Author Topic: Μεγάλο Παιχνίδι, Magnus Ludus: The Great Game - Lore  (Read 854 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline ranger044 (OP)

  • Warrant Officer, Class 2
  • ****
  • r
  • Posts: 72
  • Thanked: 65 times
Beginnings of an Empire Reborn

Part One: Prelude to Manzikert

Alexios sat back in his study chair and stretched. The air around him was warmed by the dimly lit fireplace, now no more than red coals, within his familial estate's study. Gazing around the room, Alexios was reminded of the past glories, and failures, of his family. Paintings dotted the walls, and marble busts lined the room. Some were great men and women, some utter catastrophes. Alexios, now in his middle years, wondered whether his visage would grace these hallowed halls or if he would fall into the endless obscurity of history. So many had come and gone before Alexios, and yet, here he remained on the foundations built by them.

"The world will see my family, and our people, restored to our place."

With a sigh, he leaned forward and closed his old copy of Επί του Διογένη, On the Diogeni. The tome, which had been handed down through his family for a milenia, detailed the lives of Romanos IV Diogenes and his son Constantine XI, heroes of the Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, the Roman Empire. It was under these two men that his family came to prominence, and the Empire was saved for another milenia. Alexios couldn't help but wonder what fate would have befallen the Empire had Romanos failed at Manzikert. It was under his command that the Seljuk horde was repulsed and the Empire's borders secured for the first time in centuries. Alexios often fantasized what it would have been like to be there, at that pivotal moment in history. What if one thing had gone wrong, what if Romanos faltered, what if Andronikos' treachery hadn't been discovered, what if the Sultan had lived?

Nikephoros Bryennios approached the royal tent on the morning of August 24th. Stopping just outside the entrance, he looked upon the two Varangians guarding the tent and thought about where he stood. The army was camped in a mountain pass in southern Armenia, near to the city of Manzikert. Basileus Romanos IV Diogenes had been sending messengers to the Seljuk Sultan, Alp Arslan, every day while the army marched out of Constantinople. Thus far, peace talks have ended in three dead messengers, four Seljuk captives, and 50,000 Romans and mercenaries marching across the interior of the Empire. Nikephoros knew battle was fast approaching, as the Pecheneg and Thessalian scouts had reported the Seljuk forces were rapid marching towards Manzikert. Now was the time for planning, as surely thousands would soon be put to the sword.

Entering into the Royal canvas, Nikephoros was greeted by several noble peers and Romanos himself. Tensions, however, were running high. Joseph Tarchaniotes was given command of 20,000 regulars and Pecheneg mercenaries to circle the pass to the north side of Manzikert over a week ago, and no sign of the army had yet materialized. Romanos led the remaining force of levies, Varangian, Turkic, and Frankish mercenaries to the southern pass to Manzikert. What few regulars remained in the camp kept order and moral workable, but the mercenaries' loyalties were suspect, as was the resolve of the thousands of levies. Nikephoros, no stranger to such struggles and odds, knew full well the precariousness of the situation.

"Hail Basileus."

"Hail Bryennios, what news of the scouts?"

"The Seljuk marches west at speed. Some tens of thousands approach the Armenian foothills, with their numbers swelling by the day. Arslan seems sure to press battle."

"And any sign of Tarchaniotes?"

"No one has been able to locate his forces, and the scouts sent after him have not returned. I fear the worst has come to pass. He has either been decimated, or fled in fear of the Seljuk."

Basileus Romanos IV rubbed his chin in frustration, his fingers tearing more than a few of his beard hairs out.

"My Basileus," chirped Andronikos Doukas, "we hold the better position. We can bottle them into the pass and crush their forces. Surely the loyalties of the Sultan's troops will falter when crushed beneath Roman boot."

Romanos raised his hand and spoke,

"We will give battle and God will grant us salvation. The Seljuk cannot be allowed into Anatolia. At all costs, we must defend this pass and stop these raids. The Empire must prevail or face catastrophe."

