PROLOGUE The carnage was everywhere as far as the eye could see, blood stains painting the streets in sinister crimson, splattering under the hooves of thousands horses; even the seasoned veterans frequently turned their eyes away, making the sign of the cross and uttering prayers at the sight of their work. There was no one left standing; every Saracen in the city was slaughtered with no mercy shown, revenge for the occupation of the Holy City that was once again in the hands of soldiers of Christ. The man on the horse smiled, observing the utter devastation from the higher ground. He was already rather aged, but still powerfully built, clad in expensive armor embellished with the black eagle on yellow field. A great sword rested at his side, adorned with gold and jewels, a symbol of status in the war-torn world. The man’s great red beard showed more than a few strains of grey hair, and his movements, while still betraying the great deal of strength in his bulky frame, showed more than a few signs of coming old age. As the knights of his entourage looked down at the Holy City of Jerusalem, engulfed in plunder, slaughter, and rapine, he reflected on his moment of triumph. This was the one accomplishment not even the greatest of his predecessors could match, the crowning achievement of the four and a half decades of his life’s struggle. He could remember the days long gone when panic spread through all of Christendom when the Saracens took Edessa, and the humiliation that his uncle and predecessor suffered on the ill-advised foreign adventure; now was the time for payback. He thought of the churchmen in distant Rome, so sure of their innate superiority to him and his likes, yet too cowardly to do anything but hide behind the walls of the Vatican while the real men fought and died to spread the word of God and His Son into the lands the meek and degenerate long deserted. At least the Saracens, infidels and heretics they might be, were in his mind preferable to the overbearing, controlling so-called “Vicar of Christ” and his clique of sycophants and master manipulators, the very ones who would dare to deny him, the Holy Roman Emperor, his birthright, and the birthright of his Empire. At least the Saracens, misguided as they were, were brave, fearless, fighting to death against his men, and dying on the streets of Jerusalem as the payment for their bravery. In another time, another place, he would have spared a few words of admiration for an enemy like that, fighting whom would be stories worth of minstrels singing about for centuries to come. Yet, this was neither time nor place, for the Warriors of Christ proven victorious once again, and now there would be no one to deny that God is truly with them, with him. Then, his thoughts darted towards the distant north-west, towards the city of the Greek schismatics on the Bosphorus. How could these heretics claim his title, passed on through Charlemagne and Otto the Saxon? How could they dare to claim their superiority to the true Emperor of the West? He had little love for them… hell, he thought, at least the Saracens could be noble, virtuous, and honorable – the Greeks were weak, degenerate, constantly scheming against him and against one another. Maybe, he thought, one day they will be shown the might of the one true Roman Empire, and be made to bow down like the vermin they were. At least that Saladin fellow held strong and proud before the axe of the executioner; he doubted that Isaakios of Constantinople would even manage a straight face for a short moment before breaking down in pleas for his life. He hated these schismatics more so than the Pope and his schemes. He knew, however, that the time was growing short. He was already nearing seventy years of age, and as much as he liked to think otherwise, his time on this earth was nearly over. Who would continue the struggle, he thought? There was one thing he envied of the Greek basileus, the ease with which he seemed to be able to control the Patriarch of Constantinople – and how little the Patriarch was able to interfere in the worldly affairs. Maybe, one day… a thought simmered in his mind. Maybe not him, but one of his successors would be able to return the reign of Emperors to Europe, and to make the insolent, proud nobles and clerics alike bow down to them, like it was once before – and like it shall be again. The wind blew a patch of dust into his face, dry desert sand drenched in blood of this fateful day. He knew today that his place in history was complete, and that, like Charlemagne, Constantine, or Augustus, he has accomplished what was laid out before him, to be remembered forever in the moment of his victory, untarnished by defeat or setbacks. The wind made the man’s long cloak waver in the hot air of afternoon, revealing the insignia of the House of Hohenstaufen, and the Imperial Eagle – the eagle of Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, and now – the eagle of Frederick Hohenstaufen, the first of his name to hold the scepter of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Savior of Jerusalem. Frederick smiled again, this time a wolfish grin. His name stroke fear into the hearts of Saracen and heretic alike, with all bowing down before him, heard all over the Christendom and in many places beyond. And this name will be the one to remember him by, the man of great deeds and great red beard, Barbarossa! The Aftermath of the Third Crusade (1190-1198) All in all it's just a poor man's crusade Poor man's crusade The Holy Land home of our blessed lord Enslaved and stained by godless hands They shall be damned Jerusalem Is waiting for you To rise once again So we will slaughter in the name of Christ Demons & Wizards “Poor Man’s Crusade” To understand the phenomenon of European history known as the Unholy Roman Empire, it would be necessary to examine the roots of its establishment, hundreds of years before the crowning of Ulrich as the first Unholy Emperor. Thus, it is only fitting that our story begins in the wane of the XIIth century with the one Frederick von Hohenstaufen, more commonly known as Barbarossa. While the story of Frederick’s life and accomplishments prior to the Third Crusade is best told elsewhere, there is no denying that the capture of Jerusalem by the German army in the fall of 1190 was probably the single greatest achievement of the man’s life, at least in his own eyes, and in those of his contemporaries. That Barbarossa lived only for three more years after his most spectacular victory also helped to create the myth of the great Emperor that served as an inspiration to many of his more and less capable successors. To this day there are legends circulating about the late Frederick not being truly dead, but simply asleep, waiting to come to his people in their greatest hour of need, signified by the time when the ravens stop circling around the tower under which he is said to sleep. Thus, when Frederick Barbarossa departed the Holy Land in late 1190, there was no question in the minds of his subjects and, more importantly, other Christian rulers, that this short, unassuming looking man except for the great red beard was truly blessed by God, and commanded authority far greater than that his temporal status gave him. With the succession of his son Henry, future Henry VI, virtually assured, Barbarossa’s reign, despite his failures in Italy and problems enforcing his authority in Germany, was viewed by his contemporaries as an astounding success. With Henry already crowned the King of Germany and, in 1190, the King of Jerusalem, his future seemed bright indeed. When in 1193 Henry VI succeeded to the Imperial crown, he was already an accomplished leader, having been the chief enforcer of his father’s policies in Italy, and a regent during the Third Crusade. By then, Henry could claim a successful expedition against Sicily to his credit, adding it to Hohenstaufen domains on the account of it being his wife Constance’s inheritance, as well as quelling of numerous Guelph rebellions in Northern Italy; the transfer of authority from Frederick to him was therefore smooth and relatively efficient. Within months of his ascent to the crown, Henry shown that he was made of the same material as his late father. Any dissent in Italy was crushed; the recently elected octogenarian Pope Celestine III was in no position to intervene as Henry’s armies encroached on Rome itself. An embassy was sent to the court of the Eastern Emperor Alexius III with demands of tribute, which Alexius was all too quick to give in to. Thinly veiled threats were sent to the court of Richard of England, demanding that the latter recognizes Henry as his suzerain. Richard’s flat out refusal was the source for much political hostility between England and Holy Roman Empire during the remainder of Henry’s eventful reign, mostly displayed in the debate on another Crusade, this time against Egypt. Eager to win for himself the glory and the wealth that such an adventure would bring, Richard attempted to invoke yet another Crusading adventure, which was being opposed by Henry and (through Henry’s forceful manipulation) by the Pope for the fear of Richard becoming too powerful. Secretly, however, aging Celestine hoped that Richard might be his deliverance from this boorish German, and thus soon secret correspondence begun to travel between London and Vatican with alarming frequency. Unfortunately for Henry, while still technically he was the most powerful monarch on the continent, his ability to project power to the British Isles was minimal, to say the least, and with French King being of little help, Henry could do little but wait, all the while trying to centralize his domains and transferring much of his power base to his new fief in Sicily. By 1196, inspired in part by the Byzantine model, Henry attempted to change the succession law in the Holy Roman Empire to be hereditary, rather than elective. Meeting with stiff resistance from the German princes and Italian nobles, Henry was ultimately unsuccessful, albeit he found some significant support for the idea. It was, however, of some consolation to him that the princes agreed to confirm the crowning of his infant son Frederick as the King of Germany, the sure stepping stone to the Holy Roman Empire itself. In a meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe the clouds were gathering fast. In 1195, the Eastern Emperor Isaac II was overthrown by his own brother Alexius III, blinded and imprisoned. However, another Alexius, Isaac’s son, was able to escape his uncle’s trap and found refuge at the court of one Philip of Swabia, a German prince married to dethroned Isaac’s daughter, and almost immediately started to weave the incessant web of intrigue that could only be described befittingly as Byzantine in nature, ultimately hoping to unseat his uncle in Constantinople. Henry was immediately skeptical of this new pretender; it was better for him to have a weak, complacent Emperor in Constantinople that was already a proven quantity, and a relatively worthless one at that. As long as Alexius III was in power, there could be no trouble expected in the East; no matter what promises his young namesake made, the fact remained that in the wrong hands, he might become a pawn of those opposing Henry, and the weapon by which his downfall could be wrought. As long as the ailing Celestine was Pope, Henry was content with his ability to contain any Crusading sentiments that posed direct threat to his supremacy; however, the introduction of young Alexius into the mix of European