senate or his father-in-law, takes matters into his own hands. Totila is captured, found guilty of attempting regicide, and quickly exiled to an island in Aegean, while purges in the Senate ranks ensure that there is no outspoken dissent.
575 - In a year of effective government, Tiberius II acquired a fearsome reputation. Yet, on other fronts, he proved to be a competent, if occasionally heavy-handed, ruler. His reign saw increased attention to Italy, where settlements were expanded, and Gothic citizens more fully integrated within the Imperial framework, while many Greeks from Anatolia and Thessaly were resettled in Jerusalem and Antioch.
578 - A son is born to Tiberius, named Constantine. In Arabia, prince Omar starts to eye his neighbours for potential expansion. He founds a council of elective advisors, who provide minimal representation to the nobility and the merchants of his dominion.
581 - An incursion of Slavic tribes leaves portions of Moesia devastated. Some raiders penetrate as far as Thrace.
583 - The fighting between the monophysite and orthodox factions reaches a new climax. While it is relatively contained in Constantinople, major cities in the Eastern provinces soon see its many adverse effects. Alexandria has the worst of fighting, leaving several thousand dead. It is at this time that the Emperor Tiberius utters the famous words, "better heathen than heretic", starting a new wave of persecution of monophysites and other Christian minorities. Strangely enough, there is no effort to convert the non-Christians, other than extra taxes levied upon them, and laws generally favoring Christians in disputes.
584 - In order to combat the monophysite insurrection in Egypt, the Emperor Tiberius orders settlement of large numbers of Orthodox Greeks from the Greek mainland in Egypt, and an attempt to resettle many of the native Egyptians and monophysite Greeks in Asia Minor. A surprisingly moderate Orthodox Patriarch Athanasius is installed in Alexandria. In a meanwhile, Lombards attempt an incursion into Italy, however, the local Exarch swiftly defeats them, and settles them north of the Appennines, thus creating another "foederati" buffer state.
585 - The attempt to pacify Egypt severely backfires, since the local Copts have no love for the Empire's crippling taxation and ever-increasing demand for grain. Simultaneously there are risings in many major cities of Egypt, including a full-scale rebellion in Alexandria, where the Copts try to get their hands on any Greek they could find, committing unspeakable atrocities upon any who might be suspect of Orthodox sympathies. By then, despite a number of monophysite Greeks, the Egyptian Copts begun to identify the Greeks with religious orthodoxy, and thus as enemies. Incidentally, this marks the birth of an independent Coptic Egyptian state. The Patriarch Athanasius flees with unseemingly haste only to find out that the Orthodox Synod in Constantinople has removed him at the Emperor's bidding, installing an Orthodox hardliner in his stead (who, ironically, has no way of getting to Alexandria with Coptic rebellion in full force). By now, the Emperor Tiberius is widely seen as being insane and blood-thirsty, wanting to eliminate anyone who he believes a threat or a failure. With no place to turn, and rightly suspecting that once he sets foot on Imperial territory he will be a dead man, Athanasius flees to the Arab lands, where the famed University of Medina flourishes among what is perceived as more religiously tolerant society than the most.
586 - The dethroned Patriarch arrives in Medina, where he is received with honors by prince Omar. There, the Patriarch, already very disillusioned with both stringent Orthodoxy and monophysitism, begins to preach a new doctrine that would be viewed as extremely heretical in both East and West of the Roman Empire. He makes a number of converts, among them the successor of Omar, Ali. In the following decade, Athanasian doctrine spreads like wildfire through the Arabian peninsula, morphing along the way to where it is almost only nominally Christian. The doctrine, in particular, states that the divinity of Jesus is due to him being chosen by God, not due to him being born of God. The implifications are such that a person, or even a nation, can be chosen by God for greatness - thus forming a blend between the more heretical versions of OTL Christianity and what formed the base for OTL Islam. It took well with the Arab people, who had been practically ignored by the rest of the world for most of their history up until the point, giving them a sense of additional national and religious identity.
587 - The Imperial army sent to Egypt to restore control mutinies, and instead proclaims their general, Justin by name, Emperor. Tiberius, by now increasingly unpopular because of famine resulting from the grain supply being cut off from Constantinople and due to numerous purges among enemies real and perceived, attempts to restore order in the city, but by then his Excubitors have had enough, and he is murdered. A loyal servant ships the young Constantine out of the city, where a group of loyalists shelter him. In a meanwhile, rebellious general is crowned Justin II in Hagia Sophia.
