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

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Heya, quick word to say it's a fun thread and I like your replies. Now I'm gonna dispute this.

I don't see why such an empire would have colonies in Western Africa or in the Cape. ITTL, trade routes would probably go directly to Morocco or Egypt. The need to short circuit Muslims was the drive to establish comptoirs OTL. No need for that here, it takes a lot of resources to establish and maintain yourself in those regions.

I'll wait to see the map but such a ERE would probably get a hold of the Western Indian Ocean trade routes. So probably Sofala/Kilwa, the equivalent of Port Dauphin. Maybe Gujarat? It would make sense.

Also a Byzantine Melakka? OTL the Ottomans established big trade routes with Indonesia in the XVIth century
@Tanc49 : Didn't mean to ignore you, had been busy and never got a chance to reply properly earlier. Really sorry about that.
The African colonies date from much later, and were not done to control Eastern trade. More to acquire natural resources and dump prisoners at one phase in history. The ERE will also have a lot of presence in Indian Ocean trade routes (Melakka is a good possibility, as is the area around OTL Mumbai or some spot in Kerala or Sri Lanka).
 
I'm following too many Byzantine timelines and can't keep them straight. I honestly thought this was Age of Miracles until I came back to doublecheck. Still, I'm looking forward to how Byzantium rationalizes conquering Arabia.
It is very flattering that someone mistook this for AoM for any instant of time, seeing that I view it as the best there is. There are plenty of Byzantine TLs I enjoy as well, and have mixed stuff up in the past ;)

As for Arabia, you'll have to wait a while. 13th-14th Century at least.

What parts do the bizantine control since they lost some lands?
A line from Laodicea to Beroea, followed by a line connecting Beroea to Samosata will be a good approximation.
 
@Tanc49 : Didn't mean to ignore you, had been busy and never got a chance to reply properly earlier. Really sorry about that.
The African colonies date from much later, and were not done to control Eastern trade. More to acquire natural resources and dump prisoners at one phase in history. The ERE will also have a lot of presence in Indian Ocean trade routes (Melakka is a good possibility, as is the area around OTL Mumbai or some spot in Kerala or Sri Lanka).
No worries :)

I still dispute it. South of the Sahara and North of Namibia, Africa is basically one giant cesspool bound on killing any white person trying to step in, at least from a European perspective. Even natural resources can be exploited without domination.

For the prisonners, so, a Madagascar like plan :D ?

I would really believe such an Empire would be facing East. If they want natural resources (i.e: slaves) they can take them from the Swahili Coast, Sofala, Kilwa and co.

If you can, I recommend the very entertaining "Empires of the Mounsoon" about the Indian Ocean and East Africa in particular.

Cheers :)
 
No worries :)

I still dispute it. South of the Sahara and North of Namibia, Africa is basically one giant cesspool bound on killing any white person trying to step in, at least from a European perspective. Even natural resources can be exploited without domination.

For the prisonners, so, a Madagascar like plan :D ?

I would really believe such an Empire would be facing East. If they want natural resources (i.e: slaves) they can take them from the Swahili Coast, Sofala, Kilwa and co.

If you can, I recommend the very entertaining "Empires of the Mounsoon" about the Indian Ocean and East Africa in particular.

Cheers :)
Hmm, fair enough. Client states make more sense, although I think the Romans may want to hold the Cape just to stop Westerners from accessing the East that way. Will definitely ponder on this, thanks for raising it.

What do you means by Madagascar like plans?

I concur about the eastward focus. Romans will get into the slave trade, although not before they make it to Egypt. Thanks for the reading suggestion though, will probably take advantage of it as I reach that phase :)
 
Hmm, fair enough. Client states make more sense, although I think the Romans may want to hold the Cape just to stop Westerners from accessing the East that way. Will definitely ponder on this, thanks for raising it.
Cape is actually good lands but the Cape route is also a very long and dangerous one, which is why the Red Sea route was preferred through history.

Contraband/piracy will most probably emerge from the Swahili Coast, Madagascar or the Arabian Peninsula.

Don't get me wrong, there are things to get in West Africa in the Early period, pepper, slaves and a lot of gold, that end up either in Morocco or Egypt.

What do you means by Madagascar like plans?
Like the German plan to dump the jews in Madagascar
 
Like the German plan to dump the jews in Madagascar
Ah, 'fraid not. Sticking the undesirables in North Italy is a better way to say F U to both them and latins. Expulsion to colonies will not be an accepted ethnic cleansing idea overall.
 
Ah, 'fraid not. Sticking the undesirables in North Italy is a better way to say F U to both them and latins. Expulsion to colonies will not be an accepted ethnic cleansing idea overall.
But your first sentence suggests that Italy is a colony, not a desirable one, and also that its north border is the fixed limit to Imperial expansion, at least in the direction of Europe. Packing the borders with undesirables hardly seems like a shrewd policy to me. They resent being relocated of course, and understand that "F U" is the message they are intended to receive. And there they are, right next to the frontier that is the way out of this regime oppressing them, and where are mustered forces hitherto sufficient to deter Imperial conquerors, for whatever reason. The Alps may deter by virtue of not being worth owning (though you'd think an investment in claiming and pacifying tough terrain that would be tough for your foes to cross if you held it would give them a strategic if not economic value). But other borderlands presumably are such because someone on the other side of them can make it cost-ineffective to try and claim them. Here are legions of people with a grievance, ready to share their tales of woe and resentment to a bunch of "barbarians" with some weapons and some guile, and resentments of their own against the Empire.

