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

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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?
I for one am quite happy about this turn of events (especially the capture of Alexandria, yikes). I hope the Empire learns from the uprisings that helped them conquer the Levant and use their control over the Coptic Patriarch to help turn Egypt Roman.
 
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?
Eastern trade yes, but Egypt is still a very major food producer. The Empire is not going to try to choke the flow of grain, and at most would try to ensure they and the Venetians are the ones getting a large share of the pie. Basil is no trade expert though, and so I will not hold my breath. OTL Fatimids focused more on trade than agriculture, but this turn of events would lead to the reverse. Egypt is going to be looking inwards for a while, but is by no means doomed. On the contrary, they now know where to focus (not waste effort in the Levant) and would be able to fight a good defensive war when needed. The Empire also is the weaker power in the Red Sea, and so it has less leverage there (lots of jihadis available from the peninsula to be drafted into the Islamic cause).

It will take the Empire at least a decade or two to properly recover. They have basically ran out of spare tagma troops and are relying heavily on Armenian/Caucasus mercenaries and Levantine conscripts, which is quite a suboptimal solution. Additionally, Basil has far less political capital against Anatolian dynatoi, so no land reform there (expect a massive migration west to Aegean cities as small landowners lose their plots to the wealthy) though he will execute it in some form in the coastal levant (the inner regions mostly getting pseudo-feudal lords). Economic recovery will be very slow (Venice will gain most of the trade profits) despite his-ah- 'fiscal conservatism'.

I for one am quite happy about this turn of events (especially the capture of Alexandria, yikes). I hope the Empire learns from the uprisings that helped them conquer the Levant and use their control over the Coptic Patriarch to help turn Egypt Roman.
I think Alexandria was always a sitting duck for the Empire, even in the dark days of the seventh century. They even took it back after the Islamic conquest of Egypt but could not hold onto it. That, and their later sack of Damietta in the 9th century makes me think that conquering the city was not the problem, it was merely having the manpower and leverage to hold on to it. After the Fatimids lose the Levant, there is nothing really holding the Empire back from seizing Alexandria itself, as the Fatimids really don't have sufficient leverage to apply elsewhere.

I would not hold my breath on the Coptic issue though. Copts fought alongside Muslims against Romans in the actual invasion of Egypt and the Coptic Church is in no hurry to lose its political power over the Copts to the Roman Empire (which will not let that quasi-theocratic millet like system continue, not when Basil is Basileus). Plus the Fatimids have also learned from the Levantine incident, and unlike the Empire, they are actually in a position to appease the Copts and bring them to their side. Central authority in Egypt has to collapse or a madman has to come to power (cough cough, look at Al-Aziz's successor) for the strategy to be workable, as otherwise the Coptic Patriarch will be the new best friend of the Caliph in Fusfat. The Empire's best chances are to latch onto whatever Melkites that remain, and try to find Church leaders who represent people that are not benefiting from the change in policy (Egypt will be seeing massive demographic pressure from Muslims fleeing the Levant, and some social upheaval is likely).

Overall, Copts might back the Empire if they feel their interests will be best served there, but their Church is unlikely to profit from Roman conquest.
 
Any chance that the Komnenoi will rise to prominence? Manuel Erotikos Komnenos had been a strategos under Basil II and with stronger dynatoi all those noble houses should have a greater role to play.
 
Any chance that the Komnenoi will rise to prominence? Manuel Erotikos Komnenos had been a strategos under Basil II and with stronger dynatoi all those noble houses should have a greater role to play.
They will: The author of the 'book' is himself a Komnenos. Thanks for the info btw, I thought the Komnenoi were Vlachs who were only Hellenized deep into Basil's OTL reign and did not realize their earlier role. Will be potentially helpful down the road :)
 
Hi folks, sorry for vanishing. Im hosed with work, and so didn't get to write the next update. However I was recently thinking about the New World, and came up with this short piece about it, in the form of book exerpts. Nothing here is confirmed to be canon yet, but I am thinking this way right now. Let me know what you think.

Vignette: The Empire of Sunset Lands

Excerpts taken from Eternal Empire: Cultural Hegemony of The Byzantine Theokratia

“Byzantine secularists and academics in general tend to be dismissive of the Theocratic era, viewing it as an enormous wasted opportunity-a second dark age that was perhaps even worse than the one wrought by the plague and Islam, as this time the enemy (to modern eyes) came from within and could have easily prevented their familiar world from arising if it was not for the tremendous sacrifices made by the radicals who brought the Patriarchate down by capitalizing on the massive political weakness generated by the ruinous Coptic wars.”