The generals all nodded, but Nikephoros. He was preoccupied glaring at Andronikos. The loyalty of Andronikos had been suspect from before the army even crossed the Pontus into Anatolia. His family had been previous emperors and his father, John, was an outspoken critic and dissenter against Romanos. Nikephoros held no great love for the Basileus, but he was loyal to his people and the Senate. They saw fit to elevate Romanos to sole-emperor over Eudokia and the late Constantine's children, and so too should he.

As the meeting drew to an end and plans were set into motion, Nikephoros approached Romanos alone.

"My Basileus, a word if you will."

"You have my ear Bryennios."

"You should not place such trust in a Doukas, no less Andronikos."

"And why would you say that, general?" responded Romanos.

"His family has been at the center of no less than three conspiracies since your marriage to the Basilissa, and he himself led a revolt against your family in Adrianople in favor of the Bulgar Slavs. My lord Basileus, we should not place our only route of relief in his hands."

Romanos, nodding in ascent,

"I agree, lord Bryennios. However, his troops are more loyal to him than our cause. If I were to relieve him of command it would be an insult to the Doukas house, and would likely lead many to mutiny. If there were other options, Andronikos would be nowhere near this field. We must have faith in God and our arms to win this day."

Nikephoros, equally relieved and alarmed, nodded. Bowing, he turned and left the tent. Battle was fast approaching. The army was well fed, well watered, and well paid. But were they well readied? Only time would tell. The Frankish mercenaries were reliable in a melee, but held no real loyalty to the Empire. True, they were men of the faith, but they followed the false Pope and would surely rather not fight for the Basileus and Patriarch without great pay. Despite this, they seemed ready for war. The Turkic cavalry and auxiliaries were...peculiar. Drawn from the same cloth as the Seljuk, and following the same false prophet, yet they seemed the most eager to battle. Many other Roman commanders held no trust for them, but they proved pivotal in previous campaigns under Nikephoros' command. God willing, they would be strong again.

"God have mercy on us."
The following users thanked this post: Andrew, Neophyte

Offline ranger044 (OP)

  • Warrant Officer, Class 2
  • ****
  • r
  • Posts: 72
  • Thanked: 65 times
Re: Μεγάλο Παιχνίδι, Magnus Ludus: The Great Game - Lore
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2022, 11:14:11 PM »
Beginnings of an Empire Reborn

Part Two: Battle of Manzikert

On the 26th of August, Roman and Seljuk forces met for the first time. Three days prior, Romanos IV's host was able to march into Manzikert unmolested as the Seljuk garrison had long abandoned the city. Rather than holding up in the city and facing a possible prolonged siege, the Basileus opted to immediately march out into the mountain passes. First blood was drawn by the Seljuk, whose mobile horse archers decimated several foraging and scouting parties before the Romans could draw into battle lines. Alp Arslan is quoted as stating, "Then we are also approaching them," when a subordinate reported the movements of the Romans. Seljuk forces planned to rely on their Parthian tactics of hitting and withdrawing with their mobile horse archers, a strategy which had killed many a Roman as far back as Crassus' failed invasion of Syria at Carrhae over a thousand years prior.

Romanos, despite the urging of Andronikos Doukas and several of his mercenary captains, was not drawn into battle. Heeding the warnings of Nikephoros Bryennios and both John and Alexios Komnenos, the Romans maintained their defensive posture across the plain. Romanos knew Arslan would have to approach his force or admit defeat and withdraw into Mesopotamia, but he feared the resolve of his force. Despite restraining his forces and limiting losses to only foraging and scouting parties, he was outnumbered 3 to 1. Even if he held the defensive advantage, no man was willing to face his death and wait around for its inevitability. If Arslan held out long enough, many would desert and the army would surely be lost. Romanos needed a miracle to force battle and decisively win.

The royal retinue withdrew from the field and left Bryennios in command of the army, giving command to hold the ground and not pursue the Seljuk. Nikephoros, loyal and steadfast, followed his order and patrolled the ranks to maintain cohesion and discipline. Romanos met with John and Alexios of the Komnenoi, who were given command of the wings, to discuss a plan of action. The three of them all agreed that the army would certainly be crushed if the Seljuk pressed battle. They also, however, agreed that if Alp Arslan remained skirmishing that they could hold the pass so long as moral remained steadfast. Whether Arslan realized his superior position remained to be seen.

