First post

The Eftal Shahs

Here goes nothing.

An Eftal Shah

The fall of the Sassanian regime was not necessarily unexpected.

The emergence into the historical record of the peoples the Greeks called the Hephthalites, and the Persians came to call Eftal, came at a time of great upheaval, famine and ethnic and religious conflict in the Sassanian Empire. Despite a scarcity of historical record, we see that they waged on and off war with the Sassanian Shahs, and in time would break out onto the Iranian plateau, raiding and pillaging. Latter Sassanian Shahs paid them exorbitant tribute.

Their culture was not wholly unfamiliar to the Iranian civilization - they worshiped similar divinities, a syncretic faith which seems to be based on fire-worship but also Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of divinity - indeed they often tolerated and patronized Buddhist worship. From their capitals at Balkh and later Piandjikent, they asserted a dominion which was primarily established by their willingness to settle the lands they conquered. Since the middle of the fifth century, the Eftal had won major victories against the Sassanian Empire, gaining a foothold on the Iranian plateau that would become permanent.

The latter Sassanian Shahs were generally placed on the throne with the aid of “Tokharian” nomads. Firuz himself, the last Shah, was originally granted his throne by these nomads. However, he would, after gaining the throne, turn against the Eftal, temporarily driving them back and putting an end to the incessant raiding that had characterized their arrival in Iran. However, it was not to last.

In 484, in the province of Khurasan, Firuz was defeated in battle and slain after riding into an ambush. “Cudgel-armed and swift” warriors rode down his retinue and seized many of his family, killing the Emperor, and capturing a column of war elephants some of whom would see action at the later siege of Edessa, among other places. A succession crisis followed, with various Sassanian royals attempting to seize the throne. One of them, Kavad, was aided by the Eftal, but shortly after being placed on the throne, he reneged on his promises to pay the “barbarians” – trusting that his own troops would be sufficient to repel the Eftal and restore the Iranian Empire to its former glory.

They were not. Despite a few inconclusive battles near Spahan, Kavad was chased south towards Sostar, where he was captured and executed and the Eftal King Akhshunwar rode into Ctesiphon as a conqueror, becoming in time the Shah of Iran. At first, the regime was essentially one of plunder. Ctesiphon and many of the Mesopotamian cities were sacked. Fortresses such as Nisibin surrendered to avoid a massacre and Baktrians, Sogdians and Kidarites among others were transplanted into newly founded garrison cities. Emulating the practices of settled conquerors proved a remarkably successful practice which would lead to a long-lasting dominion.

From Susa, the new Shah Akhshunwar I would rule in the style of an Emperor.

Roman-Eftal War

Anastasius Dicorus, the Roman Emperor at the time, was struggling to manage the affairs of state. The dilapidation of many of the major eastern fortifications, and the lack of a fortified base such as Nisibin presented many logistical challenges to any General assigned to the Persian frontier. Ongoing sporadic warfare in the Isaurian mountains and religious challenges combined to threaten to undermine the Emperor much as they had his predecessor, Zeno.

The Roman Empire appeared strong, but in truth was in many ways a paper tiger, one which had not been capable of responding to the vacuum established by the fall of the Sassanian Empire. Cursory diplomatic relations had been established, and a Hephthalite ambassador had arrived in Constantinople, where the Emperor tried his best to overawe the “barbarian” with the splendor of the Imperial City. Contemporary Byzantine records indicate that the Hephthalite was impressed, and it seems that the Emperor decided to respect a continuity of sorts – treating the new “Shah” Akhshunwar as merely the founder of a new dynasty of Persian kings.

It would not last. By 499, Syriac records show that the Eftal were raiding in force into Syria and Orsoene. Roman reprisal was swift, and a Roman army under the elderly Flavius Patricius scored several major victories, even investing Nisibin for a time, before the Eftal armies rode north and enveloped the Roman army at the battle of Saokoros. Despite the slow Eftal response, Nisibin held out long enough that it mattered little. Despite the fall of such cities as Dura and Anat to Roman sieges, the battle of Saokoros would force the Romans to retreat.

