Monday, 17 November 2014

The Age of Empire

The period 1101 to 1204 was one of war, expansion, consolidation, and the realisation that I had become a superpower.

Perhaps it would be useful to try and define what I mean by the term superpower, because anyone looking at the map would see a collection of colonies dotted around the Mediterranean in a more or less cohesive manner. They would also see that the administration of those provinces was still largely a mess. They might also notice increasing and constant friction among the dukedoms over control of the kingship titles that were firmly held at the centre.

But what they would soon realize was that this apparent chaos was also the source off the growing strength of the Sicilian state.

Because strategically I was in a position to place an army of 60,000 men where ever I wanted with a matter of months. This might be to fight off the latest attack in the seemingly endless wars with the Abassid's which stemmed from the castration of the Caliph's brother. But generally it was to fight small wars in Greece to vassalize the increasing number of independent states breaking away from Holy Order control, or it was to fight Holy Wars in Africa.

However there was a new level of sophistication to the Imperial process. Out went the notion of holding everything at all costs. And in came a process of granting independence when the vassal became too troublesome with factional politics, or there was no strategic or practical reason for holding the territory.

As with all things mistakes were made along the way. Diocleca was given independence, and promptly went into direct business competition in the Adriatic Sea. Which led to their immediate request and re-vassalisation. The Duchy of Croatia was given independence, and after two generation of daughters, passed out of the allied realm.

But in general the process was a triumphal march where ever and when ever we chose to make war.

Two Jihads for Tunis were fought off successfully. After the first, in an effort to deal with the mistakes of the city first policy, the inland states of Tunis were granted independence, taken by the Abassids in a Holy War - that was uncontested - and then retaken in Holy War, and reconstituted on a firm feudal footing.

Tripolitania and Cyrenica, were next to fall in Holy War, which effectively nullified any threat from the Abassids. They might pick a fight against myself, or one of my client states, and instead of fighting them head on, troops would be dispatched to Algeria to lay siege as far as Morocco. If the Abassids wanted to prevent the looting, they would have to send men either by sea, or across the desert, a trek that would kill as many as half of them before they got to fight.

Sometimes I might do both, fight them where they were contesting and lay waste to Algeria. The town of Constantine was sieged probably as many as twenty times during this period, and would contnue to be so until the duchy of Kybala was taken in Holy War in the next century.

And all the while our trade post holding was growing. It had been more than a century since we had been able to build a trade post of our own. But the farming policy of the other families was paying dividends in spades. Officially we might be limited to to 9 or 10 trade posts, but de facto over this period our trade post holdings grew to around fifty or sixty. Which in turn, combined with a focus on the city and keep upgrades, meant a steady increase in the retinue cap, which allowed the army to grow around 30,000.

This army was purely for home defence and internal security. If a vassal was caught attempting to fabricate a claim on the state, the army was sent to sit on his holdings, whilst the arrest was made. Given that by this stage the vassals could raise maybe 6 or 8,000 men tops the resultant revolt, if revolt there was, was generally short lived.

The punishment for a first offence was blinding for a family member, if they were caught again, banishment. For non family members, particularly if they were from a family that had wormed their into the growing feudal arrangements and become a count, the punishment was generally a straight banishment and their holdings given to a family member.

In one hundred years, not a single war was lost, and the number of lost battles could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. If the enemy sent 10,000 men, we would send 20,000.

However two events caused a slight rethink in this policy.

The first was a Balkan war that coincided with fighting in Greece, and a Crusade for Hungary.

For one reason or another, the standing army (the retinue) was sent to suppress a show of impertinence by our Vassal the Duke of Dalmatia. One unit of the retinue was caught up country sieging a county that had been given to Dalmatia to look after because it was causing problems, and we did not control, nnor wish to control the de jure duchy to which it belonged. This force of 8,000 was attacked by first a Serbian force, and this was joined by 15,000 Bulgarians. Although out-numbered 3-1, the superior leadership and technical abilities of the troops, managed to stave off total annihilation. A force of some 30,000 mercenaries were sent to screen the retreat of the shattered unit, by now reduced to some 800-1000 men, the constituent parts of the levy reduced to single figure units in many cases. The screening proved entirely successful, allowing the unit to retreat back through the Balkans and into Italy, before the mercenaries counter attacked, and destroyed the Serbian and Balkan armies, and laid siege to their lands.