Alexios spoke first, "The sun recedes my Basileus, the men will need to withdraw soon."

"We cannot show weakness and give the Seljuk an opening," responded Romanos.

"We equally cannot keep the force together if we force them to face down the enemy all day and not bloody their weapons."

Romanos frowned and sighed. His options were running thin.

"John, ride to Andronikos. Tell him to ready the path to withdraw to the camp."

"Shall we begin fortifications?"

"No, we will march out before the sun rises. We need to move quickly to avoid falling to the Seljuk horse."

The two cousins nodded, bowed, and moved to ready the host. Pitched battle would be avoided this day. Alp Arslan indeed knew full well the superiority of his position to the Romans. Fearing a trap, however, he did not give chase to the Romans as the sun waned and night approached. Opting to keep his troops' morale high, and to avoid unnecessary death, the Seljuks too returned to camp for the night.

The Romans rose early and again left their camp as dawn broke. In a stroke of later recognized genius, Romanos ordered the camp broken down and moved further into the pass. Early in the morning, still before noon, the Romans deployed into battle lines again. Songs and chants kept morale high and the men eager for battle. The force was arrayed, again, at the entrance to the plains, but a kilometer closer to the pass. This maneuver was noted by few, if any, of the Seljuks. Much like Julius Caesar in his fight with the Optimates, Romanos continued to show force against a superior host while maneuvering to favorable terrain.

Alp Arslan decided to test the Roman resolve. This day, when the Romans began to withdraw, he sent two detachments of horse archers to harass their retreat. Ready for this, John Komnenus rode his Thessalians out to meet the Seljuk cavalry. Engaging just after the Seljuks reached the Roman line, the Thessalians covered the retreat of the heavy infantry enduring many, but not catastrophic, causalities. For three more days the Romans and Seljuks arrayed their forces, but neither side committed to pitched battle. The fighting, for the time, remained between Seljuk and Roman cavalry forces with the Seljuks holding the upper hand.

Fortunes would soon change, however, with the unexpected arrival of a certain man that Alp Arslan had not counted on.

As the Romans returned to camp on the night of August 30th, worse for wear as losses amongst the Thessalians had reached their highest, they were greeted by two Pecheneg riders from the pass. The duo introduced themselves as forward scouts of Joseph Tarchaniotes. His forces were delayed by the Manzikert garrison that had abandoned the city. Without communicating a plan with the Sultan, the garrison had withdrawn and aimed to take Tarchaniotes by surprise. As far as Arslan was aware, the Manzikert garrison had simply surrendered to the Basileus. The lack of coordination and support led to the garrison troops delaying, but ultimately failing, to thwart Tarchaniotes advance. They were able to capture or kill many of his scouting and foraging parties, but were eventually forced into a pitched battle. The battle was a decisive Roman victory. Few dead and hundreds wounded within Tarchaniotes' force, but every Seljuk in the field was put to the sword.

His timely arrival swelled the Roman ranks to nearly 50,000 again, and they were now almost on equal footing with the Seljuk force. Romanos' withdrawing tactic had also positioned the field of battle further into the pass, where the Seljuk cavalry would be far less effective. The uneven ground and narrowing flanks prevented any massed cavalry charge, and bottlenecked skirmishing forces. The time for pitched battle was upon the Romans, but the odds still remained in the Sultan's favor for the time. Romanos sent the scouting duo back to their commander with orders to hold in the pass for the night and to maneuver to the north in the morning. The Romans would again rally into battle formation, this time armed with the knowledge of reinforcements in their rear, and would draw the Seljuk attention away from Tarchaniotes maneuver to the north. The clock was ticking and the time for bloody work was fast approaching.

At dawn, on the 31st day of August, in the year 1071, Roman bishops prayed with the Basileus and his retinue in front of the army. Communion was given, with Frankish Catholics allowed their own rites and respects, and the Turkic mercenaries invited to take part in bread and water. The army deployed into their formations. Romanos IV Diogenes held the center, John Komnenus the left wing, Nikephoros Byrennios the right wing, and Alexios Komnenus moved to command of the rear guard. Andronikos Doukas, though thoroughly angered, accepted Alexios' field promotion and relocated his retinue to the front. Romanos, now bolstered by Tarchaniotes' arrival, acted upon Byrennios' warning believing the now bolstered host enough to deter a mutiny.