Saokoros was a major turning point in Roman history, though few would recognize it at the time. There were other armies, and other generals. But in the meantime, Edessa and Hierapolis would fall, and a series of inconclusive engagements such as the famous battle of Samosata between General Aerobindus and the Eftal Prince Kosnavaz would prolong the war until 503, when peace would finally be agreed upon. The war had been far more costly for the Romans than for their Hephthalite foes – Saokoros and Samosata alike represented major blows to Roman manpower - not blows that couldn't be absorbed by one of the most prosperous and powerful states in the world, but blows nonetheless.

Seven years later, when the war resumed, the political situation had changed in ways less than favorable to the Romans - but yet paradoxically, under able leadership, the Romans triumphed. The Balkan provinces had been denuded of manpower they critically needed, and a Bulgar tribe called the Kutrigurs had settled along the Roman border. Meanwhile the blond-haired Gepids were raiding into Moesia with relative impunity. Despite a series of punitive actions against the Gepids, the Romans were shaken – and forced to commit additional forces to the Balkans from the east. Yet this time against the odds, the Roman General Vitalian, a half-barbarian beloved by his troops was able to score a major victory and retake Edessa - though not many of the other cities lost.

The Eftal and Persian aristocracy blamed their defeats for unknown reasons on the Christian populations of Mesopotamia. A series of vicious pogroms marked the first of many. Despite a series of rebellions, including the notable Insurrection of Ctesiphon, (511) the Eftal prevailed, settling Kidarites, Sogdians and their own people throughout the region in an effort to prevent further rebellions.


With Anastasius’ funding, Vitalian oversaw massive reforms to the defenses of the territory, and the construction of new walls to replace a series of dilapidated fortifications. However, a year later, in 512, a cabal of Thracian generals and bureaucrats, increasingly uncomfortable with Anastasius’ Miaphysitism, approached the General, and helped him gain the acclamation of his troops. Vitalian marched west. The Thracian troops marched on Constantinople and invested the city, preventing a rapid response – and allowing Vitalian to win a few early battles against loyal troops in the East.

However, the Syrian Marinus, and trusted ally of Emperor Anastasius, refused to join the rebels. A Monophysite, and a famous tax reformer, the Emperor placed him in command of the fleet, a task he performed admirably at – preventing Vitalian from crossing into Europe and ensuring that the siege of Constantinople by the Thracian allies did not cut off the capital’s vital Egyptian food supply. However, the Constantinopolitan mob, knowing that they were besieged, broke into open rebellion nonetheless.

Areobindus, a distinguished General who fought in the Hepthalite wars, was proclaimed Emperor by the mob. Most sources seem to agree that this was against his will – and also that the mob was unaware of Vitalian’s march, the flow of people and information in and out of the city being tightly controlled by Marinus. Anastasius managed, in a public appearance to calm the mob – but Areobindus could not be found, and a subsequent riot saw Anastasius struck in the head by a roof-tile. The Emperor retired to the palace, and Marinus, now in charge of the city for all intents and purposes, put down the riot which called for his head with a massacre.


As mentioned before, it was the willingness of the Eftal to settle which ensured their dominion. Buddhist missionaries from China reported “A people scattered in foreign countries, the masters of scores of strongly walled cities and towns, a thousand thousand lords. They are tent dwelling as well, and move with changing seasons.”

While the rule of the eastern Eftal was decentralized, with many rulers in that region acting as absolute kings, the western regions, and the Sassanian provinces were ruled by a centralized bureaucracy based out of Susa. Patronizing temples to the “Holy Fire, Ahura Mazda, Mitra, and Visnu” the Shah spent his time alternating between riding from place to place, touring the regime and meeting with his vassals and governors, and residing in the administrative capital at Susa.

The flaw with this system was evident in the Hepthalite-Roman wars, where it took the Eftal a remarkably long period of time to muster their armies – far eastern princes had be cajoled into sending assistance, and the Shah himself was sometimes difficult to track down. However, the Eftal armies enjoyed remarkable superiority over the Romans in the field, and had inherited quality auxiliaries and siegecraft from the Iranians.

