Out of the Ashes: The Byzantine Empire From Basil II To The Present

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Giving a branch of the Imperial family full autonomy over such rich lands still seems like a recipe for Civil War. But then again, they're right in the path of a Turkish invasion, very small window for any shenanigans.
It's not all of Mesopotamia, only a sliver or so in the North. Here's a map:


This is the entire Empire, but you'll see that the amount of land between the rivers is not too large (of course there are extra bits on the other sides of the bank but not much). Full Mesopotamia would have never been on the table. That being said, the rest of the region is in total chaos-so maybe Kaisar Michael can expand quite bit southwards.

This is a recipe for civil war-but it won't be an immediate one for a couple of reasons. The Mesopotamians have no navy (and without that, bye Constantinople), the army is loyal to Basil II, Lord Komnenos (who has unprecedented power in the new government) and is not particularly against Basil III (the Egyptian forces are pro "little Basileus", rest benignly neutral) and Michael is seen as having gone native (to be fair he lasted the Dawd years only based on deep local support). So the Mesopotamians have no ghost of a chance of being top-dog in the near future: Michael knows this and so all wars he will wage will be against Mesopotamians and remaining Armenians. His eldest son is a hostage in Constantinople, and while he will soon have others from his new wife-they'll be seen as full Assyrians and will not advance his case at all, unlike his firstborn, who is still seen as Roman enough.

This does not mean Michael's heirs will not make a move against the Empire (if say, they have more of Mesopotamia under control to field a larger army), but the best they can do is East/Central Anatolia-Egypt and Syrian coast is a bridge too far with the current demographics and Imperial navy. Besides, the Turks are indeed coming soon.

Could go both ways.A hereditary Macedonian duchy would mean that any potential non-Macedonian pretender would have to think twice before they try to usurp the throne.In my opinion,one of the major reasons why none of the other Roman Dynasties lasted as long as the Palaiologian Dynasty was that the Palaiologians were quite into giving out fiefs to family members.
Well, that did not quite stop Palaiologid civil wars (besides, they were effectively a corpse for there last fifty-maybe 100 years out of the 190 year run) which came with their own price tag. This duchy is a short term fix, but a bad idea long term.
 
Well, that did not quite stop Palaiologid civil wars (besides, they were effectively a corpse for there last fifty-maybe 100 years out of the 190 year run) which came with their own price tag. This duchy is a short term fix, but a bad idea long term.
It did ensure though that non-Palaiologian pretenders didn't really stand a chance in the event there was some sort of coup.If there's some sort of rebellion,at the end of the day,the throne stays in the hands of the same dynasty.What threatens East Roman regimes the most were coup de'tats.Princes with hereditary fiefs never stood a chance in this regard because bureaucrats will most likely hate them with a passion(bureaucrats generally see the concept of feudal lords as competition to their roles) and that the Constantinopolitan mob never gets to be familiarised with these princes to support them.Apart from troops stationed in the prince's fief,the prince most likely never gets to be familiarised with the bulk of the army either.

Granting fiefs however should not be mistaken with no control over the fiefs.The size of a fief should never be too large. A fief around the size of Sicily would be optimal.The princes should never be allowed out of their fiefs and travel to other provinces,unless there's some sort of emergency.The senior officials in the prince's fief should be appointed only by the government in Constantinople and that a proportion of the tax from the prince's fief should go to the Imperial government.The children of the prince should also be educated at the capital--both to prevent them from going native and to be used as hostages.

In my personal opinion,I think it's ideal for a large empire to be governed by a mix of feudalism and bureaucracy since what I tend to find is that in highly centralized empires,most bureaucrats generally just want to scrap as much as they can from the provinces/colonies and then either bribe themselves into a high post back at the capital or retire comfortably.A healthy mix of feudalism meant that there will be princes who would be interested in improving the fief since it's their personal property.

Thanks for the detailed analysis! The last dynasty kept Beijing as the capital because of precisely the reason you mentioned about the barbarian dynasties needing a fast exit route. I'll have the capital moved to Xiangyang in the post imperial period (unless I get another crazy inspiration that doesn't get knocked out of me) since you make a very strong case for it over Nanjing. The sandstorms bit was completely new to me, things you learn every day :)
If China has a good navy,Nanjing would be ideal in modern China,given the area around Nanjing's some of the wealthiest regions in China and that Nanjing was historically an important capital of a good number of dynasties.If China doesn't have a good navy after the barbarians were kicked out however,Xiangyang would be better,but it would cost a fair bit of money to redevelop the area into a capital since it wouldn't have the necessary infrastructure to be capital as it never has been one.Otherwise,it wouldn't be as vulnerable as Nanjing would be as capital--which as it turned out IOTL,was highly vulnerable to conquest from the sea when China doesn't have a good navy.
 
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It did ensure though that non-Palaiologian pretenders didn't really stand a chance in the event there was some sort of coup.If there's some sort of rebellion,at the end of the day,the throne stays in the hands of the same dynasty.What threatens East Roman regimes the most were coup de'tats.Princes with hereditary fiefs never stood a chance in this regard because bureaucrats will most likely hate them with a passion(bureaucrats generally see the concept of feudal lords as competition to their roles) and that the Constantinopolitan mob never gets to be familiarised with these princes to support them.Apart from troops stationed in the prince's fief,the prince most likely never gets to be familiarised with the bulk of the army either.

Granting fiefs however should not be mistaken with no control over the fiefs.The size of a fief should never be too large. A fief around the size of Sicily would be optimal.The princes should never be allowed out of their fiefs and travel to other provinces,unless there's some sort of emergency.The senior officials in the prince's fief should be appointed only by the government in Constantinople and that a proportion of the tax from the prince's fief should go to the Imperial government.The children of the prince should also be educated at the capital--both to prevent them from going native and to be used as hostages.