It doesn't look astute in the least; more like putting out a welcome mat for invaders and stabbing your own border guards in the back. The only thing stupider would be to invite the potential invaders in yourself and try to bribe them into being the guards with a fraction of the wealth they are supposed to guard.

Romans were often that stupid, or anyway desperate enough to try something that chancy.

What examples can you give of the wisdom of a policy of expelling "undesirables" from a power's heartland, and settling them on a frontier choc-a-bloc with dangerous foreigners?
 
But your first sentence suggests that Italy is a colony, not a desirable one, and also that its north border is the fixed limit to Imperial expansion, at least in the direction of Europe. Packing the borders with undesirables hardly seems like a shrewd policy to me. They resent being relocated of course, and understand that "F U" is the message they are intended to receive. And there they are, right next to the frontier that is the way out of this regime oppressing them, and where are mustered forces hitherto sufficient to deter Imperial conquerors, for whatever reason. The Alps may deter by virtue of not being worth owning (though you'd think an investment in claiming and pacifying tough terrain that would be tough for your foes to cross if you held it would give them a strategic if not economic value). But other borderlands presumably are such because someone on the other side of them can make it cost-ineffective to try and claim them. Here are legions of people with a grievance, ready to share their tales of woe and resentment to a bunch of "barbarians" with some weapons and some guile, and resentments of their own against the Empire.

It doesn't look astute in the least; more like putting out a welcome mat for invaders and stabbing your own border guards in the back. The only thing stupider would be to invite the potential invaders in yourself and try to bribe them into being the guards with a fraction of the wealth they are supposed to guard.

Romans were often that stupid, or anyway desperate enough to try something that chancy.
Yeah, I should have explained the context as I am planning it instead of making that flippant comment.

Some undesirables don't really mind the relocation when the alternative is far worse. The North Italian displacement scheme was less about displacing well rooted families from Anatolia/Egypt/Levantine Cities and more of the Empire trying to control a mass of people desperate to get inside, hoping that the Emperor could protect them from something far worse (the Romans wont be the worst thing in the ME for non-Orthodox at all times, not even close). OTL offers quite a few examples of powers with a rather large body count that can precipitate a migration/refugee crisis like situation, which can force the Empire to either make itself as undesirable by matching the menace, or somehow absorbing these migrants. The latter is a more preferable option in an age of "toleration", but settling them close to co-religionists in Egypt/Levant can also be viewed as asking for trouble (not to mention angry protests from the Greeks about the refugees dragging them to the Dark Ages). North Italy at that time might have the distinct advantage of being non-Greek dominated, and adjacent to powers who are far less tolerant. If you are desperate enough to flee for your lives from Iran/Mesopotamia to Antioch/Anatolia, a creaky voyage to Italy from there is going to be the least of your problems, especially if you are offered land instead of being cramped in camps organized by "benevolent" overlords/slums in cities without a chance of livelihood. It is a F U: telling them you are not worthy to get Levantine/Egyptian land, and a reminder of second class status. But alternatives are a tad limited.

Once in Italy, they may indeed find the Imperial yoke to be a bit less preferable (in a generation at least, as people without the shadow of the crisis take over). However, the thought of having to deal with less tolerant northerners (which will happen the moment the Greek troops leave) will encourage people to rally behind Constantinople if the strategos in question is mildly competent (a minor miracle might be needed for that) and a couple of minor exercises in rebellion/state building resulted in disaster when Latin Knights pay a visit.

A contrived, but close-to-OTL example would be "Sultan" Erdogan pushing Syrian refugees into Greece, if it just so happened if he magically happened to control it while it was mostly non-Turk (not that it is stopping him from using the idea of sending refugees to EU as leverage already). Them being coreligionists help of course, but that is closer to what I am sort of thinking right now.

What examples can you give of the wisdom of a policy of expelling "undesirables" from a power's heartland, and settling them on a frontier choc-a-bloc with dangerous foreigners?
The Ottomans and Spain did not share a land border (except North African client states), but were fighting over the Med for a pretty long time. Didn't really stop the expulsion of the Jews from Spain to the hands of the Osmanli though. Imperfect example, I concede-but that was much closer to being 'displacement forced by Imperial power' than what I had in mind.
 
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Map of the Roman Empire at the time of resignation of Nikepheros Phokas. Red denotes annexations in his reign, purple is status prior to that. The boundaries in the Balkans are in flux, and this map only shows the situation prior to the latest debacle by the Romans.

Changes from OTL relatively slight, except of course for Sicily. OTL the Eastern (Syrian) border hugged the coast more, and the southern frontier was closer to Antioch itself.

I'm writing the next update, and hopefully will be able to upload soon.

EDIT: Aegean Islands are Roman, just got tired of having to fill them all...
 
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969-980: A Crown of Thorns
Chapter 2: A Crown of Thorns

John Tzimiskes’ ascent to the purple was extremely smooth in part because there were few others willing to drink from the poisoned chalice that the Imperial office had become. The Slavic presence in the Balkans did not pose a major threat to the Queen of the Cities, but nonetheless gravely threatened Salonica and the rest of the Balkan territories which the Imperial army lacked the manpower to defend after the disasters at Trajan’s gate and Adrianople. Nikepheros Phokas had thus been compelled to call for reinforcements from the East prior to his resignation and a host of 40,000 mainly consisting of Armenians and Paulicans arrived soon after Tzimiskes himself, led by John’s brother-in-law Bardas Skleros. The transfer however was not without risk as it exposed the Syrian territories of the Empire to Arab raids once more, while the Imperial authorities retreated to their coastal fortresses. Further, the Sicilian gains had not been properly consolidated yet, and could easily be compromised by a Fatimid counter-attack or a German invasion of Apulia and Calabria from the back.

