No Country for Old Men: An Aged Man is But A Paltry Thing (A Vic2 HtA Rome AAR)

Author: Discix
Published: 2017-06-27, edited: 2017-06-27
Come along for the ride as we take the helm of the Roman Empire in the Heirs to Aquitania mod and steer it through a new era of uncertainty, where wars are fought not between rulers, but between nations and ideas. Watch, laugh, cry, and hopefully not snore too much as I try (and probably fail) to keep your attention with such ingenious tricks as:

-colourful historical pictures
-occasionally mistimed screencaps of actual Vic2 gameplay
-odious amounts of alt-history context in the form of dry textual passages
-actual statistics (probably just for the end, though)
-suboptimal play
-the Julian calendar
-appropriation of historical portraits for my own ahistorical personages

...and (probably) much more!

Part of the campaign:

No Country for Old Men

Γειά σας και καλώς ήρθατε, traveler, to the most revered and august Empire of the Romans. Having defied the passage of time and dangers both within and without, the children of Constantine enter now into an era of ideological and geopolitical upheaval. While a king may sit once more upon the throne of Hispania, the fires of the Revolution may never die, and the Albesan battlecry has shaken the very core of Europe. The Empire has withstood every enemy from the Huns to the Turks, but the seeds of its downfall may sprout from within...
It is the 20th of Δεκέμβριος*, fourth month of the 7344th year of creation in the 9th indiction, and the Empire remains in a perilous state. To the North, the Slavic tribes stand beaten but not broken, hungrily eyeing an opportunity to strike against their Roman overlords. To the East, the ancient and venerable nation of Armenia, once the first to embrace the Christian faith, now stands as a champion of Islam and has recently occupied Roman territories in Anatolia. Ancient Persia, eternal nemesis to Rome since the earliest of days, has occupied the Levant and its Shahs seek to reestablish the glory of the Achaemenids of old.

To the South, the Berber lords of the Maghreb are held together by a tenuous alliance, a loose confederacy bound only by a mutual interest in raiding the rich shipping lanes of the Mediterranean. Finally, to the West, the myriad sons of the Latin Church stand weak and divided, embroiled in endless cycles of petty conflict. How long such a situation will last in this new age of upheaval, however, remains to be seen...

[*date given in Julian/Byzantine calendar]
Though the Empire is far removed from the glory days of Justinian or Basil, the name of the Basileus still carries weight in the East Mediterranean. The Orthodox Serbs, laid low from their height under Uros the Strong, now accept nominal Roman suzerainty. Across the Danube, the Empire exerts greater control over the various Romanian principalities through appointed governors, though discontent still brews among the sidelined local elites. Beyond the Εὔξεινος Πόντος, the Kartvelian lords of Georgia have struck an uneasy alliance with the Roman state; while the Georgians value their political and ecclesiastical independence, their position boxed between numerous hostile states has forced them to rely on Roman aid.
While most Romans spoke Greek in some capacity or another, there existed a generally accepted tripartite split between the various Greek speaking groups:
The Ῥωμαῖοι, Romans, were the inhabitants of Thrace, Eastern Macedonia, and Nicaea, who, due to close proximity to the capital, were the most attuned to Constantinople's culture and traditions. Their variant of Greek is widely recognized as a prestige register, and it is from their ranks that the Empire draws most of its administrators and clergy. Since all citizens of the Empire are technically "Ῥωμαῖοι", the other Greek-speaking groups typically refer to them as "Πολίτες", or "dwellers by the city", regardless of their actual residence (the Constantinopolitan dialect and culture is quite prominent on Cyprus, for example, despite the islands geographic distance from the capital).
The Έλληνες, Hellenes, were the inhabitants of W. Macedonia, Thessalia, Attica, and the Peloponnese, and generally lived either on small farms or in one of the numerous urban centres that lined the Aegean coast. This group is often characterized by its increased valuation of individuality and sympathy with the Hispanian Revolutionaries. Due to their urban and maritime lifestyles, the Hellenes were often stereotyped as merchants or fishermen.
The last group, Ανατολίτες, Anatolians, were the inhabitants of Asia minor who typically worked the vast latifundia owned by a few influential families (the δυνατοί, dynatoi) or their pronoiar underlings. Derided as provincial and uncouth hill-people by the other Roman sub-groups, the Anatolians nevertheless fulfilled a critical role in Roman society by providing food to the rest of the Empire and soldiers to guard its borders.
Over a quarter of Roman subjects were non-citizens who were not members of the three aforementioned categories. Albanians and Bulgarians formed the bulk of these groups, with Aromanians and Serbs comprising increasingly smaller portions of the minority pie.

