Basilicus Sicilia - A Hohenstaufen Sicily Timeline

Chapter 19: The Great Count Returns
The End of the War of the Four Counts in Sicily​

With the death of Robert Magno, the War of the Four Counts was reduced to three claimants to the Kingdom of Sicily. News of Magno’s death understandably strained the relationship between Rodrigo de Mahdia and Marino Cassandro, both of whom maintained that they were the rightful King of Sicily. Meanwhile, in Salerno, which Giorgios Xenos had made his forward base, the Greek claimant to the Kingdom of Sicily prepared to make a second advance into Sicily. His vast personal fortune had been significantly reduced by the costs of supplying his armies, not to mention the hiring costs of the various mercenaries he had employed. Thus, he had been forced to start taxing the already hurting peasantry of Apulia and Calabria in order to hire a fresh army to replace the one that had begun to melt away following Robert Magno’s death.

Xenos travelled to Napoli, where he planned on meeting an incoming Occitan force that he had hired from the currently idle Marselha, but Marino Cassandro moved more rapidly. He had retained naval superiority over Xenos and Magno throughout the War of the Four Counts, and used it to his full advantage by attacking Napoli in force. The majority of his navy and marine forces to Napoli, Cassandro had his marines hoisted atop the rigging of his ships and onto the low sea walls. The siege was mercifully brief, and by the end of the day, Xenos had fled the city with a number of his loyal supporters, and would eventually end up in Ravenna. The Occitan army that Xenos had hired would arrive days later, and while a bolster to his own forces would have been preferred by Cassandro, his own financial situation was too shaky to risk the ire of unpaid mercenaries. Thus, the Occitans were informed of the situation, and promptly sailed home.

The removal of Giorgios Xenos from the War of the Four Counts resulted in the effective end of the truce between Marino Cassandro and Rodrigo de Mahdia. William Opamhill and Henri Palomer, realizing that their allegiance to Robert Magno and later Giorgios Xenos would likely bring about some form of revenge from Cassandro, the two managed to escape from Amalfi with the remainder of the Xenos-Magno navy and sail to Palermo, where Rodrigo de Mahdia had taken up residence. The two, along with the now aging Bishop of Palermo, Francisco Vittoriti, received a warm welcome from Rodrigo de Mahdia [1]. Thus, in June of 1394, five years since the last King of Sicily was pushed aside, Rodrigo de Mahdia was crowned King Rodrigo I of Sicily in the Palermo Cathedral.

With the support of William Opamhill and Henri Palomer bolstering his navy, Francisco Vittoriti giving him legitimacy, and both North Africa and Sicily providing troops and tax money, Rodrigo I was in a much stronger position than Marino Cassandro. Although Cassandro was able to provide more stable rule in southern Italy than Magno and Xenos had, he was still limited to southern Italy, Corsica, and Sardinia, all of which were far more damaged from the war than North Africa, which had remained untouched, and Sicily, which had seen only an abortive, if critical, invasion that had only seem one major battle and relatively little plundering.

Thus, Cassandro’s main advantage remained his navy, and thus naval raids on Sicily’s coasts began in earnest. According to Cassandro’s personal writings, which were preserved in Napoli,

Marino Cassandro said:
“The decision to raid the coasts of Sicily has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Such brutality will not win me the hearts of Sicily, upon whom I relied for three years of battle. That Sicily must suffer so injustly at my own hand is nearly enough to convince me to end my war. But the Berber must be defeated, and much as I may hate it, to return now, after all I have done, would be far worse for all than going forward with my plans. Such are the sins that plague my soul.” [2]

Rodrigo, meanwhile, needed a quick victory in order to maintain his momentum in the War of the Four Counts [3]. Although Rodrigo was momentarily in the stronger position, Marino’s naval superiority gave him a major advantage in the Mediterranean, particularly with Rodrigo’s inability to keep the Tunis - Trapani line closed [4]. Should Rodrigo be unable to continue appearing to be victorious, he faced the very real possibility that his own supporters in Sicily could revolt or otherwise turn to Cassandro.

Thus, in early 1395, Rodrigo began to prepare an invasion of southern Italy. With Cassandro’s navy constantly patrolling the Straits of Messina, invasion through that means was out of the question. Instead, in March 1395, the remaining navy under Rodrigo’s command ferried a force 16,000 men strong from Syracuse around Calabria, where they landed at Kroton. From there, Rodrigo led his forces on a whirlwind campaign through Apulia, seizing multiple ports and cutting off Cassandro from most of the Adriatic coast. By the end of the campaigning season of 1395, Rodrigo had made it as far north as Benevento, isolating Cassandro in the western portion of southern Italy.

When the end finally came for Marino Cassandro, it came quickly. In April of 1396, Napoli fell to Rodrigo’s forces. Marino was captured, tonsured, and sent into exile in a monastery in Portugal. Finally, for the first time in seven years, the Kingdom of Sicily had been reunited under a single, strong ruler. With Robert Magno dead and Marino Cassandro and Giorgios Xenos fled, and the people of Sicily generally tired of civil war, Rodrigo I de Mahdia was finally secure on his throne.

In an attempt to raise public support for his regime, one of Rodrigo’s first actions was to invite the governors and nobles of his realm, as well as the Pope and the College of Cardinals, to Palermo for a feast. Although he was chronically short on funds, he managed to spend the remaining treasury on the feast and a public fair for the peasantry of Sicily. The stated reason behind the festivities was to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the crowning of King Roger I, although the actual anniversary had occurred four years previously. During the festivities, Rodrigo concluded a treaty with the Lombard League and the Papal States, with Milan, Siena, Ferrara, and Rome all signing a mutual defensive pact with Palermo. Genoa, Venice, and Ravenna, however, refused to ally themselves with Rodrigo, Venice and Genoa due to their mercantile rivalry with Sicily, and Ravenna due to the increasing power in the city-state of Giorgios Xenos and his son, Andreas Xenos [5].

In order to counterbalance the power of Sicily, the cities of Venice and Ravenna instead allied themselves with the growing power of the Bulgarian Empire. Under the powerful Asen dynasty, the Kingdom of Bulgaria had grown significantly in power, establishing a hegemony over the southern and central Balkans. Although Venice retained control of the Peloponnesus and Constantinople, and Croatia remained in the Hungarian sphere of influence, the area between the Aegean and the Danube river remained under Bulgarian control. With the conversion of the Kipchak Khanate to Nestorianism, the virtual flood of Vlach immigrants to Bulgaria had been stemmed, but not before the population of the Danube frontier had been significantly increased. Thus, the combined Slavic-Greek population was able to hold the frontiers of the Bulgarian Empire steady against their Catholic neighbors to the north, south, and east.

In 1358, the city of Ragusa had fallen to the Bulgarian armies, giving the Orthodox nation significant power in Adriatic trade. Early Venetian attempts to curb Bulgarian power in the Adriatic had resulted in humiliating Venetian defeats after attempts to storm the cities of Dyrrachium and Ragusa, the two most powerful and influential Bulgarian cities on the Adriatic [6]. Thus, with the Treaty of Split, the Republics of Venice and Ravenna formally allied themselves with the Bulgarian Empire. The result was that, of the great cities on the Adriatic, only one - Bari - was not part of the mercantile sphere of the Bulgarians and Venetians.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo I had come to be known as the “Great Count” due to his supposed rank as “Count of Africa.” [7] Out of the Arx Fredericus Rogerus, Rodrigo encouraged the spread of this nickname. Aside from the obvious reasons for encouraging others to call you “Great,” the nickname “the Great Count” drew clear parallels between Rodrigo and Roger de Hauteville, the “Great Count.” In 1400, Rodrigo was just entering his forties, and was just as charismatic, energetic, and physically capable as he had been over a decade ago, when the War of the Four Counts had first broken out.

With the reign of Rodrigo de Mahdia moving into the year 1400, the 14th century in Sicily can be seen in review. From Robert I Hohenstaufen to Rodrigo I de Mahdia, the Kingdom of Sicily had seen fewer great Kings than proceeding centuries had. Neither Giovanni Giustiniani nor William Opamhill, nor any of the other Kings Sicily had seen, were Roger I or Frederick I. However, Sicily had seen a gradual trend through their weaker Kings, particularly Robert I and Roger V, of centralization. The Constitution of Salerno, the establishment of the Sicilian Chancellory, and the creation of the Thema administrative districts, all led to the further erosion of feudalism and serfdom in the Kingdom of Sicily.

These developments led to Sicily remaining ahead of the curve in the development of European nations. The feudal underpinnings of Holy Roman, Spanish, Hungarian, and, to lesser extents, Angevin, Occitan, and French societies, continued to hamstring the Kings and Emperors of those nations. Meanwhile, nations like Venice and Genoa, while not harmed by the agrarian, conservative, and decentralized societies of the rest of Europe, were too short on territory to be as major powers as their neighbors. Sicily, while not as large as the Angevin or Holy Roman Empires, was populous and centralized enough to be considered one of the major powers of Europe at the time.

