The word urbe, urbis (later Latin orbe, orbis) is polysemantic. It can mean either world or city. When the name of the city was not mentioned, everybody understood that the city referred to was Rome, the City. Therefore, Restitutor Urbis (or Orbis) almost certainly meant Restorer of Rome, not of the World.

Source: I studied Latin for 3 years and I continue to read Latin to this day as I like it very much.
Welp, blame Wikipedia for that one. I'll fix it right away.

EDIT: Done.
 
Important note: I did not make that beautiful map on the update. That's just a stylish map of the Western Roman Empire.
That must be why it includes Croatia and Libya, which I'm sure the Palmyrenes are scrambling to set up functional vassal states in. Wahballat must be quite... surprised to see that Rome is back, and now a Mediterranean naval power to boot. Now is the time for gifts of silk and elephants.
 

Zagan

Donor
Actually @Zagan , "Restorer of Rome" doesn't sound flashy enough for me. How would "Restorer of the World" look like correctly?
That is the problem. It's exactly the same phrase but most people would get the Restorer of Rome meaning because he had actually liberated Rome and not the World.
 
I found this on wikipedia:
In the 4th century, Pope Damasus I wrote in a letter to the bishops of Illyricum:

Unde iustum est, omnes in Universo Romanorum Orbe Doctores legis, ea, quae legis sunt, sapere, et non fidem doctrinis variis maculare.[9] - (English: "Hence, it is just, that all doctors of the law in the Universe of the World of the Romans, those, who are of the law, are wise, and do not teach the faith with various doctrines.")
So by the time of the story, Orbe could be read as world.
 
Armenia converted in 301, sixty years after the POD. Armenia is also part of the Palmyrene empire now.
If anything, with the shitstorm that happened in the west during the alt-Crisis of the Third Century (the persecution and riots, along with social collapse) Armenia and the rest of the Middle East will christianize (is that a real word?) even faster. Plus, Palmyra is generally tolerant of other religions. Other than Manichaeism, that is.
 
So TTL I'd imagine Claudius II to be mentioned just beneath Augustus and the Five Good Emperors.
He'll be one of the more overrated emperors in TTL's equivalent of AH.com :D.

Sort of like, say, Aurelian, who gets most if not all of the credit for ending the Crisis of the Third Century even though his predecessors, especially Gallienus, did a lot of the hard work. Poor Postumus might end up being a little forgotten...

Or maybe not, because Invictus is an awesome title too.
 
Three decades of war, countless raids by several barbarian peoples, combined with widespread social collapse, plagues of all sorts and famine, reduced what was once the center of the Mediterranean and one of the wealthiest regions in the planet into a depopulated, barren wasteland. A certain account says that Claudius broke down crying when he saw the ruined remains of Rome, which by then likely had less than thirty thousand people living in it, with large portions of it being slowly reclaimed by nature as buildings, roads, sewers among other things crumbled apart due to lack of maintenance.
Yeesh I can only imagine Fallout as the closest comparison to Italy's state at this point.
 
Part 15: The Lion's Roar
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Part 15: The Lion's Roar


Although it was much expected by the time it occurred in 328 AD, the death of Wahballat the Great, one of the most powerful men in the world (second only to the emperor of China) during his long tenure as the ruler of Palmyra, was still a monumental event to many inside and outside the mighty empire's borders. Inheriting what was already a powerful state from his father and mother, the recently deceased king left to his eldest son, Antiochus (evidence of just how Hellenized the empire was despite its Arabic roots) an immense realm that stretched from the Danube and the Euxine Sea in the north to the long coastlines of the Arabian Gulf and the Erythraean Sea (1) to the south. Administrating this large, clunky unit properly was a daunting task, even to the most skilled of bureaucrats, and Antiochus, though not particularly awful in any means, simply wasn't the man his father was.

The problems didn't end there: while Antiochus was well educated by that era's standards, he wasn't properly prepared by his father (by his later years, Wahballat had become increasingly indolent and arrogant (2)) to rule the empire, being kept out of state ceremonies and similar events, which turned him into a timid and withdrawn individual, exactly the wrong kind of person to lead the Palmyrene Empire and control its politics. It didn't help that Palmyra inherited much of the administrative apparatus of the Roman Empire along with many of its issues, such as a powerful aristocracy that was always willing to stir up trouble, along with powerful generals who were eager for more action and power after decades of inactivity thanks to Wahballat's largely passive foreign policy.