588 - After a long travel, ten-year-old Constantine and a number of loyalist arrive to the Persian court at Ctesiphon. Seeing the golden opportunity that may not come again soon, the Persians promise military aid in return for enormous territorial concessions, which include much of Syria and Mesopotamia, all of Armenia, and a large tribute. The war preparations consume most of the year, over the course of which Justin II proves himself to be not much of an improvement on his predecessor. Paranoid and constantly watching over his shoulder for threats both real and imaginary, he is more concerned about eliminating his enemies in Constantinople than about recovery of Egypt. In Italy, his rule is recognized only very reluctantly, and in the first year of his reign Justin already had to face several small rebellions in the army.
589 - Ever since the revolt, and a nearly-accidental independence, Egypt has been polarized in several different factions, all vying for control. By 589, leader of one of the factions, Nestor, has been able to successfully eliminate all his major opponents and crown himself a King of Egypt in Alexandria. Eager to use his chance, he seeks to ally himself with the Persians, and to promise military help to young Constantine's bid for the Imperial throne in return for recognition of Egypt's independence. Both the Persians and the Byzantine loyalist are quick to agree, having one less enemy to be concerned with. In Arabia, Omar, by now an adherent of Athanasian doctrine, begins a program of expansion, increasing the size of his kingdom at the expense of his neighbours.
590 - The Persian armies march against the Roman troops in Armenia and Mesopotamia. Dreading to leave Constantinople, Justin entrusts command of the army to his brother Maurice, who is soundly defeated in two major engagements. Egypt, while allied to the Persians, does not do much other than supply their armies with grain - most of Egypt's military is tied up defending its Western border from Vandal incursions.
591 - The army, having apparently developed a taste for rebellion, mutinies and kills Maurice. They declare one of their centurions, Thomas, Emperor. Thomas quickly patches up an agreement with the Persians, and marches on Constantinople. Justin lures him out under pretense of truce, and has him assassinated. By now, Justin has alienated the army, the Senate, the Church, and the people with his methods, and discontent in the remaining Imperial provinces reaches the boiling point.
592 - The second Imperial army finally manages to stop the Persians around Ancyra in Asia Minor, although at the cost of heavy casualties. This buys Justin some additional time, which he uses not to strengthen his remaining possessions, but to indulge in orgy of purges, torture, and assassination. Anyone suspect of sympathies to the Belisarian dynasty, or of any kind of discontent is summarily executed, their property confiscated.
593 - Fifteen-year-old Constantine, held practically hostage in the Persian court, escapes, and is ferried to Italy, the powerbase of Belisarian house. A local Exarch Liberius receives him with open arms. A rival court is now set up at Ravenna, and a new army is raised from the Italian population.
595 - The Persian war continued indecisively, with the Persian armies deeper than ever in the Roman territory. In a meanwhile, Omar of Medina dies, to be succeeded by his eldest son Ali. A fervent follower of Athanasius, and a somewhat skilled theologician himself due to education received at the University of Medina, he creates a number of further doctrinal changes that remove the new faith even further from its origins. But, besides his theological skills, Ali is also an inspiring leader, and a fearless soldier, able to command his men's loyalty just as well as he could command the discussion floor at the University. Over the next several years, all of the warring states and tribes of the Arabian peninsula pledge allegiance to Ali, who begins to style himself "Caliph", both as a sign that he is a representative of his people, as well as the sign of divine inspiration he believed himself to possess - the living representative of God.
596 - A great fleet containing an army estimated at fifty thousand strong sails from Italy towards Constantinople. It is commanded by Nicetas, son of Exarch of Italy, and carries with it the Emperor Constantine IV. At the first sign of the fleet's approach, rebellion in Constantinople removes Justin from the throne, and opens the city's gates to the Italian army. Justin and his henchmen are then summarily executed.
597 - The Italian army of Constantine IV and Nicetas achieves its first major victory over the Persians, pushing them out of Asia Minor into Armenia. The Egyptians, realizing that the tide of the war has turned, seek negotiations that would ally them to Romans, in return for the guarantee of independence. Knowing well that the war is far from won, and that there is a precious shortage of allies available, Constantine IV reluctantly accepts.
599 - The unification of the Arabian peninsula is complete. Also, a thrust into Syria results in a Battle of Homs, at which Persians are decisively defeated by the Roman force.
600 - Persian army captures Jerusalem, where there is a general massacre of Christians. The Holy Cross is captured and sent to Persia.
601 - The capture of Jerusalem sent the population of the East into religious fervor, actively encouraged by Constantine and his advisors. The war with Persia, though a familiar sight for centuries, is now a holy endeavor to the Christians of the Empire, swelling the ranks of the Roman armies. Constantine divides his forces in two, taking personal command of the greater portion of the forces, and leaving a smaller (although still a rather large) army under command of Nicetas. Nicetas is ordered to attack in Syria, while Constantine's army is to undertake an ambitious invasion of Persia with the goal of not only recovering the sacred relics and reclaiming lost territories, but to destroy Persian power once and for all.
