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

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Keeping the great families focused on trade is an excellent way of keeping the Empire focused on expansion and keeping those pesky Italian states out. Once they get a taste of the riches of the Indian/SEA spice trade will the Dynatoi even want to reclaim their estates over building more red sea ships?
The Roman control over the Red Sea is questionable, and it will be even more tenuous the moment muslims in Egypt and the rest of the Empire understand what exactly a Crusade is. They'll need a sustained military operation in Arabia or seize control of Mesopotamia (thereby having control of the Persian Gulf ports) to actually have a stable trade route. The major investments in the area are actually very, very risky-they have yielded huge dividends so far, but it can go up in smoke fast. It is also much easier to evade taxes when it is trade and not land (they can't quite hide the land, but cooking the books on the other hand....) The Italians also have money to lobby Constantinople to take sides against problematic families (which may fit the Emperor's agenda) or pay Crusaders to ensure they get first dibs on any Mesopotamian ports and cut Egyptian trade out of the loop completely.

The dynatoi may not want to reclaim their exact estates, but they will be buying land like anything once the land ceiling laws disappear (Basils II and III were strongly for these, Ioannes II was neutral, but Giorgios I and Alexandros IV are both firmly in the army faction and this is nowhere close to being the top law for them to enforce). There will be massive lobbying in Constantinople to allow large estates again should the trade routes suffer. The net trade deficit will also be troubling for the Empire, and they need to figure out how to stop specie from vanishing east.

The obvious solution of course is for the dynatoi to set up corporations that will own India/China/Spice Islands and pay the Roman Government to provide military muscle. Good luck with making that happen anytime soon.

I just have this image of the Phillipines being called the Laskarids or the Angelid Archiapeligo :p

Please, let this happen!
I liked the AoM Heraklian Islands :) The Phillipines are an obvious base for dealing with China but the Romans are a long way off from that. I am also not letting the Angeloi anywhere close to the throne (that'll meet the dystopia criteria, but go in a direction I am a tad opposed to). Same with the Laskarids (unfortunately in this case). The Empire has internationalized beyond the old names, and the Makedonians may well be replaced by Suleiman Burji (I mean Solomon Bourtzes) or Roger (I mean, Rogerios) Hauteville :p
OK, the last bit was a bit excessive and tongue in cheek-but the possibilities are endless. Let's not forget Phillip is also a rather Greek name :p
 
I liked the AoM Heraklian Islands :) The Phillipines are an obvious base for dealing with China but the Romans are a long way off from that. I am also not letting the Angeloi anywhere close to the throne (that'll meet the dystopia criteria, but go in a direction I am a tad opposed to). Same with the Laskarids (unfortunately in this case). The Empire has internationalized beyond the old names, and the Makedonians may well be replaced by Suleiman Burji (I mean Solomon Bourtzes) or Roger (I mean, Rogerios) Hauteville :p
OK, the last bit was a bit excessive and tongue in cheek-but the possibilities are endless. Let's not forget Phillip is also a rather Greek name :p
Don't tease me with Neo-Argeads. Don't. That is just mean!
 
How good is this guy?
He has already lived longer than Alexander IV Argead, so doing much better on that front. He is currently 13, and it'll be quite a while before the question of his competence is settled either way. Assuming he turns out to be someone of consequence of course, his half-uncle George might just see him to be too much of a threat and arrange an accident. Or he might just become another Constantine VIII and fade from history ;) Or die from liver cirrhosis in Babylon as a successful crusade leader.

As to what actually happens, you'll have to wait for future updates.
 
So I remembered that I had written a first person vignette set in Basil II's time for the previous iteration of the TL, and it is a piece of writing I am a tad fond of. Copy-pasting it here to see what people think (it has been reworked to be consistent with this version of the TL):

An Anatolian Interlude

Ἀνατολή: The Greek word for East or Sunrise.

June 1022, a hamlet a day's ride east of Smyrna, Roman Empire

Smoke rose from the chimney of a little house far away from the rest of the village, as the first lights of the invincible sun shone on the foremost province of the Roman Empire. The land of the sunrise would soon be bathed in the golden light of the new day, as its inhabitants would rise from their beds to head to the fields without any worry of being mauled by a marauding horde. This region of the Roman Empire had only known peace for the last two centuries, being even spared from the Armenian raids during the last war. People could now afford to live far away from the village center proper if they sought the solitude, secure under the protection of their Basileus. There was no reason for the inhabitants of the village to believe that this day would be any less peaceful than its predecessors.


Until the first yell tore through the calm like a knife.

“You have done what?!” yelled a tall, burly man sitting in the kitchen of the house.

The thin younger man looked pale and nervous, but still firmly spoke “I enlisted, father and I ho---”

“After I explicitly told you not to! What did your mother and uncle think about this?”

“I did not tell them before actually registering with the recruiter, as I knew they would react this way.”

“Any sane person would! And I cannot believe that you would dare go behind my back to try to do this!”

“Well, I have and there is nothing any of you could do to stop it! The law says so!”

The older man stepped forward and it seemed like he was about to strike the younger, who still defiantly stood. A muffled sob came from the other side of the room, where a small woman sat, dabbling her eyes with a piece of cloth. The older man turned to her, his face softening briefly. It hardened again, but he stepped back from the other man, and took a deep breath. It was a while before he spoke again, but his voice was calmer this time.

“Why did you not tell me yesterday?”

The woman was the one to reply this time. “Because we knew you would react like this! I wanted you to have one night of peace after coming back from Egypt.”

True, and the older man was grateful for that. It had however not softened the blow one bit when it finally came.

“Do you realize what you have done?” he said, turning to face the younger man. “What will happen to the fields now? Were you planning to abandon your mother and brothers to till it alone?”

“Uncle spoke with the recruiter, and he agreed that I would only join next year. Stephen will be sixteen then, and he could be the man of the house. That does not matter now that you are back though!”

This was true, and the older man knew that his wife and children would be materially fine even without their eldest. The people were decent hardworking folks and predatory dynatoi had not been able to sink their claws in this region, afraid of what the Basileus might do to them. Yet, that did not change the fact that he had never desired a military career for any of his sons. He briefly considered forgiving the boy, after all he was unlikely to be killed in battle now that the Empire sought peace. But he remembered the younger ones, so willing to follow in the footsteps of their older brother and hardened his heart.

“I won this land through service to the Emperor. You will not inherit any land you refuse to till. You may remain here as our guest till the time comes for you to leave for Istanbul, but you will give up your inheritance then. This shall all go to your brothers who will not be as foolish enough to follow you in your folly.”

The younger man looked like he had expected it, and in fact even looked relieved that it was the worst that could happen.

“That's fair, but the recruiter said that they would give me land in Egypt when I will be done. So this works out better for all of us,” said he, shrugging.

The older man wanted to laugh, tell the naive boy how much tagmata recruiters tended to exaggerate in order to tempt young men to join. But he knew that these stories had not been lies, not with the hordes flooding into Egypt when he was still there. Romania was no longer fighting wars with uncertain rewards but had triumphed over her foes. That had resulted in more fertile land than people to hold it, and so the Empire could afford to dole out large chunks to military recruits without fear of running out in the foreseeable future.

In fact, he darkly thought, that's why they still need a large army. But he forced himself to stop heading in that direction, for it would inevitably remind of him Egypt. Where the boy will probably be sent.

