NCFOM III: Begotten, Born, and Dies (The Armenian War) | Rome HtA AAR

Author: Discix
Published: 2017-07-25
Welcome back! Sorry for not posting earlier, was just somewhat busy earlier this month.
Previously, our beloved First Minister decided that the best way to distract the restive Roman masses was with a war, as he figured that our shiny and improved military tech and newfound Persian 'friends' will be able to take on the Armenians, who historically defeated Rome and seized parts of Anatolia in the past. In this episode, we'll be analyzing the Mesazon's gamble and focusing on the events of the Armenian War (1841-2) as they unfold.

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No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men: To Keep A Drowsy Emperor Awake (Pt. II HtA Rome AAR)

Images: 35, author: Discix, published: 2017-07-01

It is the 29th of Oktobrios in 7349th year of creation, and the ancient Empire of the Romans is once again at war. Following a tide of civil unrest that swept the nation as the Empire reeled from the aftershocks of both the war and subsequent economic and military modernisation, the first minister of the Empire, Mesazon Elias Stephanidis, has done the unthinkable by declaring war on Armenia to pacify the restive masses. Armenia is an old and dangerous foe, one that has proven its ability to defeat Roman armies in the past. Just how will the Empire fare plunged into a war so soon after the last?
On the honourable Mesazon Stephanidis' order, the Roman army began a five-pronged assault of the Armenian lands. While the Armenian nakharars were already highly suspicious of Roman intentions following the repositioning of the thematic armies along the border, none suspected that the Romans would be ready to go to war so soon after the ravages of their previous engagement.

With the surprise on their side, the Roman armies quickly overwhelmed the smaller border garrisons. The Megas Domestikos was concerned, however, that the advantage would not last and that the Armenian ishkhans would rally their forces deep within the mountain vales of the Anti-Taurus mountains, where they would be nigh-impossible to root out. Together, Roman military command awaited with bated breath to see if the Mesazon's gamble would pay off.
To the Roman's dismay, but not surprise, their newfound Persian and Azeri 'allies' remained silent to the Roman call for aid, and Stephanidis' belief in their ability to open a two-front war against the Armenians proved unfounded. Bitter that the Mesazon involved their soldiers in yet another seemingly fruitless war, talk of a potential coup began to spread among the high-ranking strategoi.
Ultimately, the Megas Domestikos put an end to such traitorous discourse and resolved to achieve, if not total victory, at the very least an honourable peace, and thus ordered his strategoi to press their current advantage and seize as much territory as possible before the Armenians had a chance to fully dig in within their mountain fortresses.
Strategos Anastasios Parakevopoulos was commanded to bring the Paphlagonian Theme's forces to the town of Kerasun (once called 'Pharnacia' in Antiquity, after the ancient Pontic king), a strategic port city along the road to principal Armenian port of Trapizon.

Seeking to halt the Roman advance and buy his comrades time to organize, the decorated Spahpet ("general") Isahak Sahakiam, veteran of the earlier Roman-Armenian war that saw the loss of the eastern Anatolian provinces, sallied forth from the gates of Kerasun to meet the Romans in the field. The ensuing battle was fierce, and at several points it seemed as if the hastily assembled Armenian host would hold against the Roman tide, who were unused to the novel weapons and tactics they had just recently been trained to employ.
The Armenians' valour and heroism proved wanting, however, as a a combination of poor organization, inferior equipment, and internal sabotage (courtesy of agents in the employ of the Bureau of Barbarians) forced the Armenian host to retreat onto the walls of Kerasun. What few forces survived the the relentless volleys of the Roman cannon fell victim to Roman steel as the Paphlagonians scaled the walls. Sahakiam was dragged from the battlefield by members of his personal guard, who felt that he was worth more to the war effort as a commander than a martyr, leaving the peasant levies to die.

Meanwhile, in the West, the Thracesian Theme's forces were led by Strategos Evripdis Nader to intercept an Armenian expedition under the command of Ishkhan Aram Tavakyalian sent to attack the Roman port of Sinope and cut off the supply line for the Siege of Kerasun. While often derided for his less savoury predilections, Strategos Nader was nonetheless a determined commander who leveraged his army's superior firepower to bomb the Armenian host into submission.
Supported by a small detachment of imperial vessels redirected from the blockade of Trebizond, the Thracesian Theme's forces prevailed against the superior numbers of the Armenian infantry and even managed to rout the dreaded Nakharar noble cavalry. While the war was far from won, troop morale surged as the fearsome foe who once laid low the might Roman host decades prior seemed to melt before the superiority of Roman arms.
The string of victories continued all throughout the front as unsuspecting border garrisons and ill-equipped levies were dispersed by the professionalized Roman armies, with the elite feudal core of the Armenian military machine hastily recalled to the eastern provinces to regroup. Quoth one famous political philosopher of the period: "Not since the days of Kaisar Augoustos and Germanikos have the sons of motherly Rome achieved such maddening success against her foes!"