602 - The Roman troops enter Persia, destroying everything in their wake. In a meanwhile, two subsequent Persian armies sent against Nicetas are similarly routed and annihilated. Nicetas enters Jerusalem, being hailed as a hero by the population.
603 - A Roman army of about forty thousand meets a Persian force more than twice its size under the walls of Ctesiphon, the Persian capital. Despite numerical superiority, the Persian army includes many recent conscripts and foreigners, with only a partial core of elite deghans (heavy cavalry), while the Roman army is composed of the best troops the Empire has. The battle is long and bloody, but the outcome is clear. The Persians are massacred, with only relatively minor (but still numerically large) losses on the Roman side. The siege of Ctesiphon begins.
604 - Ctesiphon falls to the Roman army, with the Persian Great King taken prisoner. The Persians are quick to sign the peace treaty, which results in return to pre-war borders, an enormous indemnity, and return of the sacred relics. Persia is now but a shadow of her former self, with much of her military destroyed, her lands devastated, and a dynastic crisis arising due to Great King's authority plunging to all-time lows after such a decisive defeat.
605 - Constantine IV enters Constantinople in triumph to the enthusiastic reception from the population. The Arab Caliphate starts considering expansion outside of its current borders.
606 - A huge Arab army erupts from its desert homeland, looking to spread the message of Athanasianism. Egypt, which has been building up its forces throughout the years, is able to resist their attack, but Persia is not so lucky. By 611 all of Persia would be engulfed by the Arab tide.
608 - Arab incursion into the Roman territories leads to a major battle, in which the Romans lose control of Syria except for its coastal regions. At the same time, Avar and Bulgar raids into Thrace become a permanent stream of settlement, which over the next decade would overrun Moesia and much of Dalmatia.
610 - The Vandals break off from the Roman control completely (even though the Roman control has been mostly nominal over the last fifty years).
612 - The Arab advance is finally reversed at Antioch, although not before much of the Roman Middle East is lost for good.
613 - Emperor Constantine IV dies of a fever in Constantinople. His sixteen-year old son Arcadius succeeds as Arcadius II. Also, the Arab attention starts to turn East towards Afghanistan and India. The new Emperor's task is daunting, as years of warfare, foreign invasions, and civil strife left the Empire economically prostrate, its armies in dire need of funds, and many of its outlying provinces lost. With his father's chief lieutenant Nicetas being confirmed in his position of magister militum, the new government begins to eye Italy, long a powerbase of the Belisarian house, as the key to survival of the Empire.
614 - A massive relocation program is started by the Empire, sending many of the refugees from the Arab occupied territories to Italy as colonists. Within a decade, population of Italy swells, creating a large pool of manpower for the Empire to draw from, as well as greatly increasing its tax base.
615 - Massive quantities of Bulgars and Avars pour into Moesia, Thrace, and Epirus. As a result, large portions of the Greek peninsula are no longer under the Imperial control. This provides further proof to Arcadius II and his government that the future of the Empire lies in the West, as the Eastern portion of his dominions is constantly whittled away by the Slavs, Bulgars, and Arabs. Economically, too, Greece is ruined, although Asia Minor, reorganized under military governors in the days of Tiberius, holds its own fairly well, being relatively self-sufficient, although not much more than that.
616 - The Imperial Senate in the West is revived. Prominent citizens and nobles of both Latin, Greek, and Gothic origin are invited to join. By now, especially in the large cities, the various population groups that now make up the citizenry of Italy are practically indistinguishable from each other.
619 - After a brief respite, the Arabs turn their attention West again. Coptic Egypt is able to buy them off with large tribute and promise of safe conduct for the Arab army should they choose to use it as a base, but the Georgians and Armenians are not so lucky. Both Georgian and Armenian kingdoms (the latter being a Roman protectorate until recently) are crushed, their lands added to the ever-growing Caliphate.
621 - After a forced march through Asia Minor, defeating the provincial forces sent against them, the Arab army is within sight of Constantinople, while a newly built Arab fleet sails against the Imperial capital. The Empire's salvation comes from an invention of a young Greek, later dubbed "The Greek Fire", a fiery concoction that could be sprayed on enemy ships, setting them on fire. While the Arab army attempted to cross the straits into Europe, the Imperial fleet, hastily outfitted with their new weapon, swept upon them, sinking the Arab fleet and a large portion of their army with it. Only in the following year the remnant of a once-glorious Arab host arrives home. Of the army of seventy thousand that attempted to besiege Constantinople, only twenty thousand soldiers survived.