Pent up anger rose within him and he lashed out before realizing it was a bad idea. “You know nothing you fool! You will not be winning any glory or treasure by enlisting, and be merely reduced to a glorified town guard!”

“Why?” the young man said angrily. “Because I am not you? An elite member of the Orphans? The great Peter? I know that you never felt I measured up, and that's why you tried to stop me from joining to avoid sullying your reputation! But guess what, father? I do not care what you think. You are a fine one to talk about leaving the family behind, seeing that you spent most of the last decade in Egypt! We grew up without you, and I dare say that I no longer give a damn about your opinion!”

He wanted to yell back, remind John that they’d be lucky to be a beggar if it was not for him serving in the Orphans. But he could not yell back at the boy, not when memories of scenes from Egypt flooded his head. Not after cutting down so many children of his age, begging food and pleading for mercy. I promised I will not be that man anymore, but I do not trust myself to remain in control.

A decade ago, John ran out of the house to hide in the countryside after being reprimanded. Yet he was the one to now stand his ground, and Peter was the one to leave, hoping that the air would clear his mind enough for a rational discussion.

Before he stepped out of the house, he heard a contrite voice calling back

“Father, I did not mean to-”

“It's fine, you are a man grown and can make your own decisions. We will discuss the details regarding your departure later.”

It was most certainly not fine, not when his son was going to waste his life after so much effort he had put in to prevent that. And lost him in the process, I am a stranger in my own home. He no longer truly had a right to chastise John based on only ties of blood, not when he knew so little about his firstborn. But those dark thoughts did not have to be spoken of in their home, and he wandered about the countryside instead, hoping to calm down.

He looked up to see that his feet had taken him to the village church, and Father Paul was standing outside in the sun. The priest looked at him and smiled, and beckoned him inside. He briefly debated whether it was a good idea to follow or not, but ultimately decided to go ahead. After all, maybe confessing my sins will make God help me forget. Hellfire was a given, he knew---but maybe his remaining days could be a bit more peaceful.


“I had planned to visit yesterday, but thought you would like some time with your wife and children first”, spoke the priest after they were both seated in his chambers.

“I wish you had in fact come along. Might have helped me keep my temper with John”, he said, failing to keep the accusing tone out of his voice.

“I tried Peter, but he chose to run out to the village when I was visiting your wife. It was difficult for me to catch up”, replied the priestly sadly, looking at his feet.

The anger evaporated from him as he remembered that day in Kallinikos, watching helplessly as the soldier smashed Paul’s leg. Now I am blaming him too, after I swore to protect him from harm. “I’m sorry, I should not have-”

“Don’t worry about it, I was quite unhappy about the situation too. Besides, I know that you are on the edge. War does that to you.”

“You know me too well, brother.”

“Well, I have certainly known you longer than anyone else.”

“It was terrifying, it felt like Syria all over again but worse. We were not starving in that blasted city at least, but here in Egypt there were so many hungry people. Children too, you could see their bones even if they were alive, and the smell, the smell of death that filled everything…”

“I thought the situation had improved since the early missteps?”

“It has, after Lord Komnenos took charge from that bastard Xiphias. But it is still terrible. There are hundreds of villages just filled with bones and not a living soul. The newcomers are just trampling on them, taking over their houses to make farms without any regard for those who lived there once.”

“Worse than Syria?”

This he could not honestly say. “Perhaps. Not for my person, but it seemed like that.”

“Good. The Saracens deserve it.”

He looked up into the fire smoldering in his brother's eyes, and hesitated before adding more fuel to it. Had anyone else in the village had said such things, he’d have dared them to actually first kill a man and then repeat those words. But not to his brother, a fellow sufferer of the horrors of Kallinikos.

“Many were Christians though. Heretics, but Christian nonetheless. No different from our parents.”

The priest stood up and walked to the window. “May the lord have mercy on their souls. But it could not be helped.”

Could it not? He had once thought so too, once upon a time. But now he was less sure. Intellectually he understood what the government was trying to do, but he could not bring himself to agree to it.

“For the record, I do agree that killing outside the battlefield is improper, even if it a Saracen”, added Paul. “But criminals receive no mercy.”

“We were criminals too, by that measure,” he whispered, as the memories flooded in again.

Their father had been a prosperous merchant at Kallinikos (then called Ar-Raqqa), a Syrian Christian who straddled the Roman and Islamic worlds while trading between them. He had high hopes for his three sons, believing that the Emir would have to give more power to non-Chalcedonian Christians in order to halt the seemingly inevitable Roman advance. Then, he reasoned that his eldest, John could inherit the business, Paul in the middle could become a soldier and young Peter a priest. But Basil had sacked Baghdad, and there were very few people in Kallinikos prepared to defend the rich merchant from the mob. Peter had been the only one to escape without permanent damage, and Paul had escaped with only the cost of his leg on account of their elder brother John appearing and attacking the soldier “playing” with him. The poor fool had lost his life of course, but his brothers had made it out alive, to hide in the streets. They had begged and stolen food to survive, while desperately trying to find a caravan willing to take two penniless kids to Antioch, where they could hide under the purple cloak of the Empire.

They never got the chance. The Empire came to them before that, with Kallinikos’ doors being forced open by the Emperor’s men. They were too late to save the remaining Christians of the city though, as the Saracens went on one final preemptive strike, fearing what would happen to them once the Romans entered the City. Ironically, the Jewish district proved to be the safest place for people like the brothers who merely wanted to hide and sit out the conflict. Things did not get better after the Roman victory though, despite Paul’s hopeful belief that their property would now be restored to them. They had even tried to petition the Emperor but had been laughed out by the guards before getting anywhere close. There was another riot soon after, and their house burned, along with their final hopes. Food was scarce in the City as the soldiers sucked most of it up, forcing them to steal from the Romans. They were lucky the first two times, but not the third.

“Well, well, well. Seems like we have two little thieves here. Uncircumcised too, trying to steal food from good Christian soldiers risking their lives for such miserable scum. You know what the Saracens do to people like you? Chop off their hands. Now, I might be a faithful follower of Jesus, but I think they had the right idea in these parts. Both your hands go off, and maybe your nuts too, so that filth like you don’t breed and spre-”

The crowd surrounding them suddenly broke apart as a man in deep blue rode by, stopping the soldier in the middle of his rant. Some quick words were spoken in Greek, and their persecutor turned as white as a sheet. Two other men had stepped forth, freed the boys and took them to a small tent. An Aramaic speaker came in soon after with some food, and told the boys to get clean. Apparently they had caught the fancy of the Autocrat of the Romans, and they were ordered to be present in his tent after dinner.

Their first encounter with the Emperor would be one that they would never forget, with those cold blue eyes boring into their heads. Peter’s Greek was too poor to keep up with the Emperor, and Paul, ever the arrogant fool, had refused an interpreter. This however had impressed Basil somehow, although he did not realize it then, helplessly watching his brother try to debate the Emperor over the ethics of starving people stealing food. Paul’s despondent face in the end indicated that their fate was grim, but the Emperor had finally turned to him and asked him what he thought about the whole situation. He did not know what had come over him at that moment, but his lack of sophistication compared to Paul shone through as he muttered in broken Greek that he was not stealing military supplies since he intended to join it in the future. It had been a thought in his mind ever since their family had died, a desire to have enough power to be safe from Saracens, like Basil’s men.

