The Legacy of the Byzantine Empire- An Epilogue to the Byzantine Alternate History Series; Featuring Interviews with 3 Byzantine History Enthusiasts

Posted by Powee Celdran

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Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger! It’s now been over 2 weeks since I finished the final chapter of my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series that had been going on for almost 8 months! Now since I have just finished the finale (chapter XII) of my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, I thought that it would be a great idea to do an extra special edition article to share my thoughts on the entire series I made (beginning in February and finishing in September of this year), how it taught me more about the very fascinating history of Byzantium and enriched the passion I had for it for over 2 years now. If you have been following my site, then perhaps you would recall that almost a year ago I came up with a similar special article like this when finishing off 2020 (read it here) wherein I discussed my personal story with Byzantine history and what it meant to me, as well as my learnings from it wherein I also announced that I would be doing an alternate history series for Byzantium for 2021. Now, this article will be something similar to that, except this one would be simply limited to my journey in writing the 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series, and since I am very much tired as of now considering that I completed writing all chapters, this article itself will not be as articulate in words as the chapters of the series, basically this article you will read is just me talking regularly. On the other hand, as we also finish off another quarter of this year 2021, I decided once again to do it with another special edition article, whereas this year I have already come up with two previous end of quarter articles, the first one being an interview with 5 friends on their thoughts on quotes from the Byzantine era despite them not being really familiar with it, and the next one being my own personal ranking of the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my own personal best to least. This special edition article would then be as I said a reflection on all the 12 chapters I have previously written which covered the 12 centuries of Byzantium’s history with one chapter per century from the 4th to the 15th. By having over 1,100 years of history, the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) surely had gone through so much ups and downs, colorful characters that defined it, encountering all sorts of people from beyond, and so many changes both in territory and culture that would make it look like their empire’s history had gone such a long way that with about a thousand years going by, its history a thousand years earlier may have in fact seemed like that of a totally different country’s history altogether! Just as the Byzantine Empire and its history kept on evolving over these 12 centuries, the same can be said with my journey through these 12 centuries when putting all of them into 12 different stories over the months. From February to September of this year, I have gone through a very amazing yet challenging journey of writing 12 different alternate history scenarios for each of the 12 centuries of Byzantine history, and throughout these months I have somewhat gone through the same kind of ups and downs the Byzantines had gone through in their history, and in my case of writing this 12 part series, I have simultaneously been doing a social media campaign to spread awareness on the history of Byzantium where I have come across many groups on Facebook to share and gain new knowledge on Byzantine history, posted numerous posts on my Instagram to share some bits and pieces of Byzantine history, and as I always did since before create some videos in which I have shared on my Youtube channel No Budget Films. At the same time as I have written my 12-part series, I have created several artworks on historical figures and locations from the Byzantine era, and additionally throughout these past months that I have been sharing new information on Byzantium through Instagram and creating my alternate history series, I have also come across many channels and podcasts that made me learn more about the rich history and met so many interesting people along the way through social media who share similar interests as I do, especially in the very rich and complex history of Byzantium. As this article will be something to do about discussing the great legacy of the very colorful Byzantine Empire that still lives on up to this day, I will be interviewing 3 different people that I have come across over the past months on their thoughts about Byzantine history and how they can still see its legacy up to this day by asking each of them the same 3 questions, although each of them will be asked a separate 4th question after answering the 3. Much like the post I made several months ago wherein I interviewed different people on the history of Byzantium, this post would be something similar, although unlike the last one wherein I was asking people their thoughts on Byzantium despite knowing very little of it, for this one I will be interviewing those who are not only very familiar with it but passionate about it the way I am, thus the questions I will ask will be quite complex ones that only those who know Byzantine history very well can answer. This article will then begin off with my interviews on these 3 different Byzantine history enthusiasts and their thoughts about Byzantium’s history and legacy, then I will move on to my own personal journey throughout the time I wrote my 12-part series wherein I would like to share a behind-the scenes story of writing the 12 chapters including all the ups and downs I went through while immersing myself deeper into Byzantium’s history together with a bit about what other things I have been up to as I wrote my 12-part series, as well as the Byzantine themed artworks I made throughout the months. Afterwards, I would then move on to the lessons I learned from both the 12 centuries of Byzantine history and from my personal journey in creating content on Byzantium which for me was a very new experience as even though I have been into Byzantine history for the past 2 years and have posted articles about it, it was only this year when I began making myself public in sharing the history of Byzantium through social media. Lastly, this article will also have my thoughts on how I see the legacy of Byzantium living on up to this day, and then some updates on what I would do next now that I have completed my 12-part series, as after all my Byzantine journey is still continuing to go on.

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Read the 12 chapters of Byzantine Alternate History Here:

Chapter I- Roman Victory at the Gothic War (376-382), 4th Century

Chapter II- Preventing the Fall of the Western Roman Empire 4 Years in Advance, 5th Century

Chapter III- Justinian the Great Saves his Empire from the Plague and Personally Joins his Campaigns, 6th Century

Chapter IV- Constans II Relocates the Imperial Capital to Sicily, 7th Century

Chapter V- Emperor Artavasdos, the Unlikely Hero, 8th Century

Chapter VI- Irene and Charlemagne, the Wedding of the Century, 9th Century

Chapter VII- A Retelling of the Bizarre Byzantine Renaissance and the Macedonian (Amorian) Dynasty, 10th Century

Chapter VIII- A Byzantine Victory at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert and its Impact on the Empire, 11th Century

Chapter IX- Preventing the Catastrophic 4th Crusade in Advance, 12th Century

Chapter X- The 2nd Bulgarian Empire Captures Constantinople in 1235, 13th Century

Chapter XI- The Serbian Empire Takes Over and Saves a Dying Byzantium, 14th Century

Chapter XII- Constantinople Surrenders to the Ottomans in 1453 in Order to Buy Time to Buy Time to Start a Crusade and Recapture it, 15th Century


The Interviews         

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First of all, I shall introduce the 3 different interesting individuals that will be interviewed for this article, and although they may come from different parts of the world with their own different stories and world-views especially on how they see and want to share this rich history, they share a common passion for Byzantine history. The first of the interviewees is Flavian the Historian, a young Byzantine history enthusiast, artist, and influencer who had sharing and promoting knowledge on Byzantine history through his Instagram account (follow him on Instagram @flavianthehistorian) for more than a year now, and earlier on this year when I just started out with my own Byzantine history account similar to his, he was one of the first ones I followed and in return followed me due to having similar ideas, and on the other hand other he also shares engaging Q&As on his stories while he too has a number of interesting artworks on Byzantine historical figures which includes his drawing of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in which I included in chapter XII, the grand finale of my series.

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Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, art by Flavian the Historian

The second of the interviewees is Akitku (follow him on Instagram @akitku), another artist who does a lot of medieval era including Byzantine themed artworks and has also published the Crusades era fan fiction comic book Brothers’ Keepers’, and for many months I have also followed him on Instagram as he never fails to come up with interesting artwork whether medieval Western European or Byzantine, while I have also included some of his artworks in chapters III, VII, and VIII of my series such as his illustration of Constantinople’s Hippodrome and the chariot racing factions, his Emperor Justinian I the Great illustration, and General Bardas Phokas illustration.

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Chariot racing at the Hippodrome of Constantinople, art by Akitku

The 3rd and final of the interviewees is no other than the illustrator of both the recent Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale and 1821: The Beginning of a Revolution Chrysavgi Sakel (follow her on Instagram @chrysasakel). Although she says she isn’t very much knowledgeable about Byzantine history, she comes from a country where the Byzantine legacy is very strong which is Greece, while she has also done many Byzantine themed illustrations both for her graphic novels and for the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History.

Now, as for how the interviews will work, I will post each question separately and below them will be each of their own responses to the respective 3 questions, and once these 3 questions and each of their answers are done, I will move on to the bonus question in which each of the 3 interviewees will be given their own different question.

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The Hagia Sophia’s interiors from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, art by Chrysa Sakel

The Questions

1) In our present day, where can you still see the influence of the Byzantine Empire?

Flavian: In our present day we can still see the influence of the Byzantine Empire on the territories that it once ruled over, and especially in the region of Southeastern Europe. With the castles, the great walls around cities like Constantinople or Thessaloniki, and also the Byzantine churches and monasteries. These are the direct material heritage from the Byzantine Empire, but we have also immaterial heritage like the famous Byzantine chants that are still sung in the Orthodox Church. There is also the Byzantine art that is preserved by the Orthodox. There are a lot of things that are coming from the Byzantine Empire and I can’t cite all of them. The Byzantine Empire conserved and passed on the rich Greco-Roman culture, which had a very important influence on the Western civilization. Indeed, with the fall of the empire, the savants fearing the Ottomans fled to the west with the knowledge that the Byzantines had preserved and thus they participated to the Renaissance. As the Empire of Christ, Byzantium evangelized the Slavs, who are indebted to it for the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet, and the Orthodox faith is still present today. In Italy, Ravenna owes to Byzantium its famous basilicas with their sparkling mosaics, while Genoa and Venice have inherited Byzantium’s diplomatic genius.   

Akitku: To me, the Byzantine influence can be seen in historic architecture in many countries around the Mediterranean: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Southern Italy, Israel, and Syria. Byzantine architecture also influenced the art and architecture of other cultures. The Cyrillic alphabet is another Byzantine legacy and is still used in much of Eastern Europe. Also, many public institutions such as state-funded public hospitals, universities, bureaucratic records, and attempts at legal transparency took place in Byzantium earlier than they did in Europe, and I think they might have been a strong influence for Western states, which is completely unknown or ignored.  

Chrysa: It can be seen almost everywhere around me since I live in a country with a heavy “Byzantine” legacy. The vernacular Romaic written in the Epic poem “Digenes Akrites” isn’t much different from the modern Greek spoken today in my country. Most of the religious celebrations like Easter are celebrated in the same manner as centuries ago. Our traditional Greek dances and music have a lot of influences from the “Byzantine” period. Many traditional Greek recipes come from that time too.

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The Byzantine Legacy- The Land Walls of Constantinople

2) Do you think the history of Byzantium deserves more attention and awareness all over the world such as in being made into popular movies or series?

Flavian: I think that yes, the Byzantine Empire deserves way more attention, because of its big role and influence on the Western civilization. Now, making movies and series about it, I am not opposed, I would really like to see a movie about Justinian, or Basil II for example! But now, I’m fearing that there could be some derivatives where they are historical inaccuracies, or that the movie will be objectively bad and thus making a bad advertising on Byzantium. But I hope that something like that will not happen, and I would really like to see a good series about this topic!    

Akitku: I think it would be great if people learned more about the Byzantine Empire, especially about its developments and culture, not just its start and fall.

Chrysa: Definitely. I think right now Byzantium is on a steady path towards getting more and more historical attention. It’s very important to communicate the idea of the Roman legacy. To make a wider audience understand that the Romans actually survived and have a long medieval history that ends in the 15th century. This could make Byzantine history more catchy to a wider audience. Maybe then, we’ll be able to watch some really exceptional movies and series set in the medieval Roman era.

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The Byzantine Imperial Palace Complex of Constantinople, art by Ediacar

3) What are the greatest life lessons you have learned from the history of Byzantium?

Flavian: In the history of Byzantium, we can find all the different lessons in life. Because of course of its long history, and so there is a big variety of life lessons. Now, if I have to cite some of them when I think specifically about Byzantium, I would say that you must know how to combine strength and spirit. The mastery of letters with the mastery of weapons. You must have one same coin with two faces. The one face is the material domain, and the other the spiritual domain. You can’t have the one without the other, unless you want to become a monk, where you have to be entirely devoted to the spiritual domain. But on a greater scale, you can see that those two characteristics are present, especially on the Byzantine Empire! And I think that’s one of the reasons for its great longevity. 

Akitku: I think one of the main lessons from Byzantium is that internal divisions and corruption can lead to the destruction of great and culturally advanced communities. I think that it also shows that an advanced culture provides protection and help to its weakest members (the poor, orphans, etc.), in many ways I think this made the Byzantine Empire rather unique.

Chrysa: I wouldn’t say I am knowledgeable of Byzantine history. But one thing that comes to mind about the history of Byzantium is that whenever a person wants to achieve something, it doesn’t matter who they are, they will achieve it. Someone may say that the political system allowed it but still we have seen peasants becoming emperors, eunuchs controlling the empire, and women taking charge of a male dominated empire. So in our much evolved today’s society I believe it’s up to everyone to legally follow their dreams and make them true.

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Byzantine court life from Theophano: A Byzantine Tale, art by Chrysa Sakel

Bonus Questions

How do you feel about young people such as yourself being fascinated with and promoting the history of Byzantium?

Flavian: I am very glad to see that the Byzantine Empire is still fascinating those young people, and that we are not alone! Especially on our times, where sadly the majority of young people pass their time to do things that are useless, that doesn’t improve them culturally and intellectually. That’s why I’m very proud of those young historians who are being fascinated with the Eastern Roman Empire and are promoting it! They are transmitting this rich and precious knowledge to others, and in this way, they are keeping the flame of the Byzantine Empire burning, as if it had not been extinguished since the fall of Constantinople on the tragic day of May 29, 1453.

If the Byzantine Empire survived up to this day, how would things be like?

Akitku: This is something I wonder about quite a lot. I think it sort of depends on how it would survive, for example how much of it would survive in terms of geography. But overall, I think it would maintain its character as a blend of East/ West. I assume that Orthodox religion would still play an important role in its identity though I don’t think it would be a religious state. More like modern Greece, I think it would be a secular state in which the Orthodox Church would still be significant culturally. I imagine it would be advanced but also quite classical in terms of art and education.    

If there was one thing you would want to change in Byzantine history, what would it be?

Chrysa: I would probably try to stop the beginning of the Iconoclasm. So many invaluable works of art were lost during that time just like after the 4th Crusade. I think if Iconoclasm did not happen, everything that came later would be totally different, including the Crusades.


 

Behind the Chapters- My Personal Journey Writing the 12-Part Series       

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Since early 2019 I have already been writing Byzantine era articles for my own site which is this one, however I have never come across writing an alternate history story relating to Byzantine history the entire time I have been doing blogs on Byzantine history. From 2019 to 2020 I have written numerous articles on Byzantine emperors, culture, society, warfare, fashion, travel destinations such as Constantinople and Ravenna, and even cuisine, however it was when I came across writing all these said topics when I began thinking of doing something different, thus I thought of coming up with what if kinds of stories for Byzantine history. Now, even before I have started becoming passionate about Byzantine history in 2019, I have already been fascinated with what if kinds of stories especially if it had to do with history like Roman history, as before getting into the history of Byzantium, I was very much interested in its predecessor the Roman Empire. Additionally, in 2020 I have discovered the Youtube channel Dovahhatty and his series the Unbiased History of Rome, in which its name is very misleading and it is true enough a very biased but still very fun series of Roman history from Rome’s founding in 753BC up to the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century told through memes and animation, and it was through this series that I was soon enough inspired to write an alternate history series for the history of Byzantium.

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Icon of Dovahhatty

It was in December of 2020 when the idea first came into my head to do an entire alternate history series, though not for the history of Rome, but for the history of its successor the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, although it was particularly one of Dovahhatty’s videos which was Episode XVII- Imperial Wrath of his Unbiased History of Rome that got me inspired to do a kind of alternate history fan fiction. This particular episode was set in the 4th century history of the Roman Empire, which I would already consider part of Byzantine history, as I would mark the history of Byzantium’s beginning with the establishment of Constantinople by Roman emperor Constantine I the Great in 330, while this video took place after Constantine I’s death in 337 thus focusing on the following events with its climax being the death of the Western Roman emperor Valentinian I in 375 from a stroke caused by his own anger followed by a massive migration of the Goths from the north resulting in war with the Romans leading to a catastrophic Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople in 378.

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Roman defeat to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378

When carefully watching this video over and over again, it made me come to think that if the emperor Valentinian I in 375 did not die out of his own anger, then perhaps he would have been around to defeat the Gothic invasion of the Roman Empire that happened after his death in reality, as true enough Valentinian I was a strong and capable warrior emperor who would have enough experience in fighting barbarians in order to fully beat the Gothic invasion unlike his brother Emperor Valens who in real history tried to crush the Goth’s invasion but failed dying at the Battle of Adrianople. After thinking of this particular what if scenario, I eventually came to think that there would be a lot of others in the following centuries after the 4th that I could do what if stories on, thus I eventually came to conceptualize two other what if kinds of stories in Byzantine history with one being in the 5th right after the first story, and the other in the 13th century.

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Logo of my channel- No Budget Films

In addition, from October to December of 2020, I have also been doing a 3-part Byzantine history audio epic for my Youtube channel No Budget Films which was the 57 Years: Byzantium in Exile set in the 13th century during the 57 years (1204-1261) when the Byzantine Empire temporarily vanished as the 4th Crusade took over Constantinople, and when doing this audio epic series (watch episodes here), I also came to conceptualize an alternate history scenario taking place in that era. Before 2020 came to an end, I then finally came to decide that for 2021 I would do a series wherein each of the 15 centuries of Byzantine history gets its own alternate history story, and since there are 12 centuries in Byzantine history (4th to 15th), I had decided to come up with 12 different stories, as after all I came to realize that the best way to tell the story of Byzantium is to tell it per century, while each century in Byzantine history too is a story of a different ruling dynasty. It was then in January of this year when I finally decided what each of the 12 stories would be including the what if scenario, and in addition it was also right when this year began when I launched my Byzantine history Instagram account Byzantine Time Traveler wherein I was at first reluctant to start one, but when starting it I got the hang of it to the point of already putting my life into it, and though I had quite a steady although hopeful start with quite a small following and a lot to expect in the next months to come, I just began with posting old photos of different Byzantine era travel destinations that I have been to including Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ravenna with very short and simple captions. However, the moment I launched my Byzantine history Instagram and began writing for the first chapter for my new series, everything changed, and thus there was no going back as for the next 8 months, I would experience a very interesting and meaningful although very challenging journey especially when it came to promoting my Byzantine history content online and trying to get the people I am close to be aware of it. On the other hand, from January of this year onwards I would also come across many things I would call external elements beyond the chapters I wrote and this would include movies and series I have watched, places I have travelled to, people I met whether physically or online, and so much more which added to the inspiration in writing the 12 chapters of my series. Not to mention, as I was in the process of writing my 12-part alternate history series, I was also doing an additional project which was the continuation of my Youtube audio epic from last year, in which this year’s continuation series The Last Roman Dynasty would also cover Byzantine history from the 13th to 15th centuries although not told as an alternate history story, but still it was also quite a challenge as my mind would be on two different eras of Byzantine history at the same time until my alternate history series which I worked on much faster would catch up with the era my audio epics were set in.  

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Constantinople in the Byzantine era artwork, artist unknown

           

For my 12-part alternate history series, I thought it would be the best choice to write it in chronological form meaning that it would begin with the origins of Byzantium’s history in the 4th century and end with its fall in the 15th, thus I would chronologically go over 12 centuries in a span of 7 months. Now although the first chapter of my 12-part series was published on February 11 this year, the conceptualizing and writing process for it began about a month prior to that in January, however I still waited for an entire month to publish it as even though I fully wrote the story itself, I was still thinking of how to systemize the rest of my alternate history series while at the same time I was also busy laying the foundations for my Byzantine history account which was progressing quite slowly only reaching 100 followers by the end of January, then at the beginning of February I also created my own Facebook page for my Byzantine history Instagram account.

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Theophano: A Byzantine Tale graphic novel by Spyros Theocharis

On the other hand, for the first 3 weeks of this year I was reading the new Byzantine era graphic novel Theophano: A Byzantine Tale (2020) that I was so excited about, which was true enough a very fascinating read that I even made a review on for my site (read it here) which included my own fan casting for the novel’s characters, and luckily for me the creators even shared it on their Instagram and Facebook page. The article that I made reviewing the graphic novel was then the very first one I published for this year, even before publishing the first chapter of my alternate history series, and at the same time I also created my first Byzantine history themed artwork by the end of January which was a chart of the structure of the late Roman military from the late 3rd to 6th centuries, which was surprisingly a very great hit on the Facebook groups I shared it to that it in fact got hundreds of shares which I only discovered months after I first shared it, and true enough this drawing of mine is one of the first results you see on Google images when searching “Late Roman Military Structure”. This drawing would then also be used as a guiding illustration for the first 3 chapters of my alternate history series as these first 3 chapters prominently featured the late Roman army which is the drawing’s main subject. What then took long for me to publish the first chapter happened to be the system of my alternate history series, but at the end I still finalized how the system would be like wherein each story has its own alternate history scenario wherein they do not continue to the next chapter, but rather each chapter begins with events that took place in real history and will only be altered as the story progresses.

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The Byzantine chi-rho symbol

The first chapter would then already begin the system I would use for the next 12 ones wherein each chapter and its sections begin with the Byzantine Empire’s chi-rho symbol, a disclaimer at the beginning, optionally a quote from the era the respective chapter is set in, the Byzantine Empire’s flag and maps at the intro section, links to my social media accounts and other related articles, related videos, and images wrapped into the texts of the paragraphs as well as features of artworks relating to the respective century the chapter was set in by various online artists in which already began in chapter I. Another thing I have done for my series’ first chapter that would then be a standard for the next 11 chapters would be my own illustrations of the leading characters for each story- in which I was inspired by the Theophano graphic novel which begins the story with illustrations of the story’s leading characters- though the one for the first chapter featured a total of 27 character illustrations as true enough the story featured so many characters including Western and Eastern Romans and Greuthungi and Thervingi Goths wherein the characters’ background colors depended on the country/ empire they came from.

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Sample of the Byzantine Alternate History chapters’ character illustrations

As for the first chapter’s story, I would say it was quite simple to write it as most of it basically just featured battle sequences while its setting being the 4th century was not a really complicated one considering that the century’s story basically only focuses on the Roman Empire and its neighbors in which they never really had much of except for the powerful Sassanid Persian Empire to its east and the Germanic tribes such as the Goths in the north which here were being chased west into migrating into the Roman Empire’s borders by the westward expansion of a new mysterious enemy, the Huns. When writing the first chapter, I also set a standard for my series which was in giving a background and context to the story’s setting, although for the first chapter I wrote the background in a very simple way just to mention Constantinople’s and therefore the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire’s establishment by Emperor Constantine I the Great in 330, the aftermath of his death in 337, the origins of the Goths in Central Europe and the spread of the Arian Christian faith from the Roman Empire to the land of the Goths, and the rise to power of the general Valentinian in 364 who then became emperor of the western half of the Roman Empire appointing his brother Valens as the emperor of the eastern half based in Constantinople.

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Western Roman emperor Valentinian I (r. 364-375)

Now the main premise for the first chapter’s story wherein I was inspired by Dovahhatty’s video was to have the western emperor Valentinian I who in real history died in 375 from a stroke caused by his own anger escape death and live long enough to see the massive Gothic migration into the Roman Empire in the following year (376) in which he was not alive to see happen and possibly stop it and save the empire from breaking apart. True enough for the story’s climax I had Valentinian survive 375 although only meet up with his brother and eastern co-emperor Valens in 378 when the war between the Roman Empire and the invading Goths was already in full-scale. For chapter I however, the main highlight I really put a lot of attention to in writing was really the action scenes wherein I wrote its climax being the 378 Battle of Adrianople as a massive epic battle in this story with both brothers Emperors Valentinian and Valens teaming up together with their respective Eastern and Western Roman armies against the hordes of the Gothic king Fritigern and his toughest warriors. At the same time, I also included as many named characters as I could for this chapter’s epic battle and these included notable Romans of this time including Arbogast, Stilicho, and Theodosius despite them not yet rising to prominence by the time of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, while another thing I did here for experimenting was in blending in an entirely fictional character into the historical setting which here was the female Gothic warrior Valdis.

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Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), last emperor of a united Roman Empire, art by myself

Although chapter I was more or less plainly an action epic story without much depth, I also thought of adding a few elements of drama and betrayal such as an entirely fictional scenario of the future Roman emperor Theodosius I- who in real history came to power in 379- betray Rome and join forces with the Goths feeling he would gain greater power with the Goths, while also since I began writing this chapter shortly after season 3 of the Netflix series Cobra Kai was released, I put in a few references to the show in the story considering that both had the same kind of action epic genre in common. Now for the endings, I always end each chapter with the side of the Romans (Byzantines) winning despite them losing in real history, thus chapter I ended with a Roman victory at the Battle of Adrianople, although I ended the story discussing possible outcomes from this Roman victory in which I just chose to keep the question hanging. When the entire article was finished and published on February 11, I immediately shared it on social media considering that this era where the story was set in which is the Late Roman era is a popular one more so compared to later centuries in Byzantine history, thus it received quite positive feedback especially in the Late Roman Group on Facebook where one commented saying the idea of Valentinian surviving and living up to 378 to beat the Goths was a good and interesting idea no one has ever thought of considering that Valentinian was a strong warrior emperor that rarely lost battles against barbarians, however chapter I also got some mixed feedback as when I shared it in the comments of the channel Eastern Roman History in his video about the Valentinian Dynasty, someone commented saying that in a way my article was not professional enough as it quoted the rather comedic parody historian Dovahhatty, which was quite hilarious. With the first chapter completed, I then felt that there was no more going back and so the rest of my Byzantine journey continued, both in social media and my blogs.

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Visual guide to the Late Roman army’s structure, art by myself
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Goths settling in the Roman Empire, 376
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Late Roman era legionnaires in battle
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Defeat of the Romans to the Goths at the Battle of Adrianople, 378

Right when conceptualizing chapter I’s story, I was already conceptualizing what I would write for chapter II, and even before writing the series I already knew what story the 2nd chapter would feature, again thanks to Dovahhatty. Chapter II’s what if scenario was then inspired by Dovahhatty’s finale The Fall of Rome which was Episode XIX of his Unbiased History of Rome series, which was a rather unknown scenario in the 5th century history of Rome regarding a secret letter which in real history was discovered thus leading to the death of the dying Western Roman Empire’s last strong and competent emperor Anthemius in 472, and afterwards leading to the collapse of Western Rome just 4 years later (476), an event everyone who basically does not know about Byzantium remembers as the fall of Rome. Although between the completion of chapter I and the beginning of writing chapter II, I had another Byzantine history project ongoing which was the first video for my new 2021 series The Last Roman Dynasty for my Youtube channel, thus the challenge here was shifting my mind between the 5th century where the 2nd chapter of my alternate history series was set in and the late 13th century where this video (Part I: Michael Palaiologos’ Imperial Restoration) was set in, although luckily I have already written the script for this video back in January before even writing the first chapter, and thus between publishing chapter I and II, I uploaded this 43-minute video being the first for this audio epic series which is still ongoing up to now.

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Flag of the Western Roman Empire, 395-476

When writing the second chapter, true enough I wrote its background and most of the story’s main part with such great speed as I already knew the history of the 5th century Roman Empire very well due to both taking notes in advance based on other videos of this era including time-lapse videos on the fall of Western Rome in the 5th century and of course memorizing it after watching Dovahhatty’s Fall of Rome over and over again. It was also here when doing Chapter II wherein I first came across the history related Youtube channel Thersites the Historian which I would then use as a reference for the rest of the entire series up to the end, as his videos do indeed explain the complicated parts of history including the reigns of each and every Byzantine emperor up to the 11th century in complete detail, thus for chapter II it proved to be such a great help.

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Western Roman and Foederati (barbarian allied) soldiers, 5th century

For chapter II, it was also easier as I just used the same formula I used for chapter I, while I again did the individual character illustrations for the story’s main characters, although unlike in chapter I wherein I did a complete set of 27 character illustrations, for chapter II I only did 20 which was still a lot, as unlike in the previous chapter, chapter II did not have all these characters all have a big role at the same time but rather in different time settings, as chapter I’s story basically just focused on a time setting from 375 to 378, whereas chapter II covered the entire 5th century up to the 460s in its background section to establish the rise of the Germanic barbarians and the rapid decay of the Roman Empire due to the barbarian migrations and invasions, the permanent split of the Western and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires in 395 after the death of Theodosius I who was the last emperor of a united Roman Empire, political instability in the Western empire, the apocalypse being the invasion of Attila the Hun and how it just faded away, and the last days of Western Rome wherein the Germanic barbarians basically just won and sought to destroy the empire both from within and beyond. On the other hand, the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire was at relative peace for most of the 5th century that they managed to survive the threat of Attila; thus, the Byzantines do not have much of an exciting story until the latter part of the 5th century. For me, I personally find the 5th century one of the most interesting in Byzantine history which is why I ranked it as 2nd place in my article of ranking the centuries- with the 10th century as first place- and due to my strong interest in this century which is however not a very much popular one in Byzantine history, I put a lot of attention into writing chapter II.

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Emperor Leo I (Leo Marcellus) of the Eastern Roman Empire (r. 457-474)

Chapter II was then another action-packed epic story where its main part then took place beginning the 460s when both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires are controlled by powerful barbarian generals acting as kingmakers wherein the emperors are just puppets to them whereas the east is practically ruled by the Gothic general Aspar who was the power behind the 3 consecutive eastern emperors Theodosius II (r. 408-450), Marcian (450-457), and Leo I (457-474) while the west is ruled by the Gothic general Ricimer, the undefeatable puppet-master. However, in the east, Aspar’s puppet Leo I turns out to have no desire of being a puppet and while he sent his friend and once rival, the Eastern Roman Anthemius to the west to rule it as his puppet emperor, Anthemius still falls under the influence of the powerful Ricimer in which both become each other’s enemy. This chapter too features the unexpected rise of the Germanic Vandals from a small tribe to the masters of the Mediterranean in only a few decades under their king Genseric that they were in fact able to seize the Roman fleet, sack Rome in 455, control most of the Mediterranean, and defeat the combined fleet of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires numbering up to 1,000 in 468.

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Emperor Anthemius of the Western Roman Empire (r. 467-472)

At this very chaotic time, the Vandal king Genseric also acts as a kingmaker to the failed state of the Western Roman Empire, and as Genseric pressures Leo I of the east to recognize his own Roman puppet Olybrius as Western emperor, as the Eastern emperor had the power to make a Western emperor being his puppet a legitimate one, Leo soon enough breaks free from Aspar’s influence and kills Aspar finally becoming an independent emperor and thus saving the Eastern Roman Empire from falling to barbarian influence and allowing it to survive, while he also encouraged his Western puppet Anthemius to do the same, thus Leo pretends to accept Genseric’s demands to make Olybrius the western emperor, though in fact Leo had happened to send a secret letter to kill both Olybrius and Ricimer and thus save Anthemius and the Western Roman Empire. In real history, Ricimer intercepts the letter in advance, proclaims Olybrius as his new puppet emperor, and murders Anthemius who he began to believe was too independent and could not be controlled. In this alternate history story however, Anthemius gets the letter in advance and kills both Ricimer and Olybrius, thus the Western Roman Empire continues to live on but at a cost, as my alternate history story would discuss a possibility of a world war before it was even a thing to erupt between the Eastern and Western Romans against a united coalition of barbarian tribes considering that the 5th century was the era of the rise of the barbarian powers.

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Zeno the Isaurian, Byzantine emperor (r. 474-475/ 476-491), art by myself

Chapter II did also feature interesting characters of this era including the Isaurian general Zeno who was Leo I’s successor who may have been unpopular due to his heritage of coming from a mountain tribe in Asia Minor but at the end in real history saves the Eastern Empire from falling to barbarians like the west did in 476, while in the alternate history version Zeno too succeeds Leo and takes part in the fictitious world war all while the Western Roman Empire too lives beyond 476 in the story. Now I also have to admit that it was chapter II that I enjoyed writing a lot that when writing it, I got so immersed into the world of the Late Roman Empire, although on the negative side the era this chapter was set in barely had online images relating to it making this chapter be the one in the entire series with the least images, however this made me immerse more into the time setting as without the images, I basically had to imagine life back then, while also the what if I chose was a very obscure one compared to maybe writing an alternate history story in this era wherein Rome does not get sacked by the Vandals in 455, however the more obscure what if story made me enjoy writing it even more. Chapter II was then completed and published on February 28 and shared on social media 2 days later, and the most memorable part was that I completed and shared this chapter not at home or nearby but while I was on a road trip at a very remote place which then lasted for more than a week, and because of finishing this chapter while on a trip, my mind throughout the trip was still in the 5th century setting.  

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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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Roman Empire 5th century map, dissolution of the west (red).
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Fall of the Western Roman Empire, the last emperor Romulus Augustus surrenders to Odoacer, 476

For chapter III of Byzantine Alternate History, I then had a completely different approach as this was the first story to be written in collaboration with another Byzantine history fan, and this was Justinianus the Great (follow her on Instagram @justinianusthegreat) who I have known since the very first weeks of doing my Byzantine history Instagram, and not too long after we got to know each other, we already chatted a lot about Byzantine history to the point of doing a role playing wherein we travelled back in time and played different Byzantine era characters.