623 - With the Arab threat under control, Arcadius sends a military expedition to dislodge the Bulgars and Slavs from the Balkans. While not a large-scale disaster, it achieves little. Now the Empire firmly controls only the coastal areas in much of the Balkans and Moesia, while much of the peninsula's interior is under the control of the invaders. In a meanwhile, the overall shift west for the Empire continues.
626 - Arcadius II announces that from now on, his official capital shall be in Ravenna. This creates a general mood of discontent, resulting in riots in Constantinople.
628 - The first recorded appearance of Khazars in the Roman annals. They are reported as "fierce warriors of the steppes, swift on their horses, and deadly with their arrows" by a contemporary chronicler.
631 - A massive building program is initiated, the cities of Italy being the primary beneficiaries. In particular, both Rome and Ravenna are partially rebuilt, while many older buildings in danger of collapsing are restored.
632 - A dangerous split in the Imperial politics occurs between the factions supporting the interests of the Eastern and Western portions of the Empire. There is a growing pressure on Arcadius to amend his policies to benefit the East of the Empire more, which many in Constantinople feel has been neglected.
633 - After long consideration, Arcadius decides to appoint his son Belisarius co-Emperor, responsible for the Eastern provinces, while he himself could concentrate on the West. Accompanied by a group of elite Gothic Guard, Belisarius II sets sail for Constantinople.
635 - Belisarius II, in two years since his ascention, has not shown a slightest interest in politics or administration, preferring to leave it to his advisors while he himself indulged in the pleasures of his capital. Chief amongst his advisors was Narses (no relation to his more famous namesake), the minister of finance. While ambitious, Narses, as a eunuch, was debarred from the throne - however, he was perfectly content with being a kingmaker. Of Narses' two brothers, one was a eunuch like himself, but the youngest, John, had shown some promise already as a civil servant. Thus, all of Narses ambitions were centered on ensuring his own family's elevation to power.
636 - While out hunting, Belisarius II is shot by an arrow, and killed. The official story is that the shooting was accidental, and the servant responsible is swiftly killed, however, there are suspicions of foul play. When the news reach Ravenna, Arcadius II is crushed by grief, and dies shortly thereafter. With no male heirs to the throne left behind by either Arcadius or his son, Arcadius' younger daughter Theodora is seen as path to the Imperial throne. Narses attempts to bethrothe Theodora to his brother, however, with the suspicions that he was involved in Belisarius' death, he gets a denial from Ravenna. Instead, a platoon of Italian soldiers shows up at his doorstep, with orders to arrest him and his family, and carry them to their judgement. Narses and his brothers are never heard from again. In a meanwhile, a Gothic noble named Apsimar, who held the position of magister militum in the West, is proclaimed Emperor by the army in Italy. He hastily changes his name to a more appropriate Constantine, and is crowned Emperor Constantine V, taking late Arcadius' daughter as his wife to cement his link to the throne. The Senate of both Ravenna and Constantinople confirm his ascention with unseeming haste - that is, when confronted with a few well-placed threats of an army intervention.
637 - The Bulgar Khanate's star is ascendant as Khan Tervel increases his dominions at the expense of the neighbouring tribes, and Rome's Balkan holdings. By now, the Danube frontier has long been overran, and coastal cities are all that remains of the former province of Moesia.
638 - A pretender in the East claims to be Emperor Belisarius II, who had somehow miraculously escaped death, and wants to reclaim his Empire. While almost certainly not genuine, it did create large degree of discontent throughout the Empire, as Constantine V is largely seen as a usurper, and only tolerated for the lack of better candidates. Constantine/Apsimar sends an army, mostly consisting of Italians and Italian Greeks to deal with pretender under command of a Greek general Theodosius Phocas.
639 - The Imperial army, once reaching Asia Minor, mutinies, raising Theodosius Phocas on their shields and proclaiming him Emperor. Since there are doubts that Constantine V, an Arian prior to his ascention to the throne, still does not fully adhere to the Orthodox faith (which at this point means the official doctrine of sees of both Rome and Constantinople), the army, Orthodox to a man (with exception of small Gothic contingent, which, finding themselves in minority, wisely join in the popular sentiment) would rather see an Orthodox Emperor on the throne. Yet, with the pretender still in his rear, Theodosius' first move is against the rebel instead of marching in Italy.
640 - The rebel pretender is defeated and captured, being strangled shortly thereafter. Theodosius III Phocas enters Constantinople in triumph, and starts to plan an expedition against his counterpart in Ravenna. A new army is recruited from the Greek population of Asia Minor and Greece proper, and is sent to Italy.