Thus, as 1400 dawned and the Middle Ages entered their final century, the Kingdom of Sicily remained one of the greatest powers in Europe. The court of Palermo remained to be one of unmatched artistic and intellectual splendor, with the Universities scattered throughout the major cities of Sicily providing intelligent and well-educated bureaucrats, doctors, artists, and officers for the army and navy. Sicily may have been wracked by Civil war and political instability, but the resilience of Sicilian society and culture allowed Sicily to remain one of Europe’s most splendid nations. Thus, the de Mahdia dynasty, while still young and relatively untested, could look forward to a bright future.

[1] - The Bishopric of Palermo had remained vacant during Marino Cassandro’s time in control of the island, with services held by an interim clergyman until, Cassandro hoped, he could force Vittoriti to return to his see and crown Cassandro King of Sicily. Vittoriti had been staunchly against Cassandro since the coup of 1379, and thus continued to support his opposition, from Magno to Xenos and finally to Rodrigo.

[2] - Rodrigo I’s opponents often took to referring to his as “the Berber” as a derogatory reference to his North African descent. This nickname would remain with his for the rest of his life.

[3] - Depending on one’s definition of the War of the Four Counts, of course. Some later historians have simply considered the battles occurring between 1394 and 1396 to be an ongoing rebellion against the future king.

[4] - The Tunis-Trapani line is part of the Tunis-Trapani-Messina-Reggio line, which represents the sea lanes that the Kingdom of Sicily could use to control shipping between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, along with maintaining commerce and communication between the various parts of the Kingdom. Without a navy significant enough to challenge Marino’s, Rodrigo would be unable to effectively coordinate his various dominions.

[5] - Ravenna had a significant Greek population, and was a close ally of the Republic of Venice, making the Xenos family a powerful ally for the city-states.

[6] - Thesseloniki, Ragusa, Dyrrachium, Adrianople, Sofia, and Athens made up the largest cities in the Bulgarian Empire. It is notable that out of those six, only two - Ragusa and Sofia - were primarily Slavic, while the other four were largely Greek cities.

[7] - Rodrigo was never actually the Count of Africa, as no such title actually existed. However, his control over all of Sicilian North Africa had given rise to that “title” among the streets of Tunis and Mahdia, from where it spread to Sicily and southern Italy.

For reference, here is a current list of the Kings of Sicily:
Roger de Hauteville, the “Great Count” (1071-1101)
Simon de Hauteville (1101-1105)
King Roger I de Hauteville (1105-1154) (Crowned King in 1130)
King William I de Hauteville “the Unlucky” (1154-1166)
King William II de Hauteville “the Lucky” (1166-1189)
King Tancred I de Lecce (1189-1194)
King Roger II de Lecce (1193)
King William III de Lecce (1194)
Emperor Henry VI Hohenstaufen (1189-1197) (Claimed Sicily, but did not control it until after the death of William III)
King Frederick I Hohenstaufen “Stupor Mundi” (1197-1250)
King Roger III Hohenstaufen (1250-1265)
King Alfons I Hohenstaufen (1265-1291)
King Robert I Hohenstaufen (1291-1326)
Kings Frederick II and Roger IV Hohenstaufen (1326-1328)
King Frederick II Hohenstaufen (1328-1337)
- Interim, John Hohenstaufen is the functioning but not crowned King -
King Giovanni I Giustiniani (1338-1357)
King Roger V Giustiniani (1357-1379)
- Interim, the War of the Four Counts, with 4 uncrowned claimants to the throne -
King Rodrigo I de Mahdia (1384-)
Just curious, how far are you going to take this TL?

I actually just made an outline of my immediate plans for the TL. I want to be somewhere between chapter 30 and 36 when the Middle Ages end, and from there I'm hoping to take it at least through the Age of Exploration. Of course, as butterflies expand, I have to take more updates to cover less time, making it harder to move forward in time, so that's all tentative.
Good update. I like the North African winning for the novelty factor.

Thank you! I figured that I should continue Sicily's cosmopolitan nature - the Norman de Hautevilles, the German Hohenstaufens, and the Italian Giustinianis.

Very interesting progression in the TL.

re. Ragusa ---Where is Hungary? Surprised the Bulgarians would get it with the Hungarians controlling Croatia.

Hungary controls interior Croatia - the areas on either side of the Danube and most of the non-costal northern Balkans. Costal Croatia is split between Venice and Bulgaria, with Ragusa being the northernmost Bulgarian outpost. I'll be honest, I should write a Hungarian update, but I unfortunately don't know enough about Hungary to write a well-informed update.
Real life has kept me away from this, but I've been planning on bringing this TL back. Before I do, though, is there any interest in this out there? I'd just like to know before launching back into it.

Thank you all!
This is one of the best medieval TL I have read in the last year and to see it abandoned would be painful.
Yes, there is interest.

Despite RL distractions and inability to respond sometimes, I still have interest in this.

I'm interested.

Ditto. Bring it on.

This is one of the best medieval TL I have read in the last year and to see it abandoned would be painful.

Thank you all for your support! I'm glad to see that my modest TL has some readership out there - and thank you for that consideration, Shnurre. Anyway, without further ado...

Chapter 20: Rodrigious Rex
The Reign of Rodrigo I de Mahdia

The ascension of Rodrigo de Mahdia as the undisputed King of Sicily was a breath of fresh air for the people of Palermo. Having gotten used to the often young, untrained leadership of Frederick II and Roger V, Rodrigo, a 40-year old tested general and charismatic leader, seemed to have been a gift from above. His wife, a Greek woman named Irene of Djerba, was reportedly stunningly beautiful and, in her mid-thirties, devoted to providing charity to the poor of Palermo. The royal couple seemed to exude power and confidence, and to the Kingdom of Sicily, they heralded a splendid new age. Rodrigo, like Roger II and Frederick I before them, was to be a Great King that led Sicily back into the the center of Europe’s political scene.

While Rodrigo was far more competent than his immediate predecessors had been, he seems to have been content to ride on the upswing of Sicily without paying much heed to the duties his great predecessors had taken on [1]. Instead, he left the leadership of his realm to a group of extraordinary men. The War of the Four Counts had led to much of the old order aristocrats being broken - men such as William Opamhill, Francisco Vittoriti, Marino Cassandro, Robert Magno, and Giorgios Xenos had been forced out of the limelight by the surprising victory of Sicilian North Africa.

Instead, Rodrigo brought with him an incredibly talented group of men with him from North Africa to make up his “Royal Staff.” One of the positive developments of the later Hohenstaufen and Giustiniani dynasties was the creation of a more centralized state, with four men making up the King’s chief advisors. The Admiralus (the head of the navy), the Commander of the Palace Guard (the head of the Royal Army), and the Chancellor (the head of the Chancellory) all had been established by the reign of Roger V as members of the King’s small council, while Rodrigo made the addition of the Capozizier, who functioned as the chief economist and financier of the Kingdom [2].

John Paggio, the son of a wealthy merchant’s page from Mahdia, served as Capozizier, and had been one of Rodrigo de Mahdia’s first supporters during the War of the Four Counts. A brilliant economist, he created the first national system of mercantile policy, which he titled “Nazionalista Econimizta,” which emphasized the importance of keeping the wealth a nation produced within that nation [3]. The powerful influence Paggio had in Rodrigo’s court allowed him to spend significant amounts of Sicily’s tax income on improving the output of high-quality goods from the various farms, plantations, and manufactories throughout the Kingdom. As a result, the silk, cotton, glassblowing, and other manufacturing industries of Sicily saw major subsidies poured in from Palermo [4].

Meanwhile, the brilliant reformer Jacopo Balistreri took the position of Commander of the Palace Guard. Nearing seventy, he had served in the army for nearly thirty years before defecting to Rodrigo in an attempt to avoid the upcoming War of the Four Counts. Rodrigo obliged, instead placing him in charge of the training and restructuring of the Sicilian Army. Having seen the ineffectiveness of hodgepodge Medieval forces, Jacopo regularized the Sicilian Palace Guard, turning it into a 10,000-man standing army. Only well-trained and disciplined pikemen, crossbowmen, and demilancers. The first group, the Picchieri, utilized the Luccio, a 7-foot spear, and a kite shield to form a strong defensive force, which could be used to take and hold strategic positions (although the Picchieri could be used as an effective offensive force, it usually took a daring and highly capable general to use them as such). The Cinquedea, a short sword that had initially developed in northern Italy, was used as a sidearm, along with the occasional flanged mace, which was popular among the Bulgarian and Greek immigrants that had encountered the Mongols. Meanwhile, the Balestrieri, or crossbowmen, utilized the crossbows and pavaises that had been popularized throughout the High Middle Ages, allowing them to provide sustainable covering fire for the Picchieri. Finally, Parziale-Cavalieres, or demilancers, represented Jacopo Balistreri’s most significant innovation in the Sicilian Army. While not as heavy as the French or German Knighthood, the Parziale-Cavalieres had protective armor that provided significant protection from most attacks while allowing them to retain a mobility that allowed them to ride circles around most heavy cavalrymen. The final portion of the army came from the Arcieri-Cavallo, the horse archers that came primarily from the Berber element from North Africa, who provided the much more versatile element in the Sicilian Army.