In my personal opinion,I think it's ideal for a large empire to be governed by a mix of feudalism and bureaucracy since what I tend to find is that in highly centralized empires,most bureaucrats generally just want to scrap as much as they can from the provinces/colonies and then either bribe themselves into a high post back at the capital or retire comfortably.A healthy mix of feudalism meant that there will be princes who would be interested in improving the fief since it's their personal property.
John Kantakouzenos put up a decent fight considering the circumstances, though he did fail in the long term (not that he had Anatolian themes to fall back upon like folks like Leo III). I am also not convinced coups were necessarily the biggest issue faced by the Empire (the Phocas case is a huge glaring counterexample, but it is essentially the only one)-while the political instability was problematic, it prevented people with the competence level of the Angeloi or the middle Palaiologoi from lasting too long. Dynastic continuation only works if the people are competent (the Macedonians rolled sixes almost all the way to the grave, but even they owed a lot of their success to non-dynasts like Phokas and Tzimiskes). Princes with fiefs will be hated by the bureaucrats and the mobs no doubt, but they may be unable to stop the lot from feudalizing the Empire should one seize power at a moment of sufficient crisis. The feudals can only be kept on a leash if there is a sufficiently strong central army and a strong economy in the parts under direct rule.

That being said, the model you are suggesting would be ideal if I was planning to make things great for the Empire (hint: it's not the case). They'll be muddling along trying to find a way, but the concept of hereditary fiefdom is on the back foot courtesy the land ceiling laws. The Empire will be going with the bureaucratic route in the core territories at least (for good or for ill). Parts of the frontier has such hereditary Dukes to act as buffers out of expediency (outsource some of the defense), but overall they will go with this route-with all the exploitative taxation, corruption and all that one expects.

If China has a good navy,Nanjing would be ideal in modern China,given the area around Nanjing's some of the wealthiest regions in China and that Nanjing was historically an important capital of a good number of dynasties.If China doesn't have a good navy after the barbarians were kicked out however,Xiangyang would be better,but it would cost a fair bit of money to redevelop the area into a capital since it wouldn't have the necessary infrastructure to be capital as it never has been one.Otherwise,it wouldn't be as vulnerable as Nanjing would be as capital--which as it turned out IOTL,was highly vulnerable to conquest from the sea when China doesn't have a good navy.
They'll have a decent one-but there were never any rewards for the third best navy-or the second for that matter, when the first is far too overwhelmingly dominant.
 
John Kantakouzenos put up a decent fight considering the circumstances, though he did fail in the long term (not that he had Anatolian themes to fall back upon like folks like Leo III). I am also not convinced coups were necessarily the biggest issue faced by the Empire (the Phocas case is a huge glaring counterexample, but it is essentially the only one)-while the political instability was problematic, it prevented people with the competence level of the Angeloi or the middle Palaiologoi from lasting too long. Dynastic continuation only works if the people are competent (the Macedonians rolled sixes almost all the way to the grave, but even they owed a lot of their success to non-dynasts like Phokas and Tzimiskes). Princes with fiefs will be hated by the bureaucrats and the mobs no doubt, but they may be unable to stop the lot from feudalizing the Empire should one seize power at a moment of sufficient crisis. The feudals can only be kept on a leash if there is a sufficiently strong central army and a strong economy in the parts under direct rule.

That being said, the model you are suggesting would be ideal if I was planning to make things great for the Empire (hint: it's not the case). They'll be muddling along trying to find a way, but the concept of hereditary fiefdom is on the back foot courtesy the land ceiling laws. The Empire will be going with the bureaucratic route in the core territories at least (for good or for ill). Parts of the frontier has such hereditary Dukes to act as buffers out of expediency (outsource some of the defense), but overall they will go with this route-with all the exploitative taxation, corruption and all that one expects.


They'll have a decent one-but there were never any rewards for the third best navy-or the second for that matter, when the first is far too overwhelmingly dominant.
As far as the emperors are concerned,the biggest threat to THEM(not the empire) would be the mob storming the palace or the imperial guard pulling a coup or defecting to rebels.An army marching on Constantinople only works if the emperor's highly unpopular amongst Constantinople's populace and it's garrison--as far as I know,all pretenders requires some sort of uprising within Constantinople to open the gates.It is highly unlikely that the government would allocate a lot of troops under an individual prince for him/her to march on Constantinople and a prince most likely would not have the necessary support to pull an uprising/coup within Constantinople.The princes altogether however would likely constitute a significant force.If a non-Macedonian general with a significant number of troops marches on Constantinople,he's likely to be met by a conglomeration of princes and their armies who wouldn't just sit tight to wait and see whether the emperor would survive this rebellion(like many governors in these instances) or simply just submit to the usurper if he takes Constantinople.

It's all about balance.The imperial government should have at least 60% of the territories under their direct control--this would allow the government to maintain a strong central army.The princes as mentioned would function as some sort of limes,with them posted to border regions.To mount a successful coup--you would need the ascquiesence of both the princes and the commanders of the central army--which if it happens indicates that the emperor's definitely an idiot that deserves to be deposed.

The original Roman system may favour getting rid of incompetent emperors,but the biggest threat to the empire wasn't incompetent emperors--it was civil wars that result from army commanders trying to 'correct the empire',which usually devastates the empire far more than incompetent rule and usually allow the empire's enemies to take advantage of it.Besides,a lot of times,the rebellions don't necessarily produce a better emperor.Also,if a significant portion of the empire's ruled by feudal princes,it's likely that the empire would have a more capable military force in the event that the emperor's incompetent--since the armies of the principalities are likely more resistant to the emperor's shenanigans as opposed to the central army.The ERE's army generally deteriorates rapidly in the event of an incompetent emperor than would a feudal army usually would under a feudal system(I seriously think a lot of people underestimate the effectiveness of feudal armies against 'professional' armies like those of the ERE,since feudal armies have repeatedly defeated ERE armies before,most notably the Normans).In the history of the Roman Empire,emperors were forced to do a lot of the campaigning in person simply because if the army was placed in the hands of a successful general,there's a good chance he would be deposed(hence the whole deal with Justinian giving sparse resources to Belisarius even though Belisarius has consistently proved his loyalty).If the chance of a rebellion by the army decreases,it's likely that the emperor can trust his/her generals much more and put larger amounts of resources at their hands.I highly doubt any sane general's gonna rebel if the result is twenty to thirty princes marching on Constantinople each with an army behind his back,on top of the loyalist elements of the Central Army.A good system is far more important than a good leader.If you consistently require a civil war to 'fix' the empire,that means the system's already failed.
 