Basil clearly looked taken aback at that statement and asked him in slow, broken Aramaic if he had understood what he was saying. That was the only time Peter had shown defiance to the Emperor, replying in Greek that not only did he understand what his statement, but also felt that he could be a better warrior than those who have hidden from the Saracens in Anatolia for centuries. Paul’s horrified shriek made him realize that he had probably committed a capital offense with his disrespect, but he could not bring himself to care, as he demanded that either the Emperor put him to the sword or give him one.

The Emperor however stood up, and summoned the Aramaic speaking man from earlier, charging him to look after the brothers. He then turned to Peter, and told him that he would have the opportunity to earn their keep if he still wanted to be a soldier. He could even be sent to Constantinople for training if he did well.

“But what of my brother,” he had whispered, suddenly afraid for poor Paul.

Basil turned around and let his gaze linger on Paul for a long while before asking him he if he could run at all. Paul however did not reply, choosing to look down at the carpet. But the Emperor’s next question shocked both of them.

“You are literate, are you not?”

“Yes, Kyrie. But not well in Greek.”

“You’ll learn. For you will also have to do your duty to the Empire. As a man of cloth, not steel like your brother. But your role will be just as important in ending the Saracens”.


Thus he, the designated priest became the soldier and Paul, the chosen warrior became the priest. They had remained Kallinikos for two more weeks, as more and more children were brought in. Finally, they were all sent to Antioch where he met the little Lord Komnenos, and they had all sailed to Lesbos, in an old Church complex that the army had taken over. Lessons in Greek and Bible studies occurred after sunset, while they trained to be soldiers during the day. Paul was the exception on account of his disability, studying with the old priest throughout and assisting the other children with their night lessons. And thus were the Orphans born, to take up the sword for Basileia and Basileus.

For the longest time, he had tried to not forget Syria, believing that it will give him strength to do what was necessary. That resolve had lasted till he had to lead troops into the house of a Syracusian Saracen merchant, to purge the household of all its members. While the rush of battle had seen him through that incident, he had been barely able to function for a week afterwards, haunted by memories. He was only stirred by a reminder that the orders had come straight from the Emperor’s mouth, having been in the room when Basil gave his command. He had wondered how the man who had saved him had turned into a monster who acted the same way as the Saracens, only to realize that there was no difference. It was all a part of the Grand Strategy of the Emperor to restore the Empire to its rightful place in the world. He, Paul, their parents and the victims of Syracuse were only pawns in a century long chess game between the Lords of Constantinople and Mecca.

But he was not ungrateful. He was raised Greek and had married a Greek woman, tying him to the Empire. The ties of being saved from certain death by the Emperor however were far stronger, and he swore that night that he would follow Basil to the end for that alone. Even if the price was his soul, for no cost was too high to finally end this game, which could only happen if one side prevailed. Paul understood that too, leading to his cold pragmatism. But his soul was never at risk. Unlike the Emperor, Peter was not God’s viceregent and could not expect to be treated any different from the murderer he was on judgement day. It would however be enough if his children could be spared that fate.

Except your son will not be, spoke the treasonous voice in his head. He will be a part of the peacekeeping forces in Egypt. I wonder when the next riot will break out…

Paul however interrupted his reverie by turning around and finally choosing to reply back.

“We were. And I would have us executed for that if I were there. But tell me dear brother, did any of the people you put down shown even an iota of the courage you demonstrated to the most powerful man in the world?”

He had to admit, the answer was no. Never an attempt to join, only pleas and assaults. But a recruitment offer had never been made too, and he wondered how many would that have been swayed. Probably not that many. Xiphias wanted to kill as many Egyptians as possible. Even Komnenos wants land for his resettlement plans and so is trying to starve them to death. Any fool could see that.

Their discussion however was broken up by frantic knocking on the door. Must be John, he thought, coming to say sorry, as he headed to open the door, seeing that he was closer to it that Paul.

It was not John however, but a villager by the name of George who was panting, almost as if he had run there.

“Some folks are looking for you”, he told Paul. “Looks rich, and I thought you might like an advance warning, if this was about the recruiter for young John. Although I suppose his father could handle it now”, he added turning to face Peter.

The men in question walked into the space behind that very moment, and Peter’s eyes went as wide as possible. It cannot be, he thought as he prepared to kneel.

“Now, now, I am no longer your officer and you can drop all these formalities”, spoke the old man clad in brown. “I was passing by this village for business, and thought I would drop by to meet your brother, who you mentioned so often in Egypt. I am quite glad to see that they let you return home as well”.

He felt faint in the head, and he almost missed Paul’s whisper

“Business?”

“Oh dear, I see that your brother has not mentioned who I am. My name is John Lekepenos, and I was his superior in the Orphans. I retired a few years ago, and own some warehouses in Constantinople. This is Alexios, a fellow soldier of Peter who is currently serving as my guard”.


“Thank you for leading us here,” he added, turning to George. “Here is some compensation for your trouble”, he said, handling a solidus to the farmer who clearly could not believe his luck. “I think Peter would be able to help me from here”, clearly dismissing George, who quickly vanished, whistling at his good fortune.

“What do you think you are doing?” hissed Peter as soon as George was out of hearing. And why on earth are you playing along, Alexander?

“Visiting your brother. And don’t worry, we do have other men with me at the inn.”

“Not exactly the most inconspicuous of things to do!”

“They think I am just a rich merchant with associates.”

“Well,” Paul noted, stepping into the conversation. “Not if you continue to call it Constantinople instead of Istanbul.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“What truly brings you here, Basileus, Megas Domestikos?”

“I was touring the countryside, and realized that you and Paul live here, prompting me to drop in for a quick chat. Alexander of course volunteered for the unfortunate role of being my guard.”

“I thought you were needed in Constantinople.”

“So did I.”

A heavy silence followed, as the brothers tried to parse the entirety of his his statement. He would not be alive if there was a coup.

“What happened?”, asked Peter, perhaps a bit too roughly. “If you need assistance, I am sure I can raise some people to he-”

“It's not like that. Don’t tell me you have to not felt it already.”

“He has,” Paul noted. “But is unable to come to terms with it.”

“Terms with what?”, Peter snapped, turning to his brother.

But it was the Emperor who replied. “Acknowledged that you are no longer necessary.”

It almost felt as if Basil had stabbed him, but he could not deny the truth in those words.

“You too?”, he whispered, turning to face the man.

“Yes indeed. I thought I was needed in Constantinople after Stephen died, only to see that the government moved on without me. Oh sure, they listen to me, rush to follow my commands and look at me with worshipful eyes. But they do not need me to rule, not like the way they needed since John Tzimiskes died. The cogwheels of the Empire may run smoothly without me, as they did in Egypt under Alexander-although I was too vain to see that.”

“But surely you can find something to do?”

“Do what?,” the Emperor hissed. “I was raised in the Palace as a harmless princeling, to only watch Phokas and Tzimiskes in their glory in envy. I could have perhaps spent all my life idling away thus, if there had been a succession of generals who needed a symbol to legitimize their own power but lasted for too little to actually dispose of me and Constantine. That was not to be , and the Fates demanded that I play this Game of Thrones-my damned lot since the day I was conceived. The only way I could win in the Romania of my youth was through war and by being damn good at it. I did what I had to in order to survive at first, but it is intoxicating you know, being brilliant and well respected for something. Especially when it also meant glory for the Empire. My whole career had been been driven by ambition, with the Empire as foil. I fought even when it might have been in the best interest of Romania to not to, yet I kept on gambling with high stakes, and each victory made me more willing to risk more.”