The Admiralus and Chancellor under Rodrigo de Mahdia were men by the names of Francisco Scozzari and George Rocca were both intelligent and capable men, although neither had such long-lasting and important effects as their contemporaries Balistreri and Paggio. However, the two allowed for the Kingdom of Sicily to continue to grow in prosperity. One of the most telling examples of this is the fact that Il Libro di Alimenti e Mensa del Signore, or The Book of Foods and the Lord’s Table, was first published. Often considered the first great Sicilian cookbook, the anonymous author of Il Libro seems to have had extensive experience with the foods and spices used in the kitchens of various Sicilian lords and wealthy merchants. It describes how the abundant seafood, as well as influences of Greek, Italian, and Arabic cuisine, altered the way that people in Sicily ate. Sicily’s relative proximity to Alexandria, the central node for the Spice trade, also allowed the Sicilian people to use an abundance of spices in their meals [5]. Pepper, which was the cheapest among them, was used extensively by both the upper class and the middle-class merchants. More expensive spices, such as cloves and cinnamon, were also used in expansive qualities, with Rodrigo celebrating his fifth year in power by fumigating the streets of Palermo with nutmeg and cinnamon before riding triumphantly through the streets [6].

In other realms, Sicily developed similarly. The navy, which had been gutted by the War of the Four Counts, was revitalized under Rodrigo’s rule, with a new ship, the Corridore, being developed. Based on the Rhomanion design of the Dromon, it was lighter than other ships and utilized triangular sails to skim across the water, while making up for this with a full compliment of ballistae that could be used to skewer enemies from long range. Meanwhile, the architecture of the Kingdom began to take a more Gothic turn, with grand spires coming to stand alongside vast domes in the newer cathedrals of the Kingdom. When Rodrigo completed his great church, the San Giorgio il Magnifico (Saint George the Magnificent) in 1412, he saw that it rose above the rooftops of Palermo with both the spires, which reach to Heaven, and the classic Rhomanion dome, which brings Heaven down to the people of Sicily.

Rodrigo passed away peacefully in 1421, at the age of sixty-five, having brought much-needed stability to the Kingdom of Sicily. He was succeeded by his twenty-year old daughter Vincenza de Mahdia - he had no other children. With Rodrigo’s death, historians tend to put him into one of three categories. Historians writing during his daughter’s reign and immediately afterwords tend to idolize him as a strong, noble, and charismatic king that brought Sicily out of the dark days of the Giustiniani usurpers. Later, Rationalist philosophers took objection to his entire dynasty, largely due to his daughter, and saw him instead as a barely-sane warmonger who, when he ran out of civil wars to fight, resigned himself to debauchery and frivolous waste. Even later, the somewhat fictionalized account of his life given in The Count of Africa saw a resurgence in his popularity, due to his portrayal as a sympathetic man who knew that he was dwarfed mentally by those who surrounded him - even his own daughter - that he was merely fighting to consider himself any more than a pretender to a throne that was rightfully his. All of these views contain a fragment of the truth - he was indeed strong, noble, and charismatic, did tend to be wasteful and inefficient during the later years of his reign, and seems to have been acutely aware of his own shortcomings when compared to those that surrounded him.

In the end, however, he was simply the precursor for greatness that was yet to come. Rodrigo was the Justin before a Justinian, the Michael III before a Basil. Although he laid the groundwork for Sicily’s next great ruler, he was not that great ruler. And for all the greatness and prosperity that he oversaw, Sicily would have to wait for the next chapter in it’s history for a ruler so spectacular that she would rival Roger II de Hauteville and Frederick I Hohenstaufen as the greatest ruler Sicily had ever seen - Queen Vincenza de Mahdia.

[1] - Rodrigo isn’t a bad king per se. In this situation, he can be considered decent, with some similarities to Romanos II Makedon in Rhomanion history. But in worse times, he’d be more similar to Louis XVI Bourbon OTL.

[2] - The word Capozizier is a portmanteau of “Capo,” Italian for Chief, “Finanzizier” Italian for financier, and “Vizier,” the Arabic position that functioned more similarly to the Chancellor of the Sicilian state. The Arabic and mercantile influences on Sicilian North Africa certainly played a role in Rodrigo’s creation of this position.

[3] - Nazionalista Econimizta is similar to OTL’s mercantilism, although with a greater emphasis on internal production of high-quality goods than on exports. Instead of believing that a finite amount of wealth exists in the world, Nazionalista Econimizta instead stresses the need to produce high-quality goods that can be sold, either internally or externally, at high prices - and thus can keep the flow of money active.

[4] - Another difference between Nazionalista Econimizta and OTL Mercantilism is the vehement opposition of Paggio to the idea of monopolies. As Nazionalista Econimizta stresses the need for a constant flow into or within the Kingdom, there thus needs to be competition within the market to ensure that flow of money.

[5] - The majority of this comes from The Taste of Conquest, by Michael Krondl, an excellent read, for anyone looking for a good book.

[6] - This isn’t without precedent. Emperor Henry VI had the streets of Rome fumigated in a similar way before his own coronation in 1169.
Chapter 21: The Rich Man of the North
The Hanseatic League, 1280 - 1420

The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had been turbulent ones of Europe, with nations such as Rhomania and France being brought to their knees, the Angevin Empire rising, the explosion of the Mongols onto the scene of European politics, and with nations such as Sicily, Aragon, and Provence going through turbulent periods of the growth of national identity. However, during this period, the northern coast of Germany, both on the North and Baltic Seas, proved to be rather peaceful. The Danes and the Scandinavians traded in furs, salt, beer, and timber with the cities of northern Germany. Meanwhile, from the ports of Bremen, Hamburg, Rostock, Danzig, and especially Lübeck, wax, rye, amber, and resin flowed in the opposite direction. As instability rocked the entirety of Europe, the ships of the Hansa continued to ply the waters of the northern Ocean Sea, seemingly uninterrupted by the changing winds of geopolitics [1].

The history of the Hanseatic League can be traced further back than 1254. In 1159, Duke Henry the Lion of Bavaria and Saxony rebuilt the northern German city of Lübeck, having conquered it from Count Adolf II of Schauenburg and Holstein. Having rebuilt Lübeck, German merchants began to trade up and down the Baltic Sea, making it as far as Gotland and Novgorod in their mercantile expeditions. Merchants from Westphalia and Saxony flocked to Lübeck, making it a hub for trade in northern Germany. Thus, the “Queen of the Hansa” was born, but the actual league was still in the womb.

In 1254, following the rough first three Welf Emperors, the Hanseatic League gained relative autonomy. Lübeck, Bremen, and Hamburg were all required to contribute troops to campaigns when the Emperor called upon them, but otherwise they were left well enough alone by Aachen. With that autonomy, the Hansa began to look across the waves. Contors, or Hanseatic colonies, began to pop up all across the northern coast of Europe [2]. In 1157, King Henry II of England had granted Lübeck freedom from tolls in the London area, and by 1330 the Contor of London was considered one of the best examples of Hanseatic expansion, power, and prestige.

The Contor of London was located across the Thames from the center of London, not immediately within the central portion of the city. Although the agreement with the English Kings (and later Angevin Emperors) prevented the Contor from having stone walls protecting it, a wooden barricade surrounded what was, for all intents and purposes, a miniature city. A large, three-story tavern backed into an inn for traveling Hanseatic merchants, while large warehouses stored salt, grain, furs, wax, and other bulk goods. The majority of these buildings clung to the Thames, with a long series of docks facilitating the loading and unloading of ships that came from as far away as Novgorod.

Unlike the Venetian of Genoese merchants of the Mediterranean, the Hanseatic merchants were unable to make massive profit margins off of their goods. Even pepper - the most basic and abundant spice in Europe - made European merchants that carried it a profit of two to four times what they had to pay to purchase it [3]. By contrast, the goods that the Hanseatic League bought and sold were only valuable when in bulk. The furs, amber, and resins that made up the Hansa’s most luxurious goods were only a very slight portion of their wares, making it difficult for enterprising young men with little capital to get into the merchant business. During the 1300s, however, the Hanseatic League saw a remarkable outpouring of creativity and invention unmatched during the Late Middle Ages. The cold of the North Sea protected them from the tendrils of the Black Death, and the prosperity of the area made it ideal for the youth of the cities to want to get into business. All they needed was a means, and in the 1300s, they sought those means.