Tzimiskes first move therefore was to prevent either from happening via diplomacy. An ambassador was dispatched to the Fatimid court to try to buy them off, and the Caliph was sufficiently focussed on his project of conquering Egypt to be very receptive to letting Greek Sicily go if the price was right. He likely reasoned that the Empire would be unable to hold their Sicilian lands against a Fatimid Caliphate that had consolidated Egypt and thus believed there was no long term loss involved if he took advantage of the Empire’s weakness by demanding an annual tribute of two thousand pounds of gold a year. Fortunately for Tzimiskes, Constantinople was not short of funds and was able to meet the exorbitant demand without much trouble.

There had been little reason to send an Ambassador to Otto, as the veteran diplomat Liutprand of Cremona had accompanied John to Constantinople in order to choose an Imperial bride for Otto’s heir. Liutprand had failed once earlier to secure the hand of Basil’s sister Anna Porphyrogenita and he simply refused to consider her as an option this time around on account of slights he had received from her mother Theophano. He instead decided to choose a woman who was more closely tied to John in order to ensure Imperial cooperation in Italy. This left him with two candidates, John’s niece Theophano and Helena: the bastard daughter John had fathered on a Syrian camp follower in 964. Helena was the closer biological match, but the Bishop Liutprand had rather uncharitable views regarding bastards, and chose the older Theophano as the match. Later anti-Latin sources often contain lurid accounts of Liutprand’s reasoning in order to highlight his stupidity, but it appears that he made the most reasonable decision possible at the time by choosing a flowered woman descended from the important noble houses of Phokas and Scleros over a five year old of questionable descent.

Having thus secured most of his borders, Tzimiskes rose to meet the Slavic threat and was able to capitalize on the differences between Nicholas and Svetoslav regarding the future of the Bulgarian Empire. Nicholas had his own powerbase in the West Balkans and did not want to play second fiddle to Svetoslav, who wished to make himself Tsar of the Bulgarians by deposing his puppet Boris II. This would however not be possible without the support of Nicholas unless Svetoslav was able to raise his prestige significantly by some other means.

The easiest route to Tsardom appeared to be submission of Tsargrad itself, as Tzimiskes’ many concessions to Germans and Arabs made it appear that the Empire was too weak to offer significant resistance. Therefore in spring of 970, the Rus army along with Pecheneg and Magyar contingents proceeded to march to Constantinople to either conquer the city or force the Patriarch to cede the Tsardom to Svetoslav. Tzimiskes however took to the field and through a series of brilliant feints was able to achieve a crushing victory at Arcadiopolis, capturing Boris II and his brother Roman while Svetoslav had to flee to Dorostolon to attempt to regroup. This however proved unsuccessful, and the fortress was besieged by the Empire for three months before the Rus conceded defeat and agreed to leave Bulgaria to the Empire. The former Tsar of the Bulgars was publicly disinvested of his office in Constantinople, and the entirety of the East Balkans were annexed by the Empire, while Count Nicholas licked his wounds from Ochrid.

Tzimiskes however did not make an attempt to follow up on finishing the Bulgarian conquest. The Fatimids had finally been able to seize Egypt in 971, and he quickly realized that the window of opportunity to make major gains in Asia were fading rapidly with the ascent of the new major Islamic power. He therefore turned east with rapidity and launched a fast campaign along the Levantine coast that went as far as Kaisaria by 973, but was forced to withdraw to Sidon after the Fatimids made their discontent clear and made a veiled threat against Sicily. The two Empires signed the treaty of ‘Eternal Peace’ in 974 at Jerusalem, vowing to preserve status-quo for at least ten years when terms would be renegotiated. There was however a considerable feeling of betrayal by Levantine Christians that John had sold them out, especially on account of the brutal murder of the Jerusalem Patriarch John VII, who was burned at the stake by the Fatimids soon after the treaty for an earlier letter written to Tzimiskes that urged the Emperor to come to the aid of the Christian populace of the city.

Nonetheless the Levantine Christians were merely subjects and thus had no influence on the decision of the High Lords. The Fatimids had been eager to tell John that they had little interest in Mesopotamia in order to move Roman focus there, and Tzimiskes leapt to the bait. In 975, a combined Greek-Armenian-Caucasian army under his leadership marched into Northern Mesopotamia from Edessa, swiftly moving along the Tigris river to sack Nineveh and coming to striking distance of Baghdad itself. The campaign however was aborted when its leader fell deathly sick and was only saved by the ministrations by an Assyrian physician. The army however was able to retreat in good order, and preserve all its loot along with a sliver of territory along the Tigris river where Armenian warlords were placed in charge to rule in the name of the Empire.

John Tzimiskes suspected that he had been poisoned and undertook a bloody purge as soon as he returned to Constantinople in 976. His brother-in-law Bardas Skleros proved to be the main casualty, as Empress Theophano ‘confessed’ that they had been conspiring to steal the throne together. The eunuch Basil Lekepenos was also executed as a conspirator while the Empress was sent into exile at a monastery in an act of mercy, on account of the pleas of her children who were extremely popular with the Constantinopolitan mob.

Tzimiskes however was left in a sticky situation at the end of the whole affair. He had tried to avoid spending long periods of time in Constantinople to build strong connections to court the way Phokas had tried, seeing Phokas’ disconnect from the army as the reason behind his downfall. However he was now forced to acknowledge that he needed to have influence in court beyond the army, seeing how close the plot to his life had come to fruition and recognizing that he could not purge the government completely by force while simultaneously holding back a murderous mob slavishly loyal to the Macedonian dynasty. The simplest approach to resolving the situation was thus via marriage, as Tzimiskes recalled Constantine VII’s daughter Theodora from her monastic exile in order to wed into the ruling dynasty. He simultaneously wed his twelve year old bastard daughter Helena to the eighteen year old Basil II in order to secure the succession for his line even if he failed to have a male heir.