“ Why not keep gambling then? Be a second Alexander or Trajan?” interjected the priest.

“Because I am weak! I have finally hit a wall. I cannot risk this all now, by moving to the table one more time. The peace and prosperity you see is ephemeral, a house of cards that needs to be carefully supported-not jeopardized by war! That is why I am not in Constantinople but touring the countryside, reminding myself what I will risk if I fight again.”

“That’s not it” , Peter said, something about the Emperor finally becoming clear. “No matter what you want us to believe about us being pawns in some game of your ambition. I know that you love Romania, Basileus! You would not have fought for the poor farmers at a tremendous personal risk otherwise! And even if you might have forgotten, I do remember your sleepless nights in the Palace, trying to find some way to keep the soup kitchens running, even if it meant cutting down on your personal expenses. And you did not do it because you feared God. You did it for the people, no matter what you thought of them.”

“You would of course believe that, puppet. I had you raised well.”

“You want us to believe that, Basileus. But I think I finally know better. How old was Kaisar John when we first met?”

“Yo-you bastard!”

“I saw you at your weakest. You did it for her.”, he said, hitting now that he knew he had the Basileus cornered. “You could not have gone back to Antioch to face her if you let us die that day. That’s why we were spared, and it must also be why you took him in," he noted, pointing at Alexander Komnenos. "Oh, it was an elaborate game you played, trying to act hard and merciless to two scared little children. But you never intended to harm us at all, you would not have given us shelter if you did. You came up with the Orphans afterwards, and that gave you a convenient excuse to save the children without having to appear weak. But I see you now!”

“When did you realize?”, whispered the Emperor, suddenly looking every bit the broken old man that he was.

“Egypt. I was on guard duty the night you heard that the Empress had been injured. I saw you change right before my eyes. Previously you were casting out the enemy to the Saracens, but after that night you ordered to slaughter anything that did not yield.”

He had not been on the site when Cairo fell. But he had heard the stories of the frenzied old Emperor swinging a sword alongside his guards, even when the adversaries had been mere children-boys too young to have facial hair. And he had seen the slaves working on the memorial, while the Emperor’s hard glare fell on their backs, every bit as harsh as the Egyptian sun. Something had broken in the Emperor after his wife was hurt. Previously he was bright as a flame, but it grew too bright, and consumed everything it touched. And now it was dim, barely burning in the blue eyes of the man in front of them.

They had nearly burned too. Many had in fact, been caught up with the murdering frenzy that their Emperor had sanctioned at first in Egypt, knowing that their basest desires could be satisfied by Copt or Muslim without their officers intervening. Some of the officers had indeed been concerned, and Alexander had begged the Emperor to let them rein their men in, only to be spurned. He had learned more about his colleagues than he had cared to, seen how low man could sink. And his hands were just as drenched with blood. Through inaction mostly, but the bloodlust had gotten the better of him at times too.

“All for the Empire” Paul noted. “However base were the motives, it has given us a strong Empire and God shall be grateful for that.”

“Not the reassurance I was looking for,”, Basil smiled weakly. “But thank you nonetheless.”

“Why did you come here if not for absolution?”, wondered the priest.

“That is between me and God, Paul. I appreciate the offer nonetheless. The real reason is that you will be leaving this village soon.”

“For?”

“Kallinikos. As bishop,” spoke Alexander Komnenos for the first time.

“The Megas Domestikos does not handle these rout-”

“For military districts, yes, Kallinikos will be placed under my direct command , to watch over the desert with the Saracens who are allied with us to keep others out. The city will finally be rebuilt in order to conduct operations in both the Levant and Mesopotamia as required. I need a local hand to help with that, one who understands the army and the need of discretion. One who knew Harun’s old city well”, said Alexander Komnenos.

“This, this is an enormous promotion.”

“Hardly. The Emperor was convinced you'll refuse, which is why he tagged along for extra persuasion."

"It is big step up, for one so young as yourself", interjected Basil. "Antioch might even be within reach, if my successor wills. But I have faith in your ability to ensure that the Saracens do not fall into their earlier ways, and to bring the few remaining Mahometans to our side.”


“Successor? But Basileus, you still have years left?”

“Not in Romania.”

“Where then?”

“The East. Andronikos Doukas told me all manner of things about Cathay. That is a worthy goal for one such as myself. And the Empire will not have to suffer for my latest adventure.”

“Kaisar Michael has accepted his new role then?”

“A hereditary Duchy over Mesopotamia and Armenia was all a suspected Nestorian could hope for, despite protests to the contrary. He did associate too much with the Assyrians to be a valid candidate for Constantinople.”

"I know you disagree, Alexander," Basil added, looking at the visibly uncomfortable Lord Komnenos. "But trust me in this, this will give him a safe avenue to release his bloodlust without harm to the Empire. Mesopotamia is big, and it has defeated far greater men than Michael. I would not let it become the graveyard for Romania a second time, but I would not be opposed to using it to achieve my means."


“Romania will not tolerate two crowns.”

“There is no alternative as of now. Which is why your role matters, Paul. I want you to understand that you must secure the loyalty of the tribes to Constantinople, not Nineveh. Kallinikos will be needed to defend Syria and Egypt if Michael or his sons go rogue. All manner of heterodoxy will be tolerated, as long as the desert dwellers understand that service to Romania is service to God. If all goes well, Constantinople will settle this matter in the next few generations.”

Paul nodded. “When will I have to leave?”


“Within a month of the official letter, which may take another three months. The Church will handle the details. Apologies for breaking up your family,” said the Emperor, with actually a slight apologetic tone.

“No worries, we are all breaking up now. Peter’s son is enlisting.”

“Is he?” the Emperor said. “Do you know where he will go?”

Here is your chance. The Vice-regent of God can stop your son, if you would ask him to.

“I do not know. Hopefully not Egypt.”

“I wish him the best.”

“Will you be here for long?”

“Just the night. We intend to be in Trebizond by the month ends. Which reminds me, you promised Alexander that you will treat him to your wife’s cooking if he ever visited you. I think I will take advantage of your proposal.”

“Ex-excuse me? It is plain fare, and certainly not-”

“Any worse than barrack food. Come on, you have seen what I eat.”

That was true. “Will your men be coming?”

“Oh, no. I will not impose them on you.”

He turned to his brother now, “Will you be joining us, Paul?”

“Later perhaps, I have duties I still need to attend to. I’ll visit you at the Inn later, Basileus, should you require anything of me.”

Basil nodded, and then strode to the exit, with Peter rushing to catch up.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------


“I was sorry to hear about Kaisar John,” Peter said, trying to make small talk as they started walking back towards his home. He did not really feel sorry for the spoilt brat who had grown up to be a drunkard, but he was still Basil’s son. Another loss. No parent should have to bury their own child.


“It was expected, he always drank too much. Luckily he had the decency to die before setting Italy aflame with some folly.”

Dismissive as ever. It was an open secret that the Emperor hated both his sons, and Michael’s exile East might have been forced less by the Patriarch than the Autocrat of the Romans himself. And he is probably too stupid to see it, with his hero worship and the honeyed words his father must have sung onto his ears. John at least knew, and despised that fact. Which is why he hated us so much, for we probably got more attention from his father than he ever did.