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Age of Abundance: 1024-1063
Chapter 9: An Age of Abundance


“To some, much was given”
John Kallinikos, in what was viewed as an oblique dig at Basil III


Constantine VIII had spent 62 years as Emperor without actually having tasted power, perfectly content to play second fiddle to his more capable elder brother. This did not change with his formal ascent to the senior Imperial position, as he remained concerned with hunting and feasting with resources from state coffers, even despite his advanced age and gout. The junior Emperor Basil III wielded actual power quite openly despite his supposedly senior grandfather being alive, and was not particularly censured for it. The Empire had always valued strength in its leaders and few could blame a twenty year old from sidelining his old and weak willed grandfather from the scene. Constantine’s death in fact was barely remarked upon by contemporaries, with only the inscription in his sarcophagus in the Church of Holy Apostles informing us that he died in 1028 at the quite advanced age of 66-the last Emperor to have been born before the reconquest of the East. The rotunda in the Church of Holy Apostles was finally filled with the addition of his remains, marking the end of an old era for the Empire.

Basil III in fact was a radical departure from the three preceding soldier-emperors. Even the earliest commentaries of his reign mark him as a reluctant warrior, someone too scarred by witnessing the carnage of Egypt firsthand to think there was much glory to be found in war. Fortunately for him and the Empire-there was no great enemy which needed to be defeated at that time, allowing him to continue to focus on internal affairs of the Empire. Military affairs were delegated to his mentor Alexander Komnenos, who modern revisionists often view as de-facto Emperor in his lifetime-though no contemporary source hints to this effect. The details of Lord Komnenos’ life are sufficiently well studied and I would not discuss the minute details therein (see Anastasios’ biography Slayer of Islam for an excellent treatment of the material), but would rather focus on his relationship with the Emperor and his reforms. Basil III was untested in the field of war unlike his uncle Michael, and having Komnenos as a powerful ally was a way to ensure that the army continued supporting him. He also relied heavily on the advice of the older man and made several changes to the defenses of the Empire based on his ideas-reforms that would long outlive both men.

The Levantine frontier had long been ruled ad-hoc with Dukes appointed by Constantinople controlling local strongmen and urban leaders. This changed in 1026 when the coastal strip was broken up into two themes: Syria in the north and Palestine in the south (Phoenicia would be carved from their middle latter), with administrative control completely passing to the respective strategoi who were also mandated to raise their own thematic armies for defense. The inner region would remain loosely controlled, especially in the south-where Christian tribes were given considerable leeway locally. The situation up north was different, with the borders with Mesopotamia being heavily fortified and a large garrison kept at Kallinikos as a first line of defense for the coast. Beroea and Damascus were passed to the control of Eparches appointed by Constantinople for five year terms, and garrisons were placed there to ensure the safety of the Syrian theme and let trade flow unmolested.

Palestine’s defense was closely tied to that of Egypt. Current evidence indicates that lower Egypt contained a plurality of Copts along with sizeable Melkite (often Coptic or Arabic speaking) and Muslim minorities outside the large cities in the delta (which were majority Greek already). Greek speakers were rather thin on the ground (even if all Melkites were included) for the Empire to be completely comfortable with the arrangement-resulting in a large garrison of fifty thousand Anatolian troops to be stationed in the region for the defense of the Nile delta and the Palestinian frontier. The force was placed under the control of the military prefect of Egypt who was appointed for five year terms by Constantinople (effectively making them the seniormost officer in the tagmata after the Domestic of Schools) with a maximum service of ten year(this regulation was at times violated, but not during Basil III’s reign). The families of the prefect and other officers were however required to live in specially designated quarters in Constantinople as effective hostages to stop the large army from going rogue. A random sampling of soldiers also had their families be sent to these quarters to prevent a revolution from happening from the bottom. It must however be noted that many soldiers willingly sent their families to these quarters as it gave young wives, elderly parents and children a sense of security and reasonably comfortable living at minimal expense for the soldiers (due to economies of scale on account of the Empire running these regions and providing subsidies). The command of the fleet was also placed away from Egypt in Cyprus, in order to prevent a rapid shipment of the forces back to Anatolia if the commander did indeed go rogue.

All this came at considerable expense, but were aided by the fact that Egypt had finally turned revenue positive, and generated a considerable surplus for the Empire (which did not really bother to provide much social service anywhere outside the big cities, aside from Greek schools in some smaller urban centers) despite the massive cost from having to station such large forces there. Taxation and civil administration was placed on the shoulders of a civilian prefect also appointed by Constantinople for five year terms (with each civilian prefect starting service halfway through the term of the millitary prefect to minimize overlap) without possibility of renewal. The civilian prefects during Basil III’s reign required a great deal of support from local muslim elite (often bribed by the Empire to favorable terms) but they also invested quite a bit in creating the base for a future Greek speaking bureaucratic system, which would effectively replace the previous elite by 1080. Their role aside from being the Empire’s taxman was quite minimal, and most prefects ensured that the taxes were sent to Constantinople (which ensured the soldiers were paid) in a timely manner-though reports of corruption and nepotism were rife. Neither prefect was given the power to act against the other-with a military prefect being fired for excess zeal against the corruption of the civilian leader, but the civilian prefect had to meet tax targets set by the Empire or face removal. This resulted in quite predatory taxation, causing some scattered unrest at times -but Egypt was well and truly broken courtesy Basil II and Xiphias, to fully rebel again. The Anatolian transplants were generally the most likely to make trouble since local bureaucrats were often hesitate to overreach by acting against them, but their relatively lower tax rates kept trouble from that quarter relatively low. It was after all quite a fragile arrangement, with local population contraction counteracted with inflow from Anatolia-but it held up during the long peace the Empire enjoyed.

Upper Egypt however was broken up into two themes as it received a much higher influx of Greeks on account of being more heavily depopulated. The threat of Makurians (who had been making noises against persecution of Copts) kept the locals in line, though the strategoi allowed their soldiers to persecute Copts more than what was routinely tolerated in the delta, leading to a net influx of Copts out to Makuria or cities in the delta. Said cities themselves however were mostly contracting rapidly, with only Alexandria growing and Pelusium holding steady. Egypt deurbanized a great deal for the first two centuries of restored Imperial rule, and large numbers of destitute Copts found themselves as cheap labor in the rest of the Mediterranean, with many in fact joining the Imperial navy as sailors and retiring to settlements created by the navy in the virtually empty Aegean islands (alongside many Italians who had fought for the Empire in Egypt). The flow of Greeks to Anatolia had also created a labor crisis in the cities in the Imperial core, which was partly met by the influx of Copts rendered homeless as well. Such populations hellenized rapidly and merged into the mainstream quite fast, and their only traces left now are a few Coptic derived words in the Ionian dialect.

