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

Author: Discix
Published: 2017-07-01, edited: 2017-07-01
Here is the next iteration of my ongoing narrative RP AAR, "No Country For Old Men", featuring the trials and travails of the Roman Empire as it navigates through this era of upheaval.

This episode is pretty wordy (sorry about that, I tend to ramble) and is focused on the social and economic upheaval following the conclusion of the Crimean War. Hope you enjoy!

Part of the campaign:

No Country for Old Men

Previous part:

Game: Victoria 2

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

Images: 36, author: Discix, published: 2017-06-27

It is the 16th of October in 7346th year of creation, and two months have passed since the signing of the Treaty of Kerch (1837). While the excitement and reverie surrounding Roman victory in the conflict still ruled the streets of Constantinople, the harsh realities of the war were beginning to catch up to the Roman people. Fathers, brothers, and sons all lay in rows of unmarked graves on foreign and uncaring soil, and the wails of widowed women are met with whispered words or silence from sullen sergeants and overstrung officers.
Behind the grand festivities and extravagant displays, radical changes to the economic landscape decades in the making have finally started to take fruit. While labour-saving machines were not a new sight in Roman fields, the recently concluded trade agreement with the Polish Crown drastically increased the available supply of such devices. The great dynatoi and pronoiar landlords, who had for generations relied on mass peasant labour to work their land grants, eagerly began to employ harvesters, threshers, and other Anglo-Frankish machines to improve agricultural productivity and reduce the need for manual labour.

The funds saved by this move were then reinvested in the pursuit of additional workable land, either by providing generous "gifts" to local administrators or the imperial family for additional land grants or by intimidating what few smallholders (paroikoi) remained in Anatolia for their farms. Coupled with the 1784 revision to the 8th-century Nomos Georgikos (which formally transferred ownership of all common grazing fields to the Basileus, to be redistributed at his pleasure), the end result was a massive population of disillusioned and disenfranchised peasants forced to take a series of temporary work contracts on larger farms in order to survive.
Simmering tensions reached a climax one fateful day when an Anatolian paroikos (later immortalized in folk tales as "Georgios", which meant "farmer") was brutally disfigured following an accident with a new Saxon threshing machine. The landlords of the estate were quick to denounce the event as a product of negligence on behalf of the farmhand, but many members of Roman society saw the incident as emblematic of both the inherent dangers of the new technology as well as the oppressive apathy of landed elites towards the lives of the working poor.
Civil unrest soon became commonplace as poor Roman farmers revolted against the pronoiar landowners, staging riots and daring midnight raids to destroy the newly imported farm machinery. Though violent in praxis, the movement, often referred to as "Μεγάλη Aναταραχή", "the Great Upheaval", was primarily aimed at destroying property rather than inflicting bodily harm; the only reported casualty was that of a lone rioteer shot while attempting to trespass upon the Venizelos estate in Western Paphlagonia.
While the more conservative members of the Court Clique and the Bosporus Party were keen to reassert imperial power through armed intervention, the more moderate elements of the Court and Senate feared the public outcry such escalation would cause, especially since many of the rioting citizens were veterans of the recently concluded Crimean War.