politics threw all bets off. As Alexius’ promises grew more and more exorbitant, many in England, France, and even German principalities begun to support the idea of a Crusade, financed in large part through the newly restored Emperor of the East. Then, in 1198, the situation changed once again. The Pope Celestine III, already an invalid after series of strokes, died in Rome. In his stead, the Curia elected a man of a very different caliber, the one Lotario de Conti. A scion of one of the most prominent Roman aristocratic families, Conti was the nephew of late Pope Clement III, and despite his relative youth, was no stranger to politics. As the new Pope ascended to the Pontificate under the name of Innocent III, Henry knew that the battle for the hearts and souls of Europe just entered into another round. Opening The Floodgates (1198-1205) Oh, you've been surprised again Pulled like a leaf to the waterfall Everybody's just pretending I thought that you'd learn by now Ooh, think about it one more time What have you got when the god is gone Clouds don't have a silver lining And all you ever get is rain 'Cause you can't get blood from a stone You can't open the door if there's nobody home They've taken it all so just leave me alone You can't get blood from a stone Dio – Blood From A Stone By the time of his ascention, Innocent III was thirty seven years old, and determined to make a lasting impact. His first action upon ascending to the Pontificate was to make the Prefect of Rome swear allegiance to him, rather than to the Emperor, which understandably was not received well in Henry’s court. When Innocent demanded that Romagna be restored to Papal control in 1199, Henry has had enough, and departed for Italy at the head of his knights, with the full intention of removing Innocent and having him replaced with someone more agreeable. Excommunication was quick to follow. When Henry’s troops invaded Italy from the north, the reason for Innocent’s seemingly senseless bravado was made clear – Germany was in arms again, under the leadership of the one Otto, son of Barbarossa’s one-time ally and eventual rival Henry the Lion and the member of the House of Welph – sworn enemies of the Hohenstaufens. Otto was one of the staunchest opponents of making the Emperorship hereditary during Henry’s earlier attempt at that, and was long suspected of harboring the designs on the Empire himself; with Innocent’s backing, and with large sums of money covertly provided by Richard cour-de-Lion of England and Philip Augustus of France (who, ironically, decided to abandon the age-long grudge against England, at least for a time being, in order to put down the more immediate threat of Henry’s Germans), Otto was able to wreak havoc, swaying many of the German nobles to his cause. Now, Henry was faced with a dilemma. On one hand, he was within reach of Rome, and thus could attempt to solve the question of supremacy within his Empire once and for all; on the other hand, if he could not return to Germany and deal with the rebels, there could be not much of the Empire left. Thus outmaneuvered, Henry could do little but accept the Papal offer of peace, which lifted the excommunication at the price of Italian territories of Ancona and Romagna, and recognition of the Papal authority in Rome itself. At any other time, Henry would have probably refused the offer and would have attempted to enforce his authority in Italy by less diplomatic measures; however, as Innocent was able to create a powerful and determined league to ward off Henry’s ambitions, the Emperor was forced to let the Pontiff arbitrate the supposed dispute between him and the rebel Otto. Moreover, to further the Emperor’s humiliation, he had to provide at least several regiments of knights for a new Crusade. The only concessions, seemingly minor at the time, but increasingly important later, won by the Emperor were the affirmations of his son Frederick as both the King of Sicily, and the King of Germany, given out by the Pope as almost an afterthought to placate Henry for the time being. When Henry returned to Germany in mid-1200, the relations between the Emperor and the Pope could not have been much worse. Thus, the call for another Crusade was made in autumn of 1200; however, this time around Innocent believed that having a powerful European ruler lead it would result in said ruler becoming extremely dangerous should he emerge victorious – he did not have to look far back to recall the example of Barbarossa, whose legacy dominated the Papal affairs during Celestine’s pontificate. The call was sent not to the crowned heads of the continent, but to the rank-and-file feudal lords anxious to carve new fiefdoms for themselves in the distant lands. Out-of-work soldiers, disinherited younger sons, petty minor nobles with dreams of power and wealth – all were welcome, and all were to become the weapon by which Innocent III would deliver Egypt from the grip of the infidel. Moreover, the victory would create a set of new Christian states loyal to the Supreme Pontiff and the Mother Church, not to the temporal rulers like despised Henry. At this time, the focus of our story shifts to the lagoons and canals of the city of Venice. A mercantile republic with long history and even longer memory, it long stood as an oddity in the Mediterranean world populated by bandit kings, feudal warlords, or autocratic empires, competing against few other Italian city-states in selling its goods and services to the highest bidders all the while building an empire of its own. By 1201, when Pope’s call for a new Crusade spread with alarming urgency throughout Europe, Venice was in possession of possibly the largest fleet on the continent, her influence growing with every passing day. Its seafaring abilities, long an envy of the kings and emperors, were now going to be put to use in the name of Christ, for the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo negotiated a profitable agreement with the leaders of the new Crusading army, promising to transport the army to Egypt and to provide naval support on the journey in return for their share in any plunder, and land for new colonies in North Africa. However, now there was another factor of unpredictability in the air. With young Alexius Angelus attempting to gather support among the powers of Europe for restoration of his father (and, of course, himself) to the Eastern throne, it was not long before the Venetians sensed a much more profitable venture in the making. As Alexius’ promises of military and financial assistance grew more and more fantastic, the gathering European knights were more and more interested in the idea of subduing the proud and defiant Byzantium, just as the Pope himself looked favorably upon the idea of ending the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches. When in early 1205 the great fleet sailed out, supposedly towards Egypt, no one could guess what its final destination and eventual fate would be. The City Of Men’s Desire (1205-1207) Mortified by the lack of conscience, Our sanctity bears no relevance. Insignificance is our existence, Hear the litany of life's persistence. Our pleas for mercy fall upon unhearing ears, Take my life, my soul, wipe away these bitter tears. Vanquished in the name of your god, One of the same to whom we all pray. Vanquished in the name of your god, One of the same to whom we once prayed Try to close my mind - From the screams I hear, Repentance is denied, the conformation of my fear Bolt Thrower – “IVth Crusade” As the Venetian galleys sailed on to the East, the purpose of the Fourth Crusade became rather clear. With young Alexius in the tow, the armies were bent on achieving one goal – to restore him to the throne, and to obtain the wealth of Constantinople’s suzerain to attack and ultimately conquer Egypt, the last major Saracen bastion in the Middle East. The army gathered upon the ships was of varying composition, with many French and Italian knights and their retinues composing the bulwark of it; however, there was a sizeable German contingent sent by Henry, handpicked from the troops of the princes unquestioningly loyal to him. While only about a third of the army in size, this was where most of the battle-worthy troops hailed from; some were the veterans of the Third Crusade, while some others were inspired by the tales of wealth and power their fathers or older siblings achieved during that adventure. In summer 1205, the great fleet sailed slowly up the Bosphorus, creating widespread panic amongst the Greek landowners and Constantinople’s residents. Courage was by far not one of Alexius III’s few virtues, and the sight of the Crusading army camped under the walls of his capital was more than he could take. Slipping away under the cover of the night with as much of the Imperial treasury as he could get his hands on, he escaped to one of his Thracian estates. Thus, in the most critical moment of its history, the Eastern Empire was left without an Emperor, and with no effective leadership to face the Western army. With the lack of other options apparent, old Isaac II was taken from his cell and draped in Imperial purple, restoring him as the ruler of the city. Due to his blindness, which would have normally disqualified him from ruling in the eyes of the Byzantines, young Alexius IV was hastily brought into the city and crowned co-Emperor. Now, all eyes were on the Emperor to fulfill the promises he made back in the courts of Europe, and now probably regretted ever considering. One of the first things young Alexius found to his dismay was the horrid state the Imperial finances were in after his uncle’s inept reign. By instituting extreme measures and confiscating church and some private funds, he was able to pay off about half of the amount he promised to the Crusading leaders; however, this did little to endear him to the city’s population, who knew very well where their money was going. Nor did he have much support from the Byzantine military, already in the state of decay, with various generals openly questioning his right to be on the Imperial throne. On the other side of the walls, however, was an army determined to take what was promised to them, by force if needed. And within that army, Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, was gaining momentum as its effective leader. This development could not have been any more unwelcome to the Byzantines, as Dandolo seemed to have held a long personal grudge against them, going back, accordingly to the rumors, to the riots of 1186 and 1187 that cost many Latins their lives, and, supposedly, causing Dandolo’s blindness. With this charismatic leader, gradually the focus of the Crusade shifted from simply installing a sympathetic Emperor and collecting their pay, to outright takeover of the schismatic Greeks and their Empire. As the Crusaders’ demands for money grew more and more outspoken, Alexius IV was unable to answer them; the theoretical union of the churches was not accepted throughout the population, and the Byzantines openly questioned if someone more capable than the Angeli should sit on the Throne of Emperors. Finally, in 1206 the official named Alexius Ducas, nicknamed Murtzuphlus due to his connecting eyebrows, decided to take matters into his own hands, successfully executing a plot to kill his younger namesake and to mount the throne himself as Alexius V. Isaac II succumbed quickly as well, suspicions of poisoning circulating around with much validity. This new development was just the excuse the Crusaders needed. As