Monday, 29 November 2010

Today the Court welcomed Baron Munchausen (above), brought in to advise both about fighting the Turk in the recent campaigns, and about Aero-Nautics, of which he has written much.

The Montgolfier boys, those two young French tearaways that came over with Commander Villaineuse and are currently working with the Navy on Aero-Nautical Scouting against pirates, were fairly rude about the Baron's thinking.

"Flight will be done by kite like arrangments or be like birds, as the great da Vinci has written. These ideas of lighter-than-air gases should be taken with a degree of levity."

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Send the Marines!

Further Corsair depradations along the coastline have sharpened the need for an end to naval gazing.  Earlier this week,  an Imperial Navy xebec spotted a Corsair ship and gave chase, but had to let it ecape as the ship was fulled to the gunwales with vicious looking villains.

Admiral Periplos and Commander Villaineuse are of one voice "We Need a Regiment of Marines, then we don't have to ask the Army every time we want to put men on board".

Vizier Ekonomikos is against the idea, and the Basileos knows that he will have a deputation of  Harrumphing Generals if he agrees. But then Periplos pulls his mastercard....

"They could have Dark Blue uniforms, Sire, like you have always wanted!"

"With a hint of Purple?"

"Oh, more than a hint, Sire"

"Think of the cost, Sire - Purple dye is not cheap"

"My own Marine Regiment - that would look splendid"

"Let's start with a Battalion, Sire" 

"Oh alright, just a hint of purple then, and One Battalion of Marines to be recruited. - Sign the order Ekonomikos - Lord knows there are enough harbour-rats at the docks who could be recruited."

Doffing their hats, Periplos and Villaineuse retired backwards in as dignified a way as possible from the Imperial Presence (as it reached for its crayons to start designing a uniform), and the scowling visage of the Vizier. Once the Varangian Guard has swung the audience chamber doors shut, they high-fived each other and raced back to The Admiralty (a small tavern, not too far from The Admiralty building), proclamation in hand..

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

"I love the smell of Naphtha in the morning...."

....there was some considerable excitement at the waterfront early this morning when a large bang and a lot of smoke appeared from the Byzantion Naval Yard, sending every foreign spy scurrying half dressed down the Dockside Road (pursued by half the Harbour Gals, also semi dressed and  wanting their money). The crowd was shoo'ed away once the Vardariots had feasted their eyes on the Gals.

Doctor Leonardo Pipette , the Imperial Chief Alchemist, was later seen wandering homewards a bit dazed , his new-fangled bi-focal glasses broken on his blackened face, muttering about how he loved the smell of Naphtha in the morning.  

Capain Kostas Bravos, who we spoke to at the Golden Horn tavern, was sailing into the bay from an all night fishing trip, and said he was just putting a tack in when he saw a jet of flame, then a big explosion, then clouds of smoke, and then a Navy piquet hailed him and told him to move on, sharpish like....

(Inset - one of Dr Pipette's assistants seen just before the Big Bang)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Naval Manouevres.....

New Byzantium has a small but convoluted coastline, with one good major port, a second reasonable one, and a large number of small bays and coves dotted with fishing villages. One of the growing problems with its emergence as an (officially, anyway) Christian state has been the growing menace of Barbary (and other) Corsairs.

The Corsair nations of North Africa were among the first to recognise New Byzantium as an independent state, it took a while for the Basileos and his court to work out that all this meant was the pirates therefore saw them as no longer an Ottoman province, and thus fair game.

However, over the last decade, especially since New Byzantium's miltary success in 1750-51 (or more accurately, it's not losing) led to the Truce of Edirne with the Sublime Porte in 1751, the raiding has become progressively worse - the Byzantine Foreign Office believe that the Turks may even be aiding and abetting these Pirates with local bases.

So, what to do?

There has been a major attempt to woo the British, offering the main harbour of Byzantion as a naval base as part of a deal for Britain to fund Byzantine military activity against Britain's opponents on the continent, but so far the perfidious Albions have been far more interested in jaw-jaw than war-war. 

The Byzantine Admiral,  Periplos, who claimed to haver served in the French Navy as a young man (what he is less keen to admit is that it was as a Galley slave) has felt out of his depth for some time, and recently recruited the French ex-Corsair (and now Boucannaire) Commander Pierre Villaineuse , who recently had to leave his native Caribbean island of St. Jacques for mysterious reasons.

Villaineuse's first step has been to hire some of his Caribbean cut-throat friends and their ships, and has thus incurred the disapproval of Byzantion's well to do (but also the enthusiastic approval of its harbour gals) and now has raised the Admiral's ire by arguing for Byzantium to create its own "Corsair's Charter".

