The Eagle of the Bosporus | Page 4 | alternatehistory.com

The Eagle of the Bosporus

It's been past the point that I can edit the original posts in this, so I'm reposting the edits here (but not starting a new thread).

Questions & comments on the changes welcome. Will resume the story once this is squared away.

Chapter I, Part I.

On October 23 1183, Manuel I died of a lingering illness. His only son, the seventeen year old Alexius, took the throne without conflict.

On the surface, with Roman armies in both Anatolia and the West having been largely successful in their endeavors, the state looked stronger than it had been since Manzikert, just over a century previously.

But with the treasury depleted and relations with the Holy Roman Empire and Papacy grown chilly, the Empire that the young basileus had inherited could easily lose more than it had gained from his father's conquests.

Worse, the dynatoi had taken advantage of Manuel's foreign adventures to strengthen their position, some even at the expense of the state. While the Komnenoi were closely allied to the Empire's military aristocracy, that did not make the growth of the powerful less worrisome - if anything, it offered the opportunity for those who saw the young emperor as a puppet to use the situation for their benefit and further undermine imperial control.

In an effort to head off the more pressing external problems, Alexius chose to abandon some of Manuel's western conquests, establishing western Serbia as a mostly autonomous Roman client state as well as returning control of Dalmatia and eastern Croatia to King Béla of Hungary. King Béla, who had maintained friendly relations with Manuel even after losing his claim to the imperial throne in favor of the emperor's own son, promised his friendship to the young Emperor, considerably lightening the burden of defending the Empire's western territory.

But even with foreign affairs running smoothly, internal problems could still bring down the Emperor. Even Isaac Comnenus, great nephew of Manuel I, would be part of the problem, taking advantage of his newly founded freedom to seize control of the island of Cyprus and proclaim himself emperor, a situation which would trouble the empire for three years before a combination of an Imperial fleet and Isaac's own overconfidence would see him overthrown and the island returned to imperial control.

And then there was the imperial bureaucracy. Corrupt, unsupervised, and cruelly grinding down the peasantry - which by coincidence would only serve to further the problem of the dynatoi, as the only ones able to resist the pressures of the tax collectors. It is not surprising that between all of these problems that the Frankish states in the Levant - nominally Imperial vassals but de facto independent - would be ignored almost entirely until it became clearly that the usual squabbles between Frank and Saracen had become dangerously tilted in favor of the latter.

In October 1187, the great Muslim leader Saladin had taken the city of Jerusalem, and most of the Frankish kingdom. Had this been all, it would have been startling but hardly unpleasant - better an honest Saracen than a Frank who couldn't be trusted as far as one could throw a fully armored cataphract. Unfortunately and most inconveniently for the young emperor, the West disagreed. And as the Roman Empire stood between the kingdoms of the West and the Holy Land, Alexius's response would be crucial to the Empire's fate.

The First Crusade had been bad, though not disastrous - the Empire had even recovered some of its territory in Anatolia as a consequence. But the the Second Crusade had been worse, with the Franks loudly blaming "Greek treachery" as the source of their failure rather than their own incompetence. If things continued to decline, how long would it be until the so-called warriors of Christ turned on the Empire, heading not for Jerusalem but for Constantinople? When news arrived that Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor of the so-called "Holy Roman" Empire, had taken the cross, it seemed almost inevitable. Bad as Sicily was, the Sicilians weren't nearly as powerful. Or ambitious.

Something would have to be done to reverse the trend of increasing hostility between Rhoman and Frank. Attempts at religious union in his father's day had certainly not helped, and even if they could help the likelihood would be that it would increase tensions internally against the emperor - hardly more desirable than a foreign invasion, which could at least be bought off. Or could it? Frederick's formidable temper and an ability to hold grudges made the prospect of dealing with him at the head of an army most unpleasant, and it seemed rather more likely that he would take offers of gold as a sign of Roman weakness and grow more demanding rather than less.


Chapter 1, Part II.