To top it all off, the king had a younger brother named Zenobius (after his grandmother) who, if not personally ambitious, could always be used as a replacement by some rival court faction in case things really went down the drain or if he for whatever reason happened to die ahead of schedule. Fearing the worst, Antiochus had him placed under what was in effect house arrest in a far away estate somewhere near Petra (3). The fact that he didn't just straight up have him killed shows just how shaky the king's position really was, and something so drastic would stir up too much trouble with too many powerful people.


A coin depicting Zenobia as a Roman empress, showing just how close the Palmyrene Empire was to the state that once ruled almost all of its lands before the Crisis of the Third Century.

Far to the east, another young king watched the whole situation unfold with predatory glee. Twenty-six years old at the time of Wahballat's death, Ardashir II had lived most of his life under the suffocating influence of the nobility and the Seven Great Houses, which fully dominated what remained of Iran thanks to the fact that he took over the throne when he was just ten years old. He was eager for any chance to assert his own power, and with the Palmyra's shaky position becoming increasingly clear to him, he readied his army for war, fully aware that this golden opportunity would slip through his fingers unless he acted quickly. The Shahanshah's early accession meant that he was superbly educated, and he wasn't going to bet everything in a single huge pitched battle like his grandfather Narseh did so many years ago. By 330, the entire army of Iran -- some 40.000 men -- was ready to fight.

However, Ardashir was beaten to the punch by another young king from much further south.


Although little more than a speck next to the magnificent empires to its north, the kingdom of Axum was a powerful state in its own right, being described by Mani as one of the four great powers of the world (the other three were Iran, Palmyra and China), with its economy being sustained by agriculture, which was facilitated by the fertility of its land, and trade, since it was located on the shores of the Arabian Gulf. The Aksumite king, Ezana, who much like Ardashir took power as a child, would surely become legendary, for he was the first monarch in the world to become a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ, but he wanted more than that (4). The aristocrats of the lands that once belonged to the kingdom of Himyar, right next to Ezana's dominions, chafed under the Palmyrene domination and were eager to restore their old privileges, which were cast aside by Wahballat the Great and his many local governors.

Ezana was more than glad to become a liberator. In 330, he landed on the Arabian shore with "an army of remarkable strength" and quickly seized all of Himyar with little resistance, with the only confrontation worthy of note being the siege of Aden, where the Palmyrene governor was imprisoned and later executed. With minimal effort and even fewer losses, the king of Axum had taken over both sides of the Arabian Gulf and established a monopoly over all trade that flowed in and out of it, and became immensely rich in the process, with goods from places as distant as India, China and the city-states of eastern Africa flowing through his dominions.


The territories under Axum's control after the death of king Ezana in the late 4th century.

The loss of Himyar, and with it control of the Maritime Silk Road with barely any resistance whatsoever, was a crushing blow to the finances of the Palmyrene Empire and king Antiochus' fortunes. He immediately began preparations to retake said territory and punish Ezana for his audacity in punching so far above his own weight, but he would never have the chance to do so, for he would soon have new problems much closer to home. The Ghassanids and Lakhmids, two Arab confederations/kingdoms that regularly paid tribute to Palmyra, decided to declare their independence from their obviously impotent overlord and began to launch raids against Syria and Mesopotamia, respectively, and although they weren't a large threat, they were an immense nuisance and yet another blow to Antiochus' authority.

It was after these troubles began that Ardashir finally made his move. Sometime in late 331, he departed for Armenia at the head of a force of approximately 20.000 men, a glorified raiding party at best, in a daring raid that was contested by many of his generals. They had plenty of reasons to worry, for not only Armenia's terrain was full of mountains and was therefore quite problematic to the Iranian cavalry, but by the time the Shahanshah and his soldiers departed winter was in full swing, and many passes were full of snow and almost unpassable.

Ardashir would never know if this campaign of his would be successful or not.

As soon as word got out of his intentions, the soldiers under the Shah's command refused to march to what they probably correctly saw as certain death and decided to stay on their starting point, located was on the southern shores of Lake Urmia. However, in an age where the printing press was nowhere near being invented yet, information spread out far and wide throughout many miles and was easily distorted by fearmongers and conmen of all sorts. Contaminated by this so called "Great Fear", many Armenian towns, villages and cities barricaded themselves, their inhabitants ready to fight the invaders with what little they had. In the end, all of this buildup would amount to nothing, and the fearsome Iranian army which was supposed to cross the mountains looking for valuables to steal and women to rape never even came close to their lands.