With the collapse of the Iranian state, the aristocracy and priesthood alike had fallen. The religion of the Magi was poised to undergo drastic changes, as the Eftal brought both their own unique version of Iranic paganism, and Buddhist and Hindu settlers into Iran and Mesopotamia. The great monasteries of Arghan and Sat-Sabuhr were built by Akhshunwar’s successor Toramana, as was the library at Mosil.

By the reign of Shah Toramana, parts of the Arabian peninsula were swearing fealty to the Eftal, notably the city of Mazun – representing the continuation of Iranian pre-eminence over the trade routes of the Persian Gulf.

A treaty between the Gupta Emperor Narasimhagupta Baladitya and Akhshunwar is credited as establishing clear defined borders between the two dynasties. Our Hindi sources describe a series of spectacular defeats of the “Hunas” – but little can be confirmed, save that an additional two hundred war elephants were sold to the Hunas in exchange for a series of Huna fortresses in the Hindu Kush – representing the focus of Akhshunwar’s policies on westward expansion rather than into the Indian subcontinent.
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I wonder if we'll get into specifics on this Akhsunwar figure and his immediate sucessors, lest we travel through time too quickly. And this surely had other initial butterflies as well.
Great to see such a positive reaction!

@Noblesse Oblige - why do you think I like the Persian "Eftal"? :p That Ph-Th combination is hard to say.

@Grouchio - I hope I'm not going too fast - butterflies are beginning to spread already. The Roman Empire is already in a slightly different position, what with Anastasius Dicorus facing a larger, better organized revolt - and even an uninspiring Gupta ruler has managed to score some qualified wins against the Sveta Huna because their migration has largely been into the Iranian plateau.

These butterflies will spiral out of control shortly, I imagine, necessitating a lot more in-depth focus.
Consolidation in the Latter Migratory Era


Akhshunwar, after the Insurrection of Ctesiphon knew he was not long for the world. A hard drinker and a hard fighter, he was known to his contemporaries as a man of short stature and broad shoulders. The Greek historians reported he was attractive, light-skinned and “not hideous.” But in his old age his rule became increasingly tyrannical, especially over the Iranian bureaucrats, who came to fear his notable wrath.

He favored his nephew, Toramana, over the husbands of his many daughters. Not a single one of his sons lived to adulthood. His religion was the traditional shamanic paganism of his peoples, but it would seem he gave little credence to faith beyond the ritualized practice of it. He adopted Zoroastrian rituals and styles as part of his rule, beginning the assimilation of his people that was already beginning early in his reign.

His legacy would be one of conquest. With the Western Roman Empire a forgotten memory shattered by the Goths and the Sassanian dynasty defeated, the Eastern Roman Empire remained the last tenuous link to the classical world, and cracks were showing in its armor. The great cities of the Hellenic east still stood, but cultural and social transformations begun in the late Roman era would ultimately lead to a fundamentally new world. European economic decline continued unabated and the Roman populations in the west were slowly coming to accommodate their new Germanic overlords.

The fall of the Sassanian dynasty by contrast was the collapse of an inefficient feudal regime into an efficient but highly exploitative one, one based on plunder and a mere replacement of the upper aristocracy with a new one. The division of societal roles was not wholly dissimilar to that of Gothic Italy - the Eftal forming the role of a culturally different warrior caste that adopted parts of Persian culture while maintaining a distinct identity even as they settled. The major difference was the transplanting of eastern societies into the Mesopotamian basin, a move which primarily was implemented to replace famine and massacre reduced populations that had been neglected due to climate changes and the often violent sacks of the initial Eftal invasion, as much as it was to create a loyal population base in the heart of an unruly region.


The Banu Lakhm, the prominent Arabian allies of the Sassanian regime survived the fall of their patron Empire. Their ruler was a clever and effective leader, Abu Ya'fur ibn Alqama, who had seized power in a coup d’etat several years earlier.

Al-Hirah, the Lakhmid capital, was a fat and wealthy city perched on the banks of the flood-swollen Euphrates. Opulent churches and gardens made the city famous for having, as one Arab poet put it “the façade of paradise itself” – and indeed Al-Hirah was heavenly, wealthy from trade and the blessing of the Sassanid Empire.

