The Third Rome - A Byzantine Timeline

Antigonos in the Morea: Part Three
@Harlequin thank you, man!


On the tenth of January, 1544, a haunted, bedraggled figure approached the gates of Corinth -- a threadbare man, tired, his face lined, his hands calloused -- and sought succour from the Roman commander there.

Though he was the former Despot Demetrios' man, the governor of Corinth -- one Matthew Palaiologos Asen -- was a dependable sort; well respected for his skill both as a warrior and an administrator. Despite his association with the Emperor's treacherous uncle, Asen had managed to retain his position in Corinth -- no small thanks to the efforts of Manuel Laskaris, who had argued the man's cause to Antigonos tirelessly -- and now it was he who was presented with this ragged wanderer.

The ragged wanderer, however, was none other than George Sphrantzes. Sphrantzes had been Constantine XI's most faithful of companions -- 'My brother's favourite hound,' Demetrios had once remarked acidly -- and had fought during the Siege of Constantinople. On the last day, Sphrantzes had been inspecting the city's defences on his master's command, and had thus been saved from the carnage of the Emperor's last stand. Sphrantzes had been captured and sold as a slave in those bleak days that had followed; but -- silver-tongued and still rich -- bought his freedom and had made the journey to the Morea, half-a-beggar.

Sphrantzes drank thirstily and ate greedily, inquiring after Thomas the Despot -- whom he sought to serve -- and much rejoicing when he learned that the young Emperor, Antigonos, was enthroned safely behind the walls of Mystras.

The Despot Thomas, Asen informed Sphrantzes, had once again taken up residence in Patras, although most of the Emperor's household -- Theophilos the tutor, Rhangabes the giant, the squadron of magnificent horsemen that had sailed from Naxos -- had travelled down to Mystras to attend upon Antigonos.

Sphrantzes was now outfitted with fresh clothing and a horse and set off across the Morea, bound for Mystras, where he would swear himself to his former master's son. Sphrantzes had been Constantine's chief ambassador, but he had also played a part in Antigonos' education; and although duty had moulded him into a man of war, he was, much like Theophilos Palaiologos, a man more suited for gentle pursuits.

But Sphrantzes hurried journey held another gift: the presence of his son, John. John had been one of the children who had accompanied Antigonos to Naxos, a year past now, and was now -- according to Asen at least -- attending upon the Emperor in Mystras. Sphrantzes had another living child, a daughter named Thamar, who had remained in Constantinople and survived the Siege; but the Turks had made her a slave and Sphrantzes had found himself unable to locate her.

Sphrantzes reunion with the Emperor and his son was tear-filled but joyous. He swore himself to the Emperor and wept over the death of Constantine, unashamed of his years before the packed court, and lamented that he had not died besides the man. He recounted to Antigonos and his attendees the days in the immediate aftermath of the Siege; how he, injured, had been tended to by the Ottomans and then sold into slavery, how the city's churches had already begun to be reconsecrated into mosques -- something that was greeted with hisses of breath and godly proclamations -- and how Mehmed, curse his name, had made Constantinople his new capital.

Sombre silence followed. Antigonos, enthroned, his hands bunched into fists that whitened his knuckles, dreamed of vengeance. He accepted Sphrantzes into his service and absolved him of any guilt he might feel and then, immediately, asked the man to leave.

The Morea would not -- could not -- stand alone against the Sultan and his hordes. Sphrantzes would first head to Rome and appeal to the Pope for aid and then, on a year-long journey, would visit the cities of Italy and the kingdoms of Europe, imploring their leaders to send men to the Emperor's side.

Antigonos, meanwhile, visited the lords of the Morea and preached unity. The charming, dashing young Emperor won over the hearts of men easily. The sons and daughters of these lords were welcomed into the Emperor's service; and soon Mystras was bustling and clamouring with young boys and girls who would, Antigonos' advisors hoped, form the basis of the army that retook Constantinople.

In 1455, a host of Hungarians, some five thousand strong, arrived overland in the Morea. The Hungarians had long been opponents of Islamic expansion and now they came to make a stand with the Roman Emperor. They were led by John Hunyadi -- an experienced commander and statesmen -- and his sons, Ladislaus and Matthias. Hunyadi, much like Sphrantzes, expressed his regret over the death of the Emperor and the fall of Constantinople, and vowed that he would not make the same mistake with Antigonos and the Morea.

In order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and alliance between the Hungarians and the Romans, Antigonos arranged that his cousin Helena be betrothed to Hunyadi's elder son, Ladislaus.

Finally, it seemed that the Morea had found her salvation.

And then news came from Corinth.

