The Komneniad: Diplomacy and Distrust

To explain the breakdown of the international system in the decades following 1730, we must carefully balance two competing models of geostrategic behaviour: The formal realist theory and the more ad-hoc statesman model.

Realist theory holds that states always act to maximise their relative power, thus increasing their security in the anarchic international system; to the extent that one can sum up a model of diplomacy in a slogan, “there is no 911″ is the slogan of realists. Realism claims to be both a prescriptive and a descriptive model: That is, it says that states should act to maximise relative power, in order to ensure the security and welfare of their citizens; and it also says that states in fact do act as it says they should. Realism does not concern itself with the internal details of states; its theorists claim show that democracies, dictatorships, monarchies, oligarchic republics, and New Guinean tribes all act according to its prescriptions. Realist theoreticians, therefore, consider states as billiard balls, varying in size, but otherwise indistinguishable.

Realism is, nevertheless, a model: Like Clausewitz’s (*) “True War”, it is a Platonic ideal that, when implemented by fallible humans, can only be approximated, never fully reached. The difference between what we might term “True Geopolitics”, the ideal of the state which always seizes any slightest possible advantage, and “Actual Geopolitics”, war and diplomacy as practised by actual humans who have – perish the thought! – hesitations, moral scruples, public opinions to deal with, a lack of complete ruthlessness, pacifistic ideals, and even in some cases actual piety – this difference, which we may call the friction of realism, can only be explained by some theory outside of realism. Such a theory must pay close attention to the internal details of states, taking indeed a diametrically opposite approach to the black box of realism. Thus we have statesman theory, which attempts to explain the actions of states in terms of what their presidents, dictators, oligarchs, or tribal chiefs were thinking at the time, and – in principle – whether their ulcers or gout had been bothering them that day.

(* This timeline doesn’t, of course, have a Clausewitz per se; but I expect that some similar theorist will arise, and to avoid confusing my readers I follow a translation convention. Similarly, this timeline won’t have a Marx, a Nietszche, or a Schrödinger by those names, but their ideas will be thought by someone, and if I need to refer to them I’ll do so by the OTL names that my readers will recognise.)

The models do, however, interact: For statesmen may, among their many other motives, be moved to act by ideas of realism, whether maintaining the balance of power or straightforwardly seeking power for their country. Indeed, the realist theoretician seeking support for his theory can easily find it in the private letters of many a diplomat or politician. At the same time, it is important not to cherry-pick: History also offers examples of famous statesmen who have expressed, even in private letters, the idea that such-and-such an act might be of great advantage for their country, but would be dishonourable and must therefore be avoided. Still more common are those who held that an act would be advantageous, but that it could not be defended to an un-cynical (or un-realist) public. It is worth noting that even in a dictatorship there are interest groups whose support must be courted, and if powerful men benefit from, say, an alliance with X, they cannot be quickly convinced of the need to betray the alliance and conquer X, no matter how beneficial that would be for the country as a whole. Indeed, it is a characteristic of dictatorships to be run for the benefit of small groups rather than the entire population; intuitively, then, we might almost expect dictatorships to be less realist than democracies, since it should be easier for other states to bribe the relatively small leadership into actions that reduce the dictatorship’s security, while increasing the personal welfare of the elite. But in fact, dictators who are straightforwardly kleptocratic are rare, and so are examples of dictators bribed to betray their country into another’s hands.

In considering the diplomatic developments surrounding the various wars of the middle eighteenth century – what at the time were called the World Wars because almost every civilised state was fighting at one time or another – we need a full appreciation of both models. One can view this period as the struggle of Catalunya for full regional hegemony in the Americas, and the construction of a balancing coalition to stop this attempt; in Europe, one can see Bavaria reaching the status of potential hegemon, and others forming an encircling coalition to reduce its power. This is the realist view. Alternatively, one can see these decades as an object lesson in the importance of trust, not institutional but personal, even between states whose self-interest dictates alliance.

At this point a summary of the major events is needed as a framework for analysis. In brief, then:
Around 1735, economic development in South America advanced to the point where its Iberian rulers felt, first, the need for a different project to absorb their energies, and second, sufficiently strong to complete their centuries-old ambition of full hemispheric hegemony. They accordingly provoked a war with the native confederation that ruled the western seaboard of North America. The piteous cries for help of that state created a coalition of Pacific powers to maintain its independence and, more to the point, prevent Catalunya from gaining access to the resources of an entire continent; it may be added that the Chinese and Roman oligarchies were not shy about asking for trading privileges in the state they were rescuing ostensibly from the sheer goodness of their hearts and an unflinching commitment to the balance of power.

At the same time, tension between Persia and the African alliance that dominated the Indian and Mediterranean seas – a tension compounded of irredentism and aggression on both sides, in that both Persia and the Caliphate could claim to be the traditional rulers of the Levant, though at this time Persia was in actual possession – boiled over into war. The African alliance was joined by Croatia, which – in the name of being the true successor of the Roman Empire, whose old capital of Constantinople it held – sought to add Anatolia to its domains.

This, however, immediately raised concern about the balance of power in Russia, Bavaria, and as far afield as China and New Byzantium. As with the American Confederation, a coalition was formed to rescue Persia from the aggressor; but this Eurasian conflict was complicated by the existence of treaties of friendship and even alliance between several pairs of belligerents on opposite sides. Thus Bavaria, for example, intervening to uphold Persian sovereignty, remained at peace with its neighbour Croatia, while fighting Croatia’s African allies as far south as the Sinai!

However, while this tactic allowed Bavaria to accomplish its goal of saving Persia from annihilation, the long-term effect was to undermine the belief, among the elite of all nations, in the sanctity of treaties. Accusations of bad faith and treaty-breaking flew even thicker than musketry volleys, and in particular the African elites came to distrust those of Russia and Persia, and vice-versa. Consequently, when Bavaria entered the American war in support of Catalunya’s ambitions – partly because Chinese diplomats, with the customary arrogance of the Middle Kingdom, had spoken to their German counterparts in terms of “loyalty to the Dragon Throne” and “the filial duty-to-obey of vassal rulers”, and been unsubtle in making threats of “the Emperor gathering all his loyal vassals to punish those who breach his peace” – it proved nearly impossible to reverse the diplomatic momentum and form a coalition against this potentially hegemonic alliance.

In particular, Persian courtiers proved nearly hysterically resistant to the idea of making common cause with their African enemies, on the grounds that the Black Empires were not to be trusted and would certainly make a separate peace at the first opportunity, and then turn again on Persia. Baghdad also contained a considerable faction who felt that Bavaria had aided them in their time of trouble, and that they owed some gratitude. Although it has been said that states have no permanent friends, only permanent interests, this cold maxim is not the whole of the truth as long as decisions are made by men who remember seeing a foreign uniform march to their aid on a stricken field.

Conversely, both African and Croatian oligarchs looked askance at the idea of an alliance with the Czar; Catalunyan diplomats had an easy time of dredging up old grievances and perceived breaches of treaty by Russia. Nor was the common cause of alliance against Bavaria aided by our old friends, the Chinese mandarins, who rarely bothered to hide their contempt for anyone not trained in the Analects. In fairness to the Chinese, they may also have been frustrated by the failure of both the Black Empires and the Russian/Persian bloc to act in their own best interests, but they were also quite unable to shed their cultural assumption that an envoy of the Middle Kingdom did not need to persuade, but could simply order. Indeed in several cases negotiations broke down into harangues and browbeating of dumbfounded African diplomats, who for their part found it hard to believe that a civilised realm could so completely ignore accepted etiquette between sovereign states.

Thus in 1742 a fragile anti-Bavarian coalition collapsed when the Black Empires, citing bad faith on the part of Russia, instead joined Bavaria in attacking the eastern states; meanwhile Catalunya renewed its attacks on the American Confederation, again with Bavarian support. The fact that any state could fight effectively on two fronts, one of which was across an ocean, was widely pointed out as evidence of Bavaria’s near-hegemonic status; but events now had their own irresistible momentum, and by 1748 Croatian troops were occupying much of the Ukraine, while both Czar and Shahanshah issued communiques on the necessity of fighting to the very end, as Rome had once done.