At the behest of one Dimitrios Stelios (an Anatolian war hero whose actions allowed his Bandon to lead the retreat from the disastrous Battle of Kakhovka), the Basileus was ultimately persuaded to establish a rudimentary pension system, limited at first to war veterans but later extended to all Roman subjects who survived to 75 years of age. The new pension was colloquially known as "Dimitrios' Drachm", after the newly reintroduced drachma, a billon coin valued at half that of a normal basilikon, and also the amount granted as a daily stipend in the new system.
With the Great Upheaval contained without further violence, the court breathed a collective sigh of relief, tinged though it may be with tastes both bitter and sweet. Months passed before a an item of courtwide concern reached the top of the docket, and when it finally arrived, it was most unexpected.
An urgent missive bearing the mark of the Smolenskiy Consul-General was forwarded to the Bureau of Barbarians in the dead of night. The missive contained a desperate plea from Smolenskiy High Command on behalf of the Grand Knyaz himself requesting a Roman guarantee of Smolenskiy territorial integrity in the face of increased unrest among the itinerant Cossacks and their sedentary Ukrainian comrades, allegedly the product of meddling on behalf of the Rus' Tsardom in the north. The letter implored the both the Basileus and the Ecumenical Patriarch to issue a joint statement condemning the ongoing revolt, citing the end of hostilities following the Crimean War and a mututal distrust of the Tsardom as well as the Knyaz's own personal piety as reasons to support Smolensk.
The missive, however, did not promise any concrete incentives for the Empire to actively support the Grand Principality, and the Logotethes tou Dromou ultimately decided that a respectful silence would be the only dignified response to such an absurd request (many at court openly mocked the notion of a defeated nation seeking the victor's guarantee for aid, and for a while talk floated about formally antagonizing Smolensk by publicly publishing the missive and then supporting the Cossack cause).
Within days, the Smolenskiy administration was removed from Kyiv in a coup staged by Tsardom-backed Cossack soldiers (with a noted event being the defenestration of the Russian governor). With the token garrisons expelled, the revolutionaries united under the banner of the Zaporozhian Sich, itself headed by the Grand Hetman Osyp Hladky, a Ruthenian landowner-turned-mercenary whose character and guile earned him leadership of the Host. Most of the Cossacks and Ukrainian peasants rallied behind him when he declared the emergence of the Kingdom of the Ukraine, though the predominantly Catholic and Polish-sympathetic Ruthenians of Lodomeria elected to stay loyal to the Smolenskiy government, for fear of further oppression by the zealously nationalistic Orthodox lords of the new kingdom.
While this second foray into Smolenskiy politics ended in yet another Roman success, the incident caused the events of the Crimean War to resurface in the minds of the military as well as their courtly patrons. The Bureau of Barbarians dispatched numerous agents alongside Roman merchants plying the Baltic and North Sea routes with orders to investigate and appropriate any Western technologies that may assist in the modernization of the Imperial Army. Ultimately, a new firing mechanism was discovered on the Saxon market; developed by a Saxon priest irritated by birds fleeing the smoke generated by his flintlock shotgun, this new "percussion cap" mechanism promised greater reliability and resistance to weather than the old flint-based devices. Pleased with the findings, the newly-appointed Megas Domestikos authorized a bulk purchase of the device and ordered all regional armouries to begin equipment upgrades immediately.
The department chairs of the Βασιλική Στρατιωτική Σχολή (Imperial Military Academy) were quick to capitalize on the new technology. With more resilient and reliable firearms readily available, the military, the Academy heads opined, would be able to field larger units of dedicated military engineers and sappers. With this development in mind, the department chairs issued a statement to the Megas Domestikos suggesting a reorganization of basic army structure to accommodate the enlarged battlefield engineering corps; such a change, they claimed, would enhance each field army's effectiveness against static fortifications and avoid lengthy, bitter sieges such as those that featured so heavily in the previous war.
Acknowledging the soundness of the Academy heads' assessment, Megas Domestikos Sotirios Panagiotis issued an order calling for the raising of a cavalry regiment to replace the losses from the Crimean War as well as new artillery and engineering regiments to bolster the siege capabilities of the Roman field armies. A noteworthy development from this order was the conscription of "foreign" subjects (Bulgars and Aromanians, a subset of Vlachs), as integrated regiments within the greater Roman Army (rather than as mercenaries or auxilliary corps, as was previously the case). While the decision drew little attention at the time, the heavily nationalistic historiography of later years would cite this incident as the first time that (for better or worse) the modern Roman state began a transition to an integrated multicultural society.
Following Panagiotis's order, the movement to modernize the Roman military yielded positive results. Provincial armouries in the various themata of the Empire were successful in retrofitting the old flintlock armaments with the newer percussion cap design, and by late 1838 much of the old smoothbore musket stock was replaced by muzzle-loaded rifle which, despite being generally slower to load and fire than contemporary muskets, were able to offer superiour range and accuracy. The success of the modernization effort was largely attributed to the Empire's centralized military logistics and the proficiency of the δημόσιος δρόμος (Imperial Post) in directing and transporting the requisite materials with discretion and haste.
Despite its successes, the Office of the Imperial Post (headed by the Logotethes tou Dromou, whose position had over the years resembled that of a Chief Diplomat rather than Postmaster General) possessed a number of weaknesses that were revealed during the mass-shipment of caplock mechanisms throughout the Empire. The couriers themselves, though capable, were aging, and public perception of the agency's activities as inglorious and banal led to a dearth of new recruits. The office's bureaucracy suffered from nepotism and corruption (the Strategos of Durostolon had to launch an official inquiry to recover lost arms shipments and embezzled funds from unscrupulous Post officials) as prominent political dynasties staffed the Post with younger codynasts in need of bureaucratic experience. The very roads themselves, ancient and reliable though they may have been, were beginning to show signs of advanced decay as infrastructure funding was suspended to help fund recent wars. A new mode of mass transportation was necessary in order to meet the growing demand of modern Roman society.
A solution once more presented itself, and like its mechanical thresher and caplock action counterparts, this innovation too was sourced from abroad by way of Polish trade. While funiculars, wagon trails, and tramways had previously featured as modes of cargo transport in various parts of the Empire (the ancient Diolkos wagonway in Corinth had been used to transport ships for centuries), steam-powered locomotive-driven rail transport had been a uniquely Latin development that heretofore had little traction east of the Italian peninsula.