The first great innovation of the Hanseatic League was banking. The concept of usury, so necessary to banks, had been condemned by the Catholic Church, but in the north, the grip of Rome had always been looser, and bishops, awash with tithes from the newly rich, turned a blind eye. For a small interest, the men of the Hanseatic cities could invest in a ship and bulk goods to sell at a profit. Those bankers could make a handsome profit off of their loans, while the young men could invest jointly purchase a ship and work into a shipping company. The cities, together, passed legislation protecting small-time investors, preventing any major groups from driving out competition from small investors. By 1363, records appear in Rome of the bankers in the Hanseatic League loaning money across Europe, with the King of the Isles and the Duke of Aquitaine both making use of the services the bankers of the League offered to them.

It should be noted that, while the Hanseatic League had some centralization, the cities that made it up were all individuals and competed among one another. Thus, in 1375, a new ship began to skim the waters of the North and Baltic Seas. The Alder von Hamburg, constructed by the Diederich brothers, was structurally similar to the cog, but with three masts and triangular sails, allowing it to move rapidly across the seas. A structurally large ship, it road low in the water and still rose high out of the water, giving it a large capacity for the bulk goods so necessary for the Hanseatic League’s trade supremacy [4]. The Alder, as the type of ship came to be known, later incorporated a wooden “castle” in the front and back of the ship, raising it further above the ocean, making an Alder simultaneously capable of fending off enemy vessels and carrying more of a crew - something the navies of the various Hanseatic cities certainly appreciated in their expanding navies [5].

The Alder saw its first military action in the First Danish War, when King Christopher III of Bjelbo attempted to revoke the expansive rights granted to the Contors within the Kingdom of Denmark [6]. The armies of Denmark were mustered and swept across the German frontier with little opposition, besieging Lübeck and Bremen in April of 1381. The stout walls of the Hanseatic cities kept the Danes at bay, however, while the Hanseatic cities rushed to construct a fleet to challenge that of the Danes. Under the brilliant leadership of Jan Traugott, 19 Alders and 43 cogs challenged 72 Danish ships in the Battle of Langeland. Despite the Danish naval superiority, the technological advances made in the Alders and Traugott’s magnificent leadership won the day for the combined Hanseatic fleet - a week later, the fleet fell on an unsuspecting Køge (just a short distance from København) and sacked it thoroughly before retreating into the sea [7].

Christopher was frightened, and raced back to Denmark with half of his force, believing there to be a prolonged Hanseatic campaign against his holdings, instead of a raid. The wily Hanseatic League, sensing weakness, then wrote a letter to King Magnus V Erikson, the King of Sweden, inviting him to sweep down on the Danes in exchange for a handsome bribe. Then, Christopher’s cousin, Valdemar, inviting him to revolt and take the throne of Denmark for himself. Thus, by the end of 1381, King Christopher was facing his cousin’s revolt, which was currently besieging Aarhus, the imminent threat of a Swedish invasion, and the raids of a seemingly unstoppable fleet from the Hanseatic League.

Luckily for Christopher, the Swedish invasion never materialized - Magnus took the Hanseatic coin and used it to put down a revolt in Norway, but Christopher wasn’t aware of this until he received a letter from Magnus in November of 1382 telling him so [8]. Meanwhile, a force of German mercenaries was hired by the Hanseatic cities, and appeared outside of the walls of Bremen. Swinging their massive Langshwert swords, the Germans broke the Danish forces on their first charge, breaking the siege of Bremen and further demoralizing the Danish forces.

In August, the same force appeared outside of Lübeck. The Danish commander had heard stories from the disaster at Lübeck, and thus drew himself up in a defensive position, and forced back two consecutive charges by the mercenary contingent. The third charge, however, was accompanied by a great warhorn blast, signaling the defenders inside of Lübeck to come charging out. Caught between these two forces, the besieging Danish force was annihilated, and dragged their skeleton force back to Denmark.

Christopher, having realized the terrible mistake he had made, offered to make peace with the Hanseatic League, going back on any planned revocations he had. Snidely, the Hanseatic League agreed to peace, but made no mention of the elephant in the room. Valdemar was still in revolt, using Hanseatic coin to further his goals. When Christopher angrily demanded that he stand down after the peace was concluded with the Hansa, Valdemar gleefully continued his campaign, taking 13 castles in 1382. When Christopher realized that his northern flank was safe, he attacked with relish, forcing Valdemar back to his base of Aarhus.

Once Valdemar was besieged in Aarhus, the Hanseatic League seems to have washed their hands of him, having used his revolt to further their own ends. Christopher, however, remembered how the Hanseatic League had nearly cost him his throne, and swore revenge. Luckily for him, he was still young, in his thirties, and in good health. While the Kingdom of Denmark may have been exhausted by the First Danish War, he was content to wait until it was his time to take revenge on the German merchants that thought they could defy a King.

It would be nearly two decades later, in 1403, that Christopher would finally take his revenge. In April, he sent a large force of 23,500 men to Lübeck, with orders to storm the city as soon as possible. Meanwhile, he gathered a force of Viking mercenaries, drawn from as distant places as Doolish and Novgorod, and built a fleet of Viking warships that numbered over 150. With Lübeck besieged, he would methodically sack each Hanseatic port city until any trace of the merchant league was removed. He had played his diplomatic cards right, as well - the Holy Roman Emperor had recently married Christopher’s daughter, and a secret pact not to fight over the League had accompanied the wedding. The Hansa would stand alone.

Luckily, Jan Traugott still survived, and led a force of 30 Alders, recently outfitted with one cannon each on their forward “castle,” and 70 Cogs with the Bloßfechten against the Danish fleet [9] [10]. In the Battle of the Sound, on June 1st, 1403, the two fleets met in a titanic clash worthy of the Battles of Salamis or the Agates islands. At first, the sheer number of the Danish ships overwhelmed the Hanseatic fleet, with Vikings storming multiple cogs and generally wreaking havoc. However, the tide of the battle turned when Traugott unleashed the firepower of the cannons in a single, Earth-shattering blast, blowing apart the front lines of the Danish fleet. The Hanseatic ships then moved in, with the Bloßfechten turning the tide against the Viking warriors. Again, however, the tide turned back in the favor of the Danes after the shock of the cannons wore off. Many Hanseatic cogs were stormed and taken for the third time, with much of the fighting devolved into random melees between ships.

It was here, however, that Traugott revealed his genius. The Alders surged forward, relieving the cogs with their greater capacity for Bloßfechten troops and their ability to fire down upon the Danes. The Danes attempted to storm the Alders, but their height and defensibility made this nearly impossible, and hundreds of Vikings died attempting to take even one. The Hanseatic forces rallied, and by the end of the 13-hour battle, the Hanseatic ships could vaguely see the fleeing remnants of Christopher’s grand fleet in the coming darkness.

The Battle of the Sound was an utter disaster for Christopher’s war effort. Without control of the sea, he couldn’t supply his army, and they were forced to begin wandering further and further away from Lübeck to find food. Meanwhile, the fleet was able to return, making taking the city be storm impossible. Christopher, once again, sued for peace. His dream of bringing the Hanseatic League would never be realized, and he died two years later, a broken man.

The importance of the First and Second Danish wars was their impact on the Hanseatic League’s perception of itself. It had been a loose confederation of German cities, allied for mercantile benefit. But against Christopher, they had been faced with a common foe and been forced to cooperate militarily in order to survive. While they were a long, long way from true centralization, the idea had been planted, and would one day bear fruit.

[1] - The Ocean Sea being an older European term for the Atlantic Ocean.

[2] - TTL Archaeological evidence shows that, from 1254 to 1270, 22 Contors were established in northern Germany and Denmark, shown by telltale boxes and signatures, while from 1270 to 1330, another 63 were created, with London and Saint-Målo hosting the furthest west. The spreading of German culture facilitated, interestingly enough, the spread of German lagers across the North Sea, resulting in the later high presence of cannons in this area (gunpowder can use the urine of alcoholics).

[3] - According to A Taste of Conquest b Michael Krondl, which reports Renaissance Venetian perppermongers being a more secure investment than Florentine bankers.

[4] - The Alder is largely similar to Carrack, but the developments are more developed towards sailing in the rougher waters of the North and Baltic Seas. As a side note, Alder is German for Eagle - as the Alder was used to be the pride of the Hanseatic merchant (and later military) fleets.

[5] - There was no centralized Hanseatic fleet - nor was there a military - due to the autonomous nature of the Hanseatic cities.

[6] - TTL has seen the Union of Sweden-Denmark-Norway, which occurred in 1376 OTL, fail to materialize, and instead Denmark has remained autonomous from an increasingly Swedish-dominated Scandinavia.

[7] - Such was Traugott’s reputation for skill and piety, that his last name was actually a title given to him following the Battle of Langeland - having faith in his genius was like having Traugott - faith in God.

