Golden Journal No. 40:
The Byzantine World, Part One
Note: Byzantium Eternal is our alternative-history Soldier Emperor variant, appearing in Golden Journal No. 40. The Byzantine Empire has survived into the Napoleonic Era, and now once again has to make its way in a suddenly changed world.
Everyone’s come across the overworked cliché about smashing a butterfly and changing the fate of all of existence; that’s also true with our Byzantium Eternal variant for Soldier Emperor. In this odd alternative history, Constantinople holds out in 1453 and over the centuries that follow the Eastern Roman Empire recovers a small slice of its former glory.
Adding the Byzantine Empire means subtracting from some other powers, chiefly the Ottoman Empire, and has some far-reaching effects on the world of Soldier Emperor. That’s what makes this fun, after all. Let’s start a two-part look at the impact of our smashed Imperial butterfly on other nations.
The multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire of the early modern period ended with the Treaty of Passarowitz concluding the Great Turkish War of 1714-1718. Constantinople and the other final remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire never fell to Turkish assault, and over the centuries that followed more territories were lost to the Byzantines. Disastrous wars in the late 17th and early 18th centuries stripped away the last European territories, which could not easily be reinforced from the Turkish Anatolian heartland once the Byzantines took and fortified Gallipoli in 1683. With Rumelia (as the Turks called their European lands) returned to the Romans (and their allies), only Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent remain under Turkish rule.
This new Turkey is a weak state, surrounded by Byzantine provinces on three sides and a hostile Persia on the fourth. The Turks seek to restore their former glory by at the very least kicking the Byzantines out of Asia, while the East Romans look to liberate their Greek brothers living under Turkish rule along the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. For the past century they’ve alternatively received support from both Britain and France, as the Western powers seek to use the Turks to help them seize the Suez Canal and with it, easy access to India.
Notes: The Ottoman Empire is in a bad way in this variant; not only has it been shorn of its most productive provinces (and, to be fair, a few crappy ones, too) but the force pool is much smaller. This empire cannot support nearly as many armies and fleets. It really only has one enemy within reach, and that’s going to make for a continual Ottoman-Byzantine conflict throughout the game, limiting what effect the Byzantines can have in the broader European war.
The Habsburgs picked up a large swatch of the western Balkans in 1718, and they’ve held it since. Large numbers of German Catholic settlers have been enticed to move to the nearly-abandoned lands, after some Muslim residents left with the Turks, others converted, and most of the remainder were ejected by Austrian troops. Columns of refugees streamed to the south-east, through territories recently yielded to the Byzantines to the remainder of the Turkish Empire, to the east into the remainder of Wallachia controlled by the Turks, or to the south-west into Albania.
Kaiser Joseph II entertained an “Eastern Project” to bring all of the Balkans under Habsburg rule, but after his death his brother Leopold reverted to their mother’s policy of alliance with both Roman and Russian. Austria now possesses a secure south-eastern flank after centuries of conflict with the Turks, and the new Kaiser Franz and his advisors have no desire to resume it with a new foe.
The removal of the Turkish threat has caused some unexpected changes in the social structure of the Austrian lands. The Military Border, where peasants served as soldiers rather than serfs and paid few taxes, no longer has a purpose. But attempts to re-impose serfdom met with violent, armed resistance, and the central government quickly backed down. Empress Maria Theresa finally abolished the institution in the 1740’s, extending in its place a military obligation on all of her lands rather than just the Military Border.
When Frederick of Prussia attacked Maria Theresa’s realm in late 1740, he did not find an Imperial Army tragically weakened by a disastrous war with the Turks. Instead, Byzantine troops and gold supported Maria Theresa during the War of the Austrian Succession, as the Romans valued order and the rule of law. In addition to Bosnia and Serbia, the Austrian Empire includes Bavaria, the latter won during the Seven Years’ War.
Notes: The Austrians did take North Bosnia, Serbia, the Banat of Temesvar and western Wallachia in 1718, but lost all except the Banat in 1739. Here they’ve received all of Bosnia (because that’s how the Soldier Emperor map is split up) but not their slice of Wallachia (same reason). Replacing the Turkish threat with a Byzantine state that’s at least usually friendly if not always formally allied helps the Austrian cause in both mid-century wars with Prussia.
Russian armies rolled over the “Principalities,” as Wallachia and Moldavia were known, in 1737. By this point they had been isolated from other Turkish possessions and could offer only scattered resistance from their own resources. Little effort has been made to Russianize them, and their administrative class continues to be Phanariot Greeks, as was the case under Turkish rule, leading to suspicion – not unfounded – that they consider themselves loyal to Constantinople rather than St. Petersburg.
Balked in their long-standing desire to capture the Crimea, Russia’s rulers have instead advanced deep into the Caucasus. That move brought increasing tension with Persia, and a new round of war in the region seems likely.
Through the agency of the Orthodox Church, Constantinople exerts a powerful cultural hold. The Russian Orthodox Church looks to the Metropolitan for guidance, and the Byzantine Emperor – officially held to be God’s representative on Earth – is a revered figure among religious conservatives. So while some forward-thinking Russian advisors to Tsar Paul press for seizure of the Crimea and the Byzantine Straits, an even more powerful faction insists on close alliance. Russian trade enjoys free passage through the Straits into the Mediterranean, though it pays the same tolls as anyone else at Suez.
Notes: The Russians have made greater gains against the weakened Turks and their Tatar allies over the preceding two centuries than they did in our actual history. The Russians did occupy Moldavia and Wallachia during the 1767 Russo-Ottoman War, but evacuated them as part of the peace deal. This time they’ve taken the provinces, since Crimea is not available as a prize, and they’ve advanced deeper into the Caucasus, but those provinces aren’t particularly valuable. Crimea was worth less to the Russians than it is to the Byzantines; in Soldier Emperor it had been Russian for 27 years and undergone a partial ethnic cleansing. In this variant it’s been partially in Byzantine hands for over a thousand years, and fully controlled by Constantinople for a century. Its exports and population are well-established.
This most profound change for Russia is the absence of a viable threat on the Empire’s southern frontier. There is no direct access between Russian and Turkish territory, and the Byzantines are a friendly power. That allows a more powerful Russia to pay even more attention to affairs to its West, complicating things for Napoleon.
We’ll look at some broader effects in Part Two.
The Golden Journal is only available to the Gold Club (that’s why we call it the Golden Journal). We print enough of them to handle initial demand and a few extras, but once they’re gone we won’t reprint them – there’s just no profit in a company as small as Avalanche Press keeping a $19.99 item perpetually in stock. If you want your Byzantines, the time to grab it is now.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published zillions of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and his dog Leopold, who is a good dog.
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