The Crusaders had entered the Empire towards the end of June in the year 1189, and trouble began almost immediately. Despite Frederick's strenuous efforts to keep control of his army and to punish those who "behaved more like brigands than soldiers of Christ", incidents of some sort or another were just about inevitable with an army the size Frederick was leading, and especially on foreign soil. Nor were the Rhomans were entirely comfortable with the idea of a Frankish army, with its strange accents and stranger customs marching through their lands, and even the efforts of Alexius to ensure that things ran smoothly were often undermined by neglectful or incompetent officials who were more concerned about their interests than the Emperor's commands.

Had Frederick not been more concerned about the recapture of Jerusalem than causing his eastern rival difficulty in revenge for Manuel's support of the Lombard League three decades earlier, the Roman Empire could have been dealt a severe blow at this time, both by the crusaders themselves and those who would eagerly have allied even with the Franks in order to undermine the rule of Constantinople. But Barbarossa's attention was fixed on the crusade, and those who saw him as a chance to weaken the East were turned away. He had sworn to not lift a sword against fellow Christians, and would not listen to those who claimed that the Greeks were "no true Christians" at all. So long as their Emperor did not stand in his way, he would treat him with all the respect due a fellow Christian monarch. For now. The crusade was more important.

For Alexius, this could not have been better news. Those who lay in the path of the German crusaders in the summer and fall of 1189 might not have been so quick to agree, but most grudgingly recognized that the German army was better disciplined than expected - faint praise, but preferable to the tales of barbarians whose chieftains had encouraged the savagery of their followers rather than checking it that they had heard from those who remembered the Second Crusade forty odd years previously.

Despite the efforts of both Emperors - and the eagerness of the crusaders to reach their destination - it was not until late October before the full crusading army had reached Thrace, and the weather had become problematic for a continued advance. Despite his eagerness to press on - the sooner they crossed Anatolia, the sooner they would reach Jerusalem - the prospect of marching through actively hostile territory in winter was daunting, and the crusaders would settle down to wait until March before heading onwards.

Spring would not come a day to soon, and as soon as March began, the Germans would cross to the Hellespont (at Alexius's request), and enter Anatolia. Along with the Germans was a contingent of Roman troops lead by Baldwin of Antioch, a Frankish general who had served since the 1170s. Numbering only a fraction of the size of the German host, the Romans - while not the equals of the armies lead by Basil II over a century and a half ago- were still among the best soldiers in Christendom.

Soon the two armies had entered the lands of the Seljuks, and it had become clear that the Turks were not interested in keeping their word to let them pass unhindered. In response, the two armies turned towards Iconium, capital of the Seljuk Sultanate. If the Turks would not keep their word, then the Romans and Germans would be more than pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to punish them for their treachery.

When the news reached Alexius in Constantinople, it was notable how the ordinarily grim emperor was pleased, as if he had planned this all along instead of merely improvising to take advantage of Frederick's presence conveniently coinciding with his goals. While Barbarossa saw Iconium as insignificant compared to Jerusalem, it meant nothing less than the chance to shatter the most significant Turkish polity for Alexius. And then it would be merely a matter of picking up the pieces.

Chapter I, Part III

Despite the harsh weather of the past two months and the repeated Turkish attacks, the core of the two armies, Roman and German, remained intact. Surprisingly, they had managed to keep the all-but-inevitable bickering down to a low rumble - something that most attributed to the Emperor's overriding concern for the crusade, and refusal to accept any quarrels that would interfere with the much-appreciated assistance Alexius was providing. The Greek troops he could do without, but the ready preparation of supplies was another matter.

But if Frederick had managed to restrain his followers when it came to their fellow Christians, no man could have restrained the desire of the crusaders to strike against the Turks. When an offer came from the Sultan to call off the attacks in exchange for gold and an alliance against the Romans, the Emperor's temper exploded. In the words of later chroniclers, the Emperor told the Turkish envoys that "With the help of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose knights we are, we shall open the road with iron, not gold.”[1]

The German army would be divided into two groups, one under the Emperor himself and the other under his son (also named Frederick), the Duke of Swabia. Baldwin and the Roman troops would be with the former, partially due to the Emperor's desire that his son gain the glory of taking the city, partially to keep the not-completely-trusted Roman forces somewhere he could watch them.