Most contemporary sources agree that the second union had a stormy beginning on account of Basil’s dissolute and womanizing tendencies, along with his desire to not be shackled to a child. Sensing an opportunity, John regaled Basil with stories of his own escapades in the East in his youth, in order to convince his son-in-law to visit the Asian frontier, and thus be removed from his power base in form of the Constantinopolitan mob. To his evident surprise, Basil seemed too willing to gain some military experience and left quickly for Edessa by June 976.

Historians are often quick to point out the stupidity of John for sending Basil east in light of the eventual fate of Nikepheros Phokas after he had sent John himself to deal with the Arabs. However, it is doubtful that John saw any parallels between the two situations. In his mind, he had been a seasoned eastern commander and strategos when he had been sent East and already had a loyal base, while Basil was a spoilt city brat whose only connection to the frontier army was his blood descent from an anti-dynatoi Emperor (Constantine VII) which was unlikely to make him popular on any level. He might have even privately hoped that Basil would anger someone sufficiently to meet an ‘accident’ or be sufficiently depressed by his lack of influence to follow his father’s example to an early grave. No orders for outright murder however were given (perhaps on account of a plea from Helena) but John was clearly not planning to mourn Basil if he did not make it back to the City.

Though very little is known about Basil’s first three years in the East (he later referred to them both his purgatory and an opportunity to become a better Emperor), it is evident that he had been able to prove John wrong by building a power base within the army consisting of the middle ranking officers and the common soldiers. There does not exist a consensus on how this was achieved, but the most accepted view is that the low to middle ranking officers mostly came from the Aegean after Tzimiskes cleaned the Eastern ranks to put his favorites in high office in the Balkans/Italy, and they tended to see Basil as a man closer to their views than the dynatoi and Armenian warlords who constituted the top leadership. The footsoldiers loyalty was most likely purchased with Basil’s funds, especially if he was one-tenth as generous to those in trouble then as he was known to be later in life. However it was achieved, there was ultimately little doubt that the young Emperor was quite popular in the East by 980. The leadership however did not feel too threatened as Basil had not challenged them directly or had inconvenienced them badly, making them lax about reporting the minutiae about the activities of a soft urbanite to John Tzimiskes.

The dynatoi strategoi were thus caught unawares when Basil ordered that they march south, and their protests were quickly silenced at spearpoint as the army moved down the Tigris again, joined by some Armenian warlords and twelve thousand horsemen from the Caucasus sent by Prince David of Tao. The Shia Buyid Emir Khosrau of Baghdad was off to settle a succession dispute in the Persian plateau and the young Emperor wanted to take advantage of the situation, especially on account of the sectarian tension between Khosrau and the Sunni Caliph. Nineveh opened its gates without resistance on account of its Emir being a nominal ally of the Empire, and the Imperial host picked up more men from there, leading to a sixty thousand strong force marching down to Baghdad and meeting minimal resistance in the path. The local Buyid allies had hoped that the army would grind its head against the Baghdad walls and be easy picking on their retreat: an outcome vastly preferable to confronting the army at its peak while the best muslim forces were at Persia with Khosrau.

Their expectations however came to naught because of the Caliph himself, who wanted to use Basil to humiliate Khosrau and secure an independent domain for himself. It might seem strange for the nominal Lord of the House of Islam to seek the alliance of the infidel, but the Caliph was a romantic who had been taken in by stories of earlier tolerance and civility of Romans and the honeyed words preserved in old diplomatic exchanges. Ferdowsi’s Shaitanama goes as far as to say that the Caliph addressed Basil as ‘brother’ and sought his assistance to ‘put down this rogue dog who troubles both of us’. Whether the Caliph opened the doors for his brother is up to conjecture, but some faction did in fact make it easy for the Imperial forces to enter Baghdad.

If that had indeed been organized by the Caliph, it would represent the most singular case of bad judgement in the history of the Abbasid Caliphate. Basil had absolutely no innate desire to help the Caliph and the City contained the wealth he and his men desired most. The sack was an utter bloodbath, with nearly 60,000 civilians being killed on the first day itself and the streets of the city being filled with blood and fire as the Shia loyalists tried to block the advance by setting parts of the City aflame. Attempts by soldiers to rob mosques also resulted in a counter-reaction as extremists tried to burn structures and houses down to deny them to the Christian army. Although some recent historians attribute a large part of the intentional arson to Basil, Ferdowsi and other contemporary historians were unanimous in praising the ‘brave jihadis’ who denied the great wealth of the city to the Roman horde, and also prevented the dishonoring of their sisters in-faith by ‘sending them to the grace of god’. This is not to say that the Imperial army did not commit massacres, but it is extremely hard to draw up comprehensive casualty counts even despite the heavy documentation of the sack. It was estimated that something close to 150,000 people died in total, mostly on account of the fire.

All sources however agree that frustrated by the arson, Basil had the Caliph burned alive in the centre of the City to send a message although it is slightly more controversial as to whether he ordered his soldiers explicitly to not spare any muslims they found-especially women and children. In a later letter to John Tzimiskes, he noted that even many of his soldiers were less than happy with murdering women (after having their way with them, if the soldiers so chose) and children, but Basil justified it with the excuse of demographically maiming their enemy.