The vast majority of all Roman citizens regardless of citizenship was Eastern Orthodox, specifically within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (the autocephalous patriarchate of Bulgaria was disestablished and the eparchies of Prizren, Nish, and Vranje were reassigned to Constantinopolitan jurisdiction).

One notable exception to the Empire's religious uniformity was its small but influential population of Sephardim concentrated in and around Thessalonica, where they are recognized as skilled artists and clerks.
While the Roman Senate has lacked any real power for centuries, the institution has been maintained, if only to maintain the vaguest semblance of Republican principles. Regardless of its legislative ability (or rather, lack thereof), the Senate remains a useful means for the Basileus to gauge the moods and priorities of his high officeholders and administrators, many of whom also maintain Senatorial rank.
As formal political parties remained a largely Western European phenomenon following the wake of the Hispanian Revolution, political divisions among the Roman elite were represented by largely informal factions, or "cliques":
The κλίκα της αυλης, "Court Clique", represented those high-ranking officials of the Roman bureaucracy and military who desired concentration of power in the hands of the court (on behalf of the Basileus, of course). They primary concern is the stability of the nation and the integrity of its borders. This faction has found strong support among the dynatoi families of the Anatolian borderlands due to its aggressive foreign policy and antagonism of rival powers.
The κόμμα της βοσπόρου, "Party of the Bosphorus", is a splinter faction of the court clique that professes hard loyalty to the Basileus and the entire Melisurgos dynasty, denouncing the Klika tes Avlis as opportunists seeking to divert power away from the imperial throne. These men advocate for the recentralization of power in the Basileus and a stricter domestic policy aimed at expanding the power of the Emperor and the Orthodox church throughout the Empire.
The last of these factions, the κόμμα της νεολαίας , "Party of Youth", represents a small sect of Hispanian-school liberals who advocate imperial guarantees of individual freedoms and total equality among all imperial citizens. Their existence is barely tolerated at court, and they are often openly mocked, though military command is hesitant to suppress them, lest the Revolution that consumed Toledo renew itself in Constantinople.
Following the death of the previous imperial μεσάζων (Mesazon, "intermediary", chief minister of the Empire), a period of bureaucratic stasis ensued as the various courtiers struggled against one another to earn the Basileus's favour.
Ultimately, the noted dignitary Spyros Yorgos was appointed the new Mesazon and Voice of the Emperor after his family made a discreet but generous donation to the Imperial treasury on his behalf. Once a distinguished bureaucrat who helped replenish imperial coffers following the disastrous war against Armenia decades earlier, stress and advanced age had diminished Yorgos' mental faculties such that a court eunuch had to be employed to "translate" the old man's fevered speech into more coherent (and socially palatable) dialogue.
Due to the elderly minister's infirmity, Yorgos was only called to preside over ceremonial matters (with items of practical concern being parceled off to any of his numerous underlings). One such occasion was the renewal of the ancient defensive pact between the Empire and the Kingdom of Georgia. Despite only actually saying three sentences (all of which were prepared and rehearsed for him the week prior) during the ceremony, Yorgos managed to inadvertently insult the Georgian dignitary's wife, shoes, and ancestors in a stunning diplomatic gaffe that nearly cost a centuries-long alliance.

Fortunately, the other ministers managed to salvage the situation and the alliance was renewed, though thenceforth the other members of the Court Clique conspired to reign in Yorgos's influence, lest a repeat offense occur.
With the Georgian Affair concluded, the ministers of the realm began to refocus their efforts on economic matters. While the Court was initially suspicious of inventions like the Steam Engine and similar, newfangled devices, the vast economic boons granted by such machines could not be ignored. Fearing the rapid mechanization of labour occurring in the Latin nations, Roman bureaucrats have authorized the diversion of tax money into the funding of new manufactories.

To facilitate the spread of Western technologies into the Empire, Roman dignitaries struck a deal with the ascendant Kingdom of Poland, offering military assistance in exchange for access to Baltic trade and thus Saxon and French machines. While many doubted any real changes to the geopolitical landscape would be brought about by the arrangement, Bohemian and Russian politicians grew concerned about a potential increase in militarism in the region
Such concerns were validated when, much to the surprise of the Roman court, Poland declared war on the Grand Principality of Smolensk later that same year. A regional powerhouse that had conquered the steppe and defied the Russian Tsardom, Smolensk had at one point occupied territory that the Polish crown was eager to reclaim.