Across the broken field, the Seljuk force likewise deployed for battle. The dreaded Turkoman and Arab horse archers deployed in advance of the main body, a foreboding sight indeed. Alp Arslan, dressed in funeral white, rallied his forces with a grandiose speech. His attire marking his willingness and accepting of death emboldened his forces resolve. With a single horn blow, the Seljuks began their advance.

Romanos signaled his wings to march forward, with the center trailing just behind, forming a shallow crescent. This movement matched the traditional Arab and Turkic battle formation. The Romans aimed to quickly nullify the Seljuk skirmishers, either by maneuver or the sword. Holding the superior number, the Seljuks were more than willing to take the bait and press forward. Turkic mercenaries under Byrennios were the first to engage, being countered by the Arab wing of the Sultan's skirmishers. Although the engagement was indecisive, the Turkic mercenaries proved their loyalties and did not break under Arab hails of arrows. Both sides suffered light losses, but the maneuvering of the Romans was a tactical victory as the Arab cavalry was forced to break off their attack due to the broken ground and a nearby stream.

The opposite side of the field saw Roman light Thessalian cavalry pressing the Turkoman wing into a melee. The Seljuks were far more successful on this wing as the already thinned Thessalians were unable to force a pitched engagement. With scores dead, and scores more unhorsed, the Romans were forced to surrender this section of the field to the Seljuk forces, enduring further losses in their withdrawal. John Komnenus rode forward with a retinue of Cataphracts and Pontic heavy cavalry to draw the Turkoman cavalry away from their Thessalian prey. The bid worked and the Turkomans changed targets. Although slower and equally unable to force a melee, the heavier cavalry was more than able to withstand the arrow fire until the Thessalians were back to safety.

At this point the main bodies of the Roman and Seljuk forces were nearly in skirmishing range. Both cavalries withdrew to conserve manpower and tactical use. The Romans, being able to secure their southern flank with the Turkic mercenaries and Bryennios' wing, shifted the Seljuk forces up hill. Thinking the Romans to be making a blunder, ceding higher ground and placing a stream behind them, the Seljuk left was the first to charge forward. Bryennios used his skirmishers and Frankish mercenaries to slow the Seljuk advance enough to bring his wing into a solid defensive formation. Allowing the Seljuks to crash into them, the Romans dug in and held their ground.

Romanos, trusting Bryennios, continued marching his center force forward and advanced his skirmishers. Ignoring the pitched melee, the Roman skirmishes left their flank exposed in order to tie up the rest of the Seljuk force. Over the next hour Bryennios' force held their ground and the southern side of the battle turned into a brutal hand-to-hand battle. At this point Alp Arslan ordered his heaviest infantry from Syria and Baghdad to push back Romanos' skirmishers and envelop the Roman right. Almost as if he was able to see exactly where the battle was at, Tarchaniotes' force arrived in the Seljuk rear on the north side of the field.

The Pecheneg mercenaries quickly galloped down the foothills into the Seljuk right, in tandem with John Komnenus committing his wing to melee.

Being pinned between Cataphracts and Roman regulars on one side, and Pecheneg riders on the other, the Seljuk right was quickly crumbling. As more and more Romans came down the hill, the wing collapsed. Alp Arslan and his Mamluks rode forward to break through the Romans and open up a route away from the melee. Although initially successful, with many Seljuks avoiding envelopment and the Maluks cutting down many Romans, Alp Arslan was wounded by an arrow. Most scholars give credit to the Pecheneg riders, but in the disarray of melee and retreat it could easily just have been accidental friendly fire. In either event, the Mamluks and Sultan withdrew leaving the rest of the wing to their fate. More than two thirds of the Seljuks escaped envelopment, but the remaining troops were cut down like wheat at harvest.

