These documents have been extracted from chanceries all over Europe and the Middle East; they form an authentic record of the events leading to the Unfought War. For the benefit of formality-challenged modern readers the high language of medieval diplomacy is followed by translations into the vernacular. For clarity, each correspondent has been assigned a colour, the modern translations are in coloured italics, and modern commentary is in plain text.
There are two republics in this game, but only one of them does much talking. I do not say which is the wiser approach.
From His Serene Highness, Doge Abramo Aiello of Venice, Admiral of the Adriatic Sea, to His Excellency the Wallah-Emir Admer Almohad, President of the Almohad Republic: Greeting! It has come to our Serene attention that at Lykia, merchants of the Almohads have gained for themselves a trading privilege, and are trafficking in the goods of that place and of the lands beyond. We rejoice in your good fortune, surely a blessing from that God we share and from Whom all good things flow, and wish to increase it. At Rome our own merchants trade daily in grain and linen, in wine and olives, in paper and dates, with great profit and security. Yet the storied wealth of the Aiello flows mainly from the Levant; and Lykia is far from Morocco. Would it not increase both our capitals, and create still greater profit to provide for our children and countrymen, were we to exchange our privileges, so that Almohad traded in Rome, and Aiello, in Lykia?
I noticed you’ve got some stuff that would be really useful to me; seems like I’ve got some stuff that would be more useful to you than that other stuff; trade?
Doge Abramo’s offer appears to have been well meant, though it is worth noting that the Almohad trading post at Lykia interrupted what was otherwise an Aiello monopoly from Egypt to the Black Sea, and no doubt cut deeply into his profits – without, however, making a corresponding profit for the Almohads, who had no great trading network to draw on. Thus, the proffered exchange would almost certainly be mutually beneficial, albeit with the greater benefit going to Abramo.
The Big Bad Wolf in person, also known as the Wicked Warden of the West; Robert of Shrewsbury, God-Emperor of
From His Britannic Majesty, Robert, Second of that Name, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Warden of the West; to His Serene Highness: It has come to Our Royal attention that you have corresponded with Our vassal, the esteemed Emir Admer, of the Almohads. We remind you that you trade in Our possessions by Our Grace, and that at Our word the harbours of the West are closed to your ships; and advise you to tread but lightly.
I hear you’ve been talking with my people. Just remember I can kick your guys out of my turf any time I want. You be polite and don’t diss anyone, and we won’t have a problem. Because if I have a problem, I make it your problem.
It appears, from other documents, that Robert’s letter was intended in a jocular spirit, not a serious threat but a mere jest – poking fun, perhaps, at Abramo’s very serious concentration on merely mercantile affairs. The high nobility of Europe, at this time, were not given to concerning themselves with things that could not be fought, hunted, or bedded; and Robert II in particular is an epitome of their boisterous-brawler style. An alternate translation, therefore, might run Hey nerd, made any money lately? Lol! Just don’t get any nerd-cooties on me and you won’t be paying for my lunch today. If so, good king Robert was ill-served by his chancery, who appear to have sucked all the humour out of his message, carefully dried it for storage and later use, and sent off formal words devoid of any indication that they were not unkindly meant.
From His Serene Highness, the Doge of Venice; to his overlord, the Most Holy, Most Roman, and Most Imperial Emperor of Germany, Martin the First; also to the Ayatollah Ga’vriel, Shahanshah, Emperor of Iran and non-Iran, the Successor of Mohammad, and to his leal vassal, Ghazi Shah; also to Ida, Queen of Denmark; also to Grand Prince Gleb of Kiev, By the Grace of God, Czar of Half the Russias, Heir of Norway, Supreme Necromancer of the Zombie Cossacks, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth: Noble and illustrious lords, in the West there is a Great Power. This is well enough while the Three Little Pigs build their housen of straws and of sticks, and do not meddle in the business of others; but now comes the Big Bad Wolf, and makes threats and gives orders to men not his vassals. Well then, should we not be only lambs ourselves, and not fitted to lie down with lions, if we merely watched him huff, and puff, and blow our brick housen down? Let us prepare a cauldron, and make for ourselves a good hot soup.
Seems like this guy Bobbi thinks he can throw his weight around. Well, I admit he’s got some weight, but enough for all of us together? I don’t think. What do you say, gents?
Abramo has a problem – in fact he has two problems: The first one is that he thinks he’s being threatened by the world’s largest empire. His second problem is, he needs to communicate with his possible allies, while taking into account that letters may be lost, intercepted, and end up in wrong hands – and he has no encryption. Thus he speaks metaphorically and elliptically, in an attempt at plausible deniability; but errs on the side of clarity. The “Three Little Pigs” refers to the arms of House Shrewsbury, “per pale argent and or, three boars gules,” and the “Big Bad Wolf” and the making of a cauldron of boiling water need no translation. As we will see, it is Abramo who ends up bathing in the hot soup.
Fair is fair; even aside from the Zombie Cossacks demanding double pay, the Czar of Half the Russias has trouble enough on his borders.
Grand Prince Gleb of Kiev, By the Grace of God, Czar of Half the Russias, Heir of Norway, Supreme Necromancer of the Zombie Cossacks, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth, to His Serene Highness: The Big Bad Wolf is, indeed, Big and Bad, and the noise of his huffing and puffing has reached even to Kiev. Regrettably, however, closer wolves press me; in the steppes we must deal with entire packs of them, and some of them do not eat pig. At the present time, therefore, I must regrettably decline your kind offer of soup.
I hear you, but I’ve got troubles right here at home. Sorry, man, no can do.
Like Abramo, Gleb is being somewhat cagey; but a glance at the map suffices to tell us which wolves “that do not eat pig” he was worried about. The Caliphate, at this time, reached well into the Caucasus and threatened to spill out into the Don basin.