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Emperor Justinian I the Great of Byzantium (r. 527-565)

Although the 3rd chapter of the alternate history series was published on March 22, the conceptualizing process for it including the role-playing with Justinianus where we went back to the 6th century whereas she played the influential Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great and I played other characters through Instagram chat started out back in January, though the role play chat itself went on for about 2 months! This character role playing through Instagram chat did in fact occur for so long that I was able to publish 3 articles being my review on the Theophano novel, chapter I and II of the series, and one video for my channel. However, the writing process for the 3rd chapter only began in mid-March after coming back from the same road trip wherein I finished chapter II while the role playing on Instagram chat was still ongoing as well, and luckily before writing chapter III, Dovahhatty released his own episode on Justinian the Great (Unbiased History: Byzantium II- Justinian the Great), which was indeed such a great help to writing the 3rd chapter as the story for the chapter which was about the influential Justinian the Great was to be a very complex one that so many books and videos have had their own take of it. In addition, other than Dovahhatty’s video on Justinian, the same channel Thersites the Historian was of great help in explaining the situation of the 6th century and so was the History of Byzantium Podcast by Robin Pierson, although Dovahhatty made the story plain and simple enough in order to put it all into one story as after all the reign of Justinian I (527-565) was not only long but very eventful.

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Emperor Justinian I of Byzantium and Shah Khosrow I of the Sassanid Empire, by Justinianus the Great

The role-playing chat with Justinianus meanwhile did serve as the basis for the fictional part of the story especially on Justinian’s life that history does not record, therefore we made up some parts of his life including his thoughts and personality for the story through the role-playing. As for the story of chapter III, a lot of the same locations, characters, and themes from chapter II still continued- although not the alternate history outcome- as the time jump between chapter II and chapter III was in fact very short, and true enough chapter III’s lead character Justinian I was born in 482 just 6 years after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476), while other characters in chapter III were in fact still alive back when the Western Roman Empire was existing. Due to the relatively short time jump from chapter II to III, some of the same characters from chapter II such Emperor Zeno and the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great returned for the background part chapter III, as well as the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths, although the one power that was mostly left out in the previous two chapters was the Sassanid Persian Empire in the east, and only in chapter III did they begin having a major role in the story, as true enough it was only in the 6th century when the Sassanids again began to be a bigger threat to the Romans as while Justinian I ruled Eastern Rome, the Sassanids had a ruler equally as ambitious as him which was Khosrow I.

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Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora at the imperial court

Another new feature chapter III had was that it was the first time in the series which from here on the word “Byzantine” would be used referring to the Eastern Romans, and this was due to the Western Roman Empire falling in 476, however the term may be incorrect as the Byzantines even after the fall of Western Rome in 476 never called themselves “Byzantine” but still continued calling themselves “Romans” and only in the 16th century after Byzantium fell was the term “Byzantine” only first used to refer to them. However, since the series was called “Byzantine Alternate History”, and also for the sake of not confusing viewers, I chose to stick to referring to the Eastern Romans from chapter III in the 6th century onwards as “Byzantines”. Now the big challenge for chapter III was to put all the spectacular events in Justinian I’s reign into one story, thus chapter III would then become the longest so far that I have written considering that it covered Justinian’s wars against the Sassanids, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths that he never fought in personally despite the Byzantines taking back North Africa, Italy, and Southern Spain, while it also featured the Nika Riots of 532 that almost destroyed Constantinople if it were not for Justinian having it brutally put down, the spectacular careers of his generals like Belisarius and Narses, the codification of Roman laws, the construction of many notable landmarks like the Hagia Sophia, the Plague of Justinian that almost brought the empire down killing thousands each day, and the hidden story of how Justinian acquired silkworms from China using these smuggled silkworms to begin manufacturing silk in Byzantium. With all these events taking place in one story, it was then set to be a very spectacular one that was not only an action story but one with a lot of drama, intrigue, and overall a larger-than-life figure which was Emperor Justinian I the Great.

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Flavius Belisarius, Byzantine general in Justinian I’s reign, art by Amelianvs

The writing process of chapter III was then something very engaging and memorable especially when putting all these legendary historical figures like Emperor Justinian I, his wife Empress Theodora, the generals Belisarius and Narses, the finance minister John the Cappadocian, the jurist Tribonian, the Sassanid emperor Khosrow I, the Ostrogoth king Totila, and Justinian I’s nephew and successor Justin II into one story, while just like in chapter I and II wherein I blended fictional characters into the historical setting wherein in chapter I it was the female Goth warrior Valdis and the assassin/ soldier Cyriacus in chapter II who was the one made up for the story to carry the secret letter to Anthemius, while in chapter III the made up character was a general named Andreas who was made to join in Belisarius’ campaigns and later encourage Justinian himself to take part in the campaign to put Italy back under Roman rule, and this character Andreas was created in the role-playing chat with Justinianus wherein I played as Andreas, however he would also be the last made up character to be blended into a historical setting for the entire series.

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The Plague of Justinian, 542

Now the alternate history scenario for chapter III had a lot to do with the deadly plague of 542 that Justinian himself was a victim of, although in the story Justinian would end up using the plague as an act of biological warfare which he would use against the Sassanids in the east by sending over plague victims there to spread the plague and destroy their empire in order to focus on his dream of reconquering the lost Roman west. Other than the plague, the other fan fiction part of the story was in having the old emperor Justinian himself join his military campaign to recapture Italy from the Ostrogoths, and in the story Justinian being depressed over the death of his wife Theodora in 548 would go himself to Italy to get a sense of purpose again, though on the other hand the other part the story wanted to explore was to have Justinian properly train his successor, his nephew Justin II as in real history Justin II succeeded his uncle in 565 following his death without any proper training in running an empire, though in this story what would be different would be that Justin would join his uncle Justinian in his Italian campaign to train to be a strong ruler like his uncle.

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Emperor Justin II of Byzantium (r. 565-578), nephew and successor of Justinian I

True enough the story ended happily with Justin II succeeding his uncle in 565, and with the Sassanid Empire no longer around things would be much easier for him especially in focusing on the reconquest of the west, unlike in real history where Justin II inherited from his uncle a very massive empire covering the entire Mediterranean that proved to be too difficult to hold together. Indeed, the 6th century was a very challenging time with the Byzantines reconquering Roman lands lost to barbarians all while they were being pressured by the Sassanids in the east and by a deadly plague, and even though Justinian I achieved his dream in the end, it still cost a lot as the plague and wars depopulated his empire, most especially Italy that just shortly after his death, Byzantine rule over Italy would gradually slip away to a new barbarian invader, the Lombards.

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Icon of Emperor St. Justinian the Great (r. 527-565)

Just how the 6th century was a great challenge that still achieved a lot at the end, it was also a great challenge to write chapter III considering that it was longer than the previous two chapters and had so much story to tell, while chapter III did include a lot of images too. When writing the chapter though, the bigger challenge came from outside as while I was writing the chapter, I was simultaneously busy with school work as I am still in college, and it was true enough very challenging to the point of becoming quite too stressful that I had already slept so very little in the process of doing chapter III with school work combined, that it was here when I decided to take a long break from school to focus on my alternate history series, as it would be hard to balance two difficult things at the same time. Additionally, it was when writing chapter III that I started becoming more ambitious in writing my stories that my stories would not only consist of words but images that I drew, and during March when I published chapter III, this is when I began becoming serious in doing Byzantine themed artworks, wherein one I made at this time was the black and white image of Emperor Zeno, as well as the illustrations of chapter III’s lead characters and a visual genealogy for Justinian’s Dynasty. At the same time, it was during the process of writing chapter III when I began a new gimmick for my Byzantine Instagram account, and this was in posting content related to the era of my current alternate history chapter, and here since my mind was set in the 6th century, most of my Instagram posts then had a lot to do with events happening then. The challenge now at this time was in promoting my Byzantine content online, as it was here in March when I began to aggressively promote my work wherein, I have to admit it was quite a difficult time for me then as my following was basically at a standstill with very little growth, however in the long-term chapter III would turn out to be the most mentioned chapter as its story especially a mention of Justinian I kept making a comeback in the next 9 chapters of the series.

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Detailed map of the Byzantine Empire at its fullest extent under Justinian in 555 (gold)
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The Hagia Sophia, built in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I
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Justinian I receives silkworms from monks arriving from China, 552
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Belisarius defending Rome from the Ostrogoths from 537-538, art by Amelianvs
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Guide to the Justinian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 518-602; character illustrations and layout by myself

With chapter III completed, I then did another major Byzantine themed art project, which was a painting of Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282), as well as the 2nd episode of my audio epic series on Youtube (Part II: Michael VIII Palaiologos’ Redemption), and between publishing chapters III and IV, I made my first special edition quarter end chapter for the year which was as I mentioned earlier my interview with friends on their reactions to Byzantine era quotes. The process now between writing chapters III and IV was quite a long one with all the research through Youtube channels like Thersites the Historian and Kings and Generals, as well as Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium Podcast, but at the same time, the process of writing chapter IV compared to chapter III was such a great relief with school work no longer in the way.

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Byzantine soldier (right) attacks a Slav (left) with an Avar behind, during the 7th century Balkan Wars

For me, I could really feel the change in Byzantine history when writing chapter IV, and this change for me could already be felt the moment after Justinian I’s death in 565 which I think from here on the feeling of Byzantine history begins to feel different as the late Roman era comes to an end while the dark ages begins to rise as the arrival of new enemies like the Avars, Slavs, Lombards, and the threat of the Sassanids in the east intensifying, although the Dark Ages itself is basically usually limited to Western Europe at this time and not so much to the Byzantines, however some historians mark the end of antiquity and the beginning of the Byzantine Dark Ages in the year 602 with the execution of the Byzantine emperor Maurice, the last ruler of Justinian’s dynasty and the takeover of the common soldier Phocas as emperor, wherein it would then be all downhill for Byzantium. Chapter IV would then be another new kind of phase just as it was for the Byzantines when entering the 7th century, as it was in chapter IV when I would leave the late Roman era wherein chapters I to III were set in that my mind was so focused on for the past months, and thus enter the Middle Byzantine era wherein things will drastically change, and so did the layout of the chapters as the late Roman military structure drawing of mine beginning in chapter IV was no longer in use.

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Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641), art by Skamandros

Although when writing chapter IV, I still began with a long background section discussing the events after Justinian I’s death in 565, his successors, how the threat of the Sassanids from the east grew worse thus ending the Golden Age Justinian I left behind for Byzantium, the overthrow of Maurice and rise of Phocas, the fall of Phocas in 610 and the rise of Emperor Heraclius, the great Byzantine-Sassanid War from 602-628, the fall of the Sassanid Empire, and the rise of a new and unexpected enemy, which were the Arabs coming from the deserts of the south. The second and main part of chapter IV would then discuss Byzantium after the fall of the Sassanids and the rise of the Arabs, which then included the drastic loss of so much territory to the Arabs including Egypt and Syria, how Asia Minor would then become Byzantium’s new heartland, the formation of the Thematic System that would define the Byzantines for the next 4 centuries, and the wars with the Arabs that would also define Byzantium for the next 4 centuries as well.

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Emperor Constans II of Byzantium (r. 641-668), art by myself

For the lead character of chapter IV, I chose the Byzantine emperor Constans II (r. 641-668), which is quite an unlikely choice as for the 7th century the Byzantine emperor that would be the most remembered would be Constans’ grandfather Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) who was the emperor that lived long enough to see the Sassanids fall only to be replaced as a new major threat by the Arabs. It was however in Constans II’s reign when the Arab threat became real, and so did the creation of Byzantium’s Theme System, which is why I chose to make him the lead character and his reign the story’s main setting. The alternate history scenario for the 4th chapter was then to have Constans II survive the assassination attempt on him in 668, where in real history he was killed in his bath when attempting to move the Byzantine capital to Sicily fearing that Constantinople was no longer safe especially if the Arabs attacked it by sea.

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Assassination of Constans II in real history with the use of a soap dish, 668

In chapter IV, with Constans II surviving the attempt on his life, the Byzantine capital would then be temporarily moved to Sicily, although without much results, thus this would be the first chapter wherein the what if would not really be useful to the Byzantine protagonists at the end, however chapter IV would end with the epic battle being the first Arab Siege of Constantinople from 674-678 wherein Constans’ son and successor Emperor Constantine IV successfully defended Constantinople due to the invention of a Byzantine superweapon which was Greek Fire, though in the story Constans II had lived long enough to come to Constantinople’s rescue during the siege wherein everyone thought he had disappeared. In addition, chapter IV was the first one in the series to feature a multinational conflict as while the Byzantines and Arabs were at war with each other, I put a fictional scenario of a Sassanid army returning to ally with their old enemy the Byzantines against the Arabs which was their common enemy, while I also thought of giving a bigger role to Tang Dynasty China as in the 7th century as well, Constans II sent Byzantine ambassadors to Tang China to send gifts to their emperor and get some in return, although history does not record much about it, but in the story I put in a fictional part of China assisting the Byzantines against the Arabs by attacking the Arabs from behind as the Arabs did in fact expand so fast that in only a few decades since they united and rose from the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, they were able to take over all of Egypt and Syria from the Byzantines, destroy the Sassanid Empire, and reach as far as Central Asia to the east. Chapter IV was thus a turning point in the series with the rise of the Arabs as well as the new dystopian kind of setting the Byzantine Empire would be in, and it was also in the process of doing chapter IV when I began taking my Byzantine themed art much more seriously, thus for the chapter I did a black and white style drawing of its lead character Constans II, as well as an illustration of Constantinople’s land walls. Both in the timeline of the story and in the publishing date, the time jump between chapter III and IV was large, and it was on April 15 of this year when chapter IV was published, and just like chapter II, I also published chapter IV when away on a road trip.

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The Byzantine Empire in 650 (orange)
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Expansion of the Arabs, 7th century
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Map of the first original 5 Themes of Asia Minor created under Constans II
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Greek Fire used for the first time at the 674-678 Arab Siege of Constantinople
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The Land Walls of Constantinople, art by myself

Shortly after finishing chapter IV, I already began the researching and writing process for chapter V while I was also on that same road trip where I completed chapter IV. Chapter V would then see the experimental phase of the alternate history series, and a lot of this both had to do with me wanting to experiment a bit more on Byzantine history by putting a dystopian feeling into it as well as some personal factors I have been going through at this point. Chapter V was then true enough quite entertaining to write as considering that the 8th century where it is set in is the least documented century in Byzantine history while also being my personal worst and least interesting as there were fewer epic battles and the rest all internal conflicts, though the fun part was in playing around by coming up all sorts of made-up stories for the characters in this era just to simply fill in the blanks. Though the era the chapter is set in is the least interesting for me, the writing process for chapter V may have been exciting only because of all the continued wars against the Arabs and civil wars, but its end result would then be nothing more but a story of so much senseless violence including gouged out eyes and chopped off noses, graphic scenes of soldiers eating their own feces to survive the winter, imperial anarchy, tiring wars, petty characters, and the useless breaking of icons known as “Iconoclasm” which defined the 8th century history of Byzantium.

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Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, aka Konon (r. 717-741)

When writing chapter V, I began by discussing the chaos and anarchy Byzantium fell into as the 7th century came to an end, the continued expansion of the Arabs, and then getting to the 2nd Arab Siege of Constantinople from 717-718 ending with another Byzantine victory thanks to the use of Greek Fire and the intervention of new people in the north that was once Byzantium’s enemy which were the Bulgarians, while a new emperor came to power as well which was Leo III the Isaurian, one of the powerful generals of this time who put an end to Byzantium’s 22-year anarchy period that began in 695 and once again brought stability to the empire by establishing his dynasty, however to stabilize the empire once again he issued a very unpopular policy which was that of Iconoclasm or the braking of icons believing it would save the empire as he thought icons were sinful. The ban on icons however created such division among the Byzantine people wherein some supported it especially the army while many opposed it and reacted to it with such violence, but the worst part about this simple policy of breaking religious icons led to the permanent schism between the Byzantine Orthodox and the Latin Church in the west together with the rise of the Republic of Venice as well.

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Byzantine Iconoclasm under Leo III in the 8th century

The climax of chapter V however did not have to do so much with Iconoclasm but rather with a dystopian setting in the Byzantine Empire which here was on how the banning of icons affected society, thus making it quite an unique take on setting a dystopian story in Byzantine times, as dystopian style stories are usually set in modern times. The other major story in chapter V then was the family drama within the imperial family wherein the emperor’s daughter Anna even led a resistance against her father’s Iconoclasm while her brother Constantine V strongly stood loyal to his father’s policy of breaking icons. The alternate history scenario for chapter V would then regard Artavasdos, the general and son-in-law of Emperor Leo III who being married to Anna secretly opposed Leo III’s Iconoclasm, and in real history Artavasdos after Leo III’s death in 741 did rebel against Leo’s son and successor Emperor Constantine V in 742, but at the end Artavasdos still failed, and thus Iconoclasm still continued.

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Emperor Artavasdos (r. 742-743), Funko pop recreation by myself

In the alternate history scenario however, I made Constantine V lose to Artavasdos and thus making Iconoclasm ended early enough to make amends with the west that had just been alienated from Byzantium, and the reason now why I decided to focus on such a small topic for chapter V was to show that even the smallest events such as if Artavasdos won the civil war can have a major impact on history, this way by ending Iconoclasm early enough to not create a schism with the Western Church that would end up becoming permanent.

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Emperor Constantine V of Byzantium (r. 741-742/ 743-775), art by Chrysa Sakel

Overall, chapter V considering that it was mostly a gore fest story with lots of useless drama, it was still the shortest one in the series that it could have in fact been skipped altogether, however just for the sake of experimenting I chose to do an entire chapter on this unknown part of Byzantine history, while on the other hand I used chapter V to explain some of the bigger events happening at that time such as the rapid expansion of the Arabs all the way west to Spain and the beginning of the end of Byzantine rule over Italy as by the end of the 8th century, the Byzantines were left with only the south in Italy. In addition, chapter V was the second chapter that I wrote for the series wherein I wrote it in collaboration with someone, and this was with my friend Mario (follow him on Instagram @mariopuyatrewreplays) who was also one of the 5 friends I interviewed on the their take on Byzantine history earlier on, and although he isn’t very much familiar with Byzantine history, I just thought it would be a good gimmick to have someone unfamiliar with Byzantium have his own take on the story, again for the sake of experimenting.

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The Mandalorian in Byzantine armor, art by myself

Chapter V was in fact so experimental that for this chapter I even made digital artworks of not very Byzantine looking funko-pop figures for the story’s 3 leading characters Artavasdos, Anna, and Constantine V, while my Byzantine themed artworks at this time (late April to early May) have also began becoming experimental such as the one I made with the Mandalorian in Byzantine armor. Additionally, the time I was writing chapter V was more or less the low point of my Byzantine journey this year as my social media accounts (FB and IG) saw little growth, post likes and shares, while at times I would feel as if my content was being neglected that there were even some times wherein I felt like quitting the alternate history series entirely after finishing only chapter VI, and thus starting from scratch afterwards. This kind of situation I was having back then also contributed a lot into the very experimental way I wrote my stories, while at the same time the same kind of situation was ironically the same situation Byzantium was going through where I was at in writing my series which was the Byzantine dark ages, but at the end chapter V was still published on May 2 together with a series of artworks I did relating to this time period in Byzantine history which included by black and white portraits of the 6 emperors of the 22-year Byzantine anarchy (695-717). However, I soon enough overcame these obstacles and hard times through persistence and determination by using these hard times to drive me to push harder thus unleashing a competitive streak within me that would seek to post better quality posts regularly in order to survive and not slip away.  

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The 6 emperors of the Byzantine 22-year-Anarchy (695-717)- Leontios (top-left, r. 695-698), Tiberius III (top-middle, r. 698-705), Justinian II Rhinotmetos (top-right, r. 705-711), Philippikos Bardanes (bottom-left, r. 711-713), Anastasius II (bottom-middle, r. 713-715), Theodosius III (bottom-right, r. 715-717), art by myself
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Victory for the Byzantines with Bulgarian aid against the Arabs in Constantinople, 718
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Iconoclasm- breaking of religious icons and persecution of monks in the Byzantine Empire, 8th century

When it all seemed that my Byzantine journey was beginning to go downhill, it eventually did not as I still chose to persevere despite all the adversities and do all it takes to get my content recognized, and after chapter V was completed, I immediately moved on to doing another project which this time was again for my audio epic series, and on May 15 not too long after chapter V was published, I uploaded the 3rd part (Part III: The Beginning of the Decline) of my audio epic series on my channel. While editing the 3rd part of my audio epic series, I also began writing chapter VI for the alternate history series, which was then not too difficult to conceptualize and begin as the story for chapter VI was basically just a direct sequel of chapter V, wherein the story of chapter VI itself is set just right after chapter V finished off while also continuing the stories and themes that were introduced in chapter V including Iconoclasm, the beginning of the “Cold War” style conflict with the Latin west, while characters from chapter V such as Emperor Constantine V too made a comeback in chapter VI with the only difference being that the alternate history scenario of chapter V wherein Constantine V lost the civil war to Artavasdos did not happen, but instead the story would begin with how things actually went in real history.

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Emperor Leo IV the Khazar of Byzantium (r. 775-780), art by Chrysa Sakel

For chapter VI, the story’s main focus was then on Irene of Athens, the daughter-in-law of Constantine V who married Constantine’s son Leo IV “the Khazar” (r. 775-780), and following Leo IV’s death in 780, Irene came to rule the empire first as regent for her son Constantine VI until she ordered his blinding in 797, wherein afterwards she became the sole empress of the Byzantine Empire, the first time a woman would rule the empire alone. As the ruler of Byzantium, Irene had the great legacy of putting an end to Iconoclasm as she strongly believed in the use of religious icons, while at the same time she was also a strong female ruler both decisive and comfortable with herself. Just like chapters III and V, chapter VI was another article in collaboration with someone, and again it was with Justinianus the Great with whom I have worked together with in creating chapter III, and originally for chapter VI, we were again supposed to do the same kind of role playing like we did for chapter III, however the role playing through Instagram chat instead became an interview with Justinianus wherein I asked her a number of questions regarding Irene as a way to come up with her personality for the story.

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Empress Irene of Athens, regent (780-797), full empress (797-802)

The alternate history scenario for chapter VI was then my own take on the popular what if of Empress Irene and Charlemagne, the newly crowned Frankish emperor marrying as an act to unite both their empires into one massive Frankish-Roman Empire. Chapter VI also had the major innovation of being written in the form of flashbacks wherein it begins off already with Irene as empress in year 800 while she narrates the events of the past such as her backstory. Chapter VI too was the first chapter in the series that equally featured Byzantium and another empire, in this case being Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire that became the new power that conquered and united most of Europe, while Byzantium here was losing in terms of power wherein their salvation could come if both rulers of these said empires married each other.

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Irene Sarantapechaina, Byzantine empress, art by myself

The writing process for chapter VI happened to be quite a fun one especially when introducing Irene’s character, the extravagance of the Byzantine imperial court, the court rituals and ceremonies, the scheming court eunuchs, the fashion styles of the time, and the journey of Irene from a small-town orphaned girl in Athens to the ruler of the Byzantine Empire. This chapter also had some experimental elements, and here it was especially in Irene’s character not only as a strong empress but as an attractive figure as this was the only chapter in the series to have a female lead character, thus for Irene I even created an experimental seductive drawing of her in a kind of dress that may have not been existing in the Byzantine era, while additionally this story was the one too with the most side stories made up just out of fun to put some more life into it.

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Charlemagne, King and Emperor of the Franks (r. 768-814), art by myself

Chapter VI was also for me a very ambitious project and for it I created a number of more detailed and intricate drawings rather than just the character illustrations for the intro, as here I came up with a full-body drawing of the story’s lead characters Irene and Charlemagne. When writing the chapter, the entertaining part was in introducing Charlemagne, and here when showing him in person, rather than introducing him as a great man even in physical form, I chose to introduce him as a tired old man feeling like his life’s mission is over as an act of downplaying the greatness he is seen having in history, however he and Irene still married- which never happened in real history- although they only marry for an alliance to join both their empires together in order to fully defeat the Bulgarian Empire. Although each chapter in the alternate history series is made per century out of the 12 centuries in Byzantium’s history, chapter VI was a hybrid one as though it is basically the chapter for the 9th century, its events were in both the 8th and 9th centuries.

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Irene and Charlemagne as husband and wife

The story’s climax however which was Irene and Charlemagne’s wedding in 802, and the battle against the Bulgarians in 811 where the story ends however is in the 9th century, though in the early part of it. With only the early years of the 9th century discussed in the chapter, it would then so happen that my alternate history series skipped an entire part of Byzantine history, which was almost the entire 9th century itself, true enough a very important time for the Byzantine Empire as this was when Byzantium would come out of the dark ages and begin rising again, while also seeing a Renaissance in the arts and academics, and the spread of Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium to the Slavs in Eastern Europe in the latter part of the century, as well as the rise of the Bulgarian Empire and the decline of Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire and the Arab Abbasid Caliphate which were at first thought to be all powerful empires that were a main threat to Byzantium.

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Flag of Irene and Charlemagne’s fictional united Frankish-Roman Empire, crossover between Byzantine (red) and Frankish (blue) flags (photo from Reddit)

However, since the chapter was basically about Irene and Charlemagne, I chose to just set the story in the early 9th century skipping the rest of the century, while at the same writing about the outcome of this marriage between Irene and Charlemagne was also confusing especially seeing how long the union of the empires would last, which therefore requires great analytical skills wherein only great historians could succeed in doing. One thing I have to mention too about this chapter’s setting and characters was that just recently I discovered a new Byzantine podcast on Empress Irene and her story, except not including Charlemagne and an alternate history of them marrying, check out Icons/Idols: Irene. On the other hand, just a few days before publishing chapter VI on May 24, I experienced one lifetime achievement, which here was getting my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and not to mention the side effects were quite strong that the sleepiness I got from it delayed the publishing of the article by 2 days!    

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Empress Irene at the palace, art by myself
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Charlemagne crowned as “Roman emperor” by Pope Leo III in Rome, 800
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Speculated map of Irene and Charlemagne’s united empire
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Guide to the Isaurian Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 717-802; character illustrations and layout by myself

Before publishing chapter VI, I was at a low point in my Byzantine history journey, however success had turned out to be found just right around the corner, as after chapter VI was completed, my Byzantine online career suddenly had an upswing, and this was seen when I created and posted a visual genealogy of the Isaurian Dynasty- the emperors from Leo III to Irene- which got a great number of shares on Facebook, while on May 29 I posted an Instagram a post commemorating the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, which also happened on that day, and this post did in fact all of a sudden get hundreds of likes and multiple shares both on IG and FB, thus making it the first time since my Late Roman Military Structure drawing in late January to get so much hits. Though at the same time as I posted this very successful post, I had already begun doing research for chapter VII’s story in which I true enough even began doing it just 2 days after publishing chapter VI. Basically, because chapter VII covered a lot of content and more than 150 years of history, it required tons of research that for almost a full week I have been going through the videos of the same Thersites the Historian on Youtube as well as listening to Robin Pierson’s History of Byzantium podcast to get some more new information on the era and put the entire story together. Now since chapter VI despite being the assigned chapter to the 9th century only featured the first few years of it as the story was supposed to be about Empress Irene and Charlemagne, I instead covered the important events of the latter 9th century in chapter VII despite it being the 10th century’s respective chapter. Since there would be so much information in chapter VII, I then chose to write it in a more concise way wherein I would condense all the events of the years from the 830s to the 980s, although to still make it in the form of a fan fiction story rather than a factual story, I chose to write chapter VII in the style of a historical parody mocking but at the same time admiring the Byzantines, especially since the 9th and 10th centuries feature Byzantium at its prime with so much to admire about from them such as their victories, military might, and extravagant court life while there is also so much to mock about them at this era such as the toxic court politics and the infamous eunuchs.

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Emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886)

When writing chapter VII, I began off with the beginnings of the Byzantine Renaissance and the evangelization of the Slavs under Emperor Michael III the Amorian (r. 842-867), the rise to power of the simple peasant turned wrestler, turned emperor Basil I the Macedonian (r. 867-886), the continued war with the now weakened Arabs, and the rise of the major Bulgarian conflict and that of their powerful ruler Simeon the Great. Once the story hit the 10th century, the more it became detailed as personally it is my all-time favorite century in Byzantine history, and no doubt because this was the glory days of Byzantium on the rise as a military and cultural power that commanded both great respect and fear among everyone around them, thus for chapter VII I had a lot of fun writing it due to its action-packed style despite it being quite complicated as it featured too many characters, battles, locations, and foreign powers like the Bulgarians, Arabs, Rus, Khazars, Magyars, Pechenegs, and the new Holy Roman Empire in the west.

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Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) of Byzantium

Now for chapter VII’s alternate history part, I chose to not write it like the previous 6 chapters wherein it begins with what happened in real history wherein everything will get fictional as it ends, instead I wrote it in a way wherein I just basically told it like how the story in real history was told, except to make it a fan fiction I altered a few things along the way, such as that the ruling dynasty of that time which was the Macedonian Dynasty would not actually be that dynasty, instead it would be the previous Amorian Dynasty still continued as this story went with the rumor of the Macedonian emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886-912) not being the dynasty’s founder Basil I’s son but the son of the emperor he killed which was Michael III being the truth, thus Leo VI’s descendants as the Macedonian Dynasty would be a lie and instead his descendants would still continue ruling as the Amorian Dynasty.

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Empress Theophano of Byzantium, omitted from chapter VII

In addition, when conceptualizing the chapters I also planned to use chapter VII as a rewrite of the graphic novel “Theophano: A Byzantine Tale” that I read earlier on in the year wherein the chapter was the exact same setting as that book, but for chapter VII, I rewrote the book’s story by omitting its lead character Theophano from the real historical setting as if she did not exist at all, and at the end things would never really change until the story’s ending if she were removed, as after all Theophano was the mother of the legendary Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025), therefore the story ended totally differently as compared to real history due to the fact that Emperor Basil II would not be around.

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Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos of Byzantium (r. 913-959), art by myself

The best part for me about writing chapter VII was that it covered the most interesting Byzantine characters as the 10th century had all of them put together including the scholarly and highly cultured emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913-959), his former co-emperor and regent Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944) who rose up the ranks to be emperor despite being also of low birth, the scheming court eunuchs Joseph Bringas and Basil Lekapenos, the powerful and ruthless general and later emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), his successor Emperor John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976), and the other powerful generals of the era like Leo and Bardas Phokas as well as Bardas Skleros.

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Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas of Byzantium (r. 963-969), art by Spatharokandidatos

Chapter VII too featured numerous larger than life events including Nikephoros Phokas’ wars against the Arabs and the Byzantine reconquests, Greek Fire on the sea, the chaotic regency civil war for the young emperor Constantine VII from 913-920, and the all the court intrigues including the assassination of Nikephoros II Phokas in 969. When doing chapter VII, I also made a number of ambitious art projects for the same chapter including a black and white illustration of Constantine VII- which was however done weeks prior to writing the chapter- and an illustration of Emperor Leo VI and his 4 different wives, and of course the usual icon illustrations for the story’s lead characters in which for chapter VII I did 20 of them, being the first time to do this much character illustrations since chapter II, and not mention chapter VII was also the first time the intro symbol for the story changed from the Byzantine chi-rho that had been used since chapter I to the double-headed Byzantine eagle which would be the one in use until chapter XII and is used here in this post as well. Chapter VII too featured quite a lot of images as this era in Byzantine history was perhaps the one with the most historical illustrations due to one important illustrated manuscript still around up to this day which is the Madrid Skylitzes showing the 9th, 10th, and 11th century history of Byzantium in very detailed illustrations, and for both chapters VII and VIII I used a lot of images from this manuscript. Also, not to mention while in the process of writing chapter VII, I had also been balancing the hectic workload of my Byzantine Alternate History stories with re-watching all 11 seasons of Modern Family on Netflix and playing the futuristic video game Cyberpunk 2077, which seem to be so far away from Byzantium, though these things still showed that my life was still perfectly balanced between Byzantium and the real world, as I had already been comfortable where I was at in my Byzantine journey.