the new Emperor refused to pay up to their demands, and started to reinforce the walls and the city’s garrisons, Dandolo and his compatriots gathered in the outlying district of Galata to make their plans for not only the conquest, but the eventual division of the Byzantine Empire. On the morning of August 6, 1206 the assault on Constantinople begun by both land and sea. The initial fighting was hard, and wave after wave of the Crusaders was repulsed from the walls; not all, however, was well both within and without the walls of the Imperial capital. The demoralized Byzantine troops were hardly able to hold off the invaders; only the regiments of Varangian guards proved to be the reason the city did not fall on the first day of the assault. Many of the noble families were gathering their possessions, ready to leave the city for their estates at the first chance, some even sending emissaries to the advancing Latins to guarantee them the safe passage. Outside the walls, the underlying cracks within the Crusading camp started to show. The first assault was mostly performed using Italian and French troops; Germans sent by Henry saw little of the actual fighting. Now, the Venetians and the French were demanding that the next assault be led by the Germans. The German commanders, handpicked by Henry, were not enthusiastic about the idea of assaulting Constantinople to begin with; in addition, they had secret orders to ensure the Crusade does not end up being a victory for the Papal-sponsored league, instead resulting in an advantage for their Emperor. On the morning of a second day, it seemed that the Crusaders could not even mount an effective assault due to their army being divided. Then, the German camp received a visitor whose presence changed the situation. One of the patrols happened upon the hiding place of Alexius III, and brought the fugitive former Emperor along with his remaining treasures to the camp. He was a usurper, true, and a proven coward; however, with the deaths of Isaac II and Alexius IV, he was the only remaining legitimate candidate for the Byzantine throne. In open defiance of the Venetians and the French, the German army proclaimed that it would fight to restore Alexius III to the throne, but not to install a Latin Emperor. Desperate that his scheme was at the verge of ruin, Dandolo attempted to bribe the German leaders into complying with his orders; with at least a third of his army suddenly flaying away, he knew he could only hope to take Constantinople by reaching some sort of an agreement with them. By October, the negotiations practically stalled as two camps were as far away from each other as they could be. As the last days of October were slowly trickling away, the German camp received another visitor, this time of even more importance. Arriving with his own retinue of knights and supporting troops was Philip of Swabia, the Emperor’s brother and loyal enforcer of his will. By now any chance of agreement was in tatters, as Philip was quick to point out that the presence of the Italians and the French were no longer necessary. Within days of Philip’s arrival, aged Enrico Dandolo, already frustrated with his designs not going as planned, succumbed to illness, leaving the Venetians and the French leaderless; this was the moment Philip chose to strike. Rounding up the Crusading leaders, he proclaimed that as the Emperor’s representative, he is the one with the highest authority in the camp, and that the army shall follow his command. Any dissenting nobles were quickly executed or otherwise silenced; with the German contingent now larger and better organized than their Italian and French counterparts, the room for any dissent was nigh absent. As the army encamped for the winter, Philip sent embassy after embassy to Constantinople, attempting to come to agreement with its Emperor, and, if that failed, with the city’s leading nobles, whose fears of assault by now somewhat eased. The presence of the Crusading army was a thorn in their side, sure – but was a reinstated Emperor such a large price to pay for these unwashed barbarians leaving them alone? This was the question many a Byzantine noble asked himself during the waning days of 1206. On Christmas day, just as Alexius V arrived in Hagia Sophia cathedral for the service, several conspiring nobles attacked him, and hacked him to pieces before the Varangian guard could get to them. Yet again the great city was without a ruler; however, the populace was not willing to accept Alexius III as their rightful sovereign, remembering his conduct nearly two years before. Instead, the Senate made a different offer. Anxious to get rid of the army camped below their walls, and to prevent an instance of another one just like it emerging from the West, they, however, decided that Alexius Angelus was unfit to rule, and definitely not fit to reign. But, was not Philip the husband of late Isaac’s daughter? Was he not, also, the brother of the Western Emperor, the most powerful man in the West, and an ally that they could not afford not to keep? Thus, when Philip of Swabia was invested with the Imperial Purple on New Year’s Day, 1207, the news were received with relief both in Constantinople and the rest of Byzantium, and in the court of Henry, the Emperor of the West. Another man, however, was furious. Not only the upstart Hohenstaufens outplayed and outmaneuvered him this time, Innocent III could never hope to raise another army for his own purpose. Having considered excommunicating both Henry and Philip, he was only able to restrain himself when the rumors that the Imperial army was marching towards Rome started to surface. Yet, he thought, let the Hohenstaufens enjoy their brief triumph. Innocent’s coalition still included Richard of England and Philip Augustus of France; two bitter enemies that were only held together by their mutual fear, hatred, and loathing of Henry and his house. With Henry’s power growing, was it not the time the French and the English provided some much-needed muscle to the Pope’s grand schemes? Trouble In Paradise (1207-1212) An unforeseen future nestled somewhere in time. Unsuspecting victims no warnings, no signs. Judgment day the second coming arrives. Before you see the light you must die. Forgotten children, conform a new faith, Avidity and lust controlled by hate. [the] never ending search for your shattered sanity, Souls of damnation in their own reality. Chaos rampant, An age of distrust. Confrontations. Impulsive habitat. Slayer – “South Of Heaven” As much ambition as Innocent III held, he knew that his sights were set on a rather impossible goal. Yet, after all, was he not Christ’s Vicar on Earth, heir of Saint Peter, and the Supreme Pontiff of all Christendom? Who, but the Pope himself was qualified to sit above the petty squabbles of the earthy princes and kings, to guide the Christendom and its empires towards greater glory, towards the kingdom of God? Innocent spent long months of early 1207 formulating his plans, gathering his allies, and attempting to placate the English and the French into giving up their old rivalries for the sake of crushing the insolent German Emperor. He instantly found that after the outcome of the Fourth Crusade being more favorable to Henry and the House of Hohenstaufen than to anyone else, even Richard Cour-de-Lion of England, known for his hot temper and willingness to risk everything for the sake of adventure, would not commit thoroughly to the league designed to curb the Imperial power. Meanwhile, the thoughts of Emperor Henry were increasingly centered around ensuring the succession of his son Frederick, now aged thirteen. It was his hope to found a true dynasty, not unlike the Emperors of the East, who could at least usually assure the succession of their sons in stark contrast to their Western counterparts, whose attempts to centralize the control of their domains were met with stiff resistance from German princes and the Catholic hierarchy. In late 1209, he felt secure enough to consider another Diet, with the implied purpose of making the Emperorship hereditary. However, just as Henry was preparing to send out the heralds to his sometime untrustworthy and rebellious subjects, a stroke of fortune changed his luck again, via news from faraway Constantinople. There, Philip was facing with a variety of problems, including the increasingly porous border with the various Turkish tribes and the Seljuk Sultanate, the persistent problem of Bulgars, Vlachs, and Serbs pressing on the Empire’s Northern and Western frontiers, and the always restless Greek nobility, scandalized at his insistence of Rome’s ecclesiastic supremacy to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and scoffing at him as a rude and boorish barbarian behind his back, only tolerated because the other alternatives were much worse. Trying to make himself secure, Philip commanded series of expeditions against the Seljuk-ruled Anatolian frontier, most of which were met with only limited success at best; the heavy Western troops had a hard time catching mobile light Seljuk cavalry, while the Greek nobles made it painfully obvious that they had very little interest in campaigning, preferring the comforts of Constantinople to the rigors of the battlefield. Even more trouble awaited him in the capital. While he had little trouble having his seven year old son Otto crowned co-Emperor, the Byzantine intrigue between the Greek nobles rampaged almost unchecked, with a few covertly questioning whether it was a good idea to accept a Teuton Emperor, even if the one with the family ties to the Angeli. Gradually, the intrigue centered around the person of one Theodore Laskaris, son-in-law of former Emperor Alexius III. Lascaris was the most vocal opponent of allowing the Latin Emperor into the city, and even now his allegiance to the new regime was uneasy at best. Having previously distinguished himself as a valiant and resourceful military leader, and commanding respect and grudging admiration from much of the Byzantine and even some of the Latin military, he believed himself to be the rightful successor to the Angeli, his right to the throne being stronger than that of Philip, and his faith remaining unashamedly Orthodox. When by mid-1209 Philip attempted to enforce the Catholic supremacy, Lascaris discovered that the allies were not very hard to find, and even easier to manipulate. Waiting for the right moment to strike, the conspirators soon saw their chance. As most of the Latin troops were away from the capital on a raid into the Turkish territory, Lascaris and his companions attacked Philip in his palace, where the latter was hacked to death. Running through the streets of Constantinople with their bloody swords and the detached head of Philip, the conspirators made their way into Hagia Sophia, where they announced to the surprised populace that the Latin occupation was over, and that the true Orthodox Emperor was to be crowned. As Theodore Lascaris accepted the crown from the trembling hands of the Patriarch, he knew very well that his empire was in a precarious position. It would not survive another Crusade; even now, there were thousands of Latin troops through its principal cities; his primary hope was in the fact that the Western European politics would make it impossible for any major undertakings to be made. Thus, he had to tread on very thin ice. First, there was a matter of young Otto. Under different circumstances, Lascaris would have happily ordered the boy to be disposed of, or at the very least blinded or