As it turns out, the division of the German army could easily have gone disastrously wrong. While the Duke of Swabia was battling to enter the city, the main army of the Turks faced off against the Emperor's own forces and the Romans. Only the greatest efforts of the Emperor and the steadiness of the Roman troops saw the Turks first repulsed, and then finally routed, leaving Iconium to its fate - a fate nearly as bad as the city had suffered in wars over two centuries earlier between the Romans and Saracens.

But it really didn't matter. Not to the Romans, not to the Germans. The Turks, on the other hand, were terrified. Proposals begging for peace on any terms were sent almost immediately. Frederick agreed to leave with no further destruction in exchange for twenty distinguished hostages and an guarantee that that supplies would be provided and the attacks stopped. Additionally, Iconium - or what had survived the sack of the city - would, along with the surrounding countryside - be turned over to the Romans. The exact details would have to be worked out with Alexius, however, as five days after the city was taken, the Germans were once more on the move.

A week after leaving the city, they would reenter Christian territory - the lands of Cilician Armenia, a semi-independent principality within the Byzantine Empire. After the Turks and the grueling journey itself, surely the worst was over?

Chapter I, part IV


The relief of the Germans at having entered Christian territory again was short lived, despite the warm support of the Armenian prince, Leo II. The rugged Taurus mountains were a formidable barrier to the progress of the army, and the alternative route suggested by the local guides was preferable only by contrast.

At the Saleph River, disaster nearly struck.

Frederick Barbarossa, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was thrown from his horse and nearly drowned.

At first, rumors spread word that the Emperor had drowned. Strong men, who had grown up in a world where the sixty-eight year old emperor had been emperor longer than they had been alive, wept and bewailed his supposed demise as if the Christ himself had deserted them. How could the army, bereft of the man who had held the Holy Roman Empire together by the strength of his will alone, possibly continue? [1] They were doomed to die in a strange land, far from home. Some chroniclers would later claim men even committed suicide, as even the promise of salvation for taking the Cross was overcome by unendurable grief.

But ultimately, the truth spread. While he had been thrown from his weary horse, he had survived. And as news spread that the earlier rumors had been false, those who remained regained lost hope. Nothing could stop them now. They were not being punished by God, but rather, tested. Were they worthy of liberating the Holy City? The city where Jesus had died for their sins over elven centuries ago? The army felt it was. They would not let either their Emperor or their God down.

Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra. [2]



Note: All footnotes are explained in the original posts here: https://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showpost.php?p=4843515&postcount=29 and https://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showpost.php?p=4847051&postcount=36

There's not enough for a part V, but before continuing to the next step, I should note: Manuel, first child of Alexius II, was born on May 13th (For the reader's convenience, the battle and fall of Iconium were on the 18th). The basileus is a daddy. :D

And something I'd like to take the chance to note right about now, as we're entering the Muslim world for real: Most of this timeline is going to be written from a western perspective. As I can't read Arabic, Saladin for instance is probably going to be seen through western eyes.

English language sources doing justice to him and other characters of the Muslim world would be enormously appreciated.
 
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Interesting that Alexius ignores the AIMA prophecy. Manuel I seemed to be obsessed with it.

Alexius is something of the reverse of his father in general (making him a cautious, gloomy, distrusting of Latins sort of emperor), so this is just one of the ways.

I never understood that prophecy, speaking as the author, either.

The first Komnenos to be emperor was an Isaakios, not an Alexios. And Ioannes's sons were Alexios, Andronikos, Isaakios, and then Manuel. The prophecy seems designed to appeal to Manuel.
 
Alexius is something of the reverse of his father in general, so this is just one of the ways.

I never understood that prophecy, speaking as the author, either.

The first Komnenos to be emperor was an Isaakios, not an Alexios.
Maybe he got it mixed up?
By the way great edits. Still cant believe Barbarossa lives. Do you think we will see a combined Rhoman-German invasion of levant:cool:
 
Maybe he got it mixed up?
By the way great edits. Still cant believe Barbarossa lives. Do you think we will see a combined Rhoman-German invasion of levant:cool:

Thanks. Figured it needed some adjustments. Especially the emphasis that Barbarossa is focused on the crusade because that's his current project, not out of some friendship for Alexius. There are going to be more troubles between the Staufen and the Comnenus, but for now, things are going about as smoothly as possible.