The result of this proved costly, and demonstrated just how expensive retinues are, when used rashly, and forced to reconstitute. The costs involved in building the parent unit over what may have been decades was forced to be paid again over the next year or so. Monthly income fell from around 2,000 a month to sometimes as low as 30 0r 40.

For the sake of proving a point to a wayward Duke, it was not worth it, and the retinues would stay firmly at home from now on.

The second lesson was learned in the campaign for Thracesia, in 1157.

By now the Byzantine Empire - remember them? - had been driven out of Europe, and held Tangiers, a few provinces on the Black Sea, and Thracesia. In an effort to consolidate the emergent state of Nikea, and protect Cyprus, it was decided to bring this region under control - thus allowing the hotch potch of counties around the Agean to be swallowed up by the increasingly aggressive Dukes of the realm, who were firmly acting in a rational manner and trying to expand their holdings - rather than conspiring to steal my titles - for which they invariably ended up blind, and if they still persisted, landless.

The campaign grew out of an earlier effort when 90,000 troops were dispatched to prevent an Abassid Holy war against the Teutonic order for one of these errant counties. The campaign was decided in a single climactic battle in which 120,000 Abassids were drawn piecemeal into my grinder of 90,000 over the period of what seemed like a month. In the end they were left with scattered forces of maybe a thousand or so, which were picked off at leisure, while the cream of Abassid society was ransomed back, and couple of towns taken.

This effort, like so many wars of this time, given their religious nature, was in part funded by the Pope. Something that wasn't really factored into the thinking behind the Thracesia campaign.

In hindsight, the warning signs were all there. The alarm bell which rang the loadest, and was the most ignored, was the Duke himself.

The names and dates of the Duke's in this period are pretty much irrelevant. When I looked at the list to write this post the only one that stood out was Ugliano I 'the Great', and he is noticable for rebuilding the country after this campaign, and because he was a gluttonous drunkard who was beloved by a succession of Popes. What is of significance is that for the first time in the histroy of the Sicilian state the Duke had super stats.

So good were his stats, that from the moment he showed up as heir I found myself drooling at the chance to play with him, I had by now grown used to managing a succession of rulers in large part propped up by their wives and counsellors. But at long last here was Duke with 20+ stats for just about everything, and if the skill wasn't 20+. it was 15+. And the traits only reinforced his greatness. What could possibly go wrong.

Well the first thing that went wrong was that unlike the previous war in which the troops were shipped to Greece and marched to Nikea, this time they were shipped there. It might sound like a small thing, but shipping costs are very high, comparatively. And for whatever reason - perhaps because there was a notion that the troops would be used in a renewed effort against the Abassids - nearly 40,000 thousand troops were sent, meaning that the fleet of 234 ships made two journeys.

An outbreak of disease among the invading armies inflicted heavy casualites, as did so poorly handled fighting. Resulting in another 20,000 troops being sent. And rather than dismiss the mercenaries already on the ground, and let them rebuild at their own expense, they were kept employed, and rather than rebuild they just kept dying of disease and infecting the freshly arrived troops.... can you see where this is going?

Now while this is going on, I in the form of my supper stat'd Duke am sitting their rubbing my hands at the prospect of moving the campaign onto the Abassids, and possibly rolling out of Anatolia and into the Holy Land - just for fun.

And so like a dose of dysentery the more troops got ill, the more troops were sent, and the more shipping costs were racked up,... and all for the sake of a couple of towns. For once the AI played a blinder. The Byzantines had two medium sized forces that they moved around the area without ever really trying to engage. I chased them, mauled them when I caught them, but couldn't kill them off. And so many men were dying of disease - units easily lost half their total, and some as much as 2/3rds - that it became increasingly risky to draw men away from the siege to drive off the circling Byzantines.