Seeing the opportunity to end the Seljuk threat for good, Romanos ordered the center to charge the Seljuk center. The center forces were not equally matched, with the Seljuks nearly outnumbering Romanos by two. Nevertheless, the Varangians led the way into the Seljuks. The shock of their ferocity did not result in many deaths, but opened the formation for more and more Romans to pour in. With the center now in brutal pitched battle, and the Seljuk right decimated and in retreat, Bryennios' forces on the Roman right began to gain ground and push back the enemy. Despite incurring fewer losses than the Romans, the Seljuk left began to withdraw for fear of envelopment. The unnamed Seljuk officer would be lost to history, but his choice to retreat certainly saved many of his people's lives. Bryennios' beleaguered forces were unable to give chase, but his Turkic mercenaries were redeployed to support Romanos with skirmishing fire.

The annals of history are unable to reach consensus on what exactly occurred next among the retreating Mamluks. Some scholars argue betrayal, others simple miscommunication in the heat of battle. Regardless of the exact details, the wounded Alp Arslan found himself separated from the majority of his guard and unable to withdraw from the battle. Electing to rally his center and force the Romans to withdraw, he led what Mamluks were still with him into the center. Nearly half of the remaining Seljuk right followed their Sultan into a renewed assault in the center. Being even further outnumbered now, the Basileus watched as his center's initial successes ground to a halt. Romans and mercenaries alike were being cut down by Seljuk steel. The commander of the Varangians was cut down and his head held on spear point. Morale wavering, Romanos ordered his retinue into the fray. Under the Icon of St. Michael, the Emperor of the Romans, Basileus Romanos IV Diogenes rode into the Seljuk horde.

The sun rose high in the sky over the battlefield. Blood spilled by cold metal seeped into the earth. The screams and chaos of war filled the air. Two monumental forces clashed for dominance of Anatolia. Over a hundred thousand souls were risked in the bitter gamble for dominance.

Rallied by their Basileus and the Icon of St. Michael, the Roman center reformed and held back the Seljuk forces. Casualties mounting and exhaustion setting in, both leaders found themselves in a precarious situation with both being risked in direct combat. The Romans, beginning outnumbered, had proven tactically superior this day outmaneuvering the Seljuks in crucial moments and taking a flank by surprise. The Seljuks, for their part, limited losses on both flanks and still held a strong position in the center with forces reorganizing in the rear. The Roman left under the combined forces of John Komnenus and Joseph Tarchoniotes reformed and pressed downhill against the Seljuks. Bryennios on the right had suffered heavy casualties and was preoccupied solidifying his position. However, his mercenary cavalry remained sound and pressed against the Seljuk left. Nearly enveloped in the center, Romanos fought bravely and desperately against his foe.

The battle raged with neither side truly gaining an upperhand for another hour. Fortunes changed when the standard of Alp Arslan fell. Fearing their Sultan dead, many of his troops began to withdraw in earnest, ceding key ground in the center. Seizing upon the opportunity, Tarchaniotes led the remaining Pecheneg mercenary cavalry on a wide flank of the Seljuks. He aimed to run down as many withdrawing troops as possible to force a general rout or surrender. His bid paid off as the frontline quickly crumbled and many Seljuks throwing down their weapons in retreat. As the dust settled and the Romans reorganized, Romanos declared victory and ordered the army to break off engagement.

Searching through the dead, a junior officer from House Iasites discovered the mangled corpse of Alp Arslan. He was surrounded by many dead Romans and his body was grievously wounded. It is unknown whether he was struck down by a Roman or trampled by his retreating forces. Romanos ordered his body recovered and cleansed. In the aftermath of the battle Alp Arslan's corpse was sent back with several Seljuk captives to Baghdad as part of the peace treaty.

Romanos was quoted as saying, "Had I captured him, I may have brought him to Constantinople for public execution or torture. But he fought with his men until the bitter end, as any good Godly leader should. In death, I pity him."

The Roman army spent two weeks recovering in and around Manzikert, securing the border, before marching to Constantinople victorious.