Heads, nevertheless, had now had time to cool, and when a chastened China sent new diplomats to attempt mediation in this Vengeance War, they found the Black Empires ready to listen. Negotiations to save Russia from dismemberment and avoid the destruction of its vast armies – badly needed if any credible resistance against Bavaria was to be built – were hampered, nonetheless, by a long list of “distrust dyads”, traditional hatreds and tensions between the states:

  • Ethiopian elites refused to engage with Russia; and their Kongolese allies went so far as to state that they would not even eat a Russian noble – the ultimate insult in the empire of the Eaters.
  • Persians were paranoid about African attack.
  • Croatians carried a chip against Persia.
  • Visits from Chinese diplomats cheered nobody.
  • The Khanate retained its traditional aspiration to Russian domains in Siberia – and the Russians knew it well.
  • And, of course, everyone hated the Jews.

Against such a backdrop of personal dislikes, vendettas, insults at banquets, misunderstandings of cultural quirks – admittedly, the Kongolese habit of ostentatiously licking the lips while looking someone up and down, although usually intended for a compliment, is somewhat unnerving – it is amazing that anything could be done at all.

Excerpt from Diplomatic history of the World Wars, volume I, 1725-1748,
Andronikos son of Telemakhos,
Beijing University Press, (C) 1910.

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The Komneniad: Plain Religion

The twenty thousand Greeks who escaped the destruction of the East Roman Empire carried, in the words of their own chronicler, little physical baggage with them; fleeing destruction through the lands of their foes, they limited themselves to gold and steel. But there was no similar limit on the concepts and ideas they could carry, and they were heirs to millennial traditions of rule, citizenship, and theology. Indeed the purpose of their flight was to preserve their ideas, rather than their power or wealth – which they could have retained much better by making peace with the Persian conquerors, and ruling Anatolia as loyal subjects of the Shahanshah.

Those who joined the Long March did so because they were loyal to some idea of Rome – at least this is true of the leaders; children and wives followed fathers and husbands, and the kataphrakts fought, as soldiers will, for loyalty to their salt and their comrades. But the purpose of the exodus, the cause for which the Komnenoi abandoned great estates and a life of power and prestige (*), was that of preserving the Roman tradition as a sovereign country – indeed, in a sense, the sovereign country. In strict legal theory, the Komnenoi hold the Senate and People of Rome as the single legitimate source of authority, against which all other sovereignties are in rebellion. This tradition was part military, consisting of the horsemanship and archery of the kataphrakts – a style of fighting which, in spite of its effectiveness and several attempts by the Persians, was never revived in Europe, because all those who might have taught it were dead or fled – and, more importantly in the long run, the concept of an officer class leading a professional army. It was also partly social or ideological, in the idea that every man had a duty to serve as a soldier and to cheerfully accept discipline and authority, because that authority had been placed over him by the Senate and People of which he himself was a part. And lastly, the tradition was in part religious; if the first two concepts descended ultimately from the pagan Republic, by 1395 Orthodox Christianity, and the concept of a state church, was as much a part of the Roman idea as the legion and the Forum.

(* It is worth noting that there are still Komnenoi in Anatolia, descendants of those who did not join the exodus; and if they no longer rule through feudal privilege, they still own quite a remarkable fraction of the productive capital. As for power, it would be a careless Shahanshah indeed who deliberately offended an interest group that can so easily sway his Greek-speaking subjects. If the rural grandees now send their sons to the court at Baghdad instead of the court at Constantinople, and profess submission to Allah rather than the filioque clause – nu, in another context it was said that Paris was worth a mass. )

Alexandros and his immediate circle did not conceive of a Rome without, not only Christianity, but Christianity in the particular form it had taken in the Byzantine Empire: Patriarchs appointed by the State, with the power to settle theological disputes in council, and to withdraw the protection of law from apostates and heretics. In fact one may reasonably doubt whether, had they known that such a church was impossible in the Third Rome they were determined to build, they would have embarked on the Long March in the first place. But impossible it was, for the good and simple reason that the tribes refused to take dictation in points of theology.

Christianity was not new on the steppes; in its Nestorian form it had been preached and practiced for centuries when the Komnenoi arrived. Yet it remained one cult among many, of which the most prominent was a nominal Buddhism, strongly mixed with ancestor-worship and animism. In the first few years of the unification this did not become an issue; when the question was which tribe should rule the steppes and have the right to extract tribute from others, beliefs about the supernatural faded into the background. But once the Komnenoi had established by right of conquest that they were, in fact, the legitimate heirs of Genghis and Tamerlane, the question arose: Just what did this legitimacy entitle them to do, apart from extracting tribute and sending out the war-arrow?

The Komnenoi, acting on habits inherited from a thousand years of State-sponsored Christianity, felt that one obvious answer was, “require the tribes to worship as we specify”. The tribes, on the other hand, saw the problem with a fresh eye, uncluttered by structures developed for rule in settled lands. They quickly pointed out that Komnenoi propaganda, on which their crucial ability to recruit tribal allies rested, had been based on an alleged connection between the Roman custom of equality between citizens, and the tribal custom of equality between warriors. But the latter did not include any particular prescription for what the warrior should believe about spirits or ancestors, provided he was loyal to his salt and fought well. If the Roman conception of equality did have such a provision – then suddenly the promises to be no more than the first among equals in a struggle against the hierarchical settled states looked rather like mendacious propaganda of the very finest stripe.

Below this fine theoretical point, of course, lay the sharper reality that the tribesmen were no fools. The steppes might be a backwater, but they were not completely isolated from the outer world; they could see how state-organised religion was used as a tool of control, and they wanted no part of it. They were willing to accept Komnenoi primacy in matters of tribute and levies because that primacy had been established on the battlefield and could only be maintained there, and also because the Komnenoi had carefully supported relatively weak tribes against relatively strong ones in their initial divide-and-rule diplomacy; there was therefore a mutual interest in maintaining Komnenoi primacy. But to give the Komnenoi a tool of control that did not rest on battlefield strength was to give them something for nothing, and this the tribes uniformly resisted. They could foresee their children or grandchildren fighting in some Komnenos war not because it was good for the tribe, but because a Patriarch appointed in New Byzantium had called them to do so. A solid bond based on mutual advantage and military strength was one thing; intangible loyalty to an ideal that was under the control of one party was quite another.

This was not to say that the tribesmen resisted conversion; as always, Christianity had much to offer as a theology of the downtrodden. But individual faith was no threat to the tribal system. Comparison with the analogous case of the Christianisation of Scandinavia may be instructive: In that case, kings found Christianity a useful tool as against their fractious nobles – they could foresee the children of the present generation supporting throne against clan because a bishop appointed by the king had said it was right, and consequently they imposed the faith by fire and sword. On the pagan side, nobody had objected to individual conversions, which were no threat to the position of the nobles; it was when the Kings claimed the right to make everyone pray to the White Christ, and obey their bishops, that the regional grandees took up arms.

The Komnenoi, however, ruled explicitly by appeal to the legitimacy of warrior brotherhood, and implicitly by military superiority to any single tribe and their consequent ability to divide and conquer. They could not resist a united demand to back off, or else. And as it became clear that State-appointed bishops were the one thing that the tribes would not tolerate, the Komnenoi displayed once again their famous ability to triage: They dropped, almost as one man, the attempt to impose a state church.

This did not mean that they dropped the attempt to Christianise the tribes; that was both a heartfelt religious duty – it must be noted, in this analysis of religion as dominance relationships and cynical maneuverings, that many of the Komnenoi were genuinely pious and felt actual anguish at the thought of their subjects burning in Hell – and a slower means to the same end of imposing a State church. Christian tribes, presumably, would not object as strongly to appointed bishops as did pagan-Buddhist tribes.

This strategy had the advantage of not causing the overthrow of the Komnenos state a few decades after its creation. But it had a hidden weakness, squarely in the blind spot of monotheistic religions: It assumed that, because Christianity was true, it would eventually prevail. In fact, for the Komnenoi, all of twenty thousand strong, to attempt the conversion of two million pagan tribesmen was much like a drop of ink trying to blacken a bucket of milk. The end result is milk that is, perhaps, a little greyer than the next bucket, but ink that is not very black at all.