641 - After decisive defeat Constantine V abdicates, is tonsured, and packed up to a monastery in the Aegean. Theodosius arranges for Constantine's ex-wife Theodora to be remarried to his son, another Theodosius, who is then crowned co-Emperor and is left in charge of the West.
643 - The Visigothic kingdom in Spain grows in power, expelling the Romans from the south of the Iberian peninsula once and for all. The Roman holdings on the southern side of Gibraltar are all that remains of once-Roman Africa and Iberia. Occupied with unrest at home and a certain difficulty in asserting their authority, both co-Emperors are unable to react.
647 - Over the course of a previous few years, Khazars made somewhat of a name for themsekves as being a threat to Arab holdings in the Caucasus. They overran Georgia, and inflicted decisive defeats upon the Caliphate. Realizing that if left unchecked, the Khazars pose a major threat to the Eastern provinces of the Empire, the elder Theodosius decides upon a diplomatic solution, and sends an embassy to the Khazar Kagan. The Kagan is impressed by the richness of the Emperor's presents, and by the implied power of the Empire, and agrees to an alliance treaty in return for a large subsidy.
649 - An active effort to convert the Khazars begins as Imperial missionaries travel to Khazar territories. They have to contend with both the existing pagan Khazar religion, and with the Athanasian missionaries sent by the Arabs who came to a similar conclusion that "if you can't beat them, make them join you". While both missions make a number of conversions, neither is a full-fledged success, as majority of the Khazars are indifferent to the foreign religious influence.
650 - With their hold on power now relatively secure, the Theodosii now start thinking about expansion. It is deemed that, due to Caliphate experiencing succession crisis, recovery of some of the Eastern provinces might be a distinct possibility. Theodosius III issues orders to attack the Caliphate in Syria and Palestine, in attempt to recapture the long-lost provinces, and to undermine the Arab power and influence.
651 - The Byzantine/Roman army meets little resistance as they recapture the coastal cities in Palestine and Syria, until they meet a large Arab force near Edessa. Resulting battle ends in a draw, although both sides claim victory. The new Caliph Suleyman, whose position is still contested within his own realm, agrees to concede the coast of Palestine, with Jerusalem, as the Holy City, being under joint Arab and Roman control. In the eyes of Theodosius, this justifies a triumph, which is a splendid and lavish affair even by the standards of Constantinople.
652 - Theodosius III dies in Constantinople, and is succeeded by his son, already reigning in Ravenna as Theodosius IV. Already an experienced administrator, even if less publicly prominent during his father's reign, the younger Theodosius immediately saw the problems facing his Empire. The East and the West, while quiet since the elder Theodosius' ascention, have been drifting apart steadily, with Italo-Gothic, Latin speaking West and Greek East constantly being at odds with each other. In order to combat this, and to promote internal unity, he attempts to resettle large numbers of Goths and Latins in Asia Minor. This idea is met with such resentment among both Goths, Italians, and Greeks, that it is not followed through with.
653 - First mention of iconoclasm, "smashing of icons" in the Roman literature. The movement, starting in Coptic Egypt, gains in popularity in North Africa, and gains momentum when a prominent Athanasian cleric declares that painting images of the saints and Christ clearly violates the Second Commandment, and thus smacks of idolatry. The resulting wave of destruction makes many dedicated iconodules ("icon-loving") Christians, both Athanasian and Orthodox, flee the lands of the Caliphate for the Imperial territories. An unintended effect is that despite them fleeing iconoclasm, the exodus actually helped to increase awareness of iconoclastic ideas, thus spreading them across Asia Minor.
654 - By now, Theodosius IV realizes with some alarm that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to effectively manage both Italy, Greece, and Asia Minor without having to delegate much of his authority. The previous solution to the problem has been appointment of a co-Emperor, but with no adult males of the Imperial dynasty available, promotion of a non-related co-Emperor could create more problems than it would solve. Thus, Theodosius creates theme system, which replaces the previous administrative division of the Empire into Exarchates. Each theme is designed to be large enough to be able to defend itself in case of a foreign incursion until the Imperial army arrives, but not large enough to be able to successfully revolt. Major incentives and large tracts of land are offered to citizens of any ethnic origin to settle in the new themes in return for hereditary military service. The initiative is an instant success, and allows for more centralized style of government, which in turn strengthens the Empire immensely.
658 - Finally able to turn his thoughts to reconquest of the lands that were part of the Roman Empire of the old, Theodosius IV plans the military expedition against the Vandals, whom he intended to punish for their previous breakaway from Rome, as well as to put a stop to Vandal pirates operating near Sicily. A great fleet of over a hundred galleys is assembled, while the land army, composed of soldiers from every corner of the Empire gathers in Naples.
