The Battle for the Fate of the World- Byzantine Alternate History Spin-off

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this is almost entirely a work of fiction, it is based on true events and characters. This story alters events that transpired in the 4th century using real historical figures but having a totally different story altogether.

READ THE ROMAN-GOTHIC WAR SPIN-OFF and BYZANTINE ALTERNATE HISTORY CHAPTER I BEFORE READING THIS!

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Welcome to another spin-off chapter to the 12-part Byzantine Alternate history series by the Byzantium Blogger! This chapter now is the sequel to the first spin-off story I made some months ago which in itself was the spin-off sequel to chapter I of the Byzantine Alternate History series, therefore making this story here the third and final instalment to the Byzantine Alternate History chapter I trilogy. Other chapters in the entire series that got their own spin-off sequel stories were chapters II, III, and XII while chapter IX got its own Lego film adaptation being House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic which just released at my channel No Budget Films not too long ago! However, since chapter I’s story was the most colorful especially in terms of getting a follow-up, I decided to give it not only one follow up story but two, thus making it an entire trilogy which will thus be the only chapter of the series to end up becoming one. Now since these spin-off stories were continuations to alternate history chapters in which all altered the course of history, their spin-off stories which followed them up therefore were definitely fictional ones based on possible events that could have happened if a particular event in history was altered. Therefore, since this story is not the first follow-up sequel to its alternate history chapter but the second, it will be very much entirely fictional with a large number of fantasy elements except for the fact that it is set in a real historical period being the late 4th century with real historical places and people. Since chapter I discussed the alternate history scenario of a Roman victory over the invading Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 wherein the Romans actually lost in real history, its sequel then focused on the aftermath of that battle with a Roman victory and the slow return of the Goths that had been defeated, thus this one will discuss the final part of this story arc wherein now that the Goths as a major power fully invaded the Roman Empire and how the Romans and all their allies will strike back. As it may already be implied that you as readers would know what happened in chapter I of Byzantine Alternate History and in its sequel, this story will just discuss the fictional scenario and not the real historical events of this time anymore, but if you do not know yet what happened in chapter I and in its sequel then the link is just right above! Also keep in mind, that this article is not based on any research but just my own theories and hypotheses if events in the 4th century history of Rome were altered, so if you are not familiar with this era, then I have to warn you all that these events are almost entirely fictional. Lastly, this article will be the LAST fan fiction story I will be writing as a whole, so enjoy and savor it!  

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Flag of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, 4th century

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Note: Since this story is set in the 4th century before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be referred to as Romans, not Byzantines.

Watch my Lego film House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic here!

Chapter I of Byzantine Alternate History focused on the fictional scenario of the Romans victorious over a massive army of Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378 unlike in real history where the Romans lost a humiliating defeat with the crisis of the invading Goths only to be resolved a couple of years later. Since chapter I ended with a fictional scenario that altered the events of history, its sequel had discussed a chain-reaction of events if history were altered wherein the Romans won this major battle and the Goths retreating back to where they came from north across the Roman Empire’s Danube River border. In the previous story, with the Romans emerging victorious and the Goths defeated, over the course of the next few years the Goths began rebuilding their strength and learning to fight the Roman way in order to beat the Romans while the Romans on the other hand began growing divided over political and religious issues as the Goths were regaining their power. In the climax of the previous story, the Goths now building a massive empire covering most of Eastern Europe once again invaded Roman territory in 395 with the intention to fully conquer and replace it as the superpower Gothic Empire. The previous story then ended with the Goths destroying much of the Roman army and invading the western half of the Roman Empire leaving only the eastern half surviving, thus still keeping the last remnants of the Romans alive to resist against the growing power of the Goths. In this story now which will begin in the year 395 where the last one ended, it will begin where the last one left off wherein the massive army of the Goths together with their allies including Alans, Sarmatians, Huns, Slavs, and more led by the Gothic king Athanaric invade the Roman Empire and pour into Western Roman territory while the last of the Romans have survived in the eastern half, wherein Constantinople was its capital. Here, as Western Roman territory in Germania, Gaul, Italy, and Hispania falls to the ever-expanding Gothic Empire of Athanaric, the Romans from the eastern half and other parts that had not yet fallen to the Goths such as Britain and the provinces of North Africa would mount a resistance and strike back also allying with an old enemy, their eastern neighbor being the Sassanid Persian Empire. The whole plot of this story thus will be the counter-attack against Athanaric and his Goths and the war to fully destroy the evil of the Goths and their barbarian allies, thus overall making it a kind of “good vs evil” story, hence the title “The Battle for the Fate of the World”. This story will then be one with lots of action, adventure, uncovering mysteries, drama, blood and gore, and will culminate with an epic battle for the ages to destroy the power of the Goths once and for all. Therefore, the whole premise of this story would be one which begins wherein its heroes or protagonists being the Romans are in such a bad phase but still have hope to reverse everything and will thus keep getting exciting as the story progresses, although in this case it will still be one with a lot of “plot-armor”. On the other hand, despite this story being set in a real historical period using real nations such as the Romans, Goths, and more as well as historical figures of this time, it is plainly a historical fiction story as with the events of the Battle of Adrianople in 378 being almost entirely altered, what had followed it was all made-up based on my own theories. As for the historical figures of this time that will be in this story namely the sibling Roman emperors Gratian and Valentinian II, Theodosius the Younger, Magnus Maximus, Alaric, the Gothic king Athanaric, and a lot of others, their stories will be modified to fit into this story while at the same time this story will also include other new characters who were also historical figures from this time but with a different story arc as this story is overall a fictional one that evolved from a historical one. Since this will be the last instalment in the trilogy of Byzantine Alternate History chapter I, it will obviously have a happy ending and also a highly climactic story. Before we move on to the main story itself, this story will first begin with a quick recap of what happened in the previous story but no longer discussing anymore what happened in real history as by the time where this story takes place, everything has already become fictional, then afterwards we proceed to the main story itself. Additionally, I’d like to give a shoutout to the artists whose work featuring Late Roman era characters and scenes which will be included in this story and these artists include Giuseppe Rava, Youngcavalier, Corbax Studio, Thehoundofulster, LordMatini, Amelianvs, Giulia Valentini, and Amdanielito.

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Map of all barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Guide to the late Roman army’s structure, positions in the late Roman army will feature a lot here; art by myself

Related Articles:

The World War of the 5th Century- Byzantine Alternate History Spin-off

A Fan Fiction Retelling of Justinian the Great’s Early Life- Byzantine Alternate History Spin-off

The Byzantine Renaissance: Byzantium in the 16th Century- Epilogue Story

House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic- Special Edition Article

The Leading Characters (Recurring Characters from the Previous 2 Stories):

Theodosius the Younger- Roman general turned Goth turned Roman again

Flavius Stilicho- Eastern Roman general

*Valdis- Gothic commander and wife of Theodosius (fictional character for this story)

Athanaric- King of the Thervingi Goths and Emperor of the Gothic Empire

Gratian- Western Roman emperor in hiding

Valentinian II- Eastern Roman emperor and half-brother of Gratian

Richomeres- Western Roman general

Alaric- Goth commander

Magnus Maximus- Roman general turned Goth commander

Flavius Anthemius- Eastern Roman general and Prefect of Constantinople

Rufinus- Eastern Roman general

New Leading Characters Introduced for this Story:

Yazdegerd- Sassanid Persian prince

Fravitta- Roman general turned Goth commander

Gainas- Goth commander

Mascezel- Roman-Berber warlord of North Africa

Gildo- Roman governor of North Africa and brother of Mascezel


Recap of the Roman-Gothic War Spin-off story          

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Following the Roman victory over the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the victorious Roman emperor Valens would continue to rule the eastern half from Constantinople while the western half went to his nephew Gratian as Valens’ older brother and Gratian’s father Valentinian I had died in the events of the battle. The defeated Goths meanwhile fled north back to where they came from across the Danube River and had assembled in the abandoned Roman settlement of Sarmizegetusa in Dacia together with one Roman general turned traitor Theodosius the Younger who decided to join the Goths and train them to fight in the more superior ways of fighting the Romans used so that they could one day strike back against the Romans. Back in the Roman Empire, both eastern and western halves have been doing their own thing until discovering that the Goths were regaining their power when other Germanic barbarian tribes being the Alemanni and Vandals attacked Western Roman territory revealing that the Goths pushed them that way.

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Emperor Valens of the Eastern Roman Empire

In the meantime, tensions would also rise between the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire over political and religious differences especially with the Western emperor Gratian being a Nicene Orthodox Christian and Valens being a heretical Arian Christian, which was the same religion of most Goths. Eventually, Gratian’s western half of the Roman Empire would enter civil war when the Roman general in Britain Magnus Maximus crossed over to Gaul in order to overthrow Gratian, but Magnus’ ambitions were crushed in this story’s case as his forces were destroyed primarily by Gratian’s lethal weapon, the Goth leader Alatheus who was in this story’s case a Goth commander who defected to the Romans back in 378 at Adrianople. The defeated Magnus however found himself fleeing to the Goths’ base at Sarmizegetusa where he reunited with his old Roman friend Theodosius and together Magnus and Theodosius would upgrade the Goths’ arms and further train them in the Roman ways of fighting. As for the Goths, they soon enough began gaining more power when their two kings Fritigern and Athanaric who were once rivals united with a purpose to together rule a large Gothic empire but in order to grow their empire, they had to temporarily stop giving the Romans trouble much to the disappointment of most of the Goths. However, some of the Goths broke the pact with their kings and attacked Roman territory just to have revenge on their former commander Alatheus for betraying them, and thus they succeeded in capturing and torturing Alatheus who at the end killed himself out of humiliation. At the same time as well, the tension between the Roman co-emperors Valens and his nephew Gratian was at an all-time-high leading to both battling each other in front of everyone in Constantinople’s Hippodrome only for their fight to be stopped when the corpse of Alatheus was brought in, but at the end both emperors just decided to cut ties with each other to the relief of the Goths.

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Fritigern, King of the Thervingi Goths

Although rather than striking back at Rome, the Goths under Athanaric and Fritigern instead decided to expand their territory north in order to reclaim what was the homeland of the Goths in Eastern Europe, and so from 389-391 the Goths led by Theodosius and his new Gothic wife Valdis– a fictional character for this story- set off on an expedition north ending up in the shores of the Baltic Sea and from there back down south. As a result of this, the Goths marked their territory and created an empire north to south from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and Danube River and west to east from the Vistula and Tisza Rivers to the Dnieper River and the people within these lands being Goths, Alans, Sarmatians, Slavs, Baltic people, and Huns as their subjects. The Goths after having built a massive empire and adopting Roman administration and military tactics too would then only decide to invade the Roman Empire in 395 when hearing that the eastern emperor Valens had died thus giving them an opportunity to seize the eastern throne in Constantinople, however little did they know that there was already a new eastern emperor which was Gratian’s younger half-brother Valentinian II who Theodosius and the Goths never knew existed. From Sarmizegetusa, one division of the 200,000 strong Gothic army led by Theodosius headed south straight into eastern Roman territory with the intention to march to Constantinople while another division led by the Goths’ kings Fritigern and Athanaric had headed west to attack Western Roman lands. As Fritigern and Athanaric invaded Western Roman lands, they defeated a Roman army led by the general Arbogast who after being tortured revealed to the Goths a way into Italy but shortly after following an intense argument between both kings on how to rule their new empire, Athanaric being tired of having to rule together with Fritigern suddenly killed Fritigern by slitting his throat. In the Balkans meanwhile, the Goths led by Theodosius began gaining ground after they refused the peace proposal of Valentinian II and with a powerful army of Goths and other barbarian allies, Theodosius succeeded in destroying a large number of Roman troops except for the cunning half-Roman half-barbarian general Flavius Stilicho who managed to escape and flee to the Haemus Mountains where Theodosius found him only to end up in an inconclusive duel with him. The Goth invasion of the Eastern Roman Balkans was more or less crushed as the surviving Goths including Magnus and Valdis managed to flee west knowing that their kings were headed that way while Athanaric after killing off Fritigern destroyed the larger Roman army sent to attack his camp in Roman Pannonia led by the Western Roman emperor Gratian himself thus forcing Gratian to escape and Athanaric to make his way into Italy. At the end, Theodosius who had been a traitor to Rome surrendered to Valentinian II while Gratian after being disgraced disappeared as he escaped south by ship possibly to Egypt. Where the previous story ended, the Goths emerged victorious now that they had already invaded the western half of the Roman Empire leaving only the eastern half (which included the Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt) spared as well as a few Western Roman holdouts being the provinces of North Africa and the island of Britain as the Goths were to control most of Europe.

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Roman legionnaires (above) and Goth warriors (below) at the Battle of Adrianople in 378, art by Giuseppe Rava
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Sarmizegetusa, former Roman capital of Dacia, turned into the Goths’ base in this story
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Map of Athanaric’s “Gothic Empire” (in red) by 395 in this story

The Spin-of- The Expansion of the Goths (395-396)                

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After crushing a large Roman army led by the Western emperor Gratian himself at Roman Pannonia, the victorious Goths under their sole ruler the 64-year-old Athanaric freely rampaged through Pannonia heading south reaching the Alps and into the pass that led to Italy which was revealed to him by Arbogast, the Roman general he previously tortured at his camp in Pannonia. With no more Roman troops to stop the Goths’ advance as most which had previously joined Gratian in his attack on the Goths’ camp in Pannonia were destroyed, Athanaric freely claimed Roman Pannonia as his and after crossing the Alps, he was joined by a Roman army that defected to him led by the general of Goth descent Fravitta. Now in real history, Fravitta who despite being a Goth and Pagan who also lived at this time in history was also loyal to the Roman Empire, but in this story his storyline will be altered as instead he would feel more inclined to join forces with the expanding Gothic empire of Athanaric.

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Athanaric, King of the Thervingi Goths (Visigoths)

When meeting up, Athanaric then instructed Fravitta to go south and secure the Istrian Peninsula and most of Dalmatia and claim it for the Goths to give the Goths access to the Adriatic Sea in order to one day launch a full invasion of the Roman Empire’s eastern half. Fravitta thus followed Athanaric’s orders and headed south to the coast while Athanaric and his large army rode south directly into Italy first arriving at the coastal city of Aquileia which he attacked and quickly conquered thus claiming it for the Goths, and from there he headed west straight for Milan, the Western Roman capital all while Fravitta declared the region of Dalmatia and the Istrian Peninsula as part of Athanaric’s Gothic Empire. Now in the eastern half, the Romans that survived which included the Eastern emperor Valentinian II, the general Flavius Stilicho, the generals Flavius Anthemius and Rufinus, and Theodosius who had just surrendered to them had regrouped in the city of Thessaloniki where upon arriving, they would already meet up with Gratian’s trusted veteran general Richomeres and Arbogast, the nephew of Richomres who had just been saved from captivity under Athanaric and just recovered from being tortured by Athanaric.

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Emperor Valentinian II, made Eastern Roman emperor in 395 in this story

When seeing both Richomeres and Arbogast, Valentinian II had asked them about whatever happened to his half-brother the emperor Gratian, and Richomeres would tell Valentinian II that the Goths were victorious in the west and have already rode into Italy while as they escaped south to the port of Pula in the Istrian Peninsula (today’s Croatia), Gratian separated from them by getting onto another ship as Richomeres and Arbogast headed for Thessaloniki as Gratian instructed them to do so while they saw Gratian getting on to another ship that was headed south in which Richomeres possibly suspected it was heading to Egypt. Both Richomeres and Arbogast now did not know the reason to why Gratian went separate ways from them but they believed that because of his defeat to Athanaric he needed to get away and disappear for some time and that Richomeres and Arbogast chose to head to Thessaloniki and not Constantinople as it was closer and it just so happened that they ran into the Eastern Roman generals and Valentinian II by coincidence there. Valentinian II here was greatly concerned over what could happen to his older half-brother Gratian believing he would never come back which could thus put the Western half he ruled in chaos while Valentinian being still young knew he could not rule both eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire alone if Gratian was believed to be dead especially since the empire was in great chaos as the Goths invaded but Richomeres would tell Valentinian in return that ever since Athanaric invaded there is possibly no more western empire and thus it would be their job to take it back.

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Concept art of Arbogast by Giuseppe Rava

A few days after Valentinian II arrived in Thessaloniki and with Theodosius being kept in prison for the meantime as Valentinian was still deciding on what to do with Theodosius for betraying Rome and committing such atrocities, Arbogast who now having fully recovered in one occasion celebrated his recovery by getting drunk and he arrogantly revealed to both his uncle Richomeres and Valentinian II that he revealed to Athanaric the way into Italy as Arbogast simply did it to survive thinking he could one day gain more power under Athanaric. For committing such a crime, Arbogast was tried in public in the following day, proven guilty, and executed by being beheaded at the city’s Hippodrome as ordered by the emperor Valentinian II. Theodosius meanwhile would be kept in Thessaloniki’s prison and would remain there for weeks until Valentinian II came up with the decision to put him on trial, and when tried Theodosius successfully defended himself saying how regretful he was for betraying Rome, joining the Goths, giving the Roman military secrets of their advanced weaponry and battle tactics to the Goths, and how he committed such atrocities on the Roman citizens of Moesia and Thrace earlier that year when the Goths invaded. Theodosius though stated that committing such a brutal genocide on the Roman citizens of Moesia and Thrace was not his idea and that he even condemned it as he did not want that to happen finding it simply too much even for him but simply the Goths under his command did such savage acts out of their own rage. At the end, Valentinian ruled that Theodosius would be proven innocent for the meantime but would only spare Theodosius if Theodosius renounced his loyalty to Athanaric and the Gothic Empire as a whole, and if he did so he would be rewarded with the position he so wanted which was that of Magister Militum or “Master of Soldiers” as well as a full pardon, and to save himself Theodosius did so. However, Valentinian could not yet fully allow Theodosius to go free and be given that rank, thus he ordered that Theodosius be contained in Thessaloniki under heavy watch by the general Stilicho, the same one who Theodosius dueled earlier on during the battle between the Goths and Romans at the Haemus Mountains in the Balkans, and the thought of being watched by the same man that he failed to kill in the duel heavily frustrated Theodosius. As for Valentinian, he wanted to spare Theodosius as he needed someone fierce and ruthless on his side hearing of Theodosius’ fearlessness when battling the Romans earlier, and Valentinian believed that if he could get Theodosius to realize his mistakes and return his loyalties to Rome, then Valentinian would have the ultimate weapon he needs to strike back against the Goths, but in order to make Theodosius return to the light Valentinian believed that keeping him under some kind of house arrest would end up giving him a change of heart. Theodosius would thus be left in Thessaloniki under the watch of Stilicho whereas Valentinian II headed back to the capital Constantinople with Richomeres and Anthemius while the general Rufinus was tasked to hunt down the remaining pillaging Goths including Theodosius’ Gothic wife Valdis. Back in Constantinople, Valentinian II wrote a letter of help which was only for the eyes of Bahram IV, the ruler (shah) of the Sassanid Empire, the Roman Empire’s Eastern neighbor and occasional enemy, but in this letter Valentinian asked Shah Bahram IV to be an ally telling him that the Roman Empire itself is on the verge of extinction now that an unexpected powerful force had invaded from the north being the Goths and have already taken over Western Roman lands.

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The Hippodrome of Late Roman Thessaloniki

As the Roman-Gothic war in the Balkan region more or less came to an end with a rather inconclusive result, Theodosius’ wife Valdis who came from the Greuthungi tribe of the Goths after splitting ways with Theodosius following the duel with Stilicho at the Haemus Mountains went her own way from the Haemus Mountains down to the fields of Thrace in what would be today’s Bulgaria and there she would make it down south into what is today Greece.

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Concept art of Valdis in armor, art by Amdanielito

Eventually, Valdis who would be extremely tired dressed in her gold scale armor would find herself at the main Roman road of the region, the Via Egnatia thus feeling no longer lost, and from there she would head west knowing that going east would lead her into a trap which was Constantinople itself. When travelling west down the Via Egnatia, Valdis would eventually reunite with her Goth companions being the Roman traitor turned Goth commander which was Theodosius’ close friend the Roman-Spanish Magnus Maximus and Alaric, the fearsome Goth commander and killer of innocents who was also the nephew of no other than the King of the Thervingi Goths Athanaric. As the 3 leaders of the Goths met up, both Magnus and Alaric asked Valdis what had ever happened to Theodosius who was their de facto leader here in this mission, and all she told them was that he went his own way and told her to do the same. Alaric and Magnus then did not suspect Theodosius of turning against them but were worried if he had already died, although Magnus here ordered that they must all head west until they reach the Adriatic where they would travel by ship to Italy believing Athanaric as he had told them earlier on had already reached Italy and conquered it from the Romans, however little did Magnus, or Alaric, or Valdis know that Athanaric had killed off their other king Fritigern. After camping along the Via Egnatia for a night, the 3 leaders with the remains of their Gothic troops as well as Slav, Hun, Alan, and Sarmatian allies proceeded west down the road to the point of approaching Thessaloniki but just kilometers east of Thessaloniki, a Roman task force had already spotted them and so began a skirmish with them.

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4th century Roman Limitanei legions, art by Amelianvs

This Roman task force mostly made up of the weaker Limitanei legionnaires or simply border patrol troops that were not even armored but fought instead by throwing javelins was commanded by the same Eastern Roman general Rufinus who Valentinian II tasked to hunt down the remaining Goths. Alaric and Magnus and most of their men that were not killed escaped to the nearby wooded area where they were no longer spotted but Valdis losing her stamina especially when having to swing her heavy two-handed sword dropped to the ground where she was hit in the neck by a dart thrown by one of the Limitanei soldiers who had darts beneath his shield, however the dart was not meant to kill her but to put her to sleep as the order was to capture her alive. The survivors would then make it out alive bypassing Thessaloniki and eventually making their way down the road west without encountering any Roman troops, and after a week they would reach the Adriatic coast. However, the city at the western end of the road being the port city of Dyrrachium was still under Roman control, thus Magnus ordered to lay low and begin moving again at night, and as night fell and the city garrison was asleep, Magnus together with Alaric and the rest of their men boarded a Roman ship, killed its crew and soldiers stationed in it without any resistance, and set sail across the sea heading for Italy. Magnus on the other hand knowing the geography of the land more than the Goths and other barbarians with him did as he was a Roman instructed that they should dock in a discreet location knowing that all of Italy may have not yet completely fallen to Athanaric’s rule.

Valdis meanwhile woke up in a dark and damp cell with tiled floors seeing it as some kind of abandoned baths, and as she tried to move, she could not get any further than 5 steps as her arms were chained to the wall, and when looking down she saw herself wearing rags made of sack cloth which made her come to think that while she was put to sleep by the dart, she was stripped off all her armor and clothes and was dressed with these rags as she did not wear these rags beneath her armor. A few moments later, the same commander Rufinus that captured her earlier came to check on her entering the baths and when approaching her he told her he wanted her as his own slave even attempting to undress her rags but as he tried to do it, Valdis fought back biting his fingers only for Rufinus to punch her face. Valdis after being punched however told him she was Theodosius’ wife and asked Rufinus wherever he is and in return Rufinus told her Theodosius is kept under arrest in the city and that he could be brought to her. Later that day, a very drunk Theodosius with his clothes all loose and unbuttoned was brought into the baths to see his wife Valdis escorted there by Stilicho who was put in charge of keeping Theodosius under watch. When seeing his wife in chains, Theodosius immediately went to her while hugging and kissing her as well, though following that Stilicho had announced only here that the emperor Valentinian II had sent him a new order stating that he would decide to fully pardon Theodosius if Theodosius himself would personally find Gratian and bring him back. When hearing of this deal, Theodosius had definitely agreed to it believing it as a sure way to prove himself and abilities and his renewed loyalty to Rome, but Stilicho told him that Theodosius could only do so only if Stilicho would accompany Theodosius to Egypt or wherever Gratian was as Valentinian instructed it believing that if Theodosius were to do it alone, he would be up to some kind of foolishness. Additionally, Theodosius also did not know the Roman law which stated that no one of powerful status could go to Egypt without the emperor’s permission as Egypt considering how valuable it was to the empire with its grain production and ports along the Red Sea that allowed Romans to trade with lands further east in Asia was basically the emperor’s personal province and was so coveted by anyone in power, and if someone powerful like any senator or general walked into it, it could possibly mean they would take it for themselves and cut the grain supply to the empire. Here, Theodosius only found out about this certain law about entering Egypt when Stilicho told it to him which thus further frustrated him, but to achieve something he reluctantly agreed to have Stilicho watch over him and even humiliate him in this entire journey to come. Stilicho then had Valdis released from her chains and following that Theodosius told her to wash up and get dressed deciding she would join this adventure too.

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The Via Egnatia, Roman highway from Constantinople to Dyrrhachium
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Run down Roman bathhouse, in Thessaloniki in this story

In the meantime, over in Italy, the remaining Goth, Hun, Alan, Sarmatian, and Slav troops under Alaric and Magnus arrived safely in Roman Italy already discovering that half of it except for the south fell under Athanaric’s rule. There they would meet up with their ruler Athanaric at a swampland near the Roman city of Ariminum (today’s Rimini) in Western Italy which had also surrendered to Athanaric. Here Athanaric would ask whatever happened to Valdis and Theodosius and Magnus being the one to speak would say Valdis was captured by Roman troops and possibly enslaved while Theodosius who they last saw almost an entire month earlier had already possibly died being ambushed by Roman troops or from starvation as he was stranded in the wilderness in the Balkans.

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Concept art of Alaric by Giulia Valentini

Alaric meanwhile asked Athanaric who was his uncle about whatever happened to their other king Fritigern who they saw was not around with Athanaric, and Athanaric here would simply reveal to Alaric and Magnus the truth that he killed the old man Fritigern himself as overall Athanaric being from the royal house of the Goths which was the Balti Dynasty had every right to rule and that Fritigern was just an attention seeking usurper that wanted to corrupt the Goths with the faith of Arian Christianity as Athanaric wanted to the Goths to remain what they really were as Pagans. Magnus not really caring about who was in charge but only to keep his powerful position among the Goths did not seem to care about Fritigern’s murder despite Magnus being not a Pagan but in fact a Nicene Christian while Alaric who although being an Arian Christian did not also care as his loyalty was really with his uncle Athanaric. Now Athanaric had ordered his nephew Alaric to head straight into Rome itself and force the city to surrender to his rule otherwise Alaric should put it to the sword while Athanaric would need Magnus’ help to take over Milan as previously the city refused to surrender to him but by having a Roman on his side which here was Magnus, then perhaps the city would surrender. Alaric would then after 3 days reach the walls of Rome and find the city completely barred by its people refusing to surrender as they already knew Athanaric and his Goths have invaded Italy. Alaric although not exactly laying siege to the city would order his army of Goths, Alans, Sarmatians, Huns, and Slavs to set up camp and by night scout the walls to look for some weak spots.

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Proto-Slav (Venedi) warrior

After some 5 days of surveying Rome’s relatively low and weak Aurelian Walls, a group of Slav (then known as Venedi) warriors under Alaric’s command found a weak spot at the northeast corner of the city’s walls, and following that as Alaric’s Goths placed oil barrels beneath this part of the walls and as the Alans with their flaming arrows fired at these barrels, they exploded creating a large breach in the walls allowing Alaric’s men to violently storm into Rome, the Eternal City. Alaric now having conserved his lifelong hatred towards Rome ordered his men to kill everyone within the walls without mercy as this was in fact the city itself that gave birth to the empire Alaric so hated. The very limited troops defending Rome were thus easily slaughtered like ants by the wild Hun horsemen while civilians whether men, women, children, the sick, and the elderly were all decimated especially by the Goth and Hun troops with the use of their swords and axes. With no resistance in Rome left, Alaric thus ordered that the Roman Forum itself and all historic Roman buildings be razed to the ground to show to the world that the soul of Rome has been destroyed, however Alaric being an Arian Christian ordered his men to at least spare the churches of the city.

Great Events in History: The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West
Alaric and his forces sack Rome, 395 in this story

Now in real history, Alaric and his Goths really did brutally sack Rome and severely reduce it in 410, however in this story this sack of Rome led by Alaric had taken place 15 years in advance in late 395- the year Alaric in real history began his armed rebellion against Rome- as compared to when it happened in real history. Meanwhile as for Athanaric and Magnus, at around the same time they had come across the walls of Mediolanum (Milan) seeing its people led by the city’s bishop Ambrose still refusing to surrender whereas Ambrose said he would not surrender to a barbarian Goth who much worse was a Pagan referring to Athanaric, however Athanaric coming up with a trick told Magnus to go up to Ambrose and negotiate. When seeing Magnus still dressed in the full Roman general’s uniform beneath Milan’s walls, Ambrose concluding that after all Athanaric had possibly thought of maybe appointing a puppet Roman emperor considering that Gratian had disappeared agreed to get down and negotiate with Magnus.

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Ambrose, Bishop of Milan

However, as Ambrose got out of the city’s gate, Magnus had 4 Goth soldiers rush to Ambrose and put him in handcuffs, and here Ambrose was brought directly to Athanaric’s tent just a few kilometers away. Athanaric then kicked the chained Ambrose in the stomach and began telling him continuously to surrender the city of Milan as Athanaric savagely beat the rather old bishop Ambrose by kicking him, punching him, slamming his knee to his face, and tearing his clothes off. Still having some pride, Ambrose still refused to say anything until he fell to the ground severely beaten with bruises and cuts all over his body, and as Ambrose fell to the ground, Athanaric ordered one of his Goth soldiers to gouge out one of Ambrose’s eyes which the soldier did, and only here did Ambrose scream out loud that he would surrender Milan. Athanaric then had Ambrose released but thrown off the camp with force, and thus Athanaric together with Magnus rode into Milan, however the locals threw rotten food and objects at Athanaric and his men not welcoming them into their city but Athanaric in return ordered all people who threw things at them killed and everyone in the city deported to the far-away cold lands of Athanaric’s Gothic Empire along the Baltic Coast. Once the troublemakers were massacred, another one of Athanaric’s Goth commanders which was the large sized man Gainas rounded up the people who were to be deported while Athanaric entered the emperor’s palace in the city and sat on throne in which Gratian and his father Valentinian I before him sat in. A few days later, Alaric who had just conquered Rome for the Goths rode in to Milan to report his success and here Athanaric made an announcement that now since all of Italy had fallen under the Gothic Empire and so did Dalmatia, the land would be divided among co-rulers in which there would be 5 for the meantime over different lands, and in this case Athanaric who would be the most senior ruler would not base himself in Milan but in Gaul which they would later conquer, Magnus Maximus over the entire Iberian Peninsula which was his homeland, Alaric over Italy basing himself in Milan, the Roman general which defected to the Goths being Fravitta over Dalmatia which was the smallest of the territories, and lasty the original massive Goth lands from the Vistula and Tisza Rivers to the Dnieper River and from the Baltic Sea to the Danube and Black Sea under this random commander Gainas for the meantime as this large landmass was supposed to be for Theodosius and Valdis to rule together, however since Theodosius and Valdis were no longer around these lands were temporarily placed under Gainas’ control. Now since there would be 5 co-rulers for Athanaric’s Gothic Empire, all of them were given each by Athanaric small crowns in the form of a ring over their heads to signify they had the authority of a king or rather an emperor.       

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Alaric’s Goths sack Rome
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Late Roman era Mediolanum (Milan)

It is now 396 and in Thessaloniki Stilicho together with Theodosius and Valdis were all set to set sail for Egypt in an imperial ship now also getting permission from the emperor Valentinian II to go there.

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Theodosius in a Roman general’s uniform

A few months now have passed since Theodosius was brought to Thessaloniki and Valdis’ capture and in the few months in between, the expedition to Egypt had been planned. Theodosius now having cut off his long and hair and beard which he had during his time with the Goths returned to his old Roman look with shorter hair and no beard while Valdis had changed her clothes here from her old Gothic look of crude clothes with fur to a long Late Roman style dress with large sleeves and a large belt to hold it together. Stilicho then left the same general Rufinus who captured Valdis earlier to be in charge of protecting Thessaloniki while they were away, and it would be when the group of 3 got into the imperial ship together with a number of soldiers to escort them when Stilicho hearing from intelligence reports from spies in Italy that Fritigern had been killed by Athanaric. Theodosius when hearing this was not devastated as he now wanted to begin forgetting that he had loyally served the Goths and thus start again but Valdis was greatly upset about it especially since Fritigern was more of a mentor to her than Athanaric was and that it was really Fritigern that made her what she was and not so much Athanaric. Hearing of Fritigern’s death and more so that it was done by Athanaric, Valdis here felt that she would no longer want to serve the Goths and would rather choose to serve Rome more so because her husband had now more or less returned his loyalty to Rome as after all the only Gothic ruler Valdis would really serve was Fritigern and by living in Roman Thessaloniki for some time now, she began growing more accustomed to the more sophisticated Roman life that she felt she missed out on in her 40 years of existence. What was even more exciting for Valdis was that this would be the first time in her life wherein she would take a ship across the Mediterranean to a land she never knew existed which was Egypt or more generally the African continent.

Back in Constantinople meanwhile, in early 396 the Sassanid contingent sent by their shah Bahram IV had already arrived and in command of it was the shah’s brother Yazdegerd, and prior to that their father the previous Sassanid shah Shapur III (r. 383-388) had already settled peace with the Romans back in 385 with Stilicho himself traveling to the Sassanid Empire back then to settle the peace- as mentioned in the previous story.

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Flag of the Sassanid Empire

When meeting the Sassanid prince Yazdegerd in Constantinople, the emperor Valentinian II together with the city’s Prefect (Mayor of Constantinople) Anthemius would show him around the capital and host a lavish feast in the palace to entertain him, but Valentinian being a young ruler who is not very much familiar with the rest of the world would make fun of Yazdegerd’s appearance of thick and long curly hair, his loose white Persian robes, and a hat shaped like an egg while Yazdegerd would mock Valentinian for being rather young as a ruler and having the appearance of a child. However, both Yazdegerd and Valentinian despite both making fun of each other would manage to have a conversation wherein Valentinian would tell Yazdegerd about the new danger his empire was facing which was mainly the threat of Athanaric who had now taken over most of the Roman Empire’s west which is why Valentinian asked for Sassanid aid in the first place.