Copts were however not the only group migrating to fill the labor shortage in the Empire. Slavs and Lombards did so in great numbers and also vanished in the mainstream within three generations, leaving only a few loanwords in their wake. The largest group of migrants however were Sicilian muslims who were being similarly being forced to abandon their lands due to exploitative taxation. Their knowledge of Greek on average exceeded that of the other migrants, making them more desired and less persecuted than the other groups in the Aegean cities, despite the differences in religion. The latter however prevented their full assimilation into Aegean society since the Church was less successful in proselytizing in those quarters. The christian migrants were much more susceptible to conversion as they often did not quite understand the subtle religious dividing issues (lacking educated churchmen migrants) and often needed more help with the language. The Sicilians on the other hand were quite aware they belonged to a distinct faith and rebuffed conversion attempts by mixing with the Romaniote Jewish quarters and then slowly having their own districts as numbers increased. They also received support from elite muslim migrants who were recruited by the Empire (first by Stephen of Baghdad in Basil II’s later reign and then by Basil III) for their theoretical knowledge. Several professors in the University of Constantinople in that era had distinctly arab sounding names, and were protected from vigorous churchmen by the Emperor himself. Basil II may have destroyed the Islamic Eastern Mediterranean and had been branded as Shaitan by the smallfolk, but it could not be denied that he had overall laid the foundation for a prosperous urban society in the Aegean-which was the only entity with both the means and the will to support scholars who migrated from both the Latin West and the Islamic world. Several of the muslims were nominal converts for the sake of advancement of their children, but they did aid their former coreligionists from extra Church pressure-especially with the passive Basil III unwilling to create social unrest. This combination of elite scholars and Sicilian immigrants led to the birth of the distinct Rumi culture, which we still see in the New World today.

It was overall a time of plenty for those in the Imperial core, as the Empire generated large tax revenues and plowed it back into the system via army salaries and social projects (though smaller in scale than what Basil II had done in the interregnum between wars). The Emperor himself was even more fiscally conservative as his paternal grandfather, and continued to oversee large surpluses that were stored as reserves for the future instead of being spent in the present. He was even encouraged to lower tax rates for trade to accelerate the pace, leading to a massive increase in Mediterranean commerce as products from the far East flowed into Alexandria to be distributed by merchants of many flavors-Venetian, Genoese, Pisan, Provencal and even a new Greek merchant class whose growth was heavily encouraged by the Emperor. A less savory aspect of this was the growth in the slave trade as enterprising merchants quickly found that Egypt was a convenient base to obtain slaves from East Africa and sell in the Mediterranean markets.

Trade in fact indirectly catalyzed two wars in Basil III’s reign. The court in Constantinople contained many expansionists courtesy the successes of the previous generation, but their ideas were not always in harmony. Some envisioned the reconversion of the Mediterranean into a Roman lake, while others wished for a restoration of Alexander’s Empire. Predictably, the first faction had support from the navy while the latter had the support of the army. The land faction however had their ambitions hobbled by the presence of Kaisar Michael in Mesopotamia. The Kaisar had been quite successful in conquering large chunks of Mesopotamia with his Assyrian army (swelled in ranks by many ambitious young men from the Empire and the Caucasus who wanted real war, not sitting in Alexandria) and strengthening him any further was anathema to most generals, including Alexander Komnenos who belonged to the land party. The sea party thus won by default, and their vision of a inner sea as a Roman hegemony (versus the land faction’s hope of absolute conquest) took precedence. On paper this had mostly been achieved-with the Emperor claiming overlordship over muslims, holding large chunks of Italy and the vassalage of the Slavic Dukes of Diocleia and the Frankish Counts of Provence. In practice however, the bonds were weak and needed to be strengthened. This was achieved by marriage in the case of Provence, with Basil III having married Eleanor of Provence in 1020 under the instructions of Basil II himself, tying Provence to the Empire. The Counts were much more wary of the Kings of France than the Emperor of Constantinople, and gave bloody nose to the Northerners several times with help from Constantinople. This prompted Paris to look to broken Germany instead, and gobble up small states there that lay unguarded in the wake of the collapse of the German Empire.

A coup in Diocleia against the Duke in 1035 gave the Empire the first excuse to go to war. The Domestic of the West Nikepheros Bryennos led a large contingent into the region ostensibly to aid the Duke’s son, but he slowly capitalized on the civil war to annex the whole province in the name of the Emperor. This major success somewhat helped heal the political fallout from Kaisar Michael sacking Baghdad again-with even less men than his father.

A larger issue had arisen by 1040 in the form of Mediterranean piracy. The growth in trade had led to a commensurate increase in piracy, but it was mostly localized over the western and central Mediterranean, where the Empire did not normally interfere. A major slaver raid on Sicily however enraged the mild mannered Basil III enough to issue an ultimatum to the Zirid Emir. The Emir ignored the “fat fool in Constantinople” and a raid on Crete was launched next. It would prove to be a serious miscalculation as the Empire mobilized for large scale war, coordinating with the Italians for attacks all over the coast. Alexander Komnenos himself led the invasion of Cyrenaica, which fell quickly when troops landed from Crete while Constantine Dalassenesos launched an attack from Sicily against main Zirid lands around Carthage, organizing massacres of the locals in order to prevent future trouble. The Zirid state had collapsed before the onslaught in 1042, with Carthage gaining a much larger hinterland and Cyrenaica formally annexed. An Emirate of Tripolitiana was set up as an Imperial vassal in the middle while other North African states watched the developments carefully. Attempts of intervention by the Hammadadids in the west had seen the burning of Saldae and Oran in retribution. The Empire had also used the naval supremacy to seize Tangiers and Septum to force submission from the muslims further west, choosing to retain the latter as an outpost even after the end of the war. The African war overall showed that the Imperial military machine had not atrophied much over the years, and its enemies in general were far too weak to oppose it much. Nearly every coastal settlement found was burned to the ground for reducing future trouble, but very little territory west of Cyrenaica was conquered as Basil himself felt the Empire was slowly reaching its optimal limit. Nonetheless, both factions in the court celebrated as they felt some part of the “Megali idea” had been achieved.