“Yet Theokratia also represented an era when the Byzantine culture was clearly pre-eminent in the entirety of the civilized world…”

“And if we are to truly understand Medieval Byzantine society, the sanitized attitudes prevailing in the Empire post the revolution will be of little assistance.”

“Contrary to popular views, the last relic of Theokratia did not collapse with the failed state pretending to be the ‘Roman Empire of the Far East’[1]. An entire continent of people is proof otherwise, though both Quanstantinye and Constantinopolis are united in their denial of this.”

“Basil II is held up in the eastern shore of the Atlantic as the annihilator of Islam in an almost farcical manner that relies heavily on selective reading of politically motivated works. In practice he can only be credited with finishing the the already crumbling Islamic states in the Eastern Mediterranean…”

“The Muslim Egyptian elite saw it was more to their benefit to cast their lot with Constantinople than to struggle alongside Copts, once the chance was offered. Though viewed in cynical light as a part of a general divide and rule strategy employed by the Empire, it may at time had reflected the simple ground reality of acceptance of ground reality to make Aegyptos profitable again. The success of this project may in fact have convinced the Empire to recruit Islamic scholars of many flavors from all over the East, and settling them in the Aegean to capitalize on their expertise.”

“Levantine muslims were perhaps the worst sufferers of the Crusades. Constantinople enforced complete exclusion of uncontrolled western hordes from it’s Anatolian and Egyptian territory as the destruction of the army under the Edward, King of Albion showed. But even the Emperors had to relent and open up a corridor via Syria to the Mesopotamian Empire, and thus bridge the Latin East with it’s western brethren…”

“The western threat however paled in comparison to what was to come in the form of the steppe hordes. Suddenly the heirs of Basil looked infinitely preferable to any man in Persia compared to those who left pyramids of skulls in their wake.”

“There was nothing to return to for many of the refugees by the time the Peace of Susa had been agreed on. The Empire for its part was always wary of letting large numbers of muslims go east, and strongly encouraged settlement of the Emirate of Rum that John Callinicus founded as a final insult to the Western Church that he had effectively destroyed. Even broken and depopulated Italy however could only accommodate so many, and many remained in the camps of Anatolia and Egypt, waiting for a chance at a better future. They might have been trusted soldiers against the nomadic menace, but certainly not trusted citizens.”

“The elite had always found it easy to merge into the mainstream, especially with the Emperors keeping a tight leash on the Church to prevent forcible conversions. Many in fact did convert, but a large number stayed true to their faith, even in the offshoot communities formed in Constantinople and the Aegean by the Sicilian and Egyptian nobles, bolstered by first Turkish and later Persian elites fleeing from the East. There was little to distinguish them from their neighbors by the fifteenth century: they all spoke Greek, wrote in Greek and could not say or write the flimsiest bit of Arabic. Their sermons were held in the common tongue of the Empire as they proclaimed their devotion to Theos. Even iconoclasm was abandoned for the most part, as the last great mosaics surviving from that era show, as does the John IV Greek Koran. They in fact had also bankrolled large parts of John Callinicus’ campaigns, for which they were amply rewarded.”

“It has also been conjectured that Abraham of Smyrna, the fourth of the Six Tyrants was originally a muslim though he had converted before assuming the purple. The extremely effective damnatio memoriae makes it difficult to confirm this (or any major detail about the other Tyrants), but it could have been used by Matthiaos to pave the way for Theokratia, especially since his reign corresponded with a massive spike in deaths from the plague.”

“Nonetheless, the first years of the theocratic government were quiet, aside from highly discriminatory taxation. Islam would have been relegated to a minority status closer to that Judaism had this policy continued for long. Sevastopolis however made it politically untenable.”