Regardless, both the Engineering department of the Pandidakterion and members of the Imperial Post saw an opportunity to improve the transit of goods and messages throughout the Empire. While rudimentary in comparison to its Western counterparts, the burgeoning Imperial Rail System (constructed and maintained completely at the central government's expense, unlike the various Roman roads whose maintenance was a provincial affair) was crucial in supporting Roman logistical efforts and maintaining the relevance of the old Imperial Post in a changing era.
Back in the military sphere, Panagiotis continued his sweeping military reforms by ordering a total reorganization of the Roman military. For over a thousand years, the provincial theme system had reigned supreme (albeit with some changes, like the prevalence of pronoiar land grants). Under the old system, armies were tied to their respective Thema and served as quickly-readied reaction forces to deal with local threats, while serious foreign campaigns were to be led by the elite Imperial Tagmata*, based in the capital, with thematic armies playing a supporting role.

*The Imperial Tagmata were famously (and controversially) withheld during the course of the Crimean War, fighting only a few battles while the Thematic armies bled and died in Kakhovka and Kerch. While the retention of the Tagmata remains a subject of academic debate to this day, modern consensus believes that the army elites were withheld not to respond to Smolenskiy invasion as was officially stated, but rather to protect the Basileus, who feared usurpation by Palaskas or one of the other victorious generals upon their triumphant return.
Under Panagiotis's command, the Roman military (excepting the Imperial Guards and Tagmata) was reorganized as a series of active field armies in emulation of the Legions of old. 30,000 men strong apiece, each field army was to possess full cavalry, artillery, and engineering complements so as to be able to act independently and fulfill all requisite roles while on campaign. Unlike the old Legions, however, all military personnel were to be paid directly from the imperial treasury, with spoils of war given to a central pool for redistribution as a means of limiting a general's power to buy his troops' loyalty.

This crowning achievement of the Panagiotis Reforms did not come without cost, as many members of the court (particularly the landed military elites of Anatolia) feared the loss of their power base and the commanders of the Imperial Tagmata regiments outright refused to conform to the structural changes. The Basileus only begrudgingly acquiesced to Panagiotis's plan due to his own advanced age and desire to be remembered in history, as well as the support of the Mesazon Yorgos, who, despite his ramblings, was still highly regarded by the Emperor.
Believing that the old Mesazon's meddling had gone too far and that his usefulness had come to an end, members of the Court Clique conspired to remove Yorgos from office for reasons of mental incompetence (which was not a difficult task, given his periodic vitriolic outbursts and general eccentricity.
After paying off a court eunuch to rephrase one of Yorgos' weekly requests for Spanakopita (spinach-pie) as a declaration compelling all Roman citizens to wear pies each Pempti (Thursday), the Court Clique successfully reported the extent of Yorgos's mental failings to the Basileus, who sorrowfully dismissed the old Mesazon to a private asylum on Lemnos run by Orthodox ascetics and monks.
Following another month-long paralysis of the Roman court as the various bureaucrats jockeyed amongst one another for the position of chief official, one courtier emerged victorious: Elias Stephanidis.
Stephanidis came from a relatively unimportant familial background and had served variously as horeirarios (grain-distributor) and kephale (administrative head) of several minor districts around the imperial heartlands before eventually rising to the position of Logotethes tou Genikou (Minister General, in charge of taxation and revenue affairs). A close compatriot of the old Mesazon Yorgos, many suspected that Stephanidis was the real architect of the financial recovery following the Roman-Armenian War. While the Klika had prepared Yorgos's candidacy because they believed he could be easily controlled, Stephanidis was presented to the Emperor because he was a talented, if taciturn, individual who shared the Klika's belief in a strong state apparatus. Though many respect or even fear him, the new Mesazon is little loved, and his own strong (perhaps even obsessive) conviction in modernization is likely to win him few friends and even fewer allies...
Having been deeply invested in economic matters his entire life, the new Mesazon was keenly aware of the power one could wield with sufficient funds. While initially skeptical of the merits of the new Saxon and Frankish machinery, their results could not be denied and Stephanidis, ever the champion of micromanagement and efficiency, sought to revitalize the Roman economy by taking over the Imperial Railway project from the military and Imperial Post and dedicating gratuitous funds to its construction.
The unemployed masses enjoyed a brief respite from their misery as Stephanidis's ambitious railway project demanded extreme amounts of physical labour to complete (even with the assistance of Western machinery). While the numerous ex-paroikoi were glad to enjoy some measure of employment security, their plight was little better laying rails in Thrace and Anatolia, as Stephanidis had a habit of employing overseers whose harsh manner and obsession with perfection rivaled his own.
The new Mesazon's first taste of diplomatic action was highly unorthodox, so much so that even the Smolenskiy-Ukraine affair seemed tame by comparison: Persia requested an alliance.
Ancient and perfidious Persia, or Eranshahr in their native tongue, had been the eternal nemesis of the Roman Empire since the dawn of days. Ever since the armies of Sasan had driven the Parthians from Ctesiphon, the legions of Rome have clashed with the Persian ranks at every step. The Shahhanshah had even claimed overlordship over two of the five ancient patriarchal seats, and the entire Levant toiled beneath the Persian spur.