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Concept art of Yazdegerd the Sassanid prince

As for Yazdegerd here, the Sassanid Empire which was now under his brother was in a relatively peaceful state except for some Hun raids they have been occasionally facing in their northeast border, thus when arriving in Roman territory with a large Sassanid army of about 6,000 men, Yazdegerd in this dinner with Valentinian said impatiently that he would be ready to kill Athanaric but Valentinian disagreed to it as Athanaric was so many miles away to the west. Yazdegerd on the other hand not knowing the geography of the Roman Empire very well thought that the enemy Athanaric was just nearby yet he did not know how many men Athanaric had with him when invading Roman territory. Valentinian though would also remind his new ally Yazdegerd that he would have to further train his Sassanid troops not only in battle skills but in how to get along with the Roman legions as both forces would together strike against Athanaric, but Yazdegerd would at first arrogantly disagree to it feeling insulted that the Romans would train his men when they were in fact already skilled warriors. Valentinian II would then put an end to conversation and serve Yazdegerd a few more drinks to doze him off. Now Yazdegerd would be given a house within the downtown of Constantinople near the imperial palace for him to stay in for the meantime that he would be in Roman territory while his Sassanid troops would be camped at the city of Chalcedon across the Bosporus from Constantinople, then just 4 days after Yazdegerd’s arrival in Constantinople, Valentinian would get another surprise. This surprise Valentinian got was the arrival of the badly beaten and disfigured bishop of Milan Ambrose and when Valentinian asked whatever happened to him especially seeing that Ambrose was only left with one eye with a patch placed over the missing one, Ambrose replied that Athanaric himself did that to him and that all of Italy including Rome and Milan had fallen under Athanaric’s rule wherein Ambrose failed to stop it, and this threat was to even get worse as Athanaric was now set to take over Roman Gaul, Hispania, and other western lands. Ambrose however told Valentinian that there is still some chance to take back these lands from the Goths by organizing a counter invasion from Britain where Ambrose believed there was still a large enough Roman army there to assemble and march into Gaul. Other than that, Ambrose had also told Valentinian that he was sorry for and had greatly regrated what he did in the past by allowing the Romans to be so divided between the Arian and Nicene Christian faiths and for turning Gratian against his uncle Valens, and that now all this conflict just led to the near extinction of the Roman Empire as Athanaric and his Goths invaded. Valentinian II on the other hand hearing of what could be a possible Roman resistance that could form a counter-invasion from Britain some days later asked to meet with his top general Richomeres who happened to be nearby Constantinople to come over to him, thus Valentinian tasked the now old Richomeres who was here already over 60 to take the long and perilous trip to the island of Britain to see if there was really an entire Roman army there.  

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Roman imperial ship
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Sassanid army of Yazdegerd, 4th century

The Spin-off- The Hunt for Gratian and the Roman Resistance (396-398)

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As for the group of Theodosius, Valdis, and Stilicho, after weeks of sailing down the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, they arrived in their destination, the port of Alexandria which was the Roman capital of Egypt. For all 3 of them, it was their first time to set foot in the African continent and especially for Valdis it was something new as this was the first time that she saw the Mediterranean and to set foot in a very different climate from her original homeland in Eastern Europe as this was a much warmer climate very far from her cold and damp homeland.

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Lighthouse of Alexandria

When arriving at Alexandria’s harbor, Valdis was in awe seeing a white lighthouse built since Ancient Greek times that was so large and a very large sprawling city with Greek and Roman architecture ahead of them, however as the ship docked a large number of military men approached the ship to inspect it in order to make sure those in it had permission from the emperor considering that this was an imperial ship with soldiers in it. Stilicho was first to get off the ship showing to these soldiers of Alexandria the letter from the emperor Valentinian II himself that permitted them to set foot in Egypt. The group then headed out the ship and into the busy streets of Alexandria and along the way, people from the city were staring at the blonde Goth Valdis seeing her as an unusual sight for they never saw a woman so fair in skin with blonde hair before while soon enough a dark-skinned man with large curly hair approached them, most particularly Stilicho knowing who he was. This man who approached them was Mascezel, a native Berber (Moor) from North Africa who happened to be the brother of the Roman governor of the Province of Africa (today’s Tunisia). Now Mascezel as well as his brother the governor of Africa Gildo were sons of the Berber warlord Nubal who although was loyal to Rome, while Gildo’s and Mascezel’s older brother Firmus had happened to be the leader of a local rebellion in North Africa against Roman rule some 20 years earlier in 375, and this rebellion was crushed by Theodosius’ father the general Theodosius the Elder, and when hearing about this, Theodosius immediately remembered as he remembered that in that time his late father was in North Africa where he destroyed this rebellion wherein its leader Firmus avoided capture by killing himself. Theodosius, Valdis, and Stilicho would then come over to Mascezel’s house as Mascezel’s family happened to have a house in Alexandria and in his house, they would ask him if he knew anything about Gratian’s whereabouts and if Gratian was actually in Alexandria. Mascezel would tell them that he did in fact see Gratian some months ago in Alexandria as Gratian actually came there still wearing his imperial robes and crown, however after staying in Alexandria for some days he left and that his imperial robes and crown was in fact left behind with Mascezel who showed it to Theodosius, Valdis, and Stilicho. Mascezel would then tell them that he remembered Gratian sailing down south the Nile River to the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes as Gratian claimed that he would go there to look for answers like his father the former emperor Valentinian I did many years ago, and here Mascezel told them that if they want to look for Gratian they would have to sail down the Nile at their own risk, but this Berber Mascezel at the same time would only allow the group to leave his house and continue their hunt for Gratian on the condition that if they come back to him after finding Gratian they would have to help Mascezel defeat his brother Gildo in order for Mascezel to take over from his brother as governor of North Africa as apparently in this story’s case, Gildo was paid off by Athanaric to rebel in order to cede North Africa to Athanaric’s empire. Athanaric meanwhile had actually managed to get some information on Gildo’s rule over Roman North Africa as its governor and thus he used this to his advantage by paying off Gildo and supporting him as long as he would give North Africa to Athanaric’s empire knowing that Gildo was highly unpopular as governor for his despotic rule there.

Athanaric now in 396 would happen to be basing himself in the city of Burdigala (today’s Bordeaux) in Western Gaul where as being close to the Atlantic Ocean, he would use it to construct a massive fleet in order to take over the rest of Roman territory such as Britain and North Africa as well as Eastern Roman territory which needed a navy to invade. In Burdigala, Athanaric would meet with his subordinate rulers Magnus Maximus, Alaric, Gainas, and Fravitta over how they will build their navy and invade the Eastern half of the Roman Empire itself wherein all would conclude that it would take some time being a full 3 years to achieve this goal entirely. Athanaric too would confirm it here by telling Magnus, Alaric, Gainas, and Fravitta that he had already paid off Gildo to rebel so that his province of North Africa would be ceded to Athanaric. Back in Alexandria, after staying there for a month and gathering supplies including armor, weapons, food, and more, Theodosius, Valdis, Stilicho and some 40 Roman soldiers boarded another ship that would sail down the Nile to Thebes in order to complete their mission to find Gratian.      

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Top view of Roman era Alexandria, Egypt

Now at some point in 396, after a perilous sea voyage for over 3 months from Constantinople to Britain passing through the Marmara, Aegean, the Mediterranean all the way out through the Strait of Gibraltar, up the Atlantic Ocean through Lusitania (today’s Portugal) and Gaul, Richomeres arrived in the distant island of Britain, a land with such bad climate with unpredictable storms that come and go with sunshine in between.

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Richomeres, Western Roman Magister Militum

The old veteran general Richomeres at least arrived safely in Britain’s southern coast with an army of only about 150 heavy infantry troops or the Comitatenses legions, and when arriving they headed straight to the coastal fortress known as Portus Adurni along Britain’s southern coast. When entering the fortress, Richomeres only encountered a few troops stationed in it and thus he asked where everyone else had gone. The soldiers though told him that there are still about 15,000 Roman troops left in Britain but most of them are scattered around the island as again the Saxon pirates from across the North Sea have been doing their usual raids in Britain’s eastern coast while the North was as usual again attacked by the Picts from across Hadrian’s Wall. Richomeres then told the soldiers at the fort that the empire itself was in greater danger more than just the usual Saxon and Pict raids as almost the entire Western half of the Roman Empire had fallen to a new power being the Goths under a mad king which was Athanaric that came out of nowhere. The Roman troops in this fortress in Britain however only agreed to join Richomeres in the fight against the Goths in mainland Europe if Richomeres were to assist them against the Saxons and Picts, which was something the veteran Richomeres easily said yes to as he had encountered more difficult enemies in his lifetime while he also knew that based on recent history that the Picts and Saxons were an easy enemy to beat, especially for a seasoned general like him.

In the meantime, Athanaric who had based himself in the city of Burdigala in Western Gaul would now rule over his now massive empire which now already took over the entire Germania between Gaul and the original Goth lands of Eastern Europe through fear and oppression whereas all his subjects who did not agree with him especially if they were Christian were tortured and put to death and their properties confiscated all while Athanaric acting as the all-powerful ruler of Europe was never visible but instead chose to stay within the walls of his newly built luxurious palace in Burdigala which he built using the ruins of the old Roman buildings there which he broke into pieces and reassembled to build a large palace complex.

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Athanaric, King of the Thervingi Goths and Emperor of the Gothic Empire

All the loot that was taken from Rome previously by Alaric and all the wealth confiscated from those who disagreed with Athanaric’s rule were thus used for the construction of Athanaric’s fleet of 1,000 ships intended to conquer the entire eastern half of the Roman Empire which was being constructed in the Bay of Biscay between Gaul and Hispania. At this point too in 396, as all of Italy, Gaul, and Germania fell under the rule of Athanaric’s Gothic Empire, all of Hispania including Lusitania also ceded to Athanaric’s Empire considering that his lieutenant Magnus Maximus was put in charge of it and so would Dalmatia which was under Athanaric’s other lieutenant Fravitta. Now the Roman citizens that were living under Athanaric’s empire that were happy with his rule and that could thrive were those who were still Pagan as Athanaric declared that all those who practiced any faith that was not Christianity or Judaism were tolerated and would not be persecuted while those who did not would be given a hard time, thus thousands if not even millions of Christians and Jews who were from the Western provinces fled as refugees to lands that were not under Athanaric and these would include Britain, North Africa, or the Eastern provinces which were under the Roman emperor Valentinian II. In order to force all these Christians and Jews that did not agree with Athanaric’s policies out of the western provinces which he now ruled, he together with his subordinate rulers Magnus, Alaric, Fravitta, and Gainas leveled many churches and Jewish synagogues to the ground, however with Magnus still being a Nicene Christian and Alaric being an Arian Christian they secretly kept some churches standing but to prove their loyalty to their boss Athanaric they obeyed and destroyed many churches, although Fravitta who still remained a Pagan Goth eagerly followed Athanaric’s order to destroy all churches in his region which was Dalmatia. On the other hand, those that were Roman subjects loyal to Athanaric which were mostly Pagan began dressing up in the Goth fashion of wearing fur out of pride.

Now by 397, the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire which included Thrace, Greece, most of the Balkans, Asia Minor, Syria, Cyprus, the Aegean islands, and Egypt were flooded with Christians whether Arian or Nicene and Jewish refugees from the Western provinces wherein thousands all poured into Constantinople where there was no more space to put them.

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Flavius Anthemius, Prefect of Constantinople

To solve this problem Valentinian II and Constantinople’s prefect Anthemius who was his main advisor had the refugees dispersed across Asia Minor and Syria while Valentinian also asked his new ally the Sassanid prince Yazdegerd who was still in Constantinople at this point to send a number of them over to the Sassanid Empire to seek asylum as after all the Sassanid shah and Yazdegerd’s brother Bahram IV was someone tolerant to Christians. Now, the Arian and Nicene Christians which just recently beat each other up in the streets all of a sudden had begun working with each other especially since they had a common enemy out to destroy them being Athanaric who now brought about a resurgence of the old Pagan faith which suppressed Christianity less than a hundred years earlier. The bishop Ambrose who now was seeking asylum in Constantinople too had suddenly turned from being one that further divided the Arian and Nicene Christians to someone that was making speeches that would unite both Christian sects.

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Tabula the board game, used in Valentinian II’s midnight events

All while both rival Christian sects were beginning to unite, Valentinian II despite ruling an empire in crisis was still enjoying the pleasures of the palace that here being already very close to his new ally the Sassanid Persian prince Yazdegerd, he would invite Yazdegerd to his usual midnight events in a private room in the palace which had walls made of the purple stone porphyry and purple drapes where the nobles of the Roman Empire’s eastern half would drink and feast all night while playing the board game known as tabula where people betted using money and even property, listen to music from a lute and lyre players, and watch women only clothed in something like towel dance a very dynamic dance. Now apparently- in this story’s case only- Valentinian’s uncle and his predecessor the former Eastern emperor Valens already had this tradition of having midnight events in the palace where he would feast and drink with other nobles and leaders, though with Valens it was in these midnight events where he made shady deals especially with Arian bishops as Valens was an Arian Christian emperor. As for Valentinian II, he still continued these midnight events of his uncle as he was still young being still in his 20s and thus wanted to enjoy his time, and to further please his generals he even invited them to it such as Anthemius and Rufinus who happened to enjoy the company of the other people in the event and the entertainment as well. Yazdegerd on the other hand who grew up in a lavish environment in the Sassanid Persian palace in their capital Ctesiphon was definitely used to these nights partying and drinking, therefore he enjoyed these midnight events hosted by Valentinian II in Constantinople’s imperial palace.

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Roman era Burdigala (Bordeaux), Athanaric’s seat of power
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Visual map of the Eastern Roman capital Constantinople

Back again in Egypt, after a 2-week cruise down the Nile River and encountering the ancient wonders of Egypt such as the pyramids, sphynx, and obelisks, the team of Theodosius, Valdis, and Stilicho arrived in their destination which was the Ancient Egyptian city they knew as Thebes, known in Egyptian as Waset.

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Late Roman troops in Egypt, art by Amelianvs

Before getting off the ship, everyone in the expedition had to change into outfits that could blend into Egypt’s desert environment thus the 40 soldiers knowing they would not have to fight heavy battles here removed their armor and changed into yellow-brown tunics with brown pants and brown hats while only keeping their weapons, whereas Stilicho changed into the same yellow-brown tunic and brown hat except with a brown cloak over it while Theodosius changed into a light colored tunic with a green cloak over it and a scale armored vest over it. Valdis on the other hand changed to a rather strange outfit which was a piece of scaled armor which was formerly used by female gladiators and it was simply a strapless top made of metal scales which exposed her shoulders and connected to it was an iron shoulder guard strapped across her chest going beneath the armpit, while at the bottom was a skirt made of leather tassels, and above she wore a gray cloak that doubled as a headscarf, though her outfit was uncomfortable as the armor was placed over her bare skin. With everyone getting off the ship and into the rather half-ruined city of Thebes, half the team searched across the ruins and run-down houses just in case Gratian was around while the leaders Stilicho, Valdis, and Theodosius mounted camels and surveyed the entire perimeter of the ancient city. However, by the end of the day, no one achieved in their goal to find Gratian thus they all set up tents along the perimeter of the city as none of them wanted to stay with anyone in the rather deteriorated houses of the ancient city as over the years Thebes had been neglected allowing the most impoverished people of Roman Egypt to squat in it.

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Ancient city of Thebes, Egypt

In the next day, the team would continue searching the entire run-down ruined city again but at the end would only find thin and sad faced impoverished native Egyptians with large eyes and long noses and when asking around if they’ve seen a man who doesn’t look like them no one answered as none of them knew Latin, while some soldiers even interrogated these locals by beating them to reveal information but still got nothing in return. However, Theodosius knowing some Greek asked them in Greek if they saw a man with light skin the way Theodosius and Stilicho did, they still did not reply despite these Egyptians knowing the Greek language other than their native Egyptian language, thus these people who didn’t reply too were struck a few times by the soldiers using the bottom of their weapons. Suddenly, one of the 40 soldiers was ambushed from above by a man cloaked in black using a large curved sword known as the Egyptian Khopesh, and this cloaked man leaped from above an Ancient Egyptian column and landed straight at that Roman soldier killing him. The others soldiers tried to fight back and so did Stilicho but it was too late as that man ran like lightning out of Thebes and into the desert. Theodosius then ordered the remaining 39 soldiers as well as Stilicho and Valdis to all mount on any camel or horse they saw in order to chase that man. Everyone thus got on to any horse or camel they saw and galloped out of Thebes and into the desert to the point of eventually catching up with that man as that man without riding anything but ran on foot was able to make it in time for the mounted Romans to reach him. The man however managed to get back to his camp which was a fort in the middle of a canyon with sandstone houses built into the rock, and blocking the canyon was a spiked rope. As the team reached the area, a large number of thugs dressed in the same black cloak as that man went into battle formation with those above the scaffolds firing arrows at them. Due to arrows being fired, 7 of the 39 Roman troops were killed, however Valdis using her large two-handed sword and her flexibility barged into the canyon fort’s entrance killing 2 of the thugs with just one blow of her sword, and one of these 2 men was the man they chased after.

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Egyptian Khopesh sword

Theodosius and Stilicho then stormed in killing the rest of the thugs with their own swords and by throwing the spears of their fallen soldiers at them. Eventually, all 25 of these black cloaked thugs wielding khopesh swords were all slain while the Romans lost 10 more soldiers, and once the fighting was done the team searched all the sandstone houses. Stilicho meanwhile kicked down the door of one house and found a rather fat man with a messy beard and messy hair with fair skin wearing a white tunic thus concluding it was Gratian, however this man recognizing Stilicho’s face kicked Stilicho into the clay jars thus shattering it. Theodosius then approached him but he being strong and athletic fought back leading to a fierce fight involving punching and kicking between him and Theodosius, which ended with Theodosius pinning him down and placing his foot over his chest while Valdis pulled out her large sword pointing it at his neck. Stilicho then got up and looked at him and thus concluded that it was Gratian who here was in his late 30s- the same age as Stilicho- but not recognizable with his messy hair and beard. When seeing him, both Theodosius and Valdis introduced themselves telling Gratian that they had shifted their loyalties to Rome and want him back as he is after all the emperor and the west which he ruled has no more emperor and thus it had fallen to the Goth king Athanaric. Gratian replying to them told them that he knows all about it as he witnessed a crushing defeat to Athanaric’s forces in Pannonia almost 2 years earlier which thus forced him to flee to Egypt as he wanted to disappear believing he could do nothing anymore to save the empire he ruled. Stilicho then tried to convince Gratian telling him that Rome is in such a dire situation and his younger half-brother Valentinian II is still too young and inexperienced to run an empire in this kind of crisis and that Gratian is the more able one there is considering that his more able father Valentinian I and uncle Valens were both already dead.

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Coin of Western Roman emperor Gratian

Gratian however still declined to return to serving as emperor but he asked to be brought back to Thebes as these cloaked men kidnapped him some days ago for some unknown reason but most likely because they knew there was something different about him. The remaining soldiers together with Theodosius, Valdis, and Stilicho thus headed back to Thebes together with Gratian who mounted one of the camels earlier on used by one of the slain soldiers. Back in Thebes, Gratian returned to his small shack house where he had been living in for almost a year now and when back in Thebes Gratian told Stilicho, Theodosius, and Valdis that he chose to stay there as a long time ago when Gratian was still a very small child in around the year 362, his father Valentinian who was not yet the emperor had for some reason been sent in a kind of exile to Thebes as it was a very distant place yet still part of the Roman Empire. The time Valentinian had been in Thebes was during the reign of the emperor Julian (r. 361-363) who was the last emperor of the previous Constantinian Dynasty, however Valentinian in 363 was called back to imperial service when Julian launched his campaign against the Sassanid Empire only resulting in Julian being killed in Sassanid territory by a flying spear that came out of nowhere thrown by a Sassanid soldier. Valentinian however survived this expedition and returned home to Roman territory with the newly elected emperor, the uninspiring and unambitious officer Jovian who just 8 months later in 364 died after suffocating on toxic fumes when sleeping before even making it back to Constantinople.

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Valentinian I, Western Roman emperor (r. 364-378) and father of Gratian

Following that, Valentinian was elected as the new emperor by the army and when returning to Constantinople, the empire was divided between east and west with Valentinian ruling the west and his younger brother Valens ruling the east, while to prevent a succession crisis, Jovian’s very young son was blinded by Valentinian’s and Valens’ orders, and the rest is history. Now Gratian chose to remain in Thebes to contemplate and find meaning as when his father was in Thebes more than 30 years earlier, he found more purpose and meaning in life while being alone in distant Thebes with the ruins of a long-gone civilization that was so mysterious yet so great, which was the Ancient Egyptian civilization. Gratian although said to Stilicho and company that he would sooner or later return to serving the empire but that they must go ahead and leave Thebes and report to Mascezel that Gratian is still alive, as true enough when encountering Gratian, it was Stilicho that told him that they encountered Mascezel in Alexandria who knew Gratian went to Egypt, thus Gratian also told Stilicho to tell Mascezel too that it will have to be Mascezel to be the one to go to Thebes and bring Gratian back. The remaining soldiers together with Stilicho, Theodosius, and Valdis then returned to their ship and sailed back up the Nile to Alexandria while Gratian at the dock in Thebes waved at them goodbye before returning to his modest house among the ruins. Moments later, Gratian when alone somewhat encountered his father the former emperor Valentinian I, however it was just an apparition of him as Valentinian had already been dead for almost 20 years, and here Valentinian told Gratian to not give up on the empire as the empire really needs him as Gratian was basically the most powerful man in Rome and the only one left having his father’s strength as his younger half-brother Valentinian II was not as strong as his father was. Valentinian I’s apparition then disappeared leaving Gratian with some mixed feeling now on whether to return to running the empire or not.         

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City of Thebes from Assassin’s Creed Origins
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Egyptian sandstone houses

Athanaric on the other hand had already been living so comfortably in his newly built massive palace complex in Burdigala and there he would enjoy himself drinking and feasting while watching those who opposed him- mainly political enemies like Roman senators and bishops- being eaten by bears, lions, or tigers in his own private arena. From time to time, Athanaric would inspect the construction of his 1,000-ship navy together with Magnus Maximus who Athanaric here put in charge as the commander of this entire fleet when the time comes for it to be launched and invade all Roman lands. The next thing Athanaric would then do was to plot the abduction of Valentinian II and Gratian who Athanaric had no clue wherever he was, thus he summoned both Alaric from Italy and Fravitta from Dalmatia to come to him in Burdigala to plan the abduction of both emperors and bring them there to Burdigala as a way to break the Romans’ morale as Athanaric knew that with no emperor in charge, the Roman state will have a freefall into chaos.

Back in Egypt, Stilicho, Theodosius, and Valdis returned to Alexandria and they would thus settle there for many months for most of the year of 397 as after all, they all needed a time to slow down after all these years of being in action fighting wars and travelling to such distant places. Valdis would be the one to really enjoy herself here in Egypt by seeing a desert for the first time in her life and she also realized that this was the life she missed out on for over 40 years of being in a hard and cold place, and here in Egypt she had everything she had missed out on for the longest time such as good food and wine, warm climate, and an easy life of walking around the city and swimming in the sea.

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Alexandria street scene

Another thing Valdis also enjoyed doing in Alexandria was using the bathhouses where she was able to really cleanse all her skin from all the dirt accumulated over the years for the first time, however when she was in the baths one time, Mascezel suddenly approached her forcing her to immediately grab a towel and cover herself up. Apparently, Mascezel had already approached both Theodosius and Stilicho before approaching her, and here Mascezel told Valdis that she would now have to join in the mission to now fully subdue the Athanaric sponsored rebellion of Mascezel’s brother Gildo in the province of Africa, and in return for that, Mascezel will bring Gratian back from Thebes. Valdis then returned to her villa where she and Theodosius lived, packed their supplies including weapons and armor, and thus Stilicho, Valdis, and Theodosius got on to the same ship they took down the Nile to Thebes but this time with Mascezel and instead of going south they would head west out of Alexandria through the Mediterranean into Carthage.

Over in Constantinople meanwhile, the bishop of Milan Ambrose had already died in 397- same date as his death in real history- and by this point the rival Arian and Nicene Christians have begun setting aside their differences now that they would have to fight together against a common enemy.

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Bahram IV, Shah of the Sassanid Empire and brother of Yazdegerd

By this point, Valentinian II asked Yazdegerd who was still with him to ask his brother the Sassanid shah Bahram IV to provide him an additional 2,000 men as Valentinian knew Athanaric’s threat was still getting larger. By this point too, Yazdegerd’s Sassanid troops stationed in Chalcedon had already been getting more and more used to being alongside Roman troops while Yazdegerd and Valentinian II continued growing closer to each especially through Valentinian’s secret midnight events in the palace. The Prefect of Constantinople Anthemius at this time had also got a letter sent from Stilicho in Alexandria before the latter left asking for additional troops from the capital which would be needed to assist Mascezel with the pro-Athanaric rebellion of Gildo in North Africa. Now over in North Africa now already being the year 398, the ship carrying Stilicho, Theodosius, Valdis, and Mascezel arrived not in its capital Carthage but in a port nearby while following their arrival, they had discovered that the 1,000 men Stilicho asked from the capital had already arrived and met up with them. That night, as the troops camped before they would set off for Carthage, Mascezel had a rather strange dream and here the late bishop Ambrose of Milan spoke to him assuring him of a victory over his brother. On the following day, the team headed west to the walls of Carthage where Mascezel came face-to-face with his brother Gildo who stood above the walls. Gildo then gave his brother an ultimatum saying that its either Mascezel surrenders or Gildo will execute Mascezel’s two sons who were kept within Carthage. Mascezel who not wanting to give up refused to surrender and so Gildo ordered Mascezel’s sons executed by having their heads chopped off and a few hours later their heads were shown to their father Mascezel who then declared war, though Gildo only agreed to battle against his brother’s forces and the Roman reinforcements from Constantinople if they would clash in a camp west of Carthage in the middle of the desert.

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Western Roman legionnaires in North Africa, art by LordMatini

The team of Mascezel including his own troops from North Africa, reinforcements from Constantinople, Stilicho, Theodosius, and Valdis then headed west eventually coming across the camp of Gildo in the desert right next to the Mediterranean shore where at sunrise they attacked the camp by surprise as Gildo’s troops mostly consisting of native Berbers of North Africa were just getting out of bed and putting their armor on. A large number of Gildo’s troops however managed to get their armor on and arm themselves with spears, bows, swords, and slings but were still no match against the more disciplined and equipped forces of Mascezel and their Eastern Roman reinforcements while Stilicho himself using his strategic ways in war ordered the heavily armed Eastern Roman Comitatenses troops to all march in a straight horizontal line with their spears forward which thus scared Gildo’s men. Stilicho now charged into battle himself personally slaying Gildo’s men while Theodosius using the same savage ways he fought when serving the Goths killed off Gildo’s men like ants, and Valdis who dressed in the same armor she was wearing in Egypt earlier on spun her large two-handed sword around without stopping thus killing many of Gildo’s men.

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North African Berber troops of Gildo

Gildo meanwhile when seeing so many of his men slain like ants and his brother Mascezel emerging victorious, he ran quickly to the dock of the camp getting on to a small fishing boat with a small sail which he paddled so swiftly out into the sea. When noticing Gildo escaping by that boat, Theodosius threw off his armor as well as his shirt inside it and thus jumped into the sea shirtless and swam to reach the boat of Gildo which he was able to grab. Valdis on the other hand grabbed a bow and after lighting the arrow she was using on fire, she fired it directly hitting the wooden boat Gildo was on leading to the boat burning forcing Gildo to also jump into the sea. Theodosius then grabbed Gildo while both were on the water, and Theodosius being the better swimmer than Gildo put his arms around Gildo’s neck strangling him, and within a few minutes due to the pressure on his neck from Theodosius’ arm and drowning in the water, Gildo had died and thus his body was left to float in the sea.

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Flavius Stilicho, half-Vandal half-Roman general

As Theodosius swam back to the camp, the surviving troops of Gildo surrendered and defected to Mascezel, and thus Mascezel was proclaimed as the new Roman governor of North Africa, and therefore freeing the region from Athanaric’s influence. Mascezel was then asked by Stilicho if Gratian would now be finally brought back, and Mascezel here agreed to it as long as Stilicho, Theodosius, and Valdis would go over to Sicily and stay in another of Mascezel’s family’s villas there, and there Mascezel would meet them with Gratian himself as after all Stilicho, Theodosius, and Valdis fulfilled their end of the deal in helping Mascezel destroy his brother Gildo. Meanwhile, Athanaric back in his new base at Burdigala now already very close to completing his 1,000-ship fleet had just heard of his ally Gildo being destroyed and was greatly upset with it. However, Magnus Maximus who was here with Athanaric advised Athanaric to now get Mascezel to his side by paying him off as Magnus knowing of Mascezel from before when both served in the Roman army that Mascezel did not really care about loyalty but the money, and he would do anything just for the pay. Athanaric now agreed to paying off Mascezel with a large amount of gold but on the condition too that Mascezel would bring Gratian to Athanaric as Athanaric had already knew from Gildo that Mascezel knew Gratian’s whereabouts. Other than that, Athanaric also asked Fravitta who was also here in Burdigala to be the one in charge of brining Valentinian II to him, and Fravitta despite being far away from Constantinople knew he could get the job done as he did in fact still have contacts in Constantinople that once served him before when he was a general in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.  

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Late Roman legionnaires in battle at the North African civil war, 398
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Roman era Carthage

The spin-off’s Climax- The Final Battle of the Ages (398-399)       

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Over in the distant land of Britain in 398, the veteran general Richomeres who was sent there by Valentinian II to gather up a resistance first had to do his part of the deal to get the troops of Britain to join him, and this was in helping them defeat the Saxon pirates raiding Britain’s eastern coast and the Picts up in the north.

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Saxon pirate raiders in Britain

The Saxon pirates were thus easily subdued by Richomeres that by the beginning of 398 the entire eastern coast of Britain was safe from Saxon raids whereas some of the defeated Saxons even promised to ally with the Romans by providing ships to strike against Athanaric. With the Saxons taken care off, Richomeres as well as the remaining Romano-British troops in Britain headed north to Hadrian’s Wall to deal with the Pict attacks. The painted and drugged Picts as usual charged and broke into the broken parts of the wall in such a wild frenzy that scared the Roman troops defending the wall. Richomeres however who had seen so many wars and enemies over the decades knew that defeating the Picts was not a hard task, and so he ordered the troops to all stay in formation as the Picts charged at them. True enough this tactic suggested by Richomeres was a success, and thus the Roman troops moved in a single formation pushing the Picts back across the wall.

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Pict warrior of Northern Britain

Once the Picts were fully repelled, Richomeres ordered that the cracks in Hadrian’s Wall which for the longest time had not been repaired be repaired and strengthened. Once the wall was repaired, the Romano-British troops then agreed that they will join Richomeres in attacking Athanaric, and apparently some of the Romano-British troops knew Athanaric was in Gaul as true enough some Romans from Gaul wanting to escape Athanaric fled to Britain and thus told these soldiers. Over in Sicily meanwhile, Theodosius and Valdis had been staying in Mascezel’s villa for a couple months and again Valdis enjoyed its much warmer climate the same way she enjoyed the climate of Egypt as again Sicily was still so much different from the cold climate of her homeland in Eastern Europe while Theodosius too enjoyed Sicily as it very much had the same climate and landscape as his native land Hispania, while Stilicho had been living in another house but also part of Mascezel’s family’s estate. Eventually, Mascezel returned to them, this time to give them updates on the situation, however Theodosius, Valdis, and Stilicho all put on their armor believing something suspicious was about to happen. True enough, there was something suspicious as beside Mascezel was Fravitta and no other than Alaric who was put in charge of Italy by his uncle Athanaric, and here it certainly showed Mascezel was really up to no good. For the past years now, Athanaric and even Magnus and Alaric had thought both Theodosius and Valdis had disappeared for good, however here Alaric when seeing both Theodosius and Valdis again were greatly shocked especially at the fact that they turned against Athanaric and joined the Romans. Theodosius however answered back to Alaric telling him that he no longer wants to serve the Goths especially because of how Alaric savagely killed innocents while Valdis shouted at Alaric that she is done serving the Goths especially due to all the backstabbing and murder in which she certainly referred to Athanaric killing Fritigern.

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Concept art of Valdis (female Goth warrior)

Valdis too angrily asked Mascezel about what he did to Gratian while Mascezel told her that he had already taken care of Gratian by sending him off to Athanaric in chains, then following this the exchange of angry words led to a small skirmish breaking out whereas Theodosius and Valdis threw Fravitta at the exterior wall of the house where they both continued to torture him by slamming his head which was although protected by a helmet against the wall whereas Alaric using sneaky tactics hid beneath some of the haystacks in the villa while Mascezel ran way to the bridge while Stilicho ran after him. This bridge apparently was a high one and beneath it was a shallow river which had more rocks than water, and in this bridge Stilicho and Mascezel got into a fierce fistfight where Stilicho had gained more ground to the point of holding Mascezel by the neck, and out of anger for Mascezel betraying them, Stilicho simply threw Mascezel off the bridge to his death as Mascezel fell off the high bridge breaking his bones on the rocks below. In the villa, Theodosius when smashing Fravitta against the wall continuously asked where Athanaric is at, and after some 30 hits against the wall which thus shattered his helmet, the badly beaten Fravitta revealed the location only saying Gaul, and by this time Stilicho returned and he too continued beating Fravitta and thus Fravitta revealed that Athanaric was amassing a very massive fleet in the western coast of Gaul.