[8] - Norway had become a subsidiary kingdom to Sweden, with the King of Norway traditionally being the younger brother of the reigning King of Sweden. This system, established by the current Magnus’s grandfather, had the weakness of the sons of the King of Norway not inheriting, and thus creating a faction of unruly, disinherited nobles with power in the nation. The current revolt was by one such noble, and had been simmering for the better part of three years before Magnus turned his attention to crush it. Interestingly, this state of affairs seems to have been the impetus for Sweden’s later development.

[9] - Cannons had been introduced to the Hanseatic League via Novgorod, where Georgian-Trebezondian cannons had been used for years.

[10] - Bloßfechten were semi-mercenaries in the Hanseatic League. Formed out of the very mercenaries that had saved the Hansa in the First Danish War, they utilized relatively light plate armor (a cuirass) and a heavy Langshwert (longsword) in combat. They were technically private citizens who fought for hire, but were contractually obligated to fight only for cities in the Hanseatic League - for handsome pay, of course.
A taste of things to come:

Aix-en-Provence, Duchy of Provence
July 14th, 1429

Guillhelm de Marshela wiped sweat from his brow as he rode out to the parlay. The azure banner of Provence hung limply behind him, seemingly forced down by the same oppressive heat that was causing a small lake to well up in his boots. In front of him, a Sicilian contingent of seven men and a woman rode out to meet his own commander, their own red and yellow banners flapping lazily behind the riders that bore them.

As they closed with the Provencal retinue, the Sicilian knights formed a semicircle around the dismounted Provencals. Guillhelm’s commander, Sir Louis de Toulouse, and his first Lieutenant, Henri Mascaro, the Catalan, stood waiting as the young Sicilian Queen and her commander dismounted and strode forward. Guillhelm kept a single hand on his scabbard, positive that some treachery on the part of the Sicilians would surely warrant its use.

The Sicilian commander, a gruff, squat man, was the first to speak. “Sir, my Queen and I have an offer for you and your men’s safe conduct home. I’m rather positive that you can’t refuse it.”

Mascaro scoffed, but the stoic Louis silenced him. “The orders from my Duke and the Emperor are clear. We won’t be moving or leaving for your own benefit.”

“We have a Papal Bull that clearly states-”

The Catalan cut him off. “Whatever that usurper to the Papal throne says are the twisted works of Satan. God, the Emperor, and our Duke stand firmly behind us.”

The gruff Sicilian shot Mascaro a piercing glance before resuming. “As I was going to say, we have a Papal Bull offering full restitution for your Duke of his sins, as well as forgiveness of the sins of your men, and an offer to forgive your people for their damnable heresy should this force move out of the way and allow us passage. He, as well as I, suggest that you take it.”

Louis took a single step forward, easily dwarfing the Sicilian commander. “The man who sits on the throne in Saint Peter’s is a liar and a devil. The Emperor in London is a fraud and a murderer. The people in our realm love God and love justice and you, sir, are in equal parts a fool and a madman. I will tell you for one final time: turn back your men. For we will not.”

The Sicilian nodded, turned, spat, and remounted. His Queen waited for a moment, before looking at Guillhelm and saying a single thing, “Think on your sins.” With that, she rode off.

Guillhelm looked to his commander, who was remounting. With a solemn look, Louis drew his sword, with Henri drawing his close behind. “It looks like negotiations have failed,” the Catalan said, grinning. “Prepare for battle.”

Guillhelm only had a single thought.

I hate Sicilians.
Chapter 22: Rhomania Endures
The Palaeologus Dynasty’s leadership of Nikaea​

If ever there was a dark age in Roman history, the 13th century qualifies as that dark age. After a century of rule under the Komnenoi, a mere four years into the 13th century, a hijacked crusade wrenched the heart of the Empire from it. In the years following this, one of the imperial splinter states - Epirus - fell to the Bulgarian advance, while another - Theodoro - fell to the irresistible tide of the Mongols. Only Trebizond and Nikaea remained independent, but with Constantinople under the Venetian heel and a latin domination of the Aegean, it seemed as if the long line of the Caesars was destined to end.

It was largely through the work of a spectacular dynasty that this did not come to pass. The 1263 usurpation of the throne by Michael Palaeologus led to the creation of a dynasty that would rule in Nikaea for the next century. Andronikos II, the son of Michael, was 21 years old when he ascended to the throne. Tall, handsome, and intimidating, he led his forces on a whirlwind conquest against the Turks that occupied central Anatolia. Due to the fragmented nature of the Turks following the devastating Mongol defeat at Kose Dag, Andronikos managed to push the Nicene frontier back to Tarsus mountains by 1291 [1].

However, when he tried to push further, Andronikos ran into trouble. When trying to cross the into Cilicia in 1292, Andronikos was ambushed by a Turkish force. The majority of the Nicene force was killed in the attack, and as Andronikos led the retreat back over the Taurus mountains, he came down with an unknown disease. After a brief battle with the disease, Michael expired, leaving the tattered remnants of his army to bring the news of the defeat, and the imminent threat to the hard-fought Nicene frontier, back to Nikaea.

Left to succeed Andronikos was his 3-year-old son, soon crowned Ionnas IV Palaeologus. For his regent, three men jockeyed to be in the position of power. Isaakios Kantakouzenos, the Strategos of the Scholae, possessed the only troops in Nikaea, putting him in the seemingly strongest position in the Empire. However, Romanos Makrembolitos, the Basiliskos Mandator (secretary) of the Emperor, and Theodoros Palaeologus, the cousin of Andronikos II, conspired to split the regency between themselves, excluding Kantakouzenos from the political power there was to be had.

Their scheming, however, was cut short by the invasion of the fragile frontier in March 1293. Isaakios Kantakouzenos was named the commander of the army that was sent against them, but Romanos and Theodoros managed to prevent the army from being of a sufficient size - instead, they began forming a second force of their own. When Isaakios Kantakouzenos set out to meet the enemy on April 14th, the two co-conspirators must have breathed a sigh of relief. Should Kantakouzenos lose, his legitimacy as a regent would be destroyed, while it would be impossible for him to achieve anything more than phyrric victory.

What Romanos and Theodoros weren’t counting on, however, was that Isaakios Kantakouzenos proved to be one of Rhomania’s greatest generals since Ionnas Tzimskes and Flavius Belisarius before him. In the Battle of Loulon, in the shadow of the city, Isaakios absolutely shattered the Turkish force arrayed against him, utterly routing the raiders and driving them back into Cilicia.

The heroic victory at Loulon made Isaakios immune to the machinations of Romanos and Theodoros, but it didn’t mean that the two men were ruined. Kantakouzenos was proclaimed regent for the young Ionnas IV Palaeologus, who was four at the time. Under Isaakios’s level-headed rule, the Nicene Roman Empire’s borders expanded roughly to those of the Rhomanion Empire under the Isurian dynasty, with the notable exception of the Theme of Chaldea - which was currently under the control of the Trebizondian Empire, as well as the European portion of the Empire.

The one obvious embarrassment to the Palaeologid dynasty, however, was that Miklagard - the Queen of Cities - the New Rome - was still under foreign occupation. While Venetian occupation hadn’t exactly been detrimental to Constantinople’s population and infrastructure, the city was still noticeably subdued [2]. The population of Constantinople had stabilized at around 75,000, a number that, while large, was far from the size that the city had been in the glory days of Justinian. However, this shrinking population still had a few tricks up their sleeves. Silk production, which had been smuggled out of China by two Rhomanion monks in the 500s, had been kept alive by the people of Constantinople, and the Venetians jumped at the opportunity to promote such a lucrative business. As a result, much of the land between the Theodosian walls and the actual city was cleared for the growing of mulberry trees, along with vegetables, for a diversified food source, and small groves of trees, for easy access to lumber. Constantinople was no longer that incredible metropolis it had once been, but it was once again a prosperous city.

This prosperity drove many in the Nicene Roman Empire to push for the reconquest of the Empire’s traditional capital, with Romanos Makrembolitos chief among them. However, the triumph of Isaakios Kantakouzenos in 1293 meant that he was largely in control of the Empire’s foreign policy. as the Baseliopatēr [3]. Kantakouzenos, to his credit, realized that the Empire was in no state to continue expanding. Like Hadrian before him, Isaakios aimed instead to consolidate and defend the territories that he had gained.

The first and most notable of Kantakouzenos’s efforts was in his fortification of the Empire’s eastern frontier. Along the Taurus and Antitaurus mountains, a string of border forts were constructed. Generally, a town in the area would be replaced by a hilltop citadel, with the clustered buildings of the town either sheltered in the shadow of the citadel (in a fashion reminiscent of the classical Greek acropolis), or, in small towns, atop the citadel. These defensible positions made it difficult for enemies crossing the mountains to continue to supply their forces without either wasting time and manpower taking these citadels or risking having their supply lines cut off by citadels that they left untouched. Further north, near the border with Georgia and Trebizond, the flatter terrain meant that, instead of relying on mountainous barriers, Kantakouzenos instead relied on rivers. Kantakouzenos campaigned a single time, pushing his frontier to the headwaters of the Euphrates and reclaiming Theodosiopolis, which he turned into a magnificent fortress. For the rest of the frontier, Kantakouzenos strictly regulated the bridges built across the rivers and maintained a stable, if somewhat fragile, frontier. The cost of these projects was naturally enormous, and as a result, much of Kantakouzenos’s regency saw massive spending in the military.