Likewise, the Komnenoi of the eighteenth century, by which time the homogenisation process was more or less complete, were certainly nominally Christian; they believed, indeed, that Jesus had preached peace and performed miracles, had been crucified, and had risen from the dead. They still made icons of various saints and of the Virgin Mary. But these facts are cherry-picked; they are not the full picture. They also believed that Jesus was one of many bodhisattvas, especially righteous men who had chosen not to break free of the cycle of suffering and reincarnation, but rather to aid others in accomplishing that end. Their saints had become, in effect, local gods or protecting spirits in the style of Hinduism and popular Buddhism (as opposed to its theology). This is not unknown to other Christian traditions, many of the saints having been absorbed from local spirits in the first place, but the extent to which the Komnenoi were willing to declare any tribal ancestor or river-spirit a saint was unusual. Further, the Bible’s words on bodily resurrection had come to be reinterpreted in terms of reincarnation; a monastic approach with an emphasis on personal development, rather than communal piety, was emphasized, and the list of borrowings from Buddhism, Confucianism, and Hinduism could be extended almost indefinitely.

If one were to construct a vector space for classifying religions, one would find that what the Komnenoi (and their tribal subjects) believed and practiced in the eighteenth century was, as far as its surface appearances and public rituals went, still quite close to contemporary practice in Christian Europe; but that the substance of its theology was much closer to Eastern ideas.

In a sense, of course, this did not matter: Theology, by construction, consists of beliefs about things that are not empirically testable, and which therefore have no effect on men’s actions. That is, it is not completely unknown for deeply religious men to insist that their god will intervene to save them, and therefore fight hopeless battles rather than submit; but it is rare. When it comes to making actual decisions, the deist position, that no god’s aid is to be relied upon, is much more common. But while belief in divine intervention is rare, belief in the righteousness of particular beliefs is not; and humans have been known to use force to impose correct belief. Thus, the long war on the crumbling steppe frontier was made particularly vicious by the (quite reasonable!) Russian belief that the Komnenoi were not only infidels, but apostates and/or heretics as well. (One might remark in passing that for any single religion to plausibly collect all three of these epithets is a perhaps unparalleled achievement. The Komnenoi were infidels in that they believed in various spirits, apostates in having left the mainstream Christian faith, and heretics in that they held uncanonical beliefs about Jesus.) Nor was viciousness ameliorated by the existence of a Moslem Punjab, making not only the territorial but also the religious struggle three-cornered.

Excerpt from The Plain Religion: A Study of Christianity in Siberia,
Carlos Three Bears Santiago,
(C) Fighting Navajo(tm) Publishing Company, 1993.

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The Komneniad: A Navy for Rome

Although the steppes are conventionally called “the sea of grass” by poets, the Roman Khanate had, since its founding by Alexandros, been a relentlessly land-focused state. The reason was twofold: First, for at least a century after the founding, the Komnenoi regarded revenge on Persia as their highest calling, looked west and north for imperial expansion, and prioritised the army accordingly; and second, the bleak Pacific coast did not at first produce much in the way of sailors or shipbuilders. As the Komnenoi extended their rule northwards, punitive expeditions – if their targets’ territories were close to the coast – would sometimes find it convenient to go by sea rather than marching, and a few oar-powered galleys were built to suppress riverine piracy and enforce harbour tolls; but as for blue water, the Komnenoi left that to the Japanese and the Malayans.
However, as the eighteenth century began, the systematic exploitation of Siberian resources – chiefly iron, furs, copper, and precious metals – had caused a considerable coastal trade, mainly run by Koreans, to come into existence. Coast-hugging junks made great profits in exports to silver-starved China and copper-craving Japan, as well as supplying European merchants with furs; in a classic mercantilist pattern, the Korean trade cities had been granted a monopoly on Siberian goods in exchange for taxes in cash and kind – the latter consisting of supplying the State arsenals at New Byzantium with iron. Thus, although no captain of any Roman warship (given their usual duties and designs, “armed police-ship” better conveys the facts) built before 1725 would have dreamed of going out of sight of land, there was a considerable merchant fleet, bearing the circularly symmetric emblems of Korean merchant clans subject to New Byzantium, in the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan, and as far north as the delta of the Amur.
As with any monopoly, the Siberian trade attracted its share of smugglers, mainly Japanese merchants trying to cut out the middleman in the copper trade, to the great annoyance of the middlemen – who naturally petitioned the Senate at New Byzantium for help in enforcing the monopoly they had granted. The Senate, however, was slow to respond; although the dream of revenge on Persia had faded with the centuries, Komnenoi attention was still focused on the west, in particular on the long conflict with Russia over the crumbling steppe frontier. The military aristocrats of New Byzantium did not really understand the sea; even those of the Cadet class who had made their money in trade had done so largely on the overland Silk Roads. Prestige and political power came from commanding the Legions to victory over Russia; the Pacific coast, in spite of its increasing wealth – recall that the world then had few statistical tools for measuring such things, and that the Roman civil service was deliberately tiny so as to exclude non-Komnenoi – was, by and large, ignored.
If the peace and sovereignty of Rome did not extend far beyond its coast, however, New Byzantium’s light hand in dealing with its subject peoples had always allowed them to raise their own militias – indeed, the tribal levies were a considerable part of Roman military strength. The Korean cities, seeing no advantage to drilling their young men to die on the distant Russian border, had not participated much in this system beyond police forces suitable for suppressing banditry in their immediate hinterlands. Having their commercial privileges threatened was something else again. The merchant guilds found enough room in their profits to arm their junks so that each trading voyage was also in effect a customs patrol, in which any foreign ship found north of Sakhalin was liable to capture or sinking. Naturally this led the smugglers to arm themselves in their turn, and sometimes to organise veritable smuggling fleets with dozens, even hundreds, of guns. Japanese and Malayan authorities, not wishing to antagonise the Komnenoi into turning their attention eastwards (and in any case not too sympathetic to the travails of poor smugglers from Hokkaido) did not interfere, and the Sea of Okhotsk thus became a lawless zone, with Korean and Japanese subjects fighting a private war outside the ken of their respective empires.
Arming merchant ships was an unsatisfactory compromise – the results had neither the commercial capacity their tonnage would allow, nor the firepower of a dedicated warship. As the demand of armies for for copper and iron increased, the conflict between smugglers and monopolists intensified, and much of the profit was diverted into an arms race which, over the course of a few decades, recapitulated the evolution of warships built by states. In 1650 a typical merchantman carried a dozen man-killing swivel guns, suitable for sweeping the decks of a lightly-built Japanese smuggler or, more likely, overawing it into surrender. By 1720 the principal Korean cities were launching frigate-built ships carrying two dozen ship-killing 36-pounder guns apiece.
Such ships did not serve any military purpose in the Amur delta. Firstly, the smugglers – unable to match the resources of the wealthy Koreans – had largely lost the undeclared war, and secondly the frigates were too large and expensive for monopoly enforcement; the same amount of money spent on smaller, faster sloops-of-war would have done a better job of coastal patrolling. But two generations of quite real naval skirmishing had produced a culture in which ships – strongly armed, well crewed, skillfully officered – were the means by which the merchant clans one-upped each other. The nouveau riche built ships to demonstrate that they had arrived; the established clans built ships to demonstrate that they were still top dogs; the not-quite-wealthy bought shares in ships so they could feel they were making a contribution to the defense of their city. The launch of a new ship became an occasion for city-wide festivals, in which those wealthy families who did not own the new ship competed to offer the finest food and fireworks in compensation, and the ship-owners were envied and celebrated.
Even a runaway competition for prestige could not be completely divorced from economic reality. The merchants did not try to build three-decked men-of-war requiring a thousand men to man their guns; nor, of course, were their internal negotiations for influence and trading rights entirely unaffected by the existence of private fleets of varying power, capable of interdicting the voyages of a rival house. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that far more was spent on such fleets than a purely mercantile cost-benefit calculation (that is, ignoring the intangible factors of prestige and patriotism) would have called for. Consequently, when in 1728 the Khanate found itself at war with Ethiopia – in other words, with a maritime empire whose fortified harbours and vast navy held the Indian Ocean in a grip of iron – the rulers of the Roman Empire had, for the first time since the Arabic invasions a thousand years before, to grapple with naval strategy.
The questions weren’t, it was true, very complex: The tiny Korean navies could not hope to wrest command of the sea from mighty Ethiopia, nor even to do much to protect their coastal commerce. What they could do, however, was to win a few skirmishes, and to establish that the Siberian coast was no longer a naval wasteland to be effortlessly dominated by a tiny handful of minor combatants. In particular, during the summer of 1729 the Εμπορικής Ναυτιλίας fought several single- and two-ship engagements against the few obsolete units that the Ethiopians had sent to interdict trade in the Sea of Okhotsk, and by carefully engaging only when circumstances were favourable, won them all. This was, of course, irrelevant in the grand scheme of things: The annoyed Ethiopians simply shuffled squadrons around and sent thirty ships which forced the Koreans to keep to their harbours. Nevertheless, the result in Roman domestic politics was electric. As the news of victories at sea came in, the military aristocracy suddenly realised that here was a source of victory-prestige which they had completely neglected. Further, the coastal trade had grown to the point where its revenue was sorely missed by a state mobilising for war; again, the effect was to make the Komnenoi take a sharp look eastwards, to the sea. And finally, while everyone understood that a state which bordered mighty Russia would never be able to fight a maritime empire like Ethiopia straight up, Ethiopia was not the only naval power in the world. Even a small navy, it was realised, might hold the balance of power in a contest for the seas – or at the very least, make the Siberian coast sufficiently dangerous that a state fighting for control of the Indian Ocean could not afford to divert forces to blockade it.
This handful of sea encounters, insignificant in themselves, thus took on an importance far beyond their real strategic effect, vastly raising the status of the coastal provinces of the Khanate and the perceived importance of their trade. The Komnenoi, never shy about muscling in on what they now saw as a good thing, quickly began building their own warfleets – and, with money voted by the Senate, they were not above making a domestic-political point by funding three-decked warships capable of blowing any Korean frigate out of the water.
The new Roman Navy thus came to have the same two-tiered structure as the army, with federal troops – or in this case, ships – backed by privately-funded militia units. The military utility of such an organisation may be doubted; but Rome still clung to a theory of government by which every man had the right and duty to bear arms. Thus the Komnenoi made a virtue of what was, perhaps, necessity on the steppe, since federal troops could not keep the peace between every pair of minor tribes; and in the name of consistency this virtue was transferred to the sea.