castrated in order to invalidate his claim to the throne; however, anything that might placate the Western Emperor Henry could also prevent him from retaliating. Thus, Otto was forced into a monastery, however, suffering no mutilations or other injuries. When the word of it reached the Latin army, the German commanders were in a state of rage. The twenty thousand strong German army quickly marched on the capital, laying waste to the parts of Byzantine Asia they passed through. A Byzantine army under command of one Michael Ducas was smashed near Nicomedia, and Ducas himself was lucky to escape alive. In the capital, the general mood was on the verge of complete panic. As the rumor of Henry’s promise of reinforcements to the Latin leaders trickled its way into the city, many Byzantine nobles outright fled the capital for the dubious safety of their country estates, hoping to disassociate themselves from this new government. In 1210, the second siege of Constantinople begun. However, this time around Lascaris was able to commandeer the citizens into a spirited defence against lesser Latin army, whose troops launched assault after assault upon the city walls. But the walls stood firm; little by little, courage was returning to the defenders, who sent numerous sallies against the Latins, sometimes with much success. In Vatican, the Pope Innocent watched these developments with satisfaction. He was not overtly enthusiastic about the idea of a schismatic on the throne of the East; however, this was still greatly preferable to the hated Hohenstaufens. When Henry attempted to crown his son Frederick co-Emperor in order to govern his empire while Henry himself sailed towards Constantinople, Innocent flat out refused to perform the ceremony, and threatened excommunication should such a ceremony be performed. Henry’s anguish and rage were not hard to imagine; not only the Pope managed to prevent him from ensuring his son’s succession, but also from being able to safely launch an assault against his brother’s murderer, and a usurper to his own title! Enraged, Henry swept down into Italy, however, during the siege of Milan, now occupied by Gwelph-affiliated Papal supporters, Henry was fatally wounded by an arrow, dying in September of 1210. Henry’s death sent shocks through Europe. Shortly before departing towards Italy, he had young Frederick crowned King of Germany and King of Sicily in open defiance of the Pope; now Frederick’s birthright was at stake. Henry’s old enemy Otto once again assumed leadership of a ragtag group of German barons, getting himself crowned an anti-King, and soon the Holy Roman Emperor, all with the covert blessing of Innocent, who even now attempted to strengthen the Papal armies and to retake the regions of Italy from the Imperial domination. By 1211, Frederick was in Sicily, where he started gathering an army to assault Rome from the south, and to put a more agreeable Pope in power; in a meanwhile, he had arranged for a coronation as a Holy Roman Emperor in Naples, which was performed with great pomp by a churchman who was selected as Frederick’s own anti-Pope as Calixtus III. This resulted in prompt excommunication by Innocent, who was just as promptly excommunicated in turn. In the East, things took turn for worse as well. Despairing at their ability to take Constantinople by force, the Latin troops wrecked terrible vengeance through the countryside, tearing through the Balkans and Asia Minor like a scythe of doom. Eventually, they seized control of Thessalonica, establishing the Kingdom of Greece, which also extended into Thessaly, cutting off the former Byzantine provinces of Morea and Epirus from the capital. This was also the moment the Bulgar Tsar Kalojan chose to strike south, capturing large portions of Thrace and leaving the Byzantines only with the Black Sea coast. In Asia, Michael Ducas, though defeated once, set himself up as a pretender to the Imperial throne with the capital in Nicaea, deciding that this was the best defense against the punishment Lascaris would likely inflict on him for his inability to stop the Latins from crossing over into Europe. The Comneni brothers, grandsons of Emperor Andronicus Comnenus, swept into Trebizond, capturing it by using the troops provided by their Georgian allies and proclaiming the elder brother Alexius as the legitimate Emperor. The local governors in Morea and Epirus, realizing that there was little chance of help from the capital, set up independent principalities, with the one Andronicus Paleologus claiming Epirus, and one Andreas Cantacuzenos setting himself up in Morea. Thus, where there was one united Empire only years before, there were six statelets, with no less than four claiming right to the Throne of Emperors. As both the West and the East braced themselves for the coming storm, no one could predict what the outcome of this tempest was going to be. Kingdoms Of Gods (1212-1218) I stand alone in this desolate space In death they are truly alive Massacred innocence, evil took place The angels were burning inside Centuries later I wonder why What secret they took to their grave Still burning heretics under our skies Religion's still burning inside At the gates and the walls of Montsegur Blood on the stones of the citadel At the gates and the walls of Montsegur Blood on the stones of the citadel At the gates and the walls of Montsegur Blood on the stones of the citadel At the gates and the walls of Montsegur Blood on the stones of the citadel As we kill them all so God will know his own The innocents died for the Pope on his throne Catholic greed and its paranoid zeal Curse of the grail and the blood of the cross Templar believers with blood on their hands Joined in the chorus to kill on demand Burned at the stake for their soul's liberty To stand with the cathars, to die and be free The book of Old Testament crippled and black Satan - his weapon is lust Leaving this evil damnation of flesh Back to the torture of lies The perfect ones willingly died at the stake And all of their followers slain As for the knowledge of God they had claimed Religion's still burning inside Templar believers with blood on their hands Joined in the chorus to kill on command Burned at the stake for their soul's liberty Still running heretics under our skies As we kill them all so God know his own Laugh at the darkness and in god we trust The eye in the triangle smiling with sin No Passover feast for the cursed within Facing the sun as they went to their grave Burn like a dog or you live like a slave Death is the price for your soul's liberty To stand with the Cathars and to die and be free Iron Maiden – “Montsegur” By 1212, the ancient order of Europe was on the brink of collapse. In Southern Italy, Sicilian armies of Frederick Hohenstaufen clashed against Papal mercenaries, supplemented by Guelph sympathizers from Italy and troops sent by Otto IV, the Holy Roman Emperor sponsored by the Pope Innocent. In the Balkans, the Latins, the Greeks, the Serbs, and the Bulgars fought against each other, sometimes forming fragile alliances that dissolved as soon as one side clearly had the advantage, all the while blissfully ignorant of the Seljuk raids against the Nicaean principality that ravaged the countryside even as the Greek nobles plotted for the jeweled prize of Constantinople. The old rivalries sprung up again in France and Britain, with death of King Richard and the succession disputed between his brother John and his nephew Arthur, the latter being immensely popular in England’s continental territories. In Germany, the Hohenstaufen party all but went into hiding, suppressed by their Welf enemies, who celebrated their ascention to the Imperial throne and were ready to destroy the last remnant of their former rivals’ power – the Kingdom of Sicily, where young Frederick’s uneasiness was not in any way mitigated by these ongoing developments. The chaos and overall confusion muddied up the waters of European politics, all to the joy and satisfaction of the Pope Innocent III. Now, finally, he could make his long-going plans into reality. No longer satisfied with the spiritual leadership, he longed to make the Holy See’s temporal power as great as its ecclesiastic guidance – being the supreme arbiter, the only authority fit to pass judgment on kings and princes, emperors and doges alike. Now, another scheme begun to take shape in his head. In the regions known as Languedoc, in the no-man’s land between the kingdoms of Iberia, city-states of Italy, and tenuous hold of France, a new and dangerous heresy begun to prosper. Known to contemporaries as the Cathars, these heretics denied the Catholic hierarchy, and preached against the validity of oaths, the main instrument by which business was conducted in largely illiterate European societies, and among the European courts. Moreover, believing that material world was evil in essence, and that nature of Jesus was that of a ghost, not a flesh and blood manifestation of the almighty, who would never appear in a world as tainted with sin as ours, and denying the Holy Trinity were the offenses that no self-respecting Catholic theologician would even bother reconciling with. This was the heresy in its vilest form, and the fact that it was supported by a number of local nobles, some of whom held considerable power, was nothing short of insult to Innocent. As it became clear that the Sicilians had little chance to break into Central Italy, held off by Papal mercenaries and Emperor Otto’s troops, Innocent’s thoughts returned to France, and to one man in particular. Simon de Monfort was his name, a staunchly religious French noble who won reputation for himself as an efficient, competent, and energetic soldier with just enough ability to be a threat on the battlefield, but without the kind of worldly ambition that would make him dangerous to his would-be master in Rome. Innocent summoned de Monfort to Vatican in early 1213, and there gave him his holy mission – to rid Languedoc of the vile heretics in the name of Mother Church. When de Monfort returned to his estates in France, accompanied by the entourage of Catholic envoys, abbots, priests, and quite a few shady looking characters whose bearing gave them away to be assassins in monk’s robes, he met with Philip Augustus, the King of France, who was long attempting to extend his control southward, and the plan was formed. This new endeavor was not to be just another expedition to subdue rebellious counts and barons; no, this was different. For this time, the Pope Innocent called for an all-out Crusade against this vile rot that plagued Christendom, promising final absolution to any faithful Catholics that take part in this sacred task. Gathering in the city of Lyon in mid-1214, about 10,000 Crusaders were ready to bring the word of their master to Languedoc. In 1214 and 1215, a number of battles were waged between the Crusaders and the local armies, now gathered under the leadership of one Count Raymond of Toulouse. As time went on, Raymond became increasingly desperate, attempting to claim religious orthodoxy if the Crusading forces just left him along and focused on the Cathars. Alas, this was to no avail, for Simon de Monfort saw not only heresy to be exterminated and souls to be saved, but a land to make his own, at the expense of Raymond and his allies. In 1216, Raymond was captured under the flag of truce, and imprisoned, whereas de Monfort claimed the title of Count of Toulouse for himself, with full endorsement of the Pope. In the meanwhile, the war on Italian peninsula was swinging decisively into Innocent’s favor, as Frederick’s troops were pushed further and further towards Naples, and off the mainland. In Thrace, the Despotate of Epirus made a number of gains against the Latin kingdom of Thessalonica, only to be forced back by the Bulgar onslaught; the Byzantine remnant in Constantinople triumphed against all odds near Nicomedia in Asia Minor against their Nicaean counterparts, making an alliance of convenience with the Comneni in Trebizond; the Latins forced Morea into vassalage only to withdraw to deal with the Epirote threat. As 1217 drew near, a shocking message trumpeted all throughout Christendom. Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the site of one of five ancient Patriarchates, the same Jerusalem that so much blood was spilled to liberate a generation ago has fallen to the infidel – once again. How could this be, Catholics in courts all over Europe asked each other? Could it be that the German Emperor, excommunicated and pressed hard on all sides, was not worthy in the eyes of the Almighty to defend the holy places of Christianity? Could it be the punishment for the treacherous slaughtering of Eastern Emperor Philip inflicted on Christendom by the unforgiving hand of God? One man knew this was no fluke. At fifty six years of age, Innocent III was beginning to think about the continuation of his labors by a worthy successor; at the same time, there was still much to be done in this world. In a series of fiery proclamations, Innocent lambasted the “King of Sicily” (as he officially referred to Frederick, refusing to acknowledge him as the Emperor), the Cathars, and the Greek heretics for keeping entire Christendom so divided as to lose its holiest places to the Saracen. More often than not, the Pope and his legates implied the innate superiority of his spiritual stature over the temporal statures of the rulers, rekindling the memories in those who listened, memories of a better age than this century of strife, where brother stood against brother, and corruption was the rule. In 1218, Otto IV succumbed to fever, and Innocent decided on a radical solution. Rather than crown another Emperor, who would be tempted by all things worldly to stray further away from Mother Church, was it not the time for the Holy Father himself to take the burden of the Empire upon his own shoulders? The Donation of Constantine, though often questioned by some of the worldly leaders, did clearly say that the Pope could bestow the Empire upon whoever he wishes to – and that the Pope is its true spiritual caretaker. Even the great Theodosius kneeled before the Church; was it not the time the haughty German, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, and English princes followed his example? Thus, as Innocent prepared his declaration, both the German princes and the court of Frederick in Sicily grew increasingly more alarmed. At the same time, in the Eastern portion of Christendom, another death sent waves throughout the neighboring locales. In September 1218, Theodore Lascaris fell from his horse on a hunting trip, breaking his back in process; by November he was dead. Theodore left no male issue; the husbands of his two daughters were relative non-entities, only one of whom, Sergius Sphrantzes, showed some sort of promise. And then there was a matter of Philip’s son Otto, technically a monk, but still possessing respectable claim to the throne. The Byzantine Senate debated the succession for weeks, even before Theodore’s body was cold, considering not only the matter of legitimacy, but, incidentally, the matter of saving their own skins. After all, was not Theodore indirectly responsible for a disaster of the Empire’s splintering just a few years ago? Most of the men could remember the time when the Eastern Empire ruled over Asia Minor as well as Europe, when the Emperor’s word was law from Epirus to faraway Trebizond – and there were some that knew that their association with late Theodore was a death sentence should Otto be allowed to take the throne. And yet there was another candidate in the wings. Alexius Comnenus, the ruler of Trebizond, based his claim on his own descent from the Comneni dynasty that ruled through most of the XIIth century, and was seen as more legitimate claimant than the rest. After all, the Senators whispered, was it not the Comneni who brought the Empire back from the brink of ruin of Manzikert into the glory it enjoyed until the degenerate Angeli took over? Besides, here was a prospect of regaining at least some of the Empire’s former dominions, and maybe – just maybe, restoring it to the greatness it had once known? As the waning days of 1218 made their slow run on the shores of Bosphorus, Alexius Comnenus was raised to the purple as Alexius VI, in hopes that the great Eastern Empire might once again regain its former glory. In Trebizond, his brother David was given the rank of sebastokrator, second only to the Emperor himself, in addition to the title of Despot of Trebizond. But another man’s star was rising fast, a Turkic tribal leader who accepted baptism at the insistence and with sponsorship of David, and whose raids against the Seljuk interior of Anatolia were bringing terror into his enemies’ hearts. He was given a name of David at baptism, both as a symbol of his new allegiance’s strife against the hostile world, and as an acknowledgement of his benefactor; but the name that stroke fear against his enemies was the one given to him at birth – Ertugrul. Like Lambs To The Slaughter (1219-1230) What pain will it take To satisfy your sick appetite Go in for the kill Always in sight-prey The time always right-feast Feed on the pain-taste Sorrow made flesh-sweet Live how you want Just don't feed on me If you doubt what I say I will make you believe Shallow are words from those who starve For a dream not their own to slash and scar Big words, small mind Behind the pain you will find A scavenger of human sorrow Scavenger Abstract theory the weapon of choice Used by scavenger of human sorrow Scavenger So you have traveled far across the sea To spread your written brand of misery Death – “Scavenger Of Human Sorrow” The year 1219 begun on a somewhat ominous note, with the Pope Innocent refusing to crown any of the claimants to the Imperial throne, but instead announcing that just as Constantine gave his Empire to the Pope nine centuries ago, it is the Supreme Pontiff that should also take on the duties of the Emperor, as the leader of Christendom, and the infallible prelate of God. Understandably, this did little to endear Innocent to any of the claimants, but at the same time, did not cause an all-out assault on Italy as Innocent feared might be the case. Much of the European armed forces were still tied up in internecine conflicts, pouring resources and manpower into a vain attempt to vanquish the flame of Cathars; with Jerusalem lost to the Egyptian Caliph again, it was clear that the divine favor left secular rulers who allowed things to sink to such a dire state. Still, from Frederick Hohenstaufen’s point of view, the churchman in Rome was nothing but an impostor; in fact, he had a Pope of his own that did his bidding and that would dutifully issue proclamations denouncing the usurper in Vatican, and the entire Sicilian ecclesiastic hierarchy that supported the Emperor, not the renegade Pontiff. Therein was a problem; it was Sicily that was his, not the entire Empire. Yet as long as Innocent was in charge of the Catholic Church, the best Frederick could hope for was some sort of reconciliation – that is, as long as the renegade Pope acclaimed him as the rightful Holy Roman Emperor. In the East, things continued as before, with Ergutrul’s forces dealing a number of significant defeats against the Nicaeans, and forcing the rebel Michael Ducas to recognize the authority of Constantinople, albeit grudgingly. The Epirotes managed to inflict heavy defeat on the Latins, overrunning Thessaly and forcing Morea into vassalage; desperate, the Latins turned to Alexius VI for help, offering to recognize him as the lawful Emperor and to join in with his forces as long as their lives, lands, and religion are respected. Alexius was only happy to oblige, with restoration of his empire well under way. By early 1221, the territories claimed by the Byzantines extended into Asia Minor, southern coast of the Black Sea all the way to Trebizond, large chunks of Thrace, and most of Macedonia. Of course, the Imperial control of these areas was not as strong as Alexius would have liked to believe; in Asia Minor, Michael Ducas was constantly plotting to either regain his independence, or even to usurp the throne; in Macedonia, the Latins, delivered from the Epirote threat, were getting restless, getting into numerous conflicts with the local Greek and Slav populations. The Bulgars to the northwest were another threat, their incursions being repulsed only to come back again next year. But still, this was better than the miserable reign of Theodore Lascaris, the Byzantines whispered among themselves; maybe with more time, a true Renaissance might come again, restoring the outlying provinces, and making the word of Constantinople’s sovereign law through the Mediterranean again. It was with this proud state that Frederick decided his future might lay. Neither the Greeks nor the Latins living in the Balkans had much love for the Pope or his recent antics; an offer of alliance from the “legitimate” Western Emperor was a godsend. Not that the Eastern Emperor could realistically project much military power; however, Constantinople, despite all pitfalls that befell her in recent years, was still rich, and could offer some much needed financing for Frederick’s own grand plan – final subjugation of the unruly Pope, and the restoration of the Roman Empire in the West. In Languedoc, however, the flames of war were further fanned by the involvement of French king Louis VIII, who succeeded his late father Philip in 1220. Louis joined in the Crusade after its previous leader, Simon de Monfort, succumbed to an arrow wound during a particularly difficult siege, and made it clear that he considered these lands part of France, as opposed to being an independent state that de Monfort’s heirs attempted to keep. An extremely religious man, Louis saw the Pope Innocent as the true representative of God, and led the Crusade with enthusiastic zeal, slaughtering both the Cathars and their faithfully Catholic neighbors with little regard for telling one from another. When a papal legate complained about a particularly gruesome execution of one village’s entire population, it is recorded that Louis’ response was, “God will know his own,” although to the end of his life Louis denied ever speaking the words. At any rate, Louis in Languedoc was bad news for Frederick, who instead attempted to reach out further north, towards England. There, a long, bitter civil war was being fought between despotic king John and his nephew Arthur, in which John seemed to gain an upper hand. In early 1222, Sicilian ambassadors were secretly dispatched towards the courts of English barons, who were not only tired of the long, drawn out fighting, but who were also beginning to be extremely discouraged with both claimants. As the Sicilians arrived on the shores of Albion, even better news awaited them – Arthur was captured in France by troops loyal to John, and summarily executed. Now, many English barons were on the point of revolt, and did not take much persuading. With Sicilian gold, the barons attempted to force John into