In Mesopotamia, however, the populace's reaction was completely different. Instead of barricading themselves, they revolted against their Palmyrene occupiers and sent multiple messages to the Shahanshah to return to his rightful place, Ctesiphon, whose citizens, after a week of brutal street fighting, expelled all foreign troops that were within their city's walls. Antiochus, who was campaigning in Arabia and was on the verge of bringing the Ghassanids to heel, was infuriated by this had to call off what was at this point a guaranteed victory to make sure that the rich farmlands of the Tigris and Euphrates didn't return to the hands of the Sasanian dynasty after sixty-four years of separation. Ardashir, meanwhile, marched straight to Ctesiphon as soon as he heard the news, hoping to reach the former Iranian capital before the much larger Palmyrene army arrived.

Unfortunately, luck was not on his side. Marching along the banks of the Tigris to ensure that his soldiers had constant access to drinking water, Ardashir saw an enormous enemy force of around 70.000 men -- more than three times the size of his army -- which had arrived just a few days before and was on the verge of besieging Ctesiphon. The once great city was not properly supplied, and without outside support would probably fall to Antiochus' troops in a matter of days at best. The Iranian monarch, who despised the idea of risking everything he had, including his own life, in a single grand confrontation, followed the wise counsel of his generals and refused to give battle, fully aware that a defeat here would be nothing less than catastrophic.

However, simply leaving Ctesiphon to its fate would also be a massive humiliation.


A Greek manuscript depicting the siege of Ctesiphon by king Antiochus' soldiers in 332. The painting, made in the ninth century (over 500 years after the actual siege) is, predictably, massively anachronistic.

Instead of giving battle, Ardashir conducted hit and run attacks and disrupted the besiegers' supply lines with his horse archers, desperately hoping that they would be demoralized enough to withdraw after a few days. The standoff continued for a week, and Ctesiphon seemed to be about to fall until a messenger from the relieving army managed to contact the isolated defenders, and they finally realized that the army that was coming to save them was in fact real, something that greatly improved their morale. As the days went on and on, Ardashir's attacks became more frequent, disrupting any possible siege works, and the defenders also began to take part in them with sorties from the city's walls. Soon, starvation and the plague began to take their toll on the Palmyrene army, which was becoming increasingly harder to supply thanks to its massive size and the constant Iranian attacks from within and without.

Finally, a Jewish soldier supposedly named Isaac (some sources also call him Zechariah) decided that he had enough of this neverending hell. Sneaking into king Antiochus' tent in the middle of the night of January 26, he repeatedly stabbed him until he died of his wounds next morning. Some say that the assassin was slain immediately after his deed, while others state that he was acclaimed king by his fellow men at arms before being killed in combat, a sign of just how hated the Palmyrene monarch had become. Leaving these discussions aside, now that its leader had been killed in a most ignominous manner, the Palmyrene army was forced to limp back to Syria hungry, sick and empty-handed.


Ardashir II, King of Kings of Iran, entered the Ctesiphon along with his troops on January 28, and was received as a hero by the city's exhausted yet jubilant citizens.

The Liberation of Ctesiphon, as this monumental event became known, is still celebrated as a national holiday well over a thousand years after it happened, being the subject of many poems and songs throughout the ages. From that day onward, Ardashir II would forever be known as Ardashir the Liberator, and he became one of the country's most celebrated heroes, standing side by side with figures such as Cyrus the Great, Ariobarzanes of Persis (who led the last stand against Alexander the Great at the Persian Gate) and, of course, Yazdegerd the Magnificent.

The Age of Division had finally come to an end, and the great city that stood at the banks of the Tigris returned to its rightful status as an imperial capital. As the centuries went on, no other urban center outside China would ever stand a chance to rival its greatness and wealth.

