The Darling of the World

I love this, but...how is China going to manage that massive overextension problem?
It won't. Once it stops being ruled by excellent emperors and the steppe nomads unify (the Rouran Khaganate formed in this period, I think), the Celestial Empire will be driven out of Transoxiana.
 
Part 20: The Tiger, the Jackal, and Their Feats
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Part 20: The Tiger, the Jackal, and Their Feats


To this day, it is difficult to say which group the people who became known to history as the Huns belonged to. Some say they were Turkic, others that they were nomadic Iranians, and others still believe that they were the descendants of the Xiongnu, a mighty steppe confederation that suffered many devastating defeats at the hands of the Chinese Han Dynasty and were forced to migrate westward in the decades following these momentous events. In any way, by the mid fourth century they lived in the vast steppes of Central Asia, inside and outside the borders of the Sasanian Empire as a fiercely independent people. When Shi Le's troops came in from the east, bringing all the lands of Transoxiana under the banner of the Celestial Empire, the Huns initially resisted, but were cast down and forced to migrate to the west once more. By the 340s, after more than a decade of traveling, they had reached the banks of the great river that the Slavs would later call the Volga (1).

As the river was crossed, the leader they had elected, Uldin, a man who was in his late thirties if stories are to be believed, faced a dilemma that could be easily solved: if he and his people continued to march to the west, they would find the fertile pastures of the grassy steppe that lies to the north of the Black Sea, an excellent environment in which they could feed their horses and maybe even launch raids into the Second Roman Empire if they were able to get away with it. The second option was to move southward, crossing the dangerous Caucasus Mountains and take advantage of Iran's internal instability, perhaps later settling either Armenia or Anatolia, a course of action that could bring huge rewards but was probably not worth the risk. The harsh, mountainous terrain completely neutralized their advantages in the battlefield, and they could be slaughtered were they ever caught in an ambush. This was worsened by the fact that there were only two passes in the entire mountain range, the Derbent Pass and the Iberian Gates. Both passes were under Iranian control and were heavily fortified.


The fearsome Iberian Gates.

Thus, Uldin's decision to face the mighty Caucasus was astonishing to contemporary and later historians, and the fact that the Huns followed his lead showed just how charismatic and respected the nomad leader was among his people. The Iranian authorities were clearly also surprised, since they made no opposition to the Hunnic advance and often scattered whenever they made contact with the enemy. By the time the recently empowered Yazdegerd I became aware of what was going on in the north, sometime around mid 343, Uldin and his soldiers were running amok in Armenia, a longtime client kingdom of the Sasanian dynasty, and were growing stronger by the day, collecting large amounts of loot in hit-and run attacks against local Armenian troops. Finally, in the beginning of winter, the king, a fellow by the name of Tiran (or Diran), a subordinate of the Shah in paper but in reality an autonomous ruler, set out to face the Huns in person and end their raids once and for all.

It was a disastrous decision, since he was killed in a battle that took place in an unknown location in December. Flush from his glorious victory and the spoils that were captured from his defeated enemy, Uldin entered the rich royal capital of Vagharshapat and proclaimed himself the "Great King of Armenia", a title that was last used by Tigranes the Great, the most powerful king from the age before Rome began to expand in the Middle East. It was the beginning of a series of campaigns that spawned the legend of the wise, noble and invincible Tiger From the North.

Now comes the question that many people ask whenever they hear about Uldin's rise to power: Where in the world was Yazdegerd I when this was all happening? After all, the whole tale could all have ended right before it began had the King of Kings crushed the nomadic upstart turned conqueror with an overwhelming force.


A coin of Uldin the Hun, in which his appearance was obviously inspired by that of Tigranes the Great (2).

The answer to that question was simple: the King of Kings had much bigger and more dangerous fish to fry. While Uldin was busy conquering and later consolidating his power in Armenia, the Hephthalites, led by a king named Mihirakula (3), had created a powerful kingdom that stretched from Merv in the west to the Hindu Kush in the east, becoming quite rich thanks to the Silk Road that crossed its territory. Unsatisfied with what he already had, and aware of Iran's internal weakness (with said country being led by a teenager and all that), Mihirakula started a long, grueling war to take over the empire, claiming the title of Shahanshah for himself and minting coins in his image that looked just like Sasanian ones, complete with a sacred flame on one side and all. Most of the first movements of the war were large raids that devastated a large amount of territory, disrupting trade routes and burning farmlands, but not taking any large cities. Because of his ambition to replace the Sasanians in Ctesiphon with his own dynasty, as well as the great deal of death and devastatation that his campaigns caused (although some numbers are being challenged by modern historians (4)), Mihirakula became known to contemporary Iranian scholars as the Jackal, an opportunist who took advantage of the aftermath of the death of Ardashir II.