Such was the degree of Roman success that many among the rank and file began to see the struggle as both religious and political in nature, with the recent victories being emblematic of divine favour for the liberation of what was believed to be 'rightful Christian land' from the hands of 'the perfidious, heathenly Armenioi'. The Orthodox church did much to support this narrative, with battle clerics administering to the troops on the field while other clergymen stoked the fires of religious fervor on the home front.
One of the more noteworthy events of the initial part of the war was the Basileus's agreement to the redeployment of the imperial guard to the front lines. While the feeble old emperor had grown increasingly paranoid of assassination or coup following the great upheaval in the wake of the Crimean War, he was unwilling to let his enemies paint him as a coward (as many did following his previous withholding of the guard during the war). Thus, the Domestikos ton Scholon (Commander of the Imperial Guard), Spyridion Stanotas, ever the emperor's own man, personally led the guard to battle in southern Anatolia, where the Roman elite quickly overran the token garrison of Attaleia, formerly an important Roman port.
Despite the unexpected progress of the Roman forces, support for the war was mixed. While most wished for an imperial victory to cease the hostilities and secure the territories that had been lost at the start of the century, many leading liberal ideologues recognized the move as one to distract the Roman people, and even more moderate or politically apathetic groups openly questioned the wisdom of starting up a new war so soon after the previous one.
One such ideologue, Dionysios Solomos, was a Heptanese poet who had become intensely popular among Corfiot literary circles. An ardent and outspoken member of the liberal Komma tis Neolaias, Solomos composed the famed "Ὕμνος εις την Ἐλευθερίαν" (Hymn to Liberty), among other, more expansive works that extolled the virtues of individual Greek freedom and opposed Roman autocracy.

Solomos's works achieved great popularity among the liberal intelligentsia, and, fearing the reprisal that would ensue should they decide he be assassinated, Mesazon Stephanidis and other leading members of the Court Clique decided instead to restrict the printing of Solomos's works to the Heptanese and Attic markets in an effort to contain his influence. While such tactics worked for a time, liberal agitation would continue in the urban areas of the empire, where skirmishes between the fanatical Neolaians and conservative zealots were beginning to reach fever pitch.
Back on the front lines, the Thracesians yet another daring Armenian assault against under Strategos Nider foiled yet another Armenian assault against the port of Sinope. Troop morale was exceedingly high, and a combination of battle experience with their new equipment and an unwavering trust in their commanders led to a feeling of confidence and even invincibility, as the Armenian regulars were as of yet nowhere to be seen. Ironically, the Roman camps were said to have been much more peaceful than the conflict-embroiled cities of the Roman heartlands, as there, regardless of ideological affiliation, the soldiers fought as one body with one mind towards one goal: the defeat of the Armenian kingdom.
Nearing the end of the year, Roman forces had succeeded in occupying the entirety of Kerasun province, leaving Trapizon ripe for the taking. Seeking greater glory, however, Strategos Parakevopoulos decided to lead the Thracesian Theme on a daring mission to seize Armenian capital of Yerzenka.
Once the site of an ancient treaty (Peace of Acilisene) dividing Armenia between the Romans and their Sassanid adversaries, Yerzenka would be claimed by later Armenian Arkahs ("kings", also called "Shas") as a symbol of a unified Armenia triumphing over foreign influence. Parakevopoulos thus saw the city's fall as a fitting end to the Armenian campaign.
The ensuing siege was a long and bloody one. Unlike at Kerasun, the local garrison opted against sallying forth and instead sought refuge within the formidable mountain fortifications of Yerzenka, which had in years past rebuffed countless attempts at siege by foreign powers. Despite fielding advanced pyrovolikos artillery, the Romans could not effectively displace the Armenians, who returned fire with impressive Western-style bombards of their own. The siege was long and grueling for both sides, and the Armenians' scorched earth policy greatly diminished the Thracesians' abilitiy to feed themselves.
Oblivious to the travails of the Thracesian Theme, the leading bureaucrats of the Court Clique were nothing short of thrilled by the unfolding events of the war. While most had initially been terrified of the possible consequences of the conflict following Persia's failure to intervene on the eastern front, many had now become ardent warhawks who called for nothing short than the complete dismantlement of the failing Sultanate. Against the wishes of the Mesazon, who remained wary of the possibility of Armenian reprisal, the Foreign Office issued an official statement demanding the entirety of the former theme of Boukellarion, which had not been part of the empire for decades.