Summary:

328: Wahballat the Great, king of Palmyra, dies. He is succeeded by his eldest son, Antiochus, who shortly after has his younger brother Zenobius exiled to Petra.
330: Ezana, king of Axum, invades and annexes the lands of the former kingdom of Himyar, taking over all of the trade in and out of the Arabian Gulf and depriving Palmyra of an important source of income. Shortly after, the Ghassanids and Lakhmids rebel against Antiochus, who is forced to lead a campaign against them, thus allowing Ezana to consolidate his new dominions.
Late 331: Ardashir II departs for Armenia, but his soldiers mutiny along the way and he is forced to stay at the southern end of Lake Urmia. However, word of his supposedly imminent attack spreads, and Ctesiphon revolts against the Palmyrene occupation, inviting the King of Kings to return to his rightful place as a member of the House of Sasan.
January 332: Antiochus besieges Ctesiphon for about two weeks before he is murdered in his sleep by an angry soldier. After that, the Palmyrene army departs for Syria, leaving the city at the hands of the Iranian monarch, who, from now on, would forever be known as Ardashir the Liberator.

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Notes:

(1) The Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, respectively.

(2) Think of Wahballat as someone similar to the Qing dynasty's Qianlong Emperor: a great leader who became progressively more decadent and corrupt as he grew older.

(3) Don't worry, he'll get out of there eventually.

(4) IOTL, that honor belonged to Tiridates III, king of Armenia, who made Christianity the state religion of his kingdom in 301. Also, the Ezana from this chapter is a fictional one who just happens to have the same name of the one who ruled during the same time period.
 
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Fun fact: the drawing in the picture is actually an Arab siege of Edessa, which was defeated by the famous Byzantine general and almost emperor George Maniakes.
 
Loved the new chapter although I am curious to see what the Roman empire has been up to at this point, and will they try to reconquer the Palmyrene empire while it is weak.
 
Speaking of which, given the Restored Roman Empire (or at least the western half) is busy rebuilding itself for the next few decades, shall Claudius II start thinking of making the whole dang polity a bit decentralized, with something like the themata system to take care of border problems? I know it's mentioned that the old administrative system is still in place which will eventually cause some issues, but it'll be helpful for him and the empire to at least get the idea rolling around.

On another note, will the capital be relocated back to Rome? Or will Augusta Treverorum take that seat as the 'Rome of the North'?

EDIT: Given the reconquest of Ctesiphon and Mesopotamia, Palmyra looks a wee bit exposed to the awakening Persia. I'd probably move the capital now if I have the time.
 
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Part 16: New Heights, New Precipices
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Part 16: New Heights, New Precipices


Although he had scored an immense victory by liberating Ctesiphon, Ardashir II didn't stay in the capital for more than a few days. He couldn't, since although the bulk of the province of Asoristan had risen up to support him, there were still isolated Palmyrene garrisons scattered all over the provinces of Khuzestan and Meshan, with the most important of them being located in the former Achaemenid capital of Susa, which had been heavily fortified by order of Wahballat the Great many years ago to prevent any Iranian attack in that direction. Thus, the King of Kings departed in early February to mop up these last few hostile pockets before Palmyra could organize a sizable counterattack. This campaign went along swimmingly, and most of the garrisons surrendered peacefully, aware that their position was hopeless, and as expected, only Susa held out for a length of time, and had to be besieged for a week before its soldiers surrendered.

With his rear secured, Arashir returned to Ctesiphon so his soldiers could rest for a while (he couldn't afford to have a mutiny again) and prepare for the inevitable attack that would come from Syria after Palmyra sorted itself out. He also needed time to properly organize the administration of the recently reconquered territories, assigning tax collectors and other such bureaucrats to multiple locations, as well as orchestrating the transfer of the court from Istakhr back to Iran's rightful capital, preparing both cities for a population transfer that involved thousands of people. He also needed to make preparations for a new, grand coronation, the ultimate sign that he and the Derafsh Kaviani flag were here to stay. Fortunately for the Shahanshah, the Palmyrene Empire's internal situation following the death of Antiochus was more dysfunctional than anticipated, which gave him plenty of time for him to consolidate his hold on Mesopotamia and do everything he wanted.

His coronation, which took place in May 8, 332 AD (a national holiday, along with January 28) was a magnificent ceremony, worthy of someone as ambitious as he was, and a statement to Iran and the world that the Sasanian dynasty was finally back in its position as one of its most powerful and opulent rulers. Some historians back then and now still criticize the massive sums of money that were diverted to it, saying that it would have been much better for the country and therefore Ardashir himself if they were spent on equipping and improving the army, rather than on fancy dresses and exquisite plates and similar pieces of artwork that still exist to this day. Meanwhile, others say that all the pomp and circumstance were necessary in order to show that the age of Palmyene domination of the Middle East was over.