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Byzantine battles in the 10th century

The more impressive part too was that when writing chapter VII, the dark days of my Byzantine career which was just less than 2 months earlier seemed like it was long gone, and ironically just like the Byzantine Empire which in the same era I was at during this point of my journey was at a very high point too while I also had reached the high point of my Byzantine journey and part of this was that when I published chapter VII on June 9- not too long after publishing chapter VI- and immediately shared it on social media, I even caught the attention of the creators of the Theophano graphic novel considering that the chapter I wrote was at the same era as their book’s setting, that they asked me to be interviewed for their site which I gladly accepted (read it here). Following the completion of chapter VII, I took quite a quick break doing a road trip again, ironically going back to where I went to after chapter II was completed 3 months earlier, and during the 4 days away I mostly kept my mind out of Byzantium for the first time in a long time until returning home with some good news that my interview on the site of Byzantine Tales had been published while my recent artworks too had been shared by other Byzantine Facebook pages, and some days later I also completed the edit and uploaded the 4th part of my late Byzantine era audio epic (Part IV: Andronikos III: The Last Revival). Feeling confident of where I was at in my Byzantine journey then, I then proceeded to do the research and begin writing chapter VIII without much hesitation, although the research process for the upcoming chapter was also another great challenge as its setting being the 11th century had so much happening while having so many sources too.

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Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis

When doing the research for chapter VIII and its 11th century setting wherein the Macedonian Dynasty from chapter VII continues, I deeply immersed myself by listening to Robin Pierson’s podcasts and read the very informative non-fiction book on this era Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood by Anthony Kaldellis, in which both turned out to be of great help for putting together the story for chapter VIII. Now if chapter VII of the series basically discussed Byzantium on the rise to power and glory, its direct successor chapter VIII was basically written as the reverse story to chapter VII as it discussed Byzantium declining from its glory days during the 11th century. Chapter VIII would then discuss the glorious reign of possibly Byzantium’s most popular emperor these days which is Basil II (976-1025) who being omitted from chapter VII as the story omitted his mother Theophano finally had a big role to set the stage for the 11th century which begins as a glorious time for the Byzantines as they finally defeated and conquered their major enemy the Bulgarian Empire to the north thus putting the entire Balkans under their rule.

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

Chapter VIII though was also the last chapter in the series to feature the conflict between the Byzantines and Arabs in the east, as the 11th century saw the end of the Arab-Byzantine conflicts that began way back in the 7th century where chapter IV was set in due to the rise of another new eastern enemy, the Seljuk Turks of Central Asia. Aside from continuing in discussing the same Byzantine court politics, extravagance, and extensive military campaigns of the 10th century that continued on to the 11th century, chapter VIII also discussed the rise of new threats to Byzantium such as the Normans in the west and the Seljuk Turks in the east together with their backstories, as well as many side stories like that of the origins of the famous Nordic and Rus Varangian Guard in the Byzantine army wherein the future King of Norway Harald Hardrada served in from the 1030s-1040s and the Great Schism of 1054 which was then the permanent divide between the Byzantine and Latin Churches.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry soldier in the 11th century, art by myself

The climax of chapter VIII however was the catastrophic Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which was the event marking the end of Byzantium’s glory days and although it may not have really been a terrible disaster for the army, it would still result in the permanent loss of Byzantine rule over their heartland Asia Minor and the collapse of the centuries old Thematic System there that had been around since the 7th century. Now just like chapter VII, chapter VIII was written in the same kind of way wherein there was more facts than fictional elements, though only at the end do things change as the story’s what if was to have a Byzantine victory over the invading Seljuk Turks at the 1071 Battle of Manzikert, whereas in real history it was a Byzantine defeat.

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Byzantine (left) and Seljuk (right) cavalrymen clash at the Battle of Manzikert, 1071

Chapter VIII then true enough altered history by having a Byzantine victory wherein the emperor Romanos IV Diogenes would not be captured by the Seljuk Turks’ sultan Alp Arslan, however the main point of the story was to prove that it was not the Battle of Manzikert that really destroyed Byzantium in the 11th century but the corruption, betrayals, and wasteful spending in the imperial court, as well as weak leadership of emperors like Constantine X Doukas (r. 1059-1067) and Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071-1078). In the story, I also explained that even with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert, Byzantium would still be brought down from the inside through corruption, although the major difference with a Byzantine victory at Manzikert was that a lot of Asia Minor would not really be lost to the Seljuks while the First Crusade which was called for in 1095 as a result of the Seljuks’ victory at Manzikert in real history would still be called as true enough the First Crusade’s real purpose was not really to help the Byzantines recover lands lost to the Seljuks but to take back the city of Jerusalem that had also fallen to the Seljuks. While doing chapter VIII, I had also created several Byzantine themed artworks including a black and white Byzantine style inspired drawing of Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine on the Death Star II, and for chapter VIII itself I did the usual illustrations for the lead characters, but more than that, I also did a full-scale drawing of a Byzantine cataphract cavalry soldier for the story as well as a drawing of the famous future King of Norway Harald Hardrada as a Varangian Guard who had a cameo in the story as well, while I also made a genealogy for the Doukas Dynasty which ruled Byzantium in the setting of chapter VIII (1059-1081) wherein the Battle of Manzikert took place in. Chapter VIII itself was published on June 29 right before the end of the very eventful month, and unlike the Byzantine Empire that had begun going through a decline in power at this time, my own Byzantine journey’s success still remained yet continued to grow at the same time with the sudden increase of followers on Instagram, thus making June surely an eventful month.  

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Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium and his 4 wives, art by myself
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A scene of the Rus-Byzantine War of 941 from the Madrid Skylitzes
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Nikephoros Phokas enters Constantinople in 963, Madrid Skylitzes
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The Byzantine Empire (red) at its apogee, at Basil II’s death in 1025
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Painting of the fateful Battle of Manzikert between the Byzantines and Seljuks, 1071
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Byzantine- Star Wars crossover, Emperor Palpatine as a Byzantine emperor on Death Star II, art by myself
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Genealogy of the Doukas Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, 1059-1081; character illustrations and layout by myself

The success of my Byzantine journey would then continue onwards after the completion of chapter VIII and this was seen with the success of new posts most notably that of my Byzantine cataphract cavalry soldier and Harald Hardrada as a Varangian Guard illustration which got a great number of likes and shares both on FB and IG, with in fact a total of 39 shares on Facebook.

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Harald III Sigurdsson “Harald Hardrada”, King of Norway (r. 1046-1066), former Varangian Guard commander in the service of Byzantium, art by myself

The month of July was then set to be a busy one for me, as not only was it the month for writing and publishing chapter IX, but it was also a busy one for posting on Instagram as it was here when I posted so much new and unique interesting content that would define my Byzantine IG account. These posts would include a 5-part series I did on Byzantium’s famous Varangian Guard and on the Armenian city of Ani in the Byzantine era in which were all successful posts, and in between publishing chapters VIII and IX, I published my article on how I rank the 12 centuries of Byzantine history from my personal best to worst which then came out on July 7 as a break article between chapters. Now the researching part for chapter IX was quite challenging as the History of Byzantium podcast by Robin Pierson had not yet reached the era of the chapter which was the 12th century, thus for research I had to turn to my old go to book for a more concise approach in telling Byzantine history which was the History of the Byzantine Empire by Radi Dikici, while also going through Wikipedia to get more information on the era and its people.

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Map of the 4 Crusader States of Outremer in 1135, during the reign of Byzantine emperor John II Komnenos

Writing chapter IX was also a challenge for me especially when getting the facts right as this era was a confusing one, although it was also exciting to write as the 12th century it was set in featured Byzantium, the now rising kingdoms of Western Europe, the Seljuk Turks, the new Crusader states in the Levant known as Outremer, the Balkans, and the Arab powers of the Middle East all coming together. Chapter IX was then really supposed to be the chapter on the Crusades as it was its era, thus chapter IX began where chapter VIII left off which was the beginning of the First Crusade which was originally called for by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), originally aimed in helping Byzantium drive away the Seljuks that have taken over Asia Minor since their victory at Manzikert in 1071, but at the end the Crusaders’ real intention was to take back Jerusalem from the Seljuks for themselves and not assist Byzantium recover their lost lands, and as the Crusaders succeeded in achieving their goal, they became a new neighbor to Byzantium that would be both a friend or an enemy.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos meets the leaders of the First Crusade, 1096

In the meantime, after sharing chapter VIII which was about Manzikert to the Alternate History Discussion Group on Facebook, I got one suggestion from a comment saying that my next chapter should have to do with the following century (12th century) about an event that could stop the catastrophic 4th Crusade of 1204, another major disaster for the Byzantines that would begin the end for their empire, thus I kind of took this comment into consideration for the 9th chapters’ alternate history topic. Originally when conceptualizing the chapters, the story of chapter IX was only supposed to be about the rather controversial Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195) wherein the story would prevent his blinding in 1195 by his older brother Alexios- who in real history blinded Isaac and took over the throne thus leading to the 4th Crusade in 1204- and if this event were to happen then this could possibly prevent the 4th Crusade from happening.

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

However, this what if scenario for chapter IX did not push through for rather complicated reasons being the first and only time in the series wherein an original idea did not push through for the chapter’s story, instead I chose to go with another what if for the 12th century, and this would have to do with identifying events that may have led to the disastrous 4th Crusade in 1204 and thinking of ways to avoid them to prevent that tragic event from happening. The story for chapter IX then covered the 3 consecutive stable and successful reigns of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118), his son John II (1118-1143), and his son Manuel I (1143-1180) which was a total of 99 years combined, while at the same time the chapter also featured the First, 2nd, and 3rd Crusades, the rise of the Republic of Venice and the kingdoms of Western Europe including the Normans of Italy, the rise of Balkan powers like Serbia and the Kingdom of Hungary, the Seljuk Empire that had been established in Asia Minor that was there to stay, and a lot more.

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Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180), art by Justinianus the Great

For the Byzantines, most of the 12th century was another time of power and dominance over the Mediterranean where Byzantium was basically the bully of the era under the Komnenos emperors wherein the new Crusader states even became Byzantium’s vassals. However, this renewed era of power would not last as following the death of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, everything would go downhill for Byzantium, as his son and successor Alexios II Komnenos (r. 1180-1183) was still only a child, thus he was overthrown and killed by Manuel I’s cousin and strongest enemy Andronikos I Komnenos who took over the throne with a bloody massacre of Constantinople’s Latin inhabitants and later only making things worse for the empire by running the empire in a totalitarian manner. In the story, what was then changed was that before killing young Alexios II and taking over the empire, Andronikos’ plot was discovered by the loyalists of the young emperor including Isaac Angelos- who in real history was chosen by the people to seize the throne and overthrow Andronikos I- though in this story, Andronikos’ plot was discovered and thus he was blinded and exiled unlike in real history where he ruled for the next 2 years (1183-1185) until being overthrown by Isaac Angelos and executed by being brutally beaten to death by the same people that put him in power just recently.

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

The climax of chapter IX then featured the same Norman invasion of Byzantine Greece in 1185 like in real history which was defeated by the Byzantines, though while the Byzantines won a major victory, they also faced a major challenge of the Bulgarians once again breaking free from Byzantine rule after being under Byzantium since Basil II’s conquest of 1018, thus the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was declared in 1185. However, in the story the young Emperor Alexios II who survives the attempt on his life carefully plans the elimination of all rivals including the leaders of the Bulgarian uprising and his exiled uncle Andronikos, thus the chapter ended in a very dramatic moment wherein the young emperor with the leader or Doge of Venice swear a sacred oath to be allies once again all while all enemies are eliminated one by one at the same time in the same style as the climax of The Godfather.

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

The story then ended happily for Byzantium whereas the Alexios II would continue to rule with Isaac Angelos as his right-hand-man now having more experience to one day run the empire- unlike in real history where Isaac came to rule the empire despite having not much experience- and although it was a happy ending for Byzantium with Venice which Alexios II’s father Manuel made an enemy become their ally again, and with the Bulgarian uprising defeated before it could grow worse like in real history, the 3rd Crusade still did happen, but the happy ending though was that the 4th Crusade in 1204 that sacked Constantinople never took place due to Byzantium and Venice fixing their ties with each other, as Venice in real history brought the Crusaders to Constantinople to sack it, even if the Crusade was originally aimed for Jerusalem to take it back from the new Islamic power being Saladin’s Ayyubid Empire. When doing chapter IX, I also did a number of art projects for the chapter like a recreation of the manuscript depicting Niketas Choniates, one of the primary historians of the 12th century, and aside from the usual lead character illustrations for the chapter, Justinianus who previously helped in writing chapters III and VI did an illustration of chapter IX’s lead character Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in her own style. Chapter IX was then published on July 19, and only after finishing chapter IX did I do my own illustrations for the 3 Angelos emperors of Byzantium: Isaac II, Alexios III, and Alexios IV who are said to be Byzantium’s 3 worst emperors.   

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (pink) at Manuel I’s death, 1180
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Manuel I Komnenos (on a horse) at a triumphal parade in Constantinople
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Isaac II Angelos’ rise to power by beheading Andronikos I’s hitman, 1185
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Normans from Sicily invade Byzantine Greece, 1185

As chapter IX was completed and published, I quickly worked on the 5th episode of my audio-epic series (Part V: Double Disaster: Civil War and Black Death) which was uploaded before the end of July and true enough my schedule in late July and early August was a very tight one with all the art projects included.

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John III Doukas Vatatzes, Byzantine emperor in Nicaea (r. 1222-1254), art by myself

After chapter IX was completed, I immediately began working on my acrylic painting of Emperor Basil II which was to be completed on the day he defeated the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (July 29), while at the same time I was also working on my drawing on the 3 Angelos emperors, and lastly a black and white illustration of Emperor John III Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254), who would be the lead character for chapter X. The time for writing chapter X too was a tight one, but luckily before writing I already knew a lot of information for the era the chapter was to be set in which was the 13th century in which I have been making many Lego films including audio epics of it in the past, while I was lucky here also since the Youtube channel Kings and Generals had also published some videos regarding that era earlier on. When writing chapter X, I then wrote it with such speed but again as I already knew the events of the time, it was not so much of a challenge to write, however the challenging part of writing it was its very confusing story, as this chapter covered the 4th Crusade of 1204 which temporarily ended the Byzantine Empire and fractured the area of the Byzantine Empire into so many different states both Latin and Byzantine Greek. Although for chapter IX I gave a more positive image to the controversial Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos, for chapter X however where he returns, I returned to portraying him as he is usually portrayed in history as an incompetent and corrupt ruler while his dynasty was even much worse that their bad leadership would eventually lead to the army of the 4th Crusade arriving before Constantinople’s walls in 1203.

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4th Crusade army storms Constantinople’s walls, 1204

Chapter X’s main highlight then was the tragic betrayal and fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade’s Western European army in 1204 which led to the victorious Crusaders carving up Byzantine lands and dividing it among themselves while looting tons of precious Byzantine treasures and relics taking them back to Europe, though the Byzantines that survived it had formed their own successor states such as the Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and Despotate of Epirus, while in the north the absence of Byzantium allowed the newly proclaimed 2nd Bulgarian Empire to grow. The confusing part about chapter X was in combining all these post-1204 successor states and the constant fighting among them into one story, however the what if for this 13th century story would take place in 1235 wherein the powerful Bulgarian emperor Ivan Asen II and the exiled Byzantine emperor of Nicaea John III Vatatzes team up to take back Constantinople from the Latin Empire.

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Tsar Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria (r. 1218-1241), art by HistoryGold777

Although both rulers teamed up in real history, neither of them succeeded in taking back Constantinople from the Latins, however in the story the change was very shocking with Ivan Asen II betraying John III and capturing Constantinople from the Latins for himself, thus putting Constantinople under Bulgarian rule. This chapter’s what if as mentioned earlier was then something I have planned long before I conceptualized the whole series, as last year when doing my audio epics set in the 13th century, I came across this very unfamiliar and unlikely what if of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire taking over Constantinople in 1235. Chapter X though ended with what did not happen in real history, which here was John III eventually taking back Constantinople from the Bulgarians after Ivan II’s death in 1241 thus restoring the Byzantine Empire that was thought to have died out in 1204, as in real history John III died in 1254 and Constantinople was only recaptured by the Byzantines of Nicaea in 1261.

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Emperor John III Vatatzes in imperial armor on a horse

Due to so much happening in the early 13th century, I chose to end chapter X by 1261 no longer covering the latter part of the 13th century, although chapter X uniquely featured an alternate ending wherein I had the dynasty of John III Vatatzes survive by having Michael Palaiologos, the man who overthrew John III’s dynasty in 1261 blinded and imprisoned for life as his plot to overthrow the dynasty was discovered, thus in the story the descendants of John III or the Laskaris-Vatatzes Dynasty would continue ruling the restored Byzantium. On the other hand, the success of my Byzantine journey had still continued, at the time I was writing chapter X, although not really increasing too much but at least still staying at the same level of success, and part of this was seen with one of my Instagram posts which was a map I made of the post-1204 Byzantium with the different states’ respective coats of arms on it which then got a number of likes and shares and so did my drawing of the 3 Angelos emperors, and my post on August 15 about the reestablishment of Byzantium in 1261 which did happen on that day, and later on another one on the Slavs in the 6th century according to the Byzantines which was for me a very surprising success that now has more than 600 likes on IG. Other than having my success continue after chapter X, I also uploaded the 6th part of my late Byzantine history audio epic (Part VI: The Tragedy of John V Palaiologos), which was uploaded just 2 weeks after finishing chapter X and 3 weeks after the previous video of the series, and it was here when the stories of my late Byzantine history audio epics began coinciding with the stories of my chapters, and other than all the successes I have been facing at this time, it was also between finishing chapter X and before starting the next chapter wherein I got the 2nd dose for the COVID-19 vaccine, thus becoming fully vaccinated. Now as for chapter XI, this then happened to be the one with the quickest writing process out of all the chapters in the entire series, and most of this was due to having enough information on the era in advance considering that the audio epic series I was working on and still working on now is set in the same timeline as chapter XI which is the late 13th and the rest of the 14th centuries.

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1261-1282), painting by myself

The rest of the events of the late 13th century beginning with the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople in 1261 and the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282), the War of the Sicilian Vespers in 1282, the first attempt to convert the Byzantine Empire to Catholicism in the 1270s, the reign of Michael VIII’s son and successor Andronikos II (1282-1328), and the further destruction brought to Byzantium by the Catalan mercenaries were then covered in chapter XI. At the same time, chapter XI was the chapter made to introduce the final act of Byzantine history as it was the first chapter to introduce the Ottoman Turks as the new enemy of Byzantium that would in 1453 bring about their end replacing the now dissolved Seljuk Empire in Asia Minor, while the chapter also continued the story of the Mongols as well as the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, but also of the rise of Serbia into a kingdom and eventually to the dominant power of the Balkans being the Serbian Empire. Chapter XI’s story also featured the reign of Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341) being the last period of revival for Byzantium by reconquering most of Greece, as what followed his death in 1341 was a devastating civil war between his wife Anna of Savoy backing their young son Emperor John V and Andronikos III’s right-hand-man and general John Kantakouzenos.

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Emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1341-1391), art by Justinianus the Great

The story then basically went through what actually happened in real history whereas John Kantakouzenos won the civil war in 1347 becoming Emperor John VI only to have the plague of Black Death hit the Byzantine Empire and further destroy it all while their northern neighbor the Serbian Empire under their newly proclaimed emperor Stefan IV Dusan not being much affected by the plague took advantage of Byzantium’s weakness and took over a lot of Byzantine territory in Greece. The story of the 14th century in chapter XI was then only altered when reaching the 1350s and here I chose to have the Serbian emperor Dusan capture Constantinople, not to conquer and pillage it but to save Byzantium from dying, therefore I chose to make this chapter’s story very much like the previous chapter with a foreign power taking over Byzantium.

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Stefan Uros IV Dusan, King of Serbia (1331-1346), Emperor of Serbia (1346-1355)

The lead character for chapter XI then was the Serbian emperor Stefan IV Dusan who I chose to portray in a more positive light as an admirer of Byzantium despite him being their enemy and in changing the course of history, I had him take over Byzantium to not only save it from deteriorating but to fully expel the Ottomans from the Balkans before they begin to expand, as in real history Dusan never took over Constantinople while the Ottomans after first crossing into Europe in 1354 began rapidly expanding to the point of destroying both the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires. Chapter XI then ended with Constantinople returning to Byzantine rule after Dusan’s death in 1355, though the main difference was that the Ottomans would no longer pose as a threat. The 14th century history of Byzantium true enough never interested me much as it basically just featured Byzantium as a weak and impoverished state with so much wars, plotting, and disaster to the point where it already becomes too tiring unlike how it was in Byzantium’s glory days of the 10th century, therefore I did not put as much effort and attention into writing chapter XI that I could have in fact skipped this entire era being the 14th century which many historical books featuring Byzantium do anyway.

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Byzantine art recreated- Chrysobull of Emperor Andronikos II (r. 1282-1328, left) presenting the document to Christ (right), art by myself

However, since all centuries in Byzantine history were to be represented per chapter, I still went with doing a chapter for the 14th century anyway where the most possible what if was for Dusan to take over Byzantium as it was part of his intention in real history anyway. On the other hand, chapter XI was also basically more or less the teaser chapter for the grand finale (chapter XII), while I also did not do much art projects for chapter XI except for the usual lead character illustrations in which I only featured 10 characters as very early on back in February I already did an illustration of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy recreating a historical illustration of them, while in March I did a portrait of Emperor Michael VIII, and in April a recreation of a historical illustration of Andronikos II.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, founded in 1261

Chapter XI was then completed and published on August 31 and when sharing it, it got rather mixed reviews in the comments section just like chapter X previously, and for chapter XI the comments I got usually said that they did not agree much with Constantinople being taken over by Dusan seeing it as worthless, but despite the criticism the success of my Byzantine journey was still ongoing. While doing chapter XI, I also came across new things such as beginning in watching the series Downton Abbey and later Into the Night on Netflix, replaying Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for PS4, and beginning a new Byzantine historical novel which was The Usurper which was also set in the same era as that of chapter XI.

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Map of the Division of the Byzantine Empire after 1204 with the respective flags and seals of post and pre-1204 states, design by myself
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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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The 1261 Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople, art by FaisalHashemi
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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy, art by myself
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Coronation of Dusan as Emperor of Serbia in Skopje, 1346
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Map of the spread of Black Death across Europe, 1347-1351

Before writing the finale chapter XII, I first finished reading The Usurper and even published a review for it on September 11 (read it here) accompanied by a drawing I made of its lead character the late 13th century Byzantine general Alexios Philanthropenos, while at the same time as my success was continuing, on September 6 I posted an artwork I made of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) which was the day he won a victory at the Battle of Frigidus in 394 becoming the last emperor of a united Roman Empire before it permanently split with the east becoming the Byzantine Empire and the west falling in 476, and again this post was a success on both FB and IG.

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Alexios Philanthropenos from The Usurper, art by myself

At the same time, before writing chapter IX I also returned to studying after 5 months of being on break, although only doing one subject, thus chapter XII’s release date was delayed as originally it was supposed to be out on September 15, but due to other things I had to do, the date for release was moved to September 27. The process of writing chapter XII then was a long one as considering it being the series’ finale, I put a lot of time and attention to it in order to make a well-made conclusion to the entire 12-part series. Now ever since the very beginning when conceptualizing all the chapters for the series, I already had very big plans for chapter XII which was the finale set in the 15th century being Byzantium’s last century, therefore I wanted to have the final chapter have a much more epic story with a battle more epic than that in the past chapters for its climax, and to also have stories from all the other past chapters including characters like Justinian I the Great and Nikephoros II Phokas make a comeback as a fitting way to end the series.

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Flag of the Ottoman Empire, born in 1299

The researching part and the structuring for chapter XII too was quite tricky, as for the final chapter the story itself was not only about Byzantium as by the 15th century, Byzantium itself had already been so reduced, thus the story itself had a lot more to do about the Ottoman Empire now growing strong than ever, the rest of the Balkans including Serbia, Albania, Wallachia, and Hungary, and the now more powerful kingdoms of Western Europe becoming aware of the threat of the Ottomans. The 15th century where chapter XII was set in was also a time of great transition wherein the Middle Ages transitioned into the Renaissance especially in Italy while the Age of Exploration also began especially in Portugal, while for Byzantium things went the other way around as centuries ago, they were the advanced power both respected and feared by all others around them, but by this point they were the ones weaker and backwards while the rest of the developments happened in the rest of Europe.

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Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1391-1425)

With all the stories of the wars against the Ottomans, the birth of the Renaissance and Age of Exploration, the schism with the Latin Church still continuing, and lastly the 1453 Siege of Constantinople, the finale then went along with real history beginning with the reign of Manuel II Palaiologos (1391-1425) wherein the Ottoman Empire was temporarily destroyed following the defeat of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I to Timur and his forces at the Battle of Ankara, then the story proceeded to the reign of Manuel II’s son John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448) wherein the old ideas from Byzantium would spread to Italy and help introduce the Renaissance when John VIII himself visited Italy.

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Emperor John VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1425-1448)

The story also discussed the tensions in Byzantium especially about uniting with the Latin Church in the west to stand against the Ottomans wherein many Byzantines opposed it choosing to fall to the Ottomans rather than giving up their soul being the Orthodox faith and submit to the pope as a result of the trauma they faced under the Catholic Latins of the 4th Crusade in 1204, and this conflict was true enough even present in the ruling dynasty as the emperor John VIII as well as his brothers Constantine and Thomas supported the union while the other brother Demetrios stood against with such passion creating a strong conflict between the brothers despite their empire already on the verge of extinction. The climax of the story would then take place during the reign of John VIII’s brother Constantine XI Palaiologos (1449-1453) as the last Byzantine emperor, although rather than doing what he did in 1453 in real history which was in refusing to surrender the city to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II and instead choose to fight till the end, in the story I made Constantine XI go for the other option of surrendering Constantinople to Mehmed II in order to buy time to one day launch a massive Crusade to take back Constantinople from the Ottomans, thus totally altering history.

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Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine emperor (r. 1449-1453)

From 1453 onwards, the story was totally altered as Mehmed II took over Constantinople without a fight, while Constantine XI returned to the Morea in Southern Greece, the last Byzantine holding to once again be its Despot (governor) together with his brother Thomas while the other brother Demetrios then abandons and betrays them switching sides to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, though both Constantine and Thomas then do the bold move of going to Rome themselves to fully submit to the pope and convert to Catholicism, thus once and for all ending the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, which never happened in real history.

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Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1451-1481)

The story then ends with a climactic final battle to recapture Constantinople wherein the famous rulers and defenders of Europe at this time including the Albanian resistance leader against the Ottomans Skanderbeg, the Hungarian general John Hunyadi, and the Prince of Wallachia Vlad III the Impaler all team up to join Constantine and Thomas in the recapture Constantinople from Mehmed II. In addition, I also wanted to add in a very unlikely story and this here was in having the distant Kingdom of Portugal which here was the 15th century’s rising star to come and assist in the recapture of Constantinople, as in real history the Byzantines and Portugal hardly if not had any interaction with each other at all, and just for the sake of fantasy, I had the powerful Portuguese navy come at the last minute to turn the tide of the war to the side of Byzantium, thus at the end the Ottoman Empire was shattered, and Byzantium continued to live on.

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The last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in the Portuguese blue and white tile art style, art by myself

As the grand finale of the series, chapter XII was no doubt longer than all the previous 11 chapters as it featured so many side stories of the major characters from different parts of Europe and beyond, while it also brought back the highlights from the past 11 chapters. As part of the process of doing chapter XII, I did the usual illustrations for the leading characters which here had 15, while on the other hand as a reference to the Portuguese part in the story, the illustration I did for the story’s cover was a blue and white artwork of Emperor Constantine XI inspired by the Portuguese blue and white azulejo tiles. After publishing the final chapter on September 27, when sharing to the various history groups in Facebook I am a part of, it received rather mixed reviews wherein many commented saying that this kind of story of Constantine XI surrendering Constantinople to one day take it back seems rather absurd as the schism between east and west could not be solved while Western Europe was either too busy with their problems or too selfish to assist Byzantium, however I still did not really give much of damn about what they said as true enough the final chapter for the series was pure fantasy, and overall I was just very glad to have finished the entire series still coming out of it in one piece. Now after completing the series, my following on both FB and IG still continued to increase and after more than a week of taking a break from posting on IG, I continued posting in which my posts still continued getting the same success, and just recently on October 7 I uploaded the 7th episode of my audio epic (Part VII: Byzantium’s Last Respite) which has the same setting as the prologue part of chapter XII, and even with the series over, my Byzantine journey still has a long way to go.  

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Map of the Byzantine Empire by 1450 (purple) and other territories including the Ottoman Empire
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Renaissance Italian painting of John VIII as one of the magi, made during his stay in Florence by Benozzo Gozzoli
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The Fall and Ottoman Conquest of Constantinople, 1453
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Constantine XI’s final charge against the Ottomans on May 29, 1453, art by FaisalHashemi

Lessons from the History of Byzantium and from my Byzantine Journey, My Take on Byzantium’s Legacy, and Updates          

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Now when it comes to discussing the lessons that I have learned throughout my journey of writing the 12 chapters, I have to divide this into two parts as there were lessons that I have learned from the Byzantines in their entire 1,100-year history, and lessons I also learned from my journey as a Byzantine content producer.

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

First, I shall start with the lessons I learned from the history of Byzantium itself and being an empire that lasted for a total of 1,123 years with over 90 emperors and 15 ruling dynasties, there is just so much to learn from. The biggest learning I had from the entire history of Byzantium itself that I have been impressed with the most was the longevity of their empire and how they persisted through such challenges to the point of lasting for over 1,100 years, that true enough just recently when looking at a list of the world’s longest living states in history, Byzantium ranked at #7 while the other longer living states higher than that had in fact happened to be lesser known states that had either existed in Ancient history or were very unknown states in other parts of the world like India or Africa. There were many incidents wherein Byzantium could have already surely disappeared such as in the 7th century when the Arabs all of a sudden expanded and could have conquered the entire Byzantium that had just recently been weakened by war with the Sassanids but impressively Byzantium survived while the Sassanid Empire that had been their longest enemy had completely fallen to the Arabs. When Byzantium’s golden age came to a close in 11th century with another enemy coming out the blue being the Seljuks that so rapidly crushed the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, it was also impressive here to know that Byzantium not only survived but were able to overcome this enemy and grow to become a major power again in the 12th century.

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Constantine XI in full plated armor with his broadsword at the last moments of Byzantium, art by JohnJollos

Lastly, when the army of the 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople and could have possibly ended the existence of the Byzantine Empire itself in 1204, the Byzantines though still going into exile still managed to come back and return to ruling Constantinople despite now no longer ruling a powerful empire but rather one that was a shadow of its former self, and more so that Byzantium at their last days chose to fight to the end for their empire even knowing this would be their end as the Ottomans did in fact capture Constantinople on May 29 of 1453 ending the empire. Now what I leaned from the longevity of Byzantium is that life goes that way, there are many ups and downs to go through, and many challenges to face, and just like Byzantium that overcame these life-threatening challenges through persistence and courage, the same can be said with overcoming life’s greatest challenges and surviving them. Of course, we all meet an end the same way all empires do, and for the Byzantine Empire itself I could say that if it were a person, it would have lived a life of 110 years with every century being a decade in one’s life, and truly this 1,100-year existence of Byzantium was so impressive enough that in entire lifetime as an empire, things had changed so much that the Byzantium of the 12th century ruled by the Komnenos emperors may look so far different from the Byzantium of the 6th century under Justinian I when it fact it was the same empire with the same capital, and in their entire existence they had seen many states around them both rise and fall all while they continued to exist, and even at the very end when the Ottomans conquered all their surrounding states such as Serbia and Bulgaria, Byzantium still stood.

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Byzantine Cataphracts in battle

Just as Flavian said when interviewing him, I have to agree with what he said that one of his greatest learnings from Byzantium is that success comes with the mastery of sword and spirit and this can truly be said about Byzantium as it was through fighting constant wars throughout their existence, that there was barely a time in their history that they experienced multiple decades of peace, and it was through their mastery of war and studying the battle tactics of their enemies that they were able to overcome them and survive, while for the part of the mastery of spirit I can say that they lived on for so long basically because they had the faith of Orthodox Christianity uniting them despite Byzantine society being so divided.

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Emperor Alexios I Komnenos of Byzantium (r. 1081-1118), master of both warfare and diplomacy

However, another thing I have to say about Byzantium is that they were able to live on for so long not only due to inventions of weapons like Greek Fire or having powerful armies and massive walls protecting their capital, but also because of their mastery of diplomacy, thus a very big learning from Byzantium is that winning wars also require a lot of diplomacy and true enough the Byzantines managed to turn so many enemies away by bribing them, but also the history of Byzantium teaches us that if there is no peaceful way to resolve a conflict, war is the answer as seen many times with the Byzantines. Another great learning too from Byzantine history was that they were basically the empire that continued the existence of the Roman Empire and preserved the knowledge of the Classical Era from Ancient Greece and Rome that they in fact even absorbed it and blended it together with the Christian faith, thus making them an advanced society while the rest of Europe was in the Dark Ages. Of course, over time things would evolve thus the rest of Europe itself would begin advancing while Byzantium itself would stay in the past especially in its last years where their institutions that once seemed so advanced eventually began becoming obsolete, but luckily enough Western Europe was able to obtain knowledge from Byzantium to become more advanced the way Byzantium was before, thus brining about the Renaissance. As Akitku said earlier when I interviewed him, was that Byzantium was true enough a very advanced society in their time, and I have to agree here as when literally most of the entire world did not really have a structured government or laws, Byzantium did, and not only did Byzantium have a very centralized government, they also had state-funded hospitals and schools and a society that was much more literate than that of Europe and most other parts of the world in their time long before the modern age when society became like this.