Alexander Komnenos’ death from old age in 1047 however altered the balance as Basil was now completely free to make changes to the army in any manner he saw fit. Komnenos had been a proponent of keeping a large and strong army with good training irrespective of the fiscal cost, but Basil felt that they had too many soldiers considering their superior naval strength. He conceded the point when it came to Egypt, but he simply did not see a reason to continually raise thematic soldiers in west Anatolia and was convinced the Empire could work just as well with a tagma half the size. Not being a complete and utter fool that many would describe him to be in future, he did not fire anyone but only slowed down recruitment and the expensive training mechanisms (earning plaudits from contemporary common soldiers for his kindness). The ageing Emperor was slowly growing concerned about his legacy, and sought to be remembered as a man of learning and culture than a butcher. Kaisar Michael himself was reaching the end of his days, and Basil did not fear his Assyrian cousin Nikepheros particularly strongly to think east Anatolia needed to be defended as strongly. Komnenos would have been horrified to see transfer of troops from Trebizond to Egypt without sufficient replacements arriving, but he was not quite in a position to protest. The lesser strategoi who succeeded the old giants were not opposed to the downsizing, seeing it as less work for them as there was no war acting as a meat-grinder. Basil had also ended the occupation of Rome (done by Kuropaletes Samuel and followed up by Komnenos) by the army, ceding the old Ducatus Romanus as a duchy granted to the papacy for its upkeep-a compensation for Sicilian estates that were never returned. This may have in part been motivated in memory of his late wife Eleanor of Provence who was devoted follower of the Latin rite in her youth, but it did earn Basil deep support from the Latin church which fully accepted him as Roman Emperor from its heart (Tzimiskes having bribed himself into the recognition and Basil II doing so via force). It certainly gave him enough political capital to transfer the sees in Magna Grecia formally to Constantinople, uniting the Greek East effectively under the Imperial Church.

Basil’s personal life was decidedly less happy than the general tone of his reign. His marriage to Eleanor of Provence had only resulted in a single son called Constantine, leading many (including Empress mother Theodora) to call for a divorce. Basil however loved his wife to the bitter end which came from a sudden sickness that took her life in 1042 while accompanying her husband to Sicily. The Emperor was noted to have become more withdrawn than ever, and although he acquiesced to his mother’s wish for a political remarriage, his relationship with his second wife Eudoxia Doukina was much cooler. It however did bear more fruit than the first, with the birth of a son John in 1045 and George in 1052. Constantine however was always his favorite child, and Basil resolved to send John to a seminary to avoid uncomfortable political outcomes like the issue with his uncle.

Basil had however mostly reconciled with Kaisar Michael who had died in 1053 after having successfully conquered Baghdad and having brought most of Mesopotamia under his reign. While the Empire had not allowed Greeks to migrate en-masse to Michael’s domain (choosing to redirect all surplus population to Egypt though ambitious young men did at times find themselves in Mesopotamia if they wanted glory of war, especially with tapering military recruitment), it had not stopped other people from doing so. The Kaisar hated miaphysites with a passion and so few Copts went that way, while the frontier mentality in his duchy made it more hostile to muslims than the remainder of the Empire. Latins however were welcome, and a steady flow went from Italy to Nineveh via Antioch, eager to occupy the new lands opened by the swords of Christ. Few in the Latin west understood the subtle tension between the Emperor and the Kaisar, thinking the Kaisar was merely a functionary of the successful Empire and they could profit from his success (since Latin immigration to Egypt was banned by Basil III in 1030), leading to a stream of destitute folks leaving Italy and Provence for the better home. Some have argued that this blind eye towards the flow of Latins was only possible because of Empress Eleanor pleading with her husband, but most current scholars see it is as a part of a grand strategy that sought to create an unstable ethnic mix in Mesopotamia while weakening Latin powers. Gaul was already starting to be viewed as a sleeping giant, and a lot of investments in Provence were targeted to prevent a Neo-Carolingian Empire from emerging. The consequences of this particular strategy however are well known, irrespective of motivations.

Basil’s final great legacy will be his development of the Egyptian Red sea fleet to explore the Indian Ocean. Trade convoys ran from India to the Empire bearing spices and draining specie, causing some worry about trade imbalance that would only degenerate into panic much later. He had also sought to give the Empire a strong military presence there to combat pirates, with a major expedition against Somali pirates in 1057 being his final military successful achievement, which helped keep the trade routes open. Overall the Empire appeared to do quite well in his reign, with significant economic growth and overall prosperity, allowing the Emperor to cut taxes for the first time in 1060. The reduction in army size was seen merely as a readjustment to a new reality for the sake of efficiency and not criticized heavily contemporarily, despite what Psellos claims.

Two events in 1062 however showed how hollow the military preparedness of the Empire was. Persia was finally conquered by the Seljuk Turks who turned their attention westwards to Mesopotamia. The panicked Duke Nikepheros called his liege for help but Basil simple did not have the means to provide immediate assistance. He used his connections in Provence to hire Norman mercenaries to assist the Mesopotamians but his delay was seen badly by Baghdad. By an even worse stroke of luck, Basil’s heir Constantine died from a hunting accident-leaving a three year old son called Alexander as his only heir. The panicked Emperor pulled his second son from the monastery and crowned the seventeen year old as Emperor John II to keep the succession secure. Nikepheros seized upon the anger of the military on having a priest in training be fostered as heir, and proclaimed himself Emperor in Mesopotamia. He had severely overestimated his own base of support however, as only the strategos of Cappadocia defecting to his side, with the Levant and Egypt sticking with Constantinople-however reluctantly. Basil was now in fully panicking and hastily assembled a ragtag army of green recruits, Norman mercenaries and the Orphans to march to face this challenge, afraid to call upon other troops in fear of a coup. He, John and George set off marching across Anatolia to face their adversaries, as the Seljuks seized Baghdad and drove Nikepheros to Nineveh.

Basil never did reach his destination as the stress of the political situation coupled with his advanced age proved too much for his frail heart. The Emperor fell from his horse less than half mile east of Ancyra never to rise again, a day too late to hear that Nineveh too had fallen and Nikepheros was dead. The Turks however had smelt blood and were headed to Anatolia itself. This horde was not made of summer’s children like Dawd’s and was incredibly well suited for fighting in Anatolia. A desperate John was forced to lead the reluctant army onwards to Armenia to prevent the Turks from moving in. The Cappadocians surrendering did nothing to alter the feeling of gloom that had fallen on the army, and the priestly Emperor struggled to keep morale up as the two armies prepared to face each other just outside the town of Manzikert.