“The rise of John Constantine Palaiologos was inevitable after Sevastopolis. The son of the ill-fated strategos of Mesopotamia at the time of the incident, he became a rallying point for the others orphaned by that disaster but soon emerged as a force in his own right. A bishop at the age of twenty three, he exerted enormous influence in the final days of Patriarch Andrew’s administration and forced through extremely large increases in head tax that made it essentially impossible for muslims to have children. He also contributed to the draconian enforcement of anti-muslim laws in general in his time as head of intelligence and finance minister in Patriarch Mark’s reign, culminating in targeted massacres of wealthy muslims, arson and the systematic destruction of Islamic businesses in Constantinople in the ‘Night of a Thousand Stars’. His unanimous election as Patriarch at the age of forty was immediately followed by the conversion of the Emir of Rome, who by then was completely reliant on the Byzantine army to fend off Latin Christendom.”

“Constantine however did not start with a bloody purge, but instead sought out forced deportations and absurd tax rates to make migration logical. Nearly all the muslims in the Aegean left for Spain in the 1440-1450 period, seeing no hope in the Theokratic government. Greek speaking elites from Egypt and the Levant soon followed, leaving only peasants in villages whose location was known to every tax-man. This single act of mercy by Constantine alone preserved Byzantine Islam, as it would have otherwise disappeared alongside its practitioners in the Empire in the Final Solution.”

“Palaiologos’s flair for drama caused him to delay the announcement till the 6th of April in 1453, when he announced from Alexandria that practice of Islam was hence forbidden the Empire under the pain of death, unleashing the entire military and security apparatus of the Empire against the few that remained. Constantine himself had greater plans, as he ordered the Egyptian forces to march to Arabia. On 29th May 1453, the Patriarch walked into Mecca surrounded by corpses alone.”

'A day will come when sacred Troy shall perish,

And Priam and his people shall be slain.'
J. Constantine Palaiologos on facing the Black Stone in Mecca, channeling Scipio Aemilianus, as recorded by Eduard Gieselbert.”

“Islam was finished in the Byzantine Empire by the time the sculptors had carved the stone into infamous statue of Christ as The Emperor that stands in Hagia Sophia today. But Byzantine Islam was not yet done, surviving in refugee camps in Africa and cities in Spain.”

“The Spanish Caliph had first welcomed this migration of skilled elites, but this joy quickly turned to suspicion as it became apparent that too many of the migrants bore him little loyalty and considered themselves true Romans fleeing persecution--a status not unlike that of early Christianity in the Roman Empire. Indeed, too many of the elites felt that they had been cheated by the Church hierarchy and not the rest of the Empire. Yahya of Salonica for instance mentions his neighbors paying his father a fair price for their property and giving him and his siblings toys as they were about to flee west. The heavily persecuted low skilled migrants from Egypt and Sicily to Africa were entirely another matter, but they were not the sort of subjects the Spanish Caliphate desired.”

“The questionable loyalty of the ‘Rumi’ made their status problematic as Palaiologos moved to a state of total war against Spain, attacking over the Pyrenees with Provencal hosts while sending the core Army and Navy marching across North Africa. Quite a few were executed before the Caliph decided to use their expert naval skills to obtain timber, as otherwise there would be no fighting the Byzantine Navy that had already began attacking the Mediterranean ports. The blockade had also made access to Indian and Chinese imports impossible, forcing exploration of routes about Africa. Suicidal affects to circumnavigate Africa was thus also a domain left for the Rumi, as there was limited scope of damage there.”

“It was under these circumstances that Esa of Rhodes landed upon the New World, by chance after being blown off from an attempt to solicit help from West African powers.”

“ A lesser man could have easily seen this merely as a chance to win favor from the court. But Isa was no lesser man and his brain saw this land as ἡ γῆ τῆς ἐπαγγελίας -a promised land given by God to the Rumi.”

“The Caliphs were in fact overjoyed to have land to expel their Christian and Rumi population unto and still derive economic benefit from them, which expulsion into Roman lands would not have led to.”

“They in their ignorance could hardly have foreseen a time when the Essenes would outnumber them and simply refuse to assist them any more, convinced that attempts to counter the Romans in the Old World was futile. The last of the Spaniards were thus compelled to flee over the sea to the land of their former servants, where they were received with as much honor as was their due. The Mediterranean was once again united by the Empire at Constantinople, but the Essenes did not care as much as they had found their own promised land.”

“Eppagenion in fact became a place for political exiles of Theokratia to flee to, where they were eagerly received by the Greek court. Nea Constantinople was still small, and any attempt to civilize the barbarians were eagerly accepted.”