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Concept design for Western Roman general turned Goth ruler Fravitta

Following this, Valdis with one blow of her large sword cut Fravitta creating such a clean cut that cut the helmet in half and went all the way down to his neck. As Fravitta dropped dead on the floor, Alaric suddenly jumped from beneath the haystack grabbing both Theodosius and Valdis at the legs telling them that they will be brought over to Athanaric to pay for their betrayal, however Stilicho tried to fight back only for him to get pushed away by Alaric’s Goth bodyguards. Alaric then put bags over the heads of both Theodosius and Valdis and had them loaded at the back of a wagon which was to be brought to the port of Sicily where a ship would take them to Athanaric’s palace whereas Stilicho fled the villa in fear but knew where to go which was Dalmatia knowing that with Fravitta already dead, his lands could already be retaken by the Romans. Back in Constantinople in the latter part of 398, as Valentinian II was again having his usual midnight events in the palace together with Yazdegerd, Anthemius, and Rufinus, Valentinian II happened to get the most drunk but this was done on purpose as apparently it was one of the dancers dressed in the revealing rough towel dress simply wrapped around the body that served Valentinian his wine, and once he passed out she told him she’s sorry she did that but her boss saying the name Fravitta instructed her to do it however not knowing that Fravitta had already died.

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Palace dancer in the imperial palace, art by myself

At first, the people with Valentinian at this midnight event were not aware of what happened but simply dismissed it as Valentinian getting drunk and having to be brought back to his room, though little did they know that this dancer dragged his body out of the private room for the guards who were actually Fravitta’s men to load him into a ship in the harbor. It was thus only in the next day when they discovered that Valentinian went missing, therefore leading to the whole city to panic as now not only was there no more Western emperor but there was no more Eastern emperor too, thus no emperor at all to lead the Roman Empire. As the people of Constantinople were in a great panic, Anthemius as the city’s prefect reassured them all that things will all be fine and that they will find Valentinian. On the other hand, a large number of people whether Arian or Nicene Christians had joined forces together telling Anthemius that they are agreeing to volunteer in the fight against Athanaric. By this time as well, Rufinus got word from Stilicho which he presented to Anthemius that they must all meet up in Dalmatia where Stilicho was at already, and there they would regroup and plan their full counter-attack against Athanaric in Gaul. Before leaving for Dalmatia, Anthemius with the absence of Valentinian II being the de facto leader of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire as he was the head of Constantinople permitted the Roman people very much angry with the Goths to carry out a massacre of the Gothic population of Constantinople and in other parts still under Roman rule. 

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Picts attack Roman legionnaires at Hadrian’s Wall

Now in early 399, a large number of Eastern Roman troops with Anthemius, Rufinus, the Arian and Nicene Christian volunteers, and even Yazdegerd and a total of 8,000 Sassanid troops which included infantry, cavalry lancers and archers whether on horses or camels, and infantry archers arrived in the city of Pula in Dalmatia- the same port Gratian set off from for Egypt back in 395- meeting up with Stilicho and the last remains of the Western Roman troops. As Stilicho was inspiring everyone there to all fight back against Athanaric, the two Eastern Roman leaders Anthemius and Rufinus were hesitant as they did not really trust Stilicho in commanding them and would only do so if Richomeres, the most senior general was there to lead them, however Richomeres was still in Britain and none of them got word from him. Here, it was only the Sassanid prince Yazdegerd that was willing to side with Stilicho and fight back as Yazdegerd only came into Roman territory with the purpose to kill Athanaric and his Goths.

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Roman Comitatenses legionnaire, art by myself

Stilicho thus would recall the Battle of Adrianople in 378 more than 20 years earlier which he witnessed himself when he was much younger then, and he would tell all his troops in which some of them there at the moment were even surviving veterans of that battle that they almost lost that battle to fear but since they stood united and overcame that fear, now they can apply that same principle and they could once again defeat the Goths that way. Anthemius who also remembering the events of the Battle of Adrianople which he saw for himself too would now finally agree to Stilicho in joining forces against the Goths, while Rufinus who was not present at Adrianople would agree as well since Anthemius said so, and usually he agreed to whatever Anthemius said. In the following day, everyone stationed in Pula thus began the long and treacherous march west to Gaul to finally face-off the dark lord Athanaric. Meanwhile in Gaul, Alaric in his ship had arrived in Burdigala brining Theodosius and Valdis with him, and only in the throne room of Athanaric were the bags removed form Theodosius’ and Valdis’ heads where they saw their former master Athanaric in thick fur robes with his white hair tied up in a ponytail in the throne right in front of them, and across Theodosius and Valdis from this large marble dining table were no other than Gratian still with his beard and messy hair and Valentinian II, and in front of them a large variety of food to feast on, and all over a room made of the purple stone porphyry. Athanaric then thanked his nephew Alaric for bringing Theodosius and Valdis to him and thus he sent Alaric to return to the fleet as he together with Magnus Maximus were to command it for it was already going to be launched. The reason now to why Athanaric kept both Gratian and Valentinian II in his palace was to make them seem powerless to save their empires from his invasion as they here could get all the luxury they wanted but could never leave while Theodosius and Valdis were brought here as Athanaric at this time was still thinking of ways to punish them for their betrayal. Theodosius on the other hand had thought that this was all a trap as Athanaric wanted to stuff them all for them to have the best meal of their lives before they are all killed as true enough Theodosius having been with Athanaric for many years until he defected back to Rome in 395 definitely knew Athanaric had so many tricks up his sleeves.

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Late Roman cavalryman with dragon banner

In the meantime, the united remains of the Roman army with their dragon banners have arrived in Western Gaul together with their Sassanid allies, and when seeing Athanaric’s massive fleet docked in the sea from above an elevated area, none of them believed they could take them down altogether, thus the generals of the attack being Stilicho, Anthemius, Rufinus, and Yazdegerd settled down on a strategy to divide themselves into 4 divisions whereas Stilicho’s would find a secret way to get to the ships bypassing the land army on the shore, the Sassanids under Yazdegerd which mostly consisted of cavalry was to charge straight at the land army while Anthemius and his division of Roman troops were to attack the land army at the left side and Rufinus and his division from the right. The Sassanid cavalry thus marched down the slope to the land army with the Sassanid infantry spearmen behind them as reinforcements, and when getting to the bottom of the slope they saw that the enemy land army also mostly consisting of cavalry troops of Huns, Alans, and Sarmatian cavalry warriors which the latter were mostly female.

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Mounted Sassanid archer

The Sassanids having many horse archers with them thus simultaneously shot arrows at the enemy cavalry taking down many but it was not enough as the enemy cavalry charged straight at them with such fury. This then made the Sassanid horse archers fall back allowing the Sassanid heavy armored cataphract cavalry lancers to charge at the enemy cavalry, and with their speed and strength, the horsemen with their long and heavy lances took down a large number of the enemy, especially the Alan cavalry. However, even the heavy Sassanid cavalry at the end was no match for the fury of the Hun cavalry who then routed a large number of the Sassanid forces with their speed and by taking down so many Sassanid horsemen from their horses by the use of their lassos, and as the Sassanid horsemen fell on the ground and got up, the Huns slaughtered them with their swords and axes. Seeing the Sassanids being slaughtered by the Hun, Alan, and Sarmatian cavalry, both Anthemius and Rufinus then ordered their divisions consisting of Roman Limitanei and Comitatenses troops to attack the enemy on opposite sides from behind knowing that this was the perfect time to distract them as they were focused their attention on slaying the Sassanids.

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Comitatenses Roman legionnaires in this battle

Meanwhile, Stilicho with his troops including Iberian (Georgian) and Armenian mercenary archers and the local Berbers of North Africa once under the traitor Mascezel’s command reached the shore a few kilometers south of where the battle was being fought and there, they saw a number of boats they could use to get to one of the ships. Stilicho with a few mercenary archers got onto the small boats which they used to get into one of the boats as the strategy Stilicho came up with was to capture one of the 1,000 enemy ships which he would then use to sail to the shore and pick up the rest of his army. When on these small boats, the archers were able to burn down one of the enemy ships by firing an arrow directly at an oil vase which scattered oil to the point of reaching the ship’s brazier, therefore causing this ship to burn and its mostly Goth crew to jump into the sea. Stilicho on the other hand was able to board one of the enemy ships, and once on the ship, he and his men killed off the crew and took control of the ship, which they then used to pick up their remaining men on the shore.

Now, back in Athanaric’s palace in Burdigala, Theodosius, Valdis, Valentinian II, and Gratian continued feasting with Athanaric watching them who still kept on talking about that he will succeed in destroy the Roman civilization now that he has their two emperors kept with him.

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Gratian, Western Roman emperor

Gratian being as brave and quick tempered like his father Valentinian I then told Athanaric that if he wants to destroy the Roman civilization then he has to test the strength of all 4 of them first, and Gratian with his arrogance too told Athanaric that he will be a very tough enemy to face for whatever is thrown at him. Athanaric now who already had a plan to destroy them then got off his throne and entered a door on the side of the room which led to a terrace above this room wherein Athanaric had another throne above, and the moment Athanaric got upstairs, he had his bodyguards shut all entrances to the room as that was the surprise for his 4 captives. Back in the battle, the Roman Limitanei and Comitatenses troops of both Anthemius’ and Rufinus’ divisions were able to push back the enemy Hun, Alan, and Sarmatian horsemen and take down many of them with their spears, but many Roman troops were still taken down by the Huns’ lassos and afterwards slaughtered as they fell to the ground.

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Hun cavalry warrior

The Sassanids on the other hand after losing so many cavalrymen had to fall back to where their leader Yazdegerd was, and not wanting to sacrifice their elite cavalry forces, Yazdegerd sent his infantry spearmen to take the place of the cavalry and attack the enemy horsemen, especially the savage Huns as Yazdegerd did not really mind sacrificing his weaker troops. Stilicho meanwhile had managed to capture 5 more ships as the troops under his command jumped from one ship to another and by leaping from ship to ship by surprise, the Goth and Slav troops that were on these ships were either easily slaughtered by Roman swords and spears or had jumped into the sea and drowned to death. By the use of the mercenary archers who by firing flaming arrows, they were able to destroy 10 more enemy ships further away by fire that had a difficult time reaching them.

Back in the palace, the surprise came as the main door was opened releasing 4 hungry wolves that became even more savage as there was a lot of leftover food on the table, and the worst part for the 4 captives was that they did not have weapons to take them down.

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Theodosius in full armor, art by Thehoundofulster

Valentinian II rushed to all the doors but realized none, whether the door to the stairs leading to the terrace where Athanaric was or even the main door had been sealed while Theodosius with the use of a knife injured one of the wolves by cutting its leg as the wolf had already taken him down and already about to eat him. With this wolf injured, Gratian being very athletic ran very fast jumping on the table and onto the wolf which he wrestled with and was able to kill by stabbing its head with another knife on the table. Valentinian II meanwhile took down another wolf by throwing a torch at it thus burning the wolf to the point of weakening it allowing Theodosius to kill it by using a hammer that was available in the room. Theodosius then threw the hammer at Valdis who then struck down another wolf with it and managed to kill it by hitting it in the head with it. The 4th wolf was then taken down by Gratian who smashed a large glass vase and used a large shard from it to stab the wolf in the chest. Athanaric on the terrace above feasting on grapes and wine was greatly impressed with how the 4 killed all 4 wolves without weapons, thus he ordered his guards to open the main door so that they would be given their weapons, and here Valdis got back her large two-handed sword, Theodosius his longsword known as a Spatha with a shield, while Gratian was given a large spear, and Valentinian II a Frankish axe, and following that would be another surprise for them to fight. Back in the main battle, the Roman troops of Anthemius and Rufinus had soon enough become no match for the savage Hun cavalry and thus more and more were slaughtered especially by the Huns while the weaker Sassanid spearmen were almost entirely obliterated. What was even more shocking to the Roman and Sassanid troops battling in the shore was that Gainas, one of Athanaric’s generals charged at them riding his horse while wielding a large spiked club killing a number of Roman and Sassanid troops so easily with it. Back in Athanaric’s palace, the new surprise came which were 4 savage and hungry lions, and as the door was opened to let them into the dining hall, Gratian in his usual attitude of striking first charged at one lion with his spear, however the spear only slightly stabbed the lion while Gratian was pushed aside by the lion with its massive paw. Valentinian II however wounded this lion that attacked his brother by slashing its back leg with his axe, and afterwards Valentinian who was the weakest of the 4 was the one able to kill this lion by stabbing it at the back of its neck with his axe, although it was a rather long process to kill it leading to Valentinian himself being injured as the lion scratched his chest and his arms but luckily, he had leather armor protecting him, but the armor was still scratched. The other lion meanwhile was injured by Valdis who slashed its front leg and side; however, the lion was able to stand and scratch Valdis at the back, and this scratch was a severe one as Valdis’ back was exposed as the armor she wore was only up until her upper chest, therefore exposing her back. As Valdis fell to the ground due to her injury, Theodosius was the one who managed to kill this lion by throwing his sword right at the lion’s head. With the group of 4 defeating the lions, Athanaric was once again greatly impressed that he laughed so hard, therefore he now ordered 8 of his guards which were fully armed and armored to now be the ones to attack the 4 of them to see if they are still a match to them.  

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King Athanaric of the “Gothic Empire” in full armor
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Athanaric’s navy amassed at the Bay of Biscay
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Late Roman Comitatenses soldiers in battle
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Sassanid Cataphract and archer cavalry
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Huns charge into battle
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Alan, Hun, and Sarmatian cavalrymen

Back in the sea, although Stilicho had captured a large number of ships from the Goths, he soon enough ran out of men to capture and board ships as the Gothic fleet was simply too many in number compared to Stilicho’s men. Soon enough, Stilicho encountered Alaric himself who here jumped from ship to ship that were captured by Stilicho and his men, and as he jumped from ship-to-ship Alaric mercilessly slaughtered all of Stilicho’s men with his blades or by ripping their arms and legs off by himself.

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Alaric wielding two weapons, art by Thehoundofulster

Eventually, Alaric came face-to-face with Stilicho aboard one of the ships and both battled each other with their blades. At the end, Alaric who wielding two weapons being an axe and a sword was able to overpower Stilicho by pushing him down, and following that Alaric kicked Stilicho off the ship into the sea, however Stilicho who knew how to swim well still survived. In the land battle on the other hand, Gainas riding his horse and wielding a large spiked club continued taking down many Romans and Sassanids with it until a Roman comitatenses legionnaire with his spear managed to stab the horse causing Gainas to fall. Gainas although got up on his feet and picked up his spiked club which he then used against Rufinus killing him with it as he struck the spiked club at Rufinus’ head, and the spikes of this club was true enough able to penetrate his helmet. In the palace meanwhile, 8 of Athanaric’s guards with 4 being from the Thervingi Goth tribe which he was the king of and the other 8 from the Greuthungi tribe which Valdis was from came into the hall all dressed in thick scale armor and wielding large weapons including large two-handed axes, spears, two-handed swords, spiked clubs, and large hammers ready to attack Theodosius, Valdis, Gratian, and Valentinian II. Gratian being the most energized of the 4 charged first as usual with his spear killing one of the Goths by stabbing him in the stomach, and following that Gratian grabbed this slain Goth’s axe which he threw at another Goth straight at his face killing him, however the 3rd Goth using the other end of his spear used it against Gratian by tossing him across the room with it.

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Athanaric’s Goth guardsman

Theodosius on the other hand using his Spatha longsword dueled the Goth wielding the large two-handed sword with it, and when seeing an opening in this Goth’s chest as he raised his arms with this heavy sword, Theodosius stabbed him in the chest thus killing him. Valdis here although wounded from the lion’s scratch still managed to fight with her large two-handed sword, although lacking in energy, but at the end she was able to take down one of the Goths by slashing his legs with her sword, and when he was down, she decapitated his head with her sword. Now half of Athanaric’s guards were slain, and thus the 5th one was killed by Valentinian II who struck this Goth’s arm with his small axe, and following that as this Goth was down, Valentinian struck his face down with his axe. However, the same Goth wielding a spear that took Gratian down also took Valentinian down by hitting him hard in the stomach with the bottom of his spear but just right before this Goth was about to stab Valentinian with his spear, Theodosius intervened by stabbing this Goth in the neck.

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Goth warriors with complete weapons set

Theodosius then ended up wrestling with the 7th Goth to the point that both disarmed each other of their weapons, and using the same strangling technique he used on Gildo in the sea, here he used it on this Goth killing him. The last Goth was then slain by Valdis who grabbed the other slain Goth’s large axe by slashing his legs with it, and after that she used her sword by cutting him from the collarbone down to his waist with one strong blow. Although all 8 heavily armored and armed Goths were slain, Theodosius collapsed as a result of using all his energy in wrestling one of the Goths while Valdis who was still recovering from her wound from the lion’s scratch and also using all her energy on battling the Goths also fell whereas Gratian and Valentinian II were already taken down and almost unconscious. Seeing all 4 of them down, Athanaric in the throne in the terrace above laughed believing that the time was now right to kill all 4 of them.

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Gainas with his large club on a horse

In the meantime, the Romans and their Sassanid allies seemed to be losing the battle both in the shore and in the sea, and as Stilicho jumped into the sea, the rest of his men were so easily slaughtered by Alaric and his Goth and Slav warriors. In the land battle, Gainas with his large club continued slaying both Romans and Sassanids while the Sassanid cavalry out of fear from the savage Hun cavalry retreated in panic. However, Stilicho after a time managed to get back up to one of the ships which his men still held, and when looking across the sea, he saw more ships headed their way believing it was now the end as Athanaric probably sent reinforcements. Surprisingly though, about a thousand flaming arrows came firing from these ships being shot at Athanaric’s navy. As these ships came closer, they happened to be the ships of the Saxon pirates of the North Sea that now assisted the Romans, and as they came closer a few ships with the mark of Christ the chi-rho (Px) on its sails appeared, and apparently these were Roman ships containing the troops from Britain led by the veteran general Richomeres.

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Magnus Maximus, commander of the Goth fleet and co-ruler of the Gothic Empire, art by YoungCavalier

Meanwhile, as Theodosius, Valdis, Gratian, and Valentinian II were down on the ground, they began hearing voices of people from the past and these included the voices of Valens, Valentinian I, the previous emperors Julian, Constantius II, and Constantine I the Great as well as the fallen Roman heroes of the past and in Valdis’ case she even heard the voice of Fritigern, the late Gothic king and co-ruler of Athanaric, and all these voices were telling them the same thing, which was to get back up and therefore giving all of them courage to rise up and face whatever comes at them whereas Theodosius looking at some pieces of amber he had with him all the way from the Baltic gained strength as he remembered his late mother. When all 4 of them got back up on their feet, Athanaric after laughing as usual ordered them to face the final challenge which would surely mean the end for all of them. The remains of Athanaric’s guards then opened the main door to the hall, and out came two large bears in armor which were surely very difficult to fight as not only were they almost completely covered in armor but they were hungry and would not hesitate to eat anything in their way. Gratian when seeing these bears knew that Athanaric was doing it to mock them too as Gratian’s father Valentinian I when he was emperors used bears to execute his political enemies by having them eat them, thus Gratian thought Athanaric had learned of this kind of practice done by the late Valentinian I.

Back in the sea, as hundreds of Saxon ships with a few Roman ones approached the Goth fleet, Magnus Maximus in the command ship of Athanaric’s fleet being distracted ordered the remaining ships of their fleet to switch direction and attack the incoming Roman and Saxon ships head-on. The winds though happened to come north and were thus on the side of the incoming ships, and due to the winds, the Roman and Saxon ships were able to crash into Athanaric’s ships. Hundreds of Saxon pirates then boarded the Goth ships and were the ones now to jump from ship-to-ship wiping out the Goth and Slav warriors within them. In the land meanwhile, as the army of Goths, Huns, Alans, and Sarmatians looked back and saw their ships under attack, they too panicked, and Anthemius who was here took advantage of the situation and led what was left of his Roman legionnaires to charge at the enemy cavalry while the Sassanids did the same too with Yazadegerd himself leading them from the front. In this part of the battle, a Sassanid lancer mounted on a camel managed to stab Gainas with his spear, and as the large Goth Gainas fell to the ground, Anthemius was the one to give him the death blow with his spatha sword by decapitating him with it.

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Sarmatian woman warrior on a horse

Following that, the female Sarmatian horse warriors still put up a fight but were at the end routed by the Sassanid lancers. Back in the palace, as the two large armored bears had entered the hall, Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius, and Valdis stood side-by-side with each other with their weapons drawn as if they were about to be killed by these bears, however Theodosius thought of a strategy to distract the bears, and thus he threw the leftover food still on the table being the remains of a large roast duck to the other side of the room causing one of the bears to rush that way, and as the bear went to that side of the room, Theodosius grabbed the spear of one of the slain Goth guards from the ground and threw it at that bear, however it hardly hit it as its armor was too strong. Gratian on the other hand came up with a strategy to injure the bear by lighting his spearhead on fire, and so he ripped a part of his clothes and wrapped it around his spear’s tip which he thus set on fire by placing it over a torch in the room, and using his flaming spear he charged straight at one of the bears and did in fact hurt it by stabbing it in the mouth with it.

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Armored bear, art by Corbax Studio

However, the bear was ever more savage when injured that it charged at Gratian pushing him to the other side of the room, but before this bear was about to eat Gratian, Valdis and Valentinian II came to his aid by stabbing this bear’s exposed stomach from underneath whereas Valdis used her large sword and Valentinian II using a spear he picked up from another of the slain Goth guards. This bear thus fell to the ground, and as it was down Gratian stabbed it right at its mouth with his spear killing it. However, the other bear was still left standing which Theodosius ended up wrestling with it himself to the point that Theodosius was badly injured as the bear scratched him several times and even bit his lower leg, though Gratian came to the rescue and was the one now to wrestle this bear. Now back in the main battle, the Romans and Sassanids had now been emerging victorious in the land battle as with Gainas slain, a large number of the enemy troops on the ground fled in a panic, including the fearsome Hun horsemen. In the sea, Alaric still continued slaughtering the Romans and now Saxons until he encountered both Richomeres and Stilicho who now reunited in one of the ships, and together both generals agreed to take down Alaric together.

In the palace again, seeing no way to take down the second bear with their pure strength, Valdis as well as Valentinian II were the ones here to come up with a plan to burn the hall using the hanging oil lamps above them, and thus this could allow the sealed doors to break, and from there they can all head upstairs. Valentinian II then threw his axe at one hanging oil lamp while Gratian threw one of the spears at the other, and thus both lamps fell creating an explosion of fire in the ground which therefore stalled the bear from moving. Theodosius then ordered them all to head to the side of the room, and eventually the fire spread to that door going beneath it and thus burning off the wooden bar that sealed it.

Meanwhile, in the sea, both Richomeres and Stilicho battled Alaric themselves yet they were still no match for Alaric wielding two weapons who had so much energy. Alaric thus managed to strike Richomeres down to the floor, however Richomeres crawled to reach a bow of one of the fallen Roman archers in the ship’s deck, and when grabbing it and an arrow, he fired the arrow which then hit Alaric straight at the eye. Although being shot in the eye, Alaric savagely swung both weapons but this time without control as he was injured, and using this to his advantage, Stilicho threw his longsword straight at Alaric thus stabbing him.

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Flavius Stilicho, half-Vandal half-Roman general, art by Thehoundofulster

Following this, Stilicho ordered Richomeres to jump to the next ship where they will fire a flaming bolt at the ship Alaric was on. As they jumped to the next ship, it fortunately had a siege weapon being a ballista, and before firing it, Stilicho set the bolt that it was to shoot on fire, and thus Richomeres when operating it shot the bolt straight at the ship Alaric was on, and within minutes the ship burned killing Alaric in the process too. Over in the palace again, as the door opened up due to the flame, Valdis, Gratian, and Valentinian II rushed into the door and to the stairs going up to the terrace while Theodosius who was still in the hall saw Athanaric above attempting to flee as his hall was burning. Theodosius here using Gratian’s spear threw it at Athanaric and was thus successful hitting Athanaric in the hand with it. Athanaric then fell to the ground injured and ordered the last of his guards to attack the 4 but as the guards came in, Valdis and Valentinian II killed all of them in a frenzy. Eventually, all 4 of them reached Athanaric, and as Athanaric was down on the ground injured, he told the 4 of them what he really aimed to do and why he wanted to conquer the Roman Empire. Apparently, the barbarian Athanaric had a true purpose which was that he was tired of the world being so divided among different people being Romans, Goths, other Germanic barbarians, Scythians, Celts, Sassanid Persians, Huns, and a lot more, and thus he wanted to break this whole reality and create a new one where all races live under one empire with no more borders. Gratian however replied to Athanaric that this can never happen as no one no matter how powerful can rule an empire this big with so many races, and this was true in this case as the Romans once thought they could do it but at the end it was the massive size of their empire that made it so difficult for them to survive. Theodosius and Valdis too proved Athanaric wrong and both here said that they will never serve a mad barbarian ruler like him anymore, and as the room continued burning below, Theodosius, Valdis, Gratian, and Valentinian II all grabbed Athanaric and pushed him off the terrace into the burning hall. The bear meanwhile was still standing below, and as Athanaric fell into the burning hall, the bear devoured the 68-year-old Athanaric to death, but a few minutes later the bear was killed as well by the flames. Soon enough, the whole palace would burn, thus the group of 4 rushed with such speed out of the palace eventually coming out in the river that flowed through the city of Burdigala.

In the meantime, the land battle at the shore was already over whereas the Hun, Alan, Sarmatian, and Goth cavalry either surrendered to the Romans or Sassanids or had escaped, but in the sea the battle was still raging and it had already been over 24 hours since the battle began, however the small Saxon ships now surrounded the capital ship where Magnus Maximus was. Eventually, Gratian, Valentinian II, Theodosius, and Valdis after taking a boat up the river into the sea, they found some horses and managed to make it right in time to the shore to meet up with the Roman and Sassanid troops that had won. Yazdegerd thus noticed Valentinian and was happy that he was after all alive while Gratian here now reuniting with his fellow Romans then ordered a group of soldiers to go out to the sea and send word to their fellow troops fighting there that Athanaric is dead. After more hours of fighting with the capital ship of Magnus still being surrounded, this group delivering the message approached both Stilicho and Richomeres informing them of Athanaric’s death. Seeing Magnus in the ship in front of them, Stilicho shouted at him telling him to surrender as Athanaric was dead.

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Saxon ship

Magnus here not knowing how to react ordered his ship to break the Saxon ships surrounding him but it was too late as the Saxons boarded his ship and took him away, and as ordered by Stilicho, they pushed Magnus into the sea, and with Magnus in full armor here, he drowned to death. The battle was at last over with Athanaric and his Gothic Empire over in just 4 years after it was formed. The surviving men of Athanaric all surrendered as they were leaderless as not only was Athanaric dead but all his subordinate leaders too. With the battle over, everyone who survived including Stilicho, Richomeres, Anthemius, Yazdegerd, Valentinian II, Gratian, Valdis, and Theodosius returned to the shore where the land battle was fought, and thus they celebrated their victory there.

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Goths charge into battle
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Roman legionnaires battle Goths
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Roman and Goth navies clash at the “Battle for the Fate of the World”, art by Giuseppe Rava

The Aftermath and Conclusion      

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With this epic battle in the coast of Gaul over and Athanaric now dead, the Gothic Empire that Athanaric put all his life into making just crumbled in the blink of an eye as not only did Athanaric die without an heir as he true enough had no children throughout his life, while his immediate successor which was his nephew Alaric was killed in this battle too and so were his other subordinate leaders of his empire being Magnus Maximus, Gainas, and Fravitta. All of Athanaric’s men that survived the battle but lost whether Goths, Franks, Vandals, other Germanic people, Slavs, Alans, Sarmatians, or Huns were either forced to surrender to the Romans and be settled into the Roman Empire as allied troops or Foederati or if not, they were to be all executed or sent back to their lands, and here it was both Gratian and his younger half-brother Valentinian II that issued this order on the defeated troops. Gratian now returned to ruling the empire’s western half from Milan which he had repaired as it was badly damaged and depopulated when it was under Athanaric’s rule through the savage Alaric who based himself there, and in Milan Gratian now age 40 reunited with his wife the empress Laeta once again. Valentinian II meanwhile returned to Constantinople together with both Theodosius and Valdis while Rome which Alaric badly damaged 4 years earlier was to be restored. In the meantime, due to Athanaric’s death, his massive Gothic empire that almost covered all of Europe from all the way up north in the Baltic Sea down south to the Black Sea and Danube River and from Germania all the way east to the Dnieper River simply disintegrated from one central state to becoming once again lands under different scattered tribal leaders like it was not too long ago. The Western half of the Roman Empire which was for the past 4 years temporarily under Athanaric- except for Britain and the provinces of North Africa- had returned to having its same borders as usual, except that the only part that had to be given up was the entire island of Britain, as due to the Saxons assisting the Romans against Athanaric, Gratian agreed to give up the entire island to them as the Romans now believed Britain had become too difficult to manage due to its distance and the lack of soldiers to further protect it. The Eastern half of the Roman Empire meanwhile kept its same old borders as throughout this whole time, nothing really changed in its geography except that its population increased when many fled the western provinces escaping Athanaric’s rule, but with Athanaric dead, the refugees who fled to the eastern provinces returned home. Later in 399, a large number of people came to Constantinople and this included Gratian and his wife Laeta, Theodosius and Valdis, Anthemius, Richomeres, Stilicho, and Yazdegerd, and the occasion was a grand wedding for the now 28-year-old Valentinian II to a fictitious Sassanid princess who was a younger sister of Yazdegerd and of the ruling Sassanid shah Bahram IV, and this was to now show that both Roman and Sassanid Empires have become full allies.

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Theodosius in Roman imperial armor, art by myself

Following this grand wedding, Valentinian II announced that the 52-year-old Theodosius would be given a full pardon for all his crimes against Rome in the past as he proved himself in his actions by finding Gratian, taking down the evil Athanaric, and fully returning his loyalty to Rome, and thus Theodosius was given the rank he so wanted which was that of “Magister Militum” and he was to be the Magister Militum of the entire Western Roman army under Gratian, while Theodosius’ Gothic wife Valdis for willing to betray her own Gothic people and serving the Romans too was given Roman citizenship by both Valentinian II and Gratian, and even more given the special privilege of a patrician status especially since she bravely protected both Valentinian II and Gratian when Athanaric was going to execute them in his palace. Richomeres now had retired from military service due to his old age and serving in so many wars for over 30 years while Theodosius took his place as the Magister Militum in the west and in the east, Stilicho was made the new Magister Militum whereas Anthemius still kept his position as Prefect of Constantinople. It also happened in 399 too that Yazdegerd after doing his part in assisting the Romans defeat the ultimate threat of Athanaric returned home to the Sassanid Empire as apparently it was also in 399 when his older brother the shah Bahram IV died- just like in real history too- and since his brother died without children, Yazdegerd was crowned as the new Sassanid shah. The Romans of both eastern and western halves of the empire would thus live at peace even more so now that the Nicene and Arian Christians had mostly put aside their differences, and since both co-rulers Gratian and Valentinian II were still quite young, they would have many years ahead of them to rule and create a succession plan, and thus for the Romans they would have more less the happy ending they would deserve, but what would happen next would be a totally different story.

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Silver dish depicting the new Sassanid shah Yazdegerd I, since 399
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Map of the Eastern (red) and Western (green) Roman Empires without Britain after 399 in this story

And now this is all for this story and for the entire trilogy of Byzantine Alternate History chapter I! At first, I really thought chapter I itself would be its own standalone story, but since it ended with such a cliffhanger and since I was so engaged with the story and fascinated with the Late Roman era as well, I decided to follow-up the story with its own sequel story which was therefore the first Byzantine alternate history spin-off I made. However, the follow-up to chapter I was not yet enough as it was a kind of story that had to be expanded more, and thus I thought of making an entire trilogy out of chapter I of Byzantine Alternate History. However, there would no longer be any follow-up for this story, as I completely envisioned this to only be 3 parts like most stories do, therefore there had to be a complete happy ever after ending to this one. Overall, this story was actually a fun one to create and write especially when it came to more about exploring parts of the Roman Empire including Egypt, Britain and North Africa which were not part of chapter I and its first follow-up story. On the other hand, since this story was more and more getting fictional due to events being altered ever since history was altered with a Roman victory over the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople I n 378, things here were so heavily based on fantasy, but whatever the fantasy here, it is just something only limited to this story as of course all these events here with battles like this and people travelling all over the Roman Empire in one go and all the “plot armor” it included is something that I would even think is pure historical fantasy. Therefore, this story was all based on hypothesis and no longer on any historical sources, so for those who are not familiar with this time in history, I would just like to let you know that almost entirely none of these events in this story happened in real history. Of course, these fan fiction stories were all based on my imaginations and how history would be different if certain events in history were altered, but of course others may think differently of how history would be different if certain events had a different outcome. However, for giving me inspiration to write stories like this which greatly change the course of history and add a lot of fantasy to it, I would have to thank other history related channels like Dovahhatty, Kings and Generals, and so much more for giving me great visuals in order to reimagine history, while I would also like to thank the artists whose works were included in this story which thus further visualized this time in history. Anyway, this is all for this epic finale story of the trilogy of the 4th century Byzantine story and at the same time the end of my journey in writing fan fiction stories since I believe there is not much left to write about in terms of fan fiction stories, but spending a year and a half writing them from the 12 chapter Byzantine Alternate History series and its following spin-offs was overall a fascinating but at time tiring and frustrating journey, though at the end it was still very much deserving. Now, this is Powee Celdran the Byzantine Time Traveler… Thank you for your time!                                          

“House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic”- Special Edition Article on my Latest Lego Film plus Interviews with Other Creators on Further Popularizing Byzantine History

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT!! WATCH THE FILM FIRST BEFORE READING THIS!!!