Basil III left behind a deeply contentious legacy-while his economic stewardship was hailed positively, his unilateral disarmament was viewed as suicidal by later historians, especially after the blistering critique of John Kallinikos. His philo-Latin attitude did not win him many supporters either, and he was widely regarded as a failure in the centuries to come.

Basil III was neither of his grandfathers and he was aware as much, choosing to be a mild affable man who was a far cry from what one would expect of the Autocrat of Romans. Unlike other historians however, I will not fall into the trap of blaming him for everything that came after since he was no prophet with a gift of far-sight. He did lead the cause of disarmament, but he did so seeing no other foes in the horizon and for efficiency reasons as he sought to Empire from an expansionist state into a governing one. Seen today as weak, he nonetheless kept the Empire stronger that Trajan’s, pound for pound- and made critical investments in science and mathematics that in all probability paid a higher dividend than all the blood spilt in Manzikert could have ever hoped to achieve otherwise. The majority verdict is likely to remain negative, but I will remain in pressing his case, as I am yet to be convinced that either Michael/Nikepheros or any other general could have done any better. Many alternative histories have been written to excise him out of the succession, but their fantastical results have often little base in reality. The past however is in another realm, and our speculations will not truly reveal if the Empire had a better choice than Basil at that time. I do agree that by the end he was an old man past his time, but the same could be said for many greats-including the grandfather whose name he bore.

ERE-2.png

The Empire prior to Manzikert. Red stripes are regions annexed till 1020 under Turkish occupation/attack.

 
@darthfanta: I'll reply to your points later, just too occupied at this immediate moment.

@all: Thanks for the Turtledove nomination! I did not realize I had so many readers in the first place, which was really very nice! I'd love to hear back from the "silent" readers as well if you do want to share your feelings :)
 
Red stripes are regions annexed till 1020 under Turkish occupation/attack.
Could you clarify this? Do you mean 1120?

Also just out of curiosity, how are the other Komnenoi doing (And did Alexander have heirs)? Both were pretty compentent in their own right in OTL and Isaac overshadowing John didn't prevent John's children from eventually rising up.
 
Could you clarify this? Do you mean 1120?

Also just out of curiosity, how are the other Komnenoi doing (And did Alexander have heirs)? Both were pretty compentent in their own right in OTL and Isaac overshadowing John didn't prevent John's children from eventually rising up.
Nah, I meant 1020- as in the stripes of red describe territories that were part of the Empire in 1020 but are under Turkish occupation come 1064 as the Empire heads to Manzikert. Perhaps I need to rephrase.

The Komnenoi-Alexander had kids, but they are not orphans and so are not going to join the Orphans and win glory there. A large chunk of the family wealth is tied up in trade (because land ceiling laws-in this they are not too unlike other rich families in the Basil III era). They are consequently partisans of the naval lobby (a kid called Basil is currently leading the Euxine fleet) unlike their father (to be fair, the factional divisions only opened up quite late). Isaac and John (alternate ones of course, but Byzantine names lack variety and often follow a pattern so not changing them) were neither particularly close to Alexander nor had they profited much from it. John oversees family finances while Isaac is now a retired strategos (having served in Syria before being forced out over a suspected corruption issue). Isaac has a son called Manuel who was not likely to move high in the military ranks with the scandal, but currently the Empire needs all the help they can get-so we'll see. Alt-Alexios Komnenos is a part of the mercantile branch (the cap on how much land you can own had rather strong unintended consequences) who is currently a young boy accompanying an older family member to India to sell glass.
 
What is keeping the Imperial forces tied down when the Turks invade? Doesn't the Emperor have some elite units stationed in the Capital? Surely there are some closer local forces than hiring Norman mercenaries?
 
What is keeping the Imperial forces tied down when the Turks invade? Doesn't the Emperor have some elite units stationed in the Capital? Surely there are some closer local forces than hiring Norman mercenaries?
If I remember correctly,there should be an army of 30,000-50,000 troops around Constantinople.
 
Any chance we'll get a map with all the other polities around the Empire? Just to visualise all the territorial changes since the POD.
 
I don't quite understand--why is France considered an upcoming/up and running great power?'France',between the 10th century to the early 13th century was even less centralized than the HRE,with the Kings having no authority outside the royal demesne.Much of the time during this period,the Kings of France were busy fighting his vassals rather than trying to expand his kingdom.
 
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George's born in 1052,so he would be an adult in a couple of years' time.It's Basil III's grandson that's three years old.Dude totally jumped the gun here.
Re-read again - yeah, my bad.
I don't quite understand--why is France considered an up and running great power?'France',between the 10th century to the early 13th century was even less centralized than the HRE,with the Kings having no authority outside the royal demesne.Much of the time during this period,the Kings of France were busy fighting his vassals rather than trying to expand his kingdom.
Yes, I'm not sure about the Muslim state in Spain (there is one ITTL, right?), but I pretty sure that there was no kingdom in Western Europe who could reliably muster (and support logistically) more than 25000 men at the time.
 
So why did Basil III make his second son emperor instead of the third?
Because his third was three years old. Child-Emperors tended not to reach adulthood.
George's born in 1052,so he would be an adult in a couple of years' time.It's Basil III's grandson that's three years old.Dude totally jumped the gun here.
George was ten in 1062-not exactly old enough to rule by himself (things didn't go too well for Constantine VII at a similar age). John offers stability by virtue of being an undisputed adult who might have been pulled from the seminary but was second in line for quite a while and trained somewhat accordingly. Plus, George being Basileus means a regency under his mother Eudoxia Doukina which means more Doukai in power-strengthening the army faction too much and very likely resulting in a dead Alexander. John however was a neutral figure who was not tied to either faction and could strike a balance. Basil is also aware that he is not particularly ambitious, and least likely in the family to order his nephew murdered. Between a ten year old who would need a regency for at least four years and a seventeen year old who is a bit timid like his father-it was no contest really.