signing a document that would make him little more than a figurehead king – the Magna Carta, granting the barons an unheard-of before right to overrule the king. Sure enough, such powers were frequently used with the lower ranks on the feudal ladder, but for king John, it was nothing short of an insult. The result was another round of civil war. This time, however, the baronial envoys listened to Sicilian suggestions to offer the throne to Louis of France, who accepted their offer with enough eagerness that some could have suspected him, not Frederick, of the ulterior motive. Louis’ English campaigns are better told elsewhere; it suffices to say that by 1226 he controlled most of southern England when a bout with dysentery ended what could have become French supremacy of the British Isles. Ironically enough, John followed him to the grave within weeks, not able to enjoy the spoils of his unlikely victory; the Magna Carta was signed in the name of John’s eleven year old son Edward by a baron-appointed regent. In a meanwhile, Frederick was given a free hand at restoring Imperial control in Central Europe. Negotiations with the various German princes resumed, and with good amount of bribery, Frederick was able to once again reestablish the league that his Hohenstaufen predecessors led against their Welf enemies; by 1223 he was recognized as lawful Emperor through most of Germany. In 1226, Frederick’s forces were massing to attempt an invasion of Central Italy, and subjugation of the Pope, when the news he was hoping for all along arrived. Innocent III was dead. His time as a Supreme Pontiff was a turbulent one, and not completely successful in all respects; however, he was looked at by the number of succeeding Popes as somewhat of a model ruler, able to keep both the Emperors and the churchmen on a tight leash, and commanding respect, if not outright admiration even from his staunchest enemies. He strengthened the Catholic church immensely, creating a powerful structure that defied conventional borders and secular rulers; ordered destruction of the heretics and brought the haughty Easterners to their knees. This man, considered controversial even in his time, cast his shadow across the ages to come, and formed a mold in which the future of his faith would be forged. Earlier in the year, Frederick’s own anti-Pope passed away; his successor had not been chosen yet. Thus, would it not be only appropriate to enthrone a new Pontiff in Rome itself, with the condition being a triumphal coronation of the lawful Holy Roman Emperor? This was on Frederick’s mind as he advanced towards Rome, meeting with little resistance except for several diehard Italian nobles whose well-being was directly tied to the late Pope, and who attempted to prevent election of anyone sympathetic to Frederick with a measure of desperation. The cardinals, however, placed their bets on one Sinibaldo de Fieschi, a member of one of the first families of Genoa, and a man of considerable learning and erudition. De Fieschi mounted the Papal throne as Innocent IV, making it clear that he was going to emulate his celebrated predecessor if by his name alone. However, the new Pope was willing to be a bit more accommodating than his predecessor, helped not in the least by the Imperial armies sitting on his borders. As a Christian, he reminded Frederick, it would be his Imperial duty to undertake a great venture into the East, where Jerusalem herself was tormented under the heel of the Saracen, and where heathen Turks threatened the Eastern Christendom. He would, indeed, be willing to accept Frederick as a lawful Emperor, on a condition of a promise to lead another Crusade into the Holy Land, to restore it back to the light of Mother Church. While Frederick had his own reservations, the offer seemed much more reasonable than the he expected, and with a potential for additional gains through a Crusade, he hesitated very little before entering Rome to receive the Imperial crown from the trembling hands of a new Pope. It seemed that very little could stand in the way of this maverick young Emperor who stood against the greatest Pope in recent history and emerged triumphant despite all obstacles. And yet despite this seemingly major victory, Frederick still entertained doubts. For one, there was a matter of the Crusade itself, a difficult logistical endeavor that would leave him open to his enemies at home. For two, there was a matter of preserving his current gains, and of securing his newly recovered Empire from further revolts of the German barons, and further attempts by the Church to infringe upon what was rightfully Imperial domain. As Frederick pondered his next actions, the focus of our tale shifts once again to the region known as Languedoc, where the brutal crusade against the Cathars was starting to wind down due to lack of competent leadership and internal squabbles between the crusading nobles who attempted to divide their conquests even before they were made. Announcement of king Louis VIII’s death was a complete shock to many, and the fact that at least two of Louis’ sons stood in line for the throne further muddied up the waters. Under the late king’s will, France was to be given to his eldest son, another Louis, thirteen years old at the time; however, the queen Blanche favored another son, eight-year-old Robert to ascend the throne, claiming that shortly before his death, the late king changed the will so that Robert, not Louis would inherit. The succession crisis in France gave the Cathars a much needed reprieve, resulting in a virtual exodus of much of Cathar believers from Languedoc into friendlier lands of Muslim Spain; while the leaders of Cathar faith frequently chose to stay in Languedoc and face torture and mutilation at the hands of the recently created Catholic Inquisition, a number of the Perfecti, the Cathar preachers left with the main body of believers. Meanwhile in Sicily Frederick II spent most of 1227 and 1228 visibly making preparations for the Fifth Crusade, although the true nature of his preparations had more to do with the need to properly secure his dominions, and keep a watchful eye on the Pope. Innocent IV, while clearly not a man of his predecessor’s caliber, was nevertheless a firm believer in clerical supremacy, and still had all wealth and power of the Catholic Church at his disposal. While Frederick’s Sicilians stood at the borders of the Papal State, he could do very little; as soon as the Emperor departs on a Crusade, all bets were off. While the Western Emperor pondered the issues at hand, his Eastern counterpart was busy preparing for an undertaking of his own – the restoration of mainland Greece to the Imperial rule. While the Latins made their grudging submission, there could be no question of completely destroying their power and risking alienating his erstwhile Sicilian ally; yet their loyalty was questionable at best, and Alexius VI knew that given half a chance, they would revolt, currently kept in check only by the fear of Epirotes. Therefore, he had to tread with care. Alexius entered into a secret arrangement with the Epirotes, offering them large quantities of tribute in return for their help in his newest undertaking. Under the pretense of attacking the Epirote heartland, Alexius led both the Imperial forces and the large Latin contingent through the mountain passes into the Epirote territory, where the Latin force was ambushed by what appeared to be an Epirote onslaught. The result was a complete slaughter; of five thousand Latins, only two hundred survived as prisoners of the Epirotes. The battle spelled the end of Latin power in Greece; curiously enough, the Byzantine force claimed to have been separated from the Latin one, and unable to come to its aid – even more curious was the fact that there were no reported Byzantine casualties. In Anatolia, Ergutrul’s raiders attacked Seljuk and Armenian settlements with impunity, always returning to Trebizond loaded with plunder and prisoners, and proving their worth many times over to sebastocrator David. However, the experience of the past years awakened more ambitions for a territory of his own, a great empire built on dual Turkic and Greek foundations. It was not time yet, he thought to himself – but in his mind he could already see himself and his successors exalted beyond their wildest hopes and expectations. As the year 1230 rolled on, even Ergutrul himself could not predict what turn his fate would take following the tide that loomed across the great plains of Asia, beneath the rising sun, and that was about to storm east. Arrival Of The Demons (1230-1243) I clench my teeth and realize My world is so near its demise A dying sun in a poisonous sky Stinging my eyes Burning with contempt and conflict As of now I am a tool Of severe impact I clench my fist and visualize The blood that is spilled is our own I open wide my bloodshot eyes Count the dead A result of dysfunction As of now I am a tool Of severe impact Hammer down Cause and effect And create a new world Fear Factory – “Body Hammer” By spring of 1230, Frederick II was finally ready to undertake the promised Crusade. In a meanwhile, he had to contend with the unruly German princes resisting his attempts to crown his own son Conrad as the King of Germany, the title usually leading to the Emperorship itself; the machinations of the Pope Innocent IV, who appeared to bide his time before unleashing the animosity he felt towards his Imperial rival; and the problems in the East, where allegations of foul play were quietly whispered in slaughter of Latin knights in the mountains of Epirus. The promised Crusade, already delayed several times, was almost in danger of not happening at all, prompting threats of excommunication upon Frederick from the Pope. With all of these issues weighting heavily on him, it is no wonder Frederick decided upon a more diplomatic solution. In summer of 1230, his envoys returned from Baghdad, where the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir granted his demands for return of Jerusalem, as long as Frederick promised to undertake to protect the Muslim residents of the city and Muslim pilgrims. In truth, al-Mustansir held little real power, being more of a figurehead ruler, however, both he and his viziers agreed that another Crusade would be too much trouble to deal with – especially since Frederick’s terms were quite reasonable, and he did come from a long line of rulers with strong crusading record. To say that the Pope was outraged to hear of this arrangement was an understatement. Not only Frederick was able to outmaneuver him again and to resolve the Crusade without actually leaving Sicily, but he succeeded! This was not good, to say the least, for the authority of the Pope. Unfortunately for Innocent IV, as much as he strived to emulate his celebrated predecessor, he was not quite up to task; the ability to stand against the Emperor required just a tad more ruthlessness, diplomatic ability, and administrative acumen than he himself possessed. It was said of him that he spent days wandering around his palace, devising ideas and schemes that ultimately came to little fruition, all the way until his death in 1232, which some say was caused by him simply giving up on the strife against this godless Emperor. To add insult to injury, the conclave of cardinals assembled to elect his successor was successfully prevented from making a definite decision by Frederick’s machinations, resulting in a stalemate that continued well into next year. Late in 1233, the college of