The Komneniad: The Inner Circle, part 2

I return to the Cabinet of the Roman Khanate, which is not strictly speaking a cabinet in the European sense of men with collective responsibility for policy. Instead it consists of men to whom the Dictator, Konstantin, finds it useful to delegate particular areas of State policy. His is the ultimate responsibility; he fires the others at his whim, and they cannot topple his government by resigning, nor can the Forum vote a lack of confidence in any of them. (In peacetime the two Consuls would be vulnerable to a vote of no confidence, but not the people they chose to delegate some responsibility to; in time of war, the Dictator and his Master of the Knights serve for a fixed term and cannot be removed by any procedure short of assassination.)

Cabinet 1941

Hadrian, Internal Harmony Coordinator (Minister of Security; Man of the People): The title is, obviously, euphemistic; in fact Hadrian’s main task is to ensure that the vast mass of the Han people does not rise in revolt against their Komnenoi overlords – without, however, giving out so much in privileges and power that the demographic reality becomes also a democratic reality. His job, then, is almost the opposite of promoting actual harmony: On the contrary, he is to divide the Han at every opportunity, setting coast against inland, officer against merchant, Red Banner against Green. In principle his charge extends also to the nomad tribes and the Korean city-states on whom the Komnenoi first honed this technique; but in practice these are by now well integrated into the Roman state, and the real danger of revolt is all in recently-conquered China, which well within living memory was an independent state. Hadrian is well suited to pacifying the Chinese both by virtue of his personal charm, and by being classically educated on the Chinese model; there is nothing a Chinese bureaucrat finds more soothing than to be ordered about by someone who is plainly just as familiar with Confucius as he is. Nor are the bureaucrats wrong to think so, of course: China has absorbed any number of barbarian conquerors by exposing them to a millennial tradition of written philosophy, and gradually Sinicizing them through sheer weight of genuine intellectual superiority. It remains to be seen whether this will work on the Komnenoi, who are after all not barbarians in the old sense, but are themselves the inheritors of Greece and Rome, with all that means. Perhaps they will even produce a synthesis, superior to either tradition in isolation? But these are concerns for the far future. At the moment Hadrian serves the State by keeping the Chinese pacified, and serves it very well. Catch phrase: “We read in the Analects that…”

Markos, Protostrator (Chief of Staff, School of Mass Combat): Another of Konstantin’s old army buddies, Markos is universally acknowledged to have a bit of a bee in his bonnet on the subject of conscription. The Roman state does formally maintain that it has the right, at any time, to conscript every male within its borders above the age of fourteen; but, like its equally formal claim of being the only true sovereign state in the world, all other polities being either territories in rebellion or un-affiliated tribes, this claim has never been enforced. The reason, of course, is that service in the Legions is the only way, apart from being born into the Komnenoi, to acquire the vote; and while the system of proxies does weight the Forum in favour of those who live in or near New Byzantium – that is to say, the Komnenoi – there are limits to that system. Full conscription would mean the end of Komnenoi dominance of the State, all the more so now that the teeming masses of China have been brought under the Eagle. Markos’s dream of giving the Legions a rifle strength of twenty million is, therefore, doomed. Quite apart from the economic issues, the majority of the Komnenoi would almost literally rather die fighting than give up the Roman state in its current form. He is, nonetheless, a competent administrator, and the flow of volunteers to the Eagles has increased considerably under his relentless recruitment campaigns. Catch phrase: “We need more men with rifles, dammit!”

Leonidas, Megas Domestikos (Chief of the Army, Decisive Battle Proponent): As a steppe empire, much exposed to Eastern and especially Chinese thought, the Khanate’s armies have always tended to fall into a pattern of evasion, delay, and avoiding decisive combat until the enemy is worn down. Indeed, facing the pressure of the much stronger Russian empire on its western flank, it has often had no choice except to trade space for time and hope for the best. Nevertheless, the Komnenoi remained aware, for the first few centuries of their rule, that their dominion depended ultimately on their ability to smash any single tribe in battle; and they maintained the kataphrakt tradition of armoured cavalry for precisely that purpose. In more recent times the military power of the nomads has faded, and with it the political importance of the Legio I Komnenoi; but the tradition of readiness for a single decisive battle in which the enemy is overawed and smashed, not attrited and worn, into submission, remains. Leonidas is well steeped in this tradition, with several scholarly articles on its historical expression to his credit, and has also warned against the constant tendency in the Legions towards increasing reliance on the spaces of the steppe and the difficulty of the Tibetan, Korean, and Chinese mountains for defense. His point has, of course, been only too well emphasized by the approach, not once but twice in the past year, of large Japanese armies within a hundred miles of New Byzantium and the industrial heartland of the Khanate. Catch phrase: “This is where we stop them!”

Rhee Hyenou, Megas Drungarios tou Ploimou (Chief of the Navy, Decisive Battle Proponent): The Khanate’s navies, such as they are, have tradtionally been regarded as mainly a Korean concern. The first warships to put to sea under the Eagles were even paid for by Korean merchant clans, and even now the city-states retain a tradition of fulfilling their militia service at sea rather than on land. With the 1935 sale of the few remaining surface combatants to the Black Navy, however, the Εμπορικής Ναυτιλίας is now little more than a coast guard, a few enterprising Q-ships notwithstanding. The realities of industrial priorities means that Rhee’s cherished ambition of fighting a Kessen Kantai against the Imperial Japanese Navy, preliminary to invading the Home Islands, is most unlikely to come to fruition in this generation. His inclusion in the Cabinet is mainly a gesture in the direction of ethnic unity: It costs Konstantin little and mollified the Koreans. Catch phrase: “All we need is a dozen modern capital ships!”

Chiang Kai Shek, Megas Aquileon (Chief of the Air Force, Army Aviation Proponent): While the Legions welcome anyone who wants to volunteer, its top ranks tend, in some unaccountable manner, to be filled by those who have friends in New Byzantium – that is to say, by Komnenoi. The ambitious among the subject races, therefore, seek out the Air Force, where the channels of influence, patronage, and nepotism are not yet dug so deep. Even so, Komnenoi usually find their promotions come faster than they do for Chinese, Koreans, and nomads. Chiang is an exception by virtue of plain talent and sheer personal formidability: The superiors who recommended him for promotion were not consciously afraid for their lives if they didn’t, but it is probable that ancient primate instincts were waking somewhere at the back of their hindbrains, warning them not to engage in a dominance contest with this one. Chiang’s steely gaze, honed by his service as a fighter pilot (and quadruple ace) in the Red Banner Armies during the Chinese conquest, has been known to reduce underlings – some of them experienced pilots with a dozen clear air combats to their credit – to stutters and, in extreme cases, to tears. Catch phrase: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a twenty-ton load of tri-nitro-toluene”.

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