Mehmed had roused himself from Constantinople and entered the Morea.
The Siege of Corinth
Above the ruined walls of Corinth, smoke clotted the skies. Ottoman cannons thundered and sent plumes of smoke spilling across the plains. Carrion birds circled, black and ominous. Surrounding the city was a sea of tents, siegeworks and men; a veritable horde of heathens and their indentured Christian slave-warriors, all mastered by the young man they were calling the Conqueror.

Asen, Corinth's hard-nosed governor, had denied Mehmed's offer of honourable surrender. He had proven his worth a dozen times since -- holding the wall until the wall became a field of strewn rubble and then, after Mehmed's crack infantry brigades had poured into the city proper, he had turned the streets into a labyrinth fraught with deadends and kill-zones -- but had now been forced back into the Acrocorinth. The Acrocorinth was perhaps the Morea's strongest of fortresses; sitting atop a huge spur of rock, protected by three circuit walls, and within these walls lay a spring of water. It was, Mehmed knew, almost impossible take.

And yet, the young Sultan had seized Constantinople with ferocity alone. He had broken Corinth's outer walls in a matter of weeks -- bombarding them unceasingly, mercilessly, undermining them, storming them with his veterans -- and would not be deterred.

Nonetheless, the Sultan sent another emissary up the hill to the gates of the Acrocorinth and offered a peaceful surrender. Asen reportedly shouted back that he would 'rather eat the leather of his boots than sell his soul to the Devil,' and sent the emissary tumbling down the hill, chased by a flurry of arrows.

Asen was gambling with fate. The Acrocorinth was virtually impregnable, but Asen knew that the entirety of Mehmed's land-wasting cannons would be brought against the walls. He was now counting upon the arrival of the Emperor and his army.

Before Corinth's outer walls had been breached, a messenger had arrived from Mystras promising aid; Antigonos, it was said, was gathering together a host of Romans to confront his father's killer. Asen just had to hold out. It was the 3rd of February, 1455.

Mehmed, most humiliatingly, claimed himself to be the true Emperor of the Romans. Mehmed now ordered Karaja Pasha, the commanding officer of his European army, to take the Acrocorinth at all costs. It was a gruelling prospect. Even with the resources afforded to him -- the fifty or so cannons, the twenty thousand men, the fleet of sleek galleys that lay in Corinth's captured harbour -- Karaja was plagued by doubt.

The Conqueror then tasked another of his officers -- Zaganos Pasha, a tall, intimidating Albanian convert who was noted for his intelligence and his cruelty -- to ride into the Morea, with some four thousand cavalry, and bring the surrounding lands into submission. What followed was a brief, bloody reign of terror; the thunder of hooves, the blaring of horns, the hissing of blades through the air.

Meanwhile, only twenty two miles away, the young Emperor was encamped in Nemea. Although his advisors -- particularly Theophilos and Rhangabes -- had pleaded with him to remain behind in Mystras, Antigonos had refused. Antigonos had mustered some twelve thousand men; including Hunyadi's force of Hungarians. His uncle Thomas was leading two thousand out of Patras. Krokodeilos Kladas, a lord of the Morea, was on the road with a further nine hundred.

But how long could Antigonos wait? His spies reported that Mehmed outnumbered him; but much like his father, Antigonos had never shirked from a challenge. On the site where Heracles reportedly slew the Nemean Lion, Antigonos called a council of war.

With Theophilos standing at one shoulder and Rhangabes at the other, Antigonos now made his intentions known; come the next morning, the army at Nemea would make for Corinth. A squadron of six hundred horsemen under the command of Rhangabes and Ladislaus Hunyadi would form the van. He would, he declared to his captains, see this foreign interloper, this heathen dog, this slayer of his father, struck down. The Turks would rue the day they entered the Morea.

This was greeted with a ragged cheer. The men shared wine and tales and Antigonos retired to his pavilion.

The next morning, the 7th, the Christian host stirred itself. It was a cool morning in the Morea, dewdrops clinging to mail shirts and glistening upon the helmets; puffs of silvery breath racing from between chattering teeth, and Antigonos now gave a speech -- no doubt written by the great word-smith Theophilos -- that mentioned, in the short, blunt, rude language that soldiers appreciated, his father Constantine, the brave and stiff defence of Constantinople, the misery that had been dealt upon the Romans after Mehmed had taken the city. Then, with a grin that was full of youth, he turned his attention to the Sultan's wives; ridiculing them, telling his soldiers that surely they must have the faces and senses of donkeys to have laid with Mehmed.

He would water the ground with Ottoman blood, Antigonos pressed. He invoked God and together the army prayed; those of the Eastern Christianity and the Western. The young Emperor implored them to find strength in one another and in their faith and then, just after eleven o'clock, the army lurched into a march.