A bust of Ardashir II made shortly after his coronation (1).

Whether the coronation was necessary or not, the euphoria it generated couldn't last forever. By late October, Zenobius, who had taken the throne of Palmyra after his brother's murder, sent an army of 60.000 soldiers to capture Ctesiphon and drive the Iranians back to the east of the Zagros. However, due to his inexperience and fear of sharing his predecessor's fate, he decided to stay in Syria, handing the command of this powerful force to an influential and ambitious general named Zabdas, a descendant of the general of the same name that served king Odainat and queen Zenobia during the early days of the Palmyrene Empire (because of this, he is often called Zabdas the Younger to avoid confusion with his more famous ancestor). With the crucial fortress of Nisibis still under enemy control, Ardashir knew that it would only be a matter of time before the invaders reached the walls of the capital, and he marched north with a force of roughly equal size and strength to that of his foe to prevent that.

The battle took place on the town of Misiche, not far from Ctesiphon and right next the Euphrates, which guarded the left and right flanks of the Iranian and Palmyrene armies, respectively, and was a brutal, indecisive slogging match that displayed the strengths and weaknesses of both armies, even though Zabdas was forced to withdraw due to the casualties his ranks endured. As for Ardashir, although he was in control of the battlefield, he had very few reasons to celebrate: his heavy cataphract cavalry performed magnificently and easily wiped out their opposition, but his infantrymen, despite no longer being the ragged levies in which his ancestors relied on thanks to the reforms made by his father Hormizd I, was still vastly inferior in quality to that of their Syrian opposition, which resembled Roman legionaries of old. Because of this, the Iranian infantry suffered great casualties, and they were thus unable to properly coordinate with the cataphracts and completely envelop Zabdas' forces.

Denied a great victory in the battlefield, Ardashir was still determined to prevent the Palmyrene general from returning to the safety of Nisibis, so he had his horsemen harass his retreating enemy while the bulk of his army followed them closely, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. That chance finally materialized itself near the ruined trading center of Hatra, and this time the Syrians were nowhere near ready to fight. Worn down by repeated horse archer attacks, the exhausted Zabdas had ordered his soldiers on a forced march, desperate to avoid another battle. Ironically, this only sealed their fate, with Zabdas being pierced in the chest by an Iranian kontos (spear) and later being beheaded, while the soldiers who weren't killed in the carnage were taken prisoner and deported to various provinces of Iran, as was custom.


This decisive victory was the first one in the long confrontation between Iran and Palmyra, and shattered the myth of Syrian invincibility, born from Odainat's great victories decades ago. With at least half of all of Palmyra's soldiers either dead or captured, along with a member of one of its most important military families, the King of Kings easily occupied Nisibis shortly after and from there subjugated Armenia without great difficulties, finally restoring the empire that had been so carefully built by Shapur I. At last, Mesopotamia was safe from western attacks. Ardashir would spend the rest of 332 AD in Nisibis, gathering as many soldiers as he could for a massive offensive aimed at Syria.


Ardashir killing Zabdas. It is more likely that the Palmyrene general was killed by an ordinary cataphract.

Meanwhile, in Palmyra, the news of what happened at Hatra caused great panic and turmoil among the court and ordinary people alike. There were fears that a military coup was about to take place, an eerie spectre of what truly killed the Old Roman Empire in the third century. Although Zenobius almost fled the capital, fearing for his life, he was convinced that such a drastic action would have catastrophic consequences for the morale of the remaining soldiers (2). However, a growing number of people, including the powerful general Lucius Zabbai (a descendant of Zabbai, another one of Odainat and Zenobia's commanders), who was now the empire's foremost military official thanks to Zabdas' death, were questioning whether or not their king was worth defending.

The Iranian conquest of Syria began in February 333 AD with a march into Edessa, which fell without a siege thanks to the actions of a deserter. With the province of Osroene completely occupied, Ardashir was in striking distance of the Palmyrene capital, by now right to the south of his army, and Lucius scrambled together all of the soldiers that he had left to prevent the Shah from attacking the very heart of Syria. However, instead of doing as expected, Ardashir ignored the Palmyrene army completely and marched west, intending to capture the great city of Antioch and split the enemy empire in two halves, rather than waste his soldiers on a long siege of its capital. Because this move was so unexpected, he crossed the Euphrates with no resistance (an ambush here would have been disastrous) and captured Hierapolis before continuing his westward advance.