What had been intended as a short campaign soon began to drag on, as the Byzantines brought in allies, which mean that the warscore fell, and even when the towns were finally taken, it was necessary to go on fighting.

Soon money became an issue, as troops had to be raised an paid for in other operations, and there was money being spent on trade posts, and city improvements.

By the time the campaign ended, the treasury which on accession had stood at 20,000+ gold, was down to about 7,000.

And worse the states set up in Anatolia were extremely shaky.

The Duke of Nikea died leaving his land to an infant girl. The Duke of Thracesia didn't last much longer and died leaving a son or 6 or 7.

A falling out with the Pope lead to the drying up Papal grants, and by the time our super stat'd Duke - whose name I cannot be bothered to fnd - died the treasury was as low as 3,000 gold. It was seriously considered borrowing money from the Jews, something that hadn't been done since Merinos took a loan at the very beginning to built the trade post at Salerno, and to rig the election in favour of his son Polkarios Polkarios (uptown girl) as insurance against his untimely death.

The one bright spot in this period was the capture of Aprutium in 1175, which marked the first offensive action against the Kingdom of Italy in nearly 300 years.

Ugliano I steadied this decline, rebuilt the treasury - with the help of the Pope (miraculously given Ugliano's traits - slooth, gluttony and drunkard) and in many ways he was a character similar to Daniel. He was an outsider, the last of the Beaumont Dukes - who despite being raised in France was Italian, indeed the first Italian - and like Danial he had a hippy portrait.

He also expand the holdings in Italy, when by chance an attack on Spoleto, captured the Duchy whihc had bundled in with it Lucca and Verona.

However more and more time was being taken up with internal politics. As the mantra began to be chanted 'No More Wars'. And while there were small scale Imperial policing actions in Greece and Africa, to either suppress some mouthy Duke, or nurse the putative states through their period of recruitment and tax penalties, there was little or no effort at further expansion.

This pulling back was in part due to the realisation that adding new territories didn't bring in any significant money - money being the focus of the period as efforts were made to rebuild the shattered treasury. Indeed Imperial expansion was counter productive to what passed for politics in the Republic - namely the systematic murder of business rivals either to get trade posts, or simply to get the money off the newest bright eyed entrepreneur. The dishonour penalty in the republic was pretty much a badge of honour, but in the Empire it was an excuse not to pay tax.

Under Ugliano, something another administrative change was made. It became policy to get hold of castles in the Replican heartlands of Salerno and Capua, develop them, and turn Apulia, Sicily and Calabria over to vassals. This raised more levies in the long run, and diminished the 'too many Duchy' penalty.

By the time Ugliano died finance the period of active peace had restored finances to the pre-Thracesia levels, the duchies in Greece, Cyprus and Africa had been put in a state bordering their proper constituent parts, and the vassals aquired through various holy wars and crusades assigned to their rightful owners.

Ugliano should also be credited with instituting another policy, which was to have more long term effects. A more conscious effort was made to marry well. For a while it had been practice to marry sons to baroness' on the basis that they would not loaf about being paid family dues. But now, with the increased prestige of the family - the prestige score would have been over 100k at this point easily - sons at birth were being betrothed to Duchess's and Countess's, and daughters where regularly betrothed to Kings (incidentally the last time I looked, the game year is currently 1340, the Polkarios dynasty score was @11,500, the Karling dynasty score was @9,000 - which is not bad when you consider the Polkarios family started with two men).

Which bring me to Michael 'the Fowler'.

His lineage is from that loan infant Duchess of Nikea, who for a time in the 1160 and 1170's was a pain in the backside. She inherited the Duchy of Nikea and Athens, which had been bundled together in the hand out of 1047, following the first crusade for Greece. By now Nikea was properly constituted and relatively well administered and run. Thus Anna took it into her head that she wanted Athens. And despite all the other Dukes, many of whom owned bits of the Duchy, being firmly opposed to this idea, Anna fought several wars, and eventually settled for half of the Ducjy - i.e two counties.