Excerpt from Citizen Sailors: The Rise of Roman Naval Power, 1660-1740,
Hermann Fritzler,
(C) Frankfurt University Press, 1983.


A quick look at some of the battles of this war.

Forcing the Himalayas:


Biting the ankles of the Ethiopian blockade:


Holding the Allahabad river line against heavy Kongolese counterattack:


Notice the enormous concentration of guns on the Kongolese side; of course the Roman and Qin armies had great difficulty hauling such equipment over the mountains.

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The Komneniad: Fighting Retreat

August 12th, 1719
Somewhere in the Altai foothills
An hour after noon

Guns; always the damned Russian guns.

Andreas kept his face impassive as another salvo of mortar shells landed behind his cohort line. Signal flags waved from the Russian position on the ridge opposite. One short, one long, and now they had the range and could start firing for effect. The next one would be right on top of them. The Russian gunners knew their business, if nobody else in their army did.

He resisted the urge to look behind him for the courier who would bring word that the legion had got through the pass and they could retreat; it wouldn’t happen any faster for his fidgeting, and at this point looking calm and stoic was the only thing left for the officers to do. The men were arranged in lines by century, blocking the road (track, really) against infantry assault. His flanks were covered by impassable hills, dense with gullies and scrub, and not even a Russian would be mad enough to launch a cavalry charge uphill on this stonily treacherous ground, strewn with caltrops and stakes. There was nothing left to do but stand in ranks, ready for the inevitable bayonet charge, and endure the bombardment. Nothing left but to hope that it would be short.

The Russians had to be getting desperate; every half-hour was another century slipping from their grasp. Even if they broke Andreas’s cohort, they would only catch a single legion; the XII Victrix had been the rearguard for the army as a whole, even as the cohort was guarding the retreat of the Victrix. The main issue of the past month’s campaigning was long settled: The legions had gotten away with giving the Russians a bloody nose, killing thousands and taking tens of thousands prisoner, and slipping away behind a chain of rearguards when word came that they were being outflanked – slowly, the Russians had numbers like grass on the steppe but they also moved as fast as the grass grew – to the north. A single legion was pocket change in a campaign of this scale; but the Russians had had nothing but disaster and barren hills to show for their invasion so far, and they might grasp desperately for even a minor consolation prize like the rearguard Victrix.

Andreas could only hope that it was so, that frustration and impatience would lead his opposite number – whoever commanded the Russian battalion behind the ridge – to ordering a premature assault. If he kept his cool, if he allowed the bombardment to go on for half an hour or more, he might lose his opportunity to close the trap on the escaping Victrix; but he could batter Andreas’s cohort to flinders. Oh, he couldn’t kill them all; not with the five mule-portable mortars that Russian doctrine assigned to an infantry battalion. But standing in ranks to receive random death from above, with no possibility of retaliating or taking action to protect oneself, was one of the worst things that could happen to a soldier. His men would stand, yes, except the ones who were knocked down by shrapnel; they would close ranks around the dead and wounded, and block the road. But the horror and despair of it would mark them; they would stand for the necessary hours, but they would be useless for all but garrison and line-of-communications work for years to come, if it went on too long. A worthwhile bargain for the Victrix, to sacrifice a single cohort to extract the whole legion. But it was Andreas’s cohort, not an interchangeable counter to be moved around a map but a living, breathing thing; his work and his honour together. To contemplate it broken by Russian guns was to feel despair writhing in his guts like a bayonet.

Always the damn guns! The Russian infantry recruited no free citizens of the steppe, no ambitious men seeking the franchise, no volunteers for a life of glory and danger; they conscripted serfs by the tens of thousands, and drove them forward with whips and blows. Men of spirit would knock out their front teeth and cut off both thumbs rather than serve twenty years in the Czar’s regiments; a conscript’s family mourned him as one dead. Such men could not face the Khanate’s professional soldiery on anything like even terms. But the Russians cheated. The arsenals of the Don basin gave them guns by the thousands; every infantry battalion had its mortars, every regiment its three batteries. It slowed them, but their conscript infantry could not march fast in any case. And it multiplied their firepower enormously. If not for the thousands of Russian guns, the Khanate would have planned a stand in the Altai, not a fighting retreat that would slow and bloody the Russians but not ultimately stop them. If not for the guns, they would even now be driving for the Urals. And if not for the guns, Andreas’s cohort would be fighting it out with serf conscripts in volleys of musketry and stabbing bayonets; and that could have only one outcome.

The next salvo landed, as Andreas had expected, right in the middle of his fourth century. The Russians had cut their fuses with deadly skill, and two of the explosions were air bursts at the perfect height, spreading the shrapnel with the optimal tradeoff between the radius of the burst and the speed of the metal pieces, not wasting any of their killing power on ground or air. Men went down, half a dozen under each blast. Most of them got up again under their own power, but not all; the noncombatants who’d been told off to form stretcher parties came forward now, to make the first of what would be a steady trickle to the rear of his position and the waiting ambulance carts. The nearest doctors were three hours away over bumpy roads. It would be a lucky man who took a wound that kept him out of the line, and lived. But soldiers lived by luck, and swore by it; to deny them their ambulances was to court mutiny, even though they did little good and took up horses and carts that could have carried ammunition.

“Twenty-nine, thirty,” Andreas counted under his breath, and the first shot of the next salvo whistled in right on schedule. The Russians were firing independently now, and minor differences in loading speed spread the shells slightly in time. Two rounds per gun per minute, to conserve ammunition and break armies; that was the rhythm the Russians would be striving for. The mortars could be fired faster at need, if only at the risk of overheating and perhaps exploding; but the Russian commander could afford to ignore that. It was ammunition that would be his concern. Each shell was three pounds of expensive gunpowder and iron; an hour of bombardment at this rate meant using a ton of ammunition – which would have to be replaced by laboriously dragging it over the deliberately terrible roads of the Altai, badly maintained precisely to hinder Russian invasions.