The Emperor was rather interested in all the talk of spankers, feluccas, sloops and tartanes until he realised that the sailors also referred to ships as "she"

The Court can see the potential problems this may cause diplomatically, but on the other hand a self-funding Navy makes a strong case for a strapped-for-cash statelet. As for the Byzantine seafaring folk, they are all for it. "Villaineuse has brought us into the 18th century", said Captain Kostas Bravos, captain of the sloop Ionnas B.

Old Salts on the docks noted that the Corsair's Charter would just legalise what Bravos and his ilk do anyway under the guise of "coastal trading"....

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Octagon to be finished by next summer

We are told by the Minister of Works that the Octagon in the Palace will be fully restored by next Summer, at the same time as the Hippodrome, and that a great entertainment and sporting spectacle, and a full parade of the Army, is planned for the opening. Lets hope there was no skimping on restoring the Great Arch through which they wil all march, or someone's head will roll....

Work has been going on to restore the palace for the best part of 20 years now under the guidance of Professor Kosmo Kalkulos, Chief Imperial Engineer, and the Palace is now at least functional, but for the Basileos of New Byzantium to really impress visitors, the opening of the Octagon - the old Roman Throne chamber of the Emperor Galerius - will be a big step forward.

There is still furious debate about what the Hippodrome will be used for after it is rebuilt, as Chariot racing is not as popular as it was 500 years ago. Polo has been mentioned but there is some argument about who will pay to clean up afterwards.

We know there is a strong support for re-creating the Olympic Games, and a number of syndicates are working on bids to run them, but that is only every four years.

Rumour has it that some of the English troops in the Guard want to play their game of foote-ball there, which is played by kicking a pigs bladder between poles at either end of the field while the opposing team tries to stop this. Seems most odd, cant see that taking off here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The role of Marshal de Saxe in the creation of New Byzantium

(Picture - de Saxe's original design for the New Byzantine Legion formation)

Between the ending of the War of the Polish Succession and the beginning of the War of Austrian Succession, the New Byzantine leadership solicited the advice of Maurice de Saxe (later to become Marshal of France) in the off-campaigning seasons to build their new army. Being a man of great talent but expensive habits, the Byzantine money came in very handy.

It was he who organised the fledgling army, and although his Reveries on the Art of War oddly fail to mention his time in Byzantium, the results are there for all to see - de Saxe took back with him what he had learned from his work in New Byzantium and later formed a Free Corps of light cavalry that looked almost the same as the Byzantine ones that had been formed under his guidance, to the extent of copying their classically inspired helmets and even their kontos lances.

De Saxe's views on the formation of the Legion are not theoretical, much of the organisation and practice was carried out in the Legions of New Byzantium, though the back 2 ranks of half pikes was found in practice*  to be less useful than extra firepower and the provision of helmets was felt to be too costly except for the heavy (and Guard) cavalry, wherefrom the classical helmet now used across Europe comes. His designs of flags for the legions were only adopted in small parts, use of classic Byzantine heraldtry being preffered, though the mainly muslim Gianitzaroi adopted his crescent moon design as their own. Also his "amusette" light gun that he "invented" was just picked up from the use of light Turkish pieces by the Legions of New Byzantium. 

Also, his ideas on heavy cavalry were based on his experience in transforming the original New Byzantine sipahi style heavy cavalry into a formidable Guard force, the Scholae. When he wrote in his Reveries that he could not see why cavalry should not be heavily armoured, carry lances and charge, and that he had invented a form of lamellar armour he was not joking - he had taken all these ideas from the Turko-Byzantine tradition and applied them to the Scholae - in fact he hadn't "invented" his armour, it was a straight copy of the eastern lamellar armour that the Scholae now use.

de Saxe came back in the winter of 1749-50 to oversee his work, and in fact re-wrote quite a bit of his Reveries while in New Byzantium. (Some say he wrote the book under the influence of opium - the Palace cannot comment, but notes that there are many opportunities to have a Good Time in New Byzantium and that)

* Except in the fantasy game of Warhammer Fantasy Battles, but that as we all know is an unreal Imagi-Nation and not the reality of New Byzantium :D

Monday, 15 November 2010

Byzantium in the Age of Reason

Following their defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1688, the Ottoman Empire went into a long decline and Russia and Austria nipped away at its European lands. Many of its subject provinces started to agitate for more independence as Ottoman power waned, and in quite a few there was open revolt, though the typical outcome was the Ottoman Empire came to terms with them, albeit usually leaving them virtually independent. This is the story of one of those states, the (alternative) history of New Byzantium. 

In 1716, Prince Eugene of Savoy defeated the Turks at Petrovaradin. The Banat and its capital Timişoara was conquered in October 1716. The following year, after the Austrians captured Belgrade, the Turks wanted peace and in 1718 the Treaty of Passarowitz was signed. The Austrians maintained control over Belgrade, leaving the Turks with control over the south bank of the Danube river.  By the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war in 1735, Russia had managed to secure a favorable international situation by signing a few treaties with Persia in 1732–1735 (which was at war with Turkey in 1730–1736). Austria had been Russia's ally since 1726.