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Civil War between Emperor Andronikos II and his grandson Andronikos from 1321-1328, sample of political instability in Byzantium

On the other hand, Byzantium also shows that even the most advanced societies are very vulnerable to corruption and internal division, and true enough corruption in the government, incompetence and cruelty by emperors in running the empire at some occasions, political rivalries and even fighting among ruling families, and a highly divided society especially regarding religious or political issues defined their history, but overall this shows that Byzantium was not perfect which makes them seem like any other country today rather than a mythical utopia that may or may have not existed. Meanwhile, another great learning for me is that even the Byzantine emperors no matter how powerful they seemed could lose their power at any moment the moment they lose their popularity, thus this shows that Byzantium really was the continuation of the Roman Empire of old as not only did it continue its imperial institutions but those from the Ancient Roman Republic itself, and true enough Byzantine emperors just like the Roman emperors before them and the consuls of the republic before them were not like the monarchs of Western Europe or the Sassanid or other eastern emperors (China and Japan) that had divine rights but rather, Byzantine emperors got their power from the Senate, army, and people just as how a republic works, therefore Byzantium never really had a system wherein the emperor’s eldest son would succeed him, which is why whenever an emperor comes to power, his authority is sure to be challenged despite him being the eldest son, which is why emperors had creative means of getting around this such as making their sons co-emperors as a way to already immediately name a successor to prevent power struggles.

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Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969), an example of an emperor going from hero to zero

In Byzantium’s history there had also been many incidents showing that their political system had allowed anyone to rise to power as emperor, thus in their history there had been generals, admirals, common soldiers, peasants, even women, young children, a tribal chieftain, and a money changer becoming emperors, thus I would have to agree with what Chrysa said that Byzantium is kind of the place to follow your dreams as if yo are lucky enough, it will lead to you to something big. There were also some incidences wherein even long before our time when people do have the right to change their system did exist, and true enough there were even some incidences in Byzantine history when revolutions led by the people changed the regime by installing a new emperor of their own choice even long before revolutions like this like the American and French Revolutions happened. Their history too had shown incidences wherein emperors despite starting out popular eventually lost their popularity the moment they are no longer in favor with their people, that some emperors in fact even lost their power when losing popular support, thus being an emperor was a really tough job as to stay in power you really needed to maintain your popularity mostly by winning battles against enemies.

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Constantine XI Palaiologos with the Byzantine emperors of the past above, left to right: Constantine I the Great, Justinian I the Great, Heraclius, Basil II, John II Komnenos, and Michael VIII Palaiologos, art by JohnJollos

Lastly, the biggest lesson I learned from Byzantium was that learning to adapt to the current situation is the way to survive, and this was true enough how Byzantium was able to live on for over a thousand years, as when the times changes such as first when the Western Roman Empire had fallen in 476, they took up the role as the civilization that was there to preserve the imperial Roman identity; when the Arab threat came out of the blue and was there to stay, the Byzantines had to adapt in order to survive, thus creating the Thematic System and Thematic army; when their economy was falling apart, they had to adapt by issuing new economic reforms and new forms of currency; but Byzantium still had major weaknesses, and for me, I would say it was religious schism which further divided their society, and no matter how great they were in solving political and economic problems in their empire, it was their religious problems they could not solve, therefore if there was something I would want to change about Byzantine history, for me it should be that they should have not gotten themselves too fixated on religious schisms which was thus the cancer in their society, especially Iconoclasm as for me I would say the same as Chrysa did, wherein if the Iconoclast policies of the 8th century never came to exist, then perhaps Byzantium would never get into any strong bitter schisms with the west, therefore no Great Schism in 1054, no bad blood between Byzantium and the west, no 4th Crusade sacking Constantinople in 1204, and surely the west will help Byzantium against the Ottomans at the end. Now even up to this day in the distant future, I would say that if we have questions about the society we live in and are either confused or frustrated, I would say that a good solution is to look back at the history of Byzantium to take a look at patterns, as after all history does repeat itself. 

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Map of the Byzantine Empire at 3 different eras; greatest extent in the 6th century (red line), in 1025 (pink), and by 1360 (red)
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Life in 6th century Byzantine Constantinople, art by Amelianvs
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Early period Byzantine soldiers in training, art by Amelianvs
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Byzantine emperor Theophilos (r. 829-842) with the backing of the Byzantine Senate, Madrid Skylitzes
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Alexios V bribes the Varangian Guards to proclaim him emperor, 1204
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Left to right: Byzantine emperors Isaac II Angelos (r. 1185-1195), Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), and Alexios IV Angelos (r. 1203-1204), said to be the worst Byzantine emperors, art by myself

Now that I have discussed the lessons that I have learned from the history of Byzantium itself, it’s now time to move on to the lessons that I have learned from my journey in creating Byzantine related content online. Basically, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from doing online content on Byzantine history whether blog posts like these, videos, or Instagram posts is to first of all set a goal on where you aim your account/ page to be headed towards as well as how big you want yourself to become in the industry, then to come up with a plan of what you will post as well as your own unique style of posting. For over 2 years now I have been posting articles about Byzantine history on this same site, however it was only at the start on this year when I decided to reach a wider audience and raise more awareness about Byzantine history by creating social media accounts relating to it, beginning with my Instagram account which I in fact was at first reluctant to start wondering in what direction it would be headed to. Although at first, I basically just posted old travel posts on Byzantine era locations I have been to in the past and behind the scenes posts of my previous Byzantine era Lego films, however when the number of my followers began to increase, it was about time that I posted things that had more depth and information mostly being Byzantine history trivia in order to make my content more interesting considering the increase in followers and engagements.

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Byzantine Cataphract cavalry unload using ramps

This strategy of posting too would include posting a variety of posts which in my case included Byzantine travel destinations, Byzantine history trivia, Byzantine fan art, sometimes a quick bio on a Byzantine emperor, and once and a while a spin off post whether it was a Byzantine-Star Wars crossover drawing or a post of another country’s history like that of the Sassanid Empire, Slavs, or even of a far-off place like India or China with a hint of Byzantine history, while when posting every post on my Instagram, from the very early days I already created a trademark of introducing the caption for every post with a diamond emoji, while the emojis too would be common in my posts to make them seem to appear more light and less scholarly, while I also chose to put in a lot of hashtags as a way to get more notice.

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Sample of my posting style on Instagram

At the same time, I also learned some tips in posting from the other accounts I follow in which one before basically posted something long everyday whether it was a bio of a Byzantine emperor or something about Byzantine history wherein the caption was so long it had to spill over to the comments- which I do at times and dread it- while another user does every post beginning with a picture of the user in that certain historical landmark wherein you can view the pictures of the place itself when swiping right while the caption below on the other hand explains the historical angle. The accounts however that basically served as the inspiration for mine included Shadows of Constantinople which tells the history of Byzantium in a very informative, smart, and more organized manner of a collage to put all the pictures at once so that everything is seen immediately, and there was the user Roman Courier which never fails in creating interesting content discussing Roman history and lesser known facts about it including debunking myths in a very light and engaging but at the same time in a very serious way by using primary and academic sources; although from the same Flavian I interviewed here, one major tip I learned in posting history content is to engage followers more by having regular Q&As as well as keeping the posts concise yet entertaining. Another strategy I considered was to also balance and in a way experiment a little in your posts by making them both historically accurate and authentic but also contemporary, meaning not going too over the top in historical authenticity, and for this one example I would give would be in terms of soundtrack when doing videos wherein I would choose to use more modern soundtracks such as those from my favorite bands Chvrches and Of Monsters and Men instead of going too over historical by using Byzantine chants as a soundtrack, while the same can be said too when for example doing a post on Byzantine Constantinople wherein I would choose to balance it better by putting historical information in the caption but using a modern illustration of Byzantine Constantinople for the image instead of one from the Byzantine era itself, and also in this case I would sometimes share funny memes relating to Byzantium as well.

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Meme of Irene blinding Constantine VI, 797

As time progressed, another trick I learned was to post at a regular interval meaning coming up with a new Byzantine IG post every 2-3 days or every 5 days at the most in order to keep things balanced, as posting something or even more than one post every day would soon enough become too tiring for viewers, while posting irregularly- like once every week and once every 2 weeks at times- would confuse viewers making them wonder where you went, while posting irregularly too would not really get you anywhere in followers and engagements unless you have already reached your peak.

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Slavic warriors attacking a Byzantine fortress in the late 6th century, one of my most successful Instagram posts

Along the way, I also came up with a strategy to post on Instagram posts relating to the era where I was at in writing the alternate history stories, and it was around March in between doing chapters II and III when I developed this trick, which was basically a way to just keep my mind focused on the era I was currently working on. When it comes to posting something that would get a lot of hits, from my experience it was usually doing a post about what happened on this certain day, such as my post on the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, while on the other hand the posts that would get the most number of likes as well as comments sometimes happen to be the most unlikely ones, and in my case it was my post on the Slavs and how Byzantium saw them, which then got me a lot of followers including catching the attention of one user posting similar content as I do (follow Slavic History Mythology on Instagram). Of course, if you want your post to gain more attention including shares globally, what I do here is to post whatever I posted on Instagram to my Facebook page, then share it to various Byzantine history related groups that have thousands of members like Roman and Byzantine History, The History of the Byzantine Empire, and Byzantine Real History, which is also basically how I share my blog posts. What I would then say is the key to a successful post is consistency, and I do this by as I said posting things related to the era you’re currently working at, and not to wander off too much into different eras, however for a change it would be good to do so as well. With success however comes a lot of criticism, and in my journey I began experiencing a lot of this especially when my accounts became more successful, and a lot of this had to do with comments of others disagreeing with my post or sometimes speaking ill about Byzantium, and usually I reply back to explain exactly what I was saying or usually don’t mind them if they are just senseless comments as these could be trolls, although this criticism also shows that at least people are interested, though sometimes I also speak out my opinion by commenting what I think or what I suggest for the posts of others especially when it comes to a topic in Byzantine history that interests me a lot. The very rare thing now that I’ve faced was other users plagiarizing by posting the exact same content that I had posted behind my back without mentioning me, and although I very rarely experience this, what I do here about it is to usually remind them when seeing it that the post was originally mine, and also if it all comes to worse; I would report the post. On the other hand, another great experience was in having people out of the blue send you messages praising your content or being plainly curious to know about you and why you like Byzantine history, and when my account became successful, I have experienced this a number of times, in which this kind of experience taught me how to be truly appreciative for something like that to happen as these moments are very rare. Now, one very major thing I learned about in my journey of creating Byzantine history content is to know your audience and who exactly are you aiming to impress, as when it comes to posting about history, people see things differently, and in my experience, I have noticed there are two kinds of audiences, in which there is for one the history fans or history buffs such as myself, and there are the authorities which are basically the scholars and professors of Byzantine history.

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Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391-1425) with his family manuscript

Based on my experience, both these audiences are usually different from each other and certain posts please either of them, and usually my posts due to its more contemporary and easier to understand style please more history buffs which are the majority of users on Instagram, while posts that usually contain more information on sources and more historical accuracy please the authorities more. At the end however, as I have learned it is quite difficult to please both at the same time or in my case to please the authorities, therefore it turns out that my posts appeal more to history buffs, and although this may not command as much respect as it does when pleasing historical authorities, at least I can get a wider variety of audience, as after all my mission and vision for my Byzantine history social media accounts was to make the history of Byzantium accessible to everyone of all walks of life whether they are familiar with it or not, rather than to just keep the history of Byzantium among a smaller circle of scholars and historians. Of course it would still be great to get the attention of the authorities on Byzantine history online, and to do this I also learned along my journey that this would mean doing tons of research for a an article or for just a simple post and to explain the historical sources as well rather than just searching Wikipedia, and true enough I also applied this method to writing my alternate history stories, meaning that when writing each of the chapters I did more than just search Wikipedia but go through the links linked in Wikipedia, read different articles and books, and go through many channels and podcasts discussing the era to get different versions of it in order to compare them.

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A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis

Additionally, whenever I complete a chapter for the alternate history series or a video on my channel, I always promote it by putting its link on my Instagram bio, while also since I post a lot of Byzantine history trivia it then turned out that my Instagram account became a way of retelling the trivia from one of my favorite Byzantine history books which is A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis, thus probably my viewers would no longer buy the book but instead just follow my IG to get info on Byzantine trivia from the book. Now the greatest learning I have made here was that success comes with time as for the first few months, progress was quite slow, but through time things turned unexpectedly that from over 300 followers I suddenly reached 1,000, then 2,000, and now I have over 4,000 followers on Instagram and over 900 likes on my Facebook page all in less than a year, thus I would say the trick here is to regularly post interesting information but also to be original, and in my case I do this by using filters for every image I post as a way to authenticate it as mine, as well as a detailed caption on what the image is. Although another important learning is to also know your place and what kind of account or page you are, and in my case, I soon enough came to realize I’m more of a Byzantine history fan page posting popular content that appeals to a wider audience in which I have now been growing more satisfied in being such. Of course, the biggest thing I’ve learned is still to basically enjoy posting and creating and let the inspiration flow as this will lead you to many places, and in my case this passion for Byzantine history and posting made me virtually meet and communicate with people from all over the world who all share this common interest.

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Map of Constantinople in the early 15th century

And now I’ve come to the part of discussing about the rich legacy of the Byzantine Empire and where I can still see it today. Obviously, like as many would say I also see the legacy of Byzantium in the many landmarks built in the Byzantine era still around today including the massive and still intact Hagia Sophia and a lot of other landmarks in Istanbul including the Walls of Constantinople, Forum of Constantine, the cisterns, old monasteries and so much more including monasteries and churches in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans with their impressive mosaics and very deep looking frescos usually with a dark blue background, and the mosaics and churches of Ravenna and in other parts of Italy as well in which I was truly lucky enough to see.

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Sts. Cyril (left) with the Cyrillic Alphabet and Methodius (right), Byzantine missionaries sent to convert the Slavs by Patriarch Photios in the 9th century

Of course, I do not only see the legacy of Byzantium in the physical form meaning landmarks but rather in the non-material world and this would include the Orthodox faith and the Patriarchate of Constantinople that had been the Church of Byzantium which until this day is still around, while another of the spiritual influences of Byzantium that still live on to this day is the Cyrillic Alphabet the Slavic countries such as Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia still use which was in fact first introduced to them by the Byzantine Greek missionaries St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the 9th century in which the alphabet in fact even gets its name from St. Cyril, although these missionaries did not really invent it as other monks in the Balkans developed it over time in the late 9th century.

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Emperor Justinian I with his Corpus Juris Civilis

Aside from the Orthodox faith and the Cyrillic Alphabet, the Byzantine legacy in the non-physical form can be seen in a much bigger picture even beyond the lands once under Byzantium, and this is in terms of legal systems, as true enough even up to this day the code of laws or Corpus Juris Civilis created by the jurist Tribonian under Emperor Justinian I way back in the 6th century still serves as the basis for legal systems of many modern countries, while on the other hand laws made back then in that code of laws still even apply up to this day, as recently I discovered about a law wherein any body of water cannot be owned, and this law itself dates all the way back to Justinian’s code. Now Justinian’s code had happened to be so influential that many rulers and kingdoms after his time including the Visigoths of Spain, Emperor Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia, and the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I the Magnificent in the 16th century were all inspired by Justinian to make their own code of laws for their empires, thus showing how Byzantium even in their time already influenced others a lot.

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Kievan Rus’ and Scandinavians (Varangians) sail down to Constantinople (Miklagard), 860

Byzantium’s reach true enough was so large, not even in our time but in theirs, as in the 10th and 11th centuries when Byzantium was a major world power, stories of the grandness of their empire reached as far as Scandinavia to the north and Sub-Saharan Africa in the south wherein Scandinavians even referred to Constantinople as Miklagard simply meaning “the city”. Of course, even after the fall of Byzantine Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, Byzantium itself never really died as many states took in the identity of Byzantium, therefore it remains unclear to tell which state is really Byzantium’s successor. For me, I would say that the Ottoman Empire was Byzantium’s political successor as they took over Constantinople themselves and made it their new capital while also adopting Byzantium’s government systems and architecture, while Italy on the other hand is Byzantium’s spiritual successor mainly because of the Renaissance as after the fall of Constantinople several Byzantine scholars fled to Italy escaping the Ottomans and bringing with them knowledge from Classical Greece and Rome that they have preserved and there introducing a new revival of art and academics which was the Renaissance in which we owe it very much to the Byzantines, and lastly there is Russia as they were the ones to succeed Byzantium in terms of faith as long after the fall of Byzantium it was Russia that became the world’s Orthodox power the way Byzantium was in the Middle Ages.

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Constantine XI, the last emperor with the great rulers of Byzantium’s past above, left to right: Basil II, Manuel I Komnenos, Justinian I, Theodora, Irene of Athens, Zoe Porphyrogenita, art by Gambargin

Now, for many Western minded people including myself, Byzantium should be held with such high respect as even though they were not a Western empire, they still preserved the ideas of Classical Greece and Rome that would help bring about the Renaissance and greatly influence Western thinking up to this day, and unfortunately those who put Byzantium in such a bad light after the 16th century- when the word “byzantine” was for the first time coined- by remembering Byzantium only for corruption and everything despicable were Western scholars, therefore I have to say that these Westerners including the likes of Edward Gibbon and Voltaire who basically slandered Byzantium should be ashamed of themselves as it was Byzantium that preserved the philosophy that influenced their way of thinking! Now at this day, no matter where you are in the world, you can surely see that Byzantium lives on especially in the way countries with their governments and political systems work, most especially when seeing how leaders are backed by the people, army, and aristocrats, including all the political rivalries, and power struggles which definitely still shows that Byzantium does indeed have its relevance all the way up to this day in the distant future.

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Byzantine forks

On the other hand, I would also see Byzantium’s influence not only in large aspects including faith, politics, art, and culture but in the smallest things used in everyday life as well like the simple fork, in which many do not know that the Byzantines did in fact invent it and spread it throughout Europe sometime in the 10th century when a Byzantine princess married the Holy Roman emperor in Germany. For me, the fork is such an important part of life that I literally use it to eat everything including pizza and sandwiches, thus truly I owe a lot to the Byzantines for making life easier that way! Of course, what keeps Byzantium and its history alive today are those who keep the flame of the empire burning as if it had not been extinguished in 1453- as Flavian had said- from renowned scholars and academics to content creators such as myself and many others I know who live to believe Byzantium never really died out and see the legacy of the empire still alive in many forms, in which for my case I do in fact still see Byzantium in many things no matter how very unrelated they are such as in a good and emotional song which brings me back to the Byzantine era.

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The lifetime of the entire Roman civilization- Kingdom, Republic, Empire, and Byzantine Empire (753BC-1453AD)

However, it is still such a shame that Byzantium is not really popular in world history that general history books barely mention it except for Constantinople’s founding by Constantine I in 330, the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century, and the fall of the empire in 1453 while many people either ignore Byzantine history instead believing the Roman Empire had fallen in 476 and after that Europe fell into the dark ages. However, I would also say that I am glad to see young people such as myself, Flavian, and a lot of others being aware of the great history of Byzantium in an age where most young people are rather shallow, narrow-minded, or do not care much about the wider world but just their immediate surroundings, which shows that the rich history and legacy of the Byzantine Empire still does indeed have some relevance and interest with young everyday people rather than just scholars and historians, thus I have to say that I am glad to be part of the movement of young people not only interested in but willing to share the great history of Byzantium to other everyday people whether or not they are familiar with it. Of course, the best way for Byzantine history to get more exposure especially among everyday people is to have a large budget Hollywood movie or a large budget series on the topic, as Byzantine history unlike Ancient Greece, Rome, or Medieval Europe has never even made an appearance in popular films and series, and true enough it does have the potential do so, and that way people would more and more be aware of Byzantium’s existence.  

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The Byzantine Legacy- frescos on a dark blue background
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The Byzantine Legacy- golden mosaics, Hagia Sophia, Constantinople

And lastly before I finish off, I would just like to share a few updates on what I would be doing now that I have finished my 12-part series, and basically since I have completed writing it, of course what I have to share next is this long post you are reading here to conclude the entire series and my thoughts and feeling about it. Now after finishing chapter XII, I do not really have plans of posting anything on this site for a while, as after all I need to take quite a long rest after about 8 months of writing the entire series with barely any breaks and facing so many ups and downs, but of course I will still continue to do more Byzantine themed art and posts on Byzantine trivia for my Instagram account to keep you all updated and to know that I am still out there and still willing to share more Byzantine history content, as after all there are still tons topics that may be of interest to many in their very rich and complex history that I have not yet shared in social media. Definitely I will still continue doing my Byzantine themed art which I would continue to post wherein I also have one planned for the end of the year being a chart of all the Byzantine emperors in which I have already drawn many of them for the 12 chapters of the series, although for the ones I have not drawn yet, I would draw them in the same icon style I used for the series’ character illustrations in order to complete the chart of the emperors. As for my Instagram posts, now that the series is over, most of them will no longer follow the course of Byzantine history but instead be random, meaning that one post would be something about Byzantium in the 6th century, then the next one may be something about the 12th century, although with chapter XII finished my other IG posts would also include spinoff stories discussing characters from the story including non-Byzantines like Vlad the Impaler, Mehmed II, and Skanderbeg, as well as events after 1453 like the last descendants of the Palaiologos Dynasty, the last dynasty of Byzantium’s 15 ruling dynasties. At the same time, my audio epic series “The Last Roman Dynasty” for my Youtube channel discussing Byzantium under the Palaiologos Dynasty still remains unfinished with 2 more episodes left to go, thus before the end of the year my plan is to finish this entire audio epic series. Overall, I would definitely miss writing the alternate history series though possibly before the year ends, I also plan to write one more alternate history chapter, although this one being chapter XIII would basically be a Byzantine spinoff discussing an alternate reality of the Byzantine Empire if it lived up to the 16th century wherein the events that had been altered from chapter XII would spill over to this story. Other than this, I definitely plan to do more interactive articles like this one in the future with interviews or articles in collaboration with someone, which was after all a new thing for my site I only began doing this year. Aside from possibly writing this story, I also have a major project planned in mind once I finish the audio epic series I have also been working on for the entire year, and this major project I have in mind is another Byzantine Lego epic film, as after all I have not filmed a major Lego epic film since War of the Sicilian Vespers in 2020, therefore it would be such a pleasure to do another large-scale Byzantine era Lego epic after such a long time as a comeback film. Now for this upcoming Lego epic, the plot I have in mind for it would be one of the 12 chapters of my series, and out of the 12 chapters I am for now deciding whether it would be the story of chapter II or that of chapter IX of the series that would be made into this film, as after all these were the two most enjoyable chapters in the series for me, while it is also these two that I believe have the potential to be made into and are the most practical ones in story to be made into a homemade Lego film for my channel No Budget Films that is mainly a channel of homemade Lego films telling an epic story set in history. Now aside from more Byzantine themed artworks, the possible epilogue story to the 12-part series, and the upcoming Lego film, the even much bigger thing I have in mind in the future related to my Byzantine history interest is going to be a business I aim to launch next year on a Byzantine themed board game and a deck of cards considering that I study a business course, though I still have to organize my thoughts and plans on this. As for now, with the 12-part series completed what is to happen next would be a trip to New York and Washington D.C. wherein I will continue my Byzantine journey seeing the Byzantine collections there including the Dumbarton Oaks collection of Byzantine seals and coins in Washington D.C. Now that I have completed the series, I have also come to realize that my career path in Byzantine history is that I am more of a generalist as I basically share information not just in a specific part of Byzantine history, or of a certain emperor, or on a certain part of Byzantine culture, but on the entire 1,1100-year history of Byzantium and everything about it, therefore I shall stick to this career path in Byzantine history. Of course, with the series over, I definitely have much higher ambitions and goals for my Byzantine journey and this would include getting more exposure and publicity worldwide, as well as also writing an article for a Byzantine history site, and getting one of my artworks featured by another site, but of course the best thing to do is still to share good information and enjoy doing it. Lastly, before I completely finish off, I would want to say that this Byzantine career I have launched only this year no matter how tiring it was still gave me a great sense of purpose and direction, as without it I would not know where I would be, therefore I would like to thank all those who share the content I made in any social media platform, those who have also recommended my IG account to the others as this truly helped in growing my account in terms of likes and followers, and of course I would like to thank all my fans and viewers whether on Instagram, Facebook, or in this site for showing some support. After all, it all turned out this Byzantine journey of mine was very much like a dream coming true like that of the Byzantine emperors of the past who began out as nothing and rose up the ranks, as in my journey over the months as well, the same can be said. Now, this is all for this article, and I hope you enjoyed reading it, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveler, thank you all for reading and showing your appreciation!   

 

 

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter X- The 2nd Bulgarian Empire Captures Constantinople, 1235

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 13th Century AD. This story will begin with real events that happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses.

Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter IX- 12th Century

It was Constantinople’s darkest hour- even perhaps, than that, two and a half centuries later, which was to see the city’s final fall to the Ottoman sultan.” -John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, on the 4th Crusade’s 1204 Sack of Constantinople

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Welcome to the 10th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger! Last time in chapter IX of this 12-part series, I went over the events of the 12th century to identify what led to bringing the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire to its knees and what could be done to avoid such a fate which would take place in 1204 wherein the Byzantine capital Constantinople would be sacked by the army of the 4th Crusade thus leading to the fracturing and temporary loss of the Byzantine Empire in an instant. The previous chapter ended with the 12th century ending and 13th century beginning with all things in favor of the Byzantines with their alliance with Republic of Venice resuming and all threats to the empire systematically eliminated, therefore no catastrophic sacking of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204. However, since the chapters of this alternate history series are not continuous with each other in plot, this chapter will begin with the events of real history taking place, therefore the events of the 12th century still led Byzantium to a downward spiral that will culminate in 1204 when Constantinople itself gets attacked and captured by the army of the 4th Crusade assisted by the Republic of Venice. Before beginning the chapter, I just have to say that now being at chapter X, I have realized that I have now gone a very long way as this chapter is going to be the first part in the last leg of this 12-part series wherein we now move on to the late Byzantine era. Now, the 13th century would already begin terribly for Byzantium due to the corruption and ineptness of its ruling dynasty, the Angeloi Dynasty that rose to power in 1185 when the nobleman Isaac II Angelos overthrew the previous Komnenos Dynasty and established his own and in his reign, the empire drastically fell into a chaotic period particularly seen when the Bulgarians who have been under Byzantine rule for almost 200 years rebelled and declared independence creating the 2nd Bulgarian Empire that would be there to stay. Though Isaac II was aware that his empire was in great trouble wherein a lot of these problems were actually caused by his own corrupt policies, he never succeeded in restoring order to his empire as in 1195 he was overthrown and blinded by his jealous older brother Alexios III Angelos who as the new emperor proved to be even more of an incompetent disaster than his younger brother. In the meantime, as political instability was brewing in the Byzantine Empire, over in Western Europe a new Crusade was called for by the new pope Innocent III in 1198 who once more convinced the nobles of Europe to take up arms and again depart for the Holy Land and recapture the holy city of Jerusalem which in 1187 fell back to Muslim rule as the 3rd Crusade in the 1190s also failed to recapture Jerusalem. Things would however only get worse for the Byzantines when both the Republic of Venice and the deposed son of Isaac II which was Alexios IV Angelos got involved in the 4th Crusade as Venice here under its ruler or doge Enrico Dandolo being Byzantium’s mortal enemy at this time was the one to provide ships to transport the Crusaders to the Holy Land while the arrival of Alexios IV who sought for help from the new Crusade to put his father back in power as well as himself would cause the Crusade to divert to Constantinople. Though Alexios IV was successfully put in power as well as his father, it came at a great price as Alexios IV was to offer a large debt to the Crusaders which he promised but could never fulfil, thus what resulted from this was a great disaster so unimaginable. In 1204, with Alexios IV and his father killed in local Byzantine coup in Constantinople, the Crusaders and Venetians with a great desire for revenge and tired of waiting to be paid while camped outside Constantinople attacked it overwhelming the defending Byzantine forces and on April 12 of 1204, the Byzantine capital Constantinople itself fell to the army of the 4th Crusade followed by a brutal sacking, burning, and looting of the city that went on for days making this one of the greatest crimes committed against humanity.

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Seal of the Latin Empire, established in Constantinople, 1204

At the end, the 4th Crusade never made it to their objective which was the Holy Land and instead took over Constantinople establishing their own Latin Empire in it, thus ending the Byzantine Empire at least temporarily. The leaders of the 4th Crusade including the Republic of Venice then carved up the fallen Byzantine Empire among them establishing their own Latin (Western European) states in what was Byzantine territory, in which all of these states including the Latin Empire of Constantinople collectively would be known as the Frankokratia or “Rule of the Franks” in Greek. The Byzantines however would manage to survive the fall of their capital in 1204 and due to the imperial family growing large as with the previous ruling Komnenos Dynasty intermarrying with a large number of the noble families of Byzantium, these noble families all related to each other would establish their own Byzantine Greek successor states in the remains of the old Empire. The 3 major Byzantine successor states established after 1204 included the small Empire of Trebizond in the far eastern corner of the Black Sea founded by the direct descendants of the Komnenos Dynasty, the Empire of Nicaea in Western Asia Minor not far from Constantinople founded by the Byzantine noble Theodore I Laskaris, and the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece founded by the relatives of the previous Angelos Dynasty. Out of the 3 Byzantine successor states, it was the Empire of Nicaea that grew to be the most successful among them that in only a span of a few decades, they would become the most powerful state in the area, although with a great amount of difficulty as most of the 13th century would see the lands of Greece, Thrace, the Balkans, and Asia Minor turn into a total warzone with Empire of Nicaea, Latin Empire, Despotate of Epirus, Seljuks of Asia Minor, 2nd Bulgarian Empire, and occasionally the new Serbian Kingdom at a constant war with each other over who would be the most dominant power of the area. Long story short, the Empire of Nicaea under the strong leadership of its emperors Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1205-1221) and his successor John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) turned out to be the most successful of these new states and true enough the legitimate successor of Byzantium, while the Latin Empire based in Constantinople did not last long as the Latin rulers that ruled it true enough never had any long-term vision to build an empire as they just captured Constantinople unexpectedly in 1204 only intending to loot it, thus the Latin Empire of Constantinople having weak rulers with a lack of vision and being neglected by Western Europe would only last for 57 years. It is then known in real history that even though the Byzantines lost Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204, the Byzantine Empire was only gone for 57 years as in 1261 the forces of the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea by surprise recaptured Constantinople from the Latins thus ending the 57-year Latin occupation of Constantinople and re-establishing the Byzantine Empire, although the new Byzantium would no longer be what it was before 1204 as the damage caused by the Crusaders’ invasion turned out to be beyond repair. Now, during this 57 year period between 1204 and 1261, the Byzantines being the Empire of Nicaea here could have actually taken back Constantinople before 1261 considering how powerful the Byzantine Empire of Nicaea turned out to be and how the Latin Empire at Constantinople turned out to be a failed state, and true enough there was one such event in 1235 wherein the forces Empire of Nicaea led by their emperor John III Vatatzes together with his ally then the 2nd Bulgarian Empire with their forces led by their ruler or tsar Ivan Asen II could have taken back Constantinople. However, the siege of Constantinople by both John III of Nicaea and Ivan II of Bulgaria failed as mistrust erupted between both rulers over the question on which of them would take Constantinople, while the walls of Constantinople still proved to be too impossible to breach, therefore the Latins continued to hold onto Constantinople until they eventually lost it back to the Byzantines in 1261. Now the big question here is that if the siege of 1235 was a success with the Bulgarians being the ones to take over Constantinople, how would things turn out to be and would the Bulgarians hold the Byzantine capital for long?

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Note: Since this story is set in the 13th century after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.

