Spaghetti on the Steppe
This is a universe in which the Medieval Italian states united and evolved into a major power in the Meditarranean known as the Italian Confederation. At the same time, Caddo-speaking Mississippian peoples created a written language and forged an empire that would gradually grow to control much of North America. Despite the best efforts of UNBSTAE field agents, the point of divergence for this universe is as yet unknown.
- The Italian Confederation formed during a series of wars from 1450 to 1550. Though initially including just the city-states of Padania and the colonies of those sea-faring states, the Confederation expanded into Occitania, Central, and Southern Italy while taking an active role in fighting the expansion of Islam in the Middle East. The government of Italy was established along federal lines, with each constituent state having a vote in the legislature and the Pope installed as a ceremonial Head of State as a compromise. The 16th and 17th centuries were the years of the Pax Italia in which the Confederation's navy dominated the whole of the Mediterranean and Black Seas while Italian merchants could be found in nearly every port in the world. It was in those golden years that Confederation forces conquered the Pillars of Hercules and added taxes from ships passing through to the Confederation's already large treasury. The Confederation's annexation of Greece, the Italian-influenced states of southern Russia, and parts of Iberia further expanded the empire. In 1900, it is becoming clear that the glory days of Italy are behind her. While still a massive empire, Italy has stagnated and lost the dynamism it had in early centuries. It will not be long before the rising powers of the world decide to try to rip off some pieces of Italian flesh.
- The Mississippian Imperium had its start among the Mound Building people of the lower and middle Mississippi. Cities like Cahokia became the center for a revolution in science that brought written language and, later, metallurgy to North America. Around 1550, the warring city-states were united by Sho-e-tat the Conqueror, who devised a federal system of government that allowed each city considerable autonomy but unified foreign affairs. The cities of the Imperium were bursting at the seams, as new scientific methods allowed for massive population growth. Mound cities were built up the Ohio and towards the Pacific as the Imperium became a continental power. Though technologically behind, it and its allies prevented the European powers from penetrating deep into Upper Bacelaria. The Mississippian Imperium of 1900 extends from the Mississippi Delta to Hudson Bay to Siberia. Though its federal system is sometimes cumbersome and internal disputes lead to deadlock, the Imperium has industrialized and, after adopting a form of pan-Bacelarian nationalism, aspires to kick Europe off their continent.
- Both the other great powers of Europe in this universe are maritime states. Portugal, once a minor statelet on the western fringe of Iberia was catapulted to the status of a major power when it began to finance exploration further west and south around Africa. Portuguese nobles colonized much of Lower Bacelaria (named for Bacelar, an early explorer) while the Nahuatl-speaking Aztec Empire became a vassal of the King in Lisbon. Portuguese influence would also expand deep into Africa and Asia as well as the Insulindian islands. The military, explorers, merchants, and monks would turn these areas into loyal domains of the Portuguese crown. Portuguese monks would have the best luck with Christianizing along the African coastlines, where peoples would convert wholesale. Zimbabwe and China would both convert to Catholicism, and though not vassals of Portugal, get along well with Portugal and the rest of the Catholic world. Like Italy, Portugal has passed the apex of its power. Though still strong, Portugal has perhaps overextended itself in the last century and has put itself in an unsustainable position. Danopomerania controls the Baltic much as the Italians controlled the Mediterranean during their heyday. Formed by the dynastic unification of Denmark and a Pomeranian polity, Danopomerania extended its influence to Norway and Sweden, which it utilized to achieve hegemony over the rest of the Baltic and even Scotland. After coming into conflict with the Italians in the late 17th century, Danopomerania would break from the Catholic Church, establishing a national church of its own and encouraging the same in each of its vassal states. Danopomerania too has become complacent after centuries of dominance in its region and while more stable than Italy, may not survive the 20th century.
- The other notable powers of Europe include Britain, Saxony, and the Palatinese Kingdom. A maritime power for centuries, Britain's despotic House of Schiers was overthrown in 1799 by republican rebels seeking to restore the power of Parliament. The initial plan of a moderate, semi-democratic state was scuttled by radicals, who declared that all men were equal and that sometimes wealth had to be redistributed. War was made by the continent against the Republic, with the support of aristocratic emigres, but the result was that the Republic survived and became, if anything, more radical. The Republic remains the same in 1900. Britain has colonies throughout the world, but professes that it plans to release them as independent states when they are suitably "civilized" enough. Saxony is another maritime power that has seen better days, though its glory days were nowhere near as glorious as those of the Italians or Portuguese. Several hundred miles up the Rhine, the Electors Palatine transformed their small principality into a mighty kingdom. The cities of Mainz, Heidelberg, Gernsheim, and Koblenz have become industrial cities, the heart of the Palatinese Kingdom that is often called the industrial heartland of Europe. The Palatinese Kings are ambitious and with their large, modern military, there is little doubt that they have the potential to dominate Western Europe. And then there is France. A major player in the Middle Ages, France was wracked with unrest by the middle of the second millennium and while a King continued to sit in Paris, France was a kingdom in name only, with the real power held by various court factions aligned with France's neighbors. Though not preferable to any one side, the Kingdom of France has remained intact for centuries (though pieces are nibbled off every few decades), if only to keep the status quo going and avoid a major war. Currently, Britain, the Palatine, and Italy all vie for dominance in what is left of France.