Aware that the loss of Antioch would be a catastophe, Zabbai had no choice but to play right into the Shahanshah's hands and march north, encountering his foe on the open fields near Beroea (3). The result of battle that took place there was guaranteed from its very conception: without any rivers or hills to hinder their movement, the Iranian cataphracts easily smashed through the flanks of the Palmyrene forces and inflicted horrific casualties upon them, trampling the unfortunate men whose heads weren't smashed with their maces or impaled by their spears. The footmen, meanwhile, managed to hold their adversaries in place at great cost, with many losing limbs and eventually their lives to the Syrian swords, while the horse archers expertly shot at their enemies from afar with great accuracy, creating a horrible rain of chaos and death that consumed all who came near it.


Ardashir II being blessed by Mithra (left) and Ahura Mazda (right) after his victory at Beroea.

By the time the Battle of Beroea was over, the Iranian army was beaten, tired and bloodied. The Palmyrene one, however, was in ruins. Zabbai had barely escaped with his life, running back to the capital as fast as he and his fellow survivors (12.000 men out of an army that had around 75.000 soldiers) possibly could. Ardashir, meanwhile, celebrated what would become the greatest victory in his career with his soldiers and nobles, and a few days later marched into Antioch, which surrendered to him with no resistance. With the once invincible Palmyrene army destroyed as a fighting force, the Iranians marched south and spread their forces all over Syria, hoping to prevent Zenobius from fleeing to Egypt and therefore decapitate the enemy with a single blow. Little did they know that by the time they finally reached the walls of Palmyra in early April, the king of the city was long dead, having been thrown out of his palace by Zabbai's troops and then lynched by an angry mob, bringing the dynasty created by Odainat to an end.

Unaware of that, Ardashir reached the walls of Palmyra and quickly surrounded the great city, which to his amazement also surrendered with no resistance. Expecting a fierce battle, he was obviously pleased to be proven wrong, but was not so pleased when he heard of king Zenobius' fate. He had hoped to bring the Syrian king back to Ctesiphon in chains, a grand statement that the Palmyrene Empire was truly over, and show to the people of his capital that Iran had taken back its rightful place as the master of the Middle East. Instead, he would be forced to quash several spots of resistance, and worse than that, he received news that the man behind the regicide, Lucius Zabbai, had run away to Egypt before he could be caught, and was probably in Alexandria by now, something that infuriated him (4).

Ardashir's conquest of the Levant was vastly different from the one led by Shapur I almost a century ago. He strictly ordered his soldiers not to engage in any looting or other barbarous acts, and few, if any, cities were sacked, while his ancestor eagerly pillaged as much wealth and deported as many people to the east as he could. This approach was taken probably not out of humanity or kindness, but rather to minimize resistance among the conquered peoples, who were certainly much less willing to revolt if their new overlord didn't destroy the places where they lived and killed their loved ones. However, this conquest was not complete, and the important island city of Tyre, right on the coast of Phoenicia, refused to surrender to the Iranians. Since the Shahanshah wasn't going to acquire a decent fleet for his realm so soon, Tyre would remain a dangerous spot of resistance to Iranian rule for many years, as well as a place from which the Palmyrene navy could launch raids against the Levantine coast.

Unfortunately, Palmyra itself was exempt from Ardashir's magnanimity. In what became one of the most well documented cases of ethnic cleansing of its time, the entire population of over 200.000 people was forcibly deported to places as distant as Khorasan, Khuzestan and Daylam, Nearly all of the buildings were torn apart until only their very foundations were left, the few remaining ones standing eerily like skeletons among the desert sands, and all records and literary works were burned, erasing the very idea that the city had once been a prosperous capital of what was, for a comparatively short time, one of the most powerful empires in the world. Priceless books that were focused on many things, such as nature and philosophy, were torn to pieces, with their covers being used as sandals, and every single valuable sculpture, artwork or jewelry that couldn't be transferred back to Ctesiphon was destroyed (5). The destruction of Palmyra would haunt his legacy, much like the fate of Persepolis haunted that of Alexander the Great.