It was also a tempting target for a young Shah looking to expand his power. Toramana, new-made Shah, appointed by his uncle Akhshunwar, was a cautious and prudent man, a warrior of some renown, but more scholarly and intelligent. By the time he ascended the throne in 516, the Eftal dominion had been established for almost thirty years. Many young Iranians had grown up under the rule of the Eftals, and the ethnic makeup of Mesopotamia had changed.

The Christians still enjoyed a sizable plurality, an ever-restless population which felt they had more in common with the Syriac peoples to their north than their Eftal overlords, but followers of Manichaeism, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and many others had begun moving in. A melting pot of cultures and beliefs, the land of the Tigris and the Euphrates was fraught with tensions under Eftal rule – but the dynamic, warlike people who ruled it were not shy about suppressing dissent.

And the Banu Lakhm, were far too close to home in the eyes of Toramana. He sent his cousin, Kosnavaz, south with a “great host with dragon banners and cloth-of-gold” in the words of the anonymous Arabian poet who wrote “The Sack of Al-Hirah” in truth, it was a relatively small force – Toramana was, as he would be for much of his reign, preoccupied with subduing rebellious eastern tribes whose chiefs were discontent with the idea of becoming “satraps.” It also was a force of primarily Persian auxiliaries, with only a small elite cadre of the veterans who Hellenistic historians called the “Hephthalite Companions.”

The battles were swift. Kosnavaz, famed taker-of-walls, was reportedly first through the gates. This seems uncharacteristic of him, but some later historians speculated that Toramana was attempting to kill his cousin, who in another life might have been Shah, and that the Lakhmid expedition was never meant to truly succeed. At any rate, it did succeed.

Al-Hirah, the Garden of Paradise itself, was put to a brutal and uncompromising sack. Many slaves were taken, and the great churches were looted. Abu Ya'fur was put to the sword, as was his entire family. According to our Christian sources, Kosnavaz at that point, after bathing in blood for three days, had a vision of God, rebuking the Prince for his cruel actions against His holy flock. And thus Kosnavaz was struck blind and seven days later died an unrepentant man. Or, more likely, Kosnavaz simply fell ill, or was assassinated by soldiers loyal to Toramana.

The destruction of Lakhm in the short term was a great boon, for it replenished the Eftal coffers, which were still largely maintained by plunder - as was the loyalty of many Eftal troops. However, it was a reflection of Toramana’s refusal to understand the subtleties of the politics of the state he now ruled – a tributary, patronized Lakhm regime might have provided a powerful buffer. As it was, the now ruined region was open to raids by Bedouin – the pagan caravan raiders of the interior had new, more appealing targets, and the Eftal were unprepared to deal with them, especially after a resurgent Roman Empire was growing more aggressive in the West…

Roman Revenge

Vitalian had almost all the advantages in 513. He needed only to use them – and he managed to quite well. The delay in crossing over to Europe merely gave him time to consolidate his hold on the East, and by 514, Marinus’ fleet was in open mutiny after having not received pay, Anastasius I was dead of a festering infection, and the mob would eventually get their wish – the heads of both the Syrian and the Emperor on stakes after grisly mob executions which would set the tone for Roman regime change for years to come.

Vitalian arrived in Constantinople at the head of a veteran army, well-trained and well-disciplined, and no sooner had he finalized his status as Emperor than he rode north to break the Gepids – and did so with great success. Upon his return to the capital, he was granted a marvelous triumph. Little did he know that his victories would only give the Bulgar-Hunnic successor states which were forming a vacuum to further establish their power in.

By 518, Vitalian had completed, ironically, the centralized taxation system begun by Marinus, increasing state income and using it to outfit new armies and repair some of the devastation inflicted by the previous round of warfare with the Eftal – as well as a new line of forts in Moesia and Thracia. New legions of the comitatenses were raised, and he felt confident enough to order reprisal raids into Orsoene, even as he began eying with suspicion the Goths to the west, whose power and unity seemed to be growing under Theoderic.