Emboldened by this, many of the remaining territories of what is now New Byzantium felt it was time to remove the Turkish yoke and rose in revolt. In the absence of their Sanjak (Governor) the population of Salanik (Thassaloniki) overthrew the remaining Ottoman garrison and established New Byzantium. The Turkish army, busy fighting Russia and Austria, was not in a position to put down the revolts and the revolutionaries. Russia and Austria could see the benefit of such a revolt in the Turkish rear, fed the revolutionaries with money and surreptitious military assistance. At the end of the war, the Turks attempted to restore order but were too weak and the revolutionaries, with the help of Russian forces landed from the Black Sea and Austrian Grenz troops, forced Turkey (through gritted teeth) to give them semi-independence at the Treaty of Edirne

Under Austrian and Russian influence (and to stop the factional fights that threatened to tear the new Byzantium apart - or even worse, become that most dangerous of things, a Democratic republic), a new king, or Basileios, with vague connections to the last Byzantine emperors was found and installed as Constantine X, and the Greek Orthodox church was quick to move an autocephalous Patriarch to the new capital of Byzantion. During the 1740 - 1748 War of Austrian Succession, New Byzantium happily took Prussian and French money to attack Austria, but spent most of this loot in building up its own army, and its attacks on Austria were slow and largely ineffective. When the French and Prussians pressed this point, Constantine X responded that he needed more materiel and training to build a "proper" army - which France duly gave, and is reflected in the French flavour of the army even today.

By 1751, Turkey felt Austria and Russia were sufficiently weakened to try and overturn the treaty of Edirne and attacked New Byzantium, and at this point it became clear that Constantine's policy in the War of Austrian Succession had been to build his own forces up while expending as little energy as possible in actually fighting Austria, and the French trained Byzantine army, supplemented with its European mercenary soldiers demobbed  from the recent wars (and urgently recruited as mercenaries) gave the still largely feudal Turkish army a bloody enough nose in a series of engagements that made the Turks rethink their policy towards this irritating but relatively small new demistate. The Treaty was re-ratified, but no-one was under any illusion that this was a stable situation.  

The troops of the revolt were primarily men serving in the Turkish army as well as a ployglot collection of mountain men, farmers and city militias. They were joined by a ragtag collection of demobbed European soldiers, idealists and ne-er do wells who formed the core of Western style cavalry and infantry units, but without Russian and Austrian help the revolt would probably still have been put down. 

After being anointed, Constantine quickly realised that his best option was to build a core force of European style heavy cavalary and line infantry which the Turks had no real answer to, but use it in conjunction with the local troops who were better at the light infantry and light cavalry warfare that Turkish forces excelled in. With a vengeful Ottoman empire breathing down his neck he know there was no time to train his own troops, so like the Byzantine emperors of old he used the French and Prussian money to recruit more European soldiers as mercenaries. He resurrected the names of some of the great regiments of the Byzantine Empire to add lustre to loot. 

In addition he regularised the local ex-Ottoman light troops, as he and his French advisors (None other than Marshhal de Saxe was chief advisor, and in fact it is his influence that drove the formation the armoured Scholae lancers, but that is a story for another time....) realised that Balkan light troops, properly armed and with some discipline, were the match of any (indeed most European armies were busy recruiting them as well). The desultory border fighting with Austria was more about training this new army to operate together, and capturing equipment, before the inevitable clash with Turkey. This was accomplished in the nick of time, so that when the Turks attacked in 1750 the locals, stiffened by the mercenaries of the new Varangian Guard, Foreign Legion, Latinikon, Gianitzaroi, Turkopoloi and their own light troops were able to inflict enough early reverses on them to delay their plans. At the same time, fortuitously, many demobbed Prussians, French, Austrians and other nationalities were available after the ending of the War of Austrian Succession and more were hastily recruited as mercenaries and put into new battalions and squadrons, and it was this force that then caused the Turks sufficient damage to persuade them too sue for peace till another day, and the Truce of Edirne was signed in 1751. 

Roll forward to today, and the early stages of the Seven Years War. New Byzantium is (as usual) carrying out a delicate balancing act of trying to get money out of warring European states and collaborating with Turkey to extract trade revenue while carefully watching them as well. Austria and Russia are fighting with France against Prussia and England, and the new Basileos, Alexius VI  is busy negotiating with the British for payments to attack Austria and Russia, and letting them use his main port as a naval base in return. The newly resurrected emblem of the Byzantine Eagle is truly watching both ways (or is truly two-faced, as its opponents claim)