A cornicen blew, and fourth century started moving – backwards. Andreas tensed. The centurion was trying to get his men out of the target area, as they had discussed before the battle began; but he was taking an unnecessary chance, and Andreas cursed himself for not specifying that the first movement should be forward, to get the men used to maneuvering under fire. A backwards movement could all too easily turn into a rout. But endless drill paid off; when the signal blew again, the men stamped their heels and stopped as one, thirty meters behind their first position – on which the next salvo came down harmlessly. More flags waved on the ridge, and Andreas wished uselessly for even a single one-pounder popgun, so he could at least make the observers keep their heads down.

The dance of shifting bombardments against shifting positions went on for a timeless interval; Andreas could not have said how many times the shells had come whistling down to maim and kill his men, nor how many times the centuries had shuffled forward and back to gain a temporary reprieve until the Russians found the new range. At last, though, the interval between shells shortened; Andreas found himself counting fifteen, then ten seconds – the maximum ‘drumfire’ speed of the mortars, which would overheat and crack them in a few minutes, but meanwhile rained fifty kilograms a minute of gunpowder and iron on his line.

It was a reliable signal; the opposing commander might as well have sent him word by courier that his attack was coming. “Dress the line, prepare to receive infantry,” Andreas ordered, and his trumpeter blew; the centuries moved in response, a little disjointedly – many of the men would be shocky or dazed after so long under the hammer – but fast enough. Over the hill came the shakos of the Russian infantry, black plumes nodding; then the bearded faces, then the green jackets with their white-and-gold trim, finally the white trousers. They crested the ridge and began to descend. Still out of musketry range, they did not rush as they would have done through the beaten zone if Andreas had had any guns; they marched stolidly in columns of companies, taking their time and letting the drumfire do its work.

Andreas’s mouth was dry; he swigged from his bottle – water cut one-fourth with wine – before shouting, “Right lads, now they’re coming out where we can kill them. Centurions, volleys at fifteen paces.” A rough barking cheer went up from his line, and the cornicens blew – not signalling now, but just making noise to defy the continuing crash and snap of the mortars. The Russians were coming up the hill, picking up speed in readiness for the charge; their neat formations broke up a little as they encountered the caltrops and stakes. Seeking something to do with his hands, Andreas brought out his pistol – no single-shot flintlock but a rare and expensive five-shot revolver, an officer’s weapon – and checked the priming. Around him his aides were doing the same; his primus pilus was profanely checking the weapons of the headquarters contubernium, getting it ready to reinforce any weak spot in the line.

A deep-throated massed “Oooorah! Ooooorah!” came from the Russian columns as they threw themselves forward across the killing ground, bayonets first. To ears part deafened by the continuous bombardment, the shout wasn’t so loud, and the Roman line didn’t flinch. Instead they brought their muskets up steadily at the word of command, and fired once, a close-packed series of six century volleys going off like hammers. The Russian columns staggered under the blow, the front ranks collapsing, others stumbling over the corpses suddenly in their way. They were close enough now to be taking casualties from their own drumfire, still coming down like iron rain; that was the best way to ensure that artillery supported your men right to the last second, if they had the discipline to charge into their own fire.

Then the cornicens blew once more, signalling the attack. “The kites know well/that long stern swell/that bids the Romans close”, Andreas quoted absently to himself, glancing up; there really were kites circling above the battlefield. He leaned forward intently; everything hung on the next minute. Were his men too dazed by the bombardment to mix it in properly with the Russians? Alternatively, had their volley hammered their enemies hard enough to cause collapse at the sight of bayonets coming for them? Neither side had yet taken many casualties; he had lost around fifty dead and wounded in the bombardment, the Russians perhaps the same in the volley. The question was which side had the moral ascendancy, which side’s willpower and weaponry would cause the hearts of the other to break.

Many of the Russians, muskets still loaded, managed to get off shots before the two lines came together. That hardly mattered; uncoordinated snap fire would kill a few, but wouldn’t add much to the horror and despair his men were feeling, which was the decisive factor. There was a dreadful iron clatter as bayonets punched out on either side, and a vast brabble of shouts and screams. The mortars had stopped firing at last.

Andreas felt the thin-stretched tension of enduring the bombardment go out of him as he listened to the tenor of the shouts. His men were screaming in rage, not fear. The bombardment had not been enough to break their spirits. He thought he even detected a certain amount of satisfaction at finally getting to kill the bastards who had kept them under fire for so long. The Russians’ deep “Oooorah” was becoming shriller, less a challenge and more a defiance. The headquarters contubernium wouldn’t be needed for shoring up the line; he could use it for a decisive counterattack instead.

“We’ll go around there, try to get into their flank,” he shouted, pointing. Thirty men charging into the deadlock might well produce an effect out of proportion to their numbers, especially if they struck at a flank. He spurred his horse into a fast walk, and the headquarters troops followed, fixing bayonets as they went.

They weren’t fast enough. Pressed down the slope by the Roman countercharge, the Russians’ nerve broke with the abruptness of crystals forming in a saturated solution – it only took one man to turn in sudden panic and claw his way backwards. The infectious panic swept through their ranks, and in a few seconds the massed ranks of green and white had turned into a fleeing mob. Andreas shouted in triumph, reminded that the root word of ‘panic’ was Greek. The madness of Pan had taken the Russians, the wild fear that comes out of the deep forest.

His men pursued the Russians a short way, but the panicked enemy was throwing away muskets and even shakos and running unencumbered. Without cavalry, he could not complete the rout; on the other hand, he also didn’t have to worry about keeping a pursuit under control. After all, the Russians had presumably not sent a single battalion to try to trap the Victrix; he had beaten their spearhead, all that they could usefully send into a single attack, not their entire army.

The bombardment did not pick up again as he redressed his line; perhaps the Russians had exhausted their ammunition. If so, he had probably accomplished his mission; there would be no point in sending a beaten battalion to try again without artillery first hammering his cohort some more, and it would take time to get a fresh battalion into position in this narrow pass. Maneuvering bodies of hundreds of men past each other, or more especially the wagons carrying mortar ammunition, was surprisingly time-consuming even over short distances. An hour, perhaps two, would pass before they could get new shells for their mortars, or muster men for a renewed assault. And behind him, the Victrix was making its escape. He felt a grinning exultation build; he had held them, by God! He, Andreas son of Pericles, and no other! There would be toasts in the legion mess, perhaps a corona aurea to add to the lustre of his house.

The cornicens blew again, and the signal for “No enemies in sight” was a salute to victory.


It may be worth pointing out that Andreas’s tactics are not necessarily optimal. He is, perhaps, a little conventional in his thinking; stodgy, even unimaginative. After all, which cohort would you select as the one to (possibly) expend in saving your legion? Right, the one with the least valuable officer. (And unimaginative stodginess is perhaps not a bad thing in a rearguard.) Told to defend a position for a certain amount of time, Andreas does the straightforward thing: He marches his men to a suitable spot, forms line of centuries, and settles down to wait for the enemy either to beat him to flinders, or be themselves beaten. It does not occur to him, for example, to have his men set up on the reverse slope, with only some observers forward to give warning when the Russians attack; true, the mortars would still reach – one of their chief advantages – but their observation would be hindered. Likewise, he doesn’t think in terms of a spoiling attack, nor of sending forward skirmishers to snipe at the Russian observers. Mobility is a state of mind as much as a physical capability; bereft of cavalry or room to maneuver, Andreas retreats into a purely static defense, digging in his heels on a chosen spot and gambling that his men are more stubborn than the Russian conscripts. And so they are; but a better officer might have won more handily. That said, let those who have themselves commanded a cohort against the weight of a full-dress Russian drumfire and assault, and emerged victorious, criticize; and let others be silent!