As with all previous suits for peace, this missive was rejected by the Armenian consulate, who stated that the Arkah would accept nothing short of total withdrawal of Roman forces before peace could be achieved. Even when Yerzenka was finally captured later that year (at tremendous cost of life), the Armenian government bitterly refused to parley, instead relocating their offices deeper within the mountains.
As the Roman forces began to push deeper into Armenian territory, the situation at home worsened. While much of Roman society had been skeptical of the war at its onset, the conservative camp grew to be the chief supporters of the war effort and, by extension, the Court Government that sponsored it. In contrast, the liberal Neolaians ("Youths") staunchly opposed any extension to the war and lobbied for peace with the gains already achieved. Seeking to neuter the opposition, the ruling Court Clique banned all public political meetings, ostensibly to prevent "heretical subversion" sponsored by alleged Armenian agents, and those who dissented were questioned of the authenticity of their piety.

In response, the Neolaians of Corinth began to sponsor lavish banquets and fetes, ostensibly for social purposes, to mask hubs for their own political discussion. This proved difficult for Roman jurors; the Neolaians were technically within their rights to hold such meetings, but such events violated the spirit of the law as it was intended. Ultimately, the Court Clique decided to take an iron-fist approach to quelling dissent, which, though successful at dispersing the banquets, only further angered the freedom-minded Hellenes so concerned with individual rights.
By early 1842, the southern forces had reached the Taurus mountains, and resistance had become increasingly fierce. The army regulars who had been absent when the Romans first crossed the border were now manning citadels along strategic mountain passes, and local hillsmen waged a grueling guerilla war against the inbound Roman forces, whose rigid formations and reliance on limbered artillery were unsuited for mountain combat.
Seeking a means of penetrating the Armenian fortification line, the Megas Domestikos ordered the Croatian Archon to send a detachment to bait the greater part of the local Armenian forces into a straight battle, which, Roman high command reckoned, could be easily won through superior firepower. The Croat general Matej Pejacevic was thus deployed to feint an attack against a nearby mountain fortress while Strategos Stanotas attacked the city of Marash.

The opposing Armenian general was none other than Ishkhan Sahakian, who, after being recalled after the disaster at Kerasun, has taken the initiative to lead the rearguard while the Armenian regulars prepared their counterattack.
The Croats suffered terrible losses as Sahakian's guerillas harried their advance, though the lightly-armed Slavs proved more mobile and flexible than the rigid Roman line infantry. Disaster struck, however, as the Croats found themselves surrounded, with additional Armenian troops ascending the mountain while the fortress's garrison assailed them from above. Since most of their ammunition had either been exhausted or hoarded by their Parastirian allies, the Croats had to resort to throwing rocks and pushing boulders to cover their ascent.

While the engagement was more difficult than expected, and the Armenian terrain advantage threatened to force a rout, Pejacevic remained stalwart and managed to distract Sahakian's men long enough for the forces of the Parastirian Theme to assault the city of Marash directly, forcing Sahakian to withdraw.
His numbers diminished from the Croat engagement, Sahakian could not mount an effective defense against the fresh Parastirian army, whose expert Bulgar cavalry carved through even the regular forces stationed at the town.
Although the Battle of Marash resulted in victory for the joint Croat-Roman forces, Croat casualties were extremely high, and many among the rank and file blamed the losses on the minimal value placed on their lives by Roman high command as well as the apathy shown by the Parastirian forces, whom the Croats believed had an opportunity to save more of their comrades.

Many in Roman society looked down upon the Croats (as with all non-Greek speakers) as a backwards and simple people, and many Croats grew disillusioned with an empire they believed thought little of their lives, a conviction only strengthened by the lack of recognition received by their commander, General Pejacevic, after the war's conclusion.
As the war droned on, it became increasingly evident that the Court Clique's dream of total conquest was little more than the phantasmagoric delusion of a political cadre that had never suffered the ravages of war. As the Armenian regulars rallied under capable commanders, the local nakharars began to copy Roman tactics, which, when combined with the western arms imported during the reign of Arkah Mushegh IV (1799-1828), were wielded to devastating effect against their forebears.

It was said that the Megas Domestikos himself wanted peace; his armies had already proven their worth on the battlefield, and a quick peace with the territories gained would spare countless lives. Despite this, pressure to maintain the war remained strong among conservative circles, and the Klika tis Avlis actively promoted pro-war rhetoric as a counterweight to liberal designs for honourable peace.
It was decided that the last Armenian stronghold to be taken before the opening of peace talks would be Ardahan, a critical road junction between the Georgian border and the Ghars-Yerzenka road and the provisional capital of the Armenian kingdom. The decorated Strategos of the Paphlagonian Theme was chosen to lead the assault.