This is Byzantine storytelling at its finest, reconstructed with attention to detail that allows us to follow the historical narrative while imagining a different fate for the Byzantine Empire with the alteration of a single event.” -Dr. Niki Dados on House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic

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Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! This time, I have prepared a special edition article on my most recent highly ambitious special Byzantine project, the Lego Byzantine epic film House Komnenos which was released on my Youtube channel No Budget Films last May 11, and please don’t forget to like, comment, and subscribe to my channel!

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Logo of Youtube channel No Budget Films

This film was another grand project of mine which took several months in the making from the conceptualizing, to the putting together of the Lego characters and sets, to the filming, and lastly to the editing. If you all remember from way back last year, I made a 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, and like I said, one of the 12 chapters was set to be made into a Lego film, and at the end the chapter that was selected was chapter IX which takes place in the 12th century. Now chapter IX was the one selected out of all the 12 chapters as for me I found it the most interesting yet practical to make a Lego film of it in terms of plot as it wouldn’t be too ambitious by having so many epic battle scenes that I would not have been able to do or too slow with more dialogue than action. Now this article will start off discussing a bit about the film’s plot, what was historical and what was not, the characters with their backgrounds, then the creation process from the writing to the filming to the editing, and then lastly about the reception of the film and what I intended to do when making it. Once the part about my film in general is done, the article will move on to the interviews with another set of 4 different Byzantine history content creators whose main topic of interest is not really about Byzantium but happen to somehow post things about Byzantium too. The questions that would be asked from them would be about what they think about Byzantine history and if they can also market it to more people who are unfamiliar with it, especially younger people (primarily kids) as a way to overall stay consistent with the theme of this article which is about a Byzantine Lego film with a purpose to further market Byzantine history as something entertaining to younger audiences. On the other hand, before you read the rest of this article, it’s best you all watch my film, it will be found just right below!

Watch House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic here!

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This latest grand project of mine being the Lego film House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic is an action, political, and family drama film using Lego characters and sets which takes place in the Byzantine Empire during the turbulent late 12th century. At the same time, it is also a work of alternate history being based on an alternate history story (Byzantine Alternate History Chapter IX) which begins with events that took place in real history but becomes fictional as the film progress.

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Coat of Arms of Byzantium under the Komnenos Dynasty

The film’s plot focuses on Byzantium after the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) in 1180 wherein the stable Byzantine Empire is plunged into a state of chaos and uncertainty due to his son and heir Alexios II’s young age which forces him to be ruled under the regency of his mother Empress Maria of Antioch who is unpopular with the people for her Western Latin origins as the local Byzantine Greek people do not trust the Catholic Western Europeans. The unpopularity and incompetence of the empress lead the people to back someone who would champion their Greek identity and anti-Western sentiments, and this is Manuel’s cousin and long-time enemy Andronikos Komnenos who although is seen by the people as their champion deep inside has the intention to finish off Manuel’s bloodline being Empress Maria and her son Alexios and to carry out a revenge quest against his cousin Manuel’s memory as Andronikos had been mistreated by Manuel in the past. Andronikos may sure have everything he needs to gain ultimate power, but at the end only a twist of fate could save young Alexios II before his uncle Andronikos finishes him off for good. This film is set between the years 1180 and 1187 with flashbacks depicting earlier years too. At the same time, the film covers not only events surrounding Byzantium and the ruling Komnenos Dynasty but on their interactions too with other powers mainly the Crusaders, Hungary, Serbia, Venice, and the Normans as the 12th century was definitely a time the Byzantines were in constant interactions with the powers around them. As a Lego film, some elements of fun were added to the film as well together with a wide variety of epic music, Byzantine era Easter eggs, pop culture references, and a large voice cast bringing the characters of 12th century Byzantium to life, and to make it seem more authentic the film never even used the word “Byzantine” the entire time except for its title as the word was never even used then, instead the word “Roman” is used as that was what the Byzantines really called themselves. In the meantime, this project was a united international collaboration project and in fact my first one for a Lego film. Truly, the film was a success now that it has over a thousand views considering that it was just released weeks ago, however there is a lot more to explain about the film, and this is exactly the purpose of this article.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Marketing Byzantine History Part II

A Review and Reaction to Basil: Basileus graphic novel

A Review and Reaction to Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

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The Legacy of the Byzantine Empire with Interviews

Before moving on to the main part of the article itself, here is one review I want to include for this article as a testimonial to the film House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic from historian and blogger Dr. Niki Dados (follow her on Instagram @novi.precari)

The intrigues of the Byzantine court come to life in this epic Lego film as the tragic fate of Alexios II Komnenos, the young son of the emperor Manuel I Komnenos, is creatively reimagined in a brilliant alternative history twist. This is Byzantine storytelling at its finest, reconstructed with attention to detail that allows us to follow the historical narrative while imagining a different fate for the Byzantine Empire with the alteration of a single event. Thank you, Byzantine Time Traveller and the cast and crew of “House Komnenos”, for this very enjoyable film. Highly recommend it!”

-Dr. Niki Dados

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House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic movie poster with the voice cast

House Komnenos Storyline, Characters, and Historical Accuracy         

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The film itself opens with its protagonist, the young emperor Alexios II Komnenos narrating the story of his empire, the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire during the 12th century under the reigns of his great-grandfather Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), grandfather John II Komnenos (1118-1143), and father Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180) wherein these 3 emperors brought the Byzantine Empire out of troubled times and into a new golden age of power and prosperity known as the “Komnenian Restoration”.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1143-1180), art by Diogos_Tales

The narration of Alexios II however stresses that this golden age did not last long as his father Manuel’s arrogance and pride which was seen with his policy in bullying neighboring powers to submit to him or be crushed led to his downfall which was made evident when the powerful Byzantine army was defeated at the Battle of Myriokephalon to the Seljuk Sultanate in 1176 which caused Manuel such great depression leading to his death just 4 years later (1180). The main part of the film then begins in 1180 at Manuel I’s funeral at the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople where his wife the empress Maria of Antioch is deeply worried about the future of the empire especially since her son with Manuel being Alexios II is only 11 therefore having no experience in running an empire while Maria herself too barely has any ruling experience, thus the empire’s golden days died with Manuel. Following Manuel’s funeral, two of the empire’s most powerful generals being Manuel’s nephew Andronikos Kontostephanos who is the Megas Domestikos (Grand General) and Manuel’s first cousin Andronikos Angelos debate with each other about the empire now under the administration of the empress and her young son as they walk along Constantinople’s main street, the Mese. Both generals agree that the rule of the incompetent empress and her son will only make things worse especially since the empress is not well liked by the people as she is not only a Western Latin but a Norman, a historical enemy of the Byzantines. In the meantime, just shortly after Manuel had died instability has already been brewing in the empire now that there is talk of Manuel’s long-time enemy and cousin Andronikos Komnenos staging a coup to return to Constantinople and that a random Bulgarian warlord by the name of Asen keeps shouting as he walks through Constantinople’s streets about wanting to make his lands in Bulgaria independent from Byzantine rule.

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Seljuks ambush the Byzantines at the Battle of Myriokephalon, 1176

The generals here simply ignore Asen and think he is a lunatic and thus Kontostephanos reminds Angelos of the event 4 years ago that almost killed both of them and Manuel, which was the Battle of Myriokephalon. The film then shifts back in time 4 years earlier to the catastrophic battle at Myriokephalon Pass in Asia Minor where Manuel who was still alive made it his intention to fully recapture Asia Minor from the Seljuk Turks by besieging the Seljuk capital Iconium in Southwest Asia Minor, however the Seljuk sultan Kilij Arslan II sued for peace but Manuel did not comply with it as his generals wanted him to continue. However, Manuel and his forces including allied forces from the Crusader Principality of Antioch, the Kingdom of Hungary, and Grand Principality of Serbia are ambushed at the pass and nearly wiped out to the last man but at least Manuel, Kontostephanos, and Angelos narrowly escape the battle alive.

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The Battle of Myriokephalon (1176) as seen in the Lego film
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Map of the Byzantine Empire (pink) at Manuel I’s death in 1180

The film then cuts back to the main timeline now in the year 1182 showing that the empress Maria of Antioch can barely keep her act together as she is constantly arguing with her stepdaughter Maria Komnene- daughter of Manuel I from his first marriage with Bertha of Sulzbach (d. 1159)- over the rule of young Alexios II.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos and his wife Empress Maria of Antioch

Maria Komnene here feels betrayed with the birth of her stepbrother Alexios II and plainly blames her stepmother as she gave birth to him as after all the daughter Maria was supposed to succeed her father as empress with her supposed husband-to-be the King of Hungary Bela III as emperor, however the engagement between Maria Komnene and Bela III was broken off when Bela III became King of Hungary in 1172 as prior to that Bela was educated in Constantinople and betrothed to Manuel’s daughter thus he was set to inherit both Byzantium and Hungary but following his brother’s Stephen III’s death in 1172, Bela had to return to Hungary but would still remain a Byzantine ally while Maria later married the small-time Italian noble Renier de Montferrat in 1179. Following this, the film cuts to the generals Andronikos Kontostephanos and Andronikos Angelos now coming face-to-face with the dangerous man they are sent to stop, Manuel’s first cousin and enemy Andronikos Komnenos who they face off with at a field in Asia Minor not too far from Constantinople. Andronikos Komnenos then challenges the generals to single combat with the use of just their bare hands and despite being over 60-years-old Andronikos beats the two generals easily and therefore convinces both generals to defect to him and his cause. When word of the generals defecting to Andronikos reaches Constantinople, Maria Komnene and the empress Maria of Antioch again argue over it to the point that the empress does the petty thing of attempting to drown her stepdaughter as she is taking a bath only for the young emperor Alexios II to intervene and stop the fight.

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Andronikos Komnenos and the aftermath of the 1182 Massacre of the Latins, as seen in the Lego film

Andronikos Komnenos then arrives in Constantinople now backed by Kontostephanos and Angelos and majority of the people who open the gates for him, and as Andronikos gives his speech the people are ever more thrilled that they celebrate so greatly that the celebrating leads them to storm into Constantinople’s Latin Quarter where they carry out the infamous 1182 Massacre of the Latins as a way to get back at the empress they so hated but also to celebrate the arrival of their savior which is Andronikos. Following the massacre, Andronikos is in fact shocked that the people spilled out so much blood killing their Latin (mostly Italian) brothers but he doesn’t condemn it as this act shows that the Byzantines are proud and will no longer give in to the demands of Western foreigners. In the meantime, a celebration is being held at Constantinople’s imperial Blachernae Palace with the empress, Maria Komnene, Alexios II and his new wife the young French princess Agnes, and Maria Komnene’s husband Renier in attendance, but little do they know that Andronikos had already bribed the kitchen staff to poison some of the drinks. Andronikos then storms in to the palace together with Kontostephanos and Angelos and as Maria of Antioch tries to fight back it is too late as both Renier and Maria Komnene drank the poisoned drinks and drop dead. As the young couple Alexios II and Agnes of France flee the scene, Andronikos arrests the empress Maria and locks her up in prison.

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Empress Maria of Antioch in her bath with Maria Komnene (left) as seen in the Lego film
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Andronikos Komnenos hailed by the crowd, as seen in the Lego film

        

The film then cuts to a flashback 30 years earlier in the 1150s where both Manuel and Andronikos are much younger, and here Manuel as the emperor frames Andronikos for treason and sentences him to prison for life but Andronikos claims that he had no intention to overthrow Manuel and only said something about it as a joke. Andronikos is however sentenced to lifetime imprisonment and this is when he begins his lifelong grudge against Manuel, although Andronikos is seen to have escaped prison when a guard was not looking. After this, the scene shifts back to the main timeline in the 1180s where it is the empress Maria of Antioch who is now in prison while Andronikos comes in revealing to her that her son Alexios II signed her death sentence to her disbelief. True enough Andronikos was able to drug Alexios II in order to make him sign his mother’s death sentence to make it look legitimate, and although Maria tried to fight back, she is strangled to death by one of Andronikos’ henchmen by the use of a chain, after which Andronikos orders the henchman to dump Maria’s body in a nearby beach but to not get rid of young Alexios yet.

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The young emperor Alexios II beneath the shadow of his uncle Andronikos, art by Ediacar

Following that, the scene moves to 1183 and here the people are gathered at the main square of Constantinople known as the Augustaion where they cheer as the young Alexios II above a platform announces to them that he is proclaiming his uncle Andronikos as his co-emperor, but obviously Andronikos is threatening him to do so by pointing a knife to his back. Below, the generals Kontostephanos and Angelos are among the crowd, and although they are still supporting Andronikos, here they both have second thoughts about it as they too know that Andronikos got Alexios II to have his mother executed therefore making him more dangerous. When Andronikos comes to meet them, both generals still pretend to show they are still completely loyal but Andronikos warns them that if they simply question him, they will be considered traitors. The two generals then again walk down Constantinople’s market area where they discuss their feelings towards Andronikos’ danger where Kontostephanos still feels that he needs to support Andronikos but Angelos feels enough is enough, therefore Angelos decides to flee Constantinople by boat together with his sons to one of the Crusader states of Outremer.

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Street life in Byzantine Constantinople

As both generals reach the harbor of Constantinople, they say goodbye as Angelos now plans to leave for the Levant with his 5 sons, although Angelos tells Kontostephanos that he will leave behind his youngest son Isaac as he is the most able out of his 6 sons in the way that the other 5 are plainly good for nothing. Angelos plans to leave his youngest son behind in order to take his place in serving the empire, and thus Kontostephanos is tasked with assisting Isaac. As Angelos gets into a boat, back in the palace Alexios II who is reading something begins thinking about his mother and executing her saying it was not his idea and that he was only drugged to do it. As Alexios is in deep thought, Andronikos interrupts him saying that Alexios will be with his mother again, and suddenly the same henchman Stephanos that strangled Empress Maria to death earlier that year does the same to Alexios strangling him again with a chain until suddenly events turn as the henchman Stephanos is cut down from behind and killed by Angelos’ youngest son Isaac while Kontostephanos with his troops rush in to the room now having fully turned against Andronikos and putting him under arrest.

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Alexios II Komnenos, son and successor of Manuel I

This here is where history is altered just like how it was in chapter IX of Byzantine Alternate History, as in real history Alexios II was killed by being fully strangled to death while Andronikos fully seized the throne and married Alexios II’s very young wife Agnes of France. In the film, as Andronikos is put under arrest, he still fights back as even his two remaining henchmen had turned against him but at the end he is defeated when another soldier serving Kontostephanos catches and restrains him with his spear. As Andronikos is being restrained, he tries to justify himself saying that he is only doing what he is doing for the good of the empire and for it to be a strong one again with no foreign women or young boys running it, but Kontostephanos doesn’t spare him knowing that Andronikos only aims to plunge the empire into a dark totalitarian reign only to have revenge on Manuel. Andronikos however is not killed, instead Isaac Angelos gives him the most humiliating punishment of cutting off his hair and blinding him to disfigure his good-looking face. With Andronikos now disfigured, Alexios II who is spared reunites with his wife Agnes as well as with Kontostephanos and Isaac wherein Isaac swears he will train Alexios to be a stronger man.   

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Andronikos Komnenos with generals Angelos and Kontostephanos at a Constantinople market scene, as seen in the Lego film
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Alexios II strangled under Andronikos’ orders, as seen in the Lego film

 

The film then proceeds to a montage scene accompanied by a monologue narrated by Isaac Angelos who here is now in charge of training the young Alexios II in the ways of war. As Isaac is narrating this scene, Andronikos who has now been blinded and his hair cut off is paraded at Constantinople’s streets in humiliation as the people who just supported him in his rise to power have now turned against him by throwing things at him and shouting insults at his face.

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Isaac Angelos, youngest of Andronikos Angelos’ 6 sons

Isaac too explains that even though Andronikos will be sent into exile and has no more means to return to power, the Massacre of the Latins instigated by his arrival the previous year has sent shockwaves across Europe reaching the Norman kingdom of Sicily and Southern Italy where their king has decided to declare war on the Byzantines by sending an army to invade Greece while the King of Hungary Bela III and Grand Prince of Serbia Stefan Nemanja who were Byzantine allies too have withdrawn their support for the empire when hearing of Andronikos’ take-over despite Andronikos having already been banished. With the empire now about to slip into chaos, Isaac trains Alexios II how to fight with a sword while the scene too shows Alexios literally growing from a boy to a man. As Isaac’s monologue ends, it is already 1185 and the Byzantine army together with the now grown-up Alexios II, Isaac, and Kontostephanos have set up camp in Thrace in order to strike back against the Norman invasion while the Norman army from Italy meanwhile had already breached in to Thessaloniki, the empire’s second city and had been carrying out such a brutal massacre of the population and a looting of the city’s treasures to exact revenge on the Byzantine people’s Massacre of the Latins back in 1182, however the Norman soldiers had turned out to not loot the city’s valuable items but instead just stole construction materials such as nails, screws, and tools. The film then cuts to the army camp where Alexios II is introduced to Alexios Branas, another general who is highly skilled and fierce in battle but shady as it is unclear who his loyalty is with. Branas reports about the Normans’ attack on Thessaloniki and that one division of the Normans is headed directly for Constantinople while Alexios asks him his suggested strategy but Branas mocks him still thinking of the emperor as a little boy until Isaac interrupts and says they should stop arguing as the Norman threat is growing larger. However, before the emperor and his generals come up with a strategy to beat the Normans, the same old Bulgarian warlord Asen who was last seen 5 years ago at the early part of the film returns and this time to the imperial tent asking the emperor to give the Bulgarians their independence in exchange for Asen providing some of his men to battle the Normans. Asen’s request though is not granted as before the emperor could decide, Isaac bullies him out of the tent by threatening to make Asen into a eunuch as Isaac was never really asking for any assistance anyway and he together with Kontostephanos still see Asen as an annoying thorn on their side. As Asen leaves, Kontostephanos develops the strategy wherein he would stay with the emperor and protect their camp, Isaac would launch an attack on Thessaloniki to recapture it, and Branas would lead the main army to locate the Norman forces in Thrace.         

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Byzantine Thessaloniki, attacked by the Normans in 1185
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Norman army of 1185 in Lego
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Byzantine army camp scene as seen in the Lego film with Alexios Branas, Kontostephanos, Alexios II, and Isaac Angelos

Following the camp scene, the film shifts to the Normans led by their general Count Baldwin now pillaging their way through Thrace right when Alexios Branas and his army locate them from above a hill. Branas then orders his men to charge at the Normans in order to catch them by surprise and true enough this tactic is successful but simultaneously over in the mountain city of Tarnovo in Bulgaria, Asen who was at first seen as a joke has now assembled his own warriors consisting of Bulgarians, Vlachs, Slavs, Cumans, and Pechenegs no longer intending to assist the Byzantines in battle but to declare Bulgaria independent from the empire.

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Byzantine soldier (left) battles a Norman soldier (right) at the Battle of Demetritzes in 1185, hand drawn and colored, art by myself

As Asen elaborates on how the Byzantines mistreated him and keeps bringing up the issue of the Byzantines harshly taxing the Bulgarians only for them to not do anything in return to the Bulgarians, the Normans and Byzantines begin clashing with each other in a bloody battle at the field of Demetritzes in Thrace. Asen on the other hand continues fueling the rage of his people on how they are treated by the Byzantines like second class citizens and barbarians while also spreading propaganda about how God abandoned the Byzantines as Thessaloniki had fallen to the Normans to the point that Bulgaria has already declared independence behind the emperor’s back. Back in the field of Demetritzes, the Byzantine have gained the upper hand now surrounding the disorganized Norman troops while Branas himself defeats Count Baldwin in battle and decapitates Baldwin himself using his sword. Although the Byzantines have won a decisive victory over the Normans and thus putting an end to the 1185 Norman invasion, the victorious Branas makes his disloyalty to the emperor evident saying that he will raise his army in rebellion against the emperor after crushing the Bulgarian uprising that he just got word of. Back in Constantinople’s imperial palace, Alexios II gets word from Kontostephanos that Branas after defeating the Normans did not deal with the Bulgarian uprising but instead declared his intention to overthrow Alexios and take the throne, while Kontostephanos too brings Count Baldwin’s severed head which Branas sent as a message to threaten the emperor. Alexios II however here says that he has learned from all his past experiences believing he failed in everything and blames his mother’s death on his weakness and thus here he says he together with Isaac have come up with a plan to eliminate all the threats- namely Asen’s rebellion in Bulgaria, Branas’ own rebellion, and Andronikos who despite being blind and in exile is still continuing to threaten Alexios in thought- at the same time in a more discreet and systematic way all while Alexios is to settle peace with the Republic of Venice, a long-time enemy of the empire since his father’s reign.  

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Byzantines and Normans clash at the Battle of Demetritzes, as seen in the Lego film
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Asen’s 1185 Bulgarian Uprising at Tarnovo as seen in the Lego film

         

The film then cuts to a flashback taking place sometime in the 1170s where Alexios again as a young boy is with his father Manuel I who was still alive and here during this point of his reign, he declares the Republic of Venice as an enemy for making money trading in Byzantine waters and not giving much back to the empire. Manuel then tells his young son to never trust the Venetians and thus makes Alexios see his men burning down a Venetian ship to fully show that Venice is the enemy.

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Pope Urban III

The film then returns to the main timeline and now in 1187, Alexios II now grown-up does not follow his father’s advice here and decides to reconcile with Venice again, thus it shows here that Alexios II invited the Doge of Venice Orio Mastropiero and the pope Urban III himself to Constantinople to mediate peace where the reconciliation ceremony would take place in the Hagia Sophia. Meanwhile, as Alexios planned this event he was to be present in, he had already planned the systematic elimination of his enemies in different parts of the empire thus Isaac who is now Alexios’ right-hand-man was sent to Asen’s stronghold of Tarnovo in Bulgaria, Kontostephanos to Andronikos’ place of exile in the East Black Sea region, and a task force of the loyalist troops from the capital including the Varangian Guard force led by Conrad de Montferrat to defend the city’s walls from the rebel army of Branas which was reported to attack while the ceremony was to take place.

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Orio Mastropiero, Doge of the Republic of Venice (r. 1178-1192)

As Pope Urban III successfully convinces Alexios II to return to Venice their trading rights in Byzantine waters and to make all Venetians Roman citizens and for Doge Mastropiero to give 50% of Venice’s earnings trading in Byzantine waters back to the empire, each of the empire’s enemies fall one by one. Andronikos who although old, blind, and weak is assassinated by Kontostephanos in one strike being cut in the throat, in Bulgaria Isaac when pretending to negotiate with Asen cuts Asen down with his sword while Isaac’s aide too throws a spear directly hitting Asen’s brother and ruling partner Theodor, and outside Constantinople Conrad knocks Branas out of his horse and decapitates Branas which then makes the rebel army surrender seeing Branas’ head on display. Back in the Hagia Sophia, both Alexios II and Doge Mastropiero fully make peace with each other and even bow to each other showing that Byzantium and Venice are again at peace, otherwise both rulers would face the threat of excommunication if either one broke any of the peace terms while back in the Black Sea area Kontostephanos after killing Andronikos burns the house down to make it look like nothing had happened, after which Kontostephanos completely disappears hinting that he possibly retired. Some weeks later, it appears that all of Byzantium’s problems have been solved, although through bloodshed whereas Alexios II and Isaac play football with Branas’ severed head. Alexios’ wife the empress Agnes of France enters the room seeing Branas’ head on the floor and also knows of all the enemies having been eliminated, however she doesn’t seem happy about her husband getting rid of them all by bloody means. Before Alexios could clarify all his doings to his wife, he asks her to leave as he names Isaac as his successor in case Alexios dies. The film then ends with Isaac leaving the room and with a shot of Alexios sitting on his throne with his desk in front of him and the Komnenos imperial dynasty’s flag behind.

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Flag of the Republic of Venice
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Byzantine loyalist forces defeat the rebel army of Alexios Branas outside Constantinople (1187) as seen in the Lego film
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Pope Urban III and Patriarch Niketas II conclude peace between Alexios II and Doge Orio Mastropiero of Venice in the Hagia Sophia, as seen in the Lego film

Characters

Alexios II Komnenos- He is the main protagonist of the film who is only 11 when the film begins in 1180. He is first a young boy without any experience who suddenly comes to power due to his father’s death. Despite being a purple-born ruler (Porphyrogennetos), his lack of experience and general weakness leads to his mother’s execution and he almost getting killed if not for Isaac Angelos and his loyalists saving his life. His near-death experience shapes him to be a strong yet ruthless ruler at such a young age and by the time the film finishes in 1187, he is already 18 and proves to be someone that cannot be messed around with otherwise they would end up as dead meat. In real history, the young ruler Alexios II at only 14 was killed off in 1183 by Andronikos Komnenos who then took over the throne, but since this film was a work of alternate history, Alexios survived and lived on to be the effective emperor himself. His character is voiced by Mario Puyat (follow him on Instagram @mariopuyatrewreplays) who usually plays roles similar to this in No Budget Films media being young men destined to rule which included Andronikos Palaiologos in No Budget Films’ Lego film War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic (2020). For Alexios II’s character, Mario likens him to the protagonist of Dune Paul Atreides.

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Emperor Alexios II Komnenos of Byzantium in Lego

Andronikos Komnenos- As the main antagonist of the film, Andronikos (born 1118) is portrayed as handsome despite already in his 60s yet deceptive as other than being the estranged cousin of the late emperor Manuel I, he was known to be a conman with a very complex life as back in the 1150s he was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for plotting against his cousin the emperor Manuel, however using some tricks Andronikos escaped prison but developed a lifelong grudge against Manuel for unjustly putting him in prison.

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Andronikos I Komnenos in real history

The escaped Andronikos found himself in the Rus Principality of Halych (in Ukraine) but was discovered by Manuel sometime later and brought back to Byzantium in 1165 as Halych was allied with the Byzantines, thus Andronikos was fully pardoned. Andronikos however refused to recognize Bela III of Hungary who was Manuel’s heir then as the imperial heir, and thus Andronikos was banished from the empire and in this point in time, he traveled across the courts of the Middle East such as the Crusader states of Antioch and Jerusalem, the court of the Sultan of Syria Nur ad-din Zengi, and the Kingdom of Georgia. Andronikos however kept fleeing from place to place after causing trouble by seducing princesses from each place. By the time Manuel died in 1180, Andronikos was allowed back into the empire again and when hearing of instability in the imperial family as the unpopular empress Maria of Antioch was now in charge, he seized the opportunity and entered the capital backed by the people.

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Andronikos Komnenos, cousin of Manuel I, art by Skamandros

The film faithfully portrays Andronikos as he was depicted in history as a charming and cunning man who would use his charm and intellect to get everything his way, however since the film was a work of alternate history, Andronikos fell from power before he killed Alexios II and became emperor. In the film, Andronikos’ plot is discovered and right when Alexios II is about to be strangled to death, Andronikos is arrested and blinded with his hair cut off as well to humiliate him as his hair was what he was really defined by, and afterwards he was sent to exile somewhere in the East Black Sea area – although not specified in the film- where at the end of the film he is killed off under Alexios II’s orders. In real history, Andronikos’ plot succeeded and he ruled as emperor for the next 2 years until the people that previously supported him in 1182 turned against him in 1185 and tortured him to death. In the film he is voiced by Andre Martin (follow him on Instagram @travelsaroundmyhome) who imitated the voice of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars to give the character a more villainous vibe, as true enough Andronikos is something like a 12th century Emperor Palpatine. To learn more about Andronikos Komnenos, please check out this video here.

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Andronikos Komnenos in Lego

Maria of Antioch- The empress-regent and mother of the young emperor Alexios II Komnenos who was the wife of the late emperor Manuel I as well. Manuel I after the death of his first wife Bertha of Sulzbach married Maria of Antioch (born 1145)- the daughter of the former prince of Antioch Raymond de Poitiers (r. 1136-1149) and Constance of Antioch- in 1161 after searching for the perfect new wife, and Maria was someone to his liking as she was described as a tall and blonde beauty, like a true Norman.

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Crusader Principality of Antioch coat of arms

Although they married, the couple did not produce a child until 1169 which was their son the future emperor Alexios II. With Manuel I’s death in 1180 Maria took over as regent for her son, but she lacked knowledge in running an empire while she was hated by her people mainly because of her foreign blood being a Western Latin, and more particularly a Norman which were historical enemies of the Byzantines. The unpopularity and incompetence of Maria led to the people to choose to instead back Andronikos Komnenos as their champion, and just like in real history, this film shows Maria being imprisoned and later executed by Andronikos’ orders in which the death sentence was signed by her son Alexios II who was drugged by Andronikos in order to do it. The film almost entirely follows what exactly happened to Maria in real history after Manuel’s death in 1180 except for the fact that she became a nun despite having many suitors after her husband’s death, which was omitted from the film to simplify it. Like in real history, the film shows Maria executed in prison, however history does not say in what means was she executed by except that in real history she was killed by the commander of the imperial guard and a eunuch while in prison unlike in the film where she is killed by Andronikos’ top henchman Stephanos who killed Alexios II in real history. It is also said that Maria was not strangled to death but instead put inside a sack and drowned, though in the film she was strangled to death in prison. Her character is voiced by Gen Maramba (follow her on Instagram @genmaramba) who usually voices characters like these being tragic female characters in other No Budget Films media.

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Empress Maria of Antioch in Lego

Andronikos Kontostephanos- As the nephew of Manuel I- the son of his older sister Anna Komnene and a powerful general- Andronikos Kontostephanos (born 1132) had been serving in the Byzantine army since a young age and had an impressive track record as a soldier, admiral, politician, and at one point even the commander of the emperor’s Varangian Guard which was at this time made up of mostly Anglo-Saxon exiles from distant England.

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Byzantines battle Hungarians at the Battle of Sirmium, 1167

Kontostephanos first came in to the picture as a young soldier in 1149 where he helped expel the Norman invasion of Greece then, and in 1167 he made a name for himself as the victorious general of Manuel’s campaigns against Hungary where Kontostephanos defeated the Hungarian army and their Serbian allies at the Battle of Sirmium which then led to the Byzantines annexing some lands in today’s Serbia and Bosnia and making the Kingdom of Hungary itself a vassal. Kontostephanos although later took part in the failed Byzantine-Crusader joint operation to invade Fatimid Egypt in 1169 which failed due to mistrust between the Byzantines and the Crusader King of Jerusalem Amalric, but in 1171 Kontostephanos again led the Byzantines to victory, this time against Venice. Being Manuel’s top general or Megas Domestikos, he joined Manuel at the disastrous Battle of Myriokephalon against the Seljuks in 1176 and although the Byzantines were defeated, he escaped the battle alive. When the film opens in 1180, Kontostephanos as the top general defects to Andronikos Komnenos to save his position only to later learn he would be deceived and thus he turns against Andronikos before it is too late. In real history, Kontostephanos did defect to Andronikos but at the end would plot against Andronikos following Alexios II’s murder believing he was deceived by Andronikos, however his plot failed and Kontostephanos and his sons were blinded by Andronikos and never to be heard from again. In the film however, the veteran war hero general Kontostephanos turns against Andronikos right when Alexios II is about to be killed, thus Kontostephanos would continue to loyally serve the new emperor Alexios II. In the film he is voiced by the film’s co-producer Carlos Francisco (follow him on Instagram @thecarlosfrancisco) who portrays Kontostephanos as a seasoned yet foul-mouthed general who had seen so much in his lifetime, thus affecting his personality and outlook on life.

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Megas Domestikos Andronikos Kontostephanos in Lego

Andronikos Doukas Angelos- In the film, the storyline of the general Andronikos Angelos (born 1122) who was a first cousin of the late emperor Manuel I Komnenos was portrayed very much accurately as to how history describes him. Angelos in the film is seen as the older general as compared to his closest friend and nephew Kontostephanos who is 10 years younger. Angelos is seen as a high-ranking general not really because of his military feats but because he is a member of the imperial family being the late emperor’s first cousin, and therefore is not very much competent as a general but is more so a politician.

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Seljuks ambush the Byzantines at the pass of Myriokephalon in Asia Minor, 1176

The film shows him fight beside Manuel at the disastrous Battle of Myriokephalon in 1176 and surviving it like he did in real history, however the film does not show his other failed attack on the Seljuks in 1179. Just like in real history, Angelos in the film defects to Andronikos following Manuel I’s death in 1180 but in the film, he realizes before Kontostephanos does that Andronikos has fooled them into making them submit to him or be destroyed, thus Angelos leaves the scene midway through the film by escaping Constantinople with his 5 sons to the Crusader states of Outremer where he is to retire. In real history though unlike in the film, it wasn’t as simple as Angelos and Kontostephanos defecting to Andronikos after losing one fight to Andronikos, rather in reality the forces of Angelos lost to Andronikos’ rebel army in a minor battle and following that Angelos and later Kontostephanos defected to Andronikos’ side. In real history too, Angelos flees the empire when Andronikos had already taken over the empire in order to not be executed or blinded by Andronikos and in real history too, all 6 sons including the youngest one Isaac fled with him to Outremer. Angelos died in Acre which was part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem sometime in 1185, but in the film, he is never mentioned again after he fled which hints that he could have also died in 1185. His character is voiced by Igi Rollan (follow him on Instagram @igianime15).

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Andronikos Doukas Angelos in Lego

Isaac Angelos- The 6th and youngest son of the general Andronikos Angelos, and thus a second cousin of the emperor Alexios II.

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Coat of Arms of the Angelos family

In real history, Isaac Angelos (born 1156) only becomes prominent in 1185 when the people switch support to him against the emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, thus finishing off the Komnenos Dynasty and establishing the Angelos Dynasty. In the film however, Isaac’s story is told completely different from his story in reality, as rather than becoming emperor, in the film Isaac ends up becoming his second cousin the emperor Alexios II’s most trusted advisor and mentor who trains Alexios in fighting skills. At the end, it seems that Alexios II and Isaac have worked very well together in running the empire especially since Isaac loyally served Alexios in carrying out his dirty work, thus Isaac at the end is named as Alexios’ successor. In the film, Isaac is the character I voiced, and I chose to portray him with a modern-day sounding voice to make it appear that Isaac is more or less someone modern day people can relate to.