Besides, Basil always figured that he could change things if they did not go smoothly. Constantine VIII lived to be 66, Theodora to be 76, Kaisar Michael at 70 and Basil II was hale and hearty at 66. He had no reason to believe he would have to go at 62-63 as there were no apparent medical issues (unlike with Constantine VIII). Having a stopgap as insurance was a prudent thing to do, but he did think at the bottom of his heart that he could have Alexander succeed him after ten more years and have John be sent back to the seminary (the latter would not have protested too much as a matter of fact). It did not quite work that way, and the Empire has a pacifist leading it at the worst possible moment.

What is keeping the Imperial forces tied down when the Turks invade? Doesn't the Emperor have some elite units stationed in the Capital? Surely there are some closer local forces than hiring Norman mercenaries?
The closer local forces are needed to hold the Danube line from Magyars/Cumans/Pechenegs. Far bigger priority for Constantinople than Mesopotamia. A lot of men are also tied up in Egypt and Italy, while Syrians are on high alert to play defense-they can hold out against Turks but marching to battle would be suicidal. Depopulating Anatolia so heavily and not recruiting from Egypt has come back to haunt the Empire badly, even without Basil III's downsizing.

It's not all doom and gloom: The elite Orphans are going east with him (with their grand total of 8000 men), as are as many others he scooped up from Constantinople. Basil however is not quite willing to trust thematic strategoi to ally with him. The Cappadocian leader openly defected, and another one can stab him in the back if he relies on them (the OTL example of Doukai in Manzikert shows this is not entirely unfounded paranoia). He thinks the Normans are however smart enough to see they have no local connection, and their best reward would be Constantinopolitan gold-which involves them faithfully serving the Emperor as they have no navy/local connection to otherwise get the money by betrayal. The psyche here has not been scarred by a TTL Catalan Company like incident yet. The Normans for their part are interested in the gold quite a bit.

I'll also note that he was planning to hire Normans for quite a while (for another North African campaign, where he wanted settlers) but the current situation led to a slight change of plans.

Any chance we'll get a map with all the other polities around the Empire? Just to visualise all the territorial changes since the POD.
'fraid not. That one is too much work and would require too much thinking :(

I don't quite understand--why is France considered an up and running great power?'France',between the 10th century to the early 13th century was even less centralized than the HRE,with the Kings having no authority outside the royal demesne.Much of the time during this period,the Kings of France were busy fighting his vassals rather than trying to expand his kingdom.
France is not close to being a great power but the Empire does consider it to be a bigger threat than what we would think it is:
1. Loads of people in general. Yes, it is a decentralized mess-but the Empire is not blind to the potential damage a restored Carolingian Empire can do. Efficiency is less of a worry when you have loads more people to recruit from, considering that the Romans are neither recruiting from Egypt, have depopulated Anatolia and are downsizing their own army.
2. The Provencals had been exaggerating up the power on the French to get more financial support from the Empire. Considering the Empire thought "Allah hu Akbar" was for "God and Aphrodite" down to Constantine VII's time despite all the contact with Arabs, I can totally see them fucking up the intelligence enough to believe it. Sure, the French King turned tail and ran at the first sight of Roman soldiers being sent to help Provencals, but it is not quite as reassuring as the Empire wanted it to be (a chance to win in the field would have probably altered that).
3. French nobles and their Kings have been messing around in borders with Germany since the fall of the Ottonian HRE. Constantinople is starting to think that they want the Imperial title and they don't like it. The HRE itself is a wreck and not an issue, but that can change if a neo-Carolingian Empire emerges. The Ottonians had given the Empire enough grief-that with the Alps in the way for direct Med access. A France-centered Neo-Carolingian Empire could steamroller Provence even with Roman help and directly contest Roman dominance in the Med-a nightmare situation for the Empire.
4. France has actually started centralizing- Constantinople's latest glory has been good advertisement for it's ruling model in the West. It's slow and will never reach Roman levels-but it plays to their fears

TTL historians are also back-projecting (hint: Normans being thought of as French) based on French/Latin meddling in the Empire in the future. There was grudging respect and fear for Franks in the Makedonian times, which has persisted to some extent till the end of Basil II's time. The lack of Arab pressure and Michael being a buffer from Persians had meant the French are the latest boogeyman for the Empire, especially as they see the latter as the only power to long term challenge their Mediterranean hegemony. Ironically it blinded them from the threat an united Persia poses, but Arp Arslan will be glad to remind them about that.
 
Re-read again - yeah, my bad.

Yes, I'm not sure about the Muslim state in Spain (there is one ITTL, right?), but I pretty sure that there was no kingdom in Western Europe who could reliably muster (and support logistically) more than 25000 men at the time.
They can't yet-and Spain is fragmenting, making it less of a threat. The Empire is not afraid that the French will land on the straits, but they do fear that Provence could slip from their orbit and Italy be threatened-especially if there is a neo-Carolingian Empire. Minor nobles brought the previous iteration of Roman Italy down by whittling it away while the Empire was tied up in the East, so they do have a pseudo-good reason to be wary.

Also, I re-iterate a lot of this is back projection by people who either want to say "Basil III was a smart dude who tried to solve the French problem in advance" or "He was a failure/he made it worse by meddling".
 
George was ten in 1062-not exactly old enough to rule by himself (things didn't go too well for Constantine VII at a similar age). John offers stability by virtue of being an undisputed adult who might have been pulled from the seminary but was second in line for quite a while and trained somewhat accordingly. Plus, George being Basileus means a regency under his mother Eudoxia Doukina which means more Doukai in power-strengthening the army faction too much and very likely resulting in a dead Alexander. John however was a neutral figure who was not tied to either faction and could strike a balance. Basil is also aware that he is not particularly ambitious, and least likely in the family to order his nephew murdered. Between a ten year old who would need a regency for at least four years and a seventeen year old who is a bit timid like his father-it was no contest really.

Besides, Basil always figured that he could change things if they did not go smoothly. Constantine VIII lived to be 66, Theodora to be 76, Kaisar Michael at 70 and Basil II was hale and hearty at 66. He had no reason to believe he would have to go at 62-63 as there were no apparent medical issues (unlike with Constantine VIII). Having a stopgap as insurance was a prudent thing to do, but he did think at the bottom of his heart that he could have Alexander succeed him after ten more years and have John be sent back to the seminary (the latter would not have protested too much as a matter of fact). It did not quite work that way, and the Empire has a pacifist leading it at the worst possible moment.
You could make John some Bishop or Patriarch and then make him regent.Nobody's gonna support a priest usurping the throne.There's a strong history of high ranked clergymen serving as regent in the ERE.