After four days of sacking, Basil pulled his soldiers out-along with the majority of the city’s surviving Christians, who clearly realized that their chances were bleak once a Muslim force arrived to avenge this humiliation. Almost every remaining cart, and pack animal in the city was taken out to carry the loot and supplies for the way back, along with maimed muslim men to make up the deficit in labor. Finally, Basil crowned a Jew to be “King” of Baghdad, and had his soldiers set what remained of the City to fire on their way out, moving back north at a much more leisurely pace. It was estimated that each man got five year’s worth of pay in terms of loot despite all the damage from the fire, and were even allowed to take one woman with them.

Unfortunately for Basil, the journey North was far more difficult due to limited amount of supplies and the slower pace. He forcibly acquired most of the crops in the villages in the way, along with nearly all the farm animals. This was not well received and he had to massacre many of the Villagers in order to meet his demands, leading to the epithet Shaitan that Ferdowsi and others would liberally use to describe him. Even so, the requirements were hard to meet, and many of the prisoners from Baghdad were starved to death, with villagers on the way being their replacement. Disturbing reports of cannibalism by the prisoners were also noted by Caucasian soldiers, but Basil chose to ignore such claims, noting that it was not his business as long as the prisoners did their due share of labor.

The brutality of the sack of Baghdad had also served to unify his foes, and a host was organized in Southern Mesopotamia to bring the Emperor to justice. Realizing that the he would be unable to reach Imperial lands in time, Basil turned around and gave battle in Nineveh, just like Heraclius once had in the past. The resulting battle was a great victory for the Empire over a horde of mostly green conscripts, with Basil later attributing it to the courage of the soldiers in defending their ill gotten gains. In any case, the Battle of Nineveh settled all doubts over Basil’s military competency and he never again had to worry about the support of the Army of the East.

However if the victory had made Basil’s reputation golden for his men, his actions afterwards blackened it for his enemies till the end of time. Ninety nine out of every one hundred prisoners of war were blinded, with the hundredth being castrated and then charged to bring his comrades home. Khosrau was said to have died of heart failure after he had heard of the actions of Basil, and his Kingdom did not really survive his death, disintegrating into distinct Mesopotamian and Iranian fragments by 982.

Having annihilated the Caliphate and settled Mesopotamia however, Basil turned to the remaining foes. The treaty of ‘Eternal Peace’ had avoided discussing the fate of the minor emirates in the Levant, and they had slowly been turning to the Fatimids in the hope of profiting as the peace treaty expired. John’s absence had emboldened them, but now many were having second thoughts after hearing about the Baghdad sack, especially as Basil announced that he would personally visit Antioch in 981 and treat with them to receive tribute. The Near East was again heading to a long war between Anatolia and Egypt, and the Emperor in Constantinople watched helplessly as the situation heated up without his consent, finally being able to feel sorry for the trouble he had put Phokas through and feeling the full weight of the sorry crown of thorns.
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Purple: Till Phokas becomes Emperor
Red: Till Tzimiskes becomes Emperor
Blue: End of this update
 
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Great update! How much of Basil eastern campaign has changed from the previous TL? It's similar enough that I don't notice any distinct differences.
Yeah, a large part of that bit was a copy-paste job. Baghdad and Nineveh proceed mostly as earlier, since I could not change them too much without altering their impact. Only a couple of minor changes regarding dates etc, which will have a bigger role to play as the Empire fights the Fatimids but are not terribly relevant atm.
 
Loving these maps after every chapter. If I recall correctly Seljuk should be running around the steppes at this time, are the butterflies enough to get rid of the turkic invasions or will they come anyway? Curious what they can do with a depleted Mesopotamia region.
 
Loving these maps after every chapter. If I recall correctly Seljuk should be running around the steppes at this time, are the butterflies enough to get rid of the turkic invasions or will they come anyway? Curious what they can do with a depleted Mesopotamia region.
The Turkic migration will happen, although whether it will be in the form of a successful invasion is yet to be seen. Mesopotamia will definitely have a big role to play then, as the Romans will no longer really be able to ignore it any more.
 
980-986: War in the East

Chapter 3: A Tale of Two Emperors: The War in the East


It had been apparent to all that the 974 Treaty of Jerusalem between the Empire and the Fatimids did not herald peace but was only a ceasefire to allow both sides to build up strength adequately. On paper, the Empire was the far stronger force on account of the large army it could levy from its densely populated ethnically homogenous Greek Aegean core along with a superior navy. Yet, it also had two other fronts in Italy and Balkans to defend and by 981, suffered from an intrinsic political instability on account of having two powerful Emperors whose objectives were not in complete agreement. This allowed the Fatimids to be a formidable adversary despite their demographic disadvantage and left the military strategists of the Empire worried about defending their recent conquests in the wake of an Egyptian attack. John Tzimiskes in particular had been concerned about his Sicilian legacy, and had long tried to conspire with the Zirids in North Africa who took over the territory abandoned by the Fatimids in favor of Egypt. Though nominally vassals of Fusfat, the Zirids had their own agenda with regards to Sicily and Cyrenaica, and were amenable to stabbing the Fatimids in the back for the right price.

The sack of Baghdad however made it politically impossible for the Zirids to back the Empire in the event of conflict and the Emir sent an angry letter of protest to Constantinople, irking John Tzimiskes who was forced to see years of negotiations fall apart due to a single hot-headed general. Perhaps sympathizing with Phokas’ feelings after his own Syrian campaign, John tried to recall Basil back to Constantinople, only to be informed that the Emperor had no plans of doing so and would rather spend his time settling unfinished business in the Levant. Tzimiskes’ bargaining power was further damaged when his daughter, the Empress Helena vanished from the palace only to reappear in Antioch with her husband. It is not known what John’s feelings were at the time, but he probably steeled himself for civil war at the time and made preparations for fleeing to Italy if the mob got out of control.

