That looks really good. If you're still interested (and no worries if you've changed your mind), please PM me and I'll send you the details for the road map. Thanks.
I Just love these cultural post, giving solid base for future possibile "paths to be taken,,"Before diving straight into the chronological events of Rhomania in the Little Ice Age, I wanted to engage in some social history of Rhomania on the cusp. By outlining these features of Roman society, it will show the tools and mindsets at the disposal of the Romans, their strength and limitations, what is possible and what is not, which will be essential in explaining why Romans react to the crises the way they do. Presenting all this up-front seems to me to be far more efficient than just continuing the chronological narrative and then having to constantly backtrack to fill in necessary background. 
The Contexts of Roman Society, Part 1: The (Lack of) Authority of the State
Rhomania contains multitudes.
Generalizations are inevitable, but they are also dangerous. Simplification is often necessary, but oversimplifications are wrong. The Roman Empire, the Roman people, Roman society cannot be summarized in a short concise package without sacrificing detail and nuance and exceptions. The key to understanding is to recognize that diversity, and allow for it in any summary.
Rhomania on the cusp of the Little Ice Age was a big state. It may look small on the typical political map, especially one blown up to cover the likes of Russia and China, but it was nevertheless a big state. Furthermore ‘big’ also went much further then, when horse and sail were the fastest mode of transport, compared to now. From Vidin to Edessa is about 1900 kilometers. A commercial plane flight could take less than three hours. In 1650, a traveler moving 50 kilometers a day, resting every Sunday, would take about a month-and-a-half.
A traveler traversing that route would encounter many terrains, forests, mountains, swampland, desert, the arid high plateau of Anatolia, great plains of cereals and cotton, and hillsides covered with the vine and olive trees. The many terrains and climates, with all their implications for human habitation, mean that there could be no one Roman experience, but multiple Roman experiences.
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One sight the traveler could see would be the Fairy Chimneys of Kappadokia. It is unsurprising that the Roman film industry frequently uses this region for science fiction productions. (Wikimedia Commons)
For sake of simplicity, let us remove considerations of class and the urban vs. rural dynamic, and focus just on examples of the rural poor. There would be the Albanian shepherd, the Bulgarian charcoal burner, the fisherman-farmer-sea peddler from the islands, the vegetable-and-herb gardener from the Thracian plain, the polyculture smallholder from interior Thrakesia, the pastoral nomad on the high plateau, the ascetic in the Syrian desert, and more.
The fact of diversity, and the fact of distance. These are two essential points to consider to understand Roman society as it entered the height of the Little Ice Age.
Political maps are a useful visual aid, but their presentation creates certain assumptions that are often not valid, especially for pre-industrial states that are more heavily affected by the factors of diversity and distance, especially the latter. A political map of the Roman Empire will show a solid purple mass with sharply delineated borders. It is quite clear on a map where the Roman Empire ends and the Ottoman Empire begins, and a pixel in the most barren stretch of the Anatolian plateau is just as deeply hued as Constantinople itself. With such an image, it is easy to assume that Roman authority is clearly demarcated, with authority being uniform throughout the outlined zone. That is what the imagery suggests.
Reality is anything but.
The concept of a Roman border line, in the modern sense, that is sharp, distinct, and clearly marked with signage and guarded border crossings, is mostly nonexistent in this period. There are some exceptions where natural features can make the border extremely obvious, such as the Danube River, and where large settlements lie near the border. Those areas near those border towns are well patrolled and marked, and so the border near them resembles the modern conception.
But move no more than a day’s march from those settlements, and those features disappear. For along most of the line, there is no line. The frontier is a zone, with extremely fuzzy edges. The Roman Empire doesn’t end at one spot and the Ottoman Empire begin. Instead the Roman zone fades into the frontier, and then as one crosses the zone the Ottoman Empire gradually coalesces on the other side. But without the clear markers that are major settlements, the contours of these zones are impossible to define.
Pastoral nomads whose summer and winter pastures lie on opposite sides of the border line don’t care one bit about the scribbles of bureaucrats in a far-off city. The response of Roman and Ottoman border officials is identical and illustrates quite nicely the fluidity of the border. They are less interested in policing movement than in ensuring that the state they serve gets its taxes. One solution would be to tax the nomads at their pastures, with the Romans taxing them at the pasture on their side of the border with the Ottomans do the same on the other side. However the nomads would despise such a proposal, because it means they are double-taxed.
One option for the nomads to avoid such a thing would be to change their pasturage routes so that they stay within one Empire. However that is vastly easier said than done. There are multiple herds and herders involved, each with traditional pastures and routes in a system that long predates the current border placement. To adjust one would require adjusting many, perhaps all, and that just gets complicated really fast.