- Africa is in the midst of an Islamic revival. Ali, a Kanuri speaker that lived between 1742 and 1795 in the then-minor Kanguri Kingdom, was a prominent imam. After a hajj took him through the decadent city of Cairo and the Christian-held Jerusalem, Ali declared that the future of Islam was in Africa. Motivated by his proclamations, the Kanguri Kingdom engaged in holy wars of expansion against their nearby neighbors and transformed themselves into a quasi-theocracy. Similarly, the Timbuctoo Dynasty of the Neo-Ghanaian Empire became more devout. Both states began to convert non-Muslims by the sword. Further east, a Dinka speaker by the name of Yusuf in 1876 claimed to have received visions that extolled him to carve out an Islamic empire in East Africa. He would lead his clan on Jihad, tapping into religious fervor and building the Nilotic Caliphate with him at its head. The Caliphate is now entering its twenty-fifth year and has amassed a store of European-style guns from various sources. The Caliphate recently invaded Appashat and their new Caliph, Hamed, has vowed not to rest until the white banner of his empire hangs over every city of Appashat. Christianity too has a presence in Africa. While Appashat, the newest incarnation of the millennia-old Solomonic Dynasty, holds fast to Eastern Christianity, Portuguese missionaries have successfully converted vast swathes of the continent to Roman Catholicism. While some states practice a syncretic form of Christianity that retains old spirits and deities, the Portuguese might have made a mistake with the Holy Igbo Kingdom, which has a tendency to crucify non-Christians and even detain Portuguese merchants on the grounds of being insufficiently pious.
- Persia, currently under a homegrown dynasty from the Iranian Plateau, is the Islamic world's premier power. With its sphere of influence stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean to the marshes of Gujarat, Persia has millions of men and uncountable millions of dinars at its disposal. Though existing since time immemorial, Persia is still strong. Years of fighting with the Armenians, Greeks, Arabs, and Central Asian tribesmen have built Persia into a strong state with modern technology. Most recently, Shah Mansur Alipur attacked the kingdom of Kashmir with hopes of bringing it into the Persian fold. Among Persia's neighbors in the Middle East are the egalitarian Tritobabylonians (named for their being the third incarnation of the Babylonian state), the pious and warlike Armenians, and the Catholic-majority Kingdom of Jerusalem.
- Though much of the Indian subcontinent is under European or Persian domination, several states have managed to retain their independence. Among these are Sindh and Utkala, both of which are fairly standard monarchies. Their northeastern neighbor, Bengal is much more interesting. The former monarchy of Bengal was astonishingly cruel and corrupt, even by the standards of a pre-enlightenment society. In 1825, inspired by European republicanism, peasant revolt was hijacked by intellectuals, who declared the Islamic Peoples Kingdom of Bengal. Though it professes to be a monarchy, the King of Bengal is elected through a sort of electoral college for an eight-year term. Also, as is suggested by the name, Bengal has a religious tilt to it and while not a theocracy, Muslims hold the power in the "kingdom". Bengal's sphere extends up the Ganes and deep into Southeast Asia,, and while militarily powerful, the crown and Majlis also seek to expand Islam. The 20th century very well could turn out to be a good one for Bengal.
- Religiously, East Asia is vastly divergent from OTL. China, introduced to Western Christianity by the Portuguese in the 16th century, saw its people begin to convert wholesale to Catholicism. In 1708, Lu Wei, a devout Christian and general for the ruling Weifang Dynasty (of Shandong extraction), led a mutiny against the still-Buddhist Emperor. After a decade of war, the Weifang Dynasty was deposed and Lu took the throne as the first ruler from the Zihse (purple) Dynasty. Wei, who would take the Christian name of Heng Li (Henry) would declare China and the Christian Church one in the same, with the emperor serving as its head. Since 1722, the Zihse Dynasty has successfully spread the interestingly-named practice of "Christianity with Chinese characteristics" throughout its whole realm. Though crosses adorn most buildings, China is much the same as it was before the rise of Christianity and retains many of its old bureaucratic traditions. Unfortunately for them, China has been rather stagnant in recent years, and a surprise attack on the more-technologically advanced Koreans backfired as the much smaller Korean army routed the Chinese St. Baolu (Paul) army in Manchuria and landed marines of the Guangdong and Shandong coasts. Islam spread much further into Siberia ITTL. The Mongols converted wholesale after a defeat by the Persians in Central Asia and tribes as far east as the Bering Strait follow the teachings of Islam. These peoples are, however, not especially powerful and are largely overlooked on the world scene. Korea is the powerhouse of East Asia. After undergoing an industrial revolution, Korea developed a military large and powerful enough to expand their empire north into Manchuria and east into the Japanese islands. The Korea of 1900 has a large standing army with perhaps the most modern weapons in the world as well as a large, wide-ranging navy. Korean territory extends east to Hawaii, and in recent years, Korean merchants have sailed even further east and carved out a sphere of influence in the decaying Aztec Empire. Japan has suffered heavily in this universe, and all of the Home Islands have been colonized or turned into satellite states of imperialist powers. Despite the best attempts of nationalists within Japan, there is no significant resistance as the feudalistic statelets of the islands are content to get foreign aid as long as they can use it against their hereditary rivals.
- Technologically, this world is roughly on par with OTL in the most developed areas. Most of Europe, the Mississippian Imperium, and Korea are all highly industrialized powers as far ahead as OTL states, with Korea perhaps being even further along, particularly in the field of military technology. States like Zimbabwe, Persia, and China make up the next tier of development, with some industrial presence, but they do not have the capacity to fill all their needs domestically. Parts of the African interior are nearly totally pre-industrial, and either rely on the industrialized world for imports or make do without them.