The Empire Strikes Back 50 – Kings of Leon

The Empire declared war on Toledo as soon as their truce ended. A few other nations came to their defense. Notably, León did. But it was no enough to save Toledo, which was annexed. The same nobles that gained appointments in newly Imperial Toledo insisted that the region of León be brought under Imperial control.
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Many of the families that had not been pushing for new Imperial appointments for their sons began to recognize that by not becoming agents of the Empress, their power had been curtailed, and that this trend was likely to continue. They privately wondered if the more major appointments that many of them held might eventually cease to be hereditary. They began asserting their local powers again, resisting the work of the lesser agents (who answered directly to the Imperial government). But some money flowing through the hands of Zoe’s more covert agents uncovered enough embarrassing secrets that these families were brought in line.

The war against León was quickly won. But the region of León was too large and rich to be seized in one war. So a few provinces went to the Empire, and Badajoz became independent.
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Not surprisingly, Zoe promptly declared war on Badajoz. What was surprising was that León came to their defense. It was not much of a defense, and León was forced to both give up their claims to rule much of Iberia and to release Beja and Castillo Branco as sovereign states.
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After that peace, Badajoz was completely absorbed.
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The nobles of the Empire looked north again, to Northumberland.

But Zoe delayed any action. Her reputation was bad from the Iberian wars, and not getting any better thanks to the Greek nobles’ work to supplant locals in Britannia. However, Bavaria soon made a legal case that since the Empire had not sought to force their claim to rule several provinces, that the Empire had in fact abandoned that claim. It was nonsense, of course, but the kind of nonsense that would make ruling those provinces later troublesome. And in the immediate, Zoe suffered a tremendous loss of prestige. She needed something to restore the people’s faith in her, and only a victorious war could suffice in the near-term.
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And then the nobles complained about commoners being giving military commissions. Zoe needed the legions strong, so she refused to forbid the occasional practice of meritorious promotions, and the nobles again worked to resist her rule. Other nobles took to fighting amongst themselves. Fortunately, a gift from the state was able to buy peace between them. The discovery that Imperial agents were taking inordinate bribes didn’t help the stability of the Empire, either.
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But the victory against Scotland did help her prestige.
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As did the war against England, where the Legions proved the usefulness of their new pike square tactics.
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When Zoe restricted the privileges of the nobles yet further, Bartholomaios Melisurgos, an insane noble who claimed to be the rightful Emperor rebelled in Suakin. His insanity was demonstrated by the fact that he rebelled in a province where XVII. Legio was garrisoned.
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With the acquisition of Northumbria, Zoe listened to request from her nobles again. After all, nobles who felt they had a say in the government were not so inclined to revolt. A faction of Iberian nobles claimed a navigator in their employ had proved there was a western route to India. As this would benefit the western Empire if discovered, Zoe agreed to send an explorer at the first opportunity.
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But when Konstantinos died while on a Tuna fishing expedition, Zoe became wary of sending more people over the sea. Konstantinos’ son, Konstantios, was soon after declared heir.
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And in 1499, Zoe declared a series of wars to reclaim several Imperial provinces, before their current owners could claim they did not belong to the Empire.
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The Empire Strikes Back 49 – The Persian Plan

The wars for Helvetia had been won, and the Timurid lands were quickly being pacified. Konstantios finally felt he could lay down his crown. He died in his sleep, 103 years old. The succession passed to his nine year old niece, Zoe. While the court scrambled to put together a regency council, a distant cousin in Rouergue proclaimed himself the rightful Emperor. He even raised 4,000 troops for his rebellion, which was swiftly put down.
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A female Empress, while not unprecedented, was seen as uncommon. The legitimacy of Zoe’s rule was questioned by many. Manuel Rhagabe was brought on to the council of regents to address this issue. He began marrying less members of the Doukas family to other royal families to ensure their would be another heir. He spread rumors and tales of Zoe’s life. Not all of them were true. Perhaps not even many of them were true. But the result was a steadily growing acceptance of the new Empress.
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Meanwhile, Philemon Melissinos took advantage of his greatly increased authority. He had seen that waves of noble horsemen could not forever win on the battlefields of Europe, and so he began the greatest reforms of the military since Gaius Marius.
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First, he insisted that the various dux would drill the men that they recruited for the Imperial armies. They would not just be given a spear and sent to war.
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Second, the infantrymen would train with longbows in addition to the usual pikes. This would allow infantry formations to weaken enemy formations before breaking their spirit in melee.
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Thirdly, he began a massive recruitment of infantry to add to the all-cavalry armies.

Finally, he named the armies in the only appropriate way for the Empire.
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Once this was complete, he retired from the regency council, dieing shortly thereafter.