Furthermore the ecology doesn’t care about the political boundaries, so there are frequently practical reasons for the pastoralists to want pastures that end up on opposite sides of the border. The Roman lands are predominantly mountainous, with the Ottoman territories down in the lowlands, although this is one of those generalizations with frequent exceptions. Thus Roman lands are good summer pasture, while the Ottoman lands are good winter pasture.
Roman and Ottoman border officials are cognizant of these difficulties. Given the difficulty of policing pastoralists already, they are reticent to implement policies they know would be hated for their attacks on tradition and even basic livelihoods. So they don’t even pretend to enforce a border line. Instead herds and herdsmen are designated as either Roman or Ottoman, in a process of negotiation between border officials and the pastoralists in question. With a few high-profile exceptions, Constantinople and Hamadan are virtually uninvolved in said process. The pastoralists are then taxed on their herds by whichever Empire with which they have been identified, at whatever time of their annual peregrinations they happen to be within said Empire. Given the layout of pasturage, this means that on literally every day of the year, there are Roman pastoralists on the Ottoman side of the border and vice versa. And this is considered, by everyone involved, to be normal. The image of a solid, clearly marked, and impermeable border is completely contrary to the realities of the frontier zone.
The Roman-Ottoman border is the most extreme example, given its length, terrain, and the number of migratory populations, but it is not unique. Roman peasants might take their goods to a Serbian market to trade, because the Serbian market is 3 kilometers away while the nearest Roman town market is 12 kilometers away. And if the market is small enough and isolated enough, the peasants don’t have to worry about customs duties, from either side. It isn’t worth the expense of sending a border patrol just to ensure customs duties are paid on a few dozen eggs, mushrooms, and the odd goat. And if there are disputes between Romans and Serbs, it’s not on the basis of arguments between polities; it is that of two neighboring villages arguing over access to a meadow or the like. They are far more likely to settle it between themselves and only resort to higher authorities if there is no other way to break the impasse.
Replace ‘Serbian’ with ‘Georgian’ in the above paragraph and it represents the situation along much of the frontier on the opposite side of the Empire. Only where major trade routes and settlements and markets are present is state authority more prevalent and enforced.
Roman state authority is based on three loci, with the rule of thumb being that the Roman government is more active and authoritative in areas as they are proximate to one or more of the loci, which can and do reinforce each other. These loci are firstly, the proximity to Constantinople. The second is proximity to cities in general, with the larger the city the more it acts as a center of state authority. (Constantinople is listed as its own loci, because its function as the imperial capital gives it more weight as a center of authority beyond just the large settlement factor.) The third is proximity to the sea. The ease and speed of moving orders and goods and people by sea makes it far simpler for the state to enforce its will if maritime transport is available.
Using that as a model, it shows that Roman lands under the greatest state authority are coastal areas that are near settlements. Meanwhile interior areas far from the shore and cities (and cities in the interior are drastically smaller than coastal ones) would be the areas least affected. Since that describes much of the frontier, that is why the borderlands are some of the territories the least under effective consistent control from the imperial center.
One example of this is an interesting and surprising incident that occurs in the Kephalate of Heliopolis (Baalbek) in late 1648, when the Mufti of a Sunni Muslim village issues a petition to the Kouaistor of the district. A village girl has run away from home and converted to Judaism in order to be with the object of her affections and the Mufti wants the girl returned to her father. It must be noted that this is just a few years after the Great Crime, with the ban on Sunni Muslims in Syria still legally in effect, and yet here we have an entire village of Sunni Muslims, large enough to support a Mufti, making its presence explicitly known to the Roman authorities and even feeling confident enough to make requests of said authorities.
The response of the Kouaistor is also surprising to one expecting clear and sharp obedience to dictates from the imperial center. The Kouaistor agrees with the Mufti and promptly arranges for the girl to be taken into custody and returned to her village, at which point she disappears from the record. There is no attempt to enforce the expulsion order, while the Kouaistor’s order explicitly recognizes the right of the villagers to maintain their internal affairs according to their Islamic customs.
The only hiccup to the smooth transfer is from some marginalia inscribed by an assistant secretary, arguing that since Judaism is closer to Christianity than Islam, the girl should not be forced to return. A note from the Kouaistor responds that such questions as the proximity of religions to one another should be left to theologians. In administration, it is far easier to just let the religious minorities run their own affairs and discipline their own members for apostasy. Only in the case of conversion of Orthodoxy would the administration intervene.
To add an extra wrinkle, the documents that provide the evidence for this instance are from the archives of the Mesazon of Syria in Antioch, meaning that knowledge of this must have moved up the chain and did not stay isolated in the rather-minor Kephalate. Yet there is no evidence of even the slightest reprimand of the Kouaistor, much less an order to enforce the expulsion order on the village. Constantinople might issue orders that were totalitarian in scope, but the capital’s ability to completely enforce compliance clearly had holes.