Still, he had expected the Emperor to have felt some sadness over the death of a child, but he supposed that Basil would not now show any more weakness, after the very public mourning of the Empress. I’d feel terrible if it was my John though…

There was however another matter that was of urgency, which had been gnawing on him as soon as he had left the Church. Why exactly did Basil want Paul? They must have had other alternatives, less heretical ones even….

“Why did you actually come here?”

“To convince Paul to return to Kallinikos. I honestly admit I did not imagine that you’d be back.”

“But why him? You could have probably found better men in Constantinople.”

“Objectively yes, but probably not as loyal.”

“You might not be aware, but he has certain unorthodox views.”

“Regarding separation of Church and state? I am aware, I was warned.”

“And yet you-”

“That played in his favor actually.”


Peter froze. That was not the reply he had expected.

“You hate priests. You despised having to rely on the Alexandrian Patriarch for anything, and ranted about it in private to us.”

“That has not changed at the very least.”

“What did?”

“My personal preferences are irrelevant in face of what the Empire needs.”

“The Empire”, Peter hissed, “does not need more theokratia”.

“I wish you were right on that front, and I would have concurred if it was an ideal world we lived in.”

“The Syrians, Copts and like had been living under the rule of priests for centuries, surely you will agree the right thing to do is free them!”

“And replace it with what? They do not trust the Empire, and Basil wishes to look inwards. Without the constant presence of the Emperor in the East or the threat of Islam, who will tie these people to Constantinople? Certainly not the tax collector”, intejected Alexander.

“So you want the current state of affairs to continue?”

“I wish it was not necessary. But I cannot reverse the first Yarmouk, not even after winning the second.”

He understood what Komnenos meant. Christians in the Caliphate had few secular political figures left after the Empire’s collapse in the face of Islam. We were ruled by churchmen, who exploited us for their corrupt purposes, using God as an excuse, remembering his own early years and the fat priest who sucked his father’s money. Tearing up the Church in the East would be impossible, it was the symbol of free Christian people under the Muslim yoke and was their real basileus. And future Emperors would have even less clout in dealing with them than Basileos Soter, especially if they were as bureaucratic as Basil’s grandson. Slowly replacing it with Orthodoxy on the other hand will be simpler, than trying to end it in one fell swoop. Constantinople has money, and they don’t, and so they will lose a peaceful battle for the souls, especially if they are bribed right to look elsewhere. But for Orthodoxy to compete, it needs to take over the political role of the Church as well. Be the state itself, which is unpalatable for a trained theologer from the Aegean. Hence someone like Paul, who understood what the flock in the East wanted, and could sell it right. Someone to brainwash people into submission.

“So you will damn those people to the darkness of ignorance?”

“For now. Theokratia will end one day, when someone stronger than me faces it.”

“You better hope it does not take over the whole Empire by then.”

“It will not. The Aegean will last, and we will always return as long as we have the Sea.”

He was not convinced. Basil and Komnenos were playing with fire, and he hoped it would not burn them all. However, he realized that the Emperor could not be swayed, and so let it be.

“You are welcome to join me you know,” Basil suddenly said. “To Cathay. It will be very interesting. Lots of things no Roman has seen in centuries.”

“But you do not intend to return.”

“You may if you want to, but I will not-assuming I make it there in the first place. You are young, and may not feel the same way.”

“Plenty of risks along the way. Storms, pirates….”

“Indeed. But I knew some men who said they would follow me to death if it needed be.”

“This is not death though, what you are asking is far worse. Every man I served with would have willingly given their lives for you at Yarmouk, Alexandria or Italy. But to ask them to abandon their lives and families…”

“I know. Hence it is an offer, and not an order. If you think you can make a positive difference here, remain. If on the other hand you are weary of this world that does not need you anymore, you might in fact not mind an adventure. You have almost a year to decide, for the winds will not be right until next year.”

The Emperor’s further observations however drowned out by screams of “Father!” as he saw Stephen and Alexander run towards him, with John hanging a bit behind, looking ashamed. But Peter could not remain angry at his eldest anymore, and beckoned him too, being rewarded by a huge grin and an acceleration in pace.

“Boys, this is Kyrie John Lekepenos. He was my superior officer for many years, and currently works in his family business in Istanbul. With him is my friend Alexios, with whom I had served in Egypt.”

He saw Basil wince from the corner of his eye at the name, and resolved to poke later. The boys however did not disappoint and tried to salute the Emperor, who was visibly struggling to keep a straight face as he returned the gesture.

“It is a delight to meet all of you, and I look forward to meeting the rest of the family as well.”

“John here is the one enlisting,” Peter added, dragging the eldest forward.

“Is that so? Well, I am sure you will have an interesting time in the frontier.”

Alexander, ever the youngest, piped up. “But you were my father’s superior sir, and must have seen glorious things!”

“Indeed, I had been in the army for a while. Since Baghdad as a matter of fact, and I can tell you some interesting stories over food.”

It was strange, Peter thought, that the lowly tax collectors and bureaucrats showed such arrogance, when the Emperor of Romania and the Megas Domestikos laughed and joked with three village boys, sharing tales of glory in the past, without a care about social status. But that had always been the thing that made Basil truly Great, and what had earned Komnenos undying support from his men.

Basil will not be forgotten. Songs in his name will be sung till the end of the last Christian in Romania. The man who saved us all, Basileos Soter. And the People will save his achievements, even when the mighty cannot.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I am confused by something,” said the Emperor as Peter led him back to the inn. “Why do all of you insist on calling it Istanbul? That sounds so terrible and inelegant. Constantinople is the right name”.


Poor man. This is probably something he never learned despite all his time.“Well, the people in this part of the world have not known another City save the Queen of the Cities itself. So we tend to see it as simply The Polis, and call the road eis tin polis, which got bastardized to Istanbul.”

Basil froze. “That's what it means?”

“What did you think it meant?”


An embarrassed chuckle came from the Emperor, as he turned to glare at Alexander Komnenos. “Someone told me many years ago that it was actually Armenian, standing for Islam-bol- as it resisted the Saracens for so long.”

“Uh, the little Armenian I know would suggest it means nothing of that sort.”

“It always felt incongruous, but oh well. Now I see the problem. Seems like we need to invest more into schools these days. I am deeply unsatisfied with what your children are telling me.”

“You are being unrealistic Emperor. Peasants do not need to learn Homer, and be educated in the manner scholars are.”

“Therein lies your mistake. The dynatoi, Saracens and like can take all from you. Your land, money, family, limbs. But as long as you are alive, your education will never leave you. Without education, you will be cheated by moneylenders, merchants, nobles and anyone with it. Knowledge is the most effective form of power there is, which does not care if you are rich or poor, strong or crippled, Roman or barbarian.”

That was very eloquent.

“In another life,” continued the Emperor, “I think I would have preferred to have been like my grandfather. A scholar who lets others bear the sins of the world. Stephen taught me that much at least.”

“But,” argued Peter, “What difference will that name make? Constantinople or Istanbul, the City remains the same.”

“We should not forget our past. Children today learn the name of a filthy backwater in Italy as their identity. Yet, though we may call ourselves Romans, we are in truth the children of Byzantium and Constantinos Megas. The future of Romania will be bleak if our children do not know who we are. Thus, I hope that they will at least be able to properly name the foremost City of their Basileia. Without that, we will crumble to dust when the adversary comes.”