The situation did not however deteriorate to that extent. Helena was able to convince her father and her husband to de-escalate, by pointing out their non-overlapping objectives. Basil had little desire to go after Constantinople and instead wanted to campaign in the Levant and Egypt, while John was more concerned about the Balkans and Italy, indicating that the two Emperors could continue with their agendas without unduly stepping on the other’s purple boots. It was not a particularly stable solution, but the difference in age between John and Basil made it quite clear that the former was likely to be dead before the arrangement completely disintegrated. Some credit for this is also attributed to John’s Assyrian physician Leo, who supported the more aggressive Eastern policy pushed by Basil and was able to influence his patron to an extent. Later historians accounted for his hawkishness by equating it with a distaste of muslims that apparently arose from his father being forcibly disinherited of property by an uncle who had converted to Islam and was able to swing the local magistrate to his side. Contemporary historians like Paul of Kallinikos however do not mention such a motive, and I am personally inclined to believe this to be later propaganda by sources pushing a stronger anti-islamic stance which some islamic sources also aggressively picked up in order to justify their ideology.

Nonetheless, Basil was freed from most domestic compulsions by 981, and started focussing on the Levantine Emirates. The expected Fatimid counter-attack however never came: Egypt was still too busy rebuilding her army and the Caliph Al-Aziz felt that Northern Syria was too close to Imperial territory to be successfully severed from the Empire, choosing rather to engage the enemy south once Basil eventually headed to Jerusalem (as noted by the court official Abu Suleiman). While a sound plan by most standards, it was not communicated properly to the Emir at Calinicum (then still called Ar-Raqquah), who panicked on seeing no reinforcements from Egypt and tried to surrender to Basil. Baghdad however was on the minds of many of the local leaders who murdered the Emir and seized control, hoping that Al-Aziz would aid them. In their zeal they also sought to eliminate the fifth column ‘polluting’ their cities, namely the Levantine Christians. The slums of the City contained many expelled from Antioch and Beroea, and it proved easy to direct their wrath against the co-religionists of the Rum, leading a massacre of most of the Christian population. Paul of Callinicum and his brother were one of the few survivors, and his history describes the deaths of their parents and siblings in great detail, partly as a justification for later Imperial policy.

The massacre however led to a powderkeg exploding in the Levant that the short-sighted leaders in Callinicum could not have foreseen. Levantine Christians in general had not been too sad to see the Eastern Roman Empire and it’s oppressive Chalcedonian Church withdraw in the seventh century before the might of the Caliphate, but their lot had been steadily deteriorating since, especially after the centralized Caliphate crumbled and was replaced by petty Emirates often led by short sighted fundamentalists who instituted economically disastrous persecutions. The Church was very much in the pocket of the local rulers as the priests were aware that their political role as leaders of the community would vanish if the Empire returned, but there existed a mercantile middle class which was much more pro-Constantinople. Paul’s father had belonged to this class, and it had been gaining power in the wake of the advances by Phokas and Tzimiskes. Distracted by affairs elsewhere, neither Emperor had put in much effort to persecuting heretics or destroying local power structures, enabling the pro-Constantinople faction to argue more strongly in favor of the Empire. Even the Church was coming around in places, with the Jerusalem Patriarch John VII calling on Tzimiskes to protect their people before the Great Betrayal in the form of the Peace of 974, by which the Levantine Christians were again sold out and the Patriarch was burned alive in retribution. Persecutions had been steadily increasing since then as they were seen as disloyal and a potential fifth column for the Rum (which was not true for the vast majority of the population), but the community was too demoralized in general to do much, aside from a few radicals who hid in the countryside.

Basil’s successes and his evacuation of the Christian population of Baghdad to the Empire however changed the situation, as did his aggressive rhetoric. Basil was in fact able to sell himself successfully as a leader of Christians of any stripe (who were mostly poor peasants) against the evil large landowners (who were mostly muslim) in the coastal territory the Empire already controlled, and was aggressively breaking up large estates with force, leading to many of the radicals joining his ranks. Still, the majority of the community wanted to lay low until the Callinicum massacres made it clear to them that they would soon have to choose a side. Though it was not completely spontaneous in all place and often needed imperial agents to ignite the first spark, most of the Levantine Christian communities were in open rebellion even before Basil had reached Callinicum and had put local muslims to the sword. The most serious of the rebellions were in Kaisaria, where the Empire was even able to land troops and seize the city, but there were few places in Northern Syria where the Empire did not find a ragtag volunteer army waiting to swell its ranks.

The Fatimids now had no choice but to react, but their attempts to seize Kaisaria ended in disaster, forcing them to purchase a large number of slave soldiers from Makuria in order to field a sufficiently large army for keeping discipline. They were in fact quite successful in quelling rebellions in Palestine but faced increasing opposition North as the Empire moved into Phoenicia proper. Both sides however were eager to avoid direct confrontation in order to consolidate their position, and thus engaged in a sophisticated game of cat and mouse, waiting for the right moment to strike. For the Empire it meant training more of the Levantine levies into fighting shape and gain Bedouin raiding allies, while the Fatimids were busy buying slaves and holding on to their Bedouin allies. Those allies in fact were forced to do most of the proxy fighting as Basil waited in Beirut and Al-Aziz plotted in Jerusalem.