It was a two-day tramp to Corinth. What did Antigonos feel on that journey? Excitement -- only the youthful, only the untested, felt excitement about the prospect of battle -- apprehension, surely, for he was advancing upon the man who had sacked his boyhood home and seen his parents slain, a man who was only ten years his elder and had yet accomplished so much more.

Even as Antigonos approached, Mehmed's hosts continued to assail the Acrocorinth with zealous, bloody-minded determination. Throughout the pale wintery days and the gloomy nights, Mehmed's bombardment continued.

Now news of the Emperor's march reached the Sultan. Invigorated, ready to see the last of the Romans humbled, he prepared his hosts for battle. He had defeated the father; and now, he would defeat the son.
The Siege of Corinth: Part Two

In a dusty field, Antigonos regarded his opponent, Mehmed the Sultan, the killer of his father, the conqueror of his city, and decided that he would see him dead. He saw the Acrocorinth's walls, pitted and cratered and curdled with smoke, and found that his heartbeat quickened; with fear, with excitement, with the thought of drawing his sword and driving it through the heart of the heathen opposite him.

Perhaps, in another life, the two might have been friends. Indeed, both were men of action, brave and bold -- they enjoyed the mutual pursuit of poetry, both the reading and writing of it -- men of ambition, of a certain haughtiness, prone to moods of gloominess and, upon occasion, tyranny. They were obsessive scholars who could speak several languages each. Both were fascinated by the exploits of Julius Caesar and Alexander Great. One witty writer famously wrote that the Sultan and the Emperor were the two sides of the same coin.

What would Antigonos have witnessed? A well-built man; aquiline in profile, with a long, hawkish nose perched above full lips. Turbaned and kaftanned, with a sword upon his own hip; sat atop an ill-tempered charger that bared its teeth and stamped an impatient hoof.

Mehmed, meanwhile, would have been faced by a young boy, dark-haired and dark-eyed, his limbs long -- like those of a racing hound -- and clad in a coat of golden chainmail and a purple cloak.

Both spoke amicably. Mehmed wished good health upon Antigonos and finished each sentence with a toothy smile; the Sultan even greeted Rhangabes, claiming to remember the Emperor's champion from the Great Siege -- 'For few are as large and handsome as you,' he reportedly said, delightedly -- and then, with a hint of admiration in his voice, lamented that Constantine had spurned his peace efforts and died in the taking of Constantinople.

Antigonos thanked the Sultan for his condolences, in perfect -- if sharply-accented -- Turkish, and prayed that Mehmed would break the siege of the Acrocorinth and spare them all from misery.

Behind both parties, their armies awaited; a mass of men and horse, banners fluttering lazily in the wind, mail, spear-points and helmets glistering with sunlight. Men traded wineskins and boasts in equal measure. Prayers spilled from dry mouths. The Turkish lines overextended those of the Romans; but most of Mehmed's cavalry was away with Zaganos Pasha, razing the countryside.

And out in the no man's land, where blood would turn the dusty soil into a mire, the two rulers were locked in conversation.

Terms were now being aired. Mehmed would allow the Emperor to retain his lands in the Morea -- a generous offer -- but would expect a yearly tithe from Antigonos and a formal renouncement of the Emperor's claim to Constantinople. Antigonos would also need to submit and recognise the Sultan as his master.

Antigonos fell into a long, contemplative silence. John Hunyadi, riding at his side, spat and muttered a curse in Hungarian. Hunyadi and his sons had disagreed with Antigonos' insistence on meeting with the Sultan. A hard strike, for the throat, is what he had suggested. Rhangabes had agreed with Hunyadi and fallen into a dismayed silence when the young Emperor proved himself stubborn as an ox and trotted out to speak with Mehmed.

And then, he agreed. It was surely a bitter decision; the words heavy upon his tongue, but what other option did he truly have? If he chose battle, his men would die. He might die. The Morea would burn and the House of Palaiologos' rule would come crashing to an end.

Hunyadi, enraged, turned his horse and galloped away. Theophilos -- who had also accompanied the Emperor on his march -- went pale and followed after the Hungarian. Rhangabes sucked his breath between clenched teeth and tightened his hands around his reins.

And Antigonos edged his horse closer, leaned over in the saddle and kissed the Sultan's ring. In the Roman army, men cursed; their banners and spears wavered in the air. The Hungarians muttered bitterly amongst themselves.

Antigonos now asked the Sultan leave to see supplies delivered to Asen and his defenders. The bombardment of the Acrocorinth would cease at once and the gates would be opened. Both armies would camp opposite another and, in the morning, a formal ceremony would be held; followed by an evening of celebration. Mehmed agreed.

The Sultan returned to his camp, victorious, and a great ululating cry could be heard from the throats of the Turks.