“Yet,”, argued Peter, “names are not everything. By simply calling it ‘The City’, we commoners show a devotion to it that Constantinople does not conjure. Names have power, but we ought not to make dynatoi of them”

And so they continued to banter, heading east towards the Inn, while the sun continued its descent behind them, bathing the City in question with its final lights. Constantinople might be stained red by the stuttering curses of Sol Invictus, but its streets will not be filled with blood and fire today, and hopefully not for the centuries to come either.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Emperor had retired to his room but Lord Komnenos had not, and was looking a bit uncomfortable. Peter had noted with some satisfaction that Komnenos was extremely silent throughout the day, loosening up with only the children. Marriage apparently does that to people.And now he has forgotten how to speak.

"What is it Alexander?"

"You don't want your son to join the army right? And you realize that I have the power to prevent him from-"

"I don't think he will forgive me if that happens. He'll know that someone pulled the strings because of me and resent me for it. Let him go where ever the office decides."

"Nonsense. The least I could do is to have him join my staff at Trebizond. He is quite behind on officer training, by most metrics-and some time with me could help with that."

"Well, I never wanted him to be one. But I suppose that will mean a better lie than just an enlisted grunt. Thank you."

"This is the least I could do. What is the point of having the second most powerful man of the Empire as your former boss if you can't get some favors?"

"Is that what they are calling you now? Congratulations on the marriage by the way."

A blush spread across Alexander's cheeks. "Thank you. Euphrosyne is expecting, and we will hopefully have one more mouth to feed by the end of the year."

"So you are the backup?"

"Unfortunately. The Emperor trusted no other man-not after the examples set by Phokas and Tzimiskes."

"How does it feel to be married to a Porphyrogenita?"

"Tiring. I have a feeling she wanted better for herself-the hero of Yarmouk is a good catch, but not as much as the Emperor of the Romans. She'd be scheming against little Basil if she was attached to someone else."

"I'd watch my back if I were you."

"Trust me, I do-all my servants are trustworthy and know I can outbid her if needs be. We all knew it was a terrible risk, and hence the Emperor ordered me to marry her. There are not enough of their family left, just Theodora, little Basil, Michael's lot who will never inherit, Zoe married to that Provencal Frank and Euphrosine. Leaving any of Constantine's girls unmarried would have been stupid, and the Emperor trusted that I would not move against Basl without just cause."

"Just cause?"

"Both of us have worried that he might have been a bit too affected by Egypt-to a point when he may be reluctant to go to war. Not the finest quality needed in an Emperor of the Romans. Hopefully it will not become an issue."

"And if it does?"

"We will endure. Perhaps not in Syria or Egypt-but Anatolia will stand-till the day Christ returns. Besides, no mortal man can take Istanbul anyways so it is all hypothetical."

"To Istanbul then!"

"To Istanbul! Now, you should stop wasting time with old comrades and head back and spend some time with your family, since you are going to follow the old man across the water. "

"I have not said yes."

"I know you too well. I wish I could go, but this Empire still needs more service from me."

"Farewell then, for now-I hope we meet again."

"I'll try to be in Istanbul when the Emperor leaves. If not, we'll meet in hell anyways."

"Nah, I am sure you'll be further down than I am, Lord Komnenos."

"I am sure I can persuade the devil to drag you there as well, but it wont be for a while now. Too much work needs to be done."

"Indeed. Keep Paul under control will you? His zealotry could get problematic."

"I was planning to. You can sleep well in your ship bunk knowing that much at least."

"Farewell then, Kyrie Komnenos."

"Farewell, Petros."

 
As well written as I remember it. I remember wanting to skim it for the main ideas, then getting interested and reading it properly to the end.
 
I am currently working on the next update, but before that I thought I'd put a family tree up for all the important members of the Imperial family. People without dates are not important enough to merit it. Note that many apparent dead ends on the edges (John and Anna Komnenos, or Zoe's line) are not actually dead ends, but those lines are not too important (for instance, a male Provencal is never getting Constantinople so who gives a fuck?)
family_tree.png


There is something quite obviously disturbing about this family tree, with Alexander being the extreme case of how bad things get.
 
That's a lot of intermarrying between cousins, will this be a trend? I don't think there's much incentive to marry barbarians when there's much more purple blood locally.
 
That's a lot of intermarrying between cousins, will this be a trend? I don't think there's much incentive to marry barbarians when there's much more purple blood locally.
It better not be a trend, if the Macedonians dont want to become Hapsburgs v.0. That being said, I see the appeal of keeping it in the family in the cesspool that is Constantinopolitan politics. If someone like Basil II felt that letting his nieces marry local was too dangerous a move OTL, I doubt they will be that willing to propagate purple blood within the Empire. Barbarians however are a safe bet in the sense that their kids can't come knocking for inheritance (hence why the HRE marriage almost went through OTL and the two Provencal marriages happened TTL).
 
Looks like there should be a lot of future tension between George and Alexander. Seeing as Alexander has Komnenoi blood does he have stronger power base amongst the noble families? Or does George's appetite for war make him more attractive?
 
It better not be a trend, if the Macedonians dont want to become Hapsburgs v.0. That being said, I see the appeal of keeping it in the family in the cesspool that is Constantinopolitan politics. If someone like Basil II felt that letting his nieces marry local was too dangerous a move OTL, I doubt they will be that willing to propagate purple blood within the Empire. Barbarians however are a safe bet in the sense that their kids can't come knocking for inheritance (hence why the HRE marriage almost went through OTL and the two Provencal marriages happened TTL).
Is there a official policy/law of succession within the Empire?
 
Looks like there should be a lot of future tension between George and Alexander. Seeing as Alexander has Komnenoi blood does he have stronger power base amongst the noble families? Or does George's appetite for war make him more attractive?
Well, seeing that they are last Macedonians of the main line yeah. Alexander may have Komnenos (and more importantly, purple) blood from Mom's side, but it does not quite help his case as much as George's Doukas blood does (Basil III's second wife was a Doukas, shite-should have had that up on the tree). The Komnenoi are now a naval party, and the Doukai are a part of the administrative faction-the army support is crucial here, and it is more likely to go to George than those seeking to continue with the general Basil III policy of "ignore the East and build Mare-e-nostrom" (i.e. Komnenoi).

George however lacks an heir aside from Alexander, and so that relationship for now approximates the OTL Alexander III-Constantine VII one that Caracella-Geta for now :)

Is there a official policy/law of succession within the Empire?
Nope, same as ever-to the strongest. In practice, a co-Emperor has a stronger claim (hence Basil III- John II- George I instead of going depth first to Alexander or outright civil war) but if someone does not like it-civil war is a way to go. Power resides where people think it lies, and there have not been many ambiguities so far. But a barbarian will not inherit, purple blood or not-for a general will seize power long before.

At the same time the Macedonians are now 200+ years old, and no one even has had a great grand parent who remembered the time before them. For many common soldiers and farmers, they are the Empire in all the ways it matters. The control of the family over the throne is likely not be challenged barring a major crisis. I think even the OTL Makedonians were in a stage where they could coast, barring the line dying out (as happened) or a major crisis that undermined their influence on the society (as Manzikert in both OTL and TTL could have proven to be). Either that, or an actual Nero esque figure to return back to the old age of fighting for the throne of Caesars.
 