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Isaac Angelos in Lego

Manuel I Komnenos- The late and great Byzantine emperor (r. 1143-1180) who is already dead during the main timeline of the film, thus he only appears in 3 flashback scenes first being the disastrous Battle of Myriokephalon in 1176, then a scene in the 1150s where he sentences his cousin Andronikos to a lifetime imprisonment, and lastly in the 1170s where he reminds his young son Alexios that the Venetians are the enemy. Additionally, Manuel appears in the opening montage narrated by Alexios II as the main focus of it showing that he was proud and arrogant as emperor but his ultimate defeat to the Seljuks at Myriokephalon was his downfall and led him to a deep depression wherein he died just 4 years later at the age of 62. The Battle of Myriokephalon scene was the one that put the most emphasis to Manuel’s character in the film, however for the film this scene was made to look simpler compared to how it was in real history as in reality there were more generals assisting Manuel in this battle and not only Kontostephanos and Angelos. His character is voiced by Angelo Lacson (follow him on Instagram @angelolacson_).

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos of Byzantium in Lego

Maria Komnene- Being the daughter of Emperor Manuel I with his first wife Bertha of Sulzbach, Maria (born 1152) too was a purple-born imperial princess (Porphyrogenita) the same way her younger half-brother Alexios was.

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Bela III, King of Hungary (r. 1172-1196)

Because of being born first, Maria sees herself as the true heir to the empire and not her young half-brother as after all she was already set to inherit the empire due to being betrothed to Bela III of Hungary, however the marriage never happened as Bela came to rule Hungary in 1172 and Manuel by 1169 already had a son being Alexios, thus Maria ended up marrying the smalltime Italian noble Renier de Montferrat in 1179. In the film, Maria is constantly bitter about her stepmother Maria of Antioch and more so bitter about the existence of her half-brother Alexios II and thus she is seen always arguing with her stepmother to the point that Maria of Antioch almost killed her by drowning her in the bath only for young Alexios to intervene and stop the argument. In real history though, the rivalry between Maria Komnene and her stepmother Maria of Antioch was so much more intense that Maria Komnene had her own faction that violently fought the empress’ supporters while in real history Maria Komnene was the one who even invited the old foe, being Andronikos Komnenos to Constantinople to spite the empress, however all of this was omitted from the film to further simplify it as true enough it was already confusing to have two Marias in the film! Like in real history, Maria as well as her husband Renier meet their ends being poisoned by Andronikos, however in real history it is not said where the couple died but, in the film, both Maria Komnene and Renier die at a function in the palace where both immediately drop dead after drinking a glass of poisoned wine. In the film, Maria Komnene is voiced by Jen Tarnate (follow her on Instagram @jentarnate) which is her first ever voicing role for No Budget Films media, here she portrays Maria as bitter and sarcastic with a very modern voice.

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Maria Komnene Porphyrogenita in Lego

Asen- The Bulgarian warlord who history remembers as one of the founders of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire better known also as Ivan Asen I, who makes quite an appearance in the film. Although Asen’s story is much more complicated considering that his family’s origins are still quite unclear and so is his age, in the film he is shown as a rather annoying side character at first when he first appears in Constantinople’s streets in 1180 asking for Bulgarian independence but is not minded and again asks for the same thing in 1185 from the emperor Alexios II himself but is not taken seriously and turned down.

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Ivan Asen I of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire

Asen however is later shown to actually mean what he is saying when he raises an army in Tarnovo and declares Bulgaria independent from the empire by giving out such a charismatic speech that gives him so much support from the Bulgarian, Vlach, Slav, Cuman, and Pecheneg population of Byzantine Bulgaria who are tired of oppressive Byzantine taxes and want to rule a state of their own. In the film, Asen together with his rebellion is crushed in 1187 when Isaac Angelos assassinates him when pretending to negotiate with him, however in real history Asen together with his brothers really did lead a rebellion against Byzantine rule beginning 1185 which at the end succeeded as the Byzantines failed to crush it. In real history, Isaac Angelos is the Byzantine emperor when Asen’s rebellion expands and thus the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was born while Asen in real history was ironically assassinated too, not by the Byzantines but by a disgruntled Bulgarian boyar (aristocrat) in 1196. In the film, the Bulgarian warlord Asen is voiced by Jon Cabrera (follow him on Instagram @hangkeljon).

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Asen of Bulgaria in Lego

Alexios Branas- A seasoned Byzantine general who although may be skilled in battle while very aggressive towards his enemies too, he clearly lacks loyalty as his true intention really is to seize the throne for himself. In real history, Branas was known to be one of the only generals that remained loyal to Andronikos I Komnenos when Andronikos was emperor (1183-1185) and when Isaac Angelos became emperor from 1185 onwards, Branas did not really trust the new emperor who he saw as weak which led him to rebel after his decisive victory over the Normans in 1185 at the Battle of Demetritzes, though in real history Branas met his end in 1187 being beheaded when losing in a duel to Isaac’s lieutenant Conrad de Montferrat. In the case of the film, with Andronikos never becoming emperor, Branas’ purpose is to continue where Andronikos left off and do what Andronikos failed to do in ruling the empire which turned out to be his reason to put a claim on the throne, as true enough Branas was a strongman type of general who disliked “weak” rulers like Alexios II or Isaac Angelos. In the film, Branas is depicted as tough yet shady and untrustworthy which makes him take the place of Andronikos Komnenos as the main villain in the second half of the film. A lot of his story too is accurately depicted in the film such as him leading the Byzantine army to victory against the Normans in 1185 as well as his death in 1187 where he is killed off by loyalist troops outside Constantinople’s walls by Conrad de Montferrat as well who decapitated him. In real history, the severed head of Branas was kicked by Isaac Angelos like a football while in this case Isaac and Alexios II play football with his head at the end of the film. In the film, Branas is voiced by Manskee Nascimento (follow him on Instagram @manskeemusicmotoringmunchies) which is his first ever voicing role for No Budget Films media, here he portrays Branas with a sinister sounding voice making Branas one of the few characters in the film to have an old-fashioned accent as the rest of the characters sound very much modern.

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Alexios Branas in Lego

Agnes of France- The daughter of King Louis VII of France (r. 1137-1180) who marries the young imperial heir Alexios, son of Manuel I Komnenos in 1180 shortly before the deaths of Manuel I and her father in which the latter died in the same year too.

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Agnes of France (left) and Maria Komnene (right), art by Ediacar

Being only 9-years-old when arriving in Constantinople when marrying the 11-year-old Alexios in 1180, Agnes hardly knows anything about the world and not a single word in the Greek language the Byzantines spoke. With Manuel dead in 1180, Agnes already becomes the empress with her 11-year-old husband Alexios already the Byzantine emperor, although due to her young age Agnes does not do any duties required of her yet. In the film, Agnes first appears at the imperial function where Maria Komnene suddenly drops dead in 1182 where Agnes and Alexios flee the scene as Andronikos takes over the palace. The only time in the film Agnes speaks is after Alexios’ near-death experience in 1183 where she asks if he’s alright and at the ending scene of the movie where she wonders if her husband was behind all the recent murders. Agnes also appears in the scene at the Hagia Sophia attending the ceremony where Alexios makes peace with Venice, although she is only in the background without any speaking lines. In real history though, following Alexios II’s murder in 1183 she marries the usurper Andronikos who was already 65 while she was only 12 just as a way to secure Andronikos’ legitimacy since as part of Byzantine customs, he had to marry the wife of the former emperor to be the legitimate emperor. Agnes in real history remains to be Andronikos’ wife despite there being no chemistry or attraction between them due to the very large age gap, and following Andronikos’ fall in real history in 1185, Agnes survives and lives all the way up to some point in 1220. The Lego character of Agnes meanwhile appears to have hair with blue and red highlights which definitely did not exist in Byzantine times but was added just for a touch of fun. Her character is voiced by Justinianus Byzantinus (follow her on Instagram @justinianusthegreat) who is a Byzantine history enthusiast and it is her first time ever to voice for No Budget Films media, though she also happens to be the co-writer of the film.

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Agnes of France in Lego

Count Baldwin- The Norman general from Southern Italy who leads the 1185 Norman invasion of Byzantine Greece including the brutal Sack of Thessaloniki. Baldwin is present at the Battle of Demetritzes in Thrace where he leads the Normans against the Byzantine army that attacked them by surprise but at the end, he is defeated in a duel by Alexios Branas and decapitated with his head sent to the emperor Alexios II as a threat message from Branas. In real history though, Baldwin was only taken as a prisoner of war when the Byzantines defeated the Normans at Demetritzes and therefore not executed. He is voiced by Francis Ventura (follow him on Instagram @cisven).

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Count Baldwin, Norman general in Lego

Orio Mastropiero- During the events of the film, he is the Doge (leader) of the Republic of Venice which is at odds with Byzantium until Alexios II manages to reconcile with them by inviting Orio himself to Constantinople where peace is mediated between them by the pope Urban III.

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Seal of the Republic of Venice

Orio Mastropiero was Doge of Venice from 1178 until his death in 1192, and although history doesn’t say what his age was, in the film he appears to be old but not too old, while on the other hand his reign as Doge of Venice was very much unremarkable as he himself was not a very competent or strong-willed ruler unlike his successor Enrico Dandolo- who as an old and blind man had a lifelong desire to destroy the Byzantines- which definitely shows that Orio was willing to make peace with Byzantium in the film. In reality, Byzantium and Venice following the conflict between them that began with Manuel I declaring war on Venice in 1171 was never resolved and it only culminated in disaster in 1204 when the army of the 4th Crusade brought by Venice now under Doge Enrico Dandolo sacked and captured Constantinople. Thus, the appearance of Venice and their reconciliation with Byzantium in the film was done as a way to prevent the tragic 4th Crusade of 1204 from happening. Doge Orio Mastropiero is voiced by Emanuele Rizzardi (follow him on Instagram @ultimopaleologoemanuelerizz), author of 3 Byzantine era historical novels and someone I interviewed in my blogs before, while for the film he happens to be a guest voicer, though the only thing he says in the entire movie is “I do” in Italian when agreeing to the peace terms with Byzantium which the pope asks of him to comply with.

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Doge Orio Mastropiero of Venice in Lego

Pope Urban III- Just like the Doge of Venice Orio Mastropiero, Pope Urban III who was pope from 1185 up to his death later in 1187 makes an appearance in the film only at the scene where the Byzantine emperor and Doge of Venice reconcile at the Hagia Sophia wherein Urban III mediates the peace by asking both the emperor and doge to comply with certain terms otherwise face the threat of immediate excommunication if any of them break any of the terms just once. In the film only, Urban III makes the bold move of going to Constantinople being the first pope to set foot in Constantinople since the early 8th century, though in real history none of these events happened and Venice and Byzantium never made peace. The year Urban III comes to Constantinople in the film is 1187 which happens to also be the same year Urban III died from shock after hearing that the Crusaders were defeated by the new power of Saladin at the Battle of Hattin and that Jerusalem had also fallen to Saladin, though this does not appear in the film as Urban III died in October of that year while the film ended possibly in around July before both Hattin and the Fall of Jerusalem happened. His character is voiced by artist Achilies Khan (follow him on Instagram @alexander_the_great_325) who also happens to be a guest voicer in the film, and when playing the pope, he was also one of the only few characters to speak with an old-fashioned accent that he in fact even blended in some Italian and Latin words into his dialogue which he in fact requested to do.         

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Pope Urban III in Lego

At the same time, the film featured a couple more characters with their own voice actors such as the Italian knights in the service of Isaac Angelos which is Conrad de Montferrat who in the film was the one who restrained Andronikos in 1183 as Isaac cut his hair off and blinded him, fought with Branas against the Normans in 1185, and decapitated Branas in 1187. After his service to Byzantium, Conrad becomes the king of the exiled Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1190 until his death in 1192, but this no longer appears in the film, and in the film, he is voiced by artist Daniel de Cervantes (follow him on Instagram @amdanielito) in which this is his first ever voicing role for No Budget Films media. Another historical character who appears in the film is Isaac Angelos’ maternal uncle Theodore Kastamonites who in real history becomes Isaac’s top advisor in his time as emperor, though in the film it is never said that he is Theodore Kastamonites but instead viewers would only know him as a merchant in Constantinople’s market selling gems from India and later he is seen joining Isaac as his aide in Bulgaria to kill off Asen where Theodore was the one who threw a spear which struck and killed Asen’s brother Theodor; in the film Theodore Kastamonites is voiced by Twitch streamer Miguel Abarentos who also voiced the Varangian Guard in the flashback scene guarding Andronikos’ cell. In the market scene where Theodore is present, there are two other merchants with extra speaking lines; one selling silks who also appears in the earlier market scene voiced as well by Igi Rollan and the other merchant who appears in the second market scene selling spices who is voiced by Felipe Chuidian (follow him on Instagram @felipechui10). On the other hand, the other character I voiced was Andronikos’ main henchman Stephanos who strangled the empress to death and later tried strangling Alexios II to death but was killed by Isaac Angelos, and the only line he has is spoken as he is about to kill Alexios II. The other extra voice over lines in the film are the mob chants in Greek which were voiced by myself, Igi, Carlos, as well as Geno Roy (follow him on Instagram @roy_geno) during the scenes where the people cheer for Andronikos; the Italian screams shouted by the victims of the 1182 Massacre of the Latins which were voiced by myself, Mario, and Fabiana Mariosdottir (follow her on Instagram @aspassoperleuropa); and lastly the Bulgarian mob chants of Asen’s warriors during the scene where Asen proclaims Bulgarian independence which were voiced by myself, Carlos, and Igi. The Greek lines used for the mob chants included “Nika” meaning “conquer” as a reference to the famous and bloody 6th century Nika Riot of Constantinople, and the other one being a Greek phrase meaning “long live emperor Andronikos”, while the Italian screams were simply shouts crying out for help, and in Bulgarian the phrase was simply “long live Bulgaria”.

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Andronikos Komnenos and his henchmen in Lego
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Asen and his Bulgarian warriors in Lego

          

Additionally, a number of other historical figures appeared as Lego figures in the film, but had no speaking lines. These included Maria Komnene’s husband Renier de Montferrat who died seconds before she did when drinking poisoned wine at the function in the imperial palace, the King of Hungary Bela III and Grand Prince of Serbia Stefan Nemanja who appear at the montage scene being narrated by Isaac Angelos at the middle of the film who happen to be the famous cameos in the film, and Asen’s brother Theodor-Peter Asen who is killed off by Theodore Kastamonites at the climax scene. In real history, both Bela III and Stefan Nemanja cut ties with Byzantium after Manuel I’s death but returned their support for Byzantium by the time Isaac II Angelos was emperor (1185-1195), while Theodor-Peter Asen ruled Bulgaria alongside his brother Asen and was the sole ruler of the new Bulgaria from Asen’s death in 1196 to his own death in 1197. Another historical character too that made an appearance in the film but with no speaking lines was the Patriarch of Constantinople Niketas II who was patriarch in 1187, and in the film, he appears only in the scene at the Hagia Sophia where he joins Pope Urban III in mediating peace between Alexios II and Doge Orio Mastropiero of Venice but does not speak a single word. Originally, in the script, Niketas II was to say exactly every line the pope was saying but in Greek, but since this would make the film longer in running time, his lines were cut out when the script was put into action.

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Patriarch Niketas II of Constantinople in Lego
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Left to right: Stefan Nemanja of Serbia, Isaac Angelos, Bela III of Hungary in Lego

House Komnenos Filmmaking Process          

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Back in July of 2021, I published the 9th chapter of my Byzantine Alternate history series (read it here) which took place in the 12th century. Each of the 12 centuries in Byzantine history (4th-15 centuries) got their own chapter in the series with each having a twist to events in history in order to create a different outcome. Chapter IX of the series was thus the chapter for the 12th century story of the Byzantine Empire and the story’s purpose was to alter the events of the turbulent end of the 12th century in order to prevent the devastating 4th Crusade of 1204 that captured and sacked Constantinople. In order to prevent that tragedy from happening, in chapter IX the legitimate emperor Alexios II Komnenos survives an attempt on his life by the usurper Andronikos Komnenos, and thus he continued to rule the empire for a much longer time.

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Andronikos I Komnenos, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 1183-1185), art by Ediacar

In real history, this was not the case as Alexios II was really killed off in 1183 and thus his uncle Andronikos seized the throne and turned the empire into a paranoid totalitarian state until his own downfall 2 years later (1185) when the people turned on him and lynched him to death while Isaac Angelos took over as emperor but was not entirely competent. In real history, the once stable Byzantine Empire further unraveled in the reign of Isaac II Angelos (1185-1195) as the Normans attempted to invade but were at least expelled, the Bulgarians broke free from the empire, and the Crusader state of Jerusalem fell to the new Islamic power of Saladin which led to the 3rd Crusade being launched that was not successful as well and Byzantium’s image was further stained especially with how they distrusted the armies of the 3rd Crusade. The reign of Isaac II further destabilized the empire with so many military rebellions left and right and the Bulgarian rebellion growing stronger, however right when Isaac was to put down the Bulgarian rebellion of the Asen brothers in 1195, he failed to do so as his own older brother Alexios being backed by the aristocrats betrayed and blinded him and as the new emperor, Alexios III cancelled Isaac’s expedition to crush the Bulgarian rebellion.

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Isaac II Angelos, Byzantine emperor in real history (r. 1185-1195), art by myself

In the meantime, tensions between Byzantium and Venice were still at an all-time high and with Isaac II overthrown and imprisoned, his son Alexios was broken out of prison and later found himself in Venice where the 4th Crusade was launched, and although it was aimed to finish off what the 3rd Crusade failed to do which was to recapture Jerusalem, the intervention of Isaac’s son Alexios and his arrival in Venice led to the 4th Crusade being diverted to instead attack Constantinople. Long story short, at the end both Isaac II and his son Alexios died and Constantinople had fallen to the 4th Crusade’s army only to be recovered by the Byzantines 57 years later (1261). Now as part of my plan, one out of the 12 chapters of the series was to be made into a Lego film for my channel No Budget Films, and at the end this chapter was chapter IX. The reason to why it was chapter IX out of all the chapters that became a Lego film was because this one seemed the most practical to be made as a Lego film as the story seemed straightforward and battle scenes were especially not too ambitious while the climax of this chapter being the alternate take on history where Alexios II survives and continues ruling and thus the catastrophic turn of events at the end of the pretty much stable 12th century do not happen seemed to be the most perfect to be made into a Lego film. Since the climax part of chapter IX had a perfect amount of balance between epic battles, suspense, drama, and politics, these reasons too made it the best choice for the story that would be made into a Lego film as the rest of the chapters as well would either be too ambitious in battle scenes or had too much still moments and talking.

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Seal of the Western Roman Empire, fell in 476

Of course, chapter IX was not the only chapter in the series taken into consideration to be made into a Lego film, the other one was chapter II which took place in the 5th century and its alternate twist in history was to prevent the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. However, when torn between turning the 5th or 12th century into a Lego film, I asked some people I knew which would be a better story, and at the end everyone said the 12th century was better; and this was when Carlos Francisco agreed to co-produce the film. I too thought the same as for one the 12th century was very much closer to the timeline of my other Lego Byzantine films which featured events in the 13th century that came after including the tragic 4th Crusade of 1204, the Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople in 1261 which was the setting of my other film Summer of 1261 (2019), and the War of the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 that involved Byzantium in it which was the setting of my other film War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020). Since my previous films were set in the 13th century with a few others in the 10th century being The Rise of Phokas (2019) and its follow-up short clip Killing a Byzantine Emperor (2019), I thought it would be best to cover a period between the two eras my previous films were set in, therefore the 12th century would be the best as a film in that period would serve as a prequel to my 13th century set films. Although since this new film was to be based on one of my alternate history stories, it turned out it wouldn’t be related to any previous No Budget Films movies of the past and therefore it had to be standalone movie, as the ones I made before that were set in the 13th century really followed events of real history without changing the outcome of things, and since the film would be based on an alternate history story with a different outcome as to what happened in history, the film would end up becoming a standalone piece.

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Coat of Arms of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 13th-15th centuries

Additionally, I also thought the 12th century would be the best time period to make a Lego film out of because in the past, the imperial dynasty of the Byzantine Empire that I kept on covering was the Palaiologos Dynasty which was the main focus of my 13th century films and an entire 9-part audio-epic series I also made for my channel last year covering the entire story of this dynasty ending with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, however I wanted to experiment by trying something new, therefore I chose the 12th century in order to cover a different imperial dynasty being the Komnenos which came before the Palaiologos. Now once I decided on doing chapter IX and the 12th century as the subject matter for my new film, I wrote the script for it from November to December of 2021 and basically based the script on the climax part of chapter IX, while in January of this year 2022 I further revised the script before filming began later that month.

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Niketas Choniates, Byzantine historian (1155-1217), recreation of the original manuscript depicting Choniates, art by myself

Basically, the script was almost entirely based on that particular alternate history chapter but since it was based on real historical events, the historian that served as a major primary source for the creation of the film’s script was Niketas Choniates (1155-1217) who basically wrote down almost all the events of 12th century Byzantium, although the scene of the Normans’ attack on Thessaloniki was based on the writings of the Bishop of Thessaloniki then Eustathios (1115-1195) who witnessed this particular event himself. Additionally, when I was putting together ideas before crafting the script, I had asked my fellow Byzantine history enthusiast friend Justinianus Byzantinus for ideas on particularly what locations in Constantinople should be used for the film and what activities should characters be doing, thus for doing her part in this she was credited in the film as a co-writer aside from being the voicer for Agnes of France. At the same time too, the story for this film “House Komnenos” was made to be as realistic as possible compared to the past No Budget Films movies, so therefore the story did not include fantasy elements like ghosts of past characters and characters entering parallel dimensions, thus the only fantasy element in the film’s story was the pope going himself to Constantinople to negotiate peace between Byzantium and Venice which was something that was very unlikely to happen especially in the 12th century.

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Constantinople in the Byzantine era
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Map of the Byzantine Empire (purple) and all its dependencies (light purple) during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos (1143-1180), promotional for the film

           

As for the process of filming, before I even began, I assembled all the Lego characters and sets which took some time as I had to decide too on which Lego figures would fit best for their respective characters. Now basically, I haven’t done an actual Lego film with filming Lego characters and stop-motion sequences in 2 years, ever since filming “War of the Sicilian Vespers” in 2020 which was a very ambitious film in the process. However, the filming for this film “House Komnenos” had turned out to not be as ambitious as the process for filming the Sicilian Vespers film, however since I haven’t filmed a large-scale Lego film like this in 2 years, it turned out to be quite a difficult task to film this one, as true enough for the whole of 2021 I did not make any Lego film that required many sets and stop-motion sequences as for the entire year all I did for my channel were narrated audio-epics that only used images as visuals, thus it felt odd returning to filming large scale Lego films with different set designs and stop-motion again. As for the Lego sets that I used, I basically recycled character parts and sets from my previous films except tweaked them a bit, and as to make them look as if they came from the 12th century, I printed out Byzantine flags with the Komnenos imperial symbol- a yellow flag with an outline of a black eagle- together with print-outs of my own Byzantine themed art from the past months which were used as Easter eggs for the film. For the images that were to be used as images on display in the background, I carefully chose them, thus I made sure they depicted images of past Byzantine emperors before the 12th century and not those that came after like the Palaiologos emperors or more so things from beyond the Byzantine Empire’s time.

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Cross-section of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia, interior and exterior

For some scenes that required more intricate backgrounds that could not be made using Lego pieces, namely the Hagia Sophia’s interiors I used a large printed out image of it to serve as the background for the scene, to particularly indicate it is set inside the Hagia Sophia, while cotton with red paint substituted as blood for when it was needed and strips of blue paper for water. As for the Lego characters and sets used, since Lego does not produce anything Byzantine, I simply went for using character parts that belong to medieval Lego characters such as pieces from the Lego Lord of the Rings sets for certain characters like Manuel I Komnenos, Andronikos Kontostephanos, and Andronikos Angelos as the Lego medieval sets including the LOTR sets are the closest Lego has to Byzantine sets. The rest of the pieces used for characters were simply recycled from the pieces used for characters from previous films such as the body and hair piece used for Empress Maria of Antioch which had already been used in past No Budget Films Byzantine media and the outfit of Manuel I which had already been used as the outfit of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) before in the “Summer of 1261” and “War of the Sicilian Vespers” films whereas the signature hair piece of Andronikos Komnenos was already used in the past as the hair piece of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969) in previous No Budget Films media.

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Isaac II Angelos, in the appearance as described by Choniates

As for the Lego character of Alexios II he was simply made to look like a young person as true enough he was only in his teens when he was emperor while for Isaac Angelos, his appearance was made to resemble what the historian of his time Niketas Choniates describes him to look like by having reddish-brown hair, however the appearance of Isaac in the film got a bit of criticism mostly because the outfit he had in the film being something gray looked too drab for Byzantine clothes which were more lavish than that especially for people of high status like him, although the outfit Isaac was wearing in film happened to be a piece of hunting attire. The Lego figure of the general Alexios Branas on the other hand turns out to wear the armor piece of Din Djarin, the Mandalorian from Star Wars which was put in as a Star Wars Easter egg while for the Lego character of Maria Komnene, she appears to have the black and green outfit of the character Hella from Marvel’s Thor as again it looked quite similar to something in the Byzantine era but not quite because again there are no Lego Byzantine figures; however the second outfit Maria Komnene wears at the banquet scene where she drops dead from the poison being a gold backless dress is not at all accurate but was just for style purposes. The character of Agnes of France on the other hand was made to look young and edgy with highlighted hair despite it having not existed in Byzantine times, though the outfit she wears is the Lego piece used for medieval women from medieval sets consisting of a white shift shirt and a leather vest, whereas Asen on the other hand was made to look like a generic Lego medieval warrior and his Bulgarian warriors basically used Lego pieces used for generic ancient/ medieval warriors. The only Lego characters in the film with a custom appearance was Pope Urban III who had a custom-made paper cut-out papal miter while the Patriarch Niketas II was made to wear all black like what the Orthodox clergymen wear.

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Byzantine soldier, 12th century

The pieces for the Byzantine soldiers in the film meanwhile were simply Lego medieval soldiers in black armor which were the ones used for the Varangian Guard troops while the Lego medieval soldiers with scale armor and the Lego figures with the bodies of the Ancient Greek soldiers’ body armor were used for the rest of the Byzantine army, however the famous Byzantine Cataphract cavalry unit never made an appearance in the film, while for the Norman soldiers all of them were the Lego medieval soldiers in blue uniforms. Basically, since there are no Lego sets that exactly depict the Byzantines, as a way to make the film more authentic in appearance, again the printed-out flags were used to make it seem like it is set in the 12th century Byzantine Empire while other flags seen in the film were those of the Principality of Antioch, Kingdom of Hungary, Principality of Serbia, Republic of Venice, and the Norman Kingdom of Italy.

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Behind-the-scenes filming for “House Komnenos”

As for the filming process meanwhile, this was the first ever No Budget Films movie to be filmed using the Nikon Z6 digital camera, and a lot of different types of lights too were used depending on the scenes, while the filming process took place from January to February of 2022. Since the film had so many locations which were supposedly locations within Constantinople or places around the empire at that time, the filming process was long and scenes too were not filmed every day. Overall, the movie was filmed over a course of 13 full days in total and it was a very tedious process especially with the constant shifting of sets as the movie featured so many scenes and more so tedious with the stop-motion sequences especially for battle scenes. The filming technique then that was used for filming the movie was in filming scenes per location and not according to the script as it was more convenient that way. All scenes were filmed indoors using Lego sets only with the exception of one scene depicting ocean waves which was true enough filmed in an actual beach, though this only appears as a vision the young Alexios II is experiencing. Additionally, the film also used the hand-drawn Constantinople background for establishing shots, which had been in use for No Budget Films media since its earliest days in 2015 and had been used for every Byzantine set film since then, however for this film the shots of this background were simply recycled shots from previous No Budget Films Byzantine media.              

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No Budget Films’ Byzantine Constantinople background, in use ever since 2015
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Alexios Branas and the 12th century Byzantine army in Lego
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Alexios II and the Varangian Guards in Lego
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Recreation of 12th century Byzantine Constantinople

Filming for the movie was completed by February of 2022, however the editing did not immediately begin when the filming was completed as by early March of 2022 I completed and released another Byzantine audio-epic which was a 63-minute summary of the entire history of the Byzantine Empire (watch it here). The editing process for the film then began later on in March 2022 and was a process that lasted an entire 7 weeks. For the editing, the software I used was my usual one Adobe Premiere Pro which I used for all my Byzantine history audio epics and was first used for “War of the Sicilian Vespers” in 2020. For the editing process of the film, the first step was in organizing all the video clips and putting them into the editing timeline in accordance to the script and following that the recording of the voices. For this film, half of the voice cast were recorded directly using a Zoom H1N recorder while the other half sent their voice recordings through messenger. The longest part of the editing process though was putting in the voice recordings of the characters and the sound effects as the film contained a wide variety of them. Following the voices and sound effects, the soundtracks were added in as well as the color correction to further enhance the visuals of the film, and the last step was adding in the credits. For the editing of the film, the style that was used was one with fast cuts, so therefore there were very few scenes with long dialogues while cross-cutting was used a lot where one scene is simultaneously happening with another one and such scenes in the film that had this editing style was the 1182 Massacre of the Latins which showed that scene at the same time as the empress Maria of Antioch in her bath; then the Battle of Demetritzes between the Byzantines and the Normans which showed the scene cross-cutting to Asen declaring Bulgarian independence; and lastly the scene where Alexios II agrees to make peace with Venice in the Hagia Sophia and while he says yes to the terms said by the pope, every time he says yes an enemy of his is slain in a different part of the empire, thus this scene imitated the climax scene of the film The Godfather (1972) where the enemies are killed one-by-one, and true enough the climax of chapter IX of Byzantine Alternate History was written that way.

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Porphyra rock band logo

As for the soundtracks, this film basically recycled a lot of soundtracks used in previous No Budget Films media which were either from the Assassin’s Creed game series, Total War game series, Star Wars films, and so much more, though this film being No Budget Films’ first international collaboration project used 3 instrumental soundtracks from the Byzantine rock metal band Porphyra of fellow Byzantine content creator BillyChrissochos (follow him on Instagram @billy_chrissochos) who I also interviewed for another article before together with author Emanuele Rizzardi who had a guest voicing role in the film too as Doge Orio Mastropiero. On the other hand, with this film being an international collab project too, fellow Byzantine history Youtuber Byzansimp (follow on Instagram @byzansimp) and the creators of Byzantine Tales (follow on Instagram @byzantine_tales) who make Byzantine graphic novels, particularly artist Chrysa Sakel (follow her on Instagram @chrysasakel) helped in translating some lines into Greek, particularly the crowd noises cheering for Andronikos. One of the last steps of the filmmaking process then was creating the poster, and for the poster I chose to put a map of the Byzantine Empire during Manuel I’s reign in the 12th century to already point out it is set there while the characters used for the poster were the 6 leading characters Alexios II, Andronikos Komnenos, Maria of Antioch, Andronikos Kontostephanos, Andronikos Angelos, and Isaac Angelos while the Byzantine eagle and a faded finishing touch was added to give it a more authentic look. For the font used for the film’s title, I used the same one I used for my previous Byzantine Lego films which is the Morris Roman font while the slogan for the film Deus ex Machina was used as a hint to what the film is about as at the end it was this kind of situation for Alexios II who was miraculously saved by a twist of events as he was about to be killed.

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House Komnenos film logo

Lastly, the title “House Komnenos” was only decided later on before the editing process began as I couldn’t think of the film’s title yet until I asked my followers on Instagram through a poll whether “Komnenos” or “House Komnenos” would be a better title, and at the end, everyone went for the latter one. The editing process was completed on May 5, 2022 and was uploaded first on Youtube for private viewing only and first shared on my Patreon page on May 7, then it was made available to the public on May 11. The reason to why the film was released to the public not right after it was completed was because the specific date of May 11 was a special occasion in the case of Byzantine history, being the anniversary of the founding of Constantinople as the imperial capital which was founded on May 11, 330 while it is also the day the most influential Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) was born in 482.

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Complete editing timeline for the House Komnenos film

Reception and Marketing for the Film             

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“House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic” was undoubtedly a record breaker in No Budget Films’ 7-year history in the sense that it got the greatest number of views within just days after being released to the public. Now just over 3 weeks after its release, it has over 1,700 views thus making this the first time a No Budget Films movie had this number of views within just weeks after its release. This film too within just about 3 weeks has over 150 likes and has received mostly positive reviews in the comments. The only thing that was basically criticized about the film was that half of the voice cast did an excellent job voicing while the other half was either just mediocre or lousy while others say Mario Puyat who voiced the lead character Alexios II overacted his role while his narration in the introduction scene was not very comprehensible in terms of sound to viewers as his voice seemed too rushed while he happened to eat his words a lot, hence subtitles were added to the intro narration segment which he voiced. The other voicer whose voice was said to not be so clear was Justinianus Byzantinus who voiced Agnes of France; hence subtitles were also added for her lines. On the other hand, the voicers that got the most praise for their roles which they voiced very much perfectly were Andre Martin who voiced Andronikos Komnenos, Manskee Nascimento who voiced Alexios Branas, and Achilies Khan who voiced Pope Urban III who true enough voiced all their lines in just one take. This amount of success regarding the number of views had a lot to do with it being on our Facebook page Byzantine Time Traveler as the pinned post while the film has also been shared by high profile Byzantine history Facebook pages to their timelines namely Byzantine Tales and Scholae Palatinae Byzantine Hoplomachia as well as in the channel of Byzansimp and it too was once streamed in the Twitch channel HybridNinja run by Miguel Abarentos who had also voiced some roles in the film. However, despite all this success, the film did not entirely meet my expectations in terms of shares as I too expected more Byzantine related sites to share it but it was not entirely the case, and although a number of followers of mine seemed very interested in it, a lot also did not. Possibly, I could have turned off my followers on Instagram and Facebook through the Lego film which many of them may not really get the concept of it seeing it as too unusual for something Byzantine as after all, many of the fans of Byzantine history aren’t really that open to new ideas like Lego films but rather are more into the same old images of Byzantine era artifacts, coins, and frescos whereas others did get the concept of the film possibly because it was in English as some viewers may only like something in their native language. However, at the end, the best thing that happened was that the film was completed and all the hard work paid off as it was more or less a success.             

