Golden Journal No. 40:
Byzantium Eternal

The Byzantine World, Part Two

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.

In Part One, we looked at some of the changes wrought to the Europe of 1801 by our insertion of a revived Byzantine Empire into the mix. In this episode, we’ll study some of the affects on more distant nations.

The region known as Epirus to the Byzantines includes both the Greek area of Epirus and Albania to its north. Most of the inhabitants are Muslim, both ethnic Albanians and the descendants of Slavic Muslims ejected from Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia. It exists in a state of near-anarchy, with local warlords contending for power and blood feuds between clans at times erupting into full-scale battles. Raiders cross the border into Ragusan, Austrian and Byzantine territory, stealing cattle and committing crimes. That prompts regular punitive expeditions that do little to quench the Albanian thirst for plunder.

Notes: Nominal Turkish rule over Albania in our actual history was never contested by foreign powers; the Turks eased social tensions by recruiting Albanians as irregulars but that outlet is no longer available in this alternative history.

The tiny mercantile republic of Dubrovnik, also known as Ragusa, has survived where its ancient rival Venice has not. Shorn of Turkish protection in the last century and facing English “competition” more properly defined as state-supported piracy, the Ragusans rightly fear for their continued independence. Whether their future lies under the Austrian or the Byzantine eagle is as yet undecided.

Notes: The Republic of Dubrovnik was occupied by the French in 1806 and formally annexed in 1808. Austria had long promised to respect the republic’s independence, but annexed its territory at the end of the Napoleonic Wars anyway. In game terms, Dubrovnik is now a potential point of conflict between Austria and the Byzantines at a time when both need to be looking elsewhere.

The British East India Company has spent over a century competing with the Venetian fondacci scattered across India and around the Indian Ocean. These formidable competitors, usually defended by the Indian states on whose territory they reside, enjoy much quicker access to European markets by way of the Suez Canal than their English competitors who are forced to sail around the Cape of Good Hope or pay outrageous tolls to the Byzantines.

The fall of Venice in 1797 gave the British an excuse to gobble up these Venetian trading posts under the guise of protecting them from the French, but their trade still faced the hefty tolls exacted at Suez. British attempts to seize the canal failed in 1740 and 1762, and a substantial faction in Parliament demands its conquest as vital to British trade and security. Some advisors assure Basileus Constantine XIX that the British merely posture and will accept a lowering of their tolls, but the emperor sees that as a sign of weakness that would invite an attack. He’s probably right, and tales of British gold arriving at the Turkish court have done nothing to change his mind.

Notes: While some Anglo-Indian trade crossed the Suez Isthmus by camel caravan in our reality, the bulk of it went by ship, the long way around Africa. Access to India would have been seen as existential to Britain, opening a dispute that could only be solved by war. The Byzantines seized Suez from the Turks in this alternative history and built the canal themselves (with Venetian financing and Egyptian labor) and are in no mood to yield it to the British.

In game terms, the canal is a flashpoint for conflict between Britain and Byzantium. It’s also located in the far bottom right corner of the map, which is going to make it a distraction for both countries. Britain can win without taking Suez, but it’s a difficult road to get there.

Franco-Byzantine relations remain frosty following the 1798 French invasion of Egypt. Rejecting British “assistance” as a ruse to occupy the Suez Canal themselves, the Byzantines fought a two-year campaign to eject the invaders with the aid of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Their commander, Napoleon Bonaparte, abandoned his command, fled to France and overthrew the government before word of his flight could reach the homeland. He declared himself Emperor, but the change in government did not bring friendly relations between Paris and Constantinople.

France also has a claim on Corfu, the former Venetian possession seized by the Byzantines in 1797. Constantine XIX has no intention of handing it over, and instead has his eye on southern Italy. A Roman foothold in the peninsula would go far toward restoring the Empire’s former glory, and a continent-wide war might yield the opportunity to seize Naples from the French, who obviously desire it as well.

Notes: Napoleon did of course lead a French invasion of Egypt, and after knocking the Mamelukes around he became trapped there and fled before news of his situation arrived in France. The deeply conservative Byzantines would line up against the revolutionary French in any event, but now the grudge is more particular.

Prussia & Germany
With no direct border and no conflicting (or conjoining) interests, the Eastern Roman Empire has little effect on Germany and Prussia. But the Habsburg domains have a secure border to their south and east, and that’s made the Austrians a substantially more powerful player in German affairs. Bavaria has been annexed outright to the crownlands, and the Holy Roman Emperor enjoys a great deal more power and influence than was true a century earlier. Likewise Prussia still commands a powerful army of fearsome reputation, but has not seen the same increase in wealth and power as its Austrian rival. That might make it more difficult to forge and Austro-Prussian alliance to oppose a French drive to the east.

Persia does not share a border with the Eastern Roman Empire, but is involved in near-constant conflict with both Russia and the Turkish rump state. The Russians have annexed the Kingdom of Georgia, long thought within the Persian sphere of influence, and have their eye on more conquests in the Caucasus. With the Turks no longer a threat to the Russians, they can pay more attention to their Persian frontier.

For their part, Persian army commander Crown Prince Abbas Mirza and his father Shah Fath Ali, look to recapture Baghdad and the rest of Mesopotamia, lost to the Turks in 1638. Persian envoys have made their way to Constantinople to sound out the Byzantines regarding an offensive alliance for a war of conquest against the Turks. The Byzantines, understanding that the Turkish state could still be very dangerous if allied to their French or British enemies, are willing to listen.

Note: The Persians fought the Russians from 1804 to 1813, losing more of the Caucasus, and though they laid a crushing defeat on the Turks in their 1821-23 war they failed to take Baghdad and secure territorial gains.

Venetian traders have enjoyed rapid access to Indian markets for over 200 years, and their trading stations, called fondaci, are found throughout the sub-continent and the Spice Islands. The 1797 fall of Venice gave the British and French an opportunity they did not hesitate to grasp, as they seized many of the outposts and replaced the Venetian balivi who directed them with their own agents. In the more powerful Indian states, local rulers prevented the seizures and have tried to encourage renewed trade under their own flags, but this has not been very successful.

The Venetians did not seek territorial gain, and the Indian states are wary of British and French demands for outright acquisition – the Venetians have already proven that profitable trade with Europe does not require that Indian governments cede sovereignty. Many surviving fondaci now fly the Byzantine eagle, giving the Empire a stake in the subcontinent that it never sought.

Note: Britain would finance her Industrial Revolution by looting India, but that process had only just begun in 1801. In this history, there have been no widespread British conquests in the subcontinent and much of the profit that in our history went to London instead resides in Venice (or did, before the French came and the rich trading houses fled) and Constantinople (where many of those Venetian families now reside). The presence of a waterway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean brings vast change to colonialism in India, something that’s beyond the scope of our Soldier Emperor variant. We may have to address this later.

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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 a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold. Leopold was a good dog.

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