The war reached a new level of violence when an Hephthalite army unexpectedly attacked Nishapur in 346 AD, bringing along with it siege engines to reduce whatever fortifications the city had. The defenders didn't prepare themselves properly, and thus had few supplies and weapons, since the nomads had never attacked an urban center directly before, and never with weapons such as siege towers and onagers, the knowledge behind building and using them probably coming with the Chinese armies that kicked them out of their original lands in Central Asia. After a brief siege, Nishapur quickly surrendered after it became clear that its citizens couldn't defend it on their own for long and that any potential relief armies were too far away to help, and a prolonged resistance would only lead to a sacking. Content with his victory and the relatively small amount of bloodshed, Mihirakula spared the inhabitants from his wrath, and marched to the west in the hopes of capturing Spahan, the seizure of which would be a decisive step in achieving his ultimate ambition.


It seemed that he had finally bitten off more than he could chew when he reached Spahan's walls, which had been considerably reinforced with men and provisions from many regions of Iran. Yazdegerd received word of what had happened in Nishapur relatively quickly, and since the two places were many hundreds of kilometers away from each other, he had plenty of time to prepare for Mihirakula's arrival: the civilian population, with the exception of a few ""patriotic"" volunteers and some more stubborn elements, had been largely evacuated, ensuring that there were fewer mouths to feed in case a long siege took place, and earthworks such as trenches and artificial hills were erected, which would make the operation of the Hephthalite siege engines considerably more difficult. To make matters worse, the invading army, which was traditionally composed mostly of horse archers and elite heavy cavalry (a very mobile force, perfect for raiding) advanced through Iranian territory much more slowly than usual, thanks to the need to drag along heavy siege equipment.


A coin depicting king Mihirakula as a worthy claimant of the title of King of Kings.

By the time the exhausted Hephthalite king and his soldiers reached Spahan in the last months of 346, the odds that stood before them were daunting indeed. They were deep in enemy territory, had to face a fully prepared fortress in the middle of winter, and Yazdegerd was surely out there somewhere assembling a relief force that in all likelihood dwarfed any troops available to the invader numerically. To make matters worse, the defenders had dug several trenches and erected other earthworks that prevented the enemy onagers from getting close enough to batter down the city walls. Frustrated, Mihirakula ordered the men under his command to surround Spahan, an action that wouldn't have major consequences by itself until much later, but with a twist: as they set up their positions, they began to build a wall that in time would completely seal the city's defenders from the outside world, a tactic that Julius Caesar used to great effect against the Gauls of Alesia centuries ago (5). The defenders probably had no idea of what was happening, since they made no attempt to stop the circumvallation's construction before it was too late.

To say that Yazdegerd was surprised when he arrived at the head of a mighty host of around 100.000 men (a force that probably outnumbered the Hephthalites two-to-one) that was assembled at great cost in January 347 was the mother of all understatements. The Shahanshah and his numerous spahbeds had hoped to vanquish the besiegers in one great open battle and break the blockade after that, and were thus completely unprepared to organize a siege themselves. With no adequate equipment to breach the circumvallation, the Iranians were forced to hunker down and hope to outlast the barbarians until they could build the necessary weapons, a monumental task considering how large their own army was. As if that weren't enough, the imperial force couldn't communicate with the Spahan garrison and mount a double attack against the besiegers, something that would surely spell their doom. The stage was set for one of the most brutal and romanticized sieges in Iranian history, and both sides' commanders, Yazdegerd and Mihirakula, were perfectly willing either win or die trying (6).


The walls of the important fortress of Derbent, in the Caucasus. It is likely that the fortifications that protected Spahan were somewhat similar.

While the two titans and their subordinates were busy fighting for their lives in the Plateau, Uldin was in Vagharshapat, from where he was busy enjoying the perks of the newly acquired wealth and power that he now had, as well as planning his next move. If the Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi (7) is to be believed, the king of the Huns planned to take advantage of the empire's eastern troubles and launch a massive raid into Mesopotamia which, although unlikely to take any cities, could still give him and his people a large quantity of plundered wealth. Yazdegerd probably knew that the little upstart was a threat, but there was nothing he could do since any movement to the west would be seen as abandoning Spahan to the Hephthalites, something that would have catastrophic consequences. There was nothing the pious Shah could do other than pray and hope that God would somehow keep Uldin from turning his plans into reality. The prayers would have to be answered soon, since the Huns were already gathering thousands of men in Armenia's southern border, all just waiting for their king to give the order.