“It is difficult to characterize the form of Islam practiced by the early Essenes. They viewed the early Caliphates with the contempt typical of their Christian counterparts, viewing it as a catastrophe that had stopped Heraclius from accepting the one true faith and creating an eternal Empire. While it is certain that a lot of the anti-Arab propaganda was employed merely to keep that minority in check, it cannot be denied that the Essenes viewed themselves fundamentally as Romans who believed in Islam. To them Mahomet was sent to correct the message of Christ that had been misinterpreted by the Romans to view him as God’s son: but ultimate perfection only came from a synthesis of Islam and Hellenism, which would be achieved if the Empire accepted conversion.”

“Converting the Empire and ending Theokratia was thus a principal objective for many at court, one that was achieved when the Nicene-Chalcedonian Church met it’s just end in a campaign run by many returning exiles and bankrolled by Essene bullion. Yet Islam had not triumphed though it’s old foe lay humiliated. The Emperors across the ocean were too far removed from the intellectual centers of the Byzantine Empire to truly understand what broke the camel’s back. Marcion of Sinope had triumphed at last with his form of a purely Greek faith, wrapped with the bloody purple cloak of John Callinicus.”

“If there was one issue the factions could agree on then it was the following: Islam had no role in the Byzantine Empire. All the sacrifices of the Essenes were met with smiles and promises of trade deals, but no right to return or compensation was offered, and the statue of Christ remained in Hagia Sophia. Basileus Iskandar broke off ties in rage, proclaiming his Empire to be the only true Empire of the Romans, but the Rumi never survived the mortal blow in the form of rejection by their homeland, and thereafter their grip on their subjects weakened. The Empire across the water fragmented soon, and Nea Constantinopolis burned. But the successor states of the Essene Empire preserved their Roman core-spreading Hellenism over much of the new world while the North and Albion squabbled over the icy wastes. There woul never again be warm feelings between the two worlds, for the Rumi would henceforth fade away and their successors would see Byzantium as the eternal foe despite most of their culture being derived from the Constantinopolitan Empire, while the great Empire of the East viewed the Essenes as failed pretenders who represented the worst of their Empire: a grotesque reflection that the Byzantines would have preferred not knowing.”

Notes:
[1] I'll leave you to guess where this is.
 
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Wow, no comments lol. And here was I, hoping for some discussion after this very dark update with tantalizing hints.....
 
This is dark? It's the Middle Ages being the Middle Ages. Besides the interesting development that refugees created their own state, it seems that Byzantium is undergoing business as usual.
 
cough, Final Solution, cough.

That being said, it could have been something a more powerful ERE would have done against a non-geographically concentrated minority in OTL if it wanted to, with access to all the tax records that give religion away.....
 
Very unpleasant. So Islam in the New World isn't Islam As We Know It?

So, Surplus Muslims are expelled to Byzantine-conquered Italy and Muslim south Spain, and after the conquest of the latter they are expelled again to non-Byzantine Europe?

It's a little unclear to me: the Theokratia is founded by John Callinicus? (What is the role of the Six Tyrants?) And is eventually overthrown, French-revolution style and replaced with...what? This bit

Yet Islam had not triumphed though it’s old foe lay humiliated. The Emperors across the ocean were too far removed from the intellectual centers of the Byzantine Empire to truly understand what broke the camel’s back. Marcion of Sinope had triumphed at last with his form of a purely Greek faith, wrapped with the bloody purple cloak of John Callinicus.”
Makes it sound like the Theokratia has been replaced with some other sort of religion-based regime: am I badly misunderstanding?
 
Very unpleasant. So Islam in the New World isn't Islam As We Know It?

So, Surplus Muslims are expelled to Byzantine-conquered Italy and Muslim south Spain, and after the conquest of the latter they are expelled again to non-Byzantine Europe?

It's a little unclear to me: the Theokratia is founded by John Callinicus? (What is the role of the Six Tyrants?) And is eventually overthrown, French-revolution style and replaced with...what? This bit
I was cagey intentionally. To address your points:

1. Not really, being under Roman rule had effectively turned it to hyper-Hellenized Ebionitism (especially to fit in with their neighbors before it became clear that leave or die will be the only options, with conversion being forbidden out of fear of taqquiah etc at some point in theokratia) that accepts Muhammad as a prophet. North Africa and Spain had more orthodox followers, but their overall collapse and the dominance of the Rumi class in the New World had meant that their cultures were mostly allowed to die. The new world had more orthodox followers that raised their heads after the Rumi Empire collapsed but they were left with no literate class (or even books in written in non-Greek script) to lead. All the New World was left with to reconstruct a more non-Byzantine faith was a Rumi literate class and folk-memories of the Western Caliphate, which led to more heterodoxy in the fragments. Some bits still have essentially the old Rumi version going, while others took the Byzantine propaganda against Islam seriously and tried to emulate that-----overall not the most pleasant of things. This is all happening while Scandinavians and England battles for northern shores of course, leading to potentially even more interesting synthesis.