cardinals finally made their decision, albeit not the one Frederick II hoped for. In late Innocent’s stead, they elected one Ugolino di Conti, nephew of the great Innocent III, who took the vow of Papacy and the somewhat ironic name of Clement IV. Although already aged eighty eight, and not expected to last long, Clement was to prove an energetic, powerful leader that the Catholic church sorely needed, and a persistent thorn in the side of the Emperor. At the same time, strange reports started to arrive from the east. In 1223, an army of Russian princes was crushed on the shores of river Kalka by a previously unknown menace, a horde of steppe warriors from the northern outskirts of China that seemed unstoppable. Various accounts of the battle placed the blame on the cowardice of Russians’ tribal Polovets auxillaries, but in reality, the outcome of the battle seemed to have been decided by the inability of the princes to work together to overcome this new menace. Surprisingly, the horde withdrew back into the wastes of Asia as quickly as they came, leaving little but terror and questions in its wake. Now, a slew of reports came in indicating that the kingdom of Volga Bulgars, distant relatives of the original Turkic Bulgar tribesmen that founded Bulgarian kingdom centuries ago, was being dismantled by concerned effort from the same steppe warriors, known as the Mongols. In the West, Emperor Frederick did not seem to be at the least concerned; this was the Easterners’ problem, he thought – let them deal with it. In Constantinople, various parties debated on how to best treat this invasion. As long as it did not trample on Byzantine territories, the Eastern Emperor Alexius VI did not give it too much attention, and the matter was quickly discarded. In 1233, Alexius VI died in his sleep, only the second Byzantine Emperor in half a century to pass on peacefully while still a reigning monarch, and the first one to hand over the throne to his successor of choice without the questions of legitimacy or strife since the death of Manuel I. In July 1233, late Emperor’s son Andronicus was crowned in Hagia Sophia as Andronicus II, much to the chagrin of sebastocrator David who hoped his own son Manuel to succeed, but to little calamity otherwise. The tension between Andronicus and his uncle was soon resolved, after Andronicus definitely confirmed Manuel as his successor on condition that should Andronicus have any male issue, they would succeed Manuel. The arrangement appeared to be mutually beneficial, and silenced the small, but vocal minority previously incited by David. By early 1234 the last vestiges of Catharism in Languedoc were extinguished, and fires burned high fed by both the supposed heretics and the people who had the misfortune of living by their side. The region was by now being incorporated into the greater Kingdom of France, many traces of its former practical independence being erased along with its inhabitants. And the French king Louis IX was not finished. Although still rather young, by now he had his sights on England, where succession of short-lived child kings and figureheads kept the kingdom in state of complete chaos. Preparations were being made for invasion when the new Pope first started to show his mettle. He absolutely forbid Louis to embark on this expedition, not only echoing his uncle’s belief of Papal supremacy over the secular rulers, but also attempting to keep Louis, a fervent Catholic, from getting too powerful and becoming a threat to match Frederick’s. Grudgingly, Louis complied, even if he was not very enthusiastic about the idea of putting an end to strife in England – that, of course, through imposing his own authority and incidentally adding England to his own domain. In addition, Clement issued a proclamation to Frederick ordering him to perform a great Crusade against the Saracen holdouts in North Africa. By this, he hoped to distract the Emperor for long enough to where he could again begin the campaign of subverting the Holy Roman Empire to subservience under the benevolent rule of the Pontiff. After all, he thought, was not the Pontiff, and not the Emperor, the supreme authority in the land? Time after time he reminded himself that it was the Pope that crowns the Emperor, not the other way around; Clement was determined to keep it so. While the Pope was busy asserting his authority and issuing decrees to the rulers of Christendom, the runaway Cathars found their lot much improved in the haven of Al-Andalus, the Muslim holdout in Spain. Desperate for allies and manpower, the Caliph of Al-Andalus offered them enthusiastic reception, as long as they provided tribute for his coffers and men to defend his frontiers against the ever more aggressive Christian rulers. By 1236 the situation on the Iberian peninsula stabilized enough to where the Nasrid Caliph of Granada, Muhammed I was able to start retaking some of the splinter taifa kingdoms and reassert control over whatever little was left of Muslim Spain. Recognizing the wisdom of accepting non-proselytizing dissidents and heretics from the Christian world as loyal subjects, Muhammed covertly begun to seek other groups such as the Cathars that faced extermination in their lands, but were willing to relocate, providing his kingdom with newfound vitality and security. Soon, Granada became known as one of the most cosmopolitan, multi-cultural regions in all of Europe, with the level of tolerance for religious and ethnic minorities unrivaled even in Frederick’s Sicily, where the skeptical Emperor chose to overlook enforcement of Papal edicts against the Muslims and the Jews. As for Frederick II, his promised Crusade still had not departed by 1237, enraging Clement over what he saw as blatant disregard for his authority. Matters came to blows quickly, with furious Pope excommunicating the Emperor, who gave the notice little regard. Curiously, in late 1237 Frederick did choose to embark on a Crusade, apparently in open mockery of the Pope who was now deprived of any affiliation with this endeavor. Despite Frederick’s sailing to Carthage, Clement still was not completely certain of his ability to put this upstart Emperor down once and for all. After all, Carthage was only across the water, and Frederick could be back any day, either as a conquering hero that once again raised the banner of Christendom over the infidel lands, or, as Clement preferred, shamed, defeated, or, better yet, dead. As the initial reports of the Emperor’s progress started to trickle in, Clement was disappointed. In 1238, Frederick took Carthage, suffering very little losses in the process; by 1239 he controlled most of the surrounding territory. Still, betting on the fact that Frederick would be preoccupied with quelling Muslim resistance in the area, Clement ordered an invasion of Southern Italy, which succeeded in short term thanks to the efforts of rather large French contingent sent by Louis IX at the Pope’s insistence. The invasion was, however, stalled at Naples, albeit at great cost in lives; besides, Frederick was on his way back with many battle-hardened veterans of his Tunisian campaigns, and this time he meant business. In early 1240, after having recovered Southern Italy, Frederick launched an invasion of Papal State, attempting to remove Clement once and for all; however, the invasion was not the success he hoped for, and after several inconclusive battles, representatives from both the Pope and the Emperor arrived at negotiations table. The excommunication was lifted; however, otherwise status quo was maintained. Neither side was willing to press too hard to achieve an advantage, however, as there was a more pressing issue to deal with at hand, which was seemingly threatening all of Christendom. When the first reports of Mongol attacks on the Russian cities between 1237 and 1239 surfaced, they were of little concern to the Western Europeans, being dismissed as yet another steppe invasion that would pillage the eastern steppes and leave back where it came from. Better yet, when the Mongol attacks against the Saracen states were reported, where they showed no mercy to anyone who resisted, the Westerners could be almost forgiven for thinking this horde was the wrath of God inflicted upon the Orthodox heretics and the infidels. It all changed in 1240, when Batu Khan captured Kiev, the center of moribund and fragmented Kievan Rus, and clearly decided to march further west. The legend has it Batu was so amazed at the splendid beauty of Kiev that he gave orders to his troops not to use their enormous siege engines, and not to destroy any of its magnificent architecture as the great Mongol host surrounded the capital of the Russian principality. Whether or not there was any truth to the legend, it did little to save the inhabitants of the city; many were slaughtered, many more carried off to slavery or other unmentionable fates. What was even more frightening to the kings and princes of the west was that not only the Mongols laughed in the faces of Christian missionaries, but that it was only one of the three great hosts sent to subjugate all land until the last sea, carrying the orders of the Great Khan in a faraway realm. Another force smashed into the Middle East and Anatolia, devastating all in its wake, and laying waste to much of Persia. In 1242 the Mongols under command of Baiju took Erzerum from the Seljuk Sultan Kai Khusrau II; in 1243 they defeated the Seljuk army at Kose Dag. While Andronicus II in Constantinople could only watch with glee at the Seljuk defeats, it became clear to him that something must be done before entire Anatolia is overran by the Mongol horde. In 1243, Andronicus dispatched his uncle David along with a large contingent of Turkish cavalry under command of Ergutrul against the Mongols; the result was nothing short of disastrous. At Nicomedia, David’s Byzantines ill-advisedly attacked the Mongol center, which drew away leading into an ambush. The result was a complete slaughter. Heavy Byzantine cavalry could not catch the light Mongol horse archers, all the while being peppered with arrows and javelins; as the sun set, the survivors fled for their lives. David himself was not amongst them, captured and subsequently executed by the Mongols along with his son Manuel. The only commander on the Byzantine side to emerge from this disaster with any sort of credit was Ergutrul, whose light cavalry were able to cover the Byzantine retreat, and who distinguished themselves in battle by being the last to run, and inflicting large casualties upon the Mongol force sent against them. In Constantinople, panic ensued. Not only the route into Europe lay open for invasion, the best and the ablest military force the Empire has been able to assemble since the days of the original Comneni has just been completely wiped off the face of the earth. The Mongol host cut off the lines of communication between the capital and outlying enclaves, now accessible only by the sea, and wasted no time in taking both Nicomedia and Brusa within months of the battle. When the Mongol messengers reached the Emperor in Constantinople, he was prepared to make accommodations, acknowledging himself a tributary of the Khan as long as the terrifying invaders left him alone. Not only that, but much of Asia Minor was completely depopulated and ravaged, leaving only lands surrounding Nicaea and Trebizond relatively untouched. To salvage the situation the best he could, Andronicus invested Ergutrul with the rank of Despot of Trebizond, hoping that his best commander would be able