Only gloomy silence greeted the Emperor as he was swallowed by the ranks. He ordered his tent erected and then summoned his commanders. Here, he laid out his plan.

It was the 12th of February. Soon, the sun retreated beneath the horizon and the moon rose high. Under the cover of darkness, the Emperor launched his attack.

The sound of a massed cavalry charge is truly a terrifying thing; a rumble, a thundering, a great, shaking vibration in the air and the earth, amplified by battle cries, by the sound of horns, by the rattle of armour. The charge of Antigonos' horsemen, with Rhangabes the giant and Ladislaus the Hungarian at the head, would be remembered by all present for years to come. It was a hellish night, windy, torches fluttering above the heads of the riders; armour glowing cherry-red, swords rendered as slithers of moonlight stained with blood, faces twisted into snarls of shadow and hate.

Behind the horsemen came a running line of infantry, pikes lowered, swords drawn; trampling across the dusty field where, hours before, the Emperor had sworn friendship to Mehmed the Turk. The Turkish sentries were overwhelmed and butchered, left as crow-food, and the horsemen and infantry now poured into Mehmed's well-organised camp. Beautiful tents went up in flames. As men stumbled from them, aflame, crying out in shock, they were struck down.

Panic filled the night. The Turks, to their credit, rallied quickly; now true battle was met. Mehmed, his face dark with anger and his voice poisonous, led a counter-attack that saw the charge stalled. Here, he fought as brave as a lion; knocking Ladislaus Hunyadi from his saddle and burying his sword between the young man's eyes. The air was filled with the acrid sting of smoke and burning flesh; with the stink of spilled guts and the iron-taste of blood. From the Acrocorinth, Asen's defenders sallied out, led by the redoubtable man himself.

Antigonos, escorted by the most formidable of his warriors, joined the battle; killing his first man when he struck him across the head and trampled him to death -- for-ever earning the moniker Keraunos, 'Thunderbolt,' for the night-time assault -- and cheered when it became evident that the Turks were fleeing. The Romans and their Hungarian allies continued to harry the Turks throughout the night, chasing them across the Isthmus of Corinth; unrelenting, a veritable tide of warriors who smashed into them from behind and bore them down with wickedly sharp steel. Mehmed, surrounded by his Janissaries, had to be forced from the battlefield and onto one of the Turkish ships in Corinth's harbour; cursing, lathered with the blood of the Christians, vowing vengeance, shouting his hatred.

The Sultan's war-chest was captured. As the sun rose the next morning, Antigonos and his men -- steaming with gore, exhausted, their breath silvery in the pale winter air -- shared the gold. Some of Mehmed's harem had been captured, but these were treated kindly by the young Emperor and secreted away from prying eyes and wandering hands.

Now, Antigonos needed to deal with the men he had taken prisoner. A young Wallachian princeling in the service of the Hungarians now came forwards with a suggestion; a man known to history as Vlad Dracula. Dracula had been raised in the Ottoman court and had seen their ways of punishment -- and learned them -- first-hand.

On the 15th of February, the Ottoman prisoners -- some one thousand and thirty -- were impaled upon the Isthmus. Vlad Dracula oversaw this; with some cruel delight. The Ottoman prisoners -- not just Turks but their allies too -- were kept alive throughout the ordeal and lingered, in agony, for days.

But little rest could be enjoyed. Zaganos Pasha and his horsemen were still on the loose and needed to be dealt with.


Monthly Donor
First I was 😟, then 😯, then 😨.

Lacking, as I do, more than a vague grasp of the period's history, I hadn't realized Dracula was concurrent with the other events going on. Almost as surprised to see him as the Ottomans likely were at his actions.
This... This is why I came to this site.

Byzantium triumphant? Constantinople retaken? A lost prince coming to take what belongs to him?!

Good sir, you had me hooked two sentences in. And I, for one, cannot wait to see what you have planned next.

Hail, Antigonos. May your reign be long and full of Ottoman blood.
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Now, Antigonos needed to deal with the men he had taken prisoner. A young Wallachian princeling in the service of the Hungarians now came forwards with a suggestion; a man known to history as Vlad Dracula. Dracula had been raised in the Ottoman court and had seen their ways of punishment -- and learned them -- first-hand.

On the 15th of February, the Ottoman prisoners -- some one thousand and thirty -- were impaled upon the Isthmus. Vlad Dracula oversaw this; with some cruel delight. The Ottoman prisoners -- not just Turks but their allies too -- were kept alive throughout the ordeal and lingered, in agony, for days.
When he introduced himself to the Autokrator, he said simply, "I am Dracula."

He had sworn an oath to abstain, and so when the Imperial servants offered to fill his cup he said, "I do not drink . . . wine."

And when the wolves howl for their feast, he will say, "Children of the night. What music they make."