In late 1455, Zoe began ruling the Empire herself. She was skillful enough as a ruler, but was not exceptional in her abilities. She continued sending loyal nobles to begin administrating Timurid lands.
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And when her cousin Michael was born, she took such a liking to him that she named him heir, even though he was from a distant branch of the family. Her habit of taking him to meetings of various dignitaries would have been normal, advisable even (how else would a future ruler learn? she would always insist), if not for the fact that he was still an infant. Her more trusted advisers were able to convince her to wait until he was older, but not before there had been some diplomatic incidents.
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In July of 1467, all of the Timurid lands had been placed under Imperial control. But they were underdeveloped, suffered from near-constant rebellion, and bordered Muslim nations to the East. While the Empire’s view on Islam now seems xenophobic and strange, at the time it was a very real issue. The most successful invasions of the Empire had been by Muslim empires. To blame it on the religion is now properly recognized as foolish, but in the 15th century, religion was one of the main sources of decision making in the Empire. The Persian question was thus very real. So Zoe elevated a priest in the Has Monastery* to rulership over the province of Azerbaijan. While Metropolitan Ibn’La-Ahad was not allowed an independent foreign policy, he was given full control to rule in Azerbaijan. And as rapidly as she could, Zoe began giving him more provinces in the Persian region.
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Meanwhile, noble families were frustrated in their efforts to find more Imperial appointments for their sons. Some used trickery and guile to replace every non-Greek official that they could in Britannia.
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Others clamored for Zoe to reclaim the Castillian region for the Empire.

The Leonese war was a swift victory.
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And the Toledo decision to attack Leon, while a distraction that sped the war against them, proved to be their saving grace against immediate annexation.

The increasing stability of Persia allowed trade to flow along the old silk road. Imperial citizens developed cravings for spices. The merchants of the Empire pushed for a sea route to India to be discovered.
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When Michael died on his first hunting trip, Zoe was overwhelmed with grief.
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But her (matrilinear) marriage with King Totse of Kiev eventually produced an heir of her own body, little baby Konstantinos.

* Actually the Hashshashin, but the localization glitched, and I only noticed it later.

The Empire Strikes Back 48a – The World, 1450

This was the known world shortly after the death of Konstantios IV.
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These were the lands held by the Empire and its vassal state Ethiopia.
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This was Iberia. León and Toledo were in a truce, but Castillian rebels on the Azores were warring for their freedom.
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Britannia was divided between the Empire, England, and Scotland.
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The Holy Roman Empire ruled central Europe
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but was still a very decentralized empire
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dominated by Denmark in the north and Bavaria in the south.
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The partial withdrawal of the Golden Horde from Scandinavia had allowed Norway to grow stronger, but there was no real organization to the Baltic region.
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The Golden Horde dominated north-eastern Europe, but there were several powerful nations between them and the HRE.
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The Empire had taken most of Persia from the Timurids, and had made contact with other Central Asian nations to the East.
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The Empire had also come to dominate Arabia, though there were a few newly independent states, and the Golden Horde still had a strong foothold.
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Eastern Africa was divided between Gondar and Adal, but Ethiopia was an Imperial vassal, and was holding out well.
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These were the religions of the known world.
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The cultures of the known world. Note the spread of Greek and Tartar cultures, as well as the strange mix of cultures in Britannia.
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Some internal statistics of the Empire.
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And the friendly diplomatic relationships of the Empire.
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The Empire Strikes Back 48 – The End of an Era

By January 1433, Konstantios was ready for a campaign in the Alps. He began by declaring war on Upper Burgundy for Schwyz. The usual assortment joined in defense.

The Empire fought in Wales, in the Netherlands, in Smolensk, and in the Alps. Denmark’s alpine provinces were captured, and Konstantios took advantage of the opportunity to take control of the ones in Helvetia.

As other belligerents fell, the Swiss in Zurich revolted from Austria, forming an independent duchy. Konstantios was pleased to have an easier war ahead.

In March of 1436, the fortress of Schwyz fell after a long and bitter three year siege. Upper Burgundy had long been clamoring for peace, and now it was given them.

With nothing more to fight for in this war, Konstantios made peace with Smolensk, in such a way that the Pope would be further weakened.

By October, he was again prepared for war.

The constant wars had not allowed Konstantios to focus on ruling the Empire. The aristocrats took advantage of the opportunity to ensure that family influence was important for securing a position in the growing Imperial Bureaucracy.

The war was initially fought in northern Italy and in Croatia. But the Themas swept away all attackers. Bavaria inexplicably offered a white peace before they saw much action. Denmark soon followed suit. And while Hungary did not offer a peace, they accepted one.

In August, Konstantios finally held a coming of age party for his son. The party was the talk of Christendom, all other courts emulating the clothing, the dances, the foods in the feast.

During the party, Konstantios declared that he would give Moravia a gentle peace. Surely they did not consider it gentle, but they remained independent. Of course, it was not Konstantios being magnanimous, but him recognizing that his reputation was becoming quite dark. Annexing Moravia was sure to stir up too much trouble.

Schwyz was not so fortunate. It was a vassal of Bavaria, and Konstantios knew it would be a great deal of trouble to start a new war with a better casus belli.