The second measure that Kantakouzenos took in his restoration of Rhomania’s defenses was his changes in the Theme system. He streamlined the system, redrawing the Themes of Rhomania to reflect the Empire’s changed borders. He also changed the nature of the Themes. When first established by Heraclius, the military and civilian administrations of the Themes were one and the same. Under Kantakouzenos, however, the two divisions of administration were separated. Each Theme was governed by an Antypathos, or governor, who had a staff of appointed officials including the Tribounos, Mandatōr, and Sekretis [4]. In a separate but equally powerful administration, each Theme had a Strategos in charge of their military and defense. They, too, had a hand-selected staff of Pedarchēs, Hoplitarchēs, and Protostrator [5]. Both of these administrations were subject to the will of the Emperor and the Imperial court, but the division of civilian and military affairs did allow for the internal economy of the Nicene Roman Empire to recover much more significantly.

In 1305, Ionnas IV Palaeologus came of age, and was crowned Emperor of the Romans in the Church of the Dormition, the largest and most important church in Nikaea. Although Isaakios Kantakouzenos was no longer Baseliopatēr, he remained the Strategos of the Scholea, and as such controlled the only real troops in Nikaea, and also controlled much of the army’s loyalty. However, the Empire under Ionnas IV would face two serious threats to Kantakouzenos’s hard-won stability.

The most notable was the Black Death. Although it did not appear until 13 years after Ionnas’s ascension, when it did, it was absolutely devastating. Much of the landed elite of the Nicene Roman Empire was wiped out, not by the disease itself, but by mobs of angry peasants looking for some way to ease their suffering. The army fractiously turned upon itself, with the period of 1331-1332 being one of incessant military purges. This was largely due to the built-up tensions within the Nicene Roman Empire. Despite the stability brought by Kantakouzenos, the people of Rhomania were divided. The reconquest of central Anatolia had led to an influx of Turks into Rhomanion society, and the Greeks of the Empire were split on whether to accept them or turn them away - not to mention the Turks themselves, who were often hostile to both groups after the latter struck out at them in attempts to drive out the Turkish civilians. A new doctrinal subtlety, too, struck the Empire just as the plague did. Andreas of Samos, a fiery speaker and a student of theology, created a firestorm of controversy when he revealed his new interpretation of scripture. Rejecting the old Orthodox belief that killing, while sometimes necessary, was never praiseworthy, Andreas argued that the Orthodox must take up the sword, as their neighbors on both borders had done, in order to protect their faith [6].

Andreadism likely would not have caught on and have been such an influential part of the Nicene Roman Empire in the 14th century had it not been for two decisive events. The first was an audience that Ionnas granted Andreas in 1333. There, the 41-year old Andreas convinced the 54-year old Ionnas of the merits of Andreadism. Utterly dedicated to the idea, Ionnas turned towards the buildup of another elite unit in the Rhomanion army to serve alongside the Scholae [7]. This unit, the Guard of the Cross, was made up entirely of the children of lower-class Greeks and Christianized Turks who were taken from their families between the ages of three and six. They were taken to the Aegean coast, where they underwent training that consisted in equal parts of ascetic monasticism and spartan militarism.

The second event that solidified Andreadism’s place as the most influential Orthodox sect of the 1300s was the expansion of the states around them. In the 1330s and 40s, the Bulgarian Empire conquered Athens, leaving no traces of the Crusader Kingdoms left in the Balkans other than Venetian Constantinople itself. At the same time, the northern border of the Nicene Roman Empire was altered by the creation of the Trebizondian-Georgian Empire, and to the south, the resurgent Duchy of Antioch drew people of Latin, Greek, Armenian, Arab, and Mongolian backgrounds alike. These developments gave the aging Ionnas IV an opportunity to expand towards two of the Empire’s formerly greatest cities.

However, Ionnas’s plans were cut short by his death in 1347. He had ruled in his own right for 42 years, presiding over a period of stability in the Nicene Roman Empire. However, little of that stability had been the product of Ionnas himself. The work of Isaakios Kantakouzenos had been the catalyst for the positive changes and reforms that had been carried out in Nikaea, and Ionnas had been content to ride along with one finger in the wind. As a result, when he died, his successor had not been properly trained for the duties that being Emperor would entail.

For that reason, the reign of Manuel II Palaeologus is hotly contended among scholars. To some, he is a stellar Emperor whose only shortcoming was not through any fault of his own. To others, he is no different than his father, content to let the successes of others give him glory and prestige. Whatever the case, however, it cannot be argued that Manuel was gifted with a general of immense talent. Isaakios Kantakouzenos had passed away years earlier, leaving the Emperor with a general of slightly less tact and talent, but no less martial ability. Simeon Asen Laskaris, a half-Bulgarian who was distantly related to the Emperors of Bulgaria, was rude, boorish, and ruthless, but none can doubt his ability to command and to win battles.

The first major military campaign that Manuel planned was the reclamation of Crete. Still languishing under Venetian rule, Crete had become immensely rich off of the trade in spices and silks, but much of this wealth was concentrated among the Venetian aristocratic nobility that used Crete as a popular vacation spot [8]. However, the Nicene Romans needed a fleet to reach the island before they could hope to come to grips with the Venetian ground forces. For that reason, the conquest of Crete was put off until 1354, when a combined Nicene-Trebezondian fleet ferried 15,000 Rhomanion troops under the command of Simeon Asen Laskaris from Rhodes to Crete. The beachhead landing was successful, and soon Simeon had swept to Candia, the center of Venetian power on the island, and was besieging the castle by August. His ranks had been swelled by dissatisfied Greeks on the island, becoming irregulars in their fight to rid themselves of the Venetian yoke.

Candia, however, proved to be well-defended and supplied, and in late 1354 a Venetian navy counterattacked the Rhomanion fleet, driving it away and cutting off Simeon from Manuel. However, two successive Venetian attempts to defeat Simeon on terra firma were soundly defeated, with each victory in the shadow of Candia reducing the defenders’ morale further. By 1356, the siege had dragged on for two years, and Simeon finally managed to bash his way into the citadel of the city, massacring the defenders and inhabitants.

The fall of Candia broke the back of Venetian resistance on the island, and the Doge wisely decided to make peace. In exchange for the island of Crete, the Doge asked for the city of Gallipoli from the Bulgarians, which the Niceans would pay for. The agreement was accepted, and immediately Constantinople and Gallipoli received massive amounts of fortification, with the Venetians planning not to ever give up their stranglehold on trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

Still, the campaign was a success, and proved to be the last major campaign of Manuel II’s reign. He died in 1358, leaving behind no successor. A brief civil war led to the rise of Demetrios Napifoloti, a descendant of a half-Italian merchant and a powerful Admiral in the Nicene navy. His only major opponent was Simeon Asen Laskaris, who had the support of the army, but not of the bureaucracy. Ultimately, however, it was Andreadism that led to the end of Simeon Asen Laskaris, and vice versa. The Guard of the Cross made up the center of Simeon’s army, and fought with incredible ferocity at the Battle of Lesbos, where the two sides finally met, but the rest of Simeon’s force was distinctly less enthusiastic. The Guard of the Cross was cut off from the rest of Simeon’s force, and was cut to shreds by Demetrios’s marines, and he was thus able to thrash the rest of Simeon’s force [9]. Thus, on Christmas Day, 1362, Demetrios I Napifolti was crowned Emperor of the Romans.

[1] - The ability of Rhomania to do this is due to a number of causes. Thanks to the Bulgarians, they have a stable western border that is next to impossible to breach without a powerful navy, meaning that their attention is devoted almost entirely eastwards. Similarly, the positive reforms of the Laskarids and the shock at the defeat at Mongolian hands had shifted the balance of power back in the favor of Andronikos.

[2] - In the 1240s, the resurgent Bulgarian Empire managed to utterly wreck the Latin Empire of Constantinople, and as a result, the Venetians took direct control of the city. Since then, it has become a thriving hub of business, but is distinctly more Italian that it had been in the past.

[3] - The title given to regents in Rhomania. It literally means “Father of the Emperor.”

[4] - A manager of infrastructure and the budget, a messenger and general chancellor, and a secretary and chief of staff, respectively.

[5] - Masters of rations, infantry, and cavalry, respectively. Six Themata, those of Cyprus, Paphlagonia, Optimatoi, Opsician, Thracesian, and Cibyrrhaeots, also had an Admirales, or a head of their navy.