About the ranks and unit designations: The Khanate deliberately invokes the armies of republican (not Byzantine, in spite of its immediate ancestry) Rome in its nomenclature, but its more complex rank structure does not directly map onto that of the ancient legions. The smallest unit likely to be committed independently is the cohort, what the black-powder generals of OTL would have called a battalion; it comprises six centuries of a hundred men each, divided into contubernia (platoons) of twenty-five. There, however, the resemblance to an ancient legion begins to fade. Marius’s legions had officers primarily for the purpose of leading by example, so that the centurions, leaders of centuries, were in effect NCOs, and the senior centurion, the primus pilus, was also in charge of a cohort. To the extent that Rome observed a strong distinction between officer and NCO, men of the officer class were only found in the staff of the legate, the legion’s commander. A black-powder army requires more unit articulation and complex drill, and thus centurion is an officer’s rank in the Khanate army, while the primus pilus is an NCO and not a centurion – roughly equivalent to a Battalion Sergeant-Major in an OTL army. Cohorts are commanded by tribunes, a rank with three internal grades denoted by the width of their rank stripes; these correspond more or less to our captains and majors, while centurions are roughly speaking lieutenants. Notice that there is no equivalent of a colonel; above the most senior tribunes are only Legates, commanding legions of several thousand men (up to two dozen cohorts), and Prefects, in overall command of an entire campaigning theatre. This reflects the lack of an equivalent to the regiment or brigade. If several cohorts are brigaded together, the most senior tribune takes overall command as well as commanding his own cohort.

Now, some screenies:

The Victrix holding up the Russian advance while my other legions recover their morale:

Rearguard Victrix

Just in case anyone thought I was exaggerating about the professionals-vs-conscripts thing:

Roman Discipline

NB, nobody is at tech 53 yet. No Esprit de Corps. The Russians sure have a lot of guns, though:

Lots of guns

Did I mention the Russian guns?

Guns, guns, guns

Agh! As many artillery regiments as I’ve got infantry!

Hovd Result

No wonder the Russians are depending on foreign subsidies to keep their armies in bread and gunpowder.

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The Komneniad: The Career of Honour

If the Komnenoi were organised into a pyramid, that pyramid was still the very tippy-top of their society, resting on a flat desert of non-citizens. These residents of the Roman state had, of course, their own internal hierarchies. Although the tribes were fairly egalitarian as humans go, they still observed a distinction between free warriors and slaves, and between warriors and chiefs. As for the settled peoples under Komnenoi rule, with their much greater economic specialisation, they naturally fell into an ordinary pattern of stratification by some combination of wealth, birth, and education – which of course tended here as elsewhere to go together. No such distinctions, however, were known to Roman law, which, when it was done outlining the privileges of the different ranks of citizens, consigned everyone else to a single category marked `Other’. After the reforms of Achilles, it was possible for non-citizens to join the Equestrian order through military service, but since the privilege was not hereditary, this did not greatly expand the citizen class.

Such a system might have bred resentment, if it were flaunted. But apart from exacting tribute and levies, the Komnenoi kept themselves to themselves, leaving their subjects to manage their own affairs. Each tribe and each city kept its own law, and even a limited amount of horse-stealing and skirmishing for grazing rights were tolerated, as long as it did not cut deeply into productive capital. In effect, New Byzantium had set itself up as simply a pre-eminent tribe, which did not interfere in the internal affairs of others provided the tribute was paid; a truly minimal night-watch government. Nevertheless, one cannot run an empire without some sort of government; subjects who are allowed to forget that their government exists might decide to forget about their tribute payments as well. Thus each tribe and each city in the Roman Khanate had assigned to it a single Envoy, representative and sole functionary of the government. In practice the Envoys, at least in the settled lands, tended to acquire a small staff; but on the steppes many tribes did indeed have a single man as their only contact with their nominal government. Such service was the first step in the ladder of the Cursus Honorum, the Career of Honour by which ambitious Komnenoi men advanced to, ultimately, the Senate. After serving as Envoy for a few years – three was the minimum, but promotion after such a short period was rare in peacetime – the budding politician (sometimes still shy of twenty years) would be posted to a Legion. After at least five years in the military, he would become eligible for transfer to the civil service in New Byzantium; but in practice most Komnenoi served in the Legions for at least ten years, and twenty was not unusual. The reasons were twofold: First, military service was the prestige posting, the raison d’etre of the entire citizen class; and second, a short military service was a liability in New Byzantium’s politics. Finally, after ten years in the Administratum a civil servant could be elected Senator. In theory, then, the minimum age was 34, but in fact the youngest Senator on record is Telemakhos son of Hercules, who achieved election at the unheard-of age of 44.

The powers of the Envoy were theoretically vast and practically constrained. As the sole holder of Imperium, right-to-command, in his region, he could in principle order his subjects flogged and (in time of war) beheaded; hence the Fasces badge of his office. In practice this right was almost never exercised against civilians, for the good and simple reason that the Envoy could not very well act as his own lictor against any sort of resistance; to enforce a flogging he needed the cooperation of the locals, and that was usually only forthcoming when some local law had been broken – in which case the Envoy’s right did not need to be invoked. An exception to this rule was when someone had behaved in such a way as to scandalise his neighbours, but without strictly speaking breaking any law, as in the famous Xian Lu Incident, where the eponymous Xian Lu was driven to suicide by her schoolmates. There was no law against mockery and bullying; but Ioannes son of Alexandros, the local Envoy, ordered the guilty parties flogged, to widespread satisfaction. Exceptions could also occur when a faction in local politics managed to suborn an Envoy and have their opponents whipped; but this usually led to the recall in disgrace of the Envoy, and was therefore rare.

Likewise, in principle an Envoy could call for military support – up to and including the entire thirty-Legion armed force of the Roman Khanate – to deal with threats ranging from bandits through rebellion up to invasions by Great Powers. Again, however, most threats were dealt with at the local level; no city benefited from having bandits nearby, and New Byzantium’s policy of crucifying liberally after any rebellion that required Legion intervention meant that neighbouring cities were often willing to send their militia to crack heads if a riot got out of hand. Thus the enormous army that an Envoy could in theory call upon served mainly as a deterrent, ensuring that the velvet glove could usually be kept on the mailed fist.

To load such responsibility on boys not yet out of their teens tended to produce a binary outcome set: The Envoy either cracked under the pressure or grew up very rapidly – which was, of course, the intention. The Komnenoi were (and are) not a numerous people, and loved by none; they had no room for deadwood. Hence the famed coolness under pressure, expressed in laconic wit, of those who had served their time as Envoys. The response to the invasion of Bengal, for example, is classic; the panicked Bengalese, faced with expeditionary forces outnumbering their armies three times over, had begged for ten Legions as well as invoking their alliance with Qin. The actual Roman response was rather smaller; as their leader said: “Of course the Senate knows that Kongo is invading with a hundred thousand men, that all of India is on the march, and that the situation is very serious. That’s why they sent two Komnenoi.”

In this case, laconicism was reinforced, presumably, by the knowledge that New Byzantium was bound by treaty to make no war on Kongo, had only a minor interest in the exact location of the Indian border, and in any case could not have supplied any ten Legions across the Himalayas. Still, by all accounts the response to the Russian invasion in 1714 was similar: The various Envoys reported an aggregate of a quarter-million men coming across the border, and calmly retreated their tribes eastwards, poisoning wells and setting grass fires as they went. When the Khanate’s armies eventually met the Russians in battle, the peasant conscripts of the latter were exhausted and hungry, easy prey for the well-fed kataphrakts; the initial invasion was turned back almost without loss to the Khanate, leaving tens of thousands of dead behind along with a hundred guns.

The enormous manpower of Russia enabled it to absorb such a blow where a smaller state would have been forced to sue for peace. Nonetheless, the point remains that perhaps three dozen young men, none of them above the age of twenty-three, had by their collective decision moved a hundred thousand nomads, at least a million head of cattle, and many millions of horses and sheep; had rendered hundreds of square miles impassable to formed units; and had, in effect, defeated the foremost, or at any rate largest, army of the day – long before the Khanate’s regular troops closed with the starving remnants of the Russian regiments.