Distance was a key factor in weakening the reach of the state, but distance can change both horizontally and vertically. A change in elevation could have drastically more effect on the strength of state authority then just moving across the landscape. It has been said that a 500 meter increase in elevation was equivalent to moving 50 kilometers inland in terms of the effect of decreasing state authority. While the ratio should not be taken literally, it does illustrate the magnitude vertical change can have, two orders of magnitude higher than the horizontal change.
This helps to explain the Sunni village. It was located in the mountains of Lebanon, historically a place of limited state authority. That village is also not unique, with other Sunni pockets existing after the Great Crime, although few are as obvious about their continued presence, especially so recently. But all of the exceptions exist in rugged and isolated locations, while their co-religionists in the flatlands were destroyed.
The mountainous zones often have practically no state authority at all, with the inhabitants managing their own affairs. For example, mountain summer pastures and herd-paths are marked by boundary stones. If someone transgresses these markers, the violator is not taken to court. In the winter, the herds move down to winter pastures on the coast, often near port towns where the herdsmen sell their animal products at the markets. After that work is done, the trespasser will be dealt with by a murder in an alleyway of Dyrrachium or Arta or Sinope or Attaleia. It’s much easier to do it then rather than trying to hunt him down in the mountains.
Local authorities are quite familiar with the issue. However, given the practical impossibility of policing the mountains and thus removing the causes of these feuds, the local authorities let such things slide. So long as the herders keep such things to themselves and don’t involve the townspeople and farmers, the authorities won’t bother them. In fact, if the herders direct their energies on each other, that means they’ll have less time and energy to harass said townsfolk and farmers. No urban official wants to make a big fuss over some dead shepherd.
The reach of the state is limited. The reach of the church is far greater. There are 170 Kephales in the heartland in 1650, after the transfer of Malta to Sicilian control. There are nearly 500 bishops in Anatolia alone. While an isolated mountain village might see a secular official a few times a year, if that, it will have a resident priest. The quality and nature of the priest can vary quite substantial. The priest might be rather poorly educated himself on the details of the Orthodox faith, and spend much of his time growing vegetables and chopping firewood as a means of supporting himself rather than dealing with religious matters. But there will be a resident priest, and that basic fact alone gives the Orthodox Church much greater weight in the lives of even the most isolated Romans than that of the Roman government.
There are some gaps in the Church’s reach. The mountain village has a resident priest, but the village inhabitants are sedentary. More mobile populations are much less affected by the Church. Miners, woodsmen, and charcoal-burners, working in isolated areas and often moving around in search of new work, are rarely settled enough for a resident priest to set up shop. Entertainers of all types, including sex workers, are frequently on the road. The free and wanton ways of Vlach shepherdesses is a common cliché, viewed with delight or horror depending on one’s moral inclinations, and it is blamed on a lack of religious instruction because of their mobile lifestyle. And then there are the pastoral and agro-pastoral nomads in parts of Anatolia and Syria, who live in tents on the basis of their herds. All of these mobile groups (and it must be noted that there is substantial variation in how mobile these groups are compared to one another) are viewed with suspicion by their sedentary neighbors, of being suspect morally, in large part because of the lack of Christian influence.
But even here the Church can reach further than the state. For an example, return to those shepherds descending down from the mountains for winter pastures and markets along the coast. If they have a feud, local officials won’t get involved. However when the shepherds arrive, local priests will also arrive. The shepherds will build an altar of cheeses for the priest, from which the priest will bless the shepherds, their herds, and conduct any other religious rites the shepherds desire. When finished, the priest will then take away the cheeses that made up the altar as payment for his services while the shepherds return to their regular affairs. No state official is ever involved.
 Inspiration for this current project, a social history of Rhomania as it stands on the eve of the Little Ice Age, comes mostly from the works of Fernand Braudel, principally his two-volume work on the Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II and his 3-volume Civilization & Capitalism. The specific examples of the shepherds resolving boundary feuds by murder in coastal towns during the winter, and also paying priests in altars of cheeses, are both taken from Vol. 1 of his work on the Mediterranean.
I love the emphasis on frontiers. It wasn't until fairly recently in human history that borders were as clearly outlined on the ground as they were on maps.
I love that update, it reminds me of when I first played Hegemony Gold and because that's all about cities it sorta has a map that reflects population density because those areas had more cities (shock, I know).
That could be a really cool (if predictable) map in the future. A map of the Near-Roman world that combined political affiliation, density, without warping geography would be really informative.
This is what I love most about this timeline. It gets into so much more than lines on a map. It deals realistically with the people within those lines. Both in the capital and outside of it.
Would be very curious to understand how the extent of Constantinoples control over their territories compare to say the Triple Monarchy.
Understand the latter would have more smaller towns, would they not contain enough capacity to exert effective control?
If Rhomania is still ahead of its contemporaries in centralisation, would expect it's primarily due to their naval power.
I suppose their advantage (as well as the Triunes) is that the Head of State has superiority over the church (which can better act as an extension of the state).