First Crusade: Part I
Chapter 11: The First Crusade (Part I)

Ioannes II’s corpse had scarcely been allowed to cool before it became apparent that his militaristic brother intended to change course rather dramatically. George I was too young to have seen the old Empire of Basil II, but he had an exceedingly high opinion of that era, not unlike many other children who grew up in the shadow of Manzikert. He had nothing but contempt for his father, who in his opinion was only a “fat merchant” and considered his brother to be too much of a pacifist to be a good leader, despite having his heart in the right place. George himself was desperate to get back to the era when the Empire “was good at winning” and surrounded himself with people sharing similar attitudes.

George nonetheless faced two major problems immediately at the start of his reign. Basil III had carefully built a court devoted to checks and balances, with strong administrative, naval and army factions that balanced each other out. This was often done via negative competition and sabotage in the previous era of abundance when it could be afforded, but the demands of the present were different. Despite his faults, John II had been quite successful in navigating the Imperial court and in getting the factions to work somewhat synergystically towards his vision. Nonetheless, there were many who had resented his approach long before he made his resistance to the idea of Holy War clear. The Doukas family (belonging to the bureaucratic faction) in particular were disappointed that their role had been relatively constrained despite John and George’s mother being a Doukas. The majority of the other bureaucrats had not shared these views, and were supportive of John’s commitment to rewarding competence over familial ties. His brother on the other hand rewarded his Doukas uncles with major offices (Constantine Doukas became Megas Doux within a day of the start of George's reign, while other minor Doukai occupied other posts of consequence) soon after coming to power, with other officials quickly discovering that it was in their best interest to cooperate if they did not wish to be shunted out.

The naval faction had been the strongest of the trio in the final years of Basil III, and John II had not disturbed that balance overmuch in his attempt to strengthen the army. Admiral Basil Komnenos (son of Alexander Komnenos and grandson of Constantine VIII) ruled that as his personal fief, often using the resources in Egypt to strengthen his family’s mercantile investments in the Indies. George however grew to see Komnenos as a threat since his grandson Alexander was next in line should anything befall George. Nonetheless Komnenos was far too powerful to be easily replaced, and so the Emperor contented himself with making small cuts to the naval budget to pinch the veteran sailor. George however sought to empower the army faction far more in order to weaken Komnenos on a relative basis, aware that the Admiral could not openly oppose moves to strengthen the army in the dangerous times the Empire faced.

The leadership of the army faction was more of an issue. Alexios Maniakes had been the de-facto spokesman for them before John II, but he was distrusted by many army leaders despite his proven ability to influence John. It was often felt he was working to strengthen the Orphans at the expense of other sectors (not an unfounded accusation, as Manzikert likely did not improve Alexios’ views of other army units) and many dynatoi descendants despised his low, orphan birth. It was the latter that caused George to sideline him early in his reign, as the Emperor was more convinced by blood than merit. This attitude seems extremely disturbing in light of the high social mobility in the preceding centuries, and was condemned by contemporary authors, who were nonetheless more eager to blame the “feudal Latin” Roger Hauteville (a hostage at the court to assure the loyalty of his father, Doux William of Mesopotamia) than actually oppose the Emperor. George himself came from rather distinguished breeding (if one is willing to ignore Basil I’s background) and was castle-raised, making him myopic when it came to seeking talent beyond the well-known families of Constantinople. Having gained the throne less because of merit and more because of birth, he sought to apply those standards to other posts as well, causing the strata of Imperial society to slowly freeze. Social mobility still remained absurdly high to western eyes (many lamentations about “leading men of the Empire being children of beggars” can easily be found in Latin sources), but it declined a great deal compared to before.

George thus sought someone of distinguished breeding to lead the army, perhaps one of the golden line of Basil II himself. Unfortunately, there were no other surviving descendants of Kaisar John save George himself and his thirteen year old nephew Alexander. Kaisar Michael’s youngest son Nikepheros had raised the banner of rebellion in Mesopotamia, causing the loss of the region to the Turks. He was also safely dead and out of the running for any of George’s plans. Michael’s eldest son Christopher however still lived-he had been a hostage at court for long, serving as Basil III’s cup-bearer and eventually becoming strategos of Syria before John II had fired him and sidelined his family after Manzikert (perhaps fearful that he would follow his brother’s example). Christopher was now in his sixties, but his son Andreas was in his prime and was a prime candidate to head George’s army.

The Emperor nonetheless was careful on account of the precedent set by Nikepheros’ rebellion. Christopher however was desperate to ensure his family returned to the good graces of the Emperor and was thus prepared to do anything-including adopting a different name to formally renounce his claim to the Throne. This gave George an idea whose aftermath countless scholars of history had to deal with since. The Imperial clan did not have a family name like many lesser families did, having come to prominence long before such things had become fashionable. George sought to change that, declaring that all those born of the senior line of Basil II (i.e. via Kaisar John) would henceforth be called Porphyrogennetos irrespective of the actual location of birth. It made sense to George as he only cared for blood and not the rituals associated with it, while being secure enough in his position to be able to treat the title Porphyrogennetos with some level of disregard (which Constantine VII for instance could hardly afford). Of course the fact that he and Alexander were the only two Porphyrogennetoi left might have helped him feel far less threatened about trivializing the title.

Christopher’s family on the other hand would be forced to adopt the lesser title “Makedonos” (which we will henceforth refer to as the standard anglicization “Makedon” from now on), reflecting the origins of the dynasty but not offering a route to the purple. Indeed, both Christopher and Andreas were compelled to give statements to the Senate where they renounced all claims to the throne “as long as a single Porphyrogennetos lived”. This was ultimately a mere formality (since blood alone was still not enough to reach the purple, though it was becoming more and more important), but nonetheless significant as it split the Imperial clan apart into two distinct branches and histories. George was glad to appoint Andreas as Megas Domestikos after the split was made official and shower him with honors to sideline the Komnenoi, the other major family to be descended from Porphyrogennetoi.

Having thus formed his own ruling clique, George turned his attention to the matter of the Crusade. John II had stopped it in its tracks by getting a Synod in Constantinople to expressly declare the idea as unchristian. The inner circle of George however was pro-crusade, though for differing reasons. Roger Hauteville wanted to assist his father in carving out a larger fief, Andreas Makedon wanted to cement his position as Megas Domestikos via a successful campaign and Constantine Doukas was more interested in opening up trade routes to the east via Mesopotamian ports that could cut Egypt out completely (his family having done not so well versus the Komnenoi in Egyptian trade). The Greeks in court in fact did not quite expect what a Crusade entailed, imagining nothing more than a few thousand Latin soldiers to be hired for free as cannon fodder. They in fact were more concerned that interest might be low due to John II’s opposition, and were willing to take steps to encourage recruitment. Constantine Doukas in particular found a willing ear in the Venetians and Genoese (who wanted a bigger fraction of the Eastern trade than what the Egypt based merchants were currently letting them access) about the possibility of acquiring friendly Mesopotamian ports. The Italians were willing to invest in a crusade in return for extra favors, and sent out minstrels to help spread tales for recruitment. Nonetheless, they feared it might not be enough, and informed Doukas that the vigor was receding outside of Tolouse (where it had not quite faded on account of Count Raymond having married a daughter to Leo Arslan in his initial burst of piety) as the Empire was perceived to be hostile to Latin adventurism.