While the Court Clique was eager to expand its influence, concerns over the strength of Smolensk and the contemporary state of the Roman military paralyzed the court into inaction. Having his escaped his eunuch "chaperones", Mesazon Yorgos forced the court's hand by hastily signing an official proclamation of war against Smolensk, citing ancient grievances like the Varangian raids of the 9th century among other trivial complaints, the most notable of which stated:

"...and therefore do I declare that the treacherous Millinska (Smolensk) must be destroyed for violating the sensibilities of esteemed and respected cartographers the world over by virtue, or rather, lack thereof, of their hideous regions and borders, whose unpleasant and unseemly appearance are an affront to the very concept of beauty and aesthetic pleasure..."
Emboldened by their ally's (unwitting) declaration of support, the Polish Royal Army led by Marshal Michał Gedeon Radziwiłł advanced into Smolenskiy territory, intent on capturing the strategic fortress of Brześć on the Bug river.
While many in the Roman court feared that the Vlach princes of Wallachia and Moldavia would defect to the Smolenskiy menace in a bid for independence, such concerns were assuaged by a joint declaration of support for the Imperial cause signed by the local Hospodars, who immediately pledged troops for an assault into Ruthenian territory.
On the Southern Front, the Romans emerge from their first military contact victorious at the Battle of Balti, where a joint Vlach/Roman force led by Strategos Odysseas Palaskas overwhelmed and defeated a hastily mustered Smolenskiy militia that had wandered into Moldavian territory.

Despite Roman success, the large losses sustained during the battle highlighted numerous deficiencies in the Roman war machine (such as minimal use of field artillery; the army had to rely on Vlach cannon to displace the Smolenskiy static positions) that would serve as the basis for future reform.
Following a regroup and reinforcement in Ismail. a second battle was fought at Balti, where joint Roman forces were able to completely destroy the army of Smolenskiy general Lev Alexseyev. With the Transnistrian border guard completely eliminated, Roman forces proceeded to occupy Smolensk's Black Sea ports in an attempt to starve them of foreign trade (particularly with Armenia, with whom they were particularly sympathetic).
Following a series of victories (as well as Minister Yorgos' impassioned, if rambling, sabre-rattling), the imperial court has managed to convince the Basileus to issue a demand for the Crimean peninsula as a reward for Roman participation in the war. The Polish are quick to agree and Smolenskiy overtures at an early peace are rejected in order to accommodate the new demands.
Incensed at the Roman occupation of his home in the Ruthenian hinterlands, the Smolenskiy army engineer Cpt. Sergei Putyatin led a daring attack against the assembled Roman force while the Vlach cavalry were out scouting. While the attack failed, the Romans were forced to postpone their campaign into Crimea until reinforcements could arrive, thus affording the Smolenskiy armies time to regroup as well as earning Putyatin a battlefield promotion.
By November, Smolenskiy military command had manage to reorganize a force large enough to break the Roman siege of the Black Sea ports. While the newly-minted army commander Putyatin begged to be placed in charge of the assault, the Smolenskiy elites refused to allow a lowborn the dignity of victory over the Romans and thus appointed one of their own, a corrupt military governor named Yevgeny Vorontsov, to lead the assault on the Roman camp besieging Simferopol.
While the Simferopol attack was rebuffed, the Strategos Odysseas Venizelos grew greedy and marshalled the men of the Stereas Army to pursue the broken Smolenskiy force back northwards. Sensing an opportunity, Putyatin established a static position in Kakhovka to cover his retreating comrades.

By leaving some of his artillery teams seemingly underdefended, Putyatin managed to bait out the elite Roman and Vlach cavalry, who were promptly surprised by hidden infantry and a cavalry countercharge led by Putyatin himself. While Putyatin's position was overwhelmed, the Roman cavalry suffered incredible losses and were unable to properly support the advancing Roman army against the Smolenskiy static defenses.
Only 3 cavalrymen survived the disastrous charge, and the lack of a screening force seriously compromised the Romans' ability to fight for the remainder of the campaign. While Putyatin was forced to retreat, Vorontsov's now rested and regrouped army descended upon the weakened Roman force and won a stunning victory that earned Vorontsov many honors upon his return to the capital, much to the ire of Putyatin and the soldiers who recognized his part in the battle.
Despite the spectacular losses at Kakhovka, the Roman siege of the Crimean fortresses continued, albeit under naval bombardment from the Smolenskiy Black Sea Fleet. In a furious attempt to expedite the siege and secure a friendly port through which resources could be sent, the Megas Domestikos ordered a consolidation of the Stereas Army and the Hemia guard, with Venizelos serving under Palaskas. The siege of Simferopol failed, however, as Roman forces were forced to retreat following advancing Smolenskiy forces.
The wintertide retreat from Simferopol was a bitter one that led to numerous desertions from the Roman army, particularly among the various foreign ("Latin") mercenaries called to fill various gaps in the imperial roster. One noted exception was the fidelity of a single Gaelic Highlander regiment, the Freiceadan Dubh. that stayed true even as the others fled. Veteran members of this conflict would later be honoured by Roman authorities as the Basilikoi Maurophylakes- the Emperor's Own Blackguards.
Believing the Roman force to be dealt with, Vorontsov redirected his army westwards to deal with the Polish threat. In an act of desperation to seize a Crimean port and renew the Roman war effort, the Megas Domestikos ordered the consolidation of the weakened Stereas Army and the members of the Anatole Garrison who had been besieging Kerch.
With their newly combined firepower, the Roman forces stormed Kerch and claimed it for the Empire, turning the fortress's guns against the blockading Smolenskiy fleet. The surprise success at Kerch greatly demoralized the Smolenskiy troops and angered Smolenskiy high command, who had believed that the Romans would fall to attrition or retreat before seizing any of the well-defended fortresses.
The seizure of Kerch allowed the imperial fleet to resupply and reinforce the beleaguered Roman army, thus allowing Roman troops to swiftly occupy the rest of the peninsula. With the Southern front rapidly collapsing, Smolenskiy military command withdrew all forces from the South and dedicated them to the Western front, where Smolenskiy forces still entertained the possibility of victory against the advancing Polish forces.