France is not close to being a great power but the Empire does consider it to be a bigger threat than what we would think it is:
1. Loads of people in general. Yes, it is a decentralized mess-but the Empire is not blind to the potential damage a restored Carolingian Empire can do. Efficiency is less of a worry when you have loads more people to recruit from, considering that the Romans are neither recruiting from Egypt, have depopulated Anatolia and are downsizing their own army.
2. The Provencals had been exaggerating up the power on the French to get more financial support from the Empire. Considering the Empire thought "Allah hu Akbar" was for "God and Aphrodite" down to Constantine VII's time despite all the contact with Arabs, I can totally see them fucking up the intelligence enough to believe it. Sure, the French King turned tail and ran at the first sight of Roman soldiers being sent to help Provencals, but it is not quite as reassuring as the Empire wanted it to be (a chance to win in the field would have probably altered that).
3. French nobles and their Kings have been messing around in borders with Germany since the fall of the Ottonian HRE. Constantinople is starting to think that they want the Imperial title and they don't like it. The HRE itself is a wreck and not an issue, but that can change if a neo-Carolingian Empire emerges. The Ottonians had given the Empire enough grief-that with the Alps in the way for direct Med access. A France-centered Neo-Carolingian Empire could steamroller Provence even with Roman help and directly contest Roman dominance in the Med-a nightmare situation for the Empire.
4. France has actually started centralizing- Constantinople's latest glory has been good advertisement for it's ruling model in the West. It's slow and will never reach Roman levels-but it plays to their fears

TTL historians are also back-projecting (hint: Normans being thought of as French) based on French/Latin meddling in the Empire in the future. There was grudging respect and fear for Franks in the Makedonian times, which has persisted to some extent till the end of Basil II's time. The lack of Arab pressure and Michael being a buffer from Persians had meant the French are the latest boogeyman for the Empire, especially as they see the latter as the only power to long term challenge their Mediterranean hegemony. Ironically it blinded them from the threat an united Persia poses, but Arp Arslan will be glad to remind them about that.
The point is that the Kings of France at this stage DON'T have what's necessary to centralize.Every lord in France basically wants to rule as a petty king uninterrupted by the guy in Paris.The southerners in particular some themselves as a distinct people from the people in the north.Capetian centralization revolves conquering land adjacent to the Royal demesne from disobedient lords and subsuming them into the royal demesne where the kings have direct control.It's rather unlikely that the kings of France would be attacking the HRE when the king could barely step out of the royal demesne without getting kidnapped by one of his barons.....Apart from the lords bordering the HRE,most French nobles probably won't see the benefit of attacking the HRE.Furthermore,France attacking the HRE might be what's necessary to actually bring it together.And did I mention that the Royal Demesne is ridiculously tiny?
 
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You could make John some Bishop or Patriarch and then make him regent.Nobody's gonna support a priest usurping the throne.There's a strong history of high ranked clergymen serving as regent in the ERE.
Doesn't mean it will end will (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Mystikos). This was however Basil's long term plan (stop being so good at guessing all the details I don't write :p jk), if he lasted another decade and could be sure that Alexander and John got along well enough for this to be viable.

I think I should make it clear that John has no desire to marry and have a family (Im a tad torn between making him asexual and being turned off by the cold relationship between his parents). He is no fan of his mother either way, who tried to mold him to be a perfect heir and replacement for his elder brother Constantine and rebelled against her in every turn. This is partly why Basil sees him as a safe pair of hands in case he does not last long enough for Alexander to be close to being of age.

The point is that the Kings of France at this stage DON'T have what's necessary to centralize.Every lord in France basically wants to rule as a petty king uninterrupted by the guy in Paris.The southerners in particular some themselves as a distinct people from the people in the north.Capetian centralization revolves conquering land adjacent to the Royal demesne from disobedient lords and subsuming them into the royal demesne where the kings have direct control.It's rather unlikely that the kings of France would be attacking the HRE when the king could barely step out of the royal demesne without getting kidnapped by one of his barons.....Apart from the lords bordering the HRE,most French nobles probably won't see the benefit of attacking the HRE.Furthermore,France attacking the HRE might be what's necessary to actually bring it together.And did I mention that the Royal Demesne is ridiculously tiny?
Yes, it seems like my lack of details (stemming from lack of detailed planning about the West in the first place) is posing to be a challenge. I am in no way going to claim that what I am proposing is the most likely solution, only that it is a quite probable series of events:
In OTL Robert the Pious had a claim on Burgundy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_II_of_France) in circa 1002 which was contested by Otto William of HRE, leading to a long war where the French did get the Duchy much too late to be of any use. We have something similar TTL, with a proxy war in Western Europe alongside the last Italian war of Basil II in 1006 (with King of France and the Counts of Provence as de-facto allies of the Empire) against HRE vassals. The second collapse of the Ottonian HRE created a situation where the King was able to take over a lot of Burgundy (with the Provencals grabbing the south) courtesy a strong claim and the German rival being dead in some ditch around Rome. This time, they succeeded in holding onto it and a de-facto enosis between Burgundy and the Kingdom strengthens the latter considerably. It also creates potential flash points between Provence and the Kingdom (the Kingdom thinks they are now bosses over the Counts of Provence, while the Empire and the Counts prefer otherwise) along with creating a situation where the Kings can meddle in the HRE along with the vassals. They are not doing both simultaneously-they can't do so in any reasonable way-but the Counts are wary enough to get closer to the Romans and get help from that quarter.

The big barons (Normandy, Aquitane, Tolouse, Blois) etc are alive and well, still being major players. The King however is stronger than OTL and is slowly trying to centralize (going very slow). Tolouse is also afraid of Provence, and is drawing closer to Paris as insurance. Overall though, the southerners do see themselves as distinct (not that the Romans see the difference), which is partly why Provence can ally with Greeks against Northerners without too much opposition. The Kingdom is not itself a threat, but should a personal union with Aquitane or Normandy happen, the situation changes a lot. This fear is what partly drives the Romans.

Just to be clear, the land of Gaul is seen as the problem more than the Kingdom of France-if these duchies all unite the way of Burgundy, there is a bit of a problem for the Roman lake. Later actions of the Normans also help making the historical threat seem bigger (those Latin bastards from Gaul are making trouble here in the East! We need to keep them contained in the West as much as possible!).
 
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