Credit it to Age of Empires II. If they hadn't made such a great campaign involving Barbarossa, I would never have cared enough to have him survive.

As for a combined Rhoman-German invasion...yes and no.

Baldwin of Antioch (uncle to Alexius as it turns out - his mother's half-brother) is leading a small force (something less than the original 8,000 after losses and garrisoning Iconium) alongside the Germans. Alexius is emphasizing how eager he is to help the crusaders (for his own purposes, but what they don't know won't hurt them) and the best way to do that is to send soldiers as well as supplies.

On the other hand, is the son of Reynald de Chatillon a proper Roman?

No, this isn't foreshadowing anything. Its just amusingly ironic, particularly given that Alexius privately considers the Franks to be the eleventh plague sent to Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.
 
Chapter II, Part I

In the seven years since Manuel's death, the attention paid by the Romans to the Holy Land had been intermittent at best, with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the county of Tripoli ignored almost entirely and the principality of Antioch in an uneasy position between a Roman protectorate and an autonomous state.

Most of the Franks in the Levant found the absence of the Empire to be a good thing. No interfering, meddling overbearing emperors to have to deal with, high on demands and low on assistance - or so it seemed.

After the Battle of Hattin, with the decimation of the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, it became obvious to all but the most thickheaded that the chances of maintaining a Christian foothold were small indeed without both a response from the West and from the Emperor in Constantinople.

The first was assured. Western Christendom was not yet ready to accept the idea of Jerusalem being outside Christian hands. The latter...would prove more problematic.

So the survivors of Hattin and the skeletal garrisons that remained after King Guy had stripped the castles and towns of the kingdom of able bodied soldiery to form the doomed army that Saladin had so resoundingly defeated, would have to do the best they could by themselves.

Fortunately for the Franks, one of the survivors of Hattin was Conrad of Montferrat, son of Marquis William of Montferrat who had been captured at Hattin. Thanks to Conrad's leadership, the city of Tyre would remain in Christian hands until the arrival of the Third Crusade in 1190.

Meanwhile, the discredited king of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, was a problem. After being released by Saladin, Guy was refused entry to Tyre by Conrad, claiming that Guy's incompetence had caused him to forfeit the right to the crown (which was only his by marriage in the first place).

After a month of stalemate on the subject - Conrad claiming that he was holding to the terms of Baldwin IV's will and Guy invoking his much shaken authority as king - Guy would turn south to besiege the city of Acre in hopes of establishing a secure position from which to restore the kingdom.

There he and his forces would remain until the arrival of the German crusaders under Frederick Barbarossa, fifteen thousand men strong.[1]


1: Everything up to this point is pretty much as OTL, for all intents and purposes - OTL Conrad arrived too late for the battle of Hattin and in fact was nearly captured at Acre, here he arrives earlier but with the same results. The strength of Barbarossa's force is very much a guesstimate - the march across Anatolia, the fighting at Iconium, losses from disease and other problems - but it seems like an approximately reasonable figure for the autumn of 1190.
 
Great update. So how large was the german army when it originally arrived in Roman lands? Sounds like the journey has been troublesome
 
Great update. So how large was the german army when it originally arrived in Roman lands? Sounds like the journey has been troublesome

I'm reckoning on about thirty thousand, a tenth or so knights back in the previous August.

15,000 is thus my guess as to what has made it all the way here, in full health at least. Maybe 20,000 on the outside.

Enough for the work to be done, and much more than OTL, but...
 
You know, I just find this interesting because it seems at odd with the early modern period. Nobody would have imagined transporting twenty thousand troops to Palestine in the 16th century, although sending them to england, the Low Countries, Italy was always feasible.

This is smashing as always, I just find this an interesting observation about how the dynamics changed.
 
You know, I just find this interesting because it seems at odd with the early modern period. Nobody would have imagined transporting twenty thousand troops to Palestine in the 16th century, although sending them to england, the Low Countries, Italy was always feasible.