Persian and eastern Islam would be closer to what we understand to be modern versions of the faith. The importance of Mecca and the hajj however had been on decline ever since the Romans emerged as the top dog in the Red Sea and made it crystal clear that the Sharif needs to obey them, so there will be some difference there.

2. Surplus is debatable: The Final Solution is acknowledged to have caused a fairly severe recession by even the most anti-Islamic writers, who saw it as a test God offered them to save the Eternal Empire of Christ.
My overall idea was this:
a. Persians and Mesopotamians driven out by the Steppe horde/s seek refuge in the Empire (long before theokratia). The Romans do not massacre them: but rather try to push as many out to Africa and Spain as they can before it becomes clear that it is simply not logistically feasible.
b. Steppe horde+parts of Latin Christendom and Empire goes to war, which leads to a strange set of circumstances where the Patriarch of Constantinople Ioannes of Kallinikos (John Callinicus) winds up as Emperor due to being literally the last member of the senior branch of the Macedonians. This is sort of the start of theokratia.
c. The steppe horde turning to China coupled with some major lucky breaks for the Romans lead to a peace in east (Peace of Susa) but muslims not allowed to return home (and those from east of that cannot go back anyways). Instead they are used as cannon fodder in a massively destructive Italian war, which ultimately kills the Catholic Church (as a centralized entity, branches endure). As a final fuck you to the heretical Latins, the Vice-Regent of Christ sets up a muslim client state (Emirate of Rum) in North Italy (where the rulers are completely dependent on Constantinople for defense). Basically a hereditary Duchy with high level of freedom for civil affairs and zero clout for military.
d. Callinicus is a tad too radical (someone will make a later comment that if the bits of him being a literal Theocrat and mass murderer are ignored, he'd probably be the most liberal Roman leader till 19th century or so) and harbors views dangerously close to heresy for the Nicene-Chalcedonian church. Before they can do anything though, he does wind up murdered by aristocratic fractions too scared by wtf is going on (money is typically a strong motivation). The Black Death however strikes almost immediately (Callinican Plague)
e. Enter Six Tyrants, six generals who fight for the purple and wind up killing each other as the plague rages on.
f. Enter Church, under a coalition of True Believers (Nicene-Chalcedonians) and Callinican radicals who find a minor Macedonian in Syria and propels him to the purple. Actual power remains with them however, as the Patriarch of Constantinople becomes a Shogun of the Empire. This is Theokratia proper (the Emperor-Patriarch John does not fully count as he did put his non-ecclesiastical duties first, most of the time. He is still counted as the founder).
g. Palaiologos breaks Coalition, pushing for a more Orthodox faith. Callinican radicals go underground, and become increasingly more radicalized against the 'Hebrew' and 'Latin' Church, pushing for something far far more Greek. Callinicus had himself flirted with Marcion before, and now that is suddenly a lot more acceptable.
f. Theokratia works with absurdly high levels of money tax and child tax. It meets its Vietnam in a devastating war against Makuria as the Little Ice Age arrives, which gives the other faction a chance to strike and take over.
g. The final compromise is actually absurdly liberal as the Nicene Church kneels once the outcome is clear. A Callinicanist-Marcionist version would be the state religion but all other faiths not called Islam would be guaranteed freedom of practice sans discriminatory taxation (yes, even Judaism to their own shock). But this writer has an agenda against 'secularist Romans' (who are basically officially Marcionists but dont take religion too seriously) and hence making it seem like a second Theokratia works for him.

Does this timeline seem coherent?
 
As for the replacement regime, a rather unstable one by the Senate. The State Church had rep, as did large landowners, rich merchants and the army, while a figurehead Basileus watches on. It could have easily ended in disaster (and it nearly did with lots of political assassinations). However it ultimately leads to a more democratic parliamentary system after the actual brush with true, good fashioned religious absolutism (there is a limit to how many people you can hang for lynching an unpopular senator, and sooooooo....).
 