Miraculously, Yazdegerd's prayers were answered in exactly the right time. Just as the Huns were about to launch their offensive, a Greek army invaded Armenia from the west, forcing Uldin to call of the attack and defend his kingdom from this unexpected aggressor. And here's where things get really, really vague: because of the lack of historical records from Anatolia in the period right after the demise of the Palmyrene Empire, we have no idea if the army that attacked Armenia was an experienced, trained force or simply a ragtag levy raised by some frontier Hellenic warlord. Sadly, because of this we also don't know if the man who led this force, supposedly named Artemidoros (a very Greek name) was an experienced general, a wealthy landowner who could hire his own private army, or even a king who sought to expand his power at the expense of the Huns. What we know for sure is that Uldin utterly crushed the Hellenic army that opposed him in an unknown location, and either killed Artemidoros in the heat of battle or had him executed afterwards. Despite his glorious victory, Uldin decided to call off the attack against Iran altogether, and would focus the rest of his reign conquering Anatolia, perhaps to prevent new invasions from the west, strengthening the theory that this invader was just one of many strongmen, all of whom could become a threat if left alone for too long.

The Hunnic conquest of Anatolia was a long, slow process that was marked by many indecisive battles, raids, and long sieges, and only ended years after Uldin's death. It resulted in the depopulation and deurbanization of large parts of region, especially the central plateau, which became a staging area for raids into Ionia and Bithynia after the fall of Ancyra and Iconium in 351 AD and 356 AD respectively. This allowed the peninsula's ethnic makeup to be changed forever, and is also the main reason why most contemporary scholars question the noble image that was built around Uldin, many believing that its main builder wasn't his military exploits, but rather the Huns' very important role in Iranian internal politics. These people also question Mihirakula's infamous reputation, since his court in Bactra became an important center of trade and culture, and the Hepthalites' movements accross Iran are seen as one of the main reasons why said country began to adopt the use of paper in the early 5th century (8).


The Huns looting Iconium.

Not that Yazdegerd himself would reap any benefits from this exchange, of course.

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Notes:

(1) IOTL, the Huns reached the Volga in the 360s, and then migrated to the Black Sea coast, causing a ton of trouble for the Romans in the process.

(2) That's actually a coin of Tigranes the Great.

(3) He has nothing to do with the
OTL Mihirakula, who devastated much of northern India along with his father and predecessor, Toramana.

(4) Biased contemporary accounts? What are you talking about?

(5)
Here.

(6) Nobody knows if the soldiers were, though.

(7)
An OTL historian.

(8) That's about three or four centuries earlier than OTL. Does anyone know why it took so long for the art of papermaking to move to the west?
 
Which religion Practiced By Huns in Armenia?
Right now Uldin and his closest allies are all pagan (I think the Huns were shamanistic) but a growing number of them think that the words uttered by the followers of Christ are quite appealing, particularly as they settle into Anatolia, a region that has an overwhelming Christian majority.
 
Right now Uldin and his closest allies are all pagan (I think the Huns were shamanistic) but a growing number of them think that the words uttered by the followers of Christ are quite appealing, particularly as they settle into Anatolia, a region that has an overwhelming Christian majority.
Is it possible for them to convert into Buddhism?
 
Does anyone know why it took so long for the art of papermaking to move to the west?
The Sogdians had it by the 300s or 400s; makes sense, given the extent of their interaction with China (which itself learned how to make clear glass from the Sogdians).

If I had to guess why it didn't spread... Sogdia was rarely under Sasanid rule, it was always insulated by the Kushans/Hephthalites/etc. Accordingly, Persian choices didn't influence Sogdia much (Sogdia's religious scene had little room for Ohrmazd, the Sogdian langugae was locally dominant until the entrenchment of New Persian under the Sasanids) and the reverse was likely true as well. Later on the Caliphates and their Samanid vassals governed Sogdia more consistently, so there's scope for exploring of local customs, finding people skilled in papermaking, investing in mills, so on.

Meanwhile, the Sasanids may have just gone with the preferences of the Greeks, Syrians, and Indians, who they had a greater volume of (cultural) interaction.
 
The Sogdians had it by the 300s or 400s; makes sense, given the extent of their interaction with China (which itself learned how to make clear glass from the Sogdians).