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Map of the Division of the Byzantine Empire after 1204 with the respective flags and seals of post and pre-1204 states
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The 4th Crusade and the Venetian fleet attack Constantinople, 1203-1204

Now the 13th century was true enough a very tragic, chaotic, and bloody time in the history of the Byzantine Empire as it saw a very unique scenario of the empire disappearing for a full 57 years from 1204 to 1261 and its capital Constantinople occupied and desecrated by western invaders which were ironically the Crusaders who were supposed to be holy warriors, but the 13th century too saw the Byzantine Empire rise up from the ashes and be restored while it also featured some of the most colorful characters in Byzantine history. However, even though Byzantium was restored it would no longer be a significant power anymore despite having 2 more centuries left to live on, therefore the 13th century was really the beginning of the end for Byzantium. This chapter will therefore be a very unique one in this series as this will be the only where the main story which is Byzantium does not exist but rather the main story will be on the Empire of Nicaea which was the exiled Byzantine Empire from 1204 to 1261. On the other hand, the 13th century no matter how tragic it was for Byzantium was also a very interesting period as this was the time Byzantium being in exile as the Empire of Nicaea rediscovered its Ancient Greek roots thus beginning the birth of Byzantium’s Greek national identity, therefore this 57-year period gave the Byzantines the time to reinvent themselves as when their empire was restored in 1261, they became fully aware they were a Greek power compared to before 1204 when they saw themselves as more or less a multiethnic empire. The 13th century has fascinated me so much as well that in the recent special edition article I made in ranking the 12 centuries of the Byzantine Empire’s existence, I ranked it at #4 while at same time, most of my Byzantine era Lego films that I made for my Youtube channel No Budget Films are set in the 13th century covering the events of the 4th Crusade in 1204, the Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople in 1261, and the final Byzantine-Latin conflict and the Sicilian Vespers Rebellion in 1282, while recently I have also produced and narrated a 3-part audio epic series on the 57 years of the Byzantine Empire in exile for my channel as well, though I’ll save the mentions of my 13th century Lego films and audio epics for later wherein I’ll link all of them, though this article too will feature some of the 13th century’s characters in Lego from my previous films.

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Logo of my channel- No Budget Films

Now when writing this chapter for my 12-part Byzantine Alternate History fan fiction series, I have once again come across the century in the history of Byzantium that I have put a lot of attention to in my films, but this time I will be writing about the 13th century in a much different perspective as rather than just retelling history like I did in my channel, I am going to alter it this time by coming up with an entirely fictional scenario of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire taking over Constantinople in 1235, which in fact they almost did. As a matter of fact, the whole what if scenario of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire of Tsar Ivan Asen II taking over Constantinople in 1235 was one of the reasons that led me to create this entire 12-part Byzantine Alternate History series as well as the what if for chapter I of this series. Both of these what if scenarios were then what led me to create this series while the other ones covered in the past 8 chapters were just thought of along the way, therefore since I have thought about writing this what if scenario of Bulgaria taking over Constantinople for a very long time now even before conceptualizing this series, this chapter is going to be a very special one. Now the time jump from the previous chapter to this one will be quite a short one as in fact some of the same characters from the last one, mainly the Angelos emperors will return here, although the largest difference in this one is that the events will start off with what actually happened in real history, therefore this chapter will begin with the Angelos emperors beginning with its founder Isaac II as an incompetent emperor in which he was remembered as such, while the rulers of his dynasty that followed him which were his older brother and son were in fact even worse than he was. This chapter will then show that the Byzantine Empire drastically changed from how it was in the previous 12th century as mentioned previously when it saw itself as the dominant power in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean under the rule of 3 consecutive strong emperors from the Komnenos Dynasty which were Alexios I (r. 1081-1118), John II (r. 1118-1143), and Manuel I (r. 1143-1180) to becoming a shameful shadow of its former self that had to suffer the humiliation of falling to the 4th Crusade in 1204, and the bridge between this time of greatness to a humiliating fate in 1204 would be the less than 20-year rule of the incompetent Angelos Dynasty (1185-1204). The fateful event of the fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade in 1204 was hinted a number of times in the previous chapter but never did happen due to the plotline of the previous chapter being on how to avoid the fateful 4th Crusade from sacking Constantinople and also that the previous chapter was only limited to the 12th century, however in this chapter this fateful event of 1204 will come and go as well, as here for this chapter on the other hand, the main plotline will be on what happened after Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade n 1204. The climax for this story will then take place in the year 1235 when the exiled Byzantines as the Empire of Nicaea under Emperor John III Vatatzes allied with the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Asen II had gained the upper hand and therefore were able to turn the tide of war and finally attempt to recapture Constantinople from the dying Latin Empire established there in 1204 with a very action-packed siege with some trickery involved. The twist then will be that in 1235, the allied Byzantines of Nicaea and Bulgarians would capture Constantinople ending the rule of the Latin Empire earlier than it was in real history, except that with an act of betrayal Constantinople would instead fall under the rule of the Bulgarian Empire, although possibly not for long as in real history as well the Bulgarian Empire of Ivan Asen II too may have just seemed like a dominant power for a time as after Ivan’s death in 1241 the power of the Bulgarians declined, therefore allowing the exiled Byzantines in Nicaea to continue rising in power and influence. Eventually, the Byzantines also as the Empire of Nicaea under another emperor which was Michael VIII Palaiologos successfully recaptured Constantinople in 1261, and here begins the story of the restored Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologos Dynasty founded by Michael VIII which would rule the empire until its final end in 1453. This chapter however will no longer cover the latter part of the 13th century with the restored Byzantium under the Palaiologos Dynasty, but would instead only end in 1261, the same year Byzantium was restored in real history, although for an extra twist this story before getting to 1261 will actually have a secret ending that is true enough only fictional.

13th Century Lego films and Videos from my channel, No Budget Films:           

Louis de Blois: The Hidden History of the Crusade (2017)

Summer of 1261: A Byzantine Epic (2019)

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic (2020)

The 57 Years: Byzantium in Exile Part I (2020)

The 57 Years: Byzantium in Exile Part II (2020)

The 57 Years: Byzantium in Exile Part III (2020)


To set the stage for the confusing 13th century this chapter is set in, we will begin discussing in detail the catastrophic 4th Crusade in 1204 and its aftermath. The confusing part then happens after 1204 with the remains of the Byzantine Empire divided into various Latin powers established by the leaders of the 4th Crusade and Greek ones established by the surviving Byzantine nobility, though the trickiest part is about which of the 3 Byzantine successor states after 1204 which were the Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and Despotate of Epirus was the legitimate successor of the former Byzantine Empire itself.

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Flag of the Empire of Nicaea (Byzantine Empire in exile, 1204-1261)

At the end however, it was really the Empire of Nicaea that proved to be the actual successor of the old Byzantine Empire as it turned out to be the largest and most successful of the 3 successor states, while it also was the one that from the very beginning was plainly existing in order to recover Constantinople one day, and true enough it was the one to recapture Constantinople and reestablish the Byzantine Empire in 1261 after eliminating all its obstacles. The Empire of Nicaea on the other was able to not only survive but grow thanks to the vision and persistence of its founder Emperor Theodore I Laskaris and his successor and son-in-law John III Vatatzes, and the second one John III would be the lead character of this story who happens to be one of Byzantium’s most underrated greatest emperors being a very rare example of a Byzantine ruler who was basically a Renaissance man, both strong military man as well as very popular and in fact even well-loved by his subjects as he brought in an age of economic growth and military superiority despite his empire being one in exile, and in his 32-year reign, the Empire of Nicaea became a thriving one even when it all seemed like everything was lost.

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John III Doukas Vatatzes, Byzantine emperor in Nicaea (r. 1222-1254), art by myself

At the same time, John III was one ruler with a great legacy as he started the Greek cultural revival among the Byzantine people in exile thus giving them a new sense of purpose, which therefore makes him be remembered as the “Father of the Greeks”. Although John III in real history died in 1254 just 7 years before Constantinople was recovered from the Latins therefore never seeing Constantinople being Byzantine again, he at least paved the way for the ultimate reconquest of 1261 by annexing the territory of the Empire of Nicaea into Europe, recovering the city of Thessaloniki, surrounding the Latins to Constantinople, and establishing good relations with neighboring powers in order to expand his empire at peace. In the meantime, as John III was expanding the exiled Byzantine Empire in order to recapture Constantinople, the 2nd Bulgarian Empire to the north was exactly doing the same thing given that Constantinople had fallen to the 4th Crusade which then gave the opportunity for the new 2nd Bulgarian Empire as well as its neighbor the Serbian Kingdom to expand, and for Bulgaria even more considering they had an ambitious ruler which was Ivan Asen II who was in fact intent to capture Constantinople for the Bulgarians, wherein here in this story he would in fact even make it the Bulgarian Empire’s new capital. All while the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea, the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, and even the other Byzantine successor Despotate of Epirus was at a race with each other on whoever of them is first to capture Constantinople, the Latin Empire ruling from Constantinople was the one in trouble even if they have been around for a very short time, and as you will see whether the Byzantines and Bulgarians together took back Constantinople in 1235 or not, the Latin Empire either way at the end turned out to be a failed state that was barely able to sustain itself, and that if Constantinople’s powerful centuries old walls could have been breached, then the Latin Empire would have just faded away in an instant, and true enough the Latin Empire ended that way in 1261 when a small Byzantine force found a secret way into the walls and at the dead of night regained their old capital. Now with all these happenings in the 13th century, especially with the Bulgarians, exiled Byzantines, and Latins in conflict with each other you would see exactly the stereotypes of each other more and more evident with the Byzantines as wise and diplomatic but also scheming, the Bulgarians as unpredictable as savage, and the Latins as basically greedy and nothing much.

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Flag of the Mongol Empire, the story of the 13th century

At the same time, a much larger threat far more powerful than any of these said powers was to arise from the far east of Asia, and this was the rapidly growing Mongol Empire, and true enough the 13th century too would be commonly remembered as the century of the Mongol Empire as it was here when the Mongols first came into the picture and expanded so vastly creating an empire that stretched from China all the way to Eastern Europe covering China, Russia, Persia, Central Asia, Asia Minor, and parts of the Balkans and due to the rapid expansion of the Mongols, the Seljuk Empire of Asia Minor that had been for almost 2 centuries a threat to the Byzantines ever since their conquest of Asia Minor after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 as mention in chapter VIII of this series would be devastated and brought to its knees by the Mongols and so would the 2nd Bulgarian Empire after Ivan Asen II’s death in 1241. The exiled Byzantines however would be the ones lucky as they were spared from the expansion of the Mongols and with their neighbors being the Seljuks in the east and the Bulgarians in the north devastated by the deadly attacks of the Mongols, the exiled Byzantines would grow and prosper, thus the Mongols can be the one to thank for allowing the Byzantines to rise up again from the ashes and once more take back their capital. Now the larger stories of the 13th century which is that of the rise of the Mongol Empire and of the kingdoms of Western Europe is whole different story altogether as this chapter’s story to be more straightforward is to be limited only to the story of the Byzantines and their road to recovery, although both the Mongols and the powers of Western Europe too will have a small part here. Before beginning, I would like to thank the Youtube channel Kings and Generals for providing detailed information on the 4th Crusade which they covered in one of their most recent videos, while I would also like to thank the artists (Ediacar, Spatharokandidatos, AlexiosI, Byzantinelegacy, HistoryGold777, Amelianvs, Giuseppe Rava, Kzvasilski, TimbukDrew, FaisalHashemi) whose works will be featured here in order to guide you viewers through the very complex 13th century.

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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire (yellow), after 1261
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Map of the Mongol Empire at its greatest extent, late 13th century

Related Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter IX- Preventing the 4th Crusade in the 12th Century

Ranking the 12 Centuries of Byzantine History (My Personal Best to Least)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part II (1000-1461)

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Lesser Known and Would be Byzantine Emperors (695-1453)

All Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic- Everything About the Film


 

The Leading Characters: 

John III Doukas Vatatzes- Byzantine emperor of Nicaea (1222-1254)

Ivan Asen II- Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (1218-1241)

Theodore Komnenos Doukas- Despot of Epirus (1215-1230)

Jean de Brienne- Emperor of the Latin Empire in Constantinople 

Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes- Son and successor of John III 

Elena Asenina- Wife of Theodore II, daughter of Ivan Asen II

Baldwin II Courtenay- Emperor of the Latin Empire in Constantinople

Michael II Angelos- Despot of Epirus, successor of Theodore Komnenos Doukas  

Andronikos Palaiologos- Grand General (Megas Domestikos) of the Empire of Nicaea 

George Mouzalon- General of the Empire of Nicaea

Michael Palaiologos- General of the Empire of Nicaea, son of Andronikos

Alexios Strategopoulos- General of the Empire of Nicaea


The Background- The 4th Crusade, 1204          

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In 1195, the incompetent ruling Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos who had been in power for almost 10 years set off on a military campaign to finally defeat the new 2nd Bulgarian Empire which had formed 10 years earlier when the Bulgarians once under the rule of the Byzantine Empire rose up against Byzantine authorities declaring themselves independent due to the corrupt tax policies imposed on them by the emperor Isaac II.

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

The Bulgarian subjects of the Byzantine Empire no longer wanting to pay taxes to the corrupt imperial court of Constantinople and wanting to be free of Byzantine imperial influence and returning to their old Bulgarian roots rebelled under two Bulgarian boyars or nobles Asen who became Ivan I and Theodor who became Peter II declared themselves as the new rulers or tsars of the new 2nd Bulgarian Empire also known as the “Vlach-Bulgarian Empire”, as the first Bulgarian was defeated and conquered by the Byzantines back in 1018 by the Byzantine emperor Basil II (r. 976-1025). For the next 10 years following the Bulgarians’ declaration of independence in 1185, the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos being at least aware that he caused this major problem of Bulgaria declaring independence due to his corrupt tax policies campaigned several times to crush the Bulgarian rebellion and return them once again under Byzantine imperial rule, but all attempts to do so failed. In 1195, Isaac II prepared one more campaign and this time it was to be a massive invasion of the new Bulgarian Empire to finally finish them off once and for all wherein he would be assisted by his ally the Kingdom of Hungary which would invade Bulgaria from the north, but at the end this campaign would never come to happen due to conspiracy.

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Blinding of Isaac II Angelos, 1195

As Isaac II had already marched out of Constantinople to prepare his troops for battle in Thrace, he left his camp to go on a short hunting trip with his son Alexios for relief but while Isaac and his son were away, Isaac’s older brother who was also named Alexios usurped power by bribing the soldiers to proclaim him emperor, and when Isaac and his son returned to the camp, they were stopped and arrested while Isaac was blinded with a burning metal rod by orders of his older brother, thus Isaac and his son were brought to Constantinople to be imprisoned while Isaac’s older brother who had him blinded and imprisoned became Emperor Alexios III Angelos. Now the reason for why Alexios III deposed and blinded his younger brother remains mostly unclear but it can certainly be said that Alexios III was jealous that his younger brother was the one to become emperor instead of Alexios who was the older one, although Isaac II did not become emperor back in 1185 by blood but by a popular uprising against the former tyrant emperor Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) who Isaac II overthrew and the people lynched to death.

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Alexios III Angelos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1195-1203), older brother of Isaac II, art by myself

The bigger reason however to why Alexios III usurped power from his younger brother was a well-planned conspiracy by the Byzantine nobility who began to feel that Isaac II who they initially backed in 1185 was no longer their intended puppet emperor as at first they believed Isaac II was someone easy to manipulate in order to tolerate the corruption of the nobility but as the years passed, Isaac II had after all turned out to be someone not too easy to manipulate as he did in fact act on his own decisions even if they were not made well while he had turned out to be popular with the people too, therefore the nobility wanted someone much easier to manipulate and this was Isaac’s older brother Alexios who was basically an incompetent degenerate with no interest in ruling. With Isaac II blinded and imprisoned in 1195, Alexios III now ruled as emperor and even though he really wanted the position his brother had, he only wanted to have it basically because he was the older brother and nothing more, and as emperor his rule had turned out to be far more incompetent and corrupt than that of his younger brother Isaac II thus making Isaac II’s incompetent rule look like a great one compared to Alexios III’s. As emperor, the first thing Alexios III did was to cancel Isaac II’s military campaign to finally crush the Bulgarian Empire once and for all as Alexios here needed the campaign money in order to generously bribe the aristocrats and people of the capital to back him and compensate them for blinding his brother as Isaac II was true enough still popular with the masses and him being overthrown upset them. Alexios III when ruling had shown clearly no interest in it leaving his wife Euphrosyne Kamatera and the corrupt aristocrats that backed him to run the government while Alexios himself indulged in pleasure also making the sale of government positions legal as Isaac II before him at least only tolerated it but did not make it legal. Due to Alexios III having no interest in ruling his empire, the Seljuk Turks of Asia Minor again raided Byzantium’s eastern border capturing a large amount of land while Alexios III did not seem to care much about it and in the north due to the campaign of Isaac II being cancelled, the Bulgarian tsars Ivan Asen I and Theodor-Peter had their way and resumed their raids again this time taking large amounts of Byzantine lands in Thrace for their empire and again the emperor did not seem to care about his lands in Thrace being lost to the new Bulgarian power. In Bulgaria however, despite them gaining the upper hand against Byzantium their tsar Ivan Asen I was assassinated in 1196 being stabbed to death by a Bulgarian boyar leaving his brother Theodor-Peter to rule alone, although Ivan Asen I here had a son also named Ivan Asen who would be the future ruler of Bulgaria but was however still too young to rule.

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Henry VI, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1191-1197)

Back in Byzantium, as the incompetent and wasteful Alexios III was ruling, in the Christmas of 1196 the Holy Roman emperor Henry VI who was both the King of Germany and just recently made the King of Sicily- after the fall of the Norman Kingdom there in 1194- threatened to invade the Byzantine Empire if Alexios III did not pay a tribute of 5,000 pounds which here was an act of Henry VI avenging the blinding of Isaac II as Henry happened to related to Isaac II in a far way with Henry’s brother the Duke of Swabia Philip being married to Isaac’s daughter Irene. Alexios III however despite his empire already in financial ruin due to all the wars with Bulgaria decided to pay this heavy tribute as he had no choice and so he had the tombs of the Byzantine emperors of the past at the Church of the Holy Apostles looted in order to find gold to pay this tribute while he also imposed a heavy tax on his people known as the Alamanikon or “German tax”. By 1197, Alexios III had raised enough funds to pay this tribute but luckily the Holy Roman emperor Henry VI died in 1197 before he could either collect the tribute or invade Byzantium, therefore there was no need to pay this tribute anymore so instead Alexios III used these funds to conclude peace again with the Seljuks in Asia Minor. Alexios III then again returned to indulging himself, appointing incompetent governors who were nothing but his favorites to administer the provinces, and allowing corrupt officials to sell of the sails and anchors of the deteriorating imperial fleet, and by being so uninterested, lazy, and even brainless as a ruler, the contemporary historian of this time Niketas Choniates (1155-1217) even mentions that Alexios III would sign any document given to him even if these documents were to agree to very stupid things such as sailing on land, plowing the sea, or even moving the mountains to the depths of the sea. In Bulgaria, their tsar Theodor-Peter in 1197 too suffered the same fate as his brother Ivan Asen I a year earlier as here Tsar Theodor-Peter was stabbed to death although under mysterious circumstances, and with both the brothers that ruled the new Bulgarian Empire dead, in 1197 they were succeeded by their younger brother Kaloyan who had turned out to be an ambitious ruler wanting to sever all Bulgaria’s ties with Byzantium and as a direct threat to the Byzantines, Kaloyan in 1198 entered into correspondence with the new pope Innocent III offering to acknowledge the supremacy of the pope and the Latin Church rather than the Orthodox Church and the Patriarch of Constantinople, however Kaloyan was later only crowned as “King of Bulgaria” instead of “emperor” by a Papal Legate sent to the Bulgarian capital Tarnovo.

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Uprising of Theodor-Peter and Ivan Asen in Tarnovo, birth of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, 1185
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Map of the expansion of the Bulgarian Rebellion and 2nd Bulgarian Empire (1185-1196)
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Ivan Asen I (left, r. 1185-1196) and Theodor-Peter Asen (right, r. 1185-1197), brothers and co-founders of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire
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The Byzantine Empire (purple) during the reign of Alexios III (1195-1203)

In 1198, the Italian Innocent III was elected as pope at only 37 which was quite young for a pope although his young age also made him a very energetic and ambitious ruler, and the moment he was elected as pope, he already began making plans to launch a new Crusade to take back the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslim Ayyubid Sultanate. Now if you remember from the previous chapter, the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem which was one of the 4 Crusader states of Outremer (the Levant) in 1187 fell to the new Muslim power which was the Ayyubid Sultanate when the city of Jerusalem itself was captured by this new sultanate’s founder and first ruler Saladin. Following the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin, the 3rd Crusade was launched in an attempt to recover Jerusalem, however this 3rd Crusade by 1192 only partially succeeded being only able to recapture the Mediterranean coast from Saladin instead of the city of Jerusalem itself and with the armies of the 3rd Crusade at least successfully recovering the coast of Palestine, the 3rd Crusade ended with its leaders the kings of England and France returning to Europe again resuming war with each other.

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Pope Innocent III

The new pope Innocent III however was someone who would not let the issue of not being able to recover Jerusalem pass and being the kind of pope who wanted to assert himself as the authority over the rulers of Europe, Innocent III immediately began laying plans for a massive 4th Crusade to finally take back Jerusalem now that Saladin since 1193 had died, therefore the pope sent word all across Europe encouraging nobles to take up arms and raise armies to depart for Outremer on a new Crusade. This new Crusade however would take a few years to fully come into action as the nobles called to lead it needed time to raise and prepare their armies while the more powerful kings of Europe turned out to be too busy to take part in a new Crusade as first of all the Holy Roman Empire fell into succession crisis following the death of Emperor Henry VI in 1197, the King of England Richard I the Lionheart who led the previous 3rd Crusade had died in 1199 when at war with the King of France Philippe II his former ally in the 3rd Crusade, and now that Richard I was dead Philippe II of France in 1200 went into a full-scale war with England now ruled by Richard I’s brother John.

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Map of Outremer at the time of the 3rd Crusade (1190-1192)

The pope meanwhile already came up with his plan on how to get the Crusaders to Jerusalem which was by first invading Egypt and from there the Crusader army would march north, as hearing from the previous reports of Richard I of England, Egypt was the more vulnerable part of Saladin’s Empire while it was too dangerous to attack from the coast of Palestine being much more heavily guarded. The Crusaders however had no easy way of getting to Outremer unless they got there by sea as a march by land that would pass Byzantine lands would take almost an entire year or more, while the kingdoms they came from had no powerful navies, and so they had to turn to the largest naval power of the Mediterranean at that time which was the Republic of Venice. The Crusade planned by Innocent III then only came into full force with a leader in 1201 and this leader was the Marquis of Montferrat Boniface who may have just ruled a small and insignificant state in Northern Italy, though he was still a very rich and influential noble. Meanwhile, as Venice was expecting a large Crusader army of more than 30,000 men as the Crusaders promised they would send an army of 4,500 knights, 9,000 squires, and 20,000 infantrymen while agreeing to pay Venice a total of 85,000 silver marks, the Venetians halted all their trading operations for an entire year in order to construct the most powerful fleet in the world to transport the Crusaders, considering that the Venetians had a way to mass produce ships even centuries before the Industrial era. In 1202 however, a Crusader army of only 12,000 arrived in Venice which was a lot less than expected as a large number of the knights and soldiers who were French did not trust the Crusade’s assigned leader which was the Italian Boniface, and so a lot of these French Crusaders skipped Venice and sailed to Outremer on their own through other ports. The Venetians though were angered that an army of only 12,000 arrived as they stopped their trading operations to construct a large fleet to transport them and even worse for the Venetians, the Crusaders did not have the silver which they promised to pay Venice.

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Enrico Dandolo, Doge of the Republic of Venice (r. 1192-1205)

The ruler or Doge at this time was Enrico Dandolo, who had been ruling Venice for 10 years now and was already in his 90s and blind but still very energetic and physically strong, and if you remember from the previous chapter Dandolo was one of the thousands of Venetians living in Constantinople that were arrested in 1171 when the Byzantine emperor then Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) declared war on Venice, and Dandolo here was not only arrested but blinded by the Byzantine authorities which then made Dandolo have a lifelong desire to have revenge on the Byzantines. With the arrival of only 12,000, the doge Dandolo came up with a solution for the Crusaders to pay up the amount they owed to Venice to transport them in order to continue the Crusade, which was to have these Crusaders attack the port of Zara in Croatia right across the Adriatic from Venice which was once a Venetian port but had been lost to the Kingdom of Hungary 20 years earlier in which they would use the looted wealth taken from Zara to pay up the Venetians. Most of the Crusaders either willing to push through with the long-awaited Crusade or wanting to take some wealth for themselves agreed to attack Zara even if it was under a fellow Catholic Christian kingdom which was Hungary while some did not agree with attacking fellow Christians and so those who did not agree backed out from the Crusade, though the Crusader attack on Zara was still carried out anyway. The doge Dandolo then made up his mind agreeing to set sail and join the Crusade himself despite his old age as deep inside he was intending to divert the Crusade to Constantinople and attack it out of revenge, and with Dandolo’s very encouraging speech, the army of the 4th Crusade doubled with an addition of 20,000 Venetian citizens taking up arms joining the Crusade as marines and sailors.

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4th Crusade attacks and captures Zara, 1202

The Venetians and Crusader armies from different parts of Western Europe in 1202 then set sail for Zara which fell to them instantly after the Hungarian authorities of the city surrendered to them allowing the Crusaders to loot the city as long as they left its people unharmed. The pope soon enough discovered that the Crusade he planned true enough did not go out as expected as it attacked a fellow Christian city which was Zara and so the pope sent envoys to Zara with a letter threatening to excommunicate all the leaders of the 4th Crusade and Dandolo if they dare attacked Zara, however it was too late as when the Papal envoys came Zara was already sacked. The leader of the 4th Crusade Boniface of Montferrat only arrived to meet up his men in late 1202 in Zara when it already fell back to the Venetians and along with Boniface was a young Byzantine envoy which was no other than the imprisoned prince Alexios Angelos, son of the deposed and imprisoned emperor Isaac II Angelos. Now Alexios Angelos in 1201 had been smuggled out of prison in Constantinople by Pisan merchants and when smuggled out, Alexios found his way to Germany where he sought refuge in the court of his brother-in-law Philip the Duke of Swabia and there Alexios was just waiting for the right opportunity to get some military support to put himself in the Byzantine throne as well as to return his blinded and deposed father back in power, and luckily for Alexios the right opportunity came just a year later with the 4th Crusade which was already headed east. When hearing of the Crusaders’ financial struggles in paying their debts to Venice to transport them, Alexios offered to pay them 200,000 silver marks, as well as to provide them with an army of 10,000 Byzantine troops to assist them in taking back Jerusalem, and most important of all to submit the Byzantine Orthodox Church and the Patriarch of Constantinople to the pope’s authority all in order to help Alexios oust his uncle Alexios III from power and put he and his father back in the throne. The Crusader leaders here agreed to help young Alexios take the Byzantine throne as they could not refuse this offer as it was to pay them a lot too, but it was Dandolo who was more than ever willing to help young Alexios IV as it was to reward Venice very greatly, but it also provided Dandolo an opportunity to fulfill his dream in attacking Constantinople out of revenge before he dies of old age, while the pope when hearing that uniting the Byzantine Church with the Latin Church was part of the objective agreed to having the Crusade stop at Constantinople first, but little did the pope know that Dandolo and the other leaders were intending to sack Constantinople. In 1203, the new massive Venetian fleet with the Crusaders including Dandolo and Alexios departed Zara and set sail to Constantinople. Soon enough the Venetian fleet with the army of the 4th Crusade arrived at the Marmara Sea before the walls of Constantinople and as the people of Constantinople were shocked seeing a massive fleet headed their way, the Crusaders on these ships too were stunned at the impressive skyline of the Byzantine capital.

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Complete flag of the Republic of Venice
Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, preaching the Fourth Crusade in St Mark's Basilica, Venice
Doge Enrico Dandolo’s speech to the Venetians, 1202
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4th Crusade era Venetian ship
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Leaders of the 4th Crusade: Enrico Dandolo, Baldwin of Flanders, Boniface of Montferrat, and Geoffroi de Villehardouin
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Map of the 4th Crusade (1202-1204), in real history
Watch this to learn more about the 4th Crusade of 1204 (Kings and Generals).

Over in Constantinople, the emperor Alexios III Angelos no matter how incompetent and inactive he was in ruling, he was aware that the Venetian fleet with a large army was approaching and in fear of losing the throne as he knew that his nephew escaped and was now headed to put himself in power, Alexios III prepared the city’s defenses and rallied his people, although he could not do anything more as the provinces did not send reinforcement troops to defend the capital and the fleet stationed at the capital made up of only 20 ships were out of function as just mentioned earlier, a corrupt official sold off their anchors and sails.

The old Doge Enrico Dandolo sacking Constantinople, 1204
Doge Enrico Dandolo (right) and Prince Alexios Angelos (left) on a Venetian ship approaching Constantinople, 1203

Alexios III at first attempted to make peace with the Crusaders but his terms were rejected and young Alexios was then brought into the harbor of Constantinople or the Golden Horn together with the Crusade’s leader Boniface in a boat, and rather than cheering at the arrival of the young prince Alexios, the people looked and mocked him while the Venetian fleet just attacked the sea walls of Constantinople anyway. The Crusaders formed 7 divisions to attack different parts of Constantinople’s walls led by each of the leaders with the 8th division being the Venetians and their fleet, and the first attack was on the Galata Quarter north of the Golden Horn harbor which was less defended than the main city itself but this area too was attacked first in order to gain access into the Golden Horn harbor. The Galata Quarter soon enough fell to the Crusaders and when taking over it, the Crusaders headed to the tower that controlled the chain blocking the Golden Horn harbor- which had been around since the 8th century built by Emperor Leo III (r. 717-742) to defend Constantinople from the large-scale Arab invasion of 717 if you remember from chapter V of this series- wherein they gained control of it and lowered the great chain allowing the Venetian fleet to storm into the Golden Horn.

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4th Crusade army attack the land walls of Constantinople, 1203

The land walls on the west side of the city built back in the 5th century were however still too powerful for the Crusader army no matter how large they were to breach, although the shorter sea walls along the Golden Horn were much weaker which the Venetian marines aboard their ships exploited thus, they attacked these lower walls using siege ladders as well as the high masts of their ships in order to get through these walls. The Byzantine troops defending the walls however only numbered up to 15,000 with 5,000 of them being part of the elite Varangian Guard sworn to protect the emperor which was still an existing unit in the Byzantine army even up to this point in the 13th century, and even if the Byzantine troops were outnumbered, they at first were able to push back the invading Crusader and Venetian troops. The Venetians however gained the upper hand when Dandolo himself despite his old age jumped off his ship onto the beach along the Golden Horn’s sea walls in full armor carrying Venice’s flag which then encouraged his men to bravely fight and at the end, the Venetians were able to capture 25 of the sea wall’s towers. The Byzantines however once again tried to push back the invaders but failed when the Venetians lit a massive fire across the sea walls to prevent a counter-attack and as for the emperor Alexios III when seeing that the sea wall along the Golden Horn fell, he led a small force out of the land walls to charge at Crusaders besieging it but when Dandolo sent reinforcements to the Crusaders at the land walls, Alexios III fled in fear back into the city.

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Alexios III Angelos, older brother of Isaac II

At night, Alexios III not surprisingly as the weak and cowardly emperor he was decided to abandon the city for good and flee in fear taking 1,000 pounds from the imperial treasury. The next day, as there was no more emperor as he fled the city, the people rushed into the imperial palace’s prison and there they freed Alexios III’s younger brother the former emperor Isaac II Angelos who had been locked up there for over 8 years, and when broken out from prison, the blind Isaac II who was still popular among the people was dressed in the purple imperial robes and proclaimed emperor in the same way he was back in 1185 as a young man when it was also the people of the capital that rallied under him. Isaac II however after being blinded and locked up in prison for 8 years had not only lost his sight but his sanity, physical strength, and ability to think and rule properly, therefore the Byzantine senate as well as the Crusader leaders camped outside the city only confirmed that Isaac II was to rule as co-emperor with his son Alexios, while Isaac II also received the 4th Crusade leaders well and confirmed his son’s promises to them.

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Isaac II Angelos, returned as emperor (1203-1204)

Now that Alexios III fled the city and Isaac II was released from prison, Isaac II was crowned as emperor again together with his son now Emperor Alexios IV Angelos as co-emperors, and with Isaac being disabled from years of imprisonment, Alexios IV was to rule as the effective emperor while his father only as a puppet as Isaac was the one more popular among the people. Although the 1203 siege by the Crusader army was over, the Crusaders and Dandolo still did not leave Constantinople, therefore they set themselves up in the Galata Quarter only agreeing to leave Constantinople and set off for Outremer when Alexios IV would finally fulfill his promise of paying their debt of 200,000 silver marks and providing an army of 10,000 Byzantine troops to assist them. The problem now was that Alexios III when fleeing the city took most of treasury with him and Alexios IV himself did not have that amount of money he promised and so Alexios had to negotiate with the Crusaders to extend the period to pay his debts by another 6 months, although the Crusaders soon enough started growing so impatient being on standby for months that at one point a group of Crusaders attacked the Muslim quarter of the main city by shooting flaming arrows to it and due to the winds, a massive fire broke out it Constantinople all while Alexios IV happened to be away in Thrace hunting down his escaped uncle which at the end resulted in nothing.