659 - The Second Vandal War begins. A great naval battle is fought between the Roman and the Vandal fleets, with the Romans emerging victorious despite enormous losses (although the Vandal fleet, mauled as it was, was not completely destroyed). The Vandals attempted to delay the approach of the Roman fleet by asking for a three days' truce, however, Theodosius, fully aware of Basiliscus' error two centuries earlier, pressed on. The battle is fought under the walls of Carthage which sees the Vandals defeated, however, the remainder of their force walls themselves in the city, and stoutly resists attempts at subjugation.
660 - The Second Battle of Carthage, in which the reserve Vandal army in combination with the defenders of the city defeats Roman force. The Roman army withdraws from the city's surroundings and both Romans and Vandals attempt to sway Egypt on their side. The Copts in Egypt do not want to get involved in the showdown, and stay neutral.
662 - The fighting in North Africa continues, with neither side able to get a clear sustainable advantage. The Roman reinforcements finally arrive from Asia Minor, swaying the tide of battle to the Roman side just enough to bring the Vandals to the negotiation table. The resulting peace treaty makes no territorial concessions, but does extort a large tribute from the Vandals, as well as demands that the Vandal King makes formal obeissanse to the Emperor. In effect, it is a return to status quo, however, the Imperial prestige has been maintained.
663 - Theodosius IV crowns his eldest son Leo co-Emperor in an elaborate ceremony. As was the case with many of his immediate predecessors, Leo III is sent to Constantinople as both a test of his governance abilities, and a measure to strengthen Ravenna's control over the Eastern territories. In a surprising move, Theodosius succeeds in having his youngest son Valentinianus elected to the Papacy, vacated since the previous Pope passed away. This places the Western Church under more complete Imperial control.
665 - A Frankish king Pepin dies without naming a successor, resulting in civil war within the Frankish dominions. The fighting polarizes between two factions, representing his sons Charles and Lewis. Charles' faction is stronger of the two, however, he is suspected of being in favor of aggressive expansion at the expense of his neighbours. Therefore, Theodosius IV is inclined to support Lewis, who he believes to be less of a potential threat. In subsequent fighting, by 670 the Frankish dominion is split in two, Francia proper, which is given to Charles, and Aquitaine, which is given to Lewis under the terms of peace treaty brokered by Theodosius. He believes that with potentially strong rival at his side, Charles' expansionistic designs would be severely hampered.
666 - (OT: sorry, couldn't resist this one) An Ecumenical Council of Church, gathered in Rome, proclaims Athanasian teachings an anathema, and the followers of Athanasianism heretics, condemned to death. A massive wave of persecution follows, both in the East and in the West of the Empire. Interestingly enough, no representatives of Patriarch of Alexandria were invited to the Council, as Egyptian Christians, living in the shadow of the Caliphate, developed a much more tolerant philosophy towards religion when dealing with its subjects.
667 - Outraged at what seemed like a persecution of the believers, Caliph Muawiya marches into the Roman Syria, destroying every trace of resistance in his path. In marked contrast to the Romans, the Caliphate does not engage into the wave of religious persecution, despite much provocations to that effect.
668 - A Roman force sent against the Caliphate is completely annihilated. A second force, now under Leo III's personal command, fares not much better - while it is not completely destroyed, it is routed, and retreats towards the hearland of Asia Minor with huge casualties. The Caliphate forces overrun Syria, Cilicia, and Armenia.
670 - The Caliphate advance is finally stopped at Chalcedon, almost within sight of Constantinople. At the price of nearly exhausting the Imperial exchequer, Leo III bribes the Bulgars and the Khazars into attacking the Caliphate's flanks, while the Roman fleet's Greek Fire weapons sown the toll of death among the Caliphate fleet. Despite the Caliphate's defeat, the cost has been severe, especially at the time when the Empire could ill-afford it. This led to much popular resentment, especially among the army, where many place blame for disasters of the war on Leo.
671 - Disappointed at the developments in the East, but not willing to accept even partial responsibility for the things that created them (the Ecumenical Council of 666 being a construct of Theodosius, who, later in his life, became rather ridiculously religious even by the standards of the time), Theodosius recalls Leo from the East, and places a second son named Antonius in charge. While not a great military leader by any means, Leo is, however, a politician through and through, and is able to sway the public opinion in his favor, blaming the defeats on inadequate resources given to him by the senior Emperor, as well as on the senior Emperor's obvious provocation of the Arabs.
672 - Antonius' galley never arrives to Constantinople, official version being an attack by the Saracen pirates when Antonius' galley separated from its escorts, but in fact there is little doubt that Leo had a hand in his rival's murder. However, shortly thereafter Leo is found dead in his apartments, believed to be a victim of poisoning - probably ordered by Theodosius. Old Theodosius appoints his third son, Constantine, to be his successor.