Dat Martial score… but why is his wife wearing a dead rodent on her forehead?
His Illustriousness, Ghazi Shah, Satrap of Syria, to His Serene Highness: The Prophet, praise be upon him, has said that when three speak of secrets in the palace at evening, either two die in the night or all the bazaar knows in the morning what was said. This is reported in the Sufficient Book; and although some scholars regard it as di’af, I have myself experienced its truth.
Dude, keep it close to your vest. You’ve got like a dozen people in on this. The only thing that’s certain is that at least two of them are kissing Robert’s ass.
Modern versions of the Kitab al-Kafi do not contain any hadith having to do with how many people can keep a secret; but whether inspired by Mohammad or not, Ghazi’s concern was well founded, as the next document shows.
His Britannic Majesty, Robert, Second of that Name, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Warden of the West; to the man, Abramo Aiello, styled by some, Doge of Venice: Have not our fathers helped yours to the sovereignty of the Adriatic? Have not the men of Britain fought Turks, Croatians, and indeed Sicilians on your behalf, yea, even with death on the line? Yet it seems there is a Providence in the world, and it loves not a betrayer. For memory of the ancient friendship between our peoples, I offer you self-judgement: What will you give, to repair this harm planned for Our person?
I helped you get all that stuff, and this is what I get for thanks? Too bad, looks like it didn’t work out for you. Now I’mma let you finish this thing; you tell me what you’re going to do to make it good again.
Like most bullies, Robert isn’t any too pleased if a victim shows any sign of not passively submitting.
I would be cruel too, if I was a Genius surrounded by idiot vassals who kept getting me into wars with way-more-powerful emperors.
His Imperial and August Majesty, Martin, First of that Name, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Germany, to his leal vassal, Abramo Aiello, and also to the crowned heads of Europe: Most illustrious lords and majesties, we are most unhappily displeased that the Warden of the West should have come to think, through the lying tongues of unfaithful servants, that any of our company might wish to oppose him, even in the smallest of his desires. We wish to assure you that such a thing has never been in Our mind; and most earnestly enjoin and entreat you to make assurance to His Britannic Majesty that no harm to his interests has been entrained.
Holy shit, who narked? We fucked.
His Imperial and August Majesty seems excessively concerned for a ruler who had not lifted his pen to take part in the conspiracy, such as it was; but then, perhaps he was worried that he would be blamed for the actions of his vassal.
His Serene Highness, Abramo Aiello, Doge of Venice; to His Britannic Majesty: It was your Majesty’s word that broke our bond. Your Majesty has rich estates and wide lands in England and France, in Iberia and in Africa; we of Venice have only our trade, and must needs look to its defense, if any threatens it. But if you say your word was spoken in jest, it is well, and already forgotten; let us merely tend our affairs, each to his own, and say no more of it.
Dude, you started it! How about, bygones, we just make the trade I suggested in the first place?
Abramo must have known that this would not work, but what was he going to say?
His Britannic Majesty to Doge Abramo: Very well, let there be peace. As surety for your good behaviour, you will surrender the fortress islands of Malta and Crete; and no more shall be said of the affair.
Ok, just give me your lunch money and I’ll let it go for now.
The ruler of the second Great Power in the world, who might have made a go of reducing the first one, but chose instead to pick up African scraps.
The Ayatollah Ga’vriel, Successor of Mohammad, Emperor of Iran and non-Iran, to the infidel merchant, Abramo Aiello: In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the all-Merciful, we request and require that you surrender those parts of the House of Peace which you, an infidel, unlawfully and impiously rule; and in particular, that the Land of Three Cities, Tripolitania, from Benghazi in the east even unto the border of Tunis, shall be given up to Our appointed satraps.
Hey, while you’re down there anyway, why don’t you give my boots a lick? I guess you’re not buying lunch today, but I’ll take an IOU for tomorrow, if you don’t mind.
His Illustriousness, Ghazi Shah, Satrap of Syria, to His Serene Highness: Let it not be said that no warning was given; it is said (although not by the Prophet) that a word is sufficient to the wise. The provinces of Sinai are anciently part of the House of Peace, and their rule by an infidel is an affront unto Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful; and as my astrologers have vouchsafed to me that this is an auspicious year for righting wrongs (as the Prophet, praise be upon him, enjoins all rulers to do), I have decided to restore lawful order to that area.
Dude, I told you to be careful. So, nothing personal, but I got to take care of my own lookout, you know? So if you’d just hand over that stuff – yeah, thanks, we cool. You take care now.
The opportunism of the Muslim powers was much noted at the time; vengeance for conspiracy to overthrow was one thing, and understood, but to simply fall upon a fellow ruler for no better reason than his being in difficulty and unable to resist, that was something else again. Venice might possibly have fought Syria to a standstill; against the two Great Powers of the medieval world, Abramo did not even bother to mobilise his fleet, but submitted to the ultimata, saving his fighting men for a better day.
No letters of the Almohad Emir have survived to tell us what the man who caused the whole affair thought.
So… not my finest hour in diplomacy, there. Africa I can live without, it was always going to be an imperial march and expendable; but I have to admit that the loss of Malta and Crete stings. I assuaged my feelings by beating up a bit on the few remaining AIs in Italy, but the map does not look too good this week; gains in red, losses in black. I’m not quite sure how I lost Ancona – some sort of inheritance shenanigans? Note the splitting up of empires, intended to get enough time for kingdoms to de-jure drift into the new titles before conversion: Spain is now independent from Britannia (though still allied), and Syria from Persia.
Central Med, 1327, with the massive Venetian losses marked in black. Note the new colours in southern France and in the Levant.