Putyatin refused to abandon his home, however, and led a relatively small force of volunteers to confront the advancing imperial armies against the orders of the military-controlled Smolenskiy Veche. Putyatin's struggles proved futile, however, as the Roman forces outnumbered and outgunned his own by a sizeable margin. Twice he sallied forth against them, and twice he was rebuffed, until the third time when Strategos Palaskas successfully cornered Putyatin's force in the outskirts of the city of Zhitomir.
Roman cannon bombarded the Smolenskiy infantry position from a distance, and Roman marksmen picked off any individual soldiers attempting to flee. Sensing defeat, Putyatin ordered a final charge against the Roman position in an attempt to break free. The Smolenskiy force was slain to the man, due largely to the frustration the Roman soldiers experienced while skirmishing against them as well as Strategos Palaskas's own personal apathy. The vast majority of Putyatin's force was bombarded into non-existence, and very few Smolenskiy soldiers survived long enough to close the distance into marksman range.

It is said that Putyatin himself managed to make it all the way to the Roman lines -losing an eye on the way from exploding debris- only to be stabbed to death by bayonet-wielding Romans. How much of the story is truth or fiction is difficult to ascertain, given the poor quality of the Smolenskiy remains (either from bombardment or deliberate mutilation).
The fall of Putyatin's force marked the end of Smolenskiy resistance on the Southern Front, and a disastrous defeat of Smolenskiy forces by Polish royal troops in the West forced the Grand Knyaz to accede to the allied Romano-Polish demands. On 30 March 7345, the Smolenskiy, Polish, and Roman governments agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Kerch (1837), which ceded the Obwód brzeski to the Polish Crown and recognized direct imperial sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula and its associated ports and castles.
The signing of the treaty was met with rousing cheers and applause in the streets of both Constantinople and Warszawa as veterans of the campaign returned home as heroes. With control over Crimea ensured, the Roman Empire broke the uneasy balance of power in the Black Sea and has asserted its suzerainty over the maritime region, much to the chagrin and embarrassment of the Knyaz of Smolensk.

While the war had ended in victory for Rome, it had also exposed many of the weaknesses in the Roman military and system of government. While parties and festivals were thrown in honour of the conquering armies, Roman commanders spoke in hushed whispers and behind closed doors of the future of the Empire. It was no country for old men, it seems, as the face of war was changing and the tools used to win yesterday's conflicts may only yield bloodshed and loss in the wars of tomorrow. A reorganization of power was needed if Rome was to survive the coming century, and just what place the monarchy and the institutions of the old regime might have in that new order remains unclear...
Meanwhile, across the Adriatic, the Kingdom of Naples had succeeded in conquering the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, completely surrounding the Papal States and sending the ducal family into exile. The delicate balance of power that had kept the peace on the Italian peninsula for generations was suddenly shattered by the ambitions of a glory-seeking king, and the North trembles in his wake.

In an effort to contain the Neapolitan threat, the Dukes of Liguria, Lombardia, and Modena have rallied together with the Venetian Doge to form the military coalition known as the Padan Union. Will this final, desperate measure be enough to halt the Southern threat, or will the Neapolitan King's imperial ambitions overcome all opposition? How will the Empire react to its aggressive neighbor aspiring towards dominance over the old imperial heartlands? Having just bought peace, can the Empire afford another war? Only time will tell...

[Thanks so much for reading! I know this was a pretty clunky and word-heavy AAR, so I hope you didn't get too bored throughout. Stay tuned for the next episode ETA...sometime soon, I dunno, writing and image rearrangement takes a lot of time.]

Next chapter:

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

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