These wars - the Pygmy Wars as I called them, were very useful because they allowed me to gauge the actual strength of my vassals, since at times they were all involved in one way or another. Thus giving me a general sense of what would be required should the factions decide to actually try and win their freedom, instead of grumbling about it, and getting themselves blinded and banished for pointless plotting. At times there were armies as large as 20,000 in the field. Which was comforting to know as I had a retinue of over 30,000, plus levies and mercenaries, olf Ugliano could watch these wars, quaff his claret, and throw chicken legs over his shoulder, secure that if push came to shove it would be him doing the pushing and shoving.

Anna, was a problem in another regard, she had three daughter's. One of who was married into the Venice Polkarios clan, Venice having been taken in Holy war a century earlier, who were particularly annoying to the Duke, as they not only plotted to get the republic of Sicily, but were forever trying to get the Republic of Venice - which was not going to happen, because despite being a firmly rooted feudal republic, there was no way that the risk was going to be taken of Venice going back into business. And besides, Venice had been the target of a number of adventurers and also the Italians.

As an aside there were a number of adventurers who declared their intention to take the Republic of Sicily. One even managed to get 12.000 together - gosh my knees were knocking. Though perhaps not quite as much as his knees as he lay his neck on the block.

My favourite was a Muslim chap from the hills of modern day Iran. He announced his intention with much ceremony, and a look at his stats showed he was a more than competent commander.Given the general level of hostility between myself and the Muslim world I was a little concerned, and having faced very large Muslim armies, and the threat coming early in the reign of Ugliano I, I have to admit to some worry. What about if the chap raised 50,000 troops?

Shortly before the big day, 22nd January I believe, my chancellor was dispatched to the region where he was reported to be raising his troops, ostensibly to improve relations with the local chieftain, but really to see who many men I should prepare to fight against.

The day arrived, and no sign of the adventurer. A click on his details showed him in an unknown location. Damn I thought, he's going to sneak up on me. I searched the map carefully for signs of this adventurer and his hoard, Then early in February I noticed the warscore was 100% - it must have been since January. Because the poor chap had managed to attract not a single soldier to his cause. I offered peace, imprisoned him, and because he was a good soldier gave him a command position in the standing army. I let him have secondary wives, and he resisted all attempts at conversion. Oddly enough we even got the Jihad thing for fighting in my army against a Jihad for Africa - or he might have got it before, but I only noticed it afterwards. He was no trouble, never got involved in any plots, and was generally the perfect courtier, personally killing off a number of business rivals in plots.

So back to Michael the Fowler, he inherited all the vices of the Nikea branch of the family. The original Duke had been a soldier with very high martial skills and a 3s and 4s for everything else. He was sent to Nikea for two very simple reason, I didn't want to pay family dues, and I thought the Abassids would want to fight for the duchy, thus it was best to send the best soldier available. He also inherited his mother's annoying habits of sticking her nose in where it was not wanted, and obstinacy. On more than one occasion Michael almost got himself blinded for not backing out of plots when told to, but for one reason or another the matter was not pursued and Michael could carry on in the same lazy, angry, greedy, drunken way to which he had become accustomed.

Michael was certainly an irascible chap, almost becoming the first Duke to get himself excommunicated, when realtions with the Pope dropped to an all time low of -50 or so.

But that all changed when a crusade was called on Jerusalem.

Suddenly Michael went from zero to hero in the Pope's eyes. And the crusade was very useful, because it would offer the opportunity to build on the Cyrenican holdings, and maybe even split the Abassids into three pieces.

The plan was simple, the retinue would be commanded by every Polkarios male who it was thought might be useful in the future, loaded onto a ship, taken to the Holy Lands, thrown against a suitably large Muslim army, win the fight, and return home. Then mercenaries would be sent to Algeria and Egypt to siege up the warscore. If everything went well, the Muslims would be left without the usual 20,000+ army with which to murder the pygmy armies from Ireland and elsewhere, and while we effectively do the heavy lifting elsewhere, and draw off/prevent reinforcements, sufficient numbers could be built up to take Jerusalem itself.