673 - A war breaks out between Aquitaine and the Visigothic Kingdom of Iberia. To a surprise of all involved, it results in a crushing victory for Aquitaine, whose king Lewis, once a rival claimant to the Frankish throne, proves himself as able and ruthless as his brother Charles was feared of being.
674 - Theodosius IV dies in Ravenna, his third son succeeding as Constantine VI. Constantine VI is a timid, unremarkable young man, whose reign is dominated by his advisors, and his remarkable wife, Eudocia Macrembolitissa. At her insistense, he moved his court to Constantinople.
676 - The Great Iconoclast Schism. As the Athanasian doctrine that images of saints and of Jesus himself are nothing short of idolatry spreads through Asia Minor, the rulings of the Ecumenical Council of 666 are directly challenged, as it ruled Athanasianism and all its branches as being the vilest heresy. It does not create much of a stir in Italy, however, it is a major issue in Greece, Asia Minor, and in the areas closer to the Caliphate frontier. A charismatic bishop of Nicaea named Stephen is in particular a vocal proponent of iconoclasm, and when he is elected to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, he proclaims that the failures of Leo III's reign are due to the loss of purity of faith, and rampant idolatry of the Emperor and population.
677 - The Emperor deposes the Patriarch, and replaces him with an iconodule bishop. Fighting on the streets of Constantinople escalates, with hundreds killed. Army of the East, overwhelmingly iconoclast, mutinies, and demands Patriarch's reinstatement. In face of such overwhelming odds, Constantine VI capitulates to their demands. The Patriarch Stephen is carried through the streets of Constantinople in triumph as the Emperor watches, unable to do anything.
678 - The Emperor Constantine VI summons another Ecumenical Council at the behest of the Patriarch Stephen, who by now is at the height of his popularity. The goal of the Council is to provide ecclesiastical support for the cause of iconoclasm, which it does, however, not until the delegates from Rome are literally dragged out of the meeting for their refusal to acknowledge the Council's authority. Enraged, the Pope excommunicates the Council, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and, for good measure, the Emperor himself. The Patriarch is quick to return the favor, while the Emperor orders a platoon of soldiers from Ravenna to arrest the Pope and bring him to Constantinople for trial.
679 - While the Western portion of the Empire viewed the theological exchange with general apathy, the attempt to arrest the Pope has proven to be a catalyst for general rebellion. The Italian soldiers flat out refused to carry out the Emperor's will, and instead raised a local aristocrat to the throne, who assumed the name of Claudius III, and receives the Imperial crown in Rome from the hands of the Pope. In the East, the situation destabilizes quickly as well, as the mostly iconodule population of the Greek mainland find itself at odds with mostly iconoclast Asia Minor, Syria (or whatever portion of it that remained in Roman hands), and Palestine. The Emperor attempts to raise an army from his Easternmost provinces, leaving the area dangerously undermanned to defend against potential attacks from the Caliphate, which are quick to follow as the Emperor's host descends upon the Greek mainland to stamp out the opposition.
680 - Swarms of refugees from the Greek mainland arrive in Italy, settling in the area long known as Magna Graecia in the south of the peninsula. The Bulgars, who by now have established a rather large Khanate in former Roman province of Moesia, see the opportunity to expand into the vacant areas. An attempt by the Emperor to stop them is an utter failure - in a resulting battle, more than a half of the Roman army perishes, the Emperor being one of the casualties. With no clear successor, the Patriarch Stephen assumes Regency of the East, being the only figure with enough authority to do so. The Empress Eudocia, universally blamed for much of her husband's policy failures, is forced to take a veil and is shipped off to an island monastery on the Marmara, along with her two young daughters.
681 - Having solidified his rule in Italy, Claudius III turns his attention to the East. The situation he inherited is rather grim. By now, much of the Balkans is lost to the Bulgars and Slavs, with even the interior of Greece no longer subject to the Emperor's will. The Arab incursions in the East are eating away greater and greater portions of the Empire's Asia Minor provinces, while the growing Khazar Kaganate presents a dangerous unknown factor in the Caucasus. Worse yet, the Patriarch of Constantinople has practically usurper the Emperor's place under pretense that the new Emperor must be agreed upon by the Senate - which, not suprisingly, does not seem to be able to agree on a candidate. In fact, the Patriarch's manipulations keep the Senate in a deadlock, unable to even make the simple policy decisions without his approval. Claudius decides to isolate the Patriarch from his support base in Asia Minor by sending two armies East, one to Thessalonica, where it is met with much enthusiasm by the local population, and another to Antalya, which is grudgingly tolerated by the predominantly iconoclast Easterners. He is careful to instruct the armies not to actively impose the cult of the icons, and not to antagonize the local population.