The result of the Battle of Manzikert (1071)

Roman Losses:
- 4,000 to 5,000 dead
- 4,000+ wounded

Seljuk Losses:
- 5,000 to 6,000 dead
- 3,000 captured
- 3,000+ wounded
- Alp Arslan killed
The following users thanked this post: Neophyte, Warer

Offline ranger044 (OP)

  • Warrant Officer, Class 2
  • ****
  • r
  • Posts: 72
  • Thanked: 65 times
Re: Μεγάλο Παιχνίδι, Magnus Ludus: The Great Game - Lore
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2022, 12:30:07 PM »
Beginnings of an Empire Reborn

Part Three: Beginning of the Abbasid War and Norman Campaign

Romanos IV's army marched triumphantly away from the border, leaving a garrison to watch over Manzikert. As the host crossed into Anatolia, the military heartland of the empire, it was greeted by an adoring people. The Seljuk raids had been ended and a collective sigh of relief was shared by the populace. Romanos was hailed as a true heir of Augustus and a hero to the Romans. However, modern scholars have begun to look differently upon Manzikert.

While it was true that the Romans held the day and achieved victory. Romanos and his generals had outmaneuvered their foe and secured a series of tactical victories. Alp Arslan was killed in the fighting and the Seljuk host had fled the field in disarray. Causalities, however, had been comparable if slightly in Roman favor. The Roman force counted near to 50,000 men, with a full tenth being killed or grievously wounded. The Seljuk casualties only slightly exceeded the Romans, and with only a small portion surrendering to capture. Had the host reorganized and pressed for renewed battle, the Romans would have been again outnumbered. The Seljuks deployed to the field with some 70,000 men, with more still mobilizing in Mesopotamia. Further, the Roman losses numbered far more from their regulars and levies than that of their mercenaries. The opposite was true of the Seljuks, with most of their losses comprising Kurdish levies and mercenaries from the steppes and Arab cavalry. Why is it that they thus failed to organize a new host, reinforce, and march back on the Romans?

Malik-Shah slowly closed the parchment. Looking across the room, he could feel the fear and nervousness of his courtiers and generals. The air was warm, a thin dust floated through the window. His father was dead. The army was in retreat. Yusuf al-Kharezmi was already mustering forces. His ambitious uncle was sure to move soon. What could he do from Aleppo? Should he march against the Romans? Retire to Isfahan? Perhaps Baghdad? If he did not press the invasion, the Romans would certainly send demands for tribute. Not even eighteen years yet on this earth and Malik-Shah felt the weight of the world upon him.

"Ready the Mamluks and muster the Ghulams. We march to Mosul in the morning."

The courtiers and generals nodding, bowed, and left Malik-Shah alone in his hall. Alone in his thoughts. The Great Seljuk required a strong leader, but boldness is akin to recklessness. His moves needed to be calculated, well-planned. Any signs of weakness would be pounced upon by his enemies... perhaps that could be a tool? A trap? Feign weakness to draw his enemies out. He must reach the army before it dissolved, rally the troops to his banner. The rebel Yusuf was far out in the reaches of the empire, a cancer that must be tolerated for the time. His uncle Qavurt was the first challenge. Malik-Shah was young and unseasoned in war; Qavurt had won many battles with Alp Arlsan, and Qavurt's sons were also senior and more experienced to Malik-Shah. Securing the Great Seljuk required swift subjugation of his rebellious relations before rebellious generals.

Malik-Shah sighed his first frustrated breath of rulership.

"My Basileus, I bring word of the Seljuk response."

Romanos IV stroked his beard, eagerly awaiting the news.

"It reads:

'Dread Sovereign Romanos, king of the Romans,

I, Malik-Shah, grand Sultan of the Great Seljuk, Emir of Damascus and Aleppo, protector of the Holy Prophet's Caliph, acquiesce to your extortionate demands. Manzikert, and the rest of lower Armenia, including the lands of the northern Kurds, are under the protection of the Romans and shall henceforth be under your vassalage. The holy warriors of the Seljuk shall withdraw within the fortnight. Furthermore, a yearly tribute of no less than two hundred thousand silvers and two hundred thousand gold pieces shall be paid as reparations for no less than five annums.

Such is the will of God.'

It is signed personally by Sultan Malik-Shah, and sealed with his signet."

"Then we shall celebrate! Alert the Patriarch, we feast in the name of Saint Mary and shall hold games through the month."