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Alexios IV Angelos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1203-1204), son of Isaac II, art by myself

When Alexios IV returned to the capital, a large fight broke out in the main city between the local Greek inhabitants and the Latin mostly Venetian merchants, and these Latin merchants wanting to escape the troubles fled to Galata to seek refuge with the Crusaders and Venetians which then even gave them more of a reason to resume their attack on Constantinople. Alexios IV now wanting to fully pay off his debts in order to get the Crusader away for good decided to have precious relics, church ornaments, and even religious icons melted down and turned into coins but doing such actions especially destroying icons would only make him grow more and more unpopular with the people seeing this as something equivalent to the most despised Iconoclast movement centuries ago mentioned in previous chapters of this series. At the end of 1203 and beginning of 1204, the people of Constantinople turned to rioting against Alexios IV for his stupidity in both melting down sacred icons and for agreeing to pay such a large amount of money to the Crusaders and as the weeks passed, the rioting further intensified. To deal with the angry mob, Alexios IV and his father Isaac II sent their relative the secretary Alexios Mourtzouphlos who was Alexios III’s son-in-law to negotiate with them but instead, Mourtzouphlos was proclaimed emperor by the senate, people, and Church at the square outside the Hagia Sophia cathedral and to fully to secure himself as emperor, Mourtzouphlos bribed the discontent Varangian Guards who were not paid by Alexios IV.

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Alexios IV strangled to death in prison, 1204

Now having the support of the Varangians, Mourtzouphlos marched with them into the imperial palace where they dragged young Alexios IV from his bedroom to the prison and in prison, Alexios IV at only 22 was strangled to death by the Varangian Guards at Mourtzouphlos’ orders. Shortly, after when the disabled Isaac II Angelos who was now more than ever traumatized from past events heard that his son was killed, he could not take it any longer, thus he died from a heart attack out of shock and sadness at 47. With both Alexios IV and his father Isaac II dead, Mourtzouphlos then became Emperor Alexios V and as emperor he wanted to prove that he would be far more competent and decisive than the past 3 Angelos emperors and so right when his reign in January of 1204 began, Alexios V immediately had the walls along the Golden Horn that the Crusaders and Venetians destroyed rebuilt fearing that the Crusaders still camped at Galata would launch another offensive to avenge Alexios IV thus confiscating the properties of the corrupt officials linked with the Angelos emperors to finance the repairs.

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Alexios V Mourtzouphlos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1204), art by Spatharokandidatos

Alexios V also tried to counter-attack the Venetian ships with Byzantine fire ships which failed, and also decided to no longer honor the debts that the late Alexios IV was to pay the Crusaders and Venice which was not completed yet as Alexios IV was killed off. Alexios V too went off to the Crusaders’ camp to confront Dandolo himself to formally cancel Alexios IV’s debts and ask him in the Crusaders to leave for good, but when at the camp, Dandolo already set up a trap to ambush Alexios V although right before he was ambushed by the Crusader cavalry, Alexios V fled swiftly angering Dandolo. In March of 1204, Dandolo and the Crusader leaders at the Galata Quarter made the final decision to again attack Constantinople but this time to no longer install a puppet Byzantine emperor but to take the city for themselves and divide the remains of the Byzantine Empire among each other, then in April the Crusader again laid siege to the sea walls along the Golden Horn that had just been repaired.

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Medieval illustration of the 4th Crusade’s attack of Constantinople, 1203
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4th Crusade, Venetian fleet attacks Constantinople’s sea walls, 1203
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Defending Varangians clash with attacking Crusaders, 1203
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Alexios V bribes the Varangians to proclaim him emperor, 1204

From April 9 to 12 of 1204, the Crusaders and Venetians resumed their attack on the same sea walls along the Golden Horn they attacked the previous year, except this time the Byzantine forces were much weaker and demoralized while the elite Varangian Guard again went on strike due to lack of pay and because of all this, the defending Byzantines could no longer hold out against the Crusaders.

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4th Crusade army storms Constantinople’s walls, 1204

On April 12, the continuous attacks by the Crusaders created a small breach on the Golden Horn sea walls and right here at this point, Constantinople fell to the army of the 4th Crusade who then stormed into the city through this small breach. The emperor Alexios V however still tried to rally the remains of the army as well as citizens to repel the Crusaders that night but with no success as the Crusaders had already stormed into the city in the thousands and so Alexios V boarded a fishing boat and fled Constantinople the same way Alexios III did a year earlier. On the same night, another Byzantine noble which was Constantine Laskaris was crowned as emperor in the Hagia Sophia but to no success as when the Varangians who were still on strike refused to support him while the Crusaders had proceeded to looting the houses of the city, Constantine had no more chance to succeed and in the dawn of the next day he fled Constantinople to the city of Nicaea in Asia Minor which was less than a day away from the capital together with his brother Theodore Laskaris, who was a son-in-law of the previous emperor Alexios III. With no more resistance from the Byzantine army, Constantinople was left to be pillaged for 3 days straight by the Crusaders and with so much valuables the sacking went on day and night making this one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity. The Venetians and Crusaders however came up with a plan to divide the loot equally amongst each other with half of all the spoils going to Venice, although many of the Crusaders out of greed and excitement took as much plunder they wanted from the churches, mansions, and houses of Constantinople. The knights however refrained from harming the citizens as it was part of their chivalry code to not harm civilians, though the uneducated soldiers which were the majority did not follow such rules and so they massacred as many Byzantine civilians as they saw.

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Niketas Choniates, Byzantine historian (1155-1217), survivor of the 1204 Sack of Constantinople, recreation of the original manuscript depicting Choniates, art by myself

The same historian Niketas Choniates who was present here when the Crusaders stormed into Constantinople based on his experience when fleeing the city here wrote that the Crusaders savagely destroyed precious ornaments and icons, carted away important works of art, and worst of all looted the most holy site of the Hagia Sophia wherein they chopped up its altar dividing the pieces which contained previous gems among themselves and when doing so, the Crusaders allowed mules into the Hagia Sophia to cart out their loot which dropped their excrements all over the cathedral’s floor when carting the items out. Apart from all the looting and atrocities committed against the people of Constantinople, the Crusaders too seeing no great value in the Ancient Greek and Roman statues that were preserved in Constantinople melted them down to be made into coins, and eager to find more wealth to take home, the Crusaders broke into the Church of the Holy Apostles as well to rob the tombs of the past emperors which Alexios III back in 1197 had looted to pay the heavy tribute to the Holy Roman emperor, and even though most of the imperial tombs were already robbed by Alexios III, the Crusaders still looted them anyway including the tombs of the great emperors of the past Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) and Heraclius (r. 610-641) wherein they found Justinian I’s body still being intact despite being dead for already more than 6 centuries.

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Crusaders loot the tomb of Emperor Justinian I in 1204, art by Amelianvs

The brutal massacres and the looting only ended 3 days later on April 15 of 1204 but by this time the pillaging and fires made half of the city’s population homeless leading to a lot of inhabitants to abandon Constantinople for good either fleeing to Kaloyan’s Bulgarian Empire or to the new states being formed by Byzantine exiles from Constantinople. The Venetians on the other hand despite hating the Byzantines still had respect for its valuable treasures and so when stealing these treasures, they at least kept them intact, and such Byzantine treasures looted by the Venetians included the bronze statue of the 4 horses above the Hippodrome which the Venetians dismantled and reassembled back in Venice at St. Mark’s which was their main cathedral, while other precious objects taken to Venice included porphyry and marble columns from the 5th and 6th centuries, as well as the colossal statue of the 5th century emperor Leo I the Thracian (r. 457-474) who if you remember was the lead character of chapter II of this series, although the statue of Leo I never made it to Venice but was instead washed up in the beach of Barletta in Southern Italy wherein this statue still remains up to this day.

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Colossal statue of Byzantine emperor Leo I from Constantinople, now in Barletta

For the Crusaders on the other hand, they would never make it to their main objective anymore which was Jerusalem as when looting Constantinople, they felt content enough with what they took and so many returned to Europe with important relics they looted in which they enriched their cathedrals back home with them, thus a large percent of the looted relics ended up in the churches of Paris and all over France as well wherein most of these Crusaders came from. Now about the 4th Crusade’s sacking of Constantinople, the French knight Robert de Clari who was present here writes that Constantinople had an endless amount of wealth to loot while the modern-day English historian John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) says that the sacking of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204 was the city’s darkest hour even more than it would be a century and a half later when Constantinople would finally fall to the Ottomans. With the 3 days of looting and violence over, the leaders of the 4th Crusade then settled down, divided Constantinople among themselves, and met together to decide on which of them would take over Constantinople as the new emperor, and the first choice was no other than the Crusade’s leader Boniface of Montferrat who now married the late Isaac II Angelos’ wife Margaret of Hungary which then made Boniface have a legitimate claim to the empire as he was in a way related to the previous Angelos Dynasty. The Doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo too was offered the position of emperor wherein he could possibly move Venice’s capital to Constantinople, however Dandolo declined the offer as he was too old but he suggested that one of the Crusade’s leader which was the Count of Flanders Baldwin IX should accept the position as the new emperor of Constantinople as he was much younger and more charismatic. Baldwin IX was then elected as Emperor Baldwin I and no longer as a Byzantine emperor but a “Latin emperor” as with Constantinople being taken over by the westerners known as the “Latins”, the territory they would rule around Constantinople would be the “Latin Empire”, although even if Dandolo declined the offer, the Latin Empire was more or less a puppet of the Republic of Venice which got the largest share of the lands once part of the Byzantine Empire divided among the Crusade’s leaders.

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The 4th Crusade’s Sack of Constantinople, 1204
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Crusader army loot the streets of Constantinople, 1204
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Looting of the Hagia Sophia in 1204, art by Ediacar
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4 Horses from Constantinople’s Hippodrome, taken to Venice
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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
Watch this to learn what was lost when the 4th Crusade sacked Constantinople in 1204 (Kings and Generals)

The Fragmentation of Byzantium (1204-1228)               

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With the army of the 4th Crusade in 1204 capturing Constantinople, not only were Constantinople and its buildings in ruins but the entire geography of the Byzantine Empire as well and with no more Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, the leaders of the 4th Crusade divided what was once the Byzantine Empire among themselves, and together all newly established Latin states in Byzantine territory would be known as the Frankokratia meaning “Rule of the Franks” in Greek, as the Byzantines here still mostly referred to the Latins of Western Europe as “Franks”.

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Baldwin I “Baldwin IX of Flanders”, the first Latin emperor of Constantinople (r. 1204-1205)

The state that the Latins created as their successor state to the Byzantine Empire was the Latin Empire which was based in Constantinople with one of the 4th Crusade’s leaders Baldwin I as its emperor, although this newly formed Latin Empire could barely call itself an “empire” considering that the lands Baldwin I controlled only consisted of Constantinople, its surroundings in Thrace, the Marmara Sea and its islands, and only a small portion of Northwest Asia Minor along the Balkans, while the Latin authorities of Constantinople too could barely run their empire the way the Byzantines did. In the following year 1205, the other leaders of the 4th Crusade followed in establishing their own states in the remains of Byzantine Greece, basically doing what the Crusaders did a century earlier in Outremer when forming their own 4 separate states there if you remember from the previous chapter.

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Seal of the Crusader Kingdom of Thessalonica, established in 1205

These new states formed in Byzantine territory were the Kingdom of Thessalonica established by the 4th Crusade’s real actual leader Boniface of Montferrat who became the first King of Thessalonica controlling the region of Macedonia with Thessaloniki as its capital, then in the Southern Greece which was the Peloponnese Peninsula a new Crusader state was founded there which was the Principality of Achaea by the Frenchmen William I de Champlitte and Geoffroi de Villehardouin who were also both leaders of their own divisions in the 4th Crusade who became the first princes of their newly established Crusader state of Achaea which would later on turn out to be the most successful of these Latin states, and in Central Greece another new Crusader state was established as well which was the Duchy of Athens by the Burgundian French knight Otto de la Roche who was again one of the 4th Crusade’s leaders. On the other hand, the Republic of Venice that transported the Crusaders to Constantinople was the one that got the largest share of territory when the old Byzantine Empire was divided as here Venice got the important islands of Corfu, Cephalonia, Negroponte (Euboea), Crete, Rhodes, Lemnos, as well as the port of Dyyrhachion in Albania, while most other islands in the Aegean fell under the rule of the noble Venetian Sanudo family who in 1207 established the Duchy of the Archipelago consisting of these islands they acquired for helping their Republic of Venice in the 4th Crusade. As for the Byzantines, there was no way for their civilization to die out and one of the reasons for this was that if you remember from the previous chapter, the previous ruling Komnenos family created such a large extended family by marrying off their relatives to the other noble families of Byzantium, and now at the beginning of the 13th century the extended imperial family was very large that almost all the powerful nobles of this time were all related to each other thus all having a claim to restore the empire. The nobles which were the Laskaris brothers Theodore and Constantine as well as large number of the population that escaped Constantinople the exact day the Crusaders stormed in set themselves up in the rich city of Nicaea along a lake which they intended to use as their base to regroup the scattered Byzantine forces around Asia Minor and eventually one day take back Constantinople from the Crusaders, however neither of the brothers despite forming their own exiled state in Nicaea could call themselves “emperor” due to their position being not fully secured as the Latins of Constantinople too had plans to take over Nicaea and the lands around it to establish another new Crusader state there which would be the Duchy of Nicaea that would be under the rule of one of the 4th Crusade’s top generals the Frenchman Louis I de Blois who in late 1204 together with the Latin emperor Baldwin I’s brother Henry of Flanders who was also one of the 4th Crusade’s leaders crossed the Marmara into Asia Minor and defeated a Byzantine army led by the Laskaris brothers.

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Lego figure of Louis de Blois, French general of the 4th Crusade

The Laskaris brothers too were unsecure as also due to Constantinople being lost to the Crusaders, a number of Byzantine general stationed in Asia Minor and Greece controlling small holdings there seeing all was lost proclaimed themselves as emperors, such generals that did so included Leo Sgouros in the Peloponnese, as well as Theodore Mangaphas and Sabas Asidenos in Asia Minor. Meanwhile, even before Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade’s army in April of 1204, news that the large army of the 4th Crusade was camped outside Constantinople reached the far southeast corner of the Black Sea still under Byzantine rule which was Trebizond and here, fearing that Constantinople would be lost to the Crusaders which in fact did happen, Alexios and David Komnenos who were grandsons of the former Byzantine emperor Andronikos I Komnenos who was deposed and executed by his people in 1185 seized the city of Trebizond with military support from the Kingdom of Georgia to its northeast ruled by the powerful queen Tamar the Great.

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Queen Tamar the Great of Georgia (r. 1184-1213)

Basically, right when Constantinople fell to the Crusaders in April of 1204, the Komnenos brothers Alexios and David now having Trebizond and its surroundings as theirs proclaimed themselves co-emperors establishing their own Byzantine Empire known as the “Empire of Trebizond” and as its rulers they referred to themselves as Megas Komnenos meaning “Grand Komnenos” to emphasize their legitimacy over all the other successor states formed by Byzantine nobles as these brothers were direct descendants of the Komnenos Dynasty and its founder Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118). Another Byzantine noble to put his claim on the throne and to restore the empire was Michael Angelos, the cousin of the former emperors Isaac II and Alexios III Angelos who in 1205 established his own state in Western Greece which was quite a large one along the Ionian Sea known as the “Despotate of Epirus” with the city of Arta as its capital.

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Seal of the Despotate of Epirus, founded by Michael I Angelos in 1205

Although no matter how large his state was, Michael I Angelos could not call himself an emperor or Basileus but instead only as Despot which was basically a ruler with absolute power but not at the same level of power as an emperor, as Michael I here did not have much legitimacy to be called an emperor, although Epirus would still turn out to be the most unharmed of the 3 new Byzantine successor states in which the others were Nicaea and Trebizond as Epirus was protected by mountains on the east which was its border with the new Latin state of Thessalonica. In the meantime, the former Byzantine emperors Alexios III who fled Constantinople back in 1203 and Alexios V who fled right when the Crusaders stormed into the capital in 1204 were still alive and in fact both former emperors even met up with each other in Thrace later on in 1204 but both did not get along well as both had a claim to the Byzantine throne and so Alexios V was blinded by his father-in-law Alexios III. The blinded Alexios V was later captured by the Crusader army in Thrace and brought back to Constantinople to face trial for murdering Alexios IV who was the Crusaders’ ally but Alexios V still defended his action saying that Alexios IV was the one that committed treason against his empire by inviting the Crusaders, however Alexios V was still found guilty.

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Death of Alexios V in Lego by being thrown of a column in Constantinople, 1204

In December of 1204, Alexios V was executed in a rather unusual way by being brought to the top of the Column of Theodosius I in Constantinople where Alexios V was pushed off by a Crusader soldier, thus Alexios V was thrown off the column to his death when hitting the ground. Now in early 1205, the Latin Empire’s forces added new territories in Northwest Asia Minor to the Latin Empire after Theodore Laskaris’ forces were defeated again in battle by the forces of Henry of Flanders and Louis de Blois wherein Theodore’s brother Constantine was captured and possibly even killed in battle when his forces were defeated by the Latins, as Constantine after this disappears from the historical record. In the meantime, the Byzantine nobles and people of the cities of Didymoteicho and Adrianople in Thrace now under the rule of the Latin Empire were unhappy with their new overlords and so they asked for assistance from the 2nd Bulgarian Empire and its tsar Kaloyan to the north to help them drive away their Latin overlords despite Kaloyan being at odds with the Byzantines, but with the Latins taking over Constantinople Kaloyan now feared they would invade Bulgaria next.

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Kaloyan, Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (r. 1197-1207)

Before Kaloyan and Bulgarian army could arrive to assist the people of Adrianople, the people of Adrianople revolted declaring their city free from Latin rule but the Latin emperor in Constantinople Baldwin I could not let it happen and so he marched out of Constantinople with his army together with his general Louis de Blois and the very old Enrico Dandolo to besiege and take back Adrianople. Right when the Latins laid siege to Adrianople, Kaloyan and his large Bulgarian army of 40,000 appeared and charged at the Latin Crusader army. What then followed was the Battle of Adrianople in 1205, ironically on more or less the same site the Battle of Adrianople in 378 between the Eastern Romans (Byzantines) and Goths was fought in if you remember from chapter I of this series wherein the Romans in real history suffered a heavy defeat to the Goths with their emperor Valens (r. 364-378) killed in it as well. Now in this Battle of Adrianople, the Bulgarians won a decisive victory almost annihilating the Latin army where their general Louis de Blois was also killed in battle too while the Latin emperor Baldwin I was taken as a prisoner by the Bulgarians. The very old Enrico Dandolo however escaped alive back to Constantinople but just 2 months later he died there at the very old age of 97.

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Baldwin’s Tower in Tarnovo, Bulgaria

As for Baldwin I, his fate is unknown but it is most likely that he died imprisoned in the Bulgarian capital Tarnovo as a tower that still stands there up to this day is known as “Baldwin’s Tower” where he was imprisoned, although the circumstances for his death later in 1205 are unclear but it is said that Baldwin had an affair with Kaloyan’s wife and out of revenge Kaloyan killed Baldwin in prison afterwards turning Baldwin’s skull into his drinking cup, a Bulgarian tradition done to rulers they defeated in battle, and if you remember from chapter VI of this series the Byzantine emperor Nikephoros I (r. 802-811) in 811 suffered this same fate of having his skull made into a drinking cup when defeated in battle by the Bulgarians. The crushing defeat the Latin Empire faced to the Bulgarians at Adrianople thus was the beginning of their end even if it just happened a year after the Latin Empire was established, thus this defeat would allow the Byzantines of Nicaea to now gain the upper hand.

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Map of the fragmentation of the Byzantine Empire into different Latin and Byzantine states after 1204
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2nd Bulgarian Empire army defeats the Latin Empire’s Crusaders at the Battle of Adrianople, 1205
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Latin emperor Baldwin I captured and brought to Tsar Kaloyan as a prisoner, 1205

With the Latin Empire’s forces defeated at Adrianople and their emperor Baldwin I taken as a prisoner by the Bulgarians, Baldwin I’s brother Henry of Flanders in Constantinople at first took over the Latin Empire as its regent but in the following year 1206 when getting news of Baldwin’s death in prison, Henry was crowned as the second Latin emperor.

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Henry of Flanders, Latin emperor (r. 1206-1216), brother of Baldwin I

Unlike Baldwin I who was plainly a warrior without much of a plan in running an empire showing little toleration to his Byzantine Greek subjects, his brother Henry was at least a much wiser ruler who was more tolerant to his Greek subjects being aware that his people the Latins were foreign occupiers in Byzantine lands. Now with the Latin Empire weakened after their defeat to the Bulgarians, the newly formed Byzantine successor state of Nicaea now was secure and so in 1205 after defeating the rebel generals in Asia Minor that established their own states there following the capture of Constantinople as well as relocating the Byzantine senate from Constantinople to Nicaea, Theodore I Laskaris was able to proclaim himself as emperor with the successor state based in Nicaea now becoming the “Empire of Nicaea”.

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Theodore I Laskaris, Byzantine emperor of Nicaea (r. 1205-1221), founder of the Empire of Nicaea

To solidify his rule, Theodore I allied himself with Kaloyan and the 2nd Bulgarian Empire against the Latin emperor Henry to counter the expansion of the Latin Empire, although Henry to defend his empire allied with the other successor Byzantine Empire of Trebizond ruled by Alexios I and David Megas Komnenos. With his victory over the Latins, Kaloyan now having his way in 1207 launched an attack on the new Crusader Kingdom of Thessalonica and on the way to besieging its capital Thessaloniki, his Bulgarian forces ambushed the King of Thessalonica Boniface of Montferrat who was in fact even killed in the ambush. Kaloyan and his forces then laid siege to Thessaloniki and with Boniface dead, his very young son Demetrios succeeded him as king but right when Demetrios succeeded his father, Kaloyan and his Bulgarian forces laid siege to Thessaloniki but before being able to finish the siege, Kaloyan outside the walls of Thessaloniki suddenly suffered a heart attack and dropped dead, although legend says Kaloyan suddenly dropped dead as the ghost of Thessaloniki patron saint St. Demetrios stabbed him to death. With Kaloyan dead, the Bulgarians abandoned their siege of Thessaloniki and without children, Kaloyan was succeeded as the Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire by his nephew Boril who was a much weaker ruler and when coming into power, Boril’s cousin Ivan Asen the same son of the former Bulgarian tsar and the empire’s founder Ivan Asen I who was assassinated back in 1196 now being grown up fled north to the land of the Russians possibly to the Kievan Rus’ Empire’s successor state the Principality of Kiev to seek support to seize the Bulgarian throne. In 1208, with the war between the Latin Empire and the Bulgarians still ongoing, Boril’s forces were defeated by the Latin emperor Henry allowing Henry to take over the Bulgarian city of Philippopolis while at the same time the Serbian Principality to the west of Bulgaria under its Grand Prince Stefan Nemanjic now the one growing, it took over some parts of Macedonia from the Bulgarians and the Kingdom of Thessalonica. As for the Empire of Nicaea in Asia Minor, more and more Byzantine Greek people fled to it from Latin occupied Constantinople and Thrace being unhappy under Latin rule and one of these Byzantine Greeks that ended up in Nicaea was the same historian Niketas Choniates who then became a historian at the court of Theodore I who live there till his death in 1217. In 1208 as well, the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople too moved to Nicaea and it was only here with the Patriarch of Constantinople now based in Nicaea that Theodore I Laskaris was formally crowned as emperor. Theodore I then renewed his alliance with Bulgaria by making an alliance with Boril as well as with the new Despot of Epirus Michael I Angelos while the Latin emperor Henry on the other hand now fearing Theodore I would expand his empire made an additional alliance with Nicaea’s neighbor in the east which was the still surviving Seljuk Sultanate of Rum under Sultan Kaykhusraw I as Henry too had previously allied himself with the new Empire of Trebizond. In the meantime, the former emperor Alexios III Angelos was still alive now as a renegade looking for opportunities to take back throne and between 1205 and 1211, he had been at the Latin court at Thessaloniki and with his cousin Michael I at Epirus, though in 1211 he fled to Asia Minor to seek refuge with the Seljuk sultan Kaykhusraw I who Alexios III made an alliance with against Theodore I who was Alexios’ son-in-law married to Alexios’ daughter Anna as Alexios III did not want to recognize Theodore’s claim to the throne.

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Nicaean Byzantine forces of Theodore I Laskaris clash with the forces of the Seljuks at the Battle of Antioch on the Meander, 1211

Now allied with the former emperor Alexios III and the Latin emperor Henry, the Seljuk sultan Kaykhusraw marched his forces together with Latin mercenaries to the Empire of Nicaea’s territory in Asia Minor confronting Theodore I and his Byzantine army at the Battle of Antioch on the Meander River. Now in battle, the sultan and Theodore I confronted each other face-to-face wherein the sultan struck Theodore in the head with a heavy blow from his mace knocking Theodore off his horse onto the ground unconscious, but soon enough Theodore regained his consciousness and with his sword struck the sultan’s horse knocking the sultan to the ground.

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The victorious Theodore I displays the decapitated head of Seljuk sultan Kaykhusraw I, 1211

With Sultan Kaykhusraw I down on the ground and Theodore recovering, Theodore’s troops rushed to the sultan and beheaded him, afterwards displaying the sultan’s head on a spear for everyone to see and at the sight of their sultan decapitated, the Seljuk army fled in fear and panic, thus the Byzantines of Nicaea won their first major victory. The Byzantines of Nicaea thus won a pyrrhic victory here as they came very close to being defeated with their emperor Theodore I almost killed and only at the end did the tide turn to the favor of the Byzantines when Theodore I was able to get back his consciousness, and now that the Seljuks were defeated, the new Seljuk sultan which was Kaykhusraw I’ son Kykaus I concluded a permanent peace with the Empire of Nicaea wherein their borders would remain unchanged. With their defeat here in 1211, the tide of the Seljuks’ advance into Asia Minor ever since they won their first major victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert back in 1071 if you remember from chapter VIII of this series would be reversed, as here would begin the decline of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in Asia Minor. As for the former emperor Alexios III who allied himself with the Seljuks, he too was captured and brought to his son-in-law Theodore I who in return did not harm his father-in-law but instead just removed him of all his imperial titles and sent him to a monastery in Nicaea to retire for good, and later in 1211 as well Alexios III Angelos died at 58 in the monastery he was banished to.

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Nicaea, Capital of the Empire of Nicaea, temporary Byzantine capital

Winning a victory over the Seljuks and their Latin allies supplied by the Latin emperor Henry, Theodore I’s popularity rose to great levels that the Byzantine Greek people too across the Marmara in Thrace living under Latin rule also began to rebel against their Latin overlords. Emperor Henry however could not accept Theodore I and Nicaea’s victory and so in 1212, Henry with an army crossed into Asia Minor and attacked the Empire of Nicaea’s territories capturing a number of fortresses too, although Henry ended up seizing too many fortresses that he no longer had enough soldiers to station them in anymore, thus Henry turned to concluding peace with Theodore I. In 1214 then, both Theodore I of Nicaea and Henry of the Latin Empire agreed to a truce which was to also agree in formally ceding the region of Asia Minor along the south coast Marmara known as Troad to the Latin Empire.

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Theodore I Laskaris in armor with the decapitated head of Sultan Kaykhusraw I, art by Alexios I

Since Theodore I concluded peace with the Seljuks as well, he in 1214 too allied with them in a short campaign east against the Empire of Trebizond which resulted in the Nicaean forces and their Seljuk allies capturing the region of Paphlagonia from the Empire of Trebizond. Here in 1214, the Empire of Trebizond was now only ruled by Alexios I Megas Komnenos as back in 1212 his brother David had died, and now with Paphlagonia lost to the Nicaean Empire, Alexios I realized that with his empire now reduced by a lot gave up his ambitions to restore the Byzantine Empire and instead decided to just make his empire a regional power in the Black Sea which it would forever remain as such. Over in the Despotate of Epirus meanwhile, its ruler or despot Michael I Angelos ruled like a real despot in a cruel and tyrannical way to his subjects while he spent most his time being a violent war fanatic waging war against the Latins and Venetians in Greece, although in 1215 in Albania in the middle of his campaign to expel the Venetians from the port city of Dyrrhachion, Michael I was assassinated in his sleep by the order of his half-brother Theodore Angelos who immediately succeeded Michael as the Despot of Epirus becoming known as Despot Theodore Komnenos Doukas, and now the new ruler of Epirus Theodore unlike his half-brother was a legitimate member of the Angelos Dynasty as his half-brother Michael was an illegitimate son of their father John Doukas Angelos who was the brother of the emperors Isaac II and Alexios III’s father the general Andronikos Angelos, who featured prominently in the last chapter.

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Stefan Nemanjic, King of Serbia (r. 1217-1228)

The new Despot of Epirus Theodore feeling that he had every right to claim the Byzantine throne as a legitimate member of the Angelos Dynasty that once ruled it and a great-grandson of Alexios I Komnenos questioned Theodore I of Nicaea’s authority therefore not recognizing him as an emperor and the Empire of Nicaea as an empire, and so Despot Theodore after making an alliance with his northern neighbor the Grand Prince of Serbia Stefan Nemanjic who in 1217 became Serbia’s first king, and began making preparations to first capture Thessaloniki and then Constantinople from the Latins. The Latin emperor Henry when hearing of the Despot of Epirus beginning his campaign to march west decided to counter-attack and so in 1216 Henry left Constantinople to head west and crush the Epirote army before it reached Thessaloniki, though Henry died on the march in 1216 before reaching Epirus. With Henry’s death died the unfortunately last and only competent Latin emperor who could have at least made the Latin Empire of Constantinople an established power and as a ruler, Henry was tolerant but not weak and strong but not cruel, and with his death the Latin Empire would no longer have a ruler like that. Meanwhile back in Nicaea also in 1216, one young talented soldier in the service of Theodore I would rise to prominence as a general and this was John Doukas Vatatzes, a Byzantine Greek noble born in the city of Didymoteicho in Thrace back in 1192 who after 1204 was one of the many people that fled to the new Empire of Nicaea. Now due to his talent in battle and state administration, Theodore I who at this point still had no male heirs to succeed him considered making John Vatatzes his heir, and so Theodore married off his daughter Irene Laskarina to John.

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Coat of arms of the Courtenay family of France

Back to the Latin Empire, with Henry dead without any male heirs, the Latin barons at Constantinople decided to elect Henry’s brother-in-law Peter Courtenay, a French noble and grandson of the former King of France Louis VI (r. 1108-1137) as the new Latin emperor, however Peter here was all the way in France, and when getting word that he had to travel to Constantinople to be crowned, he left France first to Rome wherein he was crowned by the pope Honorius III– the successor of the 4th Crusade’s planner Innocent III who had died in 1216- as Latin emperor in 1217. Despite being crowned as Latin emperor, Peter never made to Constantinople as also in 1217 when arriving in the Despotate of Epirus in Greece, he was captured by Despot Theodore and imprisoned. With Peter imprisoned, the Latin barons sent word to Peter’s sons in France Philippe and Robert Courtenay to take the throne in Constantinople but both brothers refused the offer and so it was their mother Yolande of Flanders, the wife of Peter and sister of the late Latin emperors Baldwin I and Henry that came to Constantinople to rule as its regent empress before Peter could be released or her sons would arrive.

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Yolande of Flanders, Latin empress (r. 1217-1219), sister of Latin emperors Baldwin I and Henry

As the regent ruler of the Latin Empire, Yolande decided to conclude peace with Theodore I’s Empire of Nicaea and so Yolande married off her daughter Marie to Theodore I as Theodore’s first wife Anna had already died, while Yolande after she arrived in Constantinople too gave birth to her youngest child with Peter which was a son and soon to be ruler of the Latin Empire who was named Baldwin after his uncle the first Latin emperor. At the same time, Pope Honorius III continued his predecessor Innocent III’s plan in launching a 5th Crusade this time to finally recapture Jerusalem from the Ayyubid Empire as the 4th Crusade failed to do so when it sacked Constantinople and took over the Byzantine Empire, and so in 1217 as well the 5th Crusade was launched consisting of a large number of European powers including France and the Holy Roman Empire with the same King of France Philippe II from the 3rd Crusade joining again this time as an old man, and an allied force from the Seljuks of Asia Minor too.