to maintain Imperial control by the Black Sea coast. This was beyond Ergutrul’s wildest hopes when he acknowledged Trapezuntine Emperor as his overlord decades ago. A barely literate son of a tribal chief was now a ruler of wealthy realm, nominally as a provincial governor of the Byzantine Emperor, but as he would soon discover, practically independent, with little way for the capital to enforce its authority. With the Seljuks still in a state of complete disorder, and with the Mongols pacified by large tribute, Ergutrul could pick off smaller states, principalities, villages, and cities one by one, enlarging his dominions considerably over the next decade. The seeds of true greatness had been sown. Deal With The Devil (1243 – 1250) Nothing held us back or dared to try Something in our blood Won't let us die We built our world of metal Watched it grow Fuelled the fury solid to the bone Gotta deal with the devil 'cause you know that it's real Done a deal with the devil From a heart made of steel Judas Priest – “Deal With The Devil” The year 1243 in the West opened up on an ominous note with the death of Clement IV in Rome. While many were surprised to see old Clement last as long as he did, expecting him to pass on within a year or two of his ascent to the Papacy, even more surprising were the news of his passing, just as the Emperor Frederick and the Pope were finally beginning to agree that the menace of the Mongol horde, which by now ravaged Anatolia, Middle East, Russia, and was beginning to raid the Hungarian borders was greater than the issue of whose lead the Christendom should follow, at least for a time being. After all, if the two could not come to an agreement of some sort, there could be no Christendom left for them to divide or squabble over! Over the last year of his life, Clement, knowing that the end was coming near, begun to groom one of the younger cardinals, his nephew Rinaldo Conti, to succeed him on the throne of Saint Peter; Rinaldo was elected Pope without much difficulty by summer of 1243, taking the name of Alexander IV. The new Pope was determined to continue his predecessor’s policies, and as such the transition proved to be initially smooth; he too was aware of the danger the Mongol invasion represented, and wasted no time in implying Frederick to organize a crusade to wipe out this new menace from the face of Europe. In a meanwhile, reports continued to come in of engagements in Poland and Hungary, usually with results giving little credit to the Christian forces. Attempts to convert the Mongol leaders were made, albeit with very little success – it was far more common for the conquerors to chase the Christian preachers out of their camp than to even bother to give them a listen. On the other hand, the Mongols seemed to care very little about persecuting any religions in conquered territories, and allowed the survivors practically a free rein on what god or gods they chose to follow. In that, and in slaughter, they were indiscriminate. The only states to escape widespread devastation so far were those that chose to pay tribute to the terrifying invaders rather than attempt to face them on the battlefield; the Republic of Novgorod in Russia, the Byzantine Empire and its Despotate of Trebizond, and several others that chose submission rather than risking devastation. As the entire Western Christendom was trembling with fear, another piece of news came in. The great Khan Ogadai, the ruler of the entire Mongol Horde, was dead. By then, the western borders of the Mongol Empire stretched all the way into Poland and Hungary, just as its eastern borders were within sights of Japan; it commanded resources of many kingdoms and countries, ruling over the people of all faiths, origins, and creeds. It was speculated that this one death stopped the Mongol advance in Europe as Batu Khan and other senior commanders rushed back to Mongolia to ensure their claim on succession. Of these, Batu had to contend with his cousin Guyuk, the son of Ogadai the most; Batu’s own conquests, courtesy of a brilliant Mongol general Subotai were the greatest of his competitors, however, he faced the powerful opposition of Ogadai’s widow, who preferred her son to succeed. The succession struggle was to last for three years, at the end of which Guyuk succeeded in assuring his supremacy, albeit at the cost of Batu setting up a khanate of his own centered around the Volga River, with the surviving Russian princedoms as its unwilling vassals. Thus, Western Europe was spared the immediate attention of the horde, even as many of its rulers did not even realize how close they came to having to fight for the survival of the entire Christendom in the West. No sooner the body of Ogadai grew cold as furious argument erupted between Frederick II and the Pope. It is, the Pope believed, the right time to strike at the heathens, and smite them from the face of the earth – and who would be better suited to do this than a true Roman Emperor of the West? Unless, of course, his claims were inherently false, and warranted no recognition, and his rule no acceptance… If anything, Frederick was understandably annoyed by Alexander’s not-too-covert machinations at launching another crusade. His forces already somewhat depleted from attempts to pacify Carthage and add it to Hohenstaufen domains, he was in a dubious position of not being truly able to launch a crusade, but also not wanting it to be launched in his stead by lesser European rulers who might end up gaining fame, fortunes, and legitimacy to challenge him or his children for the Imperial title. In a meanwhile, Frederick worked hard to secure his conquests, and to reunify the Empire. Over the preceding several years, he was forced to give more and more concessions to his German vassals, giving the princes the rights that were formerly solely an Imperial possession. He attempted to compensate for the effective dissolution of his authority in the North by enforcing it in his own domains in Sicily and Carthage, where he settled thousands of families from German areas loyal to him; he also moved some of the conquered Arabs and Berbers to Sicily, where there was already a significant Arab minority. The courts of Europe were scandalized by Frederick’s apparent lack of concern over the religion of these new subjects; in fact, Muslim Arabs ran much of his Sicilian civil service, and provided a steady tax base for his endeavors. How could, they asked themselves, the most Christian ruler of Europe be so debased as to freely deal with the infidel? At the same time, these measures helped Frederick to transform his own domains into a more centralized, multi-ethnic state where his own control was absolute. By then, it can be argued that he largely gave up on Germany, accepting tenuous allegiance of its many feudal lords as a consolation prize of sorts, allowing him to still claim it as the part of his Empire, but exercising little real power there. Instead, his ambitions were centered on Italy. He was the Roman Emperor, he reminded himself. And a Roman Empire that did not possess Rome itself was an abomination, a pitiful realm with grandiose claims, but little to back them up. He would build a new Rome, and this would be centered in Sicily, Carthage, and Italy, not in the now forlorn lands of Germany where petty ambition of so many insignificant princes spelled ruin for what was to become of his Empire. His would be the rebirth of the true Empire, under one true God, under one true Emperor, with the one true Patriarch of the Church to watch over the souls of its people – in that exact order. Albeit being the skeptic that Frederick was known to be, he must have thought that the premise of the Pope having any part in the government was preposterous, to say the least. In summer 1246, Frederick sent an ultimatum to the Pope ordering him to surrender his secular authority as it was clearly the Emperor’s own prerogative to reign and to rule. Not surprisingly, Alexander IV’s answer was not a perfect example of civility, excommunicating this wayward Emperor for the second time in his career, and going as far as to proclaim him the Antichrist and the very incarnation of evil that plagued Christendom. By now, weary of the constant struggle, most European sovereigns did little to interfere. Even the most fanatically Catholic of them, Louis IX of France was beginning to get weary of the pervasive influence the Church had in his realm, and thus did little other than send the Pope words of support and grudging monetary contribution. The rest of 1246 was somewhat uneventful, as both sides mustered their forces and allies – Frederick to invade Central and Northern Italy, and the Pope to defend it. In early 1247, Frederick’s armies finally marched north, taking great care in not destroying the lands or their populations for the aim of keeping them loyal Imperial subjects after the cessation of hostilities. Some of the cities where Guelph feeling was minimal even opened their gates to him voluntarily, as the Papal mercenary armies proved to be of no match to determined Sicilian Emperor this time around. By winter of 1247, Frederick’s armies were at the gates of Rome itself, and the Pope Alexander decided that he had to flee towards Genoa. In January 1248, Frederick entered Rome in triumph, this being his greatest achievement – the true restoration of the Roman Empire in the West. Once again, he established an anti-Pope of his own in Rome, who promptly renounced any claims to secular power, being merely content with spiritual authority, which he supposedly held at the behest of his Imperial master. Now, with Rome firmly in his grip, Frederick set his sights further north, where mercantile republics of Pisa, Genoa, and Venice were starting to get restless. Pisa was the least of Frederick’s problems; the Ghibelline feeling there ran strong, and the Pisans happily acknowledged the Imperial supremacy in return for retaining of their autonomy and preservation of its institutions. The Genovese and the Venetians were another story. Genoa had strong connections to the Pope, and sufficient power in the surrounding areas to raise a determined army that could successfully withstand Frederick’s assault. In addition, Venice was a powerful merchant state on its own, and willing to defend its commercial and geopolitical interests with all its strength. Therefore, Frederick decided on attempting to play out on the rivalry between the two, sending ambassadors to Venice with an offer of alliance and respecting its existing rights and privileges. The Venetians, wary as they were of Frederick’s long-term intentions, knew well that the situation could be very advantageous to them; they had little love for the Pope, and even less for Genoa. Besides, they knew from experience that no Holy Roman Emperor to date was able to found a lasting dynasty; rumors of Frederick’s declining health gave them reason to believe that they could squeeze all the benefits of alliance out of the insolent German all the while keeping them after he is long gone. In late 1249, the war for Northern Italy begun. Initial successes of the Genovese were countered by greater resources of Frederick’s territory, and armed neutrality of the Venetians, paid off by the Emperor not to interfere in any way. By the middle of 1250, there was little progress on either side, as the Imperial armies could not penetrate the Genovese defenses, and the Genovese armies could not deal a decisive defeat to their opponent. It was then that the Pope Alexander IV decided to take a fateful step.