It never came, for in early 984 a large number of Syrian refugees attacked Venetian merchants in Alexandria, seeing them as agents of the Empire. The fleeing Venetians however were able to set fire to many of the Fatimid ships in the harbor, severely weakening the Caliphate’s naval position. Angered, the Doge immediately declared war on the Caliphate, and combined Imperial-Venetian fleets started attacking Fatimid ships in the Mediterranean. Gaining the upper hand at sea, the Empire was thus able to seize Kaisaria by the end of 984, leaving Al-Aziz in a precarious situation in Jerusalem. Further gains however were not possible on account of troubles in Italy, which caused a large chunk of the fleet to head west, although a sizeable number was left in Levantine ports.

Forced to recognize that a landing on Sinai would cut him off from Egypt and doom his cause, Al-Aziz left Jerusalem in early 985 to attack Kaisaria, recognizing it as the crucial port for further Imperial attack on Palestine. Recognizing that the city would likely not yield without pressure from the sea as well, the Caliph summoned the remainder of his fleet to challenge the Empire, hoping that that the distractions in the West would leave too few ships in a single port to hold off an attack by the full remaining Caliphate fleet. With Kaisaria at hand, he could hold onto Palestine and then try to negotiate for peace with Tzimiskes himself, who surely would understand that his Empire could not fight multiple wars successfully.

The Caliph was however a step behind in predicting what Basil truly intended to do, for no sooner had his ships tried attempt a landing at the port at Kaisaria did the entire harbor region go up in flames. Fireships had been the only ones left behind by the Emperor, and the sea had been mined with casks of liquid fire which proved to be the doom of another Caliphate. The skeleton crew in the city proper put up a struggle before being put to the sword, but the Caliph knew that he had lost. Egypt could not replace her navy easily, and they were now completely exposed to the Empire at sea. He feared for Alexandria and the other cities in the Delta, knowing what the Empire could now do to them as there was no longer an adequate force left to defend it.

His fears soon came to roost as it became evident that the ships heading west had not actually gone to Italy, but had stopped at Crete, where they met up with a Venetian force and headed to Alexandria. The first city of Hellenistic Egypt had returned to Greek hands again, as did Damietta and Pelusium soon after. Recognizing the chance for an attack on Fusfat, the Caliph rapidly withdrew out of the Levant to Egypt proper, abandoning it completely in order to defend his core lands. The Empire had actually been unable to advance out of the coastal cities yet due to lack of manpower and stiff opposition by both Copts and Muslims, but they were trying to ship in more soldiers and strike at Fusfat itself before the Caliph could return.

It was thus ironic that such a dramatic war would end with a whimper but a western distraction had come that Basil could not ignore any more. John Tzimiskes had died and Constantinople needed a new senior Emperor more than the manpower starved Eastern campaign needed it’s top commander. Though Basil negotiated from an apparent position of strength, both he and the Caliph knew by the end that the Empire could not truly push much further due to the low density of professional tagma troops left, with most of the soldiers on the ground being levantine recruits or thematic troops forced to fight away from home. Therefore, the final terms proved to be quite light for the Caliphate despite its troubles. The treaty of Alexandria in 986 merely stipulated:

  1. The Caliphate was banned from having a navy larger than twenty ships while the Empire promised to defend Fatimid merchants from pirates.
  2. Sinai and all lands east of it were to be ceded to the Empire’s overlordship. This did not however include the Arabian Peninsula, which would remain under Fatimid dominance.
  3. The Fatimids would no longer be paid tribute by the Empire, but would rather need to send twenty ships worth grain to Constantinople in return for naval protection.
  4. Imperial and Venetian merchants would no longer have to pay taxes on eastern goods or local produce.
  5. All Egyptian land would be restored to the Caliphate except for the City of Alexandria which would remain with the Empire.

Overall, despite the anticlimactic ending, the war had been a major success of the Empire, setting it up as the major player in the Levant and opening up the Eastern Mediterranean to an extent unprecedented since the Battle of the Masts. But perhaps most importantly for Basil, it had succeeded in gaining the last remaining relic of the greatest of the Hellenes. Alexandros Megas’ city had finally returned to his heirs, and it would have to be pried back from their dead cold hands if Basil had anything to say about it.

map-1.png

The usual spiel. New shade of blue is Basil's additions.
 
@Vasilas Until much later on,after the Fourth Crusade,the Eastern Romans view the term Hellenes or Greek as an insult.The term is usually used to denigrate East Roman claims of being Roman at all.It's also got some kind of pagan connotation to it.

And wow,Basil went batshit crazy in Baghdad.
 
I would think due to the capture of the holy city and Alexandria Basil's prestige in Christendom is sky high now. How does this affect the Empire's relations with Western Christendom? Since the Great Schism has been butterflied away how does it affect the relations between the two churches?
 
I would think due to the capture of the holy city and Alexandria Basil's prestige in Christendom is sky high now. How does this affect the Empire's relations with Western Christendom? Since the Great Schism has been butterflied away how does it affect the relations between the two churches?
Don't think the schism would be butterflied away.The mutual excommunications of 1054 was the final straw that broke the camel's back.The schism has been developing for centuries.What all of this would mean however would be that the Eastern Church can effectively ignore the Western Church completely whereas IOTL,the Eastern Church can't do so because of the Crusades.

By the way,why did the Copts resist the Empire unlike the other Christians in Levant?
 
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@Vasilas Until much later on,after the Fourth Crusade,the Eastern Romans view the term Hellenes or Greek as an insult.The term is usually used to denigrate East Roman claims of being Roman at all.It's also got some kind of pagan connotation to it.