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Pope Honorius III, successor of Innocent III

Long story short though, the Crusaders here at least made it to Egypt which was the suggested route to invade Palestine to capture Jerusalem but the Crusade at the end only made it to Egypt as it failed before the Crusaders could capture the Ayyubid capital Cairo as the Ayyubid sultan Al-Kamil ordered the dam blocking the Nile broken which then flooded the Crusaders’ camp forcing the Crusaders to surrender and return home to Europe by 1221. Meanwhile in the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, its tsar Boril lost the throne in 1218 when his cousin Ivan Asen returning from the land of the Rus with military support captured the Bulgarian capital Tarnovo, thus Ivan Asen captured and blinded Boril, and thus Ivan became Tsar Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria. To consolidate his rule, Ivan Asen II did not allow the King of Hungary Andrew II who was passing Bulgaria returning to Hungary from the 5th Crusade to return home unless Andrew gave his daughter Maria in marriage to Ivan, and so Andrew agreed to this in order to return home. The supposed Latin emperor Peter Courtenay however never made it to Constantinople as in 1219 he died in prison in Epirus, possibly under the orders of Despot Theodore while Yolande also suddenly died in 1219 which was very fatal for the Latin Empire as Yolande and Peter’s only son in Constantinople Baldwin was only 2-years-old and their older son Philippe again refused though their other son Robert finally accepted the offer to be Latin emperor but it would take him some time to travel from France to Constantinople and in the meantime, the French knight Conon de Bethune who was a general of the former Latin emperor Henry was elected to rule as the regent of the empire for young Baldwin but within only a few months Conon had died.

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Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, Regent of the Latin Empire (1220-1221)

Looking for a new regent, the Latin barons turned to the cardinal from Rome Giovanni Colonna who had previously joined Peter on the trip to Constantinople but was captured in Epirus, although Cardinal Colonna managed to get released from captivity and in 1220, he was made the regent ruler of the Latin Empire but unfortunately as only a religious leader he had no government and military experience, thus things would already go all downhill here for the Latin Empire. In the Empire of Nicaea, Theodore I Laskaris then died in 1221 at 46 at least leaving behind a much more stable and thriving empire than how he had founded it with a strong government system patterned exactly on the old Byzantine government system back in Constantinople before 1204, but the major problem here was that his succession plan was disputed as his intended successor John Vatatzes was only his son-in-law and so Theodore’s younger brothers Alexios and Isaac Laskaris challenged John’s claim to the throne of Nicaea which would lead to a short civil war.

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The 5th Crusade, Crusaders besiege the port of Damietta in Egypt, 1218
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Ivan Asen II seizes the Bulgarian throne from his cousin Tsar Boril, 1218

           

At Theodore I’s death in 1221, the Empire of Nicaea went a long way from a fragile new state to a strong and functioning one that now had a true purpose which was to preserve Byzantine civilization that was thought to have been lost when the Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, and one day recapture Constantinople.

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Robert Courtenay, Latin emperor (r. 1221-1228)

As for the Latin Empire in Constantinople meanwhile, in 1221 as well their official emperor Robert Courtenay, the son of Peter and Yolande finally arrived from France and was crowned, thus seeing his youngest brother Baldwin for the first time while the empire’s regent Cardinal Colonna stepped down and returned to Rome. The Latin Empire Robert came to rule however was in financial straits due to the loss of great amount of territory to the Despotate of Epirus and Bulgaria while their crushing defeat to the Bulgarians back in 1205 at Adrianople significantly reduced their army, and the young emperor Robert when coming into power did not do anything to solve his empire’s problems, instead he continued to waste away his empire’s treasury using the funds to host lavish parties almost every night where he would waste away getting drunk. Now in Nicaea, John III Doukas Vatatzes at 30 was now emperor in 1222, and quite coincidentally when coming to the throne his son with his wife Irene Laskarina was born and this son was named Theodore after the empire’s founder and his maternal grandfather Theodore I.

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Emperor John III Vatatzes of Nicaea and his wife Empress Irene Laskarina

John III although was not yet secure in power as Theodore I’s younger brothers Alexios and Isaac were in clear opposition to him seeing John was a lowborn usurper as the Vatatzes family he came from was not an established noble family, and so Alexios and Isaac went to Latin held Constantinople itself to seek military assistance from their emperor Robert, and Robert not caring much about his empire and his limited army gave the Laskaris brothers troops anyway to help them beat John III in battle. The Nicaean forces led by John III himself and the brothers Alexios and Isaac Laskaris with their allied Latin Crusader army met at the Battle of Poimanenon in 1223, and in this battle taking place in an empty field with a single church, John III being a capable soldier won an easy victory over the Latin army and the Laskaris brothers, thus the brothers Alexios and Isaac who were captured were blinded under John III’s orders then sent in exile to a monastery where they would live out the rest of their days in. The defeat of the Latin army in 1223 by John III’s forces was another heavy blow to the Latin Empire as due to this defeat, the Latins lost all their territory in Asia Minor which John III annexed into the Empire of Nicaea which now by having this land gained control of the Marmara Sea, thus allowing the Byzantines of Nicaea to now cross back into Europe. With the Latin forces so severely reduced after this defeat to the Empire of Nicaea, the Latin Empire would then have no more troops to defend their neighboring Latin Kingdom of Thessalonica from the rapid advance of the Despot of Epirus Theodore Komnenos Doukas who in 1224 then laid siege to Thessaloniki.

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Theodore Komnenos Doukas, Despot of Epirus (r. 1215-1230), Emperor of Thessaloniki since 1224

At the end of 1224, the Latin garrison of Thessaloniki surrendered while its king Demetrios who was now grown up fled to Italy to the court of the new Holy Roman emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, and now occupying Thessaloniki and ending the existence of the Latin Kingdom of Thessalonica which was now annexed to the Despotate of Epirus, Despot Theodore proclaimed himself “Emperor of Thessalonica” only as a way to assert his authority as the legitimate successor of Byzantium in opposition to John III of Nicaea who’s imperial authority was not recognized by Theodore. Now that Despot Theodore was first to be on the winning side on the race to take back Constantinople from the Latins, John III of Nicaea could not let it happen and to stop Despot Theodore from marching further east, John III gathered a large army in 1225 and crossed into Thrace through the Dardanelles strait from Asia Minor, making this the first Byzantine crossing into Europe since 1204. Afterwards, John III and his forces were successfully able to capture the city of Adrianople from the Latins with ease making this the first Byzantine conquest in Europe since the fall of their empire 2 decades earlier, thus with Adrianople falling to Nicaea, the Latin Empire was now only limited to Constantinople and its surroundings.

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John III Doukas Vatatzes, Byzantine emperor of Nicaea since 1222, son-in-law of Theodore I Laskaris

The mostly Byzantine Greek people of Adrianople then cheered and welcomed John III with open arms not as a conqueror but as their liberator as finally the people of Adrianople were once again ruled by a fellow Byzantine Greek. Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria at this point concluded an alliance with Despot Theodore to counter John III’s advance into Europe and here Ivan married off his very young daughter Maria to Theodore’s brother Manuel, then in 1227 with Theodore of Epirus and now the Emperor of Thessalonica gaining the upper hand, he managed to capture Adrianople from John III ending its Nicaean Byzantine rule after only 2 years, thus the path to Constantinople was fully open to Theodore. Over in Constantinople in 1227 too, Emperor Robert fearing Despot Theodore would capture Constantinople anytime soon travelled to Rome to ask for military assistance from the new pope Gregory IX who during this year became pope too following the death of Honorius III, however the new pope failed to send troops to Robert as at the same time, a large army from Europe headed on a new Crusade to again take back Jerusalem which here was the 6th Crusade led by the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II.

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Frederick II Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman emperor (r. 1220-1250), leader of the 6th Crusade

On the way back from Rome to Constantinople, the Latin emperor Robert died in early 1228 when stopping over in the Peloponnese which was here still held by the Principality of Achaea leaving his 11-year-old brother who here was left in Constantinople as the sole Latin emperor Baldwin II Courtenay. As for the 6th Crusade of Holy Roman emperor Frederick II, long story short, it was a success for the Crusaders as here through diplomacy Frederick II succeeded in doing what the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Crusades failed to do which was recapturing Jerusalem, and in 1229 with Jerusalem Christian again, the Kingdom of Jerusalem based in it that fell in 1187 was restored.

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John III Vatatzes’ forces defeat the Latins at the Battle of Poimanenon, 1223
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Holy Roman emperor Frederick II recaptures Jerusalem in the 6th Crusade, 1229
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Map of the Byzantine successor states and the new Latin states in 1228

The Climax Part I- The emperor and the tsar besiege Constantinople (1229-1235)             

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As the Latin emperor Robert Courtenay died in 1228, his younger brother Baldwin II Courtenay who here succeeded him as Latin emperor was only 11 meaning he was still not yet at the legal age to rule alone, so the Latin barons of Constantinople again had to look for a regent.

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Ivan Asen II, Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire since 1218

Seeing the Latin Empire’s succession was in chaos and a regent was desperately needed, the 36-year-old Tsar Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria immediately grabbed the opportunity to claim for himself the regency of the Latin Empire, which was overall part of his plan to one day double-cross the young Latin emperor Baldwin II and take Constantinople for himself, therefore achieving the ultimate dream of the Bulgarians to put Constantinople under their empire. To claim for himself the regency of young Baldwin II and of the Latin Empire, Ivan offered his 5-year-old daughter Elena Asenina who was his daughter from his marriage to the Hungarian princess Maria to the 11-year-old Baldwin II, and so in 1229 Ivan sent his daughter Elena with an entourage of Bulgarian nobles to Constantinople to meet Baldwin II. The young Latin emperor Baldwin II then met the Bulgarian princess Elena who he was supposed to marry in Constantinople while Ivan II also proposed to the Latin barons of Constantinople that he will combine his forces with theirs on his upcoming campaigns. The Latin barons however soon enough declined Ivan II’s offer to be young Baldwin II’s regent as these Latin people from Western Europe did not trust a Bulgarian foreigner as these Latins saw the Bulgarians as a barbarian and inferior race, so the proposed marriage between young Baldwin II and Elena never pushed through and Elena returned to her father in Bulgaria. For the Latin barons of Constantinople, the person to be young Baldwin II’s regent had to be a fellow Latin (Western European), and not too long after they declined Ivan II’s offer they found a new candidate for the regency of the Latin Empire which was the 60-year-old Jean de Brienne, a French noble who was the former King of Jerusalem (1210-1225) when the kingdom was in exile based in Acre while also he happened to be one of the leaders of the 5th Crusade back then, however in 1229 when Jean de Brienne was elected as Latin emperor, he was still in Italy. In the meantime, Despot Theodore Komnenos Doukas of Epirus felt that his ally Ivan Asen II betrayed him when Ivan tried to claim for himself regency of Constantinople behind Theodore’s back, and so in 1230 Despot Theodore suddenly but confidently led an army across the Maritsa River which was his state’s border with Bulgaria thus invading the Bulgarian Empire bringing his family along.

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Tsar Ivan Asen II at the Battle of Klokotnitsa, 1230

Ivan Asen II however quickly responded to Theodore’s invasion and personally led his Bulgarian army with an addition of 1,000 Cuman horse archer mercenaries against Theodore’s forces, and being a more successful military commander than Theodore, Ivan defeated Theodore’s Epirote forces here at the Battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230, and although Ivan allowed the defeated Epirote Byzantine forces to retreat safely, Despot Theodore was captured and brought before Ivan. According to the Jewish-Spanish rabi Jacob Arophe who was present here, Ivan ordered two Jews to blind Theodore as Ivan knew Theodore persecuted Jews in Epirus and to make it look like the Jews were to have their revenge, they were the ones to blind Theodore, however these Jews refused to do so and so Ivan had them thrown off a cliff, therefore Ivan blinded Theodore himself. After being blinded, Theodore was imprisoned in Bulgaria thus ending the power of the Despotate of Epirus for now, while Ivan Asen II due to his victory over Epirus rapidly expanded his empire south capturing most of Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace including the city of Adrianople from the Despotate of Epirus.

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Flag of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire

By the end of 1230, Ivan Asen II’s 2nd Bulgarian Empire having all of Bulgaria, most of Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and parts of Epirus was now the dominant power of the Balkans, and the spectacular part was that it had only been 45 years since the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was founded when Ivan’s father Ivan Asen I and uncle Theodor-Peter in 1185 rebelled against Byzantine rule and founded the 2nd Bulgarian Empire which at their time was just a very small state in the mountains of Bulgaria, and now just 45 years later Bulgaria was on its way to its second golden age of power and influence being close to what Bulgaria was at the beginning of the 10th century under the reign of their greatest ruler so far which was Tsar Simeon the Great (r. 893-927) if you remember from chapter VII of this series. The Despotate of Epirus following the capture of Despot Theodore was now the one in ruins, although Thessaloniki was spared by Ivan Asen II who instead installed Theodore’s brother Manuel who was Ivan’s son-in-law as his puppet ruler of Thessaloniki who was only allowed to use the title of “despot” and not “emperor”. Manuel however basically just had control of Thessaloniki as the main state of Epirus in Western Greece itself fell under the rule of Theodore’s nephew Michael II Angelos, the son of the Despotate of Epirus’ founder Michael I who was assassinated back in 1215.

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John III Vatatzes’ coat of arms

At the same time as the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was rapidly growing in power influence, the same too could be said about John III Vatatzes’ Empire of Nicaea which in the 1230s started enjoying a time of peace, economic growth, and a Byzantine cultural revival as John III invested heavily in culture and part of his mission as emperor was to revive the Ancient Greek identity and culture which included art and philosophy, while his capital Nicaea too became a center of learning. John III’s son Theodore too was given the best education ever being the imperial heir, and true enough Theodore grew up to be a philosophical genius, but other than Theodore a number of other soon-to-be important people were also brought up at this time educated together with Theodore and these were the soon-to-be scholar and primary historian of the 13th century George Akropolites, a commoner who was sent to Nicaea to be educated in order to be Theodore’s protector and general in the future which was George Mouzalon as well as his two brothers, and a young noble who already showed such ambition even at a young age which was Michael Palaiologos, the son of John III’s top general or Megas Domestikos Andronikos Palaiologos, and even though young Theodore and young Michael were 2nd cousins as both were great-grandsons of the former Byzantine emperor Alexios III Angelos, there was already a strong rivalry growing between the boys, mostly over who had more ambition to restore the empire wherein Michael clearly showed he had more. Meanwhile, John III in the 1230s and even before it succeeded in capturing the Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and later Rhodes from the Venetians, thus the Empire of Nicaea grew to be a dominant power as well which by the 1230s covered almost all of Western Asia Minor having the coasts of the Black, Marmara, and Aegean Seas, as well as a small portion of Thrace.

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Ivan Asen II defeats Despot Theodore Komnenos Doukas at the Battle of Klokotnitsa in Bulgaria, 1230
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2nd Bulgarian Empire (orange) under Ivan Asen II by 1230

Back in Constantinople, Jean de Brienne who was to be the young emperor Baldwin II’s new regent arrived in 1231 where Jean was crowned not as regent but as senior emperor. Baldwin II however was the legitimate emperor as back in 1217 he was born in the same purple room of the imperial Blachernae Palace in Constantinople where the Byzantine imperial heirs were born in, practically making Baldwin a purple-born ruler or Porphyrogennetos, but here in 1231 with the coronation of his new regent Jean, Baldwin was demoted to co-emperor.

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Jean de Brienne, senior Latin emperor of Constantinople since 1231, regent of young Baldwin II, former King of Jerusalem (r. 1210-1235)

The agreement here was that Jean would rule as the Latin Empire’s senior emperor until his death wherein Baldwin II would immediately succeed him, and since Jean was already old his death was quite close, but being the Latin emperor would not really mean anything for the old man Jean as his “empire” was basically here just Constantinople and its surroundings. The one growing ever more rich and powerful here was the 2nd Bulgarian Empire of Ivan Asen II, as now by capturing Northern Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace the Bulgarians now had control of the major road there being the Ancient Roman Via Egnatia which made their empire richer due to trade, but not matter how rich and powerful the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was, Ivan was still not yet content with not having Constantinople part of his empire, and since he now became an enemy of the Latins when they refused his offer to be young Baldwin II’s regent, Ivan had no choice but to turn to John III Vatatzes of Nicaea for an ally. Meanwhile, the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea also grew rich through John III’s smart economic policy but also because they had the luck of having their empire located in the fertile western regions of Asia Minor, and seeing that his empire could sustain itself without having to import anything, John III came up with a policy that was to ban the import of foreign goods into his empire, which was also a tactic to hurt the Republic of Venice which was their enemy as they made most of their money through trade in the Aegean area.

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Emperor John III Vatatzes of Nicaea, art by Byzantinelegacy

Apart from banning the import of foreign goods, John III encouraged his people to be self-sufficient by using their small plots of land to farm and produce their own goods and John himself even set an example by having his own farm and growing his own goods, and for setting a good example in being self-sufficient John would be more and more loved by his people. In the meantime, Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria asked for an alliance with John III and so in early 1235 Ivan II went himself across the Marmara into the Empire to Nicaea wherein he personally met up with John III at the coastal city of Lampsacus along the Asia Minor coast of the Dardanelles strait. Here, the two rulers of the two rising empires met face-to-face and coincidentally both rulers Ivan and Ioannes had the same name as “Ivan” was the Slavic name for John while John in Greek was Ioannes, and even more both rulers- at least in this story’s case- looked similar to each other in appearance with thick dark curly hair and strong eyes, and were more or less the same age with John III being older than Ivan by only a year.

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Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria, art by Kzvasilski

This meeting in Lampsacus in 1235 was then a historical one as finally for once the Byzantine Empire here being Nicaea and the Bulgarian Empire would join forces for once after centuries of being against each other, and here Ivan II basically agreed to help John III’s Empire of Nicaea expand further if John III was to allow the Bulgarian Church to have its own patriarch and to further ally themselves Ivan’s daughter Elena who was previously supposed to marry Baldwin II here was to now be married to John III’s young son Theodore. John III then agreed to Ivan II’s terms, and what followed their meeting a few weeks later would be the extravagant wedding ceremony of John III’s 13-year-old son Theodore and Ivan II’s 11-year-old daughter Elena who had already joined her father to Lampsacus, as Ivan already before leaving had it in mind for his daughter to this time marry John III’s son. The extravagant wedding of young Theodore and young Elena would also happen in Lampsacus in 1235 and thousands would attend it including nobles, members of the Byzantine senate that relocated to Nicaea, the army, members of the Church, and commoners, and here the exiled Patriarch of Constantinople in Nicaea Germanus II married Theodore and Elena while John III and his wife Irene Laskarina who was Theodore’s mother as well as Ivan Asen II himself stood behind the couple as they were to marry each other. Now after marrying Theodore, Elena would more or less disappear from the historical record as the only other thing known about her is that she would have many children with Theodore later on, but here since this is a fan fiction story, Elena’s story would be different as here she would be the one to give off information to her father and father-in-law on the weak spots of Constantinople as they were both off to lay siege to it. Based on Elena’s memory of being in Constantinople 6 years ago in 1229 when she was sent there to meet her supposed husband Baldwin II, she would tell both Ivan and John that she remembers that a part of the walls which is where the imperial Blachernae Palace was a weak point as this part of Constantinople’s impregnable land walls being damaged by the 4th Crusade’s attack from 1203-1204 was not really repaired. Some weeks after Theodore and Elena’s wedding, both John III and Ivan II assembled their forces before setting sail across the Marmara to Thrace and marching to the Walls of Constantinople itself, and in this story’s case, young Elena would be brought along to show them the weak part of the walls. Now the two armies of the Byzantines of Nicaea and the Bulgarians joined forces as well as their rulers and together John III and Ivan II looked like the perfect imperial combination with John being the stereotype of the wise and brave Byzantine emperor and Ivan being the stereotype of the ruthless and terrifying Bulgarian tsar.

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Wedding of the son of John III Theodore and the daughter of Ivan II Elena Asenina in Lampsacus, 1235
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Young Theodore and Elena Asenina married by Patriarch Germanus II in Lampsacus with John III and his wife Irene behind, 1235
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Army of the Empire of Nicaea
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Army of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire

The combined forces of the Byzantines of Nicaea and of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire led by their respective rulers John III Vatatzes and Ivan Asen II both wearing their imperial armor then arrived before the still powerful 5th century land walls or the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople with their siege engines, and right when the combined Nicaean and Bulgarian forces laid siege to the walls, the Latin emperor Jean de Brienne immediately came to it defense with the few remaining Latin Crusader troops stationed in Constantinople while the young co-emperor Baldwin II secured himself inside the Blachernae Palace. Now in real history, both John III and Ivan II laid siege to Constantinople in 1235 while the land walls were defended by the Latin emperor Jean de Brienne, but nothing much more is said about this siege in 1235, and so here in this story what will be different and entirely made up to elaborate this siege would be that Ivan II had brought along his 11-year-old daughter Elena as a spy since she knew the secret of the weak spot in Constantinople’s walls. In this story, Ivan would have John and his Nicaean-Byzantine forces continue besieging the city with their catapults and other siege weapons while the defending Latins would counter-attack with their crossbows- which was a weapon more common to the Latins but less to the Byzantines- while Ivan and his Bulgarian forces would follow his daughter to the weak spot of the walls near the Blachernae Palace.

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Duchy of the Archipelago seal

In real history though, the siege of the combined forces of John III and Ivan II never succeeded as for one neither of them had any idea on how to breach such a massive wall, and even though John III was a Byzantine this was his first time ever to see Constantinople and its walls, and the other reason for why in reality they never succeeded was because the Venetian fleet from the Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean led by its duke Angelo Sanudo came right in time to the defense of Constantinople which made both John III and Ivan II panic and abandon the siege. Both John III and Ivan II also abandoned the siege as winter was soon to come, thus they both agreed that they would resume in the next year (1236), but before even resuming the siege the next year, Ivan then betrayed John III by refusing to send him troops and without receiving any support John III too gave up his plan to besiege Constantinople. In this story however, before the Venetian fleet from the Aegean would come to the defense of Constantinople and the Latins, Ivan and his troops would be led by Ivan’s daughter Elena to where the weak spot of the walls were seeing it still unrepaired, and here with just a little shot from a catapult followed by some tearing down by the Bulgarian soldiers, the Bulgarians would then kill off the Latin forces in this part of the walls and afterwards rush into the Blachernae Palace killing off the soldiers guarding it, then storm right in to the palace to find Baldwin II. John III and his Byzantine forces meanwhile would be the ones to continue attacking the walls defended by Jean de Brienne who here would not easily surrender believing that his side would soon have the upper hand as he heard the Venetian fleet that would come to their rescue was somewhere nearby. Now, the ironic thing here is that in this siege there were in fact 3 Johns involved as apart from the besiegers John III and Ivan II, the 3rd one was the defending Latin emperor Jean de Brienne as “Jean” was French for “John”.

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Baldwin II Courtenay, Latin emperor in Constantinople

Anyway, as the forces of John III and Jean de Brienne are squaring off here, Ivan II together with his daughter Elena made it into the Blachernae Palace finding the 18-year-old co-emperor Baldwin hiding in fear under the dining table of the palace, and with no guards left to defend him, one of the Bulgarian soldiers would pull him out while Elena when seeing him would punch his face out of revenge for refusing to marry her 6 years earlier. Ivan would then have Baldwin brought out in chains while the Bulgarian troops would pour into the streets of Constantinople annihilating the few remaining Latin troops defending it before attacking the defending soldiers at the walls from behind. With the Bulgarians either killing off or forcing the rest of the Latin troops stationed at the walls to surrender, John III would order his army to halt in firing the siege engines while Ivan II himself would climb up one of the towers of the land walls and personally meet the defending Latin emperor Jean de Brienne showing to him Baldwin II in chains to prove that Jean’s side had lost. Ivan would here trick Jean into negotiating terms but before the negotiation at the walls would begin, Ivan would pull out his sword and stab Jean thus killing him, then afterwards Ivan would have the flag of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire mounted at the tower of Constantinople’s land walls directly across the sight of John III.

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2nd Bulgarian Empire solider

At first John III would be questioning why the gate was not opened to him and his forces and why even more shocking was the Bulgarian Empire’s flag flying above the walls and so John III would shout asking for Ivan to let him in, but for a while he would be met with no response. Eventually, Ivan together with his daughter Elena and Baldwin II in chains would come out of the gate to confront John III while Ivan will first speak directly to John where Ivan would say the he agreed for an alliance in besieging Constantinople but never agreed on who would take it and since Ivan got in first, Constantinople is now his and under the 2nd Bulgarian Empire. Ivan would then kick Baldwin to the ground and have his soldiers blind him, but as the soldiers were to point the knife to Baldwin’s eyes, John would come to realize that Ivan was nothing more but a brutal and savage double-crosser and he would attempt to stop Ivan from blinding Baldwin who had done nothing wrong, but before being able to stop the blinding, Ivan himself would push John away. Both Ivan and John wearing their imperial armor would then get into an intense fist-fight with some kicking and grabbing involved outside the walls and right in front of their respective troops.

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John III Vatatzes with a sword

At the end, both Ivan and John would escape each other before either of them is knocked out or killed whereas John would tell Ivan out loud that he should have not agreed to an alliance with a lunatic which was Ivan in the first place while Ivan would push his daughter Elena over to John III giving Elena an ultimatum whether to come back to Bulgaria with him, break her marriage with Theodore, and never in her life return to Nicaea or go back with John III to Nicaea and never set foot in Bulgaria ever again. Elena here with two tough choices would choose the latter and so she would never be allowed to set foot anywhere in the Bulgarian Empire again never being able to see her family ever again as she wanted to have experience as an empress when Theodore’s time to become emperor comes. Ivan would then successfully blind Baldwin II and then have Baldwin sent to Tarnovo to be imprisoned in the same tower Baldwin’s uncle the first Latin emperor Baldwin I who he was named after was imprisoned in by Ivan’s uncle Tsar Kaloyan. After loading the blind Baldwin II on a cart headed for Tarnovo, Ivan would return inside the walls of Constantinople closing the gate on John III thus putting a lifetime ban on John III from entering Constantinople which here in 1235 is now Bulgarian while John III and his troops together with Elena would retreat back to Nicaea in shame. John III here would at least be able to leave the area of Constantinople before the Venetian fleet from the Duchy of the Archipelago led by its duke Angelo Sanudo like in real history would arrive, but here it would be too late for the fleet to come to the rescue of the Latins when seeing several Bulgarian flags flying above the walls, and when hearing that Jean de Brienne had been killed and Baldwin being captured, Duke Angelo having no more purpose would turn back to the Aegean while Ivan’s archers would fire flaming arrows at the fleet to force them to turn back.

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Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria, art by HistoryGold777

The Latin Empire in this story thus ended here in 1235 with Constantinople and its surroundings now falling under the rule of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, and when inspecting his recently conquered city, Ivan II would see that Constantinople was a mess as the Latin Crusaders who captured it back in 1204 did not even bother to clean up the mess they created when destroying the buildings with their siege weapons and the fire they started, while also the streets Constantinople would be full of homeless people as the Latin occupiers never even bothered to clean up and put order in Constantinople as their only purpose was to loot the city’s relics and riches, and true enough by 1235 the Latin Empire that in this story that had been destroyed had no more funds as they had already looted and sold off too many relics to the kingdoms of Western Europe that there were no more relics to sell off. Now occupying Constantinople, Ivan Asen II would decide to make it the new capital of his Bulgarian Empire with its capital Tarnovo now only as his summer residence, and even more Ivan would move the seat of the Bulgarian patriarch to Constantinople transforming the Hagia Sophia from the Catholic church the Latins turned it into to a Bulgarian Orthodox Church, then Ivan would reside in the Blachernae Palace and worst of all call himself the true “Byzantine emperor”.

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The 5th century land walls of Constantinople (Theodosian Walls), art by myself
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Army of the Latin Empire
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Blachernae Palace, Imperial Residence of Constantinople

The Climax Part II- The Revenge of the Byzantines (1236-1250)         

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In real history, neither Ivan Asen II of Bulgaria nor John III of Nicaea succeeded in taking over Constantinople from the Latin Empire, thus the Latin Empire would continue to live on, except its end was already expected. For the Latin Empire, its senior emperor Jean de Brienne ended his reign in 1237 when he decided to retire to become a Franciscan monk dying later that year, though before his retirement he married off his young daughter Marie de Brienne to the 20-year-old Baldwin II who here in 1237 became the sole emperor. The Latin Empire Baldwin II came to rule in 1237 was basically nothing and with its end either to the Bulgarians or the Empire of Nicaea imminent, the inexperienced and weak Baldwin II spent most of his reign looking for solutions to raise money that he would later travel to Western Europe to beg for funds from various rulers, and one reason for the Latin Empire still having enough funds to live on was because Baldwin II by around 1240 pawned the relic of the Crown of Thorns which was one of the last relics left in Constantinople to the Venetians for 13,000 gold coins which later was bought by the King of France Louis IX (r. 1226-1270) who was possibly Europe’s most powerful ruler.

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King Louis IX of France with the Crown of Thorns relic

In this story however, none of this would happen as by 1235 the Latin Empire had already ended with its senior emperor Jean de Brienne killed by Ivan Asen II himself and Baldwin II blinded and imprisoned in the Bulgarian capital Tarnovo, and Ivan here beating John III in taking Constantinople added Constantinople to his empire making it its new capital, although the process in fully making Constantinople the new Bulgarian would take years, and so a lot of the events that would happen to Ivan II in the latter part of his reign would play out the same way in this story. What would remain unchanged in this story was the rise and rapid expansion of a new threat from the far east and this here was the story of the 13th century which was that of the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan originally named Temujin in 1206, and following his death in 1227, his successors would go different directions and rapidly expand his empire west into Central Asia, Russia, eventually west into Eastern Europe, east to China, and south to Persia and even into Eastern Asia Minor.

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Mongol warrior, 13th century

The Mongols were the type of people that would stop at nothing to expand and with the fierceness, brutality, and discipline of their warriors which were mostly cavalry archers as well as the fear they brought with all the atrocities they committed when capturing cities along the way, they grew such a massive empire and by 1237 the nomadic Cuman people of Eastern Europe in fear of the savage expansion of the Mongols would here like in real history flee into Ivan Asen II’s Bulgaria. In this story as well, Ivan II like in real history would grant the Cuman refugees crossing the Danube asylum, although in real history Ivan II after betraying John III after the 1235 siege would ally with Baldwin II’s Latin Empire with his new Cuman allies, but here with the Latin Empire gone Ivan would simply just allow the Cumans to settle in his empire.

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Cuman warrior, 13th century

In this story like in real history, a plague in Bulgaria would also break out here in 1237 which would result in the deaths of his wife the Hungarian Maria and their son who was to be Ivan’s intended heir, thus both theirs deaths which did happen in this story would greatly devastate Ivan now feeling a lot guilt believing that the mass migration of the Cumans, the plague, and the death of his wife and son was a punishment from God for betraying a great man which was John III, as true enough Ivan II like in real history also betrayed John III in this story. In the meantime, in 1237 Ivan II in this story like in real history would also fall in love with Irene Komnene, the daughter of his prisoner the Despot of Epirus Theodore who by this point after 7 years was still in prison, and since Ivan’s wife had died here, he would marry his hostage Irene and as a gift to her, Ivan would release her father Theodore from prison.

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Ivan Asen II and Irene Komnene, daughter of Despot Theodore

Theodore after being released despite being blind would rush back to Thessaloniki where later that year he would do as he did in real history and enter the city disguised as a beggar chasing his brother Manuel who was put in charge of it by Ivan back in 1230 away, and since Theodore was no longer qualified to rule as he was blind, he would install his son John Angelos as his puppet Despot of Thessaloniki, and Theodore here despite not ruling in name would be the one running the state for his son behind him as his son John never showed interest in ruling as he chose to live life like an ascetic monk. Now Despot Theodore here would not be able to take back Epirus which he ruled first as at this point it was already under the rule of his nephew Michael II Angelos as its despot, and just like in real history Theodore’s brother Manuel here in 1239 would claim for himself Thessaly but would die in 1241 as well, and with his death Thessaly would be annexed by Despot Michael II into Epirus.