George overcompensated in order to reverse his predecessor’s opposition. Patriarch Theodore of Constantinople was against the very idea of a Crusade and so he of course had to go, along with many other churchmen who were replaced with puppets who quickly reversed the Constantinople Synod and brought the official line to harmony with the one preached by Rome. Pope Alexander seized the chance to call an Ecumenical Council in Rome on the matter of Crusades in 1074, and to his shock learned that the Emperor of the Romans himself will be in attendance. George’s presence prevented major theological debates from flaring up, as the Pope was unwilling to oppose the most powerful man in Christendom and spent all his time fawning around the purple boots, letting the Emperor seize command. Despite his other faults, George was an excellent speaker who could conjure a vision of a rich East filled with wonders while simultaneously being occupied by infidels who needed to be taught their place in the world. The King of the Turks, he argued, had been dispossessed as he saw the light of Christ and it was their duty as fellow Christians to restore Leo back to his position. George of course promised to do his part as the leader of Christendom, boasting that he could alone deliver victory. But, he argued-this was not a matter of victories in this world as much as it was for the salvation of the souls in the next world. There were many poor latins who were being forced to sink into sin while many nobles overindulged in un-christian acts. Here was finally a chance for them to save their souls, offered to them via the generosity of the vice-regent of Christ himself.

It must be kept in mind that George addressed important nobles and bishops all over Europe and not just peasants cheering at his words. Yet, his speech had a powerful effect, with Pope Alexander noting that he finally understood how the Caesar’s of old commanded their men. George was perhaps too successful in his attempt, suddenly finding himself swamped with many nobles willing to pledge their (and their serf’s) lives to the cause. Basil Komnenos had flat out informed the Emperor that only twenty thousand men could be transported speedily to Syria for the land route to Mesopotamia, but George was dealing with at least three times the number. Somewhat unnerved, the Emperor delegated the task of organizing of the transportation to Constantine Doukas, who finally arranged for (sequential) transfer of thirty thousand men via sea to Syria to meet up with twenty thousand tagma troops (taken out of Egypt, which had long been quiet) lead by Andreas Makedon-and then march across land to Nineveh for a march down to the Persian Gulf. George had not thrown caution to the winds as he steadfastly opposed any plans of letting a Crusader army march through Anatolia, being worried about the consequences of an ill-organized foreign army going through the Imperial heartland. Naval transport was expensive, but it was a price well worth paying in his opinion-leading to the remnants of the fleet previously used to transport migrants to Egypt be reconscripted into transporting men from Bari to Laodicea. This was of course the fate for the most well trained men, with the riff-raff being convinced to go to the hinterlands of Carthage via Sicily and make a nuisance of themselves there (a number estimated to be closer to ten thousand).

This however was the fate of the organized transfer. As is well known, some peasants had organized themselves into a band under the leadership of a certain Paul the Hermit, and decided to march via land to the fabled east, leaving a large number of jewish corpses in their wake. They made it as far as Hungary before the Magyar King ordered them to turn back, having informed by Constantinople that they would not be allowed into the Empire. The horde settled for attacking the Magyars instead, and were at first routed by the Hungarians. They however instigated a general peasant rebellion that quickly flew beyond control, causing the Empire to send in men from Diocleia and Epirus to assist the Hungarians. It was nothing worse than an unwelcome distraction overall, and Constantinople did not add any further territory from the exercise, but it critically weakened Hungary at that time and reduced the number of men the Empire could spare for the official Crusade.

The Crusaders and their many leaders had assembled in Antioch by then, meeting up with the five thousand Turkish hostages of Manzikert who had followed Leo to the cross. Leo himself was the nominal leader of the whole endeavor, having been crowned as “King of the Turks” by George in 1074. Andreas Makedon however was de-facto leader on account of his unquestioned command over the twenty thousand strong Imperial contingent, but he had to respect the various local leaders of the thirty thousand crusaders that included nobles like Count Raymond of Toulouse who could not be discounted completely. There was also the matter of Doux William Hauteville of Mesopotamia from whose lands they would be operating out of. Overall, it was not a particularly cohesive body, and their march to Nineveh was extremely slow, leaving a large number of Latin bodies in their wake.

The state of the Seljuk Empire however was far worse, though few in Christendom had sensed the extent to which the once mighty state had decayed to. The court at Baghdad only had nominal control over the East where warlords skirmished, paying only lip-service to the figurehead Sultan. Mesopotamia itself proper had many warlords, jousting for power at the weakened court and slowly weakening the edifice. Only the frontier lords of Northern Mesopotamia and Northwest Persia had interest in fighting the Christians, courtesy their border with the Normans. Their number also included some Armenians, whose psyche was still scarred from the massacres of Kaisar Michael and who thus were extremely willing to fight the Empire in any incarnation.

Nonetheless, many of the frontier Mesopotamian Turkish lords were tiring of the skirmish with the Normans, and were quite aware that their means did not simply allow them to face the full Crusader host, at least not without support from an effectively non-existent central government or rival warlords more interested in taking chunks out of their territories. Leo’s presence offered them an honorable exit as they were allowed to keep their lands, titles and lives-in return for what effectively turned out be only a token baptism. Doux William was outraged as this prevented him from actually gaining any more land, and he withdrew from the Crusade in fury. Andreas Makedon however convinced him to keep the supply-lines open by reminding him that his son was a captive in Constantinople and that direct opposition to Emperor George would result in the physical integrity of the hostage being compromised.
 
Here we go... Did George manage to obtain the oaths of vassalage Alexios I got in OTL? I would imagine this "King of the Turks" would be receptive to it.

Also the idea of sending Crusaders to Carthage is pretty clever. Either they kill some of those pesky tribesmen or die in the desert, win win.
 
Here we go... Did George manage to obtain the oaths of vassalage Alexios I got in OTL? I would imagine this "King of the Turks" would be receptive to it.

Also the idea of sending Crusaders to Carthage is pretty clever. Either they kill some of those pesky tribesmen or die in the desert, win win.
Yeah, I didn't say it explicitly as people TTL think it is obvious. The Turkish crown in principle derives its power from the Empire of the Romans, and seeing that Romans make ~40% of the Crusader army (including the actual effective part), they have the means to enforce it. The Latins themselves do not have oaths of direct vassalage to Constantinople (except those who got bumped to Carthage) as that will be odd since George is not directly claiming land-just making a client state. They rather have sworn oaths to Leo-making them second order vassals to the Emperor of the Romans (who is the puppetmaster behind the strings). To be fair, George has little faith in these oaths, and he is more willing to trust his actual numbers on the ground to get desired results than try to use oaths.

Carthage: They are also disturbing a delicate demographic balance in a far flung frontier area, and are making trouble without provocation. It may end well, but it may not either.
 
So the Turkish lords convert, but I imagine the populace remains Muslim, no? And the Turks east of the Zagros still remain Muslim, and still with the fervor of the newly converted. That is bound to have interesting repercussions...

Also, how much of an opposition did George face within the Church regarding the Crusade? Replacing a patriarch and a host of bishops on a theological issue where theological opinion has been pretty definite for over a century (IIRC, Nikephoros Phokas tried to have the soldiers fallen against the Muslims canonized, but the Patriarch was vehemently opposed) is the best way to create a mini-schism within the Church, particularly if Theodore is long-serving and well regarded (and stubborn). Of course, nothing succeeds like success (battlefield victories can easily be transformed into divine sanction), and much depends on the justification of the Patriarch's dismissal, but unless reconciled at some point, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the beginning of a pietistic/pacifistic movement with religious and social overtones, that could merge with alt-Bogomilism or go its own way. Contrary to popular belief, the Byzantine emperors did not always get their way with the Church.
 
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