The particular circumstances of the Russian Vengeance War were rare, and not many Envoys actually had to make such weighty decisions in their few years of service; but they were all required to be ready for them, and in the pinch, the Komnenos ethos of firm decision came through. The entire government of the Khanate was composed of such men, and indeed any lesser mortals might well have found it impossible to impose the will of thirty thousand men over one-fifteenth of the land surface of the Earth. One shudders to think what they might have accomplished, had they been numerous enough to send two Komnenoi to each tribe.

From Ever the Twain Shall Meet: Custom and Law in the Roman Khanate,
Thomas Mattson,
Oxford University Press, (c) 1972.

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The Komneniad: Senator, Cadet, Equestrian

The reforms of Achilles had opened the ranks of the Equestrians to tribesmen not of the Komnenoi. That is to say, men who had done their twenty years’ service in the legions, the regular standing army as opposed to the tribal levies raised for particular wars, were allowed to declare their support for a particular Senator, and thus lend weight to his vote in the Forum. However, the upper ranks of the Komnenoi state remained firmly in the grasp of the noble houses of New Byzantium, comprising perhaps as many as a thousand adult males at any one time. Election to the Senate required (albeit by custom rather than law) that one’s father or grandfather had held the position. Thus the number of eligible men was more or less constant in spite of the increasing population, as men failed of election or simply pursued other interests; on average only one son of a Senator followed his father, and to get three sons into the Senate was held to be a notable feat.

The Komnenoi thus came to have three tiers, with men of Senatorial rank – either actually serving, or eligible for the office – at the top. At the bottom (although the poorest Komnenos still ranked before any tribesman or other subject) were the Equestrians, whose main privilege apart from their share of the State revenue was that of serving in the regular army. (Confusingly, the Equestrian class is distinct from the Equestrian order. The latter consisted of those men who had served in the legions and could thus vote for Senators. The former consisted of those Komnenoi families with a tradition of sending their sons to the legions, and who had no other political or economic distinction. Thus the order consisted of enfranchised male veterans, not all of whom were Komnenoi, while the class consisted of Komnenoi, with or without the vote, including many women and children.) The enfranchisement of the tribesmen had somewhat diluted this privilege; but volunteers for twenty years of arduous service were not so common as to make the vote meaningless. Moreover, privileges in law were one thing, and proximity to the center of power another; it was a rare Equestrian who had no friend in the Senate, and the Komnenoi stuck together. It was possible for a citizen of Equestrian rank to fall into poverty, but only by dint of considerable effort to demonstrate that they did not deserve the aid of the more fortunate. Alcoholism was the most common cause of such falls from grace. The majority, however, did well enough with small family businesses, with Senatorial charity (usually in the form of interest-free loans) as a fallback.

Between these two classes were what came to be called Cadets, originally consisting of men descended from Senatorial families but who were not eligible for the Senate, or who had repeatedly failed to be elected – this was more common, though not universal, for younger sons, hence the name. They nevertheless retained the right to a tenfold share of State revenue (where Equestrian males had the right to a single share), for this privilege of Senatorial families was enshrined in law and not mere custom; Cadet families therefore commanded great wealth. Eventually the class came to be defined by wealth rather than descent; increasing trade led to some individuals amassing incomes beside which a tenfold share could be quite insignificant. (Shares, of course, increased in value in proportion to Roman GDP, which in this agricultural period was growing at about half a percent yearly; but their value was also inversely proportional to the Komnenoi (not total) population, which was growing at a much more rapid 2% clip.) Thus the boundaries of the Cadet class were fluid, and initially there was a division within it. Men could fall into Cadetry from the Senatorial ranks, in which case their income was likely to be mainly from their share of the state’s income; or they could rise to Cadet rank from the Equestrian class, in which case their income was likely to be much larger and derived from trade. In 1673, however, a law was passed which made State-revenue shares alienable, that is, they could be bought and sold like stock in a corporation. Since every nouveau-riche former Equestrian made it his first priority to acquire income from a respectable source (and the shares therefore traded far above their net-present-value as future revenue streams), the distinction soon vanished.

It is worth noting that in the first Rome, ‘Equestrian’ had been a noble rank, albeit a minor one. The naming was deliberate: The Komnenoi were declaring themselves to be all nobility, all aristocrats – even down to their poorest members, who made a living by taking in laundry! Hence, incidentally, the vulgar tribal phrase for visiting a prostitute in New Byzantium: “F—ing a duchess”. The proud tribesmen were on occasion rather nettled by Komnenoi pretention, especially after seeing the mud-and-clay buildings of the poorer quarters in the capital, and were rarely shy about expressing their contempt. In fact Komnenoi women were very rarely forced to resort to prostitution, and most of the ‘duchesses’ had fled from one tribe or another. But insults need not be reasonable, and anyway the ‘duchesses’ generally did their best to act like noblewomen fallen on hard times, including exquisite manners as well as makeup to lighten the skin and prostheses (or even primitive surgery) to mimic the stereotypically sharp Komnenoi nose. If the result would not always have passed muster in a Senatorial salon, that did not matter as long as all parties got what they wanted: For the tribesmen, an opportunity to symbolically restore their equality with their overlords; for the Komnenoi, a safety valve against their subjects’ resentment; and for the ‘duchesses’, a livable (if squalid) income.

Fashions in prostitution were the least of the effects of the Komnenos claim to nobility, however. It contributed signally to the martial tone of New Byzantium; “a dreary barracks town, endlessly marching to the drum and trumpet, without charm or grace”, as one Russian ambassador (possibly not entirely unbiased) put it; if the Komnenoi were nobles, they were very much a military aristocracy. It pushed even the poorer Equestrian voters towards a long view; although the Komnenoi controlled no great estates (the factor that was supposed to make European aristocrats consider decades and centuries), shares in State income had a similar function as a long-term revenue stream affected by policy. Conceiving themselves an aristocracy among commoners, the Komnenoi tended to stick together; no nobleman likes to see another fall on hard times. Indeed, the same applies to every class except the lowest wherever men organise themselves in social classes, which is to say, in every state above the tribal level; and although wealth varied widely among the Komnenoi, class is not necessarily tied to wealth, as is usually thought in industrial societies. In New Byzantium the markers of class were dialect, manners, skin tone, and facial features, not money; and the city was small enough that the differences even in language between Senators and laundresses were not great. Hence the legendary solidarity of the Komnenoi, of whom it was said that they would rather barbecue a hundred foreign children than see one of their own suffer a scraped knee.

From Ever the Twain Shall Meet: Custom and Law in the Roman Khanate,

Thomas Mattson,

Oxford University Press, (c) 1972.

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The Komneniad: Them Dry Numbers

Having finished with Achilles’s spirit-quest to become Dictator of Rome and repair the wrongs that were done in his youth, I feel like looking at some dry, unemotional statistics. In particular, how are the players using their magistrates; what fields do they prioritise?

There are two ways of looking at this. One is to consider all buildings, and count how many magistrates have been spent in each field. Another is to consider only the level-5 and level-6 buildings; since there can be only one level-5 building in a province, finding a level-5 is strong evidence of commitment to a given area. Provinces, after all, are perhaps the ultimate limited resource in the game; there will be another magistrate coming along, but gaining provinces is (now that everything is colonised) completely zero-sum.

So, let’s start with a table summarising all the information we’re looking at. The columns are the number of provinces, total magistrates spent, magistrates spent per province (which is an indicator of economic development; contrast densely-built-up Croatia with the howling wilderness of English North America), total basetax, magistrates per basetax, the percentage of provinces with a level-5 building, and, for each field, (government-army-navy-forts-production-trade) the magistrates-per-province used on that field, and the percentage of provinces with a level-5 building in that field.