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Reviews/ testimonials for House Komnenos: A Byzantine Epic

When it came to how I wanted to create the film in terms of treatment and how I wanted to market it to viewers, I aimed to do it in a way that makes Byzantine history appear “modern” and “relatable” to viewers today despite the setting of the movie being all the way back in the 12th century. True enough, I still wanted to make sure things were historically accurate such as the sequencing of events in the historical timeline of the film before the events of history were altered at the middle of the film, the use of artworks for background images not portraying Byzantine emperors or things that came after the 12th century, and that no weapons that had not existed yet in that time like guns or cannons would be used for the movie, however despite this being a Byzantine film there was no use of their superweapon Greek Fire at all since there was no need for it considering the entire film had no siege battles. The only thing that was not exactly historically accurate for the film’s sets were the outfits worn by the characters, but I just let it happen that I would use any Lego outfit piece that looked medieval or historical for the characters to wear as there are no such Lego Byzantine pieces. As mentioned earlier as well, what I did to give the film a Byzantine era touch was the use of the printed-out flags with Byzantine imperial symbols such as the double-headed eagle. But really at the end of the day, I don’t really care much if what I do is 100% historically accurate, so long as it stays faithful to the time it is set in and the end result is entertaining. On the other hand, when it came to the treatment of the film itself, I chose to further enhance the color for all scenes by using the color corrector function in the editing software to differentiate whether some scenes took place during daytime or nighttime, if the weather was clear or not, or if it was in a dark room or outdoors as true enough all scenes were filmed indoors, thus only some tweaking in color could make scenes look different from each other. For the soundtracks meanwhile, I also chose to experiment in that part by using some different types of music whether modernized medieval soundtracks, epic music, and the metal rock music from Porphyra as usually a lot of creators I know that make Byzantine videos either use traditional Greek music or Byzantine era music, but in order to make the film appear more modern and relatable I chose not to use the usual traditional music. The other thing too I experimented in for the film was in having the cross-cutting technique for editing in some scenes where one scene simultaneously happens with another the way it is done in a lot of action-epic films whereas I also chose to focus on some of the smallest details by adding a sound effect to almost everything that would require a sound including background sounds like seagulls, ocean waves, dogs barking, crowd noises, and even the sound of church bells which were just put in to add a dramatic effect to the Massacre of the Latins scene. Other than that, as a way to make this movie with a Byzantine setting appear fun, I added some obvious references to modern pop culture such as Thor’s hammer being used by one of the Greek locals during the Massacre of the Latins scene as well as a Lego R2-D2 from Star Wars in that same scene with his signature beeping sound effect, while the climax part where Alexios II says “I do” many times while he orders the deaths of his enemies was as I said patterned exactly after the climax scene of The Godfather movie. Lastly, the way how I really wanted to show my film as something that seemed modern and can appeal to modern day people despite it having a Byzantine era setting was that I chose to not use an old-fashioned language for the characters in the script, hence the words the characters used were basically the words we people speak with today. As the dialogue was basically spoken in our modern-day English language- with exception of Pope Urban III- the rest of the voice cast spoke in the usual everyday voice they speak and not in any kind of accent. Usually, my past films in my channel usually had characters speaking with a distinct accent especially in the historically set pieces, however for this film as my aim was to make it appear like the Byzantine people are like us today, I not only made the dialogue in the script use words we use today but I asked the voice cast to voice their characters in the normal way they speak, and the same goes for me as well since I have always voiced characters for my film with a distinct accent, but this time when voicing Isaac Angelos this was the first time I spoke with my normal voice. Basically, this idea I had here of having historical figures speak using a modern-day casual language is quite experimental as surely a lot of historical films out there use an old-fashioned and formal language while others stay very authentic meaning Roman era films or series being spoken in Latin or if ever Byzantine era films or series being spoken in Greek. However, in my film there was just a few Greek words used but only for background sounds just to give it a taste of authenticity, yet a lot the Greek words used for the film are modern Greek words and not medieval ones. Additionally, this film “House Komnenos” has the record of being the No Budget Films movie with the greatest number of swear words in which many were said by Andronikos Kontostephanos while it also contained a lot of graphic violence especially with the decapitated heads, and violence against women and children as seen with Maria of Antioch and Alexios II being strangled. On the other hand, there was really no nudity or sex in the film and the most was Maria of Antioch in her bath, although here the paper strips that substituted for the water had to be above the level of her breasts while after that, she was at least seen with a piece of toilet paper which substituted as a towel wrapped around her in which the top of it was made to be above her breasts’ level. Other than that, another “mature” element the film had was the scene where Isaac Angelos had threatened to cut off the balls of Asen and turn him into a eunuch wherein Isaac is actually seen pointing his sword at Asen’s private part, though this did not end up happening. In the meantime, “House Komnenos” has 3 deleted scenes which were originally supposed to be in the main film but were removed from it, and you can watch these 3 deleted scenes to the film right here!

Watch the deleted scenes of House Komnenos here!
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The Komnenos imperial family, left to right: Manuel I Komnenos, Alexios II, Maria of Antioch, Maria Komnene in Lego
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Left to right: Doge Orio Mastropiero, Pope Urban III, Patriarch Niketas II, Alexios II Komnenos in Lego
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House Komnenos Lego main cast group picture

The Interviews and Conclusion           

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For the last part of this article, I will be doing interviews with 4 content creators on social media wherein this will be the first time I am interviewing them. Unlike the ones I interviewed before who specialize in Byzantine history, the ones that will be interviewed here have Byzantine history as one of their many topics of interest and somehow do something related to it. Now all 4 of them will be asked separate questions from each other but all will be asked 3 questions while everyone will be answering the same question for the 3rd one which is about the importance of unity especially when it comes to doing Byzantine related projects, such as the epic film I just made.        

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Illustration of Byzantine era Constantinople

The first of the interviewees here will be no other than Achilies Khan, the voice actor of Pope Urban III who is also an artist and content creator going by the name Gaius Julius Caesar on Instagram. Here, I will be asking him about the same topic of marketing Byzantine history and the need for Byzantine history to appear on mainstream media. Now, this is what he has to say about it.

1) Is Byzantine history an era of history that needs more attention the way Ancient Greece, Rome, or Medieval Europe does?

Achilies: It definitely deserves more attention of course than medieval era history since movies you usually and typically get medieval style movies and it gets annoying, it’s time for a new change of style.

2) How do you think Byzantine history can be made more accessible and entertaining to a wider range of people?

Achilies: Video games, animated shows, Netflix shows, movies.

3) Do you think unity is important especially in the sense for content creators to work together on collab projects to promote certain topics of history?

Achilies: Oh of course it is, it gives other creators to learn more off each other and gives them more opportunities to spread information even better and gives people a chance to be more creative when doing projects together.

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Constantine XI Palaiologos by Achilies Khan

           

The second of the interviewees will be another great friend and fellow content creator Milica from Serbia (follow her on Instagram @cu_ltur.e), a global culture enthusiast who somehow has some interest in Byzantine history. On the other hand, she too had a role to play in the creation of my film by suggesting some soundtracks, primarily the medieval themed ones used in some certain scenes, and in total 4 soundtracks she suggested made it to the film! Here, I will be asking her about the need to introduce and market Byzantine history to a younger crowd and how to get them interested in it. Now, this is what she has to say about it.

1) Should Byzantine history be talked about more especially to younger people?

Milica: Of course, yes. Hell yeah!

2) In what way can you make Byzantine history and cultures related to it seem entertaining to people, especially younger ones who are learning about it for the first time?

Milica: To make people know how important it was for Europe, especially Eastern Europe. It helped to make root for Orthodoxy in Europe and the Middle East. Byzantium had influence in Anatolia too.  

3) Do you think unity is important especially in the sense of content creators to work together on collab projects to promote certain topics of history?

Milica: Yes, when united we are stronger.          

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Byzantine influenced fresco in Serbia

The third of the interviewees will be another great supporter and friend of mine, Slavic History and Mythology (follow on Instagram @slavic_history_mythology) a content creator which does a very excellent job in creating very well-made and visually appealing posts about anything to do with Slavic history, religion, mythology, tradition, and everyday life and at the same time is very adept in marketing and promotion. Additionally, I have already done a collab post with Slavic History Mythology (SHM) in the past not once but twice and he also highly praised my film “House Komnenos” describing it as “one word- perfection! So much attention is paid to details. Well done!” Here, I will be asking him about if Byzantine history should be presented in a more “modern” approach like how I am doing it and how to make the said subject seem fun. Now, this is what he has to say about it.

1) Should Byzantine history be presented in a more modern approach meaning not so much anymore through serious and scholarly lectures and papers but through fun means like fun animated videos or fan art?

SHM: Definitely! There is a lot of stuff from the everyday life and culture of the Byzantines, which can be an inspiration for some kind of modern art, such as fan art, anime, and of course, as in the case of your work- Lego film. We need to get out of those scientific-research frameworks!

2) How can Byzantine history or anything related to it appear fun and interesting to people from different parts of the world?

SHM: Simple- to show people’s daily lives through some stories, videos, workshops, lectures or of course, some series or movies. There are still many ways, which are not scientific-research, and which can be interesting to people in the world. That is why it is necessary to pay as much attention to it as possible, in a more modern and interesting way.

3) Do you think unity is important especially in the sense of content creators to work together on collab projects to promote certain topics of history?

SHM: Absolutely! As people here say- two pairs of hands are stronger than one pair of hands. Working together on projects related to this topic is extremely important. Just imagine- a 3D artist, who collaborates with a historian and animator, and then they all make a very good video about, say, a day at the Byzantine market… Yes, the unity and cooperation of more people is definitely important!

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Sample post of SHM (collab post with my account)

The fourth and last of the interviewees is a special guest for this article which is Greek artist and author Ioanna Athanasopoulou (follow her on Instagram @ioanna.athan.art) who at the same time is also a teacher. Interestingly, she wrote and illustrated a children’s novel set in the 11th century Byzantine Empire focusing on a game of chess which is “Chess, the Game of Kings”, which I should say is a very unique concept. For this article, I will be asking her what inspired her to do a children’s book with a Byzantine setting and how to teach the very complicated and bloody Byzantine history to young children. Now, this is what she has to say about it.

1) What inspired you to create children’s’ books with a Byzantine setting?

Ioanna: I believe that we are living in the continuity of the historical events that have preceded. As a teacher, I believe that giving children pictures from other eras helps them to understand the similarity of those times with the present and, also, to understand the linear course of history. It is a way to help students love history without being condescending and without the pressure that is being put in the teaching procedure, like, for example with exams. For all the reasons above, I wanted my book “Chess, the Game of Kings” to be set several centuries ago. I chose the Middle Ages of the Mediterranean, and specifically Byzantium, as I consider it to be a brilliant era, full of events, with which we have dealt little.  

2) How can you teach kids about something so complicated and violent like Byzantine history?

Ioanna: Depending on the age of the child, we focus on the parts of the story that are most relevant. In every culture there are dark, violent aspects and bright moments where the arts flourish and citizens prosper. My studies focus on the education and general well-being of children aged from 4 to 7 years of age. Having this age group in mind, I focus more on the daily life of the inhabitants or the carefree moments of the palace and less on the intrigue and the plots that are involved in the struggle for succession to the throne. The battles were captured in a more fairytale-like tone, as is the case with all historical events when the audience is young, thus fueling the interest in the past and helping the child to memorize the events in a pleasant way. Having this contact with history from an early age will give children a better opportunity to develop their knowledge, as they grow older, by studying in depth the complexity of the thousand-year-old Byzantine Empire in terms of diplomacy as well as the darker and lighter aspects of each personality.   

3) Do you think unity is important especially in the sense of content creators to work together on collab projects to promote certain topics of history?

Ioanna: Collaborations are very important and really help to highlight each historical period in vivid colors. They give “life” to stories that should not be forgotten. In projects where more participants are involved, it seems that a rounder, dare I say better, approach to the events is achieved to an astonishing degree, as well as the promotion of the respective work to a larger audience. Both of the factors above are crucial for communicating such issues.

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Novels/ illustrations by Ioanna
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Varangian Guards by Ioanna

         

Based on all the answers of the 4 interviewees here, again this surely shows that in one hand there are some that are actually willing to bring Byzantine history to a new level by creating new and unique content related to it from engaging posts, to artworks, films, and even children’s books which have a Byzantine setting.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

Other than that, these answers show that Byzantium sure enough should deserve more attention in mainstream media as it has a very interesting story while it had such a significant impact in many parts of the world whether culturally, politically, or religiously, and at the same time too that there are so many more projects wherein Byzantine history can be applied to and not just in scholarly research papers. Out of all the 4 interviewees, I would say the one with the most unique concept and things to point out is Ioanna as first of all her idea of using Byzantium as a setting for a children’s book is very unique and something I’ve never heard of before as first of all Byzantine history is so complex and violent that it’s hard to imagine it being a setting for a children’s book, but at the same time she makes a point too as Byzantine history is so interesting and thus children should be introduced to it from a young age first by teaching it to them in a more “fairytale-like” way as she said or rather a censored version before proceeding to teaching them the actual history.

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Chess, the Game of Kings” by Ioanna

True enough, I totally agree with her here as by doing Lego films such as “House Komnenos” I would like to introduce people, especially younger ones to Byzantine history first in a more entertaining although highly fantasized way which is to first of all get them hooked into the topic which would then get them more curious to make them do some research on the actual truth about Byzantine history. Lastly, the one question I asked everyone here was about unity and how important it is especially in doing collab projects on the said historical topic, and certainly all 4 of them said it is very important as when people work together on something especially if all members have a particular skill, the end product is always of better quality. I also agree here on this point, as my overall mission in doing Byzantine history content is to work together with other content creators as each of us can inspire each other and at the end make a unique and high-quality output. The importance too of working united is that it will benefit not only one creator who would end up getting ahead of everyone else, but it will let everyone working together get ahead at the same time and pace, and this reason in which no one should be left behind is why I believe in unity for content creators especially when it comes to Byzantine history which is a topic still not yet so popular but is gaining ground.    

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The Byzantine Imperial Palace Complex of Constantinople, art by Ediacar

           

And now this wraps up this article on my latest Byzantine Lego film “House Komnenos” and certainly the process of making this film was a very exciting roller-coaster of a journey full of successes and dull moments, unpredictability and certainty, and of course great moments when it came to interacting with other content creators from different parts of the world. For now, the success of my film would still continue to grow as it has just been a month since it was released, and since the film is on Youtube it is there to stay, therefore even years from now people will come across it and may find something interesting about it hopefully. Of course, I would like to thank everyone that took part in the creation of my latest Lego film from the voice cast to the crew and even to those who just helped in the least way possible such as by sharing it to their Facebook pages or Instagram stories, recommending it on their Youtube channels, or even by suggesting soundtracks that made it to the final cut of the film itself.

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Logo of Byzantine Time Traveller

As of now, after spending months creating this masterpiece Lego film and having just released its deleted scenes video, I would rest for now, and if I would make videos, most for now will just be quick narrated videos with my art or other creators’ art in them- again to fulfill my goal of unity- since these videos do not require such effort to do. Of course, in the future I do plan to make another Lego Byzantine film again but still have no clear concept in mind, but if I am to do one again, it would again be of course a united international collaboration project like for this film. Truly, this film was the first time I’ve experienced working on something big that is an international united collaboration project, and at the most, I could say it was a good starting-point in doing projects like these, and at the end it really shows it was a united work with a large voice cast and music provided by other producers instead of a film where one person voices every character using different voices and all soundtracks from one artist. Overall, the main highlight when it came to working on this particular film “House Komnenos” was not so much producing something from my wildest dreams or working on a project I have wanted to create for such a long time, sure these were the highlights too, but the greatest one was that I was able to work on it as a united international collab project, and hopefully for my future No Budget Films projects I would work on them the same way as I did with this one. Now, after all these months of putting this epic piece together, I can say it’s all over and it has paid off, and of course No Budget Films will return! Now before I conclude this, I would again like to thank all those that participated in this interview as your answers were truly inspiring especially in the sense that Byzantine history should get more attention and that it can also be made into more entertaining means including Lego films, but more so you really inspired me a lot especially in believing that unity is very important. Anyway, this is all for this article, this is Powee Celdran the Byzantine Time Traveler and the creator of No Budget Films… Thank you for your time!     

A Review and Reaction to the Byzantine graphic novel “Basil: Basileus- A Test of Loylaty” from a Byzantine history fan

Posted by Powee Celdran

Basil: Basileus does an excellent job not only in bringing to life the highly climactic Byzantine Empire of the 10th century but it makes us as readers today see the empire more clearly as it is told from the perspective of Sigurd, a foreigner just like us people today getting know the Byzantine world. There is not a single dull moment in the entire novel yet it is just the start of a long and exciting story that is to come, that of the legendary Byzantine emperor Basil II.” -Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveller

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!!

If you do not want any spoilers, please order Basil: Basileus on the site of Byzantine Tales.

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Basil: Basileus- Part 1: A Test of Loyalty by Byzantine Tales; cover- Sigurd the Varangian (left) and Emperor Basil II (right)

Welcome back to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! It’s been quite a while since I last posted something on this site, but now I’m back and this time with a new special edition article which will be a review on the new Byzantine graphic novel Basil: Basileus by no other than Byzantine Tales, the creators of the Byzantine graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale which I also read and made a review on last year (read it here). Now this novel I will be reviewing here is the direct sequel to their previous hit graphic novel “Theophano: Byzantine Tale”, and of course since this article will be reviewing the book it will contain SPOILERS, so it’s best you check out their site (click here) and order a copy of it before you read this. Now this sequel novel happens to be the first chapter of a series on the title’s character which is no other than the famous Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025) and just like the Theophano novel, it is again written by Spyros Theocharis (follow on Instagram @spyrosem) and illustrated by Chrysa Sakel (follow on Instagram @chrysasakel). As the title suggests and with it being the first part of a series, this one discusses the early life of the legendary Byzantine emperor and what shaped him to be a strong emperor that struck fear into his enemies from a weak palace prince. The title too in itself definitely also shows that it is a sequel to Theophano as the title’s character Basil is sure enough the son of Theophano who was the protagonist of the previous novel, while the title on the other hand being “Basil: Basileus” means “Basil the emperor” as Basileus was the title that the Byzantine emperors were addressed as. Now as I reviewed their previous hit novel last year, it is about time I now review its sequel which is just equally as great as the previous one if not better as it is much more concise, more action packed, and does a great job in highlighting the lead characters and their personalities very well. Additionally, this novel has a very unique element now that it shows Byzantium and its society from the perspective of a foreigner, in this case being the Varangian (Viking) Sigurd, a rather fictional character introduced to the story who was originally a Varangian warrior fighting for the Kievan Rus’, captured by the Byzantines, brought into the Byzantine army, and during his stay in the Byzantine Empire in the 970s during the reign of Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) witnesses basically everything that goes on from heated battles to political intrigues. Although the young emperor Basil II is the title character, when reading it, it would actually seem more like Sigurd is the lead character as he is the one driving the story rather than being the one the story revolves around, whereas Basil is the one who the story revolves around as it talks about his rise to power whereas Sigurd is the one who takes part in most of the action, thus by having two lead characters, both Sigurd and Basil appear in the cover. As for this article, I will be discussing some perfect reasons on why to read this novel, some opinions I have on it, and my recommendations. This article too includes a Q&A with the creators wherein I asked them about some elements in creating the novel as well as a few strategies in marketing Byzantine history, similar to what I asked them in a previous article (read it here). Although unlike the article I made reviewing the previous novel Theophano which has my fan casting for the novel, this one will not have one as this article is basically just reviewing the first chapter in this series as the creators said this is just the first part of a series of at least 4 novels, thus I will do a fan casting for it when the entire series of Basil II is completed.  

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire
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Behind the scenes of the “Basil: Basileus” comic

Check out their website byzantinetales.com/basilbasileus to get more info on the graphic novel.

Check out their social media sites:

Facebook: Byzantine Tales

Instagram: @Byzantine_Tales

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Check out the trailer for the Basil: Basileus graphic novel here!

Note: pictures of the graphic novel from the Byzantine Tales FB page. Works of other artists namely Oznerol-1516, Hasahshin619, Amelianvs, and Ediacar too appear in this article.


Byzantine Tale’s first novel “Theophano” was no doubt an excellent graphic novel with a Byzantine setting that more than a year ago after I finished reading it, I couldn’t wait for its sequel. Certainly, it was not too long enough that a sequel to it was announced, and thus the moment it was announced that Theophano would have a sequel, I already intended to order it once the English version was released- as the Greek version was released first.

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My copy of Byzantine Tales’ “Basil: Basileus”

With the English version being released, I decided to go for getting a special signed copy by ordering it directly from the creators, and soon enough I got my signed copy of the book with a special illustration of its lead character Basil II by the artist herself together with giveaway stickers and a postcard depicting the Macedonian Dynasty siblings of the book Basil II, Constantine VIII, and Anna Porphyrogenita together with Sigurd the Varangian warrior. As mentioned earlier that this particular book is the first chapter of a series, it was very much a quick and easy read as it is only just about 50 pages that in only 3 days I finished it unlike the previous one being Theophano which was a much longer one that did in fact take me weeks to finish reading it. Of course, both novels Theophano and now Basil are unique and interesting in their own ways but what makes both equally fascinating are its rich illustrations that truly bring the Byzantine Empire to life from the heat of the battlefield to the opulence of the imperial palace. In terms of story, this novel is very much straight to the point with lots of action and excitement and not much dialogue as true enough the reign of the senior emperor John I Tzimiskes in which most of the novel is set in was a very highly action-packed time in Byzantine history with so much epic battles and conquests, and for this reason the Byzantine army does play a big role in the book. To put it short, the novel spans quite a short period of time beginning with the Battle of Dorostolon in 971 where the Byzantines defeat the Kievan Rus and ending in 976 when Emperor John I died and Basil II at 18 finally accedes as the senior emperor, so basically just 5 years, unlike the previous novel Theophano which took place over 15 years, if not more. Now for this article, a lot of the information I will put was based on a Q&A I did with the book’s creators, but on the other hand the novel itself too was partly based on primary sources from the Byzantine era.

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Basil: Basileus by Byzantine Tales

Related articles from my site The Byzantium Blogger:

A Review and Fan Casting for Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

A Review and Reaction for Byzantine novel The Usurper

Marketing Byzantine History Part1

Marketing Byzantine History Part2

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter VII- A Retelling of the Bizarre Byzantine Renaissance


Reasons to buy and read Basil: Basileus

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It is concise, highly action-packed, and exciting at every moment as not only is it set at a highly climactic and action-packed era in Byzantine history being the 970s but it was written in such a way that something exciting happens in every scene. Already where the novel begins 971, there is a large epic battle which was the Battle of Dorostolon in Bulgaria where the Byzantine forces led by the emperor John I Tzimiskes himself defeated the forces of the Kievan Rus’ led by their prince Sviatoslav I, and it is here where the lead character Sigurd- not Basil- is introduced as someone fighting for the Rus against the Byzantines but is at the end captured and later made part of the Byzantine army once he arrives in Constantinople. When the story shifts to the imperial capital Constantinople, the same kind of exciting atmosphere continues when we are introduced to the junior co-emperors Basil II and his younger brother Constantine VIII together with their luxurious lives, as well as the complex court politics and corruption the Byzantine Empire was known for, and how impressive the Byzantine capital Constantinople was. Following that, the novel proceeds to John I’s campaigns in the Middle East against the Arab powers now that the Byzantines have turned the tide of war against the Arabs after more than 300 years of fighting on the defensive against them. As the novel too shows John I’s Middle East campaigns, we get to see more of the empire such as the interesting landscape of the Byzantine heartland Asia Minor and the deserts of Syria. The story ends where John I suddenly falls ill possibly due to being poisoned and dies whereas Basil who is actually the legitimate emperor finally becomes the senior emperor. Now at the back cover of the book, professor Dr. Georgios Theotokis when reviewing the novel does in fact say that the era of this novel is set in being the 970s was a turning point for the expansionist strategy of the Byzantine Empire as it included first the Byzantines having turned the tide of war against the Arabs in the east, following that their partial conquest of Bulgaria in the north together with the expulsion of the Kievan Rus, and after that a period of civil war that would follow the death of Emperor John I Tzimiskes in 976.

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Map of the Byzantine Empire in 971, by Byzantine Tales

Its illustrations truly bring the greatness of Byzantium to life. Truly, its artist Chrysa Sakel again does an excellent job in illustrating the Byzantine era from the impressive landmarks such as Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia and Hippodrome to the rich silks worn by the emperor and the powerful members of the court to the ornate objects found in Byzantine society.

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Sigurd and Basil II, the lead characters of the novel, art by Byzantine Tales

Other than showing the colorful clothes the rich and powerful Byzantines wore, the armor worn by soldiers and generals in great detail, the impressiveness of Byzantine landmarks in the imperial capital, and a lot of strong expressions on the characters’ faces, the novel also does a great job in showing different parts of the Byzantine Empire at that time at great length and detail. Unlike the previous novel Theophano where most of the story basically just showed Constantinople in great detail wherein other parts of the empire were mostly skimmed through very quickly, this novel on the other hand does justice to other parts of the Byzantine Empire of that time and not just Constantinople by giving a lot of attention to other locations. For instance, the opening sequence of the novel shows in detail the marshy terrain of Bulgaria and thus highlights the dark and brooding mood as an epic battle is taking place. In this novel, Constantinople and its impressiveness including landmarks you may not have heard of too is highlighted a lot, though the novel does indeed give Constantinople equally the same amount of attention as compared to other locations in the empire. Other than showing the marshy terrain of Bulgaria, this novel too shows as I mentioned earlier the interesting landscape of Byzantine Asia Minor including the city of Ankara, the rocky terrain of Cappadocia, and the lavish villas of powerful Byzantine politicians and generals across the empire, and not only does the novel quickly show these locations, it does a great job in showing them at length. Towards the end, the novel goes even further in showing the deserts of Syria and ending at Palestine very close to Jerusalem as true enough John I campaigned deep into Syria against the Arabs wherein the Arabs even easily surrendered the city of Damascus back to the Byzantines. John I however never achieved his goal which was to take back Jerusalem as this was when in 975, he fell ill and returned to Constantinople wherein he died in early 976. Other than showing locations, the novel too does a great job in showing the Byzantine Empire in that era by showing people of different races and nations such as the Varangians which is Sigurd, the Kievan Rus including their prince Sviatoslav, Armenians, and Arabs, not just the Byzantines. However, since its setting is primarily the Byzantine Empire despite its leading character Sigurd being a Norseman, the majority of the characters are Byzantines.

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Scene of the open palace at Gulsehir, Cappadocia in the novel

It features a great amount of continuity from the previous novel as true enough a lot of the characters, settings, and designs from the previous novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale continue on in this particular novel. For instance, a lot of characters that played a major role in the previous novel mainly the emperor John Tzimiskes and the powerful yet scheming eunuch minister Basil Lekapenos reprise their roles in this novel and still have a major role. Basil II, Constantine VIII, and their younger sister Anna Porphyrogenita too appeared in the previous novel, although their roles back then were very minor, compared to this novel.

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John I Tzimiskes and Grand Prince Sviatoslav (on the boat) meet at the Danube, 971

Other than them, another character who reprised his role here was Grand Prince Sviatoslav of the Kievan Rus, who in the previous novel only appeared very briefly and basically just in one image, though in this one the fearsome Kievan Rus’ prince has quite a generous amount of “screen time” wherein he is seen first battling the powerful Byzantine army in Bulgaria and then surrendering to the Byzantines after his defeat at the Battle of Dorostolon. Other characters too that make a comeback here are John I’s top general and loyalist Bardas Skleros, who however appeared very briefly in the previous novel at the ending sequence as well as another general named Anemas, who appeared also very briefly and only at the ending sequence of the previous novel. In this story however, this Anemas character only appears at the beginning where he is killed in battle by Sigurd who here was still with the Rus, while Skleros on the other hand has a much larger role as John I’s most trusted general and commander of the elite cavalry force known as the Athanatoi or “Immortals”, and at the end of the novel following John’s death Bardas Skleros rises up in rebellion against the young Basil II and the eunuch Basil Lekapenos to avenge his friend and brother-in-law John. Other than them, another character that reprises his role here is the general Michael Bourtzes who in the previous novel had quite a generous amount of “screen time”, and the same can be said about his appearance in this novel too, now that here he had become the commander or Doux of Antioch. Now this novel does not exactly begin where the previous one ended wherein the emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969) was assassinated in his sleep in 969, instead it already moves on to 971 opening with John I’s conquest of Bulgaria and battle against the Kievan Rus, thus skipping the events between 969 and 971, except for a flashback in the year 970 which introduces Sigurd fighting for the Rus together with their Magyar allies at the Battle of Arcadiopolis very close to Constantinople where the Byzantines defeated the undefeatable Kievan Rus prince Sviatoslav for the first time.

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Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), art by Oznerol-1516

Now as a way to bridge the ending of the previous novel to the beginning of this one, the novel opens with a quick summary of events recapping the end of the previous novel wherein John Tzimiskes had to murder his uncle Nikephoros II to take the throne all while the Kievan Rus that had invaded Byzantium’s northern neighbor Bulgaria had now broken into Byzantine territory. Of course, characters from the previous novel that had already died like Nikephoros II, Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, Emperor Romanos II, the eunuch Joseph Bringas, and Empress Helena Lekapene no longer make an appearance, not even in flashbacks. Other characters too that survived at the end of the previous novel such as the general Leo Phokas the Younger and the Patriarch Polyeuctus do not return in this novel as Polyectus had already died in 970 and Leo in 971, thus both died before this novel opened. As for the empress Theophano, she was in fact still alive in this novel’s setting, however she does not make an appearance as throughout the entire time of this novel she had been in exile, however she is only mentioned in this novel and at the final part it is hinted that she was to be brought back from exile as true enough the previous novel ended years later when Theophano had returned from exile while her son Basil II had already become the senior emperor, therefore making this novel set in the years that were skipped at the ending sequence of the previous novel. The big mystery on the other hand happens to be whatever happened to Theophano’s father Krateros as in the previous novel wherein he was a major character, he survived at the end, though in this novel he makes no appearance at all, and neither is his name mentioned, and this could possibly hint that he had already died. However, when asking the creators, they did in fact say the character of Krateros was still alive at the setting of this book but he was omitted because there were already way too many character’s in the story. Now despite there being a lot of continuity from the previous novel, this one however from my observation had altered quite a lot of the appearances of the characters from the previous novel that reprised their roles, such as for instance the character of Basil II who in the previous novel had light hair now suddenly having dark hair in this story while John Tzimiskes’ appearance in this novel doesn’t really resemble his appearance from the previous novel much, however the eunuch Basil Lekapenos still very much looks the same in this novel as compared to the previous one. The reason now to why characters like John Tzimiskes’ and Basil II’s appearances were altered was mostly because the artist Chrysa changed her technique when illustrating this novel.

All characters have an interesting story and all play a key role in moving the story from the men in power like the senior emperor John I Tzimiskes, his junior co-emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII, the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, to the generals like Bardas Skleros, Michael Bourtzes, and Nikephoros Ouranos, to the Varnagian newcomer Sigurd. Each of the characters have their own unique traits and all have a role in moving the story. First of all, the Varangian Sigurd who in my opinion drives the story as it opens with him at the Battle of Dorostolon where he is captured and brought to Constantinople wherein he eventually meets the young junior emperors Basil and Constantine and later on joins the campaigns of John Tzimiskes in the Middle East, and at the end rushes back to Constantinople to fulfill his duty in protecting the emperor Basil II against the general Bardas Skleros who had just risen up in rebellion. The senior emperor John I Tzimiskes too plays a very crucial role as the most powerful man of the empire as despite the brothers Basil and Constantine being the rightful emperors, John was really the one running the show as the brothers were still underaged whereas John was a strong and capable military man with many years of experience in the battlefield that he as emperor personally led his troops in battle, and at the same time he was also very much well-loved by the people for being a generous leader though he was also opposed by the faction loyal to the previous emperor Nikephoros II Phokas who was in fact John’s uncle that John assassinated.

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Black and white illustration of the co-emperors and brothers Basil II and Constantine VIII, art by Byzantine Tales

The brothers Basil and Constantine as well as their younger sister Anna in this novel meanwhile are basically shown as spoiled palace kids living their entire lives in luxury and mostly unaware of what is happening in the empire, but here in this novel we particularly get to see the character development of Basil from the spoiled palace boy he grew up as to someone determined to rule an empire. At the same time too, despite Basil and Constantine being the rightful rulers, there is only one throne and there is no guarantee they would one day rule Byzantium in their own right as the Byzantines never had a law on hereditary succession which made it possible for powerful generals to gain the throne if they had popular support. Meanwhile, one of the most intriguing characters in the novel I would say is the powerful eunuch minister and Basil II’s great-uncle Basil Lekapenos who had a major role in the previous novel, and just like in the previous novel, here he was still portrayed as the brilliant yet corrupt statesman who knew the very complex political structure and diplomatic tactics of the Byzantine Empire more than the 3 emperors John I, Basil II, and Constantine VIII did.