Toramana (516-532)

Despite low-intensity conflict along the Roman border, Toramana’s reign is largely regarded as a peaceful one. He rarely settled long enough to see the results of his building projects, but they were impressive – bringing a Baktrian style into vogue. His main efforts were focused on creating satrapies out of the nomadic tribes across Sakastan and Baktria, where many of the Eftal had settled, subduing rebellious Christian elements with a mixture of tax breaks and vicious reprisals, and finally, towards the end of his reign, Armenia, where he sought to build new fortresses to guard against Roman incursions, and negotiated a marriage alliance with a local Alan leader.

While he was sympathetic to the Buddhist populations, and founded many monasteries and libraries, Toramana was also seemingly sympathetic to all religions – perhaps due to the amount of privileges he was forced to grant the commissions, he founded an enormous Zoroastrian temple in Komish, and a series of Manichaean temples in the Mesun region.

Toramana had no children, but he had “adopted” a close friend of his, Khauwashta, who would succeed him. Khauwashta, half-Kidarite by birth, and either a Buddhist or a Buddhist sympathizer, was not as easily accepted by the nobles, many of whom were prejudiced against Buddhists, and some historians have mused that one of the reasons for Toramana’s frequent state visits between the satrapies was to ensure that the young Khauwashta could make personal friendships with some of those who he would one day have to rule.

Up next: A Look to the West
Well it's novel that the White Huns aren't passing down the Persian throne from father to son but more like the approach done in late Republican and early Imperial Rome. Will it last! :D

Deleted member 67076

The Eftal have their work cut out of them. Persia is huge, the nomads don't like taking order and the bureaucracy of the Sassanids was always lacking until Khosrau came along. Its prudent of them to spend the next few decades cementing control and building up the state- neither the Romans nor the Gokturks are going anywhere.

And speaking of the Romans, they're probably still going to try and take out the Vandals; the region is very wealthy, its increasingly unstable, carries immense geopolitical weight to it and of course, there's the revenge aspect. I personally find it unlikely the Vandals will survive much longer than they historically did, which means that Rome is going to get a very wealthy and populated province to fund their wars.
This is very cool.

I shall be following this.

I'm curious why there is such persecution of the Mesopotamian Christians though. The Christians of Mesopotamia were probably mainly Nostorians by this point, and the independence of the Church in Persia was almost a century old at this point, so I am doubtful that there would be that much sympathy of the Persian Christians with the oppressors in the West. Is the Eftal regime just inheriting the distrust of Christians that was common among the Persian elites at the time? Or am I forgetting something?

Soverihn: Persia is huge, and difficult to govern. The consolidation period will be an interesting one.

I agree that the Romans will likely try a reconquest at some point - especially in Africa. Justinian being butterflied doesn't mean someone won't give it a shot.

Grouchio: The White Huns look like Iranian steppe nomads. We have it from the Greeks that they were taller and lighter-skinned than the Turks or Mongols, and I imagine that they look rather like their Iranian subjects. Culturally of course there's large differences.

Fasquadron: There isn't necessarily a huge persecution of them. The Mesopotamian Christians got the short end of the stick in that they happened to reside in a wealthy, urban area that the Eftal did a good bit of plundering in, and are bitter about all the settlers being brought in (to counteract the OTL depopulation of the region due to OTL famine as well as alternate history Eftal plundering and sacks) they embarked upon various attempts to rebel (culminating in 511) that have been suppressed. These attempts, however, have made the Eftal leadership generally decide the Persians were right to distrust the Church in Persia in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, the Eftal themselves do contain a small but important number of Nestorian Christians, mostly recent converts. The Christian population of Mesopotamia isn't going away anytime soon - I believe it's far too large for that.

Which leads into Noblesse's question: Eftal Persia is a meeting place of wildly different philosophies. The Eftals brought Buddhism, Hinduism, and their own shamanic traditions into the region, on top of the existing Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism and Christianity. There are also likely a small number of Eftal people who aren't ethnically Eftal but Turkic or Mongol and thus worship Tengri or some variant on that. I believe the historical consensus is that the Hephthalites are polyglot.

Notably, Zoroastrianism now has no state-enforced orthodoxy, and we should expect various heterodoxies or movements that might emerge to get the same treatment as orthodox Zoroastrianism - as long as you pay your taxes and don't incite rebellion, you'll be treated decently.