Despite the protests of virtually every part of Roman government and society, Mesazon Stephanidis elected to accept the proposition, ostensibly as a means of containing Armenian influence in the Near East. The move drew protests and outrage in the streets of Constantinople, and the Basileus nearly dismissed the Mesazon on the spot for his impudence. In an uncharacteristically loud but predictably firm voice, Stephanidis stunned the crowds into silence with a lengthy but eloquent speech detailing the virtues of the alliance and how the bonds of friendship, however tenuous, could be as effective as the conqueror's steel gauntlet. Uneasy but satisfied, the court backed down, and with time, so too did the people of Constantinople, as all held their breath to see what would happen next.
With time, public imagination was seized by a threat other than the Persians: one of their own. Local magistrates reported that fear of a series of seemingly connected murders was gripping the streets of Sinope, by the Armenian border. The already tense political environment was exacerbated by this new development, as accusations of incompetence were hurled by civil authorities at the military and vice-versa. Ultimately, an alleged perpetrator was produced and, following the customs of the olden days, was blinded, castrated, and had his nose, ears, hands, and feet cut off before being thrown into the Pontos Euxinos. Still, tales abounded among the smallfolk of the survival of this semi-mythical "Iakobos ho Anterovgaltis", who would haunt the dreams of town watchmen and small children for generations.
Like so many other traumas inflicted on the Roman people, this incident, local in scope though it may have been, prompted the onset of change all the same. Law enforcement had heretofore been a largely private affair, and what few town guards remained from the days of the Vigiles of old were largely in the pay of corrupt city officials or prominent townsfolk. Noticing the ineffectuality of such ad hoc guards at enforcing peace during the Great Upheaval or stopping Iakobos's murders, the Kephale of Sinope and Strategos of Armeniakon ordered the establishment of a professional town guard staffed composed of war veterans and members of the regional garrison charged with the protecting the city from threats both within and without. This marked the beginnings of modern law enforcement in the Empire, and the model of the χωροφυλακή of Sinope would soon be emulated throughout the Empire, most famously by the Noumeroi of Constantinople.
The rapid militarization of the urban centres was not universally well-received, however. While the cities of Asia Minor and Thrace generally approved of the new gendarmeries, the fiercely independent merchant princes of Attica, Achaia, and Macedonia were less receptive. Irritated at the disruption of trade and wary that the increased military presence was a sign of the Basileus and his court tightening control of the provinces, the more liberal-minded elements of Roman society all but revolted against the new changes. The Party of Youth, small though they were, mobilized what public and political support they could, particularly in the western regions sympathetic to the ideals of the Hispanian Revolution.
Spurred on by the Komma tis Neolaias and its allies, small cells of liberal revolutionaries gathered public support in cities across the Empire, disseminating pamphlets and illegally reprinting copies of censored works, most famously those made by Adamantios Korais (a staunch Hispanian-school liberal who detested "impure" Roman influence and advocated a return to Ancient Hellenic traditions) as well as Gemistos Plethon (a controversial 15th-century philosopher who suffered the rare punishment of damnatio memoriae after he advocated a renunciation of Christanity and a revival of the ancient Olympian religion and Platonic philosophy).
What began as a movement ostensibly to secure individual rights rapidly adopted deeply nationalistic undertones, particularly for the non-Greek portions of the Empire. In Valona, one of the largest ports in Arbenon, liberal agitation quickly morphed into seccessionist sentiment as the local Arben, who had long jockeyed for equality with other Roman citizens, soon fell under the sway of inspired demagogues calling for a new Albanian nation with a destiny independent of that defined by the Basileus.
As the Arben had long been among the Empire's most loyal subjects for centuries (often employed by reigning Emperors to put down revolts instigated by ambitious usurpers), Roman high command was frightened by the prospect of Arbenon's secession. The new gendarmerie system was far from universally adopted, and the newly assigned force in Dyrrachion was greatly outnumbered by members of the local Thematic forces sympathetic to the cause of Albanian self-determination. Ultimately, however, the situation was defused (at least temporarily) by the Basileus issuing an official proclamation (Imperial Rescript on Garrisons in Arbenon (1841)) withdrawing the gendarmerie from Arbenon and offering vague promises of future reform.