[6] - This argument isn’t exactly without merit. To their north, the Kipchak Khanate had singlehandedly revitalized Nestorianism by fighting in it’s name.

[7] - The Scholae, or Palace Guard, had been disbanded under Alexios I, but reestablished during the Laskarid dynasty.

[8] - Unlike Constantinople and Venice, where legislation was passed in order to allow young men to get into business easily, Crete became a haven for the ultra-rich “old monied” class of Venetian society, as well as the still-Orthodox Greeks that worked for them.

[9] - Simeon’s defeat as Lesbos isn’t unlike Alexios’s defeat at Dyrrachium OTL against Robert Guiscard.
Chapter 23: The Eighth Crusade
The 14th Century attack on al-Andalus​

The Genoese support of Granada and their conquest of Suebta had dire consequences on the development of the Iberian Peninsula. Throughout the 13th century, Genoese merchants and bankers flooded places like Malaga, Albox, and Gibraltar. As a result, the Emirate of Granada turned inwards, improving itself internally and working to create a state that, when bordered by three larger, hostile states, could still act with autonomy.

This quest for autonomy came to a head in 1299, when the King of Castile and León Ferdinand IV died with two sons, Alfonso and Peter. He left the Kingdom of Castile to the elder son, christened Alfonso X, while Peter I became King of León, officially splitting the Kingdom in two. Such a solution to succession, however, couldn’t last, and in 1301, Alfonso X of Castile launched an invasion of his brother’s territory, leading to the War of the Leónese succession. The war widened when King Dinis II of Portugal, whose sister was wed to Peter I, declared for Peter, and lent his armies to the Leónese cause.

The opening portion of the War of Leónese Succession went particularly well for the Castilian forces. The Castilian knighthood swept aside a Leónese force with embarrassing ease at the Battle of Oviedo, and Alfonso chased his brother for two miles after the Leónese army broke before calling off the chase. The Portuguese contingent, which was unwilling to engage the Castilian force without Leónese support, instead marched on and besieged Burgos, setting up an Acampamento, or base camp, outside of the city, affording the force greater protection against sallies or relief forces that the Castilian may try to organize.

Peter may have been beaten, but he was not willing to give up his Kingdom after a single battle. Gathering a second force, he raced to Burgos and met up with Dinis II, forming a force that numbered around 11,300 men. Alfonso still outnumbered this force by nearly 2,000, and in April of 1304 he laid siege to the Acampamento outside of Burgos. The earthen fortifications gave the defenders of the camp an advantage, throwing back an assault on the first day of the siege. Alfonso, realizing that he would have to wait, settled down for a siege - while the Acampamento itself continued to starve out the city of Burgos.

This state of affairs continued into August of 1304, at which point it seemed clear to all observing that the Acampamento would soon fall to the Castilian force. However, as Alfonso was planning his final assault on the Portuguesbe-Galacian force, a breathless messenger arrived at the Castilian camp, informing Alfonso that Emir Yusuf III Nasrid had taken a Granadan force and invaded the southern Castilian domains.

Yusuf’s force was a small one, but the mobility of his force had proven instrumental in his campaign. Yusuf, with a 7,800-strong force, had made a beeline for Cordoba, laying siege to the city for two weeks before he was contacted by one of his soldiers with an idea. Under the cover of night, the majority of Yusuf’s force noisily attacked the eastern walls of the city to the north of the banks of the Guadalquivir, while a small contingent of 200 men sailed up the river, climber an unguarded portion of the walls, and opened the gates to the main Granadan force. The Muslims poured into the city, establishing a forward base of operations into Castilian territory. It was captured on April 30th.

Realizing that he would soon have the attention of the King of Castile, Yusuf sent the majority of his force to secure Castilian fortresses to the south of the Guadalquivir and Segura rivers, hoping to establish them as his borders. Yusuf himself led 2,600 select horsemen further into Castile, ambushing isolated detachments of Castilian forces and, largely, causing a delay in the communication with Alfonso in the north [1].

When he did discover Yusuf’s invasion, Alfonso flew into a rage. Despite having a numerical advantage over his enemies, Alfonso had to either abandon his siege of the Acampamento outside of Burgos or allow the Granadan force to continue to ravage his southern territories. Ultimately, Alfonso left the battling of the Portuguese and Leónese to his generals, and took a force of Knights and archers numbering around 4,000 south to put the pesky Saracens back into their place.

In the northern front, the assault on the Acampamento took place on August 21st, 1304. The Castilian force possessed only a slight numerical advantage, but the people of Burgos, upon seeing the attack on their besiegers, rushed out of the walls and joined in on the attack. The north tower of the Acampamento fell first, with the exhausted Leónese defenders falling back under a concentrated onslaught of Castilian soldiers. At that moment, however, Peter I and his knights waded into the fray, stepping over two layers of bodies in an attempt to secure the defenses of the earthen fortress. Meanwhile, on the western turret, a crossbow bolt struck Dinis II of Portugal in the breastplate, causing his forces to falter. Although the wound did not kill Dinis, it forced him to retire to his tent, and broke the morale of the Portuguese defenders on the western turret, allowing another breach to occur in the Acampamento’s defenses. Just as the Castilians closed in, however, the Portuguese soldiers realized that they had nowhere to run and rallied. Trapping the Castilians in a thin parapet, the Portuguese and Leónese forces massacred them, reestablishing the defenses of the Acampamento to it’s walls.

By noon, the Castilians had realized the futility of their attack, and began a retreat from the earthen walls. Nearly 2,000 Castilian soldiers of the 8,000 that had been left outside of Burgos lay dead, and the Castilian commander realized the potential damage of allowing the Portuguese-Leónese force to pursue his retreating force. In order to prevent the retreat from becoming a disaster, the commander sent his own guards out to cover the retreat of the Castilian force, but no counterattack came. As badly as the Castilian attacking force had been mauled, the defenders from inside Burgos had fared even worse. They were completely routed, and the Leónese force eagerly pursued, led by their King. A few Knights managed to get inside the walls of the city before the gates were closed, and their heavy armor and longswords made short work of the civilian defenders that attempted to stop them. Soon, King Peter himself was waving a Leónese banner from the parapets of Burgos, and soon after Dinis and his Portuguese contingent arrived inside the city.

Only two days later, the Castilian force under Alfonso and the Granadan force under Yusuf met two miles outside of the city of Elena. Before battle commenced, the two monarchs met in between their armies. It was an interesting meeting - Alfonso was very much a “Crusader King,” tall, strong, and gruff, with an aggression and dogmatism befitting a warrior-king. Yusuf, on the other hand, was just as young as Alfonso - both had been born in 1280 - but he was a callback to the old Umayyad Caliphs of Cordoba. Cultured and educated, Yusuf had captured Cordoba first because he wanted to preserve the immense library that the city possessed [2].

The two monarchs didn’t want to battle. Alfonso, while he did follow in the Iberian tradition of Reconquista, realized that the biggest problem facing his Kingdom was not the relatively minor Granadan invasion, but rather the Portuguese-Leónese alliance arrayed against him. Yusuf, meanwhile, realized that his force was unlikely to win in an engagement against the Castilians, and preferred to make peace with the Christian monarch. The two, thus, ultimately hammered out an agreement. Yusuf demanded that the borders of Granada be pushed to the Guadalquivir and Segura rivers, with Cordoba remaining in the hands of the Muslims. Alfonso came close to rejecting the offer out of hand when he heard it, but the convincing of his advisors, who worried about the possibility that Peter and Dinis could ravage northern Castile in Alfonso’s absence, ultimately led to his agreeing, and Alfonso returned to Toledo, grumbling all the way.

The actions in Iberia following the averted battle of Elena spoke well for the continued survival of the Emirate of Granada. Peter and Dinis had opened their food stores to the people of Burgos following the capture of the city, and no bloodbath followed it’s fall. When the two Kings offered all the loot of the Castilian army to the people of Burgos, then, they jumped on the opportunity. A sally from Burgos shattered the Castilian force, winning a major victory for the Leónese-Portuguese alliance.

However, the War of Leónese Succession could not be won with the fall of a single city. Upon returning to the front, Alfonso raised a new army and furiously put Burgos to the sword for daring to assist his enemies. Alfonso then managed to bring the Kingdom of Aragon into the war, but their relative uninterest in the affairs of León meant that only a few hundred Aragonese soldiers joined under Alfonso’s banner. Then, in 1306, Peter received an unexpected ally when a Navarrese force ambushed a detachment of Alfonso’s army, massacring it to a man.

Navarre had a number of reasons for getting into the War of the Leónese succession. For years, the Basque Kingdom had gone back and forth between the influence of the Angevins and the Castilians, with each successive King of Navarre aligning himself with one or the other. The current King of Navarre, Sancho IX, had sided with the Angevins and, as a reward, had been married to the niece of the Angevin Emperor, Joan. Joan, who had disliked the Castilians from her first month in Iberia, had pressured her husband into joining the war on the side of the Portuguese and Leónese [3].