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Character art of Basil Lekapenos in the novel

The character of Basil Lekapenos sure enough does make the readers always feel there is something suspicious about him despite Lekapenos being the one standing by the junior emperor Basil’s side most of the time as true enough he was depicted as someone who was such a scheming genius that he was able to forge the emperor John I’s signature that he could in fact confiscate the lands of other disloyal nobles and take it for himself behind the back of the emperor John, though at the end John true enough discovered Lekapenos’ corruption when seeing the lands he stole in Cilicia, and at the end you may even start questioning if Basil Lekapenos did indeed poison the emperor John I. At the end, following the death of John I, Lekapenos survived as in real history he basically dominated the early reign of Basil II until Basil II grew tired of his influence in 985 where he finally removed Lekapenos from his position, but overall Lekapenos is basically more or less the story’s antagonist as he was really the one causing all the trouble. Another character with an interesting angle in the novel is Bardas Skleros who is depicted basically as a fierce and powerful general and the emperor John I’s loyal right-hand-man as Bardas was in fact John’s brother-in-law, and at the end of the novel, Bardas’ strong undying loyalty to John Tzimiskes was made evident when Bardas after being demoted in rank by Lekapenos declared rebellion and his intention to usurp the throne from the young Basil II in order to both avenge John I who had just died but also to save the empire from the rule of the inexperienced Basil II and Constantine VIII and the corrupt Basil Lekapenos.

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Character art of Nikephoros Ouranos in the novel

Aside from Bardas Skleros, the other character with an interesting character arc is the general Nikephoros Ouranos who is in fact a real historical figure as a loyal general to Basil II, although in real history Ouranos does not yet appear in the records in the 970s and is only first mentioned in the 980s, though here Ouranos is given a fictional angle being introduced way earlier on than in real history in the 970s as a way to highlight that he was already loyal to Basil II for quite a time. In the novel, Nikephoros Ouranos is depicted as a general who is somewhat a social-climber and a subordinate of Bardas Skleros, although unlike Skleros who was from a powerful political dynasty in the Byzantine Empire, Ouranos was basically someone that rose up the ranks in the army and historical sources too say he was a “new man” meaning that he did not come from the nobility and just rose up the ranks of society, and in the novel it was Ouranos too that brought Sigurd to Constantinople after befriending him, and thus introduced Sigurd to Basil, therefore allowing Sigurd a chance to serve the emperor. The other Byzantine generals who play quite a role in the story include the Doux of Antioch Michael Bourtzes who here was basically a loyalist of John Tzimiskes, the eunuch general Peter Phokas who previously back in 969 helped Michael Bourtzes capture Antioch, and the nobleman and retired general from Cappadocia Eustathios Maleinos, although in my opinion these generals were added to the story as a way to show that the Byzantine army plays a crucial role. Additionally, this novel does a great part in blending fictional characters into a historical setting not only through Sigurd but through another character named Ariadne, a young woman working in the palace as a handmaiden who becomes the lover of Basil, though when asking the creators, they say Ariadne is someone with some bits of a historical character, but that’s for later on.

The character arc of the Varangian Sigurd is a very fascinating one as it true enough is the driving force of the story. Where the story begins, Sigurd is a Varangian warrior- before the Varangian Guard became a unit in the Byzantine army- originally from Svealand, which was the old name for Sweden who left his homeland to fight for the Prince of the Kievan Rus Sviatoslav I journeying all the way south to Bulgaria where he witnesses his brother killed in battle by the Byzantines and following that is captured by the Byzantine army when Sviatoslav and his forces are defeated by the Byzantines at the Battle of Dorostolon, after which Sigurd is brought to Constantinople as a prisoner.

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Character art of Sigurd in the novel

Due to Sigurd proving his bravery and skill in battle, he is recruited into the Byzantine army, particularly to the Hetaireia or the multinational mercenary corps of the imperial guard force or Tagmata which consisted of Rus, Scandinavian, Frankish, Khazar, Magyar, Pecheneg, Arab, and other races serving the emperor as his bodyguards. When arriving in Constantinople, Sigurd eventually grows accustomed to the more refined lifestyle of the Byzantines including drinking wine and spending time at the tavern after living a tough life from a cold land and fighting brutal battles. Sigurd then is introduced by his new friend the general Nikephoros Ouranos to the young junior emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII who at first make fun of Sigurd’s appearance and name which they find unusual, but later on Sigurd grows close to Basil as in this story Sigurd is the one who trains the young Basil II how to fight, but soon enough Sigurd has to prove his full loyalty to the emperor which is why he was forced to join John I’s campaign in the Middle East thus making this warrior from the distant cold lands of Scandinavia see a totally different part of the world, being the deserts of the Middle East. At the end of the novel, it is truly made clear that Sigurd had proven his loyalty to Basil II as when Bardas Skleros declares his intention to rebel against Basil II following John I’s death, Sigurd rushes back to Constantinople to protect Basil II as well as Constantine VIII from Skleros. Now this novel being the first chapter of a series is called “A Test of Loyalty” basically for this reason being that it was Sigurd’s test of loyalty while in the introduction section of the novel, a review by the host of the History of Byzantium podcast Robin Pierson says “Basil II is the ultimate Byzantine Emperor. A lonely figure who overcame endless scheming to become the master of his world. Through the eyes of Sigurd, his new bodyguard, we see Basil’s early years unfold. Each panel is beautifully illustrated to bring the emperor’s world into ours.” Indeed, when reading this story, through Sigurd we get to see the colorful and complex world of the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century in the perspective of a foreigner and Pagan from a land very different from that of the Byzantines. A warrior like Sigurd who comes from a cold, distant, and much more primitive place like Scandinavia- particularly what is now Sweden- true enough would be in awe seeing Constantinople which was the world’s most impressive city of the time, but in this story he is not only in awe with the splendor of Constantinople and how advanced the Byzantine Empire and its society was, he is also perplexed with the luxurious lifestyle as seen when he first wears Byzantine silk clothes, while he too is more perplexed with the complex politics of the Byzantine Empire including the political hierarchy and complicated bureaucracy, factions and political dynasties, the ruling system where there is not just one emperor in charge but two junior co-emperors, and all the intrigues such as the scheming and poisoning. Now to someone like Sigurd, all of these complexities the Byzantine Empire had would be something totally alien as where he is from everything is basically just blind loyalty to the ruler, and whatever the ruler would say is the law unlike in the Byzantine Empire where despite the emperor being the absolute ruler, he could still be challenged, thus by this, people nowadays can see a clearer image of the Byzantine Empire especially by being viewed by Sigurd who is very much like us readers today being foreigners viewing a very mysterious empire which was Byzantium. According to the creators, Sigurd was created for the story to serve as a link from the opening sequence being the Battle of Dorostolon to the private life of the titular character Basil II.  

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Byzantines and Rus clash at the Battle of Dorostolon in 971, art by Hashashin619

We too get to see the legendary Basil II the “Bulgar-slayer” from another angle by seeing him in his younger years. Now most people who know Byzantine history would always remember Emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025) as an older man being the fierce warrior-emperor that personally led his troops in battle, defeated and conquered the Bulgarian Empire, and blinded thousands of Bulgarian captives.

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The young junior emperors Basil II (left) and Constantine VIII (right) in the novel

However, not a lot know that Basil II began out as a spoiled and weak palace prince living in luxury being the son of the pleasure-loving emperor Romanos II (r. 959-963) and the seductive and scheming empress Theophano. Where the novel opens however, Basil is already in his teenage years whereas his father Romanos II had already been dead for years- since 963- while his mother Theophano had been exiled as she was framed for organizing the conspiracy to kill her second husband which was Basil II’s stepfather Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969). Basil II now however had already appeared in the previous novel wherein his mother Theophano was the lead character, but there his part was very minor, though in this novel despite Basil being the titular character, he does not appear as much as Sigurd does as basically Sigurd appears throughout the entire novel. Although Basil II does not appear at every scene, his character development was done in such great detail as when he is first introduced here, he is first seen as the spoiled palace prince when he mocks Sigurd, but later on his character is seen to actually be more and more complex appearing as a conflicted character as true enough Basil had already been through so much despite being only teenager such as his father Romanos II being poisoned when he was only 5, his stepfather Nikephoros II being murdered in his sleep, and his mother Theophano banished. History too does not mention much about Basil II’s early years; thus this novel does a great job in accurately describing Basil II’s younger years growing up in the palace including his relationships with his new father figure the senior emperor John I Tzimiskes, his great-uncle the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, his new bodyguard Sigurd, and with his brother Constantine and sister Anna.

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Emperor Basil II the Bulgar-Slayer of Byzantium (r. 976-1025)

Whether Basil’s younger years in this novel is historically accurate or not, I still think that this was more or less what his younger days in the imperial palace was like. As the story progresses, we get to see that Basil was also trying to figure out his life and what he would excel at as he was not as tall, fast, and lucky as his younger brother Constantine as shown when they raced against each other and betted on horses racing in the Hippodrome, and neither did Basil excel in his studies the way Constantine did. However, Basil would later on turn out to discover what interested him and something he would excel at being sword fighting which he learned from Sigurd. The young Basil though appeared here as somewhat cocky when believing he could excel as a warrior due to his great-great-grandmother the 9th century empress Eudokia Ingerina being the daughter of a Norseman like Sigurd and with his mother Theophano having Spartan blood. Despite finding out what he was good at, he would still be upset first because he could not live up to his expectations to be something like his late stepfather Nikephoros Phokas and his new father figure the emperor John Tzimiskes in terms of combat skills, and following that he was more upset because he still had no say in doing anything as seen when Sigurd was forced by Basil Lekapenos to join John’s campaign in the Middle East to prove his loyalty. For most of the final third of the novel, Basil does not appear as most of the attention is on John I and only after John’s death in 976 does Basil reappear now being crowned as the new senior emperor at age 18 being backed by Lekapenos wherein he puts all his trust in Sigurd to defend him as John’s sidekick Bardas Skleros who had gained a strong following had now risen up in rebellion against Basil.

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Basil II as the warrior emperor, art by Oznerol-1516

Though Basil had developed into a more determined person where the story ends, he is still not yet the strong warrior emperor that struck fear into his enemies and other nations around Byzantium that we remember him as, as true enough he has a long way to go before becoming this person as prior to his full conquest of the entire Bulgarian Empire in 1018, Basil II defeated all opposition against his rule, created a new force in the Byzantine army known as the Varangian Guard,  and ensured that the empire was fully loyal to him. On the other hand, this novel too greatly humanizes Basil II who we all view as this ruthless military emperor that never married as true enough, we get to see Basil falling in love here with Ariadne, although some sources say the young Basil II was a womanizer and only as he aged did he distance himself from women and never fall in love as he dedicated his entire life to the army.

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Character art of Constantine VIII in the novel

Other than Basil, we get to see a lot of Basil’s younger brother Constantine and younger sister Anna in the novel, and the story too does give more justice to Basil’s brother Constantine who history always remembers as Basil’s incompetent and good for nothing successor as with Basil dying childless in 1025, Constantine VIII succeeded him and basically ruined all of Basil’s achievements by not ruling as strongly and wisely despite ruling for only 3 years (1025-1028). According to the creators, they showed Constantine VIII as a more capable person by showing that he excelled more in his studies than Basil basically because historical sources too say Basil was not an intellectual but his brother was, though the creators portrayed Constantine as someone more intellectual and capable too in order to give more justice to him as history depicts him unfairly as a pleasure-loving and good for nothing fool, though the author Spyros too says that some sources depict Constantine as someone more capable than he was remembered as, except that Constantine was just not interested in running the government. Basil and Constantine’s sister Anna too makes quite an appearance in the novel as a spoiled and playful young girl without any much interest in the empire but little would she know here that she would one day be destined to marry the Prince of the Kievan Rus Vladimir the Great which would be instrumental in sealing the Byzantine-Rus alliance and converting the Rus people to Christianity.   

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Emperor Basil II and the Varangian Guards, art by Amelianvs

The splendor of Constantinople including landmarks you may have not heard about are shown in great detail including the most private parts of the palace. This way, this book too is a guide not only to the complex politics of the Byzantine Empire but to the complexities of its imperial capital going as far as to the most private parts of the imperial palace. At the book’s back cover, Dr. Georgios Theotokis as part of his review on the novel says “This is a wonderfully illustrated journey into a world where few and privileged people had access to- the world of the imperial palace. A world of machinations, behind-closed-doors-politics, and intrigue. A violent environment in which survival depended on military virtues, ruthlessness and diplomatic maneuvering. That’s where young Basil had to ‘grow up’ and rule an empire.” Truly, in this novel we get to see the deepest parts of the imperial palace which otherwise no one except for the most powerful and closest to the emperor at that time could see which includes places like the courtyards of the imperial palace with its intricate fountains, throne room, banquet halls, the palace complex’s own private covered Hippodrome, and the imperial university in the palace known as the Pandidakterion as well as the Byzantine scriptoria which was the place in Constantinople that preserved the knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome as here scholars had endlessly copied many Ancient Greek and Roman literary works, and true enough this was a major legacy of Byzantium as at the end Byzantium’s role was in really preserving the Classical knowledge of Greece and Rome that later in the 15th century influenced the Italian Renaissance.

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Reconstruction of the Anemodoulion in Constantinople

These locations mentioned here definitely shows how lavish the lives of the Byzantine Empire’s rulers were and how much power they had- though sources remain unclear if the palace’s private covered Hippodrome existed as instead according to the artist Chrysa she was requested to draw it- but other than showing these places, you also get to see locations in Constantinople that existed then that you may not have heard of such as the structure at Constantinople’s main street the Mese which was the Anemodoulion, a 4 columned arch with a pyramid above and a statue above it that served as a sort of weather vane and this is the first location of Constantinople in the novel. Other than this, the novel also shows a small but lavish church in Constantinople which was the Church of Christ Chalkites at the entrance to the imperial palace complex built originally as a small chapel by Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), the great-grandfather of Basil I and father of Basil Lekapenos, while John Tzimiskes rebuilt it at a much larger scale. These two locations in Constantinople which appear in this novel happen to first appear here as in the previous novel they do not make an appearance and so do the parts of the imperial palace that I just mentioned. On the other hand, other locations that made an appearance in the previous novel Theophano also reappear here such as the more famous ones like the Hagia Sophia cathedral wherein both the interior and exterior are shown in the novel, the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the Hagia Eirene church, Imperial Palace complex, the square beside the Hagia Sophia known as the Augustaion which featured a column with a large equestrian statue of Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) above, and the main street known as the Mese. One location in Constantinople though that did not appear in the previous novel but only made its first appearance here is the Forum of Constantine with the famous Column of Constantine at the center appearing at the last page, and here it accurately shows what it looked like then as in the 10th century the massive statue of Constantinople’s founder Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) was seen above it in the form of the Greek sun god Helios. Now despite some locations like the city’s Hippodrome having appeared in the previous novel, here some extra details were added to it that otherwise did not appear in the previous novel like the fountain at the center of the Hippodrome with a statue of the Byzantine empress Irene of Athens (r. 797-802) at the center of it.

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Constantinople in the Byzantine era
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Great Palace Complex of Constantinople with the Hagia Sophia, Augustaion, and Hippodrome, art by Ediacar
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Byzantine Constantinople skyline from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

It contains many Easter Eggs of Byzantine era objects and parts showing slices of life in Byzantium at that time thus giving readers a sense of what life was like then. This then makes this novel not only all about Byzantine politics, diplomacy, and warfare, but it also shows what ordinary life was like not only in Constantinople but for the Byzantine army campaigning across the empire.

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Athanatoi (Immortals), elite Byzantine cavalry

At first when the novel opens, you already get to see a variety of Byzantine war flags used in battle as well as the special elite cavalry force known as the Athanatoi or “Immortals” which here was commanded by John I’s loyal general and sidekick Bardas Skleros. When the scene shifts to Constantinople, you will see courtiers dressed in unique clothes and hats the way they appear in the illustrated primary source of that time which was the Madrid Skylitzes, then following that even the smallest details are included such as what kind of wine they drank as here it is said that the local wine of Constantinople was of bad quality as compared to the wine from other regions in Asia Minor such as one from Kyzikos which was shown later on which Sigurd drinks at the tavern finding it way better than the local Constantinople wine he tasted earlier on that Nikephoros Ouranos made him drink. According to the creators, the History of Byzantium podcast host Robin Pierson says that one source said the wine from Constantinople was of poor quality because of the climate and generally Istanbul today doesn’t have a good climate for growing grapes thus producing bad wine. In the novel, we definitely see a slice of ordinary life in Constantinople at a tavern where Sigurd after wearing Byzantine silk clothes for the first time as well as drinking the good quality spiced wine from Kyzikos plays the ancient boardgame of Tabula– which was in fact a popular Byzantine era game that the 5th century emperor Zeno (r. 474-491) enjoyed playing- and is an ancestor of today’s backgammon, while the tavern scene too shows another Byzantine era Easter egg which was the popular condiment garum that was usually put in almost every savory dish they had to give it extra taste, and other than that the tavern scene also shows a number of beautiful women dressed in loose and revealing dresses exposing a lot skin which also gives a rather sexy element to the story.

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Byzantine courtiers dressed in fine silk, Madrid Skylitzes

Later in the story, you get to see the lavish lifestyle in the imperial palace and houses of politicians and generals across the empire, the lavish food they ate, the expensive wine they drank, and the expensive and colorful silk clothing they wore. Later on, a scene with Basil Lekapenos reading a letter shows another Easter Egg, which here is an image from the Madrid Skyltizes, the famous chronicle illustrating events of this time. A majority of the latter part of the novel meanwhile shows a recurring element being a comet in the sky that does not only appear in one but many panels which the creators say that primary sources of this time mention that this shooting star was visible for 4 months straight, which is why it kept recurring. This comet was also shown here as a grim omen that terrible events were to follow wherein war will ravage Byzantine lands, and true enough the novel did end that way as when John Tzimiskes had died, civil war would begin as Bardas Skleros declared his intention to usurp the throne from Basil II. At the latter parts of the novel, you will also get to see a slice of life at a Byzantine army camp or Aplekton wherein the emperor which here was John Tzimiskes was at his own lavish purple tent and everyone else around in white tents, and during the night soldiers which in this story including Sigurd sat around a campfire sharing information and gossiping. One very small piece of Byzantine trivia too is discussed in the scene where soldiers sit beside a campfire which is a mention of the hard and dry bad quality Byzantine bread of the time known as paximadion and a treat then known as placenta cakes or koptoplakous which was a Byzantine desert which evolved to becoming today’s baklava.

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Tabula the board game
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A Byzantine army camp (Aplekton) from the Madrid Skylitzes

It remains very authentic to the era and is based on a large number of primary and secondary sources that true enough the word “Byzantine” or “Byzantium” is never at all mentioned in the novel the same way as it was in the previous one “Theophano”. The term “Byzantine” and “Byzantium” true enough was only first coined in the 16th century, a century after the fall of Byzantium (1453), therefore to make the story more authentic, “Byzantine” wasn’t used and instead simply “Roman” wherein the Byzantines are simply referred to as Romans and the Byzantine Empire as the Roman Empire, as true enough the Byzantines really called themselves Romans (Romaioi in Greek) and the empire as the Roman Empire (Basileia ton Rhomaion in Greek), and in the novel foreign characters- namely Sigurd- refer to the Byzantines as the Romans.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

Other than that, if not for fictional elements like Sigurd, Ariadne, or the unrecorded early career of Nikephoros Ouranos in the 970s, you can really tell that a lot of the information is factual as at the end of the book, there is in fact a list of primary and secondary sources that the novel and elements in it were based on while the author Spyros did a lot of research reading the primary sources. The primary sources for this graphic novel include the chronicles of 10th century author Leo the Deacon and 11th century author John Skylitzes in which the latter’s chronicle is the same well-known illustrated chronicle we know as the “Madrid Skylitzes” in which both these historical authors were used as the source for the important events of this time such as John Tzimiskes’ wars in Bulgaria and the Middle East as well as the rest of his reign. On the other hand, these chroniclers I mentioned do not record anything about Tzimiskes’ last campaign where he went as far as Palestine and came so close to capturing Jerusalem from the Arab Fatimid Caliphate, instead the only source for Tzimiskes’ last campaign of 975 was a letter he wrote to an Armenian lord, thus scholars still doubt if his armies ever reached the Holy Land. As for information on Basil II’s early life, the source for this was Michael Psellos’ chronology written in the 11th century which happens to be the only source offering a description of the young Basil II whether it is reliable or not as the author Psellos never personally met Basil II, although Psellos based most of his information on Basil from the emperor he was serving which was Isaac I Komnenos (r. 1057-1059) who personally knew Basil when he was young as Isaac was one of the many children of deceased generals who were practically raised by Basil II as his “children” as Basil who did not have a family sponsored many young men hoping they would be educated to be great generals. For the court ceremonies and court attire seen in the novel, the source for this was De Ceremoniis which was written by Basil II’s grandfather Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913-959). Lastly, the Patria of Constantinople was another primary source which was used for information on the smaller details such as the statues and some buildings that existed at that era in Constantinople. Meanwhile, a large number of secondary sources being modern day books were used for additional information for the novel and some of them included books I have read as well like Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis which does a great job in explaining Byzantium and its complex politics and military structures in the 10th and 11th centuries. On the other hand, the History of Byzantium by Robin Pierson too played a major role in the creation of the story by giving information on these primary sources, and another person too who had a large role in creating the story was author Eileen Stephenson who basically did the final editing of the texts. Using a large number of sources both primary and secondary thus shows that a lot of effort too was put into creating the story and not just the illustrations which surely makes it a true authentic Byzantine novel.

The illustrations of some characters are actually based on real life actors which therefore makes the novel more engaging to read especially if you notice that some characters resemble famous actors. For instance, the artist Chrysa says that the appearance of Nikephoros Ouranos in this novel was based on the appearance of Christian Bale while the appearance of the general Peter Phokas who although appears very quickly was based on Rami Malek, both being international celebrities. Other characters were based on the appearances of Greek and Turkish actors and actresses including Theophano from the previous novel in which Chrysa says her appearance was made to resemble that of Turkish actress Beren Saat. Chrysa on the other hand said that some characters namely Tzimiskes and Basil II were based on historical sources which the author Spyros finds, although Chrysa sometimes tweaks their appearances a bit to make them appear more distinct, but at the same time she also said she tries to avoid making a lot of characters- especially the lead ones- look like famous actors as it could distract and disorient the reader making them see these characters not as who they were like Basil II or John Tzimiskes but as the actor that they resemble. Some historical characters in the novel like Basil’s younger sister Anna Porphyrogenita meanwhile have no records describing their appearance, thus the character of Anna as Chrysa said was drawn to resemble a crossover of her parents Romanos II and Theophano from the previous novel. For me, I personally think that having some characters in a graphic novel like this resemble famous actors is a great touch as it could get its readers more and more engaged in reading it, therefore since I would not be doing a fan casting in this article, this section was basically something like a fan casting!

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John Tzimiskes, Theophano, and Nikephoros Phokas by Byzantine Tales

It has a suspenseful ending that hooks you up for a sequel which I would say is a good thing as a lot of great movies or episodes of a series with a follow-up always end with a cliffhanger. The ending of the previous novel Theophano meanwhile did not have so much of a “cliffhanger” element where it ended, as back then it was most likely unclear if it would have a sequel. This novel however ends suspensefully with the death of Emperor John I Tzimiskes wherein you could already suspect that Basil Lekapenos had slowly poisoned him as Lekapenos started fearing John was growing more independent and could remove him from power when it was in fact Lekapenos who helped make John emperor back in 969 by supporting him in murdering Nikephoros Phokas.

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Reconstructed tapestry depicting Emperor John I Tzimiskes

The story’s climax part features Tzimiskes’ final campaign in Syria and Palestine in 975 with Sigurd as well as Bardas Skleros joining it, although the army never made it to Jerusalem in which John had promised that they would capture it in the next year as one-night John fell ill, and when two doctors came to his tent you could already suspect that they were sent by Basil Lekapenos to poison him. However, it took John some time to die as for weeks, if not months he grew sicker and sicker as he was travelling back to Constantinople and when returning he first finally realized that Basil Lekapenos stole some estates from other nobles which therefore made John rush quickly back to Constantinople to put an end once and for all to Lekapenos’ greed, though before returning to the capital another suspicious event had happened when a doctor came in again this time at the residence of Maleinos in Cappadocia to give the emperor medicine which could have in fact been again covered up as poison sent by Lekapenos which was then poured into the emperor’s wine. When John had returned to the capital, it was already obvious that the second dose of the poison further weakened him and thus John knowing death was near spent his last few days cleansing his soul by giving away money to the people, preparing his own sarcophagus, and confessing his sins to a figure who appears to be the Patriarch of Constantinople, and thus as the year 976 began he died.

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Concept art of Bardas Skleros by myself

Following John’s death, Bardas Skleros who returned with him to the capital was demoted in rank by Lekapenos which Bardas did not take lightly because Bardas in fact believed he would be John’s successor as he was a strong general but he felt betrayed as Lekapenos already struck first even gaining the loyalty of John’s other loyal general Michael Bourtzes. Bardas when feeling betrayed then travelled east to Melitene where he declared rebellion against the newly crowned senior emperor Basil II who Bardas felt was incapable while many soldiers including Arabs and Armenians too joined Bardas’ cause and recognized him as emperor as they had grown tired of the corruption of Basil Lekapenos and did not want to be ruled by weak palace emperors like Basil II and Constantine VIII and instead wanted to still be ruled by a strong general like Nikephoros Phokas and John Tzimiskes, thus they all saw Bardas as their emperor. Sigurd however who was with the army camped in Melitene refused to recognize Bardas as emperor and this was when he proved that his loyalty was to Basil thus making him rush back to Constantinople wherein the new senior emperor Basil made him a full member of the imperial guard. Now the ending was basically a cliffhanger because first of all the novel ends with Basil II now as the senior emperor and Bardas Skleros rising up in rebellion whereas Sigurd was now fully committed to protect Basil and the imperial family- or what was left of it- though at the final scene, it is now fully evident that Basil Lekapenos is the true villain as he said he was done with strong military emperors therefore suggesting he poisoned Tzimiskes, and at the end Lekapenos also says he will be the one fully in charge with Basil just his puppet not knowing that Basil would one day become his own emperor and eventually get rid of Basil Lekapenos himself, but that is a story for another time. Now with the ending being a cliffhanger, my theory is that the next novel of this series would begin wherein the civil war between Basil II and Bardas Skleros breaks out wherein as I remember from real history that Lekapenos released a powerful rival being Bardas Phokas, the nephew of the late Nikephoros II from prison to battle Skleros while I too think that Theophano would return at the early part of the next novel as it is known that she returned to living in the imperial palace when her son Basil became the senior emperor in 976, though I also believe that this would possibly be the only role of Theophano in the next novel and after that she would disappear from the scene. For the next novel and the upcoming ones, I would definitely want to see more character development from Basil as well as his future battles and foreign conquests.

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Bardas Skleros (left) is proclaimed Byzantine emperor in 976, Madrid Skylitzes

Opinions, Suggestions for the upcoming novels, and Conclusion         

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Overall, I would say that this novel being the first part of the “Basil: Basileus” series is both an excellent follow-up to the previous novel “Theophano” and a perfect starter for this upcoming series by Byzantine Tales.

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Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

First of all, it is a good sequel because it shows a lot of continuity from Theophano including characters, locations, designs, and of course the complex Byzantine court politics that were featured in the previous novel while at the same time it also does not repeat too much elements from the previous one, therefore showing that the story really moved on. What I mean too that it does not repeat too much things from the previous novel is that this one does in fact show new locations in Constantinople and across the empire that otherwise did not appear in the previous one, thus showing that more creativity and effort was put into the story. On other hand, what I mean to say here by this novel continuing the previous one is that it really shows a lot consistency in its theme as the previous novel really had a lot to do with the complex and very thrilling Byzantine politics of the 10th century as well as a very action-packed narrative, though I would say too that the previous novel Theophano was something more like an introduction to this whole Byzantine universe created by Byzantine Tales wherein the fascinating yet complex world of the 10th century as well as its characters, locations, and situations are introduced while in this novel being the first part of the Basil series, you would already find yourself with the world introduced in the previous novel, therefore I would say that in order to fully appreciate this novel, one must read Theophano first.

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Basil II, Constantine VIII, and Anna in Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

Of course, you can always start with the Basil novel and get to know its Byzantine world as you read along, but if you want to fully understand the whole story, one must read Theophano first as in my case, when I read Basil, I was already very familiar with its characters and premise, not only because I am familiar with Byzantine history but because I already read Theophano prior to that. Now as I said that this novel is a perfect starter for this new upcoming series, what I mean here is that it did an excellent job first in introducing the emperor Basil II who would be the lead character for this series and here we get to at least see where he started out being a rather weak, spoiled, and inexperienced prince, thus when reading the novel, it would really hook you up to get so see Basil’s character development into one day being the tough and fierce warrior emperor that many who know Byzantine history remember him as. This novel too I would say gets viewers oriented with the new world order for the Byzantine Empire from the 970s onwards including the new rivalries such as that between Bardas Skleros and John Tzimiskes’ faction against Basil II’s faction which includes Basil Lekapenos, the new schemes, new battles, and so much more, and the next books for this series I can tell would be really exciting as the latter part of the 10th century truly got more and more exciting especially with all the civil wars Basil II would face in which he won at the end thus shaping him up to be a stronger ruler.

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Manuscript depicting co-emperors Basil II and Constantine VIII

At the same time, I would also say that this novel does not only hook you up with Basil’s character but with Sigurd as well as I mentioned earlier that he had a very great character development, and in the next novels of this series I do hope to see more character development from Sigurd as well as from Basil. Lastly, what I very much found interesting in this novel was not only how well detailed the battles of this era were but the complex politics which was surely brought into life including the rivalries between the powerful political dynasties of the Byzantine Empire in that time, the corruption and betrayals, and the ambitions of powerful military men like John Tzimiskes and Bardas Skleros. Overall, I would also say that the creators of the novel did the right move in choosing the 10th century as its setting- the same said for the previous novel Theophano too- as not only is the 10th century my ultimate favorite era in Byzantine history but it was the most complete since it featured everything that makes Byzantine history what it is from the epic battles, interactions with other people such as the Rus and Arabs, the very intriguing imperial politics and corruption in the imperial court, and the impressiveness Constantinople had as this was when Byzantium was at its height not only in military but cultural power.          

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10th century Constantinople from Basil: Basileus
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Scene of imperial Byzantine Constantinople, art by Byzantine Tales

On the other hand, no matter how much I found this novel being the first part of the “Basil: Basileus” series very fascinating, I still have some criticisms about it including my own opinions on how it could be made better as overall this review that I am writing here is made to be an honest one. First of all, I noticed a lot of scenes from the 970s wherein the story was set in left out including the battles of John Tzimiskes and more about his personal life. For instance, this novel basically skipped the first year and a half of his reign (970-971) which included the events following Nikephoros Phokas’ assassination, the first rebellion of Nikephoros’ nephew Bardas Phokas against Tzimiskes which failed, and the beginnings of his campaigns against the Rus in Bulgaria, but I understand too that these events were omitted as it would make the novel too long wherein it was meant to be a much shorter one, plus it was also better that the beginning already fast-forwarded to the campaign against the Kievan Rus’ in 971 to give it a much more epic opening.

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Icon of Emperor John I Tzimiskes

Another thing too that I wish was added to the novel was a Bulgarian angle that would actually show the Bulgarian tsar Boris II captured by Tzimiskes in 971 and paraded in Constantinople afterwards as true enough after Sviatoslav’s Rus’ forces were expelled from Bulgaria by the Byzantines, the Bulgarian tsar who was a captive of the Rus surrendered to Tzimiskes and was brought to Constantinople as a captive. The novel however did not show Boris II captured but instead just mentioning that Tzimiskes conquered Bulgaria thus surrendering the Bulgarian crown at the Hagia Sophia therefore hinting his Bulgarian conquest, but if I were to rewrite it I would at least show the Bulgarian tsar Boris II to really show that the Byzantines for the meantime captured Bulgaria as some years later Bulgaria would strike back in which Basil II would do the job of once and for all conquering the Bulgarian Empire. Other than showing a Bulgarian angle briefly, I also wish the novel showed more of John Tzimiskes’ personal life as emperor most especially his wife who was actually the twin sister of the previous emperor and Basil II’s father Romanos II, which would therefore show more continuity from Theophano, although again this angle was removed as it would further complicate the story if it were added by putting too many details that may seem unnecessary. I too wish that John Tzimiskes’ campaigns against the Arabs in the Middle East would be shown in more detail, but at the same time I find it good enough that the creators decided to show some scenes in the Middle East while adding some more details on Tzimiskes’ campaigns too would also further complicate things as not only would it make the story longer but because sources aren’t very clear as well on what exactly happened in that campaign of his. Other than these scenes that I mentioned wherein I would want to add some more into them, everything else in the story is fine the way it is and therefore I would not want to add or remove anything from it. However, if I were to say something negative about the novel, it would be on how I noticed that the illustrations of some characters are basically just recycled from the appearances of characters from the previous novel such as for example the appearance of Bardas Skleros here which just somewhat looks like the appearance of Nikephoros Phokas from the previous novel recycled and tweaked a bit while the professor at the university young Basil and Constantine were in too just looked like a slightly tweaked version of the eunuch Joseph Bringas from the previous novel. Now, if I were to rewrite the story, I would put more effort in creating the characters and not just recycle the appearances of some characters from the previous novel and slightly tweak them to make a different character.

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Painting of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium (r. 976-1025), art by myself

The scenes with Basil II and Sigurd too are perfectly well done and thus I would not want to add to it or remove anything from it. Of course the other things I would like to suggest are for the future novels of this series which I am sure will be featured such as Basil II’s further character development into the strong yet ruthless military emperor he was and the rise of the Komnenos family which would one day rule Byzantium as true enough the Komnenos family rose to prominence under Basil II as one of the military aristocrats loyal to him, thus I hope to see this angle in the upcoming novels as well as Byzantium’s famous diplomatic alliance made with the Kievan Rus’ during Basil II’s reign. True enough this novel is just the beginning as Basil II ruled as senior emperor for almost 50 years and his reign too saw so much happening!       