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Fresco of Tsar Ivan Asen II, died in 1241

In this story, Ivan Asen II’s last years would be not so pleasant as it was in real history as the same would happen wherein the Mongols by 1240 would have already expanded into the lands once under the massive Empire of the Kievan Rus and taking over Kiev as well, thus resulting in a number of Russian nobles (boyars) to flee south across the Danube into Bulgaria leaving Ivan with the headache of having to deal with their mass migration despite Ivan in this story now having Constantinople and ruling from it. Like in real history, Ivan Asen II here would also meet his end in 1241 dying at the age of 48, though here in Constantinople which was his new capital, and like in real history he would be succeeded by his 7-year-old son Kaliman Asen I ruling from Constantinople in this story. Both in real history and in this story, the death of Ivan Asen II in 1241 would be the end of Bulgaria’s glory days and a major factor to it was the growing pressure of the Mongols that were to now after Ivan’s death impose a heavy tribute on the Bulgarians or else Bulgaria itself would suffer the consequences of being annihilated by the Mongol army. In this story, John III in Nicaea when hearing of Ivan II’s death and the weakness the Bulgarians were in now that they are under a child ruler, he would use this to his advantage in taking back Constantinople soon enough from the Bulgarians.             

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Map of the Latin states and Byzantine successor states by 1237
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Latin emperor Baldwin II Courtenay in Lego (r. 1228-1261, in real history)
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Latin emperor Baldwin II presents the Crown of Thorns relic to King Louis IX of France
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Mongol army advancing

Back in the Empire of Nicaea, John III Vatatzes when returning in 1235 would return home with the shame of losing the race to recapture Constantinople to Ivan Asen II, though he would eventually overcome the shame by focusing on growing his empire’s economy and promoting its Greek culture.

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Emperor John III Vatatzes of Nicaea

Now just like in real history, John III’s reign would see the revival of the Greek (Hellenistic) identity in the people of Byzantium and a lot of the reasons to this was that when being exiled in Nicaea, they as people came to realize that they were a kingdom of Greeks as first of all they fled Constantinople in 1204 and regrouped together as Greek speaking people, and here in the late 1230s most people who escaped Constantinople in 1204 were in fact still alive with John III being from that generation as he was already alive though not present there when Constantinople had fallen. Now, the reasons for the revival of the Classical Greek identity for the Byzantines took place during their time in exile as the Empire of Nicaea are complex and therefore having no single answer, but a lot of it was also due to the people facing the humiliation of losing their capital needing to find a sense of purpose and having a ruler like John III who was very fond of the Greek classics, he also encouraged them to rediscover it. John III too when not leading his troops in battle spent his reign searching for and collecting Ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts, sculptures, and art, and being a well-loved ruler his people also followed his example which made them more and more aware of their Classical Greek heritage which at this time they began to see as the one they were more attached as they were in fact living in the lands the Ancient Greeks once lived in, therefore the connection of Byzantium to its Ancient Roman roots would begin to fade away, though not entirely as they would still continue to call themselves the “Roman Empire”.

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Byzantine fresco of Alexander the Great

With this revival of the Greek classics ongoing in John III’s empire, John III himself would be seen by his people reconnecting to their Greek heritage as the new Alexander the Great, the legendary Ancient Greek King of Macedonia from the 4th century BC, and other than the visionary warrior emperor Alexander was, John III was also seen as a “philosopher-king” like the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) as John III ruled wisely. Of course, John III would encounter a lot more challenges and losses along the way and one of the biggest ones he would face was in 1239 which was the death of his wife the empress Irene Laskarina, daughter of the Nicaean Empire’s founder Theodore I. Here in 1239 in this story just like in real history, Irene would die from a severe injury caused by a horse-riding accident a few years ago that made her unable to give birth for life that the only child she and John would have was their son Theodore, and little did she know that the accident would slowly cause her death in 1239. Irene’s death thus was greatly mourned by the people their empire as she too was well-loved the same way her husband was, and even more she was the one who put more attention in Nicaea’s cultural revival by funding monasteries and learning centers, and for the people of the Nicaean Empire, what they admired most about Irene was her strong moral character which also encouraged them to also be like her. Now, the death of his wife would not stop John III from growing his empire and in this story when finding out Ivan Asen II had died in 1241, John would immediately resume his ambitions to take Constantinople back for the Byzantines seeing an opportunity here as now the 2nd Bulgarian Empire was at a weak position with their new ruler Ivan’s son Kaliman Asen I being only a child. John III here however would not immediately return to Constantinople’s walls and lay siege to it but instead do as he did in real history which was in prioritizing the Byzantine reconquest of Thessaloniki seeing Constantinople as the ultimate prize. In 1241 following Ivan Asen II’s death, John III being also a skilled diplomat would do as he did in real history by inviting the former Despot of Epirus and Emperor of Thessaloniki Theodore Komnenos Doukas who here had no title but was still the power behind his son John that ruled Thessaloniki to come over to the Empire of Nicaea in Asia Minor. The former despot Theodore here would like in real history also be received well by John III in Nicaea where John would treat Theodore like an uncle as Despot Theodore was much older than John, and here John and Theodore would frequently dine with each other in one of John’s seaside palaces along the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, and true enough John too was someone fond of good food and in this story’s case expensive seafood which he and Theodore would enjoy eating together overlooking the sea while also drinking expensive wines. The whole point however for John III treating Theodore so well was to lure Theodore into staying in Nicaea forever and never return to Thessaloniki as a way for John to get Theodore out of the way and take Thessaloniki for himself, and true enough Theodore here in his stay in the Nicaean Empire even though treated well with all the best luxuries was more or less a prisoner as for the entire time he was there, he was not permitted to go anywhere without John III’s watching. Now this whole time spent with the former despot Theodore gave John some valuable information in capturing Thessaloniki and in 1242, John III would begin preparing his fleet and army for the invasion of Thessaloniki wherein he would take Theodore with him as an honorary prisoner.

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John III Vatatzes in imperial armor on a horse

As I forgot to mention, John III too had one challenge that he had to deal with his entire life which was chronic epilepsy that he frequently suffered unexpected seizures, but this still did not stop him from marching out into battle leading and inspiring his troops himself, and in 1242 following in the footsteps of the legendary Alexander the Great who his people saw him as, John III and his grand general Andronikos Palaiologos leading a large army taking Despot Theodore as an honorary prisoner set sail across the Aegean to Thessaloniki while in Nicaea John III left his now grown up son Theodore to be in charge of it as at this point he was already training under his father to rule the empire. Without any resistance, the Nicaean fleet would arrive before the walls of Thessaloniki where the fleet of John III would lay siege to it from the sea, though soon enough the siege engines of John III would turn out to be not as effective against Thessaloniki’s walls, thus the siege would continue for months. By the end of 1242, John III camped outside Thessaloniki would receive terrible news from his son Theodore in Nicaea and this was that Mongols who for the past years have been expanding west now invaded the territory of the Seljuks in Asia Minor wherein the Mongols brutally sacked and destroyed the city of Erzurum. John III here would be forced to abandon his siege and rush back to Asia Minor fearing that the Mongols would proceed further west and attack the Empire of Nicaea itself, though he would not tell his honorary prisoner Despot Theodore the reason why he had to return. With John III rushing back to Asia Minor, Despot Theodore would then be left behind to enter Thessaloniki and negotiate with his son John, and here Thessaloniki’s ruler John being uninterested in ruling would instantly agree to surrender Thessaloniki to John III but his father would slap him telling him to man up and not give up that easily, and so Theodore’s son John Angelos would continue to rule Thessaloniki until his sudden death in 1244 while his father would continue to run the state for him from retirement in the town of Vodena near Thessaloniki. Following John Angelos’ death in 1244, his father Theodore could still not claim the rulership of Thessaloniki being blind, therefore Theodore would make his younger son Demetrios Angelos his new puppet ruler of Thessaloniki and unlike his brother John who was a simple ascetic, Demetrios was a debauched young man more interested in partying and seducing married women than ruling that he would instantly lose his popularity the moment he came to rule Thessaloniki that his people would soon demand that the much wiser John III of Nicaea should rule them. When returning to Nicaea, John III would prepare for the imminent Mongol invasion of his empire by quickly raising and training a larger army, construct new siege engines, and have stronger quality weapons made considering that in 1243 the Mongols defeated the Seljuk forces at the Battle of Kose Dag in Eastern Asia Minor. However, John III would soon enough find out that the Mongols had left Asia Minor as their recent attacks forced the Seljuks and the breakaway Byzantine Empire of Trebizond north of them to pay tribute to them thus making the Mongols retreat back east and north, and with the Seljuk state east of the Empire of Nicaea weakened to the point of near extinction by the invasion of the Mongols, the Empire of Nicaea was the one to be lucky here, thus allowing them to further grow again.

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Byzantine era Thessaloniki
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Mongols defeat the Seljuks at the Battle of Kose Dag in 1243, art by Giuseppe Rava

           

Though the Empire of Nicaea was spared from a massive Mongol invasion, there was still a chance that the Mongols would one day attack Nicaean territory, and so to further protect his empire John III had to turn to an alliance with possibly the most powerful state of Europe of this time which was the Holy Roman Empire under Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen.

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Seal of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire

In 1245, the 53-year-old John III sealed his alliance with Frederick II by marrying Frederick’s 14-year-old daughter Anna Hohenstaufen who travelled from Italy to Nicaea, and although she was married to John III both would never have feelings for each other due to their large age gap. Anna would instead be closer to John’s now grown-up son Theodore and Theodore’s wife Elena the daughter of Ivan Asen II who was now also grown up, and together what all 3 had in common was a love for philosophy and thirst for knowledge. In 1246, just like in real history Ivan Asen II’s son and successor Kaliman Asen I would also die at only 12 except here he would die in the Bulgarian’s new capital Constantinople, thus he would be succeeded as tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire by his younger brother Michael Asen who was only 7, therefore Bulgaria here would be under the regency of its boyars again. In 1246 as well, John III would get word from the people of Thessaloniki that they are tired of being ruled by the decadent and irresponsible Demetrios Angelos and instead preferred that John take over Thessaloniki and make it part of his empire. John III here would be torn between two tough decisions whether to attack Bulgaria and take back some lands in order to take advantage of the situation of their empire in chaos due to the Mongols now raiding their northern border while a child ruler was in charge or to answer the call of the people of Thessaloniki and overthrown their unpopular ruler Demetrios. John here in this story’s case like in real history would choose to sail back from Asia Minor to Europe to first attack Bulgarian territory taking advantage of the chaos in their empire, and in this story’s case he would prioritize this first as his goal was to now finally capture Constantinople considering that the Bulgarians were now weak while their child ruler ruling from it could possibly easily surrender it. Within only 3 months in 1246, John III like in real history here would quickly capture most of Thrace and all of Northern and Eastern Macedonia from the Bulgarians, while here in this story he would again have his grand general Andronikos Palaiologos take care of Constantinople wherein Andronikos with a few soldiers would inspect Constantinople’s walls to look for ways to besiege it. John III when camping in the town of Melnik in Thrace (in today’s Bulgaria) which was one of the towns John III had just recaptured from the Bulgarians, he would hear that the nobles of Thessaloniki were conspiring to overthrow their ruler Demetrios and hand him over to John.

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John III Vatatzes icon

Using diplomacy this time, John III would write to Demetrios asking for him to personally come to Melnik to negotiate terms, but Demetrios when hearing of this refused to see John III at Melnik suspecting that it was trap set up by John. With Demetrios refusing John’s terms, John with Andronikos then marched his army from Melnik to Thessaloniki wherein they would lay siege to its walls on arrival. After only a few days, the conspirators that planned to overthrow Demetrios and hand Thessaloniki over to John III opened the gates to John III’s Nicaean army, and when marching into Thessaloniki the people would cheer and welcome John III as their new ruler in open arms, similar to what the people of Adrianople did back in 1225 when John III marched in. Demetrios would then be captured and sent by John III to Asia Minor to be imprisoned for life while Demetrios’ father Theodore being retirement and still alive would no longer care much about the events going on around him. Now with Thessaloniki, Macedonia, and Thrace under the hands of the Empire of Nicaea, John III would place Andronikos in charge of all these recently conquered lands in Europe as its governor while John III in this story’s case would then have the time to focus on once again laying siege to Constantinople and capturing it from the Bulgarians. In real history, John III was said to have laid siege to Constantinople again in 1247 or 1248 except this time with no alliance with Bulgaria and in real history it was still the Latin Empire under Baldwin II that John III was trying to recapture Constantinople from. In this story’s case, John III would lay siege to Constantinople also at this point and considering that a large portion of the Bulgarian army was away as they had to defend their northern border which was the Danube River from Mongol raids, John III here could easily capture Constantinople. In this story’s case, John III would have to temporarily abandon his siege in Constantinople in 1248 when hearing that his newly appointed governor of Thrace and Macedonia Andronikos Palaiologos had died as in real history Andronikos also died in 1248, and with Andronikos’ death John III would replace Andronikos as the governor of Thrace and Macedonia with Theodore Philes, though John III like in real history too would assign Andronikos’ eldest son Michael Palaiologos to be in charge of the towns of Serres and Melnik in Thrace. Michael Palaiologos despite taking the position of his late father Andronikos was never close to his father as Andronikos after the death of his first wife which was Michael’s mother died when Michael and his siblings were very young, Andronikos remarried and had another family of his own, therefore abandoning his children with his first wife including Michael. Michael’s tough upbringing due to having no parents to watch over him heavily influenced his cruel and ambitious personality he had when grown up, and by the time Michael was appointed as an imperial governor in 1248, he already began showing his ambition to one day take over the empire himself and take back Constantinople. Eventually, it was in fact Michael Palaiologos that did succeed in taking back Constantinople from the Latins later on in 1261, but in this story’s case John III in 1248 would finally succeed in taking back Constantinople, though in this story from the Bulgarians and not the Latins.

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Michael Asen, Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (r. 1246-1256), son of Ivan Asen II

Now the circumstances in this story’s case for why John III in 1248 was able to recapture Constantinople from the Bulgarians won’t be really explained in full detail, but it was mainly because the Bulgarian forces left defending Constantinople’s walls were outnumbered as most were in the north having to defend their Danube border against the Mongols, and so here after weeks of being under siege the Bulgarian garrison of Constantinople would open the gates to John III and his army, while the Bulgarian tsar Michael Asen who here was ruling from Constantinople would just easily surrender Constantinople to John III as Michael Asen being very young really had no interest in controlling Constantinople anyway. Michael Asen would thus be able to return to the 2nd Bulgarian Empire’s original capital Tarnovo unharmed only on the condition that Baldwin II who Ivan Asen II imprisoned 13 years earlier there after taking Constantinople in 1235 was to be released. It was however too late for the former Latin emperor Baldwin II in this story as during these 13 years of imprisonment in Tarnovo, he had already died possibly from starvation or disease. Now John III then in 1248 in this story would achieve the ultimate goal of his life which was the return of Constantinople to Byzantine rule, and it is here in 1248 in this story where the Empire of Nicaea’s story ends not by dying out and fading away from history but by once again becoming the Byzantine Empire that was thought to be lost forever when the 4th Crusade captured Constantinople in 1204. The return of Constantinople to Byzantine rule thus meant the restoration of the old Byzantine Empire, although here John III would be the one to rule from Constantinople while his son Theodore would rule as co-emperor from Nicaea, and now to consolidate the return of Byzantium and its newly gained dominance over all the powers that were the successor states of pre-1204 Byzantium such as Epirus and Trebizond, as well as the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, John III would turn to settling peace agreements with all of them, and with his people John III would be ever more loved.

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Melnik, Bulgaria
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Constantinople, returned to Byzantine rule in 1248 by John III in this story

 

The Epilogue (in real history)             

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In real history, John III Vatatzes would die in 1254 still never able to recapture Constantinople from the Latins, but even if he never achieved it, he at least lived long enough to see his empire becoming the most dominant of all the pre-1204 successor states seeing it grow even more powerful than the 2nd Bulgarian Empire. The biggest conquest of John III happened to be Thessaloniki, thus making the Empire of Nicaea at its largest extent and to secure his claim on Thessaloniki, John III settled peace with the Despotate of Epirus ruled by Despot Michael II Angelos to prevent Michael II from taking it back. In 1251, Despot Michael II of Epirus broke his peace agreement with John and suddenly laid siege to Thessaloniki attempting to take it back from the Empire of Nicaea but the Nicaean forces still resisted successfully defending Thessaloniki before John III’s arrival in 1252.

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Michael II Angelos, Despot of Epirus (r. 1230-1268), art by Alexios I

Here, Despot Theodore now very old came out of retirement to assist his nephew Michael II against John III, thus they both fled north to capture some towns from the Nicaeans but when hearing John III in 1252 arrived to relieve Thessaloniki for Michael II’s army, both Theodore and Michael II fled into Arta, the capital of the Despotate of Epirus itself. Both Theodore and Michael II at first thought of regrouping their troops in Arta where they would launch a counter-attack against John III’s forces, but when hearing that their Albanian allies defected to John III, Michael II and Theodore abandoned their plans and decided to resume their peace with John III. Michael II after ceding back the fortresses and towns they captured back to John III then continued to rule as the Despot of Epirus while his uncle Theodore personally met up with John III again in Vodena, the same place Theodore had been living in retirement all this time. John III despite usually showing mercy to his defeated enemies this time did not as he had gown extremely fed up with Despot Theodore’s treachery and so John III this time without any second thoughts had Despot Theodore sent to Asia Minor to be imprisoned for life, and in the following year 1253 the blind 73-year-old Despot Theodore Komnenos Doukas finally died in prison somewhere in Nicaean territory in Asia Minor. In the meantime, John III’s daughter-in-law Elena Asenina who had been married to John III’s son Theodore since 1235 had died sometime in 1252 at only 28 possibly due to pregnancy complications, but at least she had 6 children with Theodore including a son named John born in 1250 who was named after both his grandfathers, John III Vatatzes and Ivan Asen II. In 1253 then, Michael Palaiologos who was appointed as the governor of Serres and Melnik in Thrace had the courage to speak about organizing a plot to overthrow John III and take over the empire, which eventually led to his imprisonment by orders of his arch-rival John III’s son Theodore. John III however showing some mercy and seeing potential in Michael agreed to release Michael from prison shortly after as long as Michael burned his hands by holding two red hot irons in front of John III to prove his loyalty. After burning his hands by holding these irons, John III released Michael, which John III in fact even rewarded Michael by marrying off his 13-year-old grandniece Theodora Vatatzaina who was the granddaughter of John III’s lesser-known brother Isaac Vatatzes to the 30-year-old Michael, while Michael too was awarded by John III with the new position of Megas Konostaulos which meant “Grand Constable”, or in other words the equivalent of a police general in Byzantium as Michael proved to be a strong military man. In the following year 1254, John III together with his son Theodore set off on another adventure, this time to travel into the lands of the Seljuks deep within Asia Minor to provide them with military aid against a possible Mongol invasion, however as John III began to age his epilepsy grew worse. John III and his son Theodore then never completed their mission as in late 1254 John III suffered a strong epileptic seizure and died at the age of 62 at the city of Nymphaion, part of Nicaean territory in Western Asia Minor. John III was then buried at a monastery he founded in that area while his death was mourned by all his people as he was the leader that they all looked up to and through his courage and great conquests despite suffering from a major challenge throughout his life which was epilepsy, he gave his people hope and inspiration in a time when they were so humiliated due to losing their capital. John III was then succeeded by his only son the 32-year-old Theodore who was present at his father’s death, and becoming emperor Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes chose to rule with his mother’s last name “Laskaris” instead of his father’s last name “Vatatzes” to assert his legitimacy as the grandson of the Empire of Nicaea’s founder Theodore I Laskaris.

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Emperor Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes of Nicaea (r. 1254-1258), son of John III

As emperor, Theodore II possessed a lot of knowledge as he grew up being a well-educated and intellectual scholar making him fond of philosophy, theology, math, science, and history rather than warfare, but he was also well-trained to run an empire by his father. Theodore II however was not as capable and masculine as his father was as first of all the loss of his wife Elena two years earlier led him down a path of depression and growing up in the palace as the imperial heir with all the luxuries he wanted such as playing Tzykanion (Byzantine polo) made him a spoiled and entitled ruler who did not really care about anyone else’s opinions except his own, and already when coming to power in 1254 he dismissed a lot of the aristocrats from high positions in the government believing they were useless, thus replacing them with his loyal friends most of which were commoners that were educated with him like George Mouzalon who became Theodore II’s grand general or Megas Domestikos who would then be in charge of Asia Minor while Theodore was to campaign in Europe.          

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Map of the Latin states and Byzantine successor states by 1255
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Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes Lego figure
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Elena Asenina of Bulgaria, wife of Theodore II Lego figure, died in 1252

Though the new emperor Theodore II appeared more as a scholar than a soldier the way his father was, he still ruled energetically, and when beginning his reign he fulfilled his father’s goal in making a defensive alliance with his eastern neighbor the Seljuk sultan Kykaus II against the Mongols who were still harassing the Seljuks by invading their territory and even if the sultan Kykaus II already agreed to pay tribute to the Mongol Empire’s ruler Mongke Khan, Kykaus II still did not directly pay homage to the khan by travelling to his court, thus giving a reason for the khan to continue raiding Seljuk lands, but now with military support from the Empire of Nicaea, the Seljuks could now stand against the powerful and destructive Mongol raids.

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Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes, Emperor of Nicaea

Theodore II however would already fall out with the aristocrats as his reign began not only because he favored commoners over them but also because Theodore no longer prioritized the reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins, and many of the older population of the Nicaean Empire who had seen their capital fall to the Crusaders in 1204 were still alive and at least wanted to die seeing Constantinople under Byzantine hands again, thus they were upset with their new emperor for not letting them see their dreams come true. On the other hand, Theodore II still kept it in mind to take back Constantinople one day but as of 1255 he had other problems to deal with in which one of them was the 2nd Bulgarian Empire which struck back again by invading Nicaean territory in Thrace as the Bulgarian tsar Michael Asen who was at this point already grown up took advantage of John III’s death by continuing raids on Nicaean-Byzantine territory. In early 1255, Theodore II after raising an army of peasants from Asia Minor as he believed they were more effective than foreign mercenaries crossed the Marmara into Europe for the first time in his life to repel the Bulgarian invasion of Thrace while leaving behind his top general George Mouzalon to take care of affairs in Asia Minor. Long story short, Theodore II after several months drove off the Bulgarian invaders from Thrace and Macedonia and to chase the remaining Bulgarian troops back to their empire up north, Theodore had his general which was the aristocrat Alexios Strategopoulos lead a group of the army to chase them away but in a mountain pass in the Rhodope Mountains when hearing the horns of the shepherds, Alexios mistook the sound as the horns of the Bulgarian army, thus he ordered his men to retreat in panic dropping their equipment in the process. Now the reason for this fiasco at the Rhodope Mountains happening was also due to Alexios being an aristocrat not wanting to take orders from the anti-aristocrat emperor Theodore II, thus Alexios returned to Nicaea where together with Michael Palaiologos who had turned out to be a supporter of the aristocrats and since childhood a rival of Theodore despite being Theodore’s 2nd cousin plotted to overthrow Theodore. When returning to Nicaea in Asia Minor, Theodore discovered the plot thus he had Alexios and the other nobles that took part in it imprisoned while Michael escaping imprisonment escaped at the middle of the night and fled east to the Seljuk Empire to serve in the army of Sultan Kykaus II as a general dressed in Turkish military attire.

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George Mouzalon, general of Theodore II Lego figure

In the following year 1256, Michael Asen resumed his raids into Nicaean territory in Thrace which forced Theodore II this time with George Mouzalon to again cross into Europe and expel the Bulgarians, but seeing he could negotiate with Michael Asen, Theodore arranged a meeting wherein both of them would agree to terms, which at the end it was successful and the Bulgarians wherein the Bulgarian troops were to leave Nicaean territory in Thrace for good. This peace treaty however was very humiliating for the Bulgarians that in late 1256 Tsar Michael Asen was overthrown and stabbed to death by his cousin Kaliman Asen II who took over as the new Bulgarian tsar, although he did not have much support, therefore Michael Asen’s brother-in-law Mitso and the Russian boyar Rostislav Mikhailovich who was one of the many Russian nobles that fled into Bulgaria from the Mongols laid claim to the Bulgarian throne, although Mitso beat Rostislav here and took the throne.

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Stefan Uros I, King of Serbia (r. 1243-1277)

In the meantime, Theodore II’s success against the Bulgarians made the Despot of Epirus Michael II nervous that he made an alliance with his northern neighbor the King of Serbia Stefan Uros I who had ruled Serbia since 1243 against Theodore II, but wanting to solve the conflict with Epirus through Diplomacy, Theodore II arranged for his daughter Maria to marry Michael II’s son Nikephoros at Thessaloniki. As young Nikephoros travelled to Thessaloniki with his mother Theodora, Theodore captured Theodora after Nikephoros and Maria were married, and holding Theodora hostage, Theodore II sent word to Despot Michael II that he would release Michael II’s wife Theodora only if Michael II was to cede Epirote territory which included the port of Dyrrhachion to Nicaea. Michael II then agreed in order to get his wife back, thus by the end of 1256 the Empire of Nicaea grew even larger now that it controlled the entire important trade route the Via Egnatia, and now that the Empire of Nicaea had territory north of Eprius including the port of Dyrrhachion in Albania, its territorial extent now extended to the Ionian Sea wherein right across it was already Italy. Theodore II too just like his father John III suffered from chronic epilepsy and in 1257, Theodore’s epilepsy had grown worse and as the months passed, his health began to fail that his contemporary chronicler George Akropolites who was educated together with him describes that Theodore drastically lost a lot of weight that he was already reduced to a skeleton, while his failing health would further increase his depression and the instability of his temper as well as making him despise the Bulgarians more seeing them as sorcerers and poisoners. Being not able to personally command the army anymore, Theodore II had no choice but to recall the person that troubled him most which was Michael Palaiologos from his service to the Seljuk sultan in Asia Minor as someone strong was needed to command the troops in Europe against the forces of Michael II of Epirus that resumed their attacks on Theodore’s recently gained territories north of Epirus. In the meantime, Theodore II concluded peace with the Mongol ruler of Persia Khan Hulagu where both agreed that the Seljuk sultan Kykaus II was to be a vassal of Hulagu, while Theodore II at the same time concluded peace with Bulgaria in 1257 as by this point a Bulgarian boyar named Konstantin Tih claimed for himself the Bulgarian throne after assassinating Mitso but to legitimize his claim, he had to marry a member of the Asen dynasty which here was Theodore II’s other daughter Irene who at her mother Elena’s side was a granddaughter of Ivan Asen II.

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Fresco of Tsar Konstantin Tih of Bulgaria (r. 1257-1277, left) with his wife Irene Laskarina (right), the daughter of Theodore II

Back with Michael Palaiologos, he had successfully defeated Michael II’s Epirote troops that had invaded Theodore II’s recently gained lands but Theodore with his health worsening grew more and more paranoid of Michael Palaiologos and so he had Michael recalled to Nicaea fearing that if Michael would have scored more victories, he would be proclaimed emperor by his troops. Back in Nicaea, Michael Palaiologos was thrown in prison as Theodore II suspected him of plotting, but this would only make things worse as with Michael leaving his campaigns, the Epirote forces once again took back the lands Theodore II just gained north of Epirus and in prison, Michael now would plot Theodore II’s death as Theodore was already sick, therefore it was the perfect time to kill him off once and for all. Theodore II eventually released Michael from prison in 1258 but later that year, Theodore’s health worsened that his death was already very near therefore he named his only son John who was only 7 here as his successor while he was to be under the regency of Theodore’s closest friend George Mouzalon until John would grow up. Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes then died on August 16 of 1258 in the imperial palace of the city of Magnesia in Western Asia Minor at the age of 36, and it is most likely that he died from his worsening health condition, although with his chronic health condition of epilepsy worsening it would still take him a few more years to die, therefore it is also possible that Michael Palaiologos who had always been looking for ways to have revenge on Theodore for bullying him since childhood grabbed the opportunity here of Theodore being sick, thus poisoning Theodore to give him a quick death.          

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Peasant army of the Empire of Nicaea, art by TimbukDrew
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Meme of the chad Michael Palaiologos and the virgin Theodore II Laskaris
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John IV Laskaris-Vatatzes, son and successor of Theodore II Lego figure, Emperor of Nicaea (r. 1258-1261)

Just shortly after Theodore II’s death in 1258, Michael Palaiologos’ ambition to take over the empire could already be clearly seen as during Theodore’s funeral taking place in the same monastery his father John III was buried in back in 1254, the Latin mercenaries that were under Michael command being the empire’s police general suddenly hacked George Mouzalon who was supposed to be Theodore II’s young son John IV’s regent to death, while at the same time George’s brother Andronikos who was also loyal to Theodore II was murdered, though the other Mouzalon brother Theodore survived but was never heard from again. Following George Mouzalon’s murder, George’s wife fled to Michael’s house in Magnesia where Michael revealed to her that he was behind the plot against her husband as Michael told her to not say anything about it or she will be killed the same way. Despite his regent George Mouzalon being killed, Theodore II’s 7-year-old son John IV Laskaris-Vatatzes still succeeded to the throne in 1258 first under the regency of the Patriarch of Constantinople exiled in Nicaea which was Arsenios Autoreianos, though a large percentage of the Byzantine nobility in Nicaea as well as the senate backed Michael Palaiologos as the time they were at now was a troubled one with enemies on all sides which was mainly Epirus in the west and the potential threat of the Mongols at large making a child ruler which was John IV unable to handle this kind of situation, therefore a strong and ruthless military emperor was needed, and this here would be no other than Michael Palaiologos.

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Michael Palaiologos, Regent Emperor of Nicaea (1259-1261)

To further put a claim to the throne of the Empire of Nicaea, Michael began spreading lies about the threat of the Mongols worsening as well as Epirus growing now that Epirus allied with the dying Latin Empire in Constantinople and with the new German king of Sicily Manfred Hohenstaufen, the son of the late Holy Roman emperor Frederick II who had died back in 1250. On New Year’s Day on 1259, Michael Palaiologos was officially crowned by the patriarch as co-emperor though Michael was the one crowned with the imperial crown while young John IV only with an ornate headdress that was not a crown, thus from here on it was Michael Palaiologos that was to effectively rule the Empire of Nicaea and lead it to victory while John IV was only to be a puppet. Now being in charge, Michael in 1259 had the general Alexios Strategopoulos who Theodore II imprisoned back in 1255 released from prison as Alexios was needed on a massive military campaign planned by Michael. Alexios together with Michael’s younger brother John Palaiologos then set sail for Greece to clash with the forces of Michael II’s Despotate of Epirus who now allied themselves with the King of Sicily Manfred, the Latin Principality of Achaea in Southern Greece founded in 1205, and the same Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean still under Duke Angelo Sanudo who came to the defense of Constantinople back in 1235. The forces then clashed in the epic Battle of Pelagonia in September of 1259 somewhere in Northern Greece which at the end resulted in victory for the Nicaean forces under John Palaiologos and Alexios Strategopoulos when a large number of the Epirote forces led by Despot Michael II’s son John defected to the Nicaeans as apparently Michael Palaiologos had bribed John knowing he had issues with his father to betray his father in battle.

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Seal of the Latin Principality of Achaea in Greece

This battle too was also the last recorded appearance of the Varangian Guard in battle, though it resulted in the end of Latin dominance in Greece as the Prince of Achaea here which was William Villehardouin was captured by the Nicaean forces and escorted to prison by the Varangians, while the threat of the Despotate of Epirus too was neutralized. This victory then cleared all obstacles for the Empire of Nicaea allowing them to prioritize on their main objective which was the Reconquest of Constantinople, thus in 1260 Michael Palaiologos prepared for his ultimate goal and so he set off from Nicaea sailing across the Marmara again to the Walls of Constantinople. Michael here in 1260 again put Constantinople under siege but at the end, he again failed even though the Latins no longer had much of a defense as what Michael really needed here was a navy to support him. The Latin emperor Baldwin II and Michael then met wherein Michael agreed to a one-year truce with Baldwin II which really meant that Baldwin should prepare his defenses as a year later, Michael would return but this time with a full-scale invasion.

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Seal of the Republic of Genoa

In early 1261, Michael made a permanent alliance with the Italian maritime Republic of Genoa which was to provide a navy to assist the Nicaean forces in recapturing Constantinople later that year as apparently at this time Genoa was at war with Venice which the Latin Empire was allied with, therefore the Genoese were more than willing to assist as they were to fight the Venetians. At the same time too, Michael sent Alexios Strategopoulos to scout the Walls of Constantinople and either look for weak spots or to ask locals for information on how to besiege the walls. Alexios however was in luck as the locals of Thrace told him that the main garrison of the Latins in Constantinople boarding a Venetian fleet left the city to raid an island in the Black Sea, thus Alexios grabbed the opportunity and before the Latin forces could return, Alexios with an army of 800 which included both Nicaean-Byzantine troops and Cuman mercenaries at the dead of night found a secret passage beneath the walls that led to a monastery inside the city.