In the event the plan worked like a dream.

The retinue disgorged, smashed up the only sizable Muslim army for miles, jumped back on the boats, while all those Polkarios males paraded about, showing off their crusader badges, in a style not seen for 150 years.

It should be pointed out that this plan was a modified version of something that had been attempted earlier in the century when the Pope called a crusade for Jerusalem. However on that occasion we had called a Holy War - for Cyrenica probably - in the period between applying to join the crusade and the Pope accepting. Thus the Pope refused to let us join, claiming that he didn't want to get involved in out scheming. He then jumped in a boat, sailed for the Holy Land, got defeated in his first battle and captured, and that was the end of that crusade.

This time we didn't declare Holy War, we just used the opportunity to siege our way Africa making money from ransom and loot.

And thus in 1202 or 1203, we got the task of dividing up the Holy Land.

Now I say 1202 or 1203, because the actual date doesn't matter. the important date in Sicilian History is 1204.

Because here's the thing.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem would have a 30 year, tax and recruitment, penalty. It was bound to suffer, long before that 30 year expiry date, and possibly in the very near future, a jihad to retake Jerusalem. I was scraping the bottle of the barrel to find Polkarios males to fill all the various counties, and frankly they were not the cream of the crop. And the reality of the situation is that the only person guaranteeing their security is me. I am the only person with the money or the troops, and having seen off three jihads, I also have the experience. But I recognise fighting off a Jihad for Jerusalem is a challenge on a different scale to fighting off a Jihad for Sicily or Tunis.

If the state had nearly bankrupted itself in Thracesia, this task would face all the same logistical challenges, plus an enemy far larger and more determined than the Byzantines had the means and capacity to be.

Which makes me think that the crusade must have finished in 1202, because one thing is certain, by 1204 we had been saving money and had 30,000 gold on hand, and knew we needed more to fight off the Jihad.

So when in 1204, the drunkard Michael 'the Fowler', and the equally drunken me - this being late at night when I had been quoffing a rather pleasant bottle of Malbec - recieve the news that some bushy bearded, cross eyed, 16 year old toss pot, who is only there because there is no one else, is plotting to get the supreme republic of Jerusalem, I have had enough.

I'll tell you what. Here, you are independent, good luck with that.

Oh and Cyprus, you are independent.

And so is Africa.

And so is Greece.

Good luck, now 'F; off and leave me to make money, which is all I ever wanted to do.

Ok in doing this it appears that the Italian lands now belong to the Kingdom of Greece. Oh and the Bari, because for various historical reasons is part of the Duchy of diarhoiaicon, and Syracuse is part of the Duchy of the Agean - well I'll tell you what let's have a war to see who gets to keep the de jure lands in Italy shall we.

Ok, perhaps it was an over reaction. But in that one Malbec fuelled moment of honesty, the Imperial adventuring came to an end.... well sort of.... but we will come to that later....

And it wasn't just the whining of yet another idiot - if the AI in Crusader Kings II needs anything, it really needs to do something to address the issue of there's being so many absolulte morons in the game.... but then I suppose if you are young, ambitious and never done a days work in your life, this kind of thing is to be expected - so maybe the AI is spot on.

No, the real reasons for reaching the end of my tether are simpler.

a) I never wanted to be an empire in the first place.
b) I had reached my vassal limit
and more importantly...
c) none of this land, and none of these idiots, were making me any money.

At most they are sending a couple of hundred in vassal tax, which is nothing compared to what I am making in trade, and in no way makes up for what they are costing me to defend.

Oh and as a by product, of the end of Empire, I go from having one or two allies.... if I'm lucky.... to something around 30.... (the current figure is 77, most of whom can't fight... but then most of the one's who can, can't... if you see what I mean)

Oh and more oddly I suddenly find that I own things that I never knew I had.... like those islands off Achia. Well it turns out they are not there for decoration, but they are a county, and I own them, and they happen to be the perfect naval base for sending armies into Greece to rough up the newly independent King of Greece.

If you thought getting an Empire was hard, then you try giving one away....


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