A lot of this stuff I hope to cover in more detail over time.
Interesting. Brutal and sensible at the same time, yet like the Romans lacking a proper succession system.

I foresee interesting times.
Three Directions
A Look to the East

By the time of Chounu Qagan, the Rourans were a people on the decline. Their hegemony was failing. To their north, a people called the Tujue, or Turks, were growing in strength, subverting Rouran authority, driving their allies and confederates south with incessant warfare. These new “Celestial” Tujue were powerful, adaptable, and numerous. Already they were driving what remained of the Gaoche tribes south, where the displaced Gaoche were coming into clashes with a people that the Chinese called the I-ta, and the Greeks called the Hephthalites.

Attempts by the Eftal satrapies to funnel these migrations constructively tended to lead to violence. As a emi-nomadic people the I-ta or Eftal were still more adept at handling these migrations than their Persian counterparts, frequently incorporating them into the military apparatus as mercenaries. The Eftal were already a polyglot mix and had little compunctions about alliance with these new migratory peoples. The Gaoche in particular, composing much of what remained of the Xiongnu, were something of distant linguistic and cultural cousins to the Eftal. While some of these migratory tribes were allowed to give their loyalty to the Eftal Shah or individual satraps and serve alternately as mercenaries or auxiliaries, many were either annihilated or redirected back towards the Eurasian steppe.

The Tujue, or Kokturks as they would come to be known, would present a growing threat to the Eftal Empire, but only with the benefit of hindsight could they have been prevented from rising. In 526, the Rouran sent ambassadors to the Eftal court at Balkh, pleading for aid. In the vacuum caused by the Eftal migrations the Turks had grown strong, incorporating into their hegemony many disparate peoples. It is unclear if the Satrap of Balkh sent any aid, but it unlikely, since by 549, the Rouran hegemony would be properly broken, and the Celestial Turks would seem, at least by the records of Chinese historians, to have taken their place, driving the Rouran south.

The fall of the Rouran was a slow affair, as many such tribal conflicts were. It was not the effect of any one decisive war but rather the effect of migrations – migrations that would spur on another wave of refugee peoples – Iranic tribes scattered south or west, movements which would precipitate even greater migrations amongst the Slavs and Bulgars. In certain cases, these migrations provided fresh steppe manpower to the ever outnumbered Eftal Shahs. In many other cases however, they offered threats and opportunities to the eastern satraps, satraps who gained more delegated power due to the magnitude of the threats facing them and became increasingly independent despite attempts at centralization.

A Look to the West

In the year 519, Theoderic the Great lay dead, and in his wake it was uncertain what would become of his Kingdom. Nominally a part of the Roman Empire, he had toed a careful line between autocrat and custodian, playing different roles for his various subject populations, and a different role for the Roman Emperor than either. But now he was buried with all the splendor befitting a king.

It was not look after that Eutharic, his son-in-law was crowned. An Ostrogothic aristocrat, he had been onetime Consul in Rome. His marriage to Amalasuntha had been one of clever political maneuvering – an attempt to unite East and West Goths together under one crown. He was invested with the title of Magister Militum by Emperor Vitalian not long after his crowning, in an attempt to shore up the allegiance of his Gothic “ally.” Eutharic was not, however a tolerant man, but an Arian through and through, famous for siding with even Jews over the Roman Chalcedonian Catholics.

He kept his wife’s Romanophilic tendencies in line, ensuring that their children were fostered among various Gothic nobles. Despite Vitalian’s increasingly overt attempts to curry favor with him, he gave every indication of wanting to rule as a sole King, not as a subordinate of an Emperor. And it soon became clear why Vitalian had been cozying up to him.

Despite ongoing low-level conflict with the Eftal Shahs in the East, Vitalian was increasingly confident that the threat from the east was less important than reclaiming the West, and further had been able to secure with a very low tribute even a cessation of that level of violence. Vandal North Africa made an appealing target, and despite Zeno’s proclamation of eternal peace with the Vandals, the recent persecutions of Catholics in the region, not to mention what appeared to be the utter collapse of Vandal rule in the face of Berber invasions meant that the time to strike, if ever, was now.