And wow,Basil went batshit crazy in Baghdad.
@darthfanta : Yup, aware of that ( I was taught Byzantine history by a guy who was obsessed over Laskarids). But this is a 'modern' book and not a contemporary account (notice how many times the 'author' uses the word Roman to describe the Empire in updates, when he is not explicitly talking from an Islamic point by using Rum). In TTL 980s the word Roman and Rum are being used like crazy by everyone east of Italy (and some in the west too). And before this thread follows the trajectory of the polls asking about continuations of Rome, let me make my position very clear: The Byzantine Empire WAS the Roman Empire, period. The Edict of Caracalla alone is sufficient to make that a fact.

That does not however stop me from experimenting with an idea to see what would happen if the 'Byzantines' themselves became willing to abandon the Roman heritage at some point in time. I envision this will go with a sort of Hellenic/Byzantine identity developing and co-existing with the Roman one (like from OTL Fourth Crusade to Lausanne) for a long time, perhaps with some sort of major traumatic event that leads to an intellectual divorce from the west and anti-Latinism. However, come the present day I would not really expect a largely secular Greek educated class to be attached to Caesar and Scipio as much as they are attached to the idea of being Greek, leading to an ideology of 'Byzantinism' developing where they are completely willing to abandon Rome in favor of Constantinople (so to say), to view their Empire as a successor than a continuation. This book is a Byzantinists take on Later Roman History (as said in the Intro) to contrast with works that take a more 'Roman' stance, and I have been playing a lot with it.

That being said, as of 2016 TTL Empire is still officially Basileia ton Rhomaion. Non-Greeks are rather invested in keeping the mirage of multicultural OTL Rome alive over the highly Aegean/Anatolian Greek centric Byzantinist worldview. Leads to interesting politics, to say the least. Would have probably worked better for everyone if they just went with a compromise of 'Roman Empire at Constantinople' or like, but oh well.

As for Baghdad, well a lot of it is because most reliable sources are Islamic, and Shaitanama might give you an idea of how bad the PR is. There is a lot of exaggeration, falsehood (there are theories regarding how OTL Basil never blinded an army of Bulgarians), people using the unrest as a chance to commit crime, fire damage and soldiers not knowing how to properly handle urban warfare mixed with a kernel of truth (joys of writing thread as history book). Basil was too much a man of the people (proto populist?) and his army could at times resemble the Constantinopolitan mob he grew up with than a professional force, especially when he had not exactly figured out the leading thing. He got his act together by Nineveh, and afterwards the core of the Roman army acted professionally (which is why the Fatimids tried to avoid it) but there was plenty of vengeful local riff-raff to make the things go pretty badly for civilians assumed to be members of the opposition.

I would think due to the capture of the holy city and Alexandria Basil's prestige in Christendom is sky high now. How does this affect the Empire's relations with Western Christendom? Since the Great Schism has been butterflied away how does it affect the relations between the two churches?
Tzimiskes was handling it for now, not giving the next update away yet. I broke this up into the eastern and western wars to have a better narrative. Things are definitely better for inter-Church relations (Constantinople has much more power and prestige right now) but politically relations are a mess as ever (more on next update). That being said, volunteer knights had been going to Venice to join the Empire recapture the holy land and had played some role in the battle in Egypt. Most would be re-settled in the inner Levant afterwards as proto-feudal lords to reduce administrative headaches for the Empire which wants the coast over all else.

Don't think the schism would be butterflied away.The mutual excommunications of 1054 was the final straw that broke the camel's back.The schism has been developing for centuries.What all of this would mean however would be that the Eastern Church can effectively ignore the Western Church completely whereas IOTL,the Eastern Church can't do so because of the Crusades.

By the way,why did the Copts resist the Empire unlike the other Christians in Levant?
Formal schism at 1054 is butterflied away, but an overall Greek-Latin schism will happen (inevitable by this TL). Timing is crucial though: if there is no HRE strong enough for an Italian presence (see what happened to OTL Otto's II and III and combine that with a much stronger Eastern Empire) and the Empire is in the South breathing down the Papacy's neck, the Pope will be less likely to go for a full on formal schism before things get really bad (and he can relocate somewhere safe and away from the Med).

I would also not be so certain about the Eastern church completely ignoring the West (though it has a far far stronger hand to play). Rome needs manpower, and it needs it fast.

Copts: I sorta indirectly hinted at it in the TL. They have simply not lost as much as the Levantines. Egypt had been under a centralized power, which despite being under attack late in the TL did not collapse into fragments. As such, the Fatimid government is well aware of the need to keep Copts sufficiently happy to prevent rebellion (a Coptic rebellion would have sunk the Caliphate faster than a rock). This has also been drilled into its people, so that they are more into persecuting Melkites and Chalcedonians like Venetians than target the local population. The thing is, the whose collapse of Levantine society only happened because the Empire had been invading that area for decades (while nothing major happened in Egypt for a long while) and under Phokas/Tzimiskes had an aggressively anti-Muslim policy that caused distrust to grow between the groups leading to the riots etc after Baghdad ignited the powder keg. That strategy would not have worked with the Abbassids who would stabilize it the best they could by bringing in forces from elsewhere and appeasing minorities. Small local Emirates are more dependent on locals than a centralized Empire, and can act unwisely for short term benefits. Egyptian Christians are simply better off, and see no reason to rebel for heretics when their Church is in the pocket of the Caliphs.
 
Seems like the Fatimids are doomed now, the Empire can starve them of trade through control of all the major sea ports in the area before rolling over them. How many years will it take before the Empire recovers and is rolling in revenue?
 
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