Alfonso had been diplomatically checked, but his fury knew no bounds. Sending a contingent of his army to go stall Dinis and Peter, he personally took revenge on the Navarrese, launching a blistering attack into the Kingdom. In the Battle of Pamplona, Alfonso utterly defeated a force led by Sancho himself, killing the Navarrese monarch in the process. With no children, the crown of Navarre went to Joan Angevin, who became Queen Joan I of Navarre. At the same time, Imperator Henry II of the Angevins sent a contingent from Bordeaux to assist his niece, and ended up capturing Alfonso in 1307.

Despite the fact that Alfonso, the aggressor in the War of Leónese Succession, was languishing in a Bordeaux dungeon, the war continued for another three years. In 1310, the war finally concluded, with the independence of León confirmed and Alfonso finally released from the dungeons. For Alfonso, the entire war had been a fiasco. Not only had he been cheated out of his inheritance (he still considered León to be rightfully his), but he had also seen portions of his Kingdom shaved off by the Muslims to the south, a minor power to his north humiliate him, and his brother win prestige while he languished in a prison.

Luckily for Alfonso, an opportunity to take revenge presented itself in 1324, when Pope Clement VII, formerly Cardinal Salvador Munõ of Valladolid, was raised to the Papal throne by the College of Cardinals. Clement, who had supported Alfonso during the War of Leónese Succession, made it a central point of his time in the Vatican to promote the spread of Christendom by the Sword. According to his speeches, the Orthodox and Nestorian Empires to the east could be allowed to battle the Saracen on their turf. Instead, Christendom needed to strike back against the Emirate of Granada and drive Mohammad out of Europe for good. Thus, on Christmas Day, 1325, the Eighth Crusade was launched.

The members of the Eighth Crusade were odd allies, considering the recent history of the Iberian Peninsula. Castile, Aragon, France, the Angevin Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire all declared for the crusading banner, but Portugal, León, and Provence were notably absent [4]. In Provence, this was due to the rapid resurgence of Catharism, which had made a major comeback in the wake of the first stirrings of the Black Death. The Duke of Provence, Francois I Empéri, personally embraced Catharism in 1326, and with the Black Death and the preoccupation of the Eighth Crusade, Provence was largely spared the wrath that had befallen it during the Albengensian Crusade.

Portugal and León, meanwhile, had bowed out of the Crusade for different reasons. Dinis III, the recently ascended son of Dinis II, realized that he would have little to gain from the crusade, and that Alfonso would likely use the Crusade to increase his own power. Peter I of León agreed, and as a result, only half of the Iberian Kingdoms joined in the crusade against the Granadans.

Luckily for Yusuf, he had a few advantages against the formidable alliance of Christian Kingdoms arrayed against him. Genoa, always willing to put their monetary gains ahead of their spiritual lives, continued to supply the Granadan war effort, although they never joined the war explicitly on the side of the Muslims. Still, it was enough to distract Aragon into devoting the entirety of their resources for the 1326-1330 Eighth Crusade to a naval war with Genoa, all the while suffering from the Black Death’s reaping of the population.

Thus, when Yusuf III Nasrid faced a Crusader Army, it was composed of Castilians, Angevins, and Frenchmen. The Army was commanded by Edward, the Prince of the Angevins, King Alfonso X of Castile, and Francois de Paris, a French commander appointed by the King. The three commanders fell to quarreling almost immediately, and as a result, the Crusading army fell apart into three separate contingents [5]. Francois, with the smallest contingent, nonetheless plunged ahead into the Guadalquivir valley, looting and pillaging as they went. Thus, in midsummer 1327, with the hot summer sun beating down on the weary Frenchmen, Yusuf attacked and devastated the French force, sending Francois’s head back to Alfonso as a personal challenge.

Alfonso, falling into the same temper that had gotten him in trouble in Navarre, barreled into Seville, sacking the city after capturing it on August 15th, and then prepared to meet Yusuf on the battlefield. Yusuf seemed willing to oblige, but once Alfonso came within striking range of Yusuf’s force, it melted away. For the next two months, Yusuf led Alfonso on a merry chase throughout Granada, slowly starving and weakening the numerically superior Castilian force.

It may have been a clear-cut Granadan victory were it not for the brilliant campaign of Edward “the White Prince.” Called such due to his fair complexion and tendency to burn in the Iberian sun, Edward conducted a brilliant campaign in the Guadalquivir valley with only 3,000 longbowmen and demilancers, softening up Granadan resistance with their ranged superiority before shattering them with their demilancer charges. Yusuf was forced to speed away from Alfonso on a forced march toward Edward, engaging in a crucial, if small, battle at Iznalloz on September 4th, 1327.

Edward was outnumbered, but the ratio of Granadan soldiers to Angevin was 4-to-3, and Edward possessed the advantage in ranged weaponry. Yusuf, however, was not willing to allow his entire defense to falter due to a battle such as this. Thus, 1,000 Horse Archers engaged the Angevin force, screening for Yusuf’s retreat. The Longbowmen managed to cut the Horse Archers to ribbons, but their purpose had been served - Yusuf escaped, and even more importantly, the message that Yusuf had sent to Marselha had been given time to fester. Only time would tell if it would be able to save the Emirate of Granada.

Sensing the animosity between Castile and Portugal, and Dinis III’s desire to prove himself in battle, Yusuf had sent a copious amount of gold and a suggestion - not to Lisbon, but to Marselha. Francois, like Dinis, had no love for the Castilians, and more importantly, was not bound to Catholic codes of morality like Dinis would have been. The suggestion was that Provence could launch a surprise invasion of Castile and place Sancho Empéri, a cousin of both Alfonso and Francois, on the throne of Castile. The gambit worked, and both Provence and Portugal, which had been contacted by Provence, launched invasions of Castile while Alfonso was busy in the south.

In 1308, Yusuf found his position to be astoundingly improved. Alfonso had sped back to northern Castile, where he was busy going toe-to-toe with Francois and Dinis. In a campaign that would take two years, Yusuf and Edward would crisscross Granada and southern Castile, trading blows and slowly bleeding one another out. In a relationship that was not unlike that between Saladin and Richard the Lion-Hearted 150 years previously, the two had a mutual respect, and in 1330, the two met in Valladolid, along with the Pope himself, in order to broker a peace deal. In the end, Granada’s possessions in southern Iberia were confirmed. Two years later, King Alfonso X and Pope Clement VII were both dead, and Yusuf III Narsid stood triumphant.

How did the period of 1300-1330 effect the Iberian peninsula? It largely determined where each nation’s interests lay for the coming centuries. Aragon would continue to look east, toward the weak, divided states of northern Italy. Navarre would look north, toward London, for inspiration and power. León would look south toward their neighbors and allies, the Portuguese. Castile, however, now looked to Rome. Their identity as the world’s crusaders was starting to emerge, and would come back to show itself in less than a century.

[1] - A number of messengers were killed by Yusuf and his force, causing it to take nearly three months for Alfonso to hear of the fall of Cordoba.

[2] - Unfortunately, much of that library had already been lost through Cordoba’s conquest and the fighting that it involved.

[3] - Specifically, the wedding of Joan to Sancho had included an invitation for all the monarchs of Iberia to attend. Representatives of the Portuguese and Aragonese had come, but the Castilians, who were bitter over their loss of influence in Navarre, had
refused to come, leading to Joan’s intense dislike of the central Iberian Kingdom.

[4] - The Kingdom of France still exists, but is really a small rump-state in central France that is on the periphery of the influence of the two Emperors of Europe from Aachen and London.

[5] - Pretty much every side hated the other. Alfonso still harbored a grudge against the Angevins for imprisoning him during the War of Leónese Succession, Francois suspected (rightfully so) that Edward was plotting against him, and Edward believed that the other two were purposefully trying to place the Angevin contingent in the most harm (which was probably true as well).
Good updates.

Thank you! I've had quite a bit of time on my hands recently, and I want to bring this TL up to the end of the Middle Ages fairly soon (I'm looking at chapter 40 being "Into the Light," the discovery of the new world and the end of the Middle Ages).

Just a question to readers: do you think an England-France nation like the Angevins would be likely to pursue a) colonization of the new world, or b) conquest of the Far East? On the one hand, their power and population gives them the means to expand, but it also could make them complacent.

Thanks to all, again!
Just a question to readers: do you think an England-France nation like the Angevins would be likely to pursue a) colonization of the new world, or b) conquest of the Far East? On the one hand, their power and population gives them the means to expand, but it also could make them complacent.

Depends on what the competition is doing and how strong they are compared to them. England went after the New World OTL initially because Spain and Portugal got into the game earlier and had gotten all the good bits first. It was only when England's power relative to Spain, France, and the Dutch became more competitive that it started to project its power further and began wresting colonies and trading privileges from them.