The Palmyrene Empire had ceased to exist. Although Ardashir desired to conquer Egypt as fast as possible and bring the great city of Alexandria to heel, he was forced to spend the rest of the year in Antioch, from where he organized the administration of Syria, its division into multiple provinces and appointing nobles and bureaucrats who could properly tax the subjugated territories. Vast estates that belonged to prominent Palmyrene aristocrats were redistributed to Iranian nobles, with the biggest and most profitable bits being given to members of the Seven Great Houses.

By early 334, the King of Kings could no longer resist the temptarion of conquering the Jewel of the Nile. In February, he departed Ascalon, on the coast of Palestine, at the head of an army of 50.000 men accompanied by several siege engines, dead set on besieging and capturing Alexandria along with any other cities that dared to oppose him. After crossing the harsh desert of the Sinai (losing a fair amount of men to the heat and thirst) the Iranians occupied the strategic fortress of Pelusium, rightfully portrayed as the gateway to the Nile Delta and beyond, which was abandoned by the time the army of the Shahanshah captured it. From there, Ardashir and his remaining soldiers marched towards Heliopolis, and from there prepared to cross the great river.

As he watched his men build a great pontoon bridge across the Nile, Ardashir was almost literally jumping from joy. He could already see the walls of Alexandria buckling under the power of his army and its weapons, and the massive amount of riches that he would gain from this victory. All he needed to do was cross this single bridge, and, from this simple action, the great empire of the Achaemenids would be restored, the greatest ambition of the members of the House of Sasan.

Just this one bridge.

As he walked forward into a future of eternal glory for himself, his country and his descendants, he failed to notice that the mood of the men around him slowly changed from happy to worried, and from there to absolutely terrified. It was only when the people began to run and bump into each other, desperate to get out of the bridge, that he noticed what was happening. When he finally realized what was going on, he was dumbstruck. The wooden bridge on which he was standing on was being consumed by a raging inferno, and was on the verge of falling apart. What kind of idiot would carry a lit torch into such a massive structure made out of wood in broad daylight?

The King of Kings had very little time to ponder or even run away to safety when the boards over which he was standing on, weakened by the fire, crumbled underneath him, and the monarch fell on the waters of the great river below him. As Ardashir looked to where he was falling, he couldn't believe what was happening before his eyes. It all seemed like a terrible nightmare, a punishment from Ahura Mazda himself for his insatiable ambition, or perhaps a warning. But no, what was happening before his very eyes was absolutely real.

The Nile was burning. Not the vegetation on its banks, no, the water itself was on fire. Soon, the flames reached and engulfed him in their murderous embrace. As he came into contact with it and every moment of his short life flashed before his eyes, he realized that what he came into contact with wasn't normal fire, but rather a horrible substance that burned its way through the water, some sort of sticky mixture that he couldn't free himself of, despite his best efforts, for as he tried to put it out with the abundant water around him, the flames that were searing through his armor and cooking his skin and flesh only grew in size and intensity (6).

The last thing Ardashir II saw before he drew his last breath was his precious bridge collapsing entirely.

He was just 32 years old.

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Notes:

(1) That's actually Shapur II, one of the Sasanian Empire's greatest rulers.

(2) That's going to be one of this ATL's AH.com's most discussed potential PODs: WI Zenobius fled to Egypt?

(3) Modern day Aleppo.

(4) Ardashir hated usurpers.

(5) No way someone can challenge the rule of the King of Kings after seeing what happened to Palmyra. Right? Right...

(6) Ladies and Gentlemen, behold the power of Greek Fire.
 
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Themata System
You beautiful man/woman, you just gave me a great idea. As for the capital of the Second Roman Empire, it's going to stay in Treverorum for the moment, but once Italy is fully rebuilt, its aristocrats are going to want some of their importance back
 
Loved the new chapter although I am curious to see what the Roman empire has been up to at this point, and will they try to reconquer the Palmyrene empire while it is weak.
Right now, the Second Roman Empire is too busy rebuilding Italy for the moment, but once they aren't so overstretched they're going to want to take back the Haemus (Balkan) Peninsula at the very least.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, this might be my best update yet. I'm really proud of it.

Next update will deal with China and how the Wu dynasty is doing, and the one after that will deal with the Second Roman Empire after the death of Claudius II.
 
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