This is smashing as always, I just find this an interesting observation about how the dynamics changed.

My semi-educated guess - and the reason for the figure - is that no one would have seriously thought about even half that for any other reason than a crusade. For a crusade, well, Frederick can muster it and they will follow him.

And no one really considered logistics except possibly Louis IX (OTL) when crusading.

Looking ahead a bit (how the siege of Acre goes and the arrival of Philip and Louis is part 2), two questions to my readers:

1) How is the siege of Acre likely to go here, with significantly more Germans present than OTL (something around 5,000 reached Antioch) and Barbarossa instead of only his young son?

2) How well/badly is Richard likely to behave himself on Byzantine soil? It would not surprise me for Richard to get himself in trouble with both emperors.
 
Chapter II, Part II

The siege of Acre was a harsh one for both besieged and besieger. Despite the arrival of Frederick, Saladin still maintained a formidable force that nearly rendered the besiegers themselves besieged. Disease ravaged the ranks of the crusaders, and dissent between the supporters of Guy (whose claim to the kingdom of Jerusalem in right of his wife failed to survive her death) and Conrad of Montferrat would see the latter - and those loyal to him - leave for Tyre, weakening the crusader army.

A nearly successful attempt at taking the city in January became a costly failure with with the death of Frederick, duke of Swabia and son of the Emperor, mortally wounded while in the advance of the main German force. When the news was brought to Barbarossa, it is said that his only response was "God wills it." What turmoil he faced inside is not recorded by the chroniclers.

Not until the arrival of Philip of France three months later would the Crusaders attempt to assault the city again, and not until the following month would it fall despite the heroic efforts of the defenders to hold on. In a cruel stroke for the crusaders, but still more so for the kingdom of France, Philip would die - presumably of dysentery - within the month. The remaining French forces, aside from those under the ailing count of Flanders, the ailing Philip of Alsace who had chosen to return to France after Richard's arrival; would fall under the command of the duke of Burgundy.

By this time Richard of England had arrived, and the Crusaders would press south along the coast. Saladin's forces, shaken by the loss of Acre and the strength of the army under Frederick and Richard, had already begun to melt away - leaving the sultan in a difficult position. If all his hard work was not to be lost, he had to succeed, and soon.

(Half finished update. Comments & criticism welcome.)
 
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She lives! :D I'm so glad to see this going again! And I'm glad to see that what we discussed came to fruition! I look forward to more!
 
She lives! :D I'm so glad to see this going again! And I'm glad to see that what we discussed came to fruition! I look forward to more!

The writer grovelingly apologizes for being lax about updates, but is very pleased to hear you enjoy it.

I have nothing against France, I have to note, but Philip dying allows for France to untangle beautifully. And that creates all sorts of fun scenarios. :D
 
Nice but short update. It will be nice to see how France will manage the loss of its king. Btw, now that the French are out of the Crusade, why not having Balian of Ibelin rallying a few pious and fanatic French crusaders and form his own mini-army which later becomes crucial for the Crusade? :)
 
Nice but short update. It will be nice to see how France will manage the loss of its king. Btw, now that the French are out of the Crusade, why not having Balian of Ibelin rallying a few pious and fanatic French crusaders and form his own mini-army which later becomes crucial for the Crusade? :)

Well, the French aren't quite out - but I imagine losing (King) Philip to death is going to be more problematic than to merely having him return home. If Frederick dying shattered the Germans OTL, how badly are the French going to take losing Philip?

As for Balian...I like. I need to read more on what he was doing OTL at this point to fit him in properly, but he seems to be one of the guys who can be trusted to amount to something.

So I'll try to fit him in. :D At the very least, expect him to lead retaking Jerusalem.

Spoiler in white.
 
The writer grovelingly apologizes for being lax about updates, but is very pleased to hear you enjoy it.

I have nothing against France, I have to note, but Philip dying allows for France to untangle beautifully. And that creates all sorts of fun scenarios. :D


Everyone needs a break now and then! And I did indeed enjoy it. And yes, I agree with you, France will untangle quite nicely!
 
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