At dawn, the Roman host began its march, though it was almost immediately beset by skirmishers and guerillas; while the Romans may have had firepower superiority (both from their own innately large supply and also from the numerous Frankish/Saxon cannon liberated from captured Armenian forts), the Armenians knew the land through-and-through, and their scouts could observe the Roman advance. As the Romans approached Ardahan from the south, the Armenians sprung a trap at Sarighamish, where the elite nakharar vanguard led the Armenian regulars in a multi-pronged attack against the advancing Romans, who, as they were forced marching, had little chance to establish defensive positions.
The battle was a complete military disaster on the Roman end, with the confusion of battle coupled with the quality and competence of the Armenian commanders leading to a total rout. The determined Armenians would not let their vaunted enemy flee so easily, however, and the Armenian Sparapet ("commander in chief"), Ashot Vartanian, ordered his subordinate lords to organize the wayward guerillas and hunt down the retreating Romans to the man.

Of the expedition, only the Montenegrin auxilliaries were permitted to live, and they subsequently force-marched south in order to inform the other Roman armies of the events that had transpired.
The loss of the Paphlagonian Thematic forces created an opening through which the integrity of the entire front was compromised by Vartanian's elite spearhead. All throughout the front, the Roman armies were harried by guerillas and attacked by disciplined regulars when they were weak. Pro-Roman garrisons were rapidly expelled and their sympathizers executed as traitors. The Romans were quickly pushed back to the border of Anatolikon, holding back the resurgent Armenian forces only by virtue of their effective cannon. Only the elite imperial guardsmen of the Basilika Tagmata held their ground, shielded by the Taurus mountains as they secured the port of Adana.
Roman military command scrambled for a means to halt the Armenians' momentum before the Roman armies were expelled from Armenia proper. Megas Domestikos Panagiotis eventually decided to send the forces of the Thema Arbenon to secure the Armenian capital in the hopes of using it as a bargaining chip in the peace talks. All Roman forces were withdrawn from the southern frontier (much to the imperial guards' consternation) and ordered to reinforce the northern territorial gains, including the port of Trapizon.

Strategos Kriezis was poorly regarded by his troops due to his role in the Valona massacre, but he nevertheless possessed a keen mind. By strategically destroying artillery and ammunition caches captured or brought by the Romans, he denied the Armenian host any chance at matching Roman firepower, thus securing his forces a potent defensive advantage with his own artillery.
Frustrated by Kriezis's efforts and desperate to liberate the capital in order to both boost morale and claim a large reserve of resources, Sahakian was forced to lead a frontal assault on the fortress. In the second battle of Yervenka, the Armenians fought valiantly against the Arbenon defenders (who, like their Croat comrades, quickly exhausted their limited ammunition and had to resort to brutal melee combat when fighting on the ruined walls) but ultimately could not dislodge the Romans from their position. With his forces battered and beaten, Sahakian was forced to concede and retreat, marking the final great Roman victory of the war.
Following the failure of their forces to reclaim their capital, the Armenian government finally attempted overtures of peace. Within weeks, Roman and Armenian diplomats finally reached a satisfactory, if not equitable, agreement: the Roman-majority areas of Boukellarion and Anatolikon would be ceded back to the Empire, though Cilicia and Trebizond would remain part of Armenia. Thus concluded the 2nd Peace of Amasea (1842).
It is the 15th of Ioulios in the 7349th year of creation, and it has been a long year. A month has passed since the 2nd Peace of Amasea, and the last of the Roman regiments has found its way home, greeted by jubilant throngs of cheering crowds. Both conservatives and liberals reveled in what they perceived to be their triumph: the conservatives in their piety and conviction in supporting the war, the liberals in their dedication to ending it honourably. The Romans in the liberated territories of Boukellarion and Anatolikon were overjoyed by the events, though many in the sizable Armenian community in the east feared reprisal.

Peace was once again reigned, and even the quarrelsome streets of Constantinople were quieted as the Romans shared in their unlikely triumph. How long can such a lull last, however, before the horrors of this war catch up to the Roman people just as the last did? And what of the grievers and wailers of Parastirion and Croatia, who must once again suffer loved ones not returning home? Perhaps only time will tell...

[Thanks again for reading this chapter! I kinda tried to cut the exposition a bit for this one, but it still ended up fairly wordy. Feedback, as always is much appreciated!]

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