682 - A military expedition to the East resulted in retrieval of territories lost several years earlier to the Arabs, while the army in Greece is able to protect remaining Imperial holdings. These factors, in addition to Claudius' policy of tolerance, slowly swayed the provinces to his side, leaving the Patriarch Stephen in control of Constantinople itself, but not much else. In Constantinople, the Patriarch has instituted a virtual witchhunt, holding and executing anyone suspected of disloyalty without trial with the help of his fanatical guards. Seeing that his fall is only a matter of time, he goes as far as recall the ex-Empress Eudocia from her banishment, and proclaims her Augusta in attempt to rally his unwilling subjects, yet it is to no avail as Claudius' armies draw ever closer to Constantinople.
683 - Claudius III enters Constantinople as the gates open up to him without a fight. The Patriarch, surprisingly, accepts situation with dignity, and is packed off to Theodosia in Crimea to end his days there. As a moderate, Claudius is accepted by both sides of the debate, although there is small but growing discontent among the Greeks who distrust the Latin Emperor. Through the rest of Claudius' reign, his concilliatory policies win him much popularity in ecclesiastical, military, and commercial circles, thus earning him the epitet of Great.
685 - Knowing that successful government of the Empire meant balancing between the East and the West, but not always able to be in both places at the same time, Claudius names two Caesars, technically junior Emperors, one responsible for Italy, another one for Asia Minor and Greece. Surprisingly, Claudius passes over his sons and immediate family, and chooses a prominent Greek Senator Michael Macrembolitissa, a relative of the ex-Empress Eudocia, as his lieutenant in the East, while command of the West passes to Fabius Nepos, a Latin aristocrat from Rome. Claudius does, however, make it clear that neither of the posts are hereditary, and that only he retains the supreme authority in all matters.
686 - Both East and West experience a period of rebuilding and consolidation of the Roman territories. Through a variety of methods including forced loans and monopolization of trade and certain industries, state finances are restored to a manageable level, while army is significantly reorganized along the thematic lines. In the north, a war erupts between Aquitaine and Francia, resulting in a Frankish loss. Alarmed, the Romans enter into alliance with Francia and Visigothic Iberia to keep Aquitainian ambitions in check.
689 - Attempting to heal the rifts between the Churches, Emperor Claudius summons another Ecumenical Council to be held at Nicaea, the site of the first Ecumenical Council centuries ago. He takes special care to invite delegates from all five Patriarchal sees, even the representatives of the heretical Athanasians. The Council, however lauded, goes only to show that the essential unity of the Christian faith lies in tatters, and that whatever doctrines the various branches of the faith espouse are often in direct contradiction with each other. The Council would go on for another two years, however, it achieved very little, as none of the concilliatory doctrines proposed by the Emperor, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Pope of Rome take root, leaving Christendom as divided as ever. It has even been rumoured that after a bitter disappointment of a Council, the Emperor Claudius even contemplated abandoning Christianity altogether, as it had done nothing but divide his subjects. Of course, such rumours are quietly silenced in due time.
695 - First mention of missionaries sent to the Bulgar Khanate. At this time, the Bulgar mission meets with little success.
698 - As Claudius III grew older, a question of who would succeed him arose. Both Caesars lobbied heavily to be recognized as successor, while Claudius' son, Tiberius was attempting to get recognized as a legal heir based on hereditary principle (which, incidentally, was not formally recognized). The old factionalist violence between the Blues, the Greens, and the Whites, supporting respectfully Tiberius, Michael, and Nepos, broke out in a number of major cities, and it was only with a great difficulty that the Emperor restored control. His son and the Caesars, he declared, were fine young people, but neither of them possessed the kind of vision, he believed, that would be necessary to lead the Empire. Thus, he shall entrust the Patriarch of Constantinople with a document naming his successor, that shall be only announced after his death to prevent any threats against his chosen successor.
701 - As he lay in his deathbed, Claudius III could congratulate himself on what amounted to an excellent reign, both in the eyes of his contemporaries, as well as those of the subsequent generations. The frontiers were secure, the treasury full, and a semblance of internal peace was restored. Yet, not soon after he breathed his last, his subjects were sorry that he was gone. Tiberius and the two Caesars formed an informal alliance, ensuring the ascention of Tiberius, as the two Caesars are simultaneously promoted to the rank of the Augusti. Through intimidation and bribes, the Patriarch and the Senate acknowledge Tiberius III as the Emperor of the Romans, with unprecedented two other Augusti of technically equal rank. The people had good reasons to mourn Claudius the Great. They will not see a likeness of him for more than half a century.
"Money talks; Merit walks"