For the entire month of November, 1071, Constantinople was buzzing with activity. Games and races were held nearly every day. Feasts were held, and grain was doled out to the peasantry. Romanos ordered the raising of a triumphal column in the Forum of Constantine. The column was built just to the north of Constantine's column, and was adorned with scripture and depictions of Manzikert. In homage to other great emperor's, the column was built in similar fashion to Constantine, one block shy, and was topped with a depiction of Constantine and Justinian standing behind in support of Romanos.

Such opulence and bravado did not go unnoticed and not without ire. The Normans had recently secured southern Italy, ousting the last of the Romans only just the previous spring. Their forces were seasoned and looking for new conquests, glory, and wealth. Internally, Romanos IV's enemies grew more bitter by his exploding popularity and power. Further, the Doukas family had not forgotten their disgrace at Manzikert.

On the 25th of March, 1072, during the feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, a pair of Doukas backed assassins entered into the royal palace. Taking part in the feast, they approached the Basileus while he gave a speech. In a flash they lunged for Romanos from opposite sides. A Varangian had spied one of the assassins on his approach, and dug his spear deep into his chest. The second assassin was able to reach the Basileus, tackling him to the ground. The assassin attempted to cut Romanos' throat and, failing to do so, resorted to blows to the regal face. Another Varangian was able to pry the assassin off of the Basileus, but not before Romanos' face had been thoroughly bloodied. By the morning, both assassin's heads were posted in the Forum of Constantine, eyes and tongues cut from their skulls. Romanos was bedridden with several contusions and fractures to his jaw and skull.

The lush plains of Mesopotamia were not still during this time. A lion slept among sheep and was awakening. Caliph Al-Muqtadi had heard of the defeat of Alp Arslan at Manzikert and the unstable situation left in the Seljuk Empire. For generations, the Abbasid family had been shadowed by the success of the Seljuks and incursions by the Fatimids in Egypt. Now, at last, an interesting opportunity presented itself. Malik-Shah was young, untested and unseasoned. He marched rapidly to Mosul upon hearing of his father's demise, in a bid to collect as many broken parts of the former host together. At the same time, his uncle Qavurt marched out of Arabia with a small, but veteran, force of Arabs and Nubians. Their march was further supported by Fatimid volunteers from the Levant and lower Egypt. On a third front, al-Kharezmi had successfully captured Nishapur in Khorasan and threatened the capital of Isfahan. Indeed, the situation in the Seljuk Empire was... interesting.

In a bid to restore Abbasid command over the east, Al-Muqtadi gave support for Qavurt's claim on the Seljuk throne and raised an army. Criers could be seen throughout the streets of Baghdad calling for the deposing of the "False-Sultan" Malik-Shah. Volunteers from across the Caliphate swelled both Al-Muqtadi and Quvart's forces. By the summer of 1072, Quvart put Aleppo under siege with a force of nearly 80,000 men, while Caliph Al-Muqtadi marched north to lay siege to Mosul with a host of 60,000. The eastern Muslim world was aflame with the machinations of war. Faith and thrones were pitted in battle.

Malik-Shah's choice to march out to Mosul proved to be a fortuitous one. He arrived in time to intercept several contingents of his father's broken army. Rallying them under his banner, and being recognized by his generals as the successor to the great Alp Arslan, Malik-Shah headed a force of some 20,000 Manzikert veterans, 1,000 elite Mamluks, 10,000 Ghulam warrior-slaves, and another 10,000 Syrian and Armenian mercenaries. He was outnumbered, and assailed on now three fronts. Malik-Shah's forces, however, were loyal and highly experienced in war. The nearest threat to his throne was the treacherous Caliph's forces marching out of Baghdad, but Malik-Shah would be forced to cede Mosul to him for now. Even if he defeated the Caliph, the young Sultan would still be threatened on two fronts with both his western and eastern power bases under siege. Malik-Shah had to avoid battle with the Caliph, and crush his uncle as soon as possible. Without Quvart's claim, many enemy soldiers would surely abandon their campaign, perhaps even be persuaded to Malik-Shah's side. By the end of July, 1072, Malik-Shah had abandoned Mosul and marched his forces against his uncle.