If I had to guess why it didn't spread... Sogdia was rarely under Sasanid rule, it was always insulated by the Kushans/Hephthalites/etc. Accordingly, Persian choices didn't influence Sogdia much (Sogdia's religious scene had little room for Ohrmazd, the Sogdian langugae was locally dominant until the entrenchment of New Persian under the Sasanids) and the reverse was likely true as well. Later on the Caliphates and their Samanid vassals governed Sogdia more consistently, so there's scope for exploring of local customs, finding people skilled in papermaking, investing in mills, so on.

Meanwhile, the Sasanids may have just gone with the preferences of the Greeks, Syrians, and Indians, who they had a greater volume of (cultural) interaction.
Ah, so papermaking reaching Iran in the 5th century ITTL is plausible, especially with the Wu in Transoxiana.
 
Ah, so papermaking reaching Iran in the 5th century ITTL is plausible, especially with the Wu in Transoxiana.
It's possible, depending on how much Sogdian/Chinese influence really rubbed off on the Hephthalites, or whether that connection is strengthened over the next decades. The paper will probably be made of processed linen/flax rags, as the mulberry tree (which the Chinese used for paper, after first getting the procedure down with rags) isn't found in Central Asia.

Actually, Shi Le's administration will probably have to use linen too, and for the same reason. So the sequence of events could be like: Sogdian papermaking booming due to demand from Chinese-style bureaucracy installed in the western regions, then Hephthalites notice what's up, then they decide it's easier to source paper from them than bother repairing any Persian papyrus manufactories they destroy on their campaigns, etc.
 
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Will white huns create a Empire like Maurya India? Will we see Buddhist revival?

What sorta cultural influence they have? Are they influenced by chinese?
Buddhism won't experience a revival since it hasn't declined in the first place. As for the White Huns, half of them are focused on Iran (Hephthalites) while the other half is invading the Punjab (Kidarites) where they will fight the Gupta Empire while it's at the pinnacle of its power (the reigns of Samudragupta and Chandragupta II), a terrifiying opponent indeed. Plus, since the Guptas even have a capital in Pataliputra/Patna, they're already sort of close to the Maurya empire.

I really need to make an Indian update.

As for Chinese influence, they will have plenty of it, especially since their migration to Iran and India was somewhat caused by the Wu conquest of Transoxiana.
 
Buddhism won't experience a revival since it hasn't declined in the first place. As for the White Huns, half of them are focused on Iran (Hephthalites) while the other half is invading the Punjab (Kidarites) where they will fight the Gupta Empire while it's at the pinnacle of its power (the reigns of Samudragupta and Chandragupta II), a terrifiying opponent indeed. Plus, since the Guptas even have a capital in Pataliputra/Patna, they're already sort of close to the Maurya empire.

I really need to make an Indian update.

As for Chinese influence, they will have plenty of it, especially since their migration to Iran and India was somewhat caused by the Wu conquest of Transoxiana.
Will we see Gupta further expanded to south India? Maybe become more centralize to deal with white huns?

Gupta were responsible for Hinduism's revival, is it not true in this timeline? Maybe Asanga and Vasubandhu will have a greater impact upon Samudra Gupta?
 
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Will we see Gupta further expanded to south India? Maybe become more centralize to deal with white huns?

Gupta were responsible for Hinduism's revival, is it not true in this timeline? Maybe Asanga and Vasubandhu will have a greater impact upon Samudra Gupta?
Hm, after a few minutes of reading (nowhere near enough, I admit) it seems that Buddhism began to decline during the Gupta era, even though the emperors sponsored the construction of new temples and such. It seems that the religion began to really suffer after the invasions of Toramana and Mihirakula in the late 5th and early 6th centuries.
 
With so many regional players, I wonder if there are any eyes on Byzantion now.
Since Constantine's been butterflied away, Byzantium is not as important as it could be just yet. However, its location makes it a natural trade post, one that could be easily fortified and defended. As the years go by, the dux of Thracia might become an incredibly powerful man, since the city lies in his dominions.

So will you take any influences from Practical Lobster's White Hun timelines on the cultural developments of Persia?
I will inevitably have to make an update centered on the culture and economy of Iran, but I would prefer not to use any data from other timelines. I might end up copying a bit too much from my fellow authors.
 
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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.
Sorry to be a bit late to the party, and also, I am sorry to disagree, but we are really talking about two different words. "Urbs, urbis" is "city" (and of course, The City, AKA Rome) while "orbs, orbis" has many meanings, among which "world, globe". Even to this day, the Pope gives the blessing "Urbi et Orbi", "to the city (of Rome) and to the world". So, I don't see any reason why "Restitutor Orbis" should not mean "restorer of the world". ( Had my fair share of latin back in my days, should anyone ask for my credentials).
 
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