OK, although the loss of a literary or even oral tradition [1] among the Muslims of Spain in American exile seems a bit unlikely. Suggestion you use Ethiopia (with all it's mountains) rather than Makuria for the Vietnam-equivalent. Makuria is in the northern Sudan part of Nile valley, just march down the banks of the rivers and you've taken all the useful bits.

[1] One of the leading schools of Islamic learning used to be famous for (or infamous, if you are big on modern educational trends) making it's students essentially memorize the entire Koran, so they could recite any part of it from memory.
 
OK, although the loss of a literary or even oral tradition [1] among the Muslims of Spain in American exile seems a bit unlikely. Suggestion you use Ethiopia (with all it's mountains) rather than Makuria for the Vietnam-equivalent. Makuria is in the northern Sudan part of Nile valley, just march down the banks of the rivers and you've taken all the useful bits.

[1] One of the leading schools of Islamic learning used to be famous for (or infamous, if you are big on modern educational trends) making it's students essentially memorize the entire Koran, so they could recite any part of it from memory.
The Rumi was understandably not big on this idea, unless the language in case was Greek. Even then they would have probably viewed it as barbarism the state had no business in supporting and would have driven the folks back to the fields to do good honest work. State oppression/vs support or even benign neglect can do a number. That being said, some parts did endure and resurface after the Rumi control slackened.

Ethiopia is a very good idea: I planned to originally use a Coptic rebellion in Egypt coupled with a Makurian dynastic crisis to create a full on war between Orthodox and Copt, but Ethiopia would work too, and the geography definitely would make it a better Vietnam analogue: thanks.
 
I would say the TL has been very coherent and easy to follow until the Vignettes and ideas for future events in the TL. Since it's all subject to change it'll probably be confusing when things come up and it differs from what we already knew/assumed.
 
Just discovered this TL and am enjoying it very much! I agree with the above poster, started off great but has gotten slightly confusing, maybe consider keeping us in suspense or at least limiting the details :)
 
I would say the TL has been very coherent and easy to follow until the Vignettes and ideas for future events in the TL. Since it's all subject to change it'll probably be confusing when things come up and it differs from what we already knew/assumed.
I apologize for that. Ive recently lost my muse for the details of the whole thing and started focusing on key moments of the TL instead of following a linear sequence. It was rather selfish of me, and I'll keep it under control and get time to move in a straight path.

Just discovered this TL and am enjoying it very much! I agree with the above poster, started off great but has gotten slightly confusing, maybe consider keeping us in suspense or at least limiting the details :)
Thanks! My reply will be the same as that for John, above. I will tone these down.
 
976-987: War in the West
Chapter 4: A Tale of Two Emperors: The War in the West

John Tzimiskes was a man of Armenian descent who had spent the greater part of his career fighting in the Anatolian front. Nonetheless, his rise to power owed a great deal to the Sicilian campaign and his triumph at Arcadiopolis, leading to a shift of focus to the west in the latter part of his career. Age too had caused him to recalibrate his opinion, as it is attested that he was increasingly sceptical of eastern interventions by 977, thinking that the Empire could ill afford to annex territories filled with Saracens and heretics. The initial peace with the Fatimids may have even come as a relief on some level, as it allowed the Empire to divert attention westwards into the Balkans and Italy-filled with good Nicene-Chalcedonian Christians. This is by no means unanimously agreed upon, with the late Constantine Anastasios steadfastly holding that Tzimiskes’ latter western focus did not mean that he intended to abandon the east completely. Nonetheless, the appointment of someone as junior as Basil as the leader in Anatolia clearly indicated that the Emperor intended to play a bigger role in western affairs than eastern, and Basil’s latter triumph permanently closed the door for Tzimiskes’ return to the land of his birth.


The first successes of the Empire in the Balkans did not require a strong show of force. Comes Nicolas’ death had left the remainder of the Bulgarian Empire to his four sons, who were soon consumed to squalling with each other. The eldest Aaron even attempted to murder the youngest Samuel in order to minimize competition. Unfortunately, the intended ambush failed, and the young Samuel wound up seeking sanctuary in Constantinople. Tzimiskes had briefly toyed with the idea of marrying him to Anna Porphyrogenita, but Constantine VIII prevented that with a rare show of personality. Samuel nonetheless was in no great hurry to return to his poor lands after seeing the splendor of Constantinople, and instead attempted to curry favor with the Emperor by assisting him in his campaigns. Aaron’s incompetence and fratricidal attempts had weakened the Cometopouli, and John was successful in slowly gobbling up the remaining Bulgarian territories via a war of attrition.

