CHAPTER 15 – Athenian Intrusion
The New Year’s celebration has just passed, the mood of festivities still lingers over the streets of Constantinople, before the Roman emissary to Venice and Konstanz, Nicholas Eudaimonoioannes returns with another cause for celebration – in the show of Christian solidarity between Rome and Constantinople, and a demonstration of Roman diplomatic success, the newly elected Pope Martin V has agreed and arranged a marriage of three prominent Catholic Italian noblewomen to Roman princes Andronikos, Theodoros and Ioannes. The ordinary Roman citizens are delighted over the apparent festival arrangement, and soon streets and public houses in Constantinople is filled with chatters and gossips over the identity of the brides, their looks, clothes, dowry etc. To men of influence, the marriages showcased a clear sign of support from the West, and rumor of a potential crusade from the Catholic world to help the Empire evict the Ottoman menace begins to spread cross the circle within upper class.
By February the news of the marriage reaches Andronikos who has returned to his domain in Thessaloniki. Unlike his ecstatic subordinates, Andronikos is less enthusiastic to the news of his marriage, seeing it as an event not worth much consideration – the meeting of Konstanz has made him fully devoted into potentially participating in the upcoming crusade.
Andronikos may be bold and ambitious, but he is no fool – as the blood in his vein cools down, he begins to see clearly the huge disparity of power between Ottomans and the Romans, and that the Ottomans exceed in every measurable number and assessable strength, be it the quality of the army, the quantity of manpower, the tax base, or the depth of coffers. Against such a formidable foe, to only rely on the support of the crusading allies would be foolish. If the Romans were to indeed participate in the crusade, they must be prepared and be confident to hold back Ottoman aggression for at least half a year. The strength to hold back Ottomans is not only a necessity as the Ottomans would most likely throw everything they have against the Romans once they join the crusade, it would also be crucial that once the Ottomans were defeated, the Romans show enough strength and devotion to receive its well-deserved share of war spoil, both in forms of land and coin.
The territories the Romans managed to secure after 1405 is mainly coastal with no strategic depth, the Roman army although victorious in Achaea, is small and insignificant against the overwhelming Ottoman force. In such circumstance, to try and hold every single town and cities would be impossible and would most likely destroy what little force the Romans have. The Romans must be prepared to abandon large swaths of its country-side and indefensible towns, and concentrate its forces in well-defended cities and positions, such as Constantinople and Thessaloniki.
However, even if the Romans manage to succeed in defending its major cities, they would be bearing the main brunt of Ottoman attack and thus suffer the most. Furthermore it would throw their fate to the mercy of its allies, which includes the always treacherous Venetians and could never be fully trusted. The bloody lesson of the Fourth Crusade is injected deep in Roman memories.
A most opportune circumstance leading to the disintegration of Ottoman central power must arise before the Romans could make the fateful move. Such circumstance could occur either as a result of a powerful crusading army successfully defeating the Ottoman army in Balkans, or by a sudden fragmentation of Ottoman power and a succession crisis similar to what happened decades ago. Such circumstance would not only mean great opportunity for actions, but it will also mean the Ottoman princes which the Romans hold in their hand would become a trump card.
Before any of that happens, Andronikos must bid his time and make preparations to strengthen Roman position. One such thing which Andronikos finds would improve Roman odds against Ottomans is the innovative weapon of firearms – with his own traumatized war experience in Achaea in mind, he sees great potentials in this deadly weapon, especially the usefulness of cannons in siege warfare as demonstrated in the siege of Glarentza.
Andronikos has personally gained an impressive war spoil from loot and confiscation of Latin properties in Achaea, which after paying his army and repaying the 1.500 ducats loan from Venice still left him with 2.000 ducats in coins and many estates and properties worth another few thousand ducats. Throughout the spring of 1418, Andronikos spends handsomely to establish a gun smith modeled after the Venetian Arsenal to produce firearms in Thessaloniki. Craftsmen from across Italy were invited to Thessaloniki, and the first prototype cannon copied from the Venetian cannon seized by Andronikos from Glarentza and brought back to Thessaloniki is produced in early April, marking the first instance of Roman cannon production.
Just as Andronikos is busy overseeing his gun smith, a messenger from Morea arrives at Thessaloniki on 10th April, and brings news of a sudden aggression from the Duke of Athens, Antonio I Acciaioli against the Roman position in Corinth. The Duchy of Athens hasbeen ruled by Italian noble families since the Fouth Crusade, and the latest Duke Antonio has been a de facto vassal of the Ottomans after his war with the Venetians in 1406, and ever since that he has been on and off harassing the Venetians and Roman territories with quick raids. As such Andronikos initially saw the news as nothing but another ordinary Athenian intrusion and dismissed the messenger without giving further thoughts.
Few days later, a formal request of aid arrives at Thessaloniki from Despot Theodoros himself. In the letter Theodoros directly pleads for assistance from Andronikos, his brother, as the scale of the Athenian intrusion far surpass what was witnessed in the past -the city of Corinth is now besieged by over a thousand well-armed Latin professional soldiers, assisted by many thousands of levies, some eyewitness even saw Ottoman contingents within Latin ranks. It is not a raid, but a full-on invasion into Morea. As Theodoros is still trying to consolidate his control over newly-conquered Achaea, he relocated much of his resources and men to Achaea. As such, the defense of Corinth and Morea in general lacks sufficient men to resist the surprising Athenian invasion. Corinth could fall in anytime, and if it were to fall, the whole of Morea will lay open to Latin brutality.
Only Andronikos have enough men to intervene in due time. Without any hesitation, he assembles his generals to immediately form a battleplan, while sounding the call of arms. By 16th April, an army of 2000 men marches across the gate of Galerius, towards the south.