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Triumph of John I Tzimiskes in Constantinople with the captured Boris II following his 971 conquest of Bulgaria, Madrid Skylitzes

           

And now I have come to the very end of this article reviewing “Basil: Basileus” part1, and before finishing off I would have to say once again that it was a job well done and it surely does bring the Byzantium of the 10th century to life. In this case, it surely does market Byzantine history well especially to those unfamiliar with it, and in my opinion, it is because of its 10th century setting. For me, I personally think that if anyone were to market Byzantine history and all its excitement and complexities it would have to be the 10th or 11th centuries with Byzantium under the Macedonian Dynasty as this era really shows Byzantium at its height of cultural and military power as a medieval Greek empire. Of course, the era many people associate Byzantium with is the reign of Emperor Justinian I the Great in the 6th century, but that era is overdone and shows Byzantium more as an empire of antiquity, not a medieval one, thus having a 10th century setting for a graphic novel would really market Byzantium to readers, and this novel does exactly that. On the other hand, by giving its readers a very clear and vivid image of Byzantium both in story and illustration, it certainly does as I always say show that Byzantium does not only attract scholars and historians but everyday people. Now, as I finish I would once again like to congratulate the author Spyros Theocharis and artist Chrysa Sakel for doing an excellent job in bringing Byzantium to life with this novel and also for doing another great job after their first novel Theophano, while I would like to thank them too for sparing some of their time in answering the questions that I had for them which were instrumental in creating this article reviewing their novel. With all these reasons I gave for why this is an interesting novel, I highly recommend it especially for young adults and teenagers if they want to get into the fascinating world of Byzantine history especially with a story of someone they can relate to being Basil. This is all for this special edition article reviewing “Basil: Basileus” part1, and thank you all for reading!    

       

The Byzantine Renaissance: Byzantium in the 16th Century- An Epilogue to Byzantine Alternate History

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this story is based on historical events and characters, it is mostly based on my own personal theories and hypotheses on how things would be if Byzantium was around in the 16th century, thus it will be half fictional.

READ BYZANTINE ALTERNATE HISTORY CHAPTER XII FIRST!

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Welcome to the epilogue of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Unlike the past 3 articles I wrote which were spin-off stories to chapters I, II, and III of my Byzantine Alternate History series, this one will not just be a follow-up to chapter XII the finale of Byzantine Alternate History set in the 15th century but more or less an entire new chapter itself. However, since this story is basically an epilogue to the entire 12-chapter series and the conclusion to chapter XII, this one will still not be labelled as chapter XIII as the entire series was just limited to 12 chapters. This story despite being set in an entirely new century with its own timeline being the 16th century will still not be chapter XIII as it will basically just follow-up the events of chapter XII set in the 15th century together with its alternate history outcome, unlike all the other 12 chapters of Byzantine Alternate History which were all stand-alone stories with their own alternate history scenario wherein their alternate history outcomes did not continue to the next chapter. In this case, it will be different as the outcome from chapter XII wherein history was altered would continue on to this chapter, and so before reading this it is best you read chapter XII first! Now, as this story will be an epilogue to the entire 12-part series and a follow-up to chapter XII, this one will discuss what it would be like if the Byzantine Empire still survived up to the 16th century as true enough chapter XII ended with Byzantium still standing after 1453, which was the year Byzantium itself fell to the Ottoman Empire in real history. As this story discusses a what if of Byzantium still standing in the 16th century, basically everything happening around the world would still be the same with the only major difference being that the Ottoman Empire would not be around, which would therefore be a major change as the Ottomans true enough played a very major role in the story of the 16th century. Considering too that the 16th century saw so many developments happening around the wider world such as the spread of the Renaissance that was born in the 15th century to the rest of Europe, the Age of Exploration and colonization of new lands across the oceans, new scientific discoveries, and the Protestant Reformation, this chapter will include these happenings as well, though to keep things simple as I do not know the 16th century very well like how I know the history of Byzantium from the 4th-15th centuries, most of the story will be about Byzantium in the 16th century and how it will be keeping up with all the changes the world had been going through in the 16th century. On the other hand, as this story is more or less just an epilogue to chapter XII, it will not be too long and would not explain as much in terms of context the way the 12 alternate history chapters did, rather it would be more to the point without much side stories, though before moving on to the 16th century setting of this story, we will first have a recap of chapter XII and a summary of the history of the world before 1500 and what would be happening in the fictional post-1453 Byzantium. Additionally, although the rest of the events happening around the world in this story would be real, almost everything here will be fictional and based on my own hypothesis especially on the Byzantine angle as true enough Byzantium never in fact made it to the 16th century. Therefore, whatever would happen in this story would sound silly with so much things being made up, but it would not really matter for me as this is just my own hypothesis on what would happen if Byzantium survived into the 16th century. At the same time when writing this story, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to put Byzantium in a period of history many would be familiar with, as true enough many would be very much familiar with events and people of the 16th century than they would with previous centuries based on my observation.    

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Map of Europe in 1500, in real history

Note: Since this story is set in the 15th and 16th centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters here will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.


With chapter XII being one epic finale to the alternate history series featuring an epic battle to recapture Constantinople from the Ottomans in 1458, its premise was that Constantine XI Palaiologos- who was remembered as the last Byzantine emperor that died defending Constantinople against the Ottomans in 1453- instead of choosing to fight to the death against the Ottomans like in real history chose to instead temporarily surrender it to the ambitious Ottoman sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” in order to buy time to forge alliances with the now much stronger powers of Europe to one day recapture Constantinople from the Ottomans.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos in the Portuguese blue and white tile art style, art by myself

True enough, chapter XII ended with Constantine XI being able to join forces with the armies of Hungary, Albania, Wallachia, Venice, Genoa, and Portugal after submitting to the pope and making the Byzantines Catholic thus resulting in recapturing Constantinople from the Ottomans despite doing it at the cost of the lives of Constantine XI and Mehmed II. Although Constantine XI together with Mehmed II were killed in action at the end of chapter XII, the Ottoman Empire after Mehmed II’s death disintegrated while the Byzantines were able to recapture Constantinople with Constantine XI’s younger brother Thomas Palaiologos becoming the new emperor all while the Balkans which was prior to that under the Ottomans was partitioned between Hungary, Serbia, Albania, and Wallachia whereas the Portuguese Kingdom became a new naval ally to the Byzantines despite the great distance between Portugal and Constantinople. Now as for the premise of this epilogue story, the Byzantine Empire in this case after being restored in 1458 by Thomas Palaiologos would slowly rebuild itself and even regain territory in Greece and Asia Minor but still not be a major power anymore the way it used to be centuries earlier, although in this story’s case Byzantium would still continue to live on past the year 1500. However, despite Byzantium still surviving up to the 16th century in this story, the major change would be that Byzantium would no longer be what it once was as a Greek speaking Orthodox empire, instead it would adapt more and more to the developments in the 15th and 16th centuries and become a more global minded Catholic empire willing to be more in touch with the other Catholic powers of Europe and being open to have trading alliances with them.

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire (13th-15th centuries)

Although despite Byzantium here adapting to the times and becoming Catholic, it would still be a majority Greek speaking empire but with changing customs as no longer would they wear the clothes they wore for centuries, but instead they would adapt to the fashion styles and architecture and art as well of the Western world. At the same time too as this story will be set in the early 16th century, it will also discuss the more important happenings of the world as more developments were taking place outside Byzantine lands and the Balkans- like it did in real history- and again this would include the Renaissance of Italy and its spread to the rest of Europe, the changing of art and fashion styles, the Age of Exploration and new colonies established across the oceans which then introduced new products to Europe, the development of new scientific inventions and discoveries, and by the early 16th century the Protestant Reformation that began in Germany and spread across Northern and Western Europe, and how Byzantium would react to it. The main part and climax of this story would take place as the 1530s begin and here Byzantium is under the rule of the fictional emperor Justinian III Palaiologos, a grandson of Thomas Palaiologos who would be an exception of this time as he would be the first ambitious warrior-emperor in ages willing to once again expand his empire but at the same time can’t because his empire is soon to face an invasion that could put an end to it.

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Coat of Arms of the Palaiologos branch in Montferrat, Italy since 1306

In the meantime, this story will also discuss the long-lost branch of Byzantium’s ruling Palaiologos family that had ruled the small Northern Italian state of Montferrat for over 200 years- which was in fact true in real history- and here in this story, the fictional emperor Justinian III would be shocked learning that his distant cousins rule some lands in Italy and thus for this story’s climax, with Montferrat now having a succession crisis with no more male heirs to inherit it- just like what happened in real history as well- one of their female heirs which is Margaret Paleologa- a real historical figure too- would here consider marrying her distant relative Justinian III who in this story would still be unmarried at this time. As Justinian III would become emperor, Montferrat meanwhile under the other branch of the Palaiologos family would be in a difficult situation as they had no more male heir to continue their rule over Montferrat all while the ambitious expansionist Holy Roman emperor of this time Charles V of the Habsburg Dynasty would in this story be posing a threat to both Montferrat and Constantinople. In real history, the Palaiologos Dynasty’s hold on the small state of Montferrat ended in 1536 when Montferrat was absorbed into the Duchy of Mantua as Margaret married the Duke of Mantua Federico II; however, in this story rather than choosing to marry Federico II, Margaret would simply give up her family’s claim on Montferrat and instead marry the Byzantine emperor to reunite the Palaiolgos family. At the same time as well, this story of Byzantium surviving into the 16th century would feature new rising powers including the Principality of Muscovy in Russia that would aim to challenge Byzantium claiming that they are the true Byzantium despite Byzantium itself still living on as Muscovy was still proudly Orthodox while the real Byzantium was no longer, and far to the east the new rising power of the Persian Safavid Empire which could be seen as either a potential threat or ally to Byzantium. As for its climax, this story would feature a scenario wherein the ambitious Holy Roman emperor and King of Spain Charles V- who is in fact a well-known historical figure- now becoming Europe’s most powerful man ruling the Holy Roman Empire- that was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire- makes an attempt to invade the Byzantine Empire itself all while Byzantium too faces the rise of Muscovy in Russia as a new potential threat to their existence. With this story being in the 16th century, Byzantium would now undergo a major change from being a Greek Orthodox empire to a Catholic and global minded one the same way Byzantium centuries ago evolved from a Romanized Latin speaking empire to a Greek one, and with Byzantium as a new global minded power they too would take part in the developments happening in Europe and in the new age of trade, exploration, and colonization wherein Spain, Portugal, and France have so far been dominating in. Although this story will be set in an era in which Byzantium no longer existed, thus making almost everything here fictional, it would still maintain the same old elements featured in Byzantine era stories including shady plots and court intrigues, epic battles, feats of diplomacy, religious conflicts, powerful women with equally powerful men, and a legacy of a thousand year old empire to be honored; and to give you all a warning lots of blood and gore! Lastly, I would again have to say that since this story features an entirely fictional scenario being Byzantium in the 16th century, it is all based on my hypothesis and not really on any sources, and thus it may be quite a silly one especially to those who know the much more popular 16th century history of Europe and the world very well in which there are many out there that I know of. Other than that, this story’s lead character Emperor Justinian III was actually based on a drawing by Diogo da Cunha (follow him on Instagram @Diogos_Tales) of the same character with the same name which is also a fictitious Byzantine emperor who would rule the empire if Byzantium survived up to the 16th century, thus I would have to credit the artist Diogo for giving this story’s lead character and for giving a premise to this story through the character of Justinian III; while I would also like to thank the artists (jjulie98, HistoryGold777, Amelianvs, and Ediacar) as their works would be featured in this article.  

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The Fall and Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople, 1453 in real history
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Map of Holy Roman emperor Charles V’s (r. 1519-1556) territories in Europe (purple)

The Leading Characters:

Justinian III Palaiologos- Byzantine emperor since 1528 (fictional)

Margaret Paleologa- Heir of Montferrat and wife of Justinian III

Anne of Alencon- Mother of Margaret Paleologa

Charles V Habsburg- King of Spain since 1516 and Holy Roman emperor since 1519

Federico II Gonzaga- Marquis of Mantua since 1519 and duke since 1530

Isaac Palaiologos- Byzantine imperial court advisor and secretary, uncle of Justinian III

Giovanni Giorgio Paleologo- Marquis of Montferrat since 1530, uncle of Margaret

Vasily III Ivanovich- Grand Prince of Moscow since 1505

Background Guide: Byzantines/ Montferrat (blue), Holy Roman Empire (red), Moscow (green).


The Background- Byzantium after 1458 and Developments around the World (1458-1528)           

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Where chapter XII ended, the Byzantines together with their Genoese, Venetian, Albanian, Hungarian, Wallachian, and Portuguese allies managed to recapture Constantinople from the Ottomans- who took over Constantinople in 1453- in 1458.

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Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Portugal

However, the battle to recapture Constantinople was a long and difficult one until the Portuguese and their powerful fleet under their prince Ferdinand from their ruling Alviz Dynasty came to their aid and turned the tide against the Ottomans, but in the process of this the Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos died together with the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II when both battled each other using carriages to the point of falling off a nearby cliff and exploding in midair as the carriage that fell wherein both landed on had gunpowder barrels that exploded in midair. With Constantine XI having died, his younger brother Thomas Palaiologos was crowned as the new Byzantine emperor while the Hagia Sophia- which was once an Orthodox church but in the past 5 years under the Ottomans converted into a mosque- became a Catholic cathedral and as promised in the deal to submit to the pope and Catholic Church in order to gain allies from Western Europe, the Byzantine Empire itself was to change its religion from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, meaning its main cathedral the Hagia Sophia had to be transformed into a Catholic cathedral and the position of the Patriarch of Constantinople abolished wherein instead the Patriarch of Constantinople became the Catholic Archbishop of Constantinople answering to the pope.

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Thomas Palaiologos, younger brother of Constantine XI, Byzantine emperor in this story (r. 1458-1479)

When becoming the restored Byzantine emperor, Thomas had the mess of Constantinople from the battle against the Ottomans cleaned up while having a statue built in honor of his late older brother Constantine XI built above the city’s main column, the Column of Constantine- built in honor of the city’s founder the Roman emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337)- whereas the late Constantine XI was made a national hero of the empire for his sacrifice in battling the Ottomans which won them their victory allowing the Byzantine Empire to continue by taking back the capital, while the Byzantine senate too was reestablished. The Ottoman Empire meanwhile fell into pieces following Mehmed II’s death together with Constantine XI’s, as with no more sultan in charge there was no more leader while all of Mehmed II’s relatives in this story’s case too were put to death by Thomas’ orders to put an end to all claims on the Ottoman throne, and so because of this the surviving Ottoman generals and nobles returned to Asia Minor and once again returned to ruling their own small feudal states or Beyliks, the way the Turks of Asia Minor including the Ottomans were before they were united into the Ottoman Empire under Osman in 1299.

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire, born in 1299, died in 1458 in this story

As most of Asia Minor reverted back into small and disorganized Beyliks, the Byzantines from Constantinople restored their rule to Thrace all the way down to the city Thessaloniki which was once theirs before it fell to the Ottomans in 1430 while also regaining some of their old heartland Asia Minor up to the city of Nicomedia together with parts of Greece including a number of islands. With the Albanians under their own leader George Kastrioti also known as Skanderbeg assisting in recapturing Constantinople, Thomas agreed to cede the region of Epirus in Western Greece as well as Macedonia to the Albanians, while the Serbians too unlike in real history which fell to the Ottomans in 1459 were here able to continue ruling the Central Balkans, the Principality of Wallachia (in today’s Romania) under its prince Vlad III also known as “the Impaler” which was prior to this an Ottoman vassal was given control over Bulgaria which prior to that was under the Ottomans, while the Portuguese prince Ferdinand in return for providing the Byzantines and their allies naval assistance in taking back Constantinople were given the Aegean island of Lemnos to be used as a Portuguese naval base while the Kingdom of Portugal was made into a new Byzantine trading ally as well.

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Portuguese blue and white tile art depicting a 15th century Portuguese ship

Now by this point, the Kingdom of Portugal in the far west of Europe along the Atlantic coast was already a growing maritime power not only in trading in the Mediterranean but in exploring and already colonizing lands far to the south in Africa that were until then unknown to many Europeans, and thus products from these lands in Africa including wood and oils were even brought to Constantinople impressing the Byzantines. Now in his time as emperor, Thomas would not really have much resources and men to recapture lands they lost to the Ottomans and other powers in the previous years, considering that before 1453 the Byzantine army was so severely reduced and thus in the meantime wherein Thomas would be rebuilding the Byzantine army, he would mostly rely on allied troops from either Albania, Wallachia, and Hungary as well as ships from Genoa, Venice, or Portugal to defend his empire from raids done by the former Ottoman troops in Asia Minor as true enough the Byzantines no longer had a fleet, though once Constantinople was recaptured Thomas too began having the fleet rebuilt.

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Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1451-1458), died in 1458 in this story

Now in real history, the Ottomans under Mehmed II following their capture of Constantinople in 1453 captured Athens in 1458 from the Latin Duchy of Athens, Serbia in 1459, the still Byzantine held Morea (Southern Greece) in 1460, and the last standing Byzantine Empire of Trebizond which was founded in 1204 in 1461, while in 1463 the small Balkan kingdom of Bosnia too fell to the Ottomans and in 1478 all of Albania which the Ottomans tried so many times to capture finally fell to them. In this story however, with the Ottomans having disintegrated none of this would happen and so the Latin Duchy of Athens as well as Serbia, Albania, and even Bosnia would choose to be in peaceful terms with Thomas’ Byzantium while the Morea which in real history was ruled by Thomas and his other older brother Demetrios Palaiologos ruling as its Despots (princes serving under the Byzantine emperor) too in this story would not fall but instead still be under the Byzantines wherein here Thomas’ 2 young sons Andreas and Manuel would be made as its joint Despots as Thomas who was prior to that its despot became the new emperor in Constantinople and Demetrios who was also its despot before had in this story’s case- as discussed in chapter XII too- had died in the attack of Constantinople in 1458 being killed by Mehmed II himself as Demetrios who had betrayed his brothers by siding with the Ottomans after a change of heart opened the gates of Constantinople to his brothers Constantine and Thomas. Now ever since the 4th Crusade attacked and temporarily ended the Byzantine Empire in 1204 before it was restored in 1261- as discussed in chapter X of Byzantine Alternate History- a new splinter Byzantine Empire was formed in 1204 by descendants of the former imperial Komnenos Dynasty that ruled Byzantium from 1081-1185, and this was the Empire of Trebizond located at the northeast edge of Asia Minor along the Black Sea, although since they lacked the resources to expand to become a powerful empire, Trebizond chose to instead be a local maritime power in the Black Sea.

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Flag of the Empire of Trebizond, Byzantine successor state formed after 1204

In real history, this Empire of Trebizond survived up until 1461 when Mehmed II himself captured it from its last emperor David Megas Komnenos, however in this story with Mehmed II no longer around here, the Emperor of Trebizond David would still not surrender his imperial position to Thomas but would at least choose to be in good terms with the main Byzantine Empire, and thus there would still be more than one Byzantine Empire the way it was ever since 1204. As for Thomas, the biggest difficulty to him other than rebuilding his empire and Constantinople was in honoring his agreement with the pope to enforce the Catholic faith among his subjects as Byzantium had just freshly converted and still many of its people were proudly Orthodox Christians who as mentioned back in chapter XII would prefer to be under Ottoman rule rather than following whatever the Latin Church told them too, and thus Thomas’ early reign would be full of violence in Constantinople with many people rioting against his pro-Catholic policies and the suppression of their Orthodox faith wherein Thomas would have all this rioting put down with force thus making him highly unpopular.

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Double-headed Byzantine eagle, Palaiologos symbol

Thomas though being very Western-minded was more than willing to enforce Catholicism in his empire and so he did not care if he was removing his people’s soul being Orthodoxy as he believed that for the Byzantines as a society to progress the way the powers of Western Europe was, they had to be like them and this meant being Catholic, but in order to stay in power and not be overthrown by a popular revolution by his proud Orthodox subjects, Thomas chose to slowly impose Catholicism among his subjects and thus he allowed his Orthodox subjects to freely practice their traditions as long as they did not do it in opposition to his rule, otherwise it would be suppressed violently. In this story, only by 1468, 10 years after Thomas became emperor would things for the Byzantines be fully stable and here the new Byzantine army now adapting to the Western style of arms and armor as well with some units even using gunpowder weapons including rifles and cannons would be for the first time put into action by fighting campaigns against the now disunited Turks in Asia Minor, and true enough by 1470 the entire Western coast of Asia Minor including the important city of Smyrna would return to Byzantine hands. In the meantime, more developments would happen around the world during Thomas’ reign, and all this would be real historical events such as for instance the growth of the Renaissance in Italy wherein knowledge of Ancient Greece and Rome would have a revival in Italy thanks to Byzantine scholars in the past decades that escaped the unstable and poor Byzantine Empire and fled to Italy where the noble families there had the money to sponsor them, and considering that a lot of the texts about the Classical world of the past were in Greek, Byzantine scholars were in demand in Italy as many Italians were curious to know about the wonders of the ancient days, and considering that the printing press had already been invented, knowledge began to spread faster.

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15th century printing press

In Thomas’ reign in this story, one major achievement of his was in introducing the first printing press to Byzantium wherein a few machines would be established in Constantinople, and thus more and more people in his empire would start becoming literate due to more access to books and letters. Other than the rise of the Italian Renaissance, other important events happening around the world would include both the Kingdoms of England and France finishing off the Hundred-Years’-War with each other in 1453, although despite finishing the war between each other England fell into a succession crisis and series of civil wars known as the Wars of the Roses while in the 1470s France which won the Hundred-Years-War against England would become a dominant and highly stable European power under the Valois Dynasty. In the meantime, a new European superpower would emerge by this point being Spain and this would happen just like in real history in 1469 when the two separate Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon would unite with the marriage of the King of Aragon Ferdinand II and Queen of Castile Isabella I, and from here on Spain under one crown was a superpower as both Castile and Aragon prior to this were already powerful kingdoms with Aragon having control over lands across the Mediterranean including Sicily and even the Duchy of Athens, as true enough this Duchy of Athens was part of the Crown of Aragon, which was at one point in the late 13th century a Byzantine ally.

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Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, married in 1469, art by Jjulie98

In real history though, Aragon lost control of Athens to the Ottomans in 1458, but in this story since the Ottomans were already gone, Athens would still be under Aragon and here since 1469 under the new united Spain, which would thus trouble Thomas as a neighboring state was now under a new superpower that he was unsure whether they would be a potential ally or enemy. In this story just like in real history, Thomas’ daughter and eldest child Zoe would be arranged to marry the Grand Prince of Moscow in Russia Ivan III in 1472, however in real history the difference was that Byzantium had already fallen and Thomas had already died in 1465 while his 3 children were educated in Rome and so it was the Byzantine Greek Catholic cardinal and influential scholar Basil Bessarion that arranged Zoe to marry Ivan III by having her travel all the way north from Italy to Russia, though in this story with Thomas still alive in 1472, he together with Bassarion who here would be the Archbishop of Constantinople would arrange this marriage hoping to maintain ties with the Principality of Moscow (Muscovy), and thus Zoe here would travel from Constantinople north to Moscow to be married to Prince Ivan III.

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Zoe Palaiologina, daughter of Thomas Palaiologos and wife of Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow since 1472

Zoe although growing up converting to Catholicism when marrying the Orthodox Ivan III renounced her Catholic faith and returned to being Orthodox much to the dismay of her father Thomas and Cardinal Bessarion who arranged the marriage to make sure both faiths would be at peace with each other, and thus this marriage which was thought to be one to make an alliance with Muscovy was more or less a failure. In 1475 in this story’s case, the island of Lesbos which since 1355 had been ruled by the Genoese Italian Gattilusio family as Byzantine vassals would return to direct Byzantine rule as the Gattilusio family had died out while at the same time another set of Aegean islands would be ceded to Portugal by Thomas to ensure that the Byzantine-Portuguese naval alliance would live on. Additionally, Thomas would also maintain his alliance with Hungary as here Hungary was also major power under their powerful military king Matthias Corvinus as Matthias’ father the powerful Hungarian general John Hunyadi also assisted in the recapture of Constantinople from the Ottomans in 1458, wherein in the case of chapter XII, Hunyadi died in action there. Now in this story, Thomas’ reign would end in 1479 when he would die at the age of 70 after ruling for 21 years (1458-1479), and although he ended his reign leaving the empire much more stable than he had founded it, the Catholic faith wasn’t yet entirely strong in Byzantium as many people were still strongly Orthodox.

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Map of Byzantine Constantinople in the 15th century

Following Thomas’ death in 1479, his eldest son Andreas the Despot of the Morea now age 26 would travel to Constantinople to succeed his father as emperor leaving behind his younger brother by 2 years Manuel in the Morea in Southern Greece to continue ruling as its despot answering to Andreas. Now in real history, Andreas fled to Italy at a young age following his father’s death and would be educated in Rome and despite having no power, he still held the title of “Emperor of Constantinople” in which the Byzantine refugees in Italy referred to him as, however as Andreas grew older in Italy he wasted all his money and fell deeper and deeper into poverty to the point of selling his title to the King of France Charles VIII in 1494 hoping the French would recapture Constantinople from the Ottomans. However, Charles VIII died in 1498 with the title returning to Andreas who would then die in poverty in Rome in 1502 as the last holder of this title, although before his death in real history Andreas thought of selling his title again this time to both the rulers of the united Spain Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in which both refused the offer.

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Andreas Palaiologos, son of Thomas Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor in this story since 1479

In this story however none of it would happen as Andreas was already set to rule the Byzantine Empire and would become emperor after his father’s death in 1479, although like in real history Andreas here too would marry an Italian noblewoman named Caterina. Andreas would then begin his reign continuing his father’s policies in enforcing Catholicism in the Byzantine Empire while also continuing his father’s alliances with Portugal, Hungary, Albania, and Wallachia. Andreas however would not turn out to be as strong as his father Thomas was as emperor as he was rather wasteful in spending but he was still aware of the happenings around him and in his empire, and at least he still continued to slowly rebuild Byzantium. Now at this point in real history, Mehmed II had already conquered all of Albania and basically the entire Balkans for the Ottoman Empire while in 1480 he attempted a naval invasion of Southern Italy which failed and thus he died in the following year 1481. In this story however, Andreas would not attempt an invasion of Italy but by 1480 the independent Albanian state which would still be standing now under Skanderbeg’s son Gjon Kastrioti II as the Lord of Albania following his father’s death in 1468- like in real history too- would break his father’s peace with the Byzantines and make raids into Byzantine Greece.

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Gjon Kastrioti II, Lord of Albania since 1468

Andreas here would deal with the Albanians with force and would initially lose a number of battles to them due to the Albanians continuing to use the guerrilla tactics of Skanderbeg against the Ottomans previously. Although initially failing to crush the Albanian forces, Andreas’ Byzantine troops led by his younger brother Manuel the Despot of the Morea now in full plated armor and using firearms would defeat the Albanians in 1482 thus forcing Gjon II of Albania to pay tribute to the Byzantines. The Albanians however would soon enough refuse paying tribute and thus the Byzantine army led by Manuel together with the Venetian and Portuguese fleets would in 1485 invade Albania and fully annex it back to the Byzantine Empire, forcing its lord Gjon II to flee to Italy for good. In the meantime as Andreas was ruling as emperor from Constantinople, more and more developments were happening around the wider world and this was not only the Renaissance in Italy particularly in Florence reaching its peak but that in England, the devastating succession civil war known as the War of the Roses had come to an end when Henry Tudor defeated and killed King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, and thus became King Henry VII of England restoring stability and establishing the Tudor Dynasty.

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Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary (r. 1458-1490)

At the same time, both the Kingdom of Hungary under Byzantium’s ally Matthias Corvinus had continued to expand in territory- in this story’s case with Hungary even conquering the small Kingdom of Bosnia rather than the Ottomans conquering it- and so did the Principality of Moscow in Russia under Ivan III in which the latter had been expelling the Mongols who had been settling in Russian lands for a few centuries. In 1488, the one to make a major achievement was Portugal as here the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa thus discovering a soon-to-be sea route that led directly to Asia. In 1490 though, the powerful King of Hungary Matthias Corvinus would die, and following his death both Hungary’s power would decline and so would their alliance with Byzantium come to an end. As for the now united Spain under the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, in 1491 to assert Spain’s role as a Catholic superpower, they began the Inquisition wherein Muslims, Jews, and heretics in Spain were tortured to convert to Catholicism, and following that in 1492 the Spanish captured Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain from its last Moorish ruler Muhammad XII Boabdil forcing him to surrender, and thus ended the centuries old Reconquista or the war of the Christian Spanish to reclaim their lands from the Muslims which dated all the way back to when the Arabs invaded Visigoth Spain in the 8th century- mentioned in chapter V.

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King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile issue the Alhambra Decree, 1492

Following the end of the Reconquista with the Fall of Granada, both monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree which ordered the expulsion of all Muslims and Jews from Spain unless they converted to Catholicism resulting in about 200,000 fleeing Spain. In real history many of the Muslim and Jewish refugees that were expelled from Spain settled in the Ottoman Empire where they were granted asylum, but in this story with the Ottoman Empire no longer existent, they would seek refuge in Byzantine lands wherein Emperor Andreas would permit it even providing them safety, although this act of his would anger both the pope and the Catholic monarchs of Spain considering that Byzantium now too was a Catholic power. In 1492 as well, another major event took place for the Spanish in particular and this had to do with the Genoese Italian explorer Christopher Columbus convincing both Ferdinand and Isabella to sponsor his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean as he believed there was a way to reach Asia by crossing the Atlantic considering that the Portuguese had already found a possible way under Africa, thus Columbus thought of striking first in reaching Asia before the Portuguese did.

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Christopher Columbus “discovers” the New World, 1492

The king and queen of Spain true enough agreed and so by October of 1492, Columbus successfully crossed the Atlantic with 3 ships but rather than finding a way to Asia, he discovered a whole new continent altogether being the Americas, although he did not reach the mainland but just landed in a few islands in the Caribbean which he claimed for Spain, although when returning to Spain he lied to Ferdinand and Isabella that he reached India even calling the natives there as “Indians”. However, everyone including the Byzantine emperor Andreas would discover that Columbus did not reach Asia but land on a whole new continent- in which he was in fact not the first European to land on it as back in the early 11th century the Viking Leif Ericsson already made that accomplishment by discovering and temporarily settling in Eastern Canada- and so following Columbus’ discovery of 1492 he would again return for a second voyage in 1493 this time to establish Spain’s first colonies in the Caribbean.

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Amerigo Vespucci, Italian explorer in the service of Spain

Following his 1493 voyage across the Atlantic to America, Columbus would make 2 more voyages until 1504, although other explorers too namely the Italian Amerigo Vespucci also working for Spain the way Columbus did would progress further into the Americas as Vespucci true enough in his voyage from 1499-1500 landed in the American mainland itself in today’s Venezuela, and thus the entire continent of America got its name from his first name “Amerigo”. Now when finding out that Columbus discovered a new continent altogether- as basically no one really knew Vikings 5 centuries earlier already accomplished that- the pope at this time Alexander VI being the Spanish Rodrigo Borgia got the rulers of Spain Ferdinand and Isabella and the King of Portugal Joao II of the Alviz Dynasty to agree on the Treaty of Tordesillas which basically divided the world between Spain and Portugal wherein everything west of Europe was to be under Spain which included the Americas and everything east was to be under Portugal while all other rulers of Europe had to respect it, and in this story’s case this included Andreas too considering that now being Catholic he had to agree with whatever the pope said.

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Vasco de Gama, Portuguese explorer

The Portuguese now would make further accomplishments in exploration as in 1497, the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama sailed past the Cape of Good Hope and true enough was able to reach India by sea while afterwards returning home to Portugal through the same route by 1499, and thus because of this discovery and honoring the Treaty of Tordesillas, only the Portuguese were allowed to sail in this route to get to Asia making the Spanish now have to look for another route. Byzantium in this case still being allies with Portugal would be lucky with this new discovery of Vasco de Gama as the Byzantines would be allowed to sail through this route if they wanted to, although the Byzantines still did not have a fleet powerful enough to sail across oceans the way Spain and Portugal did, although with the Portuguese as a Byzantine ally, many Byzantine sailors and traders too would join the Portuguese fleet from 1499 onwards in missions to India and to the rest of Asia.

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Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvarez Cabral arrives in Brazil, 1500

The Portuguese however would not entirely honor the treaty with Spain as in 1500 the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvarez Cabral crossed the Atlantic too and thus discovered Brazil thinking it was an island and thus claiming it for Portugal. In the meantime, the Renaissance in Italy would grow to an even grander scale with artists and creators like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, and in this case with Byzantium still standing the art and sculptures of Michelangelo as well as Da Vinci’s paintings and inventions would be coveted even by the Byzantines while some of the nobles with enough money would buy some of their works while Andreas too would purchase one painting from each of them to be displayed in Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia. Andreas meanwhile would not have much longer to live, and like in real history, he would also die in 1502 in this story at the age of 49, although here he would die wealthy and as a ruler unlike in real history where he died in poverty living in Rome. As emperor in this story, Andreas basically lacked the mind of a ruler and was instead a decadent drunk who wasted the state’s money on partying and buying art including the works of Da Vinci and Michelangelo, although the empire was in good hands as his energetic wife Caterina mostly took care of state matters while his brother Manuel being a strong military man handled military matters. On the other hand, back in the year 1500 as the 16th century began, the one man who would one day rule most of Europe was born and this was Charles of the Habsburg Dynasty born in Ghent in today’s Belgium which was under the Holy Roman Empire, and he was one who had the luck of being related to Europe’s most powerful rulers being the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in his mother’s side and of the Holy Roman emperor Maximillian I Habsburg in his father’s side, and soon Charles would inherit both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire of Germany and its surroundings.

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Battle of Bosworth, End of the War of the Roses in England, 1485
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Fall of Granada to the Catholic Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, 1492
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Map of Christopher Columbus’ 4 voyages to the New World from 1492-1504