Basil’s success at Baghdad however changed the nature of the game dramatically, since John now needed a major triumph of his own to not give an appearance of weakness (having learned from the weakness of Nikepheros Phokas). Samuel was given essentially a blank cheque to handle affairs in the Balkans, and he succeeded in crushing Aaron in Trajan’s gates in the spring of 981-paving the way for the annexation of the remainder of the Bulgarian Empire. Some minor Adriatic principalities remained in the periphery under nominal vassalage of Constantinople, but the Slavic people had by and large been brought under the yoke of the Empire. This owed a great deal to Samuel’s suggestions of not intervening in Church affairs and not demanding tax in species but accepting payment in kind. Samuel himself however did not receive an estate in the Balkans-principally because he had requested one in more fertile land in Bithynia, which was granted. Nonetheless, large-scale land redistribution did occur with former Bulgarian loyalists losing significant amount of territory in favor of supporters of the Empire and landless Aegean poor. Many of the dispossessed were however offered a chance to begin anew in Syria, where the Empire needed loyal Nicene-Chalcedonians. Most in fact took up the offer and sailed for Alexandretta and Laodicea, seeing a chance to reestablish their lives away from what had been a battlefield for their entire lifetime.

The situation in Italy however had become more problematic. The Fatimid-Roman peace treaty had guaranteed that the Greek third of Sicily reconquered by John would remain with the Empire. The Kalbid vassals of the Caliph in fact held off from doing anything much more aggressive than minor raids as Cairo passed on a portion of the Roman tribute back to them. It was quite well understood by both powers that Sicily would become a major battleground between the Empires once they inevitably clashed, but that day seemed distant in the future. The Baghdad incident however again changed the dynamic as there was considerable outrage all over the Islamic world. The Sicilian Emir indeed almost declared jihad on the infidel before Cairo threatened him to desist for now. The Fatimid Caliph had bluntly told the Kalbids that he would not hesitate to sic his vassals the Zirids of Carthage (who had long desired Sicily) on them if they acted before his orders. Sicily was to prepare for war with the Romans, but not actually make a declaration before Egypt was ready to fully commit. The Fatimids needed time to acquire sufficient money to buy enough Nubian troops to face Basil in the East, and a premature start to the war would likely cost them a great deal as the Empire had more men on the ground in Asia. The Caliph was new, and he intended to be methodical and conservative in preparing for war than act on his impulses.

Sicily had no choice but to submit before this order as they needed Egyptian help to prevent the Empire from shipping Anatolian troops into the Island. The seething Emir nonetheless realized that there had been no peace treaty between Cairo and the German Empire, leaving the Lombard princes of Southern Italy exposed to his depredation. The Fatimids did not discourage this policy--indeed they encouraged it as a practical way for Sicilians to prepare for the real battle. The Emir also saw it as a chance to poison the relationship between the Empire and the Germans, since Constantinople used the peace treaty as a justification for not intervening in favor of the Lombards. Hysterical protests reached Otto’s court soon about how the Greeks had joined hands with the Arabs to fight true Christians, while Constantinople received missives from the Katapeno declaring how the Sicilians and Lombards were distracting themselves, creating great opportunities for Romans.

The truth was somewhere in the middle. The Italian Greeks had never been friends of the Lombards, and the Katapeno had often looked the other way when Sicilians went through his territories to attack the Latins. Nonetheless there was no desire to actually provoke a German intervention as it would likely cause great damage to the last remaining Roman territories in Italy, and would certainly be frowned upon by Constantinople. The Imperial bureaucracy had indeed seen the truth in the missives from Italy, and urged John to command the Katapeno to moderate his ways. Bulgarian distractions however distracted the Emperor from paying attention until the situation had become too grave to ignore. Otto on the other hand took the Lombard exaggerations mostly at face value and decided to intervene after the death of minor relative of the late Pandulf Ironhead, claiming that he would handle Sicily if Constantinople could not, amassing a small force under his command and crossing the Alps before winter fell in 981. They were joined by other Italian princes, who saw it as a great chance to finally stamp out the Greek presence on the peninsula.