Many in court saw the move as a sign of the Emperor's weakness, and some, particularly members of the Bosphorus Party, feared that the declaration would incite other minorities in the Empire to rise up and seek further concessions. As demonstrations raged across the Empire and conflict between the gendarmerie forces and the local populaces began to reach fever pitch, members of the Court Clique and Bosporus Party convened to demand that Mesazon Stephanidis find a means of distracting the public and lowering political tensions.
The Mesazon's plan, however, was as shocking as it was daring: he meant to invade the Kingdom of Armenia. Such a move, Stephanidis opined, would serve to direct the people's hate against a common enemy as well as expand the territory of the Empire. Much of Anatolia had been lost in a disastrous war against Armenia decades earlier, and the formidable state of the Armenian military had dissuaded Roman commanders of the notion of their reclamation ever since. When the Megas Domestikos sternly objected to the plan, unwilling to waste Roman lives in a war so soon after the previous had ended, the Mesazon reportedly replied:

"My dear Sotirios, have you no faith in the arms of the soldiers you have toiled so hard to equip these last few years? Crimea was a travesty, but the blood of Roman men has bought for us the boons of modernity, the hammer with which we shall smash the Armeniacs into submission. Did you not remake our armies in the image of the legions of old? Let the lads live up to their legacy, or, mark my words, none of us shall live to see another morn in the wake of all this Hispanian prattle."
As was predicted, the people of Arbenon were unsatisfied with the imperial decree and soon rallies erupted across the cities of the province demanding for the reinstatement of the ancient Greek voting practices not just in Arbenon, but across the Empire. The cause soon drew traction in every Roman city, even the capital, which had long been a bastion for imperial autocracy.
Deciding that enough was enough, the Domestikos ton Thematon, over-commander of the European thematic troops, redeployed the gendarmerie who, with the assistance of the local Strategos and those Thematic troops in the region that remained loyal to the Emperor, violently suppressed the rallies, slaying any who refused to flee. Local printing houses were ransacked and all outbound messages sent through the Imperial Post were monitored and heavily censored to prevent word of the bloodbath reaching other settlements.
Fearing the popular reprisal that news of the Valona Massacre would inevitably bring, Megas Domestikos Panagiotis begrudgingly agreed with Stephanidis's Plan, and the pleased Mesazon immediately brought the matter before the Basileus, who predictably acquiesced. On 29 Oktobrios in the 7349th year of creation (10 November 1841 by Latin reckoning), the Roman Empire issued an official proclamation of war against the Kingdom of Armenia, citing reclamation of illegally occupied lands as the principal proschema (casus belli) for war.

With the horns blown and the drums of war a-beating, Rome heads off to war yet again, though this time the Armenians are not their sole foe: the Roman people wage a war of their own against one another, against their masters, against the very ideas that their ancestors have held true for generations. An aged man is but a paltry thing, it seems, and Rome is among the most aged of them all...can the ancient giant stand tall against the powers that threaten to tear it apart from within? Or will the unebbing tide of modernity and the haunting spectre of the Hispanian Revolution lay low the sons of the Eternal City, as it had so many others? Only time will tell...

[Thanks so much for reading! This episode was pretty boring, I know, since not much really happened on the war front, but I felt that it was important to show to have at least one iteration devoted to the social and economic stressors that effected such rapid change in Victorian-era societies. Next episode will be more traditionally war-focused as we observe the course of the Roman-Armenian War, so stay tuned!]

Next chapter:

Game: Victoria 2

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

Images: 30, author: Discix, published: 2017-07-25