After all, all reports seemed to indicate that the Eftal were preoccupied, and the Vandal realm seemed to be collapsing. An unwarlike king named Hilderic had taken the Vandal throne, and all reports indicated that the Igherman people the Romans called Gaetuli were raiding and slowly gaining control of the region. Vitalian hoped to strike while Hilderic was distracted with matters in the interior.

It is unclear to what extent these were the ambitions of the Thracian Emperor himself, and to what degree these were the ambitions of his nephew, Ioannes who Vitalian planned to give command over the operation, despite his relative inexperience. Perhaps to offset this inexperience, subordinates such as Bessas, a Gothic officer who had distinguished himself in the East with Vitalian. Whatever the situation, planning quickly fell flat as Eutharic flatly denied the Roman Empire the bases he would need in Sicily to carry out such an operation. Eutharic reportedly feared that the bases were part of a plan by the Romans to wrest Sicily from his control. This would turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Cautious voices in the Imperial administration counseled wisely against attempting to strike without nearby ports from which to do so, and Vitalian became increasingly wary of the Gothic regime – especially after the Roman Senate sent letters to Constantinople pleading for an intervention. With the schism of Emperor Anastasius resolved, many of the Roman population increasingly felt that they were a people occupied, and that the Goths were eroding their influence. Some of these conspiratorial letters were intercepted, leading to a series of executions in 522, including that of the philosopher Boetius and his two sons and the near-dismantling of the Senate. All this cemented the idea in Vitalian’s mind that invention in Italy to bring back a pro-Roman regime would be a prerequisite to any intervention in North Africa.

And further, with all immediate threats seemingly resolved, Vitalian felt comfortable sending forth his nephew…

A Look to the South

The relative era of peace in the East lead to great prosperity. Many of the urban areas which had been damaged in the early Eftal sacks showed signs of recovery – particularly Ctesiphon and Al-Hira, now called Khishiwan and settled by a mixed population of Eftal Xiongnu and Arabs – a sign of the new reality of Persia. The famed gardens would recover by mid-century, and Khishiwan or Al-Hira, whichever one chose to call it, would become a great center of Nestorian Christianity once more.

The trade with India was a great boon – with the advent of relative peace, goods could flow through Mesopotamia once more, and some of the great east-west highways of commerce were restored. The Eftal were not a particularly mercantile people, and indeed allowed affairs on the Arabian peninsula to continue much as they always had – with Arabian, Hindi, and Persian merchants plying their goods, and only the faces of the tax collectors having truly changed, so to speak. Tax collection under the early Eftal Shah was not always efficient or well ordered, and as such local merchants often made exorbitant profits.

However, this was still a world in flux. Trade lanes went either through the Eftal Shah, or the Aksumite Kings who dominated Himyar – a situation which brought the Iranians into direct competition with the Aksumites. While the historical record of this region is spotty, it seems around the year 525 the Hadhrami, a mercantile people themselves, threw off the Himyar, and thus Ethiopian yoke with the aid of Iranian money and mercenaries. It is highly probable that this was the act of the local satrap of Mazun.

[Unfortunately for the Romans, a lot of Justinian's famous generals are butterflied in this timeline from actually gaining overall command of armies. Vitalian is a different sort of Emperor and rather into nepotism. So we get an earlier, and potentially less ably planned attempt at reconquest.]
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Deleted member 67076

Italy before North Africa? That's a first. (not that I'm complaining)

Difficult to see how things would go. On the one hand, the Goths were able to put up quite a fight historically, on the other, the Romans might actually decide to invest far more troops into the conquest of Italy in order to take North Africa as soon as possible, thus being able to overrun the Goths before they can really mount a capable defense. Rather than the historical 15-20,000 troops Belisarius had under his control in Italy, Ionnes might have upwards of 30,000.

At the same time the Iranians are stuck fighting proxy wars against the Ethiopians, that's going to be very interesting. Ethiopia might appeal to her Roman ally later on shifting the focus of the Roman-Persian wars from the Caucus to Arabia.
The Turks are rumbling in Transoxiana. The vaccum of power pushing forth peoples in every direction. Clashes in the east will more then likely be inevitable.

How much of the Iranian military style and apparatus are the White Huns incorporating?