Romanos IV recovered from his beating fairly quickly and was at the forefront of Roman political life again by late May, 1072. The assassination attempt left his face visibly scarred, but no worse for wear. The court was unable to prove the Doukas family's role in the conspiracy, but nonetheless tensions ran high wherever they went. John Doukas continued to openly speak out against the Basileus, but following the attempt on his life remained outside of the grand city. Andronikos and his cousins, Nikephoros and Manuel Doukas, remained active at court and in political games. Rifts between the Doukas and Diogenes came to ahead when Manuel Doukas was accused of attempting to poison the Bassilisa Eudokia and her sons. No poison was ever recovered, nor were any members of the royal house killed, but even so Manuel was arrested for treason. He was summarily blinded at court at the foot of Romanos IV on the 20th of July, 1072.

Outraged, Andronikos and Nikephoros Doukas fled Constantinople and raised their household troops near Thessalonica. John, meanwhile, had moved to Nicaea and used the news of Manuel's blinding to rally supporters against the Basileus. House Doukas declared Romanos IV possessed and unfit to rule the Romans. Supporting senators attempted to have the title removed, but through bribery and popular opinion of Romanos they were thwarted. In mid August, Andronikos and Nikephoros crossed the Aegean, landing with their forces near Smyrna and raided the granary and treasury of the Ducate. Romanos IV organized an army comprised mostly of Thracian levies, supported by Pecheneg, Slavic, and Frankish mercenaries held on retainer. Command was given to John and Alexios Komnenos.

The two armies clashed several times with no decisive engagements through the months of September and October. On the 4th of November, 1072, with winter fast approaching and supplies for both forces diminished, the armies met five kilometers west of Iconium. The royal army numbered near to 20,000, with the Doukas forces just over half their number. The Doukas' only advantage was their force being comprised heavily of household regulars, compared to the far more levied troops of the royal force. John and Alexios, however, were far more capable commanders than the Doukas' and were able to quickly break their lines. Within the hour of pitched battle, Nikephoros and John Doukas were slain and their host decimated. Andronikos was captured and held in Iconium until word from the Basileus was heard.

Romanos IV ordered Andronikos to be returned to Constantinople in chains for trial, but a mob led by a disgruntled former House Doukas captain broke into the jail before the letter reached the city. The mob publicly beat and tortured the traitor, then hung him from the city gate. Few members of the Doukas family were still alive and their reputation would be forever tarnished. Romanos IV decided against punishing the family as a whole, and instead elected to forgive them and allow them to retain their lands with the exception of the city of Thessalonica.

Hearing of the rebellion within the Roman empire, the Norman princes prepare for war. On the 18th of August, an army of Normans under the command of Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemond land 10 kilometers north of Dyrrachium. The Norman force great numbering several thousand heavy knights, and a vast contingent of Italians and Franks. Before the army of John and Alexios could corner and defeat the Doukas Rebellion, Robert Guiscard put Dyrrachium under siege. Local Ducate troops carried out several unsuccessful raids of the Norman forces in an attempt to relieve and supply the city. George Palaiologos led a sally out of the city and escaped with much of the garrison into the hinterlands. The remaining garrison troops were ordered to hold the city until reinforcements could arrive. George Palaiologos wasted no time and quickly set about organizing local troops into something of an army that could contest the siege. With the threat of being attacked in the rear, the Norman army was forced to dig in for a protracted siege and would have to attempt to starve Dyrrachium out.

The stage was set for monumental conflict.
The following users thanked this post: Neophyte

Offline Garfunkel

  • Registered
  • Admiral of the Fleet
  • ***********
  • Posts: 2542
  • Thanked: 851 times
Re: Μεγάλο Παιχνίδι, Magnus Ludus: The Great Game - Lore
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2022, 10:11:17 PM »
This has to be the longest prologue to a campaign ever!
The following users thanked this post: ranger044

Offline ranger044 (OP)

  • Warrant Officer, Class 2
  • ****
  • r
  • Posts: 72
  • Thanked: 65 times
Re: Μεγάλο Παιχνίδι, Magnus Ludus: The Great Game - Lore
« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2022, 12:00:07 PM »
Thank you! (At least I'll take it as a compliment 😜) There's a lot more written that I just haven't gotten to formatting and posting due to work, school, and a recent move. Much more Roman action coming!