TAG Provs Mags M/P Base M/B Max Govt GovtMax Army ArmyMax Navy NavyMax Fort FortMax Prod ProdMax Trad TradMax
CRO: 50 791 15.82 273 2.90 0.92 0.28 0.00 5.54 0.80 0.70 0.00 1.64 0.00 3.96 0.02 3.00 0.10
ENG: 117 774 6.62 453 1.71 0.32 0.05 0.00 0.59 0.03 1.40 0.18 1.14 0.00 1.99 0.00 1.30 0.11
USA: 80 830 10.38 255 3.25 0.59 1.50 0.19 1.51 0.07 1.29 0.06 1.51 0.00 2.11 0.11 1.95 0.15
BAV: 118 1231 10.43 638 1.93 0.69 0.16 0.01 3.26 0.49 0.27 0.00 1.41 0.00 2.50 0.03 2.53 0.16
CAT: 152 1071 7.05 650 1.65 0.48 0.32 0.05 1.18 0.13 1.30 0.14 1.14 0.00 1.50 0.00 1.41 0.16
NOV: 106 1297 12.24 580 2.24 0.79 1.49 0.20 4.38 0.56 0.18 0.00 1.85 0.00 2.68 0.02 1.25 0.02
TRP: 60 559 9.32 236 2.37 0.50 1.12 0.03 2.43 0.32 0.77 0.02 1.25 0.00 2.80 0.12 0.78 0.02
PER: 59 697 11.81 334 2.09 0.68 1.54 0.00 4.20 0.66 0.47 0.00 1.85 0.00 2.47 0.02 1.00 0.00
ETH: 98 1035 10.56 433 2.39 0.88 0.71 0.10 2.33 0.22 2.38 0.30 1.05 0.00 2.39 0.12 1.52 0.13
KON: 76 1126 14.82 318 3.54 0.89 3.04 0.36 4.01 0.41 1.43 0.09 1.07 0.00 3.13 0.03 1.41 0.01
KHA: 71 783 11.03 238 3.29 0.41 1.25 0.01 2.96 0.39 0.45 0.00 1.61 0.00 2.51 0.00 1.82 0.00
KHM: 34 483 14.21 158 3.06 0.88 0.91 0.00 2.18 0.26 1.74 0.12 1.53 0.00 4.29 0.26 3.15 0.24
QIN: 52 727 13.98 272 2.67 0.96 0.50 0.00 4.77 0.67 0.33 0.00 2.04 0.00 3.02 0.06 2.83 0.23
PUN: 37 455 12.30 150 3.03 0.68 1.08 0.00 3.54 0.49 0.03 0.00 2.05 0.00 3.81 0.19 1.38 0.00
MSA: 91 772 8.48 399 1.93 0.64 0.20 0.00 1.84 0.19 2.16 0.29 1.10 0.00 1.07 0.01 1.71 0.15

It may be worth recalling that when provinces change hands, the buildings disappear unless the conqueror has a core; so nations with land that has changed hands many times will have fewer total magistrates because of it. However, the dominant effect is probably integrated magistrate gain; thus we see Bavaria and Novgorod, with their many vassals, leading the total-magistrates count. But we can also note that never-invaded Ethiopia and Kongo, and Catalunya with its ocean-protected domain in America, are not far behind. Then there’s a bit of a jump down to the middle-rank (by this measure, not necessarily overall) powers of about 700-800 magistrates: Croatia, England, USA, Khanate, Qin, Malaya, Persia. Finally there’s a rag-tag and bob-tail of minors ranging from 400 to 600: Tripoli, Punjab, Khmer.

There seems to be a sweet spot for maximum province development somewhere around 50 provinces; larger nations can’t build up all their provinces (at least not without concentrating exclusively on one area), smaller ones don’t have the money (or so I conjecture). Thus we see Qin and Croatia, both around that size, with the highest full-development fractions.

Looking at tables is illuminating but sometimes strains the eyes, so I made some histograms. We can start by showing the total number of magistrates in this form:

Total magistrates

Notice that within each bin, the nations in that bin are sorted so the highest flag has the most magistrates. Now we can more clearly see the division into a favoured group with more than a thousand magistrates, a middle rank about 750, and minors with four or five hundred. If we look instead at magistrates per province, however:

Magistrates per province

we see that Croatia, near the top of the middle ranks by the previous statistic, jumps to first place; Qin makes a similar evolution; and of the former top group, only Kongo retains its high position. Catalunya, formerly ranked fourth, drops to 14th! That said, it is of course a nice question which of these two indices is more important. Density is good, but quantity also has a quality all its own. Indeed, if we look at sheer number of provinces, Catalunya is in a class of its own:


which will, no doubt, spark cries of “Death to perfidious Spain!” Oddman is also king of the hill in terms of total basetax, although the difference is not quite so large:

Base tax

Finally, in terms of magistrates per basetax, the distribution of nations is rather uniform, with no strong standout, although Kongo is at the top and, perhaps surprisingly, Catalunya at the bottom:

Magistrates per basetax

So far I’ve been considering totals and rankings; now let’s have a look at how the nations use what they’ve got. A small magistrate number is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s all in how you prioritise it!

Let us first consider how the nations have used their level-5 buildings; to build such a thing is, in effect, to commit that province to army, navy, government, or economy for the rest of the game. It is of course possible to lose a province and regain it, but I assume nobody builds a high-level building with such a thing in mind. Indeed, my own high-level buildings are well away from the border with Russia, although not everyone has such a luxury. At any rate; as a first cut consider the priorities of army (ie conscription centers), navy (naval bases), and non-military – stock exchange, customs house, cathedral. (Although I’ve been speaking of level-5 buildings, I list the level-6 ones as the priorities, since it would be pretty silly to build a level-5 and not go for the level-6.)

Arny, navy, other

We see from the clustering along the left-hand edge that the continental nations are very heavily army-oriented, while ignoring their navies. They differ only in how much they feel able to divert from army to economy – ranging from the Khanate and Persia, completely focused on their armies, down to Tripoli which splits itself about evenly between army and other. The exceptions are more interesting. We see Malaya and, especially, England, being much more navy-focused (as one might expect); Ethiopia and Catalunya apparently not specialising at all; and the USA focusing very heavily on ‘other’. Khmer, too, has apparently given up on competing militarily with its heavyweight neighbours, and is trying to maximise its non-military power.

Now, ‘other’ is rather an amorphous category, consisting of the sum of government, production, and trade. Let’s combine army and navy and split government off from production and trade; then we find this:

Military, government, economy

Everyone hates the underpowered government buildings, except Novgorod, Kongo, and the US. I theorise that Kongo is trying to increase its literacy for Victoria by building lots of colleges; possibly the US is doing the same. I’m not sure about Novgorod.

Now let’s throw out the military entirely and concentrate on the three non-military branches; we know that people hate government, but how do they prioritise between trade and production?

Production, government, trade

First a note: The Persian, Punjabi, and English focuses are quite misleading here. The Khanate, for example, has exactly one province with high-level buildings that are not military; I needed a college in my capital for some national decision or other. So my apparent complete focus on government is an artifact of having only one building that’s not army! Similarly for Punjab and England. Otherwise we see that most people prefer trade, Tripoli is apparently focusing on production, and Ethiopia and the US are either unfocused or balanced – take your choice of adjective.

The Khanate having so few non-army buildings brings up another point; how committed are we to these strategies? Let’s see how things divide between military, nonmilitary, and not committed – which can of course be used later for moving about in the other triangles.

Military, other, uncommitted

We see Qin and Croatia pretty heavily committed to their respective strategies – they’ll need to double in size to change what they’re doing. At the other extreme, England has huge amounts of free land that can be used for anything, as does the Khanate – strategic options, yay! We see again that most people lean pretty strongly military. I wonder if anyone will be inspired by the pacific focus of the US to invade? Take the nice rich provinces from the decadently unmilitary people!

Finally, I repeat the three focus triangles using all buildings, instead of just high-level ones:

Army, navy, other

Military, government, economy

Production, government, trade

and find a cluster of army states and a cluster of ‘navy’ states who are actually not so much navy-focused in the sense that the others are army-focused, as balanced between army and navy. Ruling the waves is, apparently, not sufficient by itself. We also see even more strongly that everyone hates the government buildings, but Kongo hates them the least. In the low-level buildings we’re more balanced between trade and production, perhaps due to the widespread perception that the low-level trade buildings are rather underpowered, so people only buy them as stepping stones to the high-level ones.

Word count 1400, and I thought this was going to be a not-much-writing, heavy-on-the-pictures AAR… Anyway, let me know if there’s any other statistics you’d like to see in a similar format.

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