Otto’s stated mission was against the Sicilian Kalbids, and he may have genuinely meant his guarantee that no Imperial land will be conquered. The thought of his army marching through Apulia and Calabria however was too much for John to stomach, and he insisted to sending Samuel to dissuade the Germans. That was not enough for the Katapeno, who this time actively encouraged the Sicilians to intervene (stating that he would surrender to the Germans and let them move on to Sicily otherwise). A large force quickly landed in the peninsula and sneaked up North with active assistance from Katapeno Theophylact, ambushing the Germans at Stilo (1) in Calabria. The resulting battle was a disaster for the Germans, as the princes of Salerno and Benevento fell in battle and Otto himself was forced to flee to Naples, where he died from malaria (or a Constantinopolitan knife, depending on who one asked). The Saracens retreated back to the island unmolested, unaware that their hopes of provoking a German-Imperial war over Italy had been quenched by their very success. The former was no longer capable of fighting the latter, as factions allied with the Empress-Mother Adelaide of Italy began clashing with Otto’s wife Theophanu over the regency of their child. Accusations of Italian and Greek treachery run amok, and Duke Henry of Bavaria also made a claim for the throne, declaring that he was free of the “southern taint”. The German civil war would continue for many years still, and would only end after all the principal actors were no more.

Samuel thus arrived to find that the war had been won for him. Lacking authority to actually punish Theophylact, he merely ensured that the Katapeno met an unfortunate accident and quickly set about restoring Imperial control to Salerno and Benevento. Neither of the Lombard principalities had the means or will to resist, resulting in a rather swift annexation. Having settled his rear somewhat, he turned to Sicily and waited for the moment when the Emir would realize his error in causing Otto’s death. The moment in fact came quite soon, five weeks before Basil confronted the first Egyptian army in Syria. The Fatimid emir had realized how much the balance of power had shifted, and tried to make a surprise attack to distract the Empire before it could move more forces to the Island. His hope was that the battle in Asia would begin soon and distract the Romans, leading him to conclude that striking immediately would prevent the Empire from growing any stronger short-term.

Unfortunately for him, his court contained a fair number of Zirid spies who immediately reported back to Carthage and caused their master to invade Sicily “to defend the treaties of their Lord the Fatimid Caliph”. News of the treaty being broken in Asia came too late to remove the causus belli. The Zirids had met little resistance and were in control of the western third of the Island by then, leaving the Kalbids sandwiched in the middle. Egypt did not possess the means to make the Africans go away, and thus it only demanded that the two sides fight no more and cooperate against the Empire (promising Kalbids Italian land in return). That however proved to be an ideal scenario that never realized itself, with both muslim powers squabbling and letting the Empire (now led by John himself) secure its position on the eastern third and launch attacks. The Kalbids were in fact unable to resist the sandwich pressure for long, collapsing quite badly in mid-984, leaving the Zirids and the Empire to fight each other head on. Their struggles proved to be mostly a stalemate, convincing John and Samuel of a need to attack the Zirid base in Africa to weaken their position.

The Roman attack on Carthage in early 985 was navally assisted by Genoa and multiple other Italian cities who wanted an end to piracy, and viewed the Imperial navy (then mostly tied up in the Eastern Mediterranean assisting Basil) as a safe route to attaining that. It was a successful attack, with the city being taken. But not before Emperor John was dealt a flesh wound by an arrow, which turned septic. The dying Emperor kept to the field for a while longer, but he recalled Basil from Alexandria, knowing his end was near. The Zirids however had been dealt a serious blow in terms of both resources and prestige, with little extra help being able to flow from Africa due to a naval blockade. Samuel was able to march into Agrigento in early 986 with the dying Emperor in a litter, with Basil arriving in a few days after. The greatest commander the Empire had in the preceding half century faced his heirs, and begged them to continue his job. Accepting the mandate, Basil took command and proceeded to flush the Saracens out of Sicily by 987 (aided by the end of the Egyptian war with the treaty of Alexandria), assisted by the loyal Kuropalates Samuel, the new governor of Sicily.

rum.png

Map of territorial changes. Green is the final round. Heading to static borders for a while now.

Vasilas's Notes:
(1) See OTL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stilo if you think I am wankish.
 
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