In February 1438, Bern fell to Thema Lombardia, and Nürnburg was annexed.

Konstantios forced a few minor states to convert to orthodox Christianity before he accepted a peace from Greater Poland. The war was finished.

In 1440, there had been enough graduates from Imperial universities that Konstantios could start establishing secular courthouses throughout the Empire. Control of legal matters could be slowly wrested away from the church and local nobles.

While Konstantios prepared for the next war, Prince Konstantios went hunting. Though he was an expert horseman, he was found beside his horse, his neck broken. Again, the heir to the Empire had died before his time.

Konstantios suffered a deep grief at the loss of a third son. When he recovered, he was a much more cynical man, brimming with anger. He took this anger out on Tirol.

When St Gallen fell, Tirol was quick to surrender. But knowing there was a long truce with Moravia, Konstantios purposefully drug out the war, so to force many lesser states to stop worshiping the Pope.

While Konstantios took out his rage on those who would dare defend Tirol, his brother was able to convince the court to name a niece as heir. This was not ideal, but did ensure a Doukas would remain on the throne.

When the truce with Moravia was passed, Konstantios again attacked. Moravia was soon overcome, though the nations that came to its defense fought for much longer.

The brighter of the noble families saw the opportunity in becoming Imperial administrators. They pushed for the institution of Imperial administration in Timurid lands.

Meanwhile Konstantios felt that he had accomplished enough for one life. When he went to sleep, he never woke back up.

The Empire Strikes Back 47 – War! What is it good for?

The Empire had won its war against Scotland. Lincoln was the only province in Mercia under any others’ control.

There was a peace treaty with England until 1423, so Konstantios focused on the East. The Timurids had attacked again, but were far weaker this time. Nearly all their northern territory was occupied; Sanaa and Qara Koyunlu had declared independence.

And large swathes of land were controlled by rebels seeking independence.

The Themas did their best to leave the rebels be. ‘The enemy of our enemy is our friend’ they would say. So they began to occupy northern Mesopotamia and western Persia. The villages of Qarabagh were soon settled with Imperial citizens, and the Empire began to administrate the province. More settlers sought homes in the hills of Azerbaijan. And once that was settled, in western Persia. Hamadan, Luristan, and Khuzestan soon were Imperial provinces.

A disease sweeping through the court killed the seven year old Konstantios. Again the Empire was bereft of an heir. In Shoa, a temple was built in his honor.

And soon, yet another Konstantios was born.

Qara Koyunlu could not resist attacking the Empire. They were swiftly overrun.

During this time, relationships grew warm between Ethiopia and the Empire. Chief Iyâsû even swore an oath of vassalage to Emperor Konstantios. Konstantios in turn sent advisers to Massawa to teach Iyâsû how better to govern. When Ethiopia had recovered from the changes, a second set of advisers was sent. And then a third. Ethiopia became the most rapidly-advancing nation south of the Sahara.

The time of truce between the Empire and England had long passed. Nearly all Timurid land was under Imperial military control, and the Themas had been moved back into position. Konstanios declared a new war against England. Scotland, Denmark, and a host of others joined the defense of England.

Shortly thereafter, Léon took advantage of the distracted Empire and declared war over Andalucía. Konstantios decided to pursue the war against England and its coalition first. But Léon had built a fleet of large ships, and prevented the Imperial fleets from leaving the Mediterranean. The fleets dropped off the Themas in Occitania, and the Themas marched to war.

By July of 1427, Denmark had realized there was nothing for them to gain from the war. Hungary, having just lost an ally, agreed to peace as well.

While the wars went surprisingly well, an ill-advised attack on Léonese forces led to an Imperial defeat. Thema Ægyptus and Thema Occitania were split from each other. The Léonese army pursued Thema Occitania, and before any help could come, massacred them all at Alicante.

And yet the wars continued. Konstantios used the continuing wars as an excuse to increase the power of his agents throughout the Empire. This led to some amount of confusion and uncertainty, and the agents proved their worth by quickly resolving this uncertainty.

It was not until February 1429 that Crimea surrendered. But that was two more Themas that could join the other wars.

Unfortunately, even the new Imperial fleet could not break past the Léonese ships by force.

Subterfuge, careful sailing at night, and a few naval races did see two more Themas delivered to Britannia.

The war in Iberia had long been won before a peace was signed. Konstantios was determined to punish all those who had attacked the Empire. Léon was forced to release Badajoz and Toledo as buffer states and their treasury was looted.

When the Empire made peace with England, not only was the last Mercian province finally taken from them, they were diplomatically isolated as much as possible.

Scotland was forced to give up much of their overseas territory, abandon any claims in Imperial Brittainia, and to be diplomatically isolated.

The nobles who had urged the conquest of Merica found many of their second sons made part of the Imperial bureaucracy in Mercia. Other nobles noted this, and urged the reconquest of Helvetia.