The curious thing about Crusader Kings II, especially for a game that relies so heavily on the characters, is that it is often hard to remember a damned thing any particular character actually did.
You might play with a particular King or Duke for 30 years, and know the ins and outs of who he is sleeping with, who he likes and dislikes, the details of the feuds with various nobles, and when you go back and look at a list of rulers, you will have no idea who any of those people are.
I thought it only right to go and have a look at the actual facts of the dates involved in the founding of the Sicilian Republic and was rather surprised at what I found.
These are the bald facts of when provinces were taken.
Capua - 879
Naples - 883
Salerno - 909
Taranto - 909
Kroton - 959
Brendision - 977
Rhegion - 985
Messina - 1001
Bari - 1025
Apulia - 1025
The Republic of Sicily founded - 1025
The remaining four counties of the island of Sicily were not taken until 1030. Benevento and Foggia are a story unto themselves.
What surprised me was that it took 12 years to take the first province. Which suggests that far from taking the approach of fabricating a claim, the actual way in which we took Capua was to fight a war for the city, and then to come back after the truce period to take the county.
For those that don't know, in Crusader Kings II if a republic has a trade post in a province this is a causus belli (sic) - a reason for war - and that once you hold the city then you have a further justification for war. I know that the count of the province was in his sixties, and the heir was about 2 at the start of the game, so I presume that that the war for the city must have after the count died, which in part explains the 12 years.
Although what also explains the 12 year gap in the first conquest is it demonstrates the time and effort that went into founding the trading empire and into deplomacy.
When playing the Earl's of Desmond I worked on the principle that if I had 300 gold then I was ready for war. This would employ one lot of cheap mercenaries - the 150 gold variety - and would ensure I had enough money to pay them for 9 months. This would give me @2000 troops on top of my levy, and would be more than enough for a small war - of which the conquest of Capua would be an example.
And yet, thinking back, I seem to recall that I was working on the principle that I needed 500 gold on hand at all times.. Since my priority was to build trade posts, upgrade them, build the family mansion, and more importantly not get involved in a war with the King of Italy, who controlled Apulia, or more importantly the Byzantine Empire which had conquered the Island of Sicily and the provinces of Kroton and Rhegion, which form the Duchy of Calabria.
I was making money, around 40 or 50 gold a month, and there was the bonus of the odd 300 here and there from killing off the new boy in the business world. But there was also the issue of Venice and Genoa to contend with. The Venetians trade posts were advancing down the east coast of Italy at an alarming rate. And, after taking control of the bay of Naples, my priority was to get hold of the vital port of Corsica, which would allow me to get control of the North African ports and offer me a way to Spain.
At that point the rival families had taken control of Sicily and the Italian seas to the North and South of Amalfi. And while my campaign of murder against them was progressing well, plotting is a slow business, and there always seemed to be another child or brother, to take the place of the murdered rival.
Plus at that point I was also very wary of any botched assassinations ruining my standing with the Pope. As I have mentioned before the last thing I needed was to be excommunicated, and open myself up to an all comers war.
However the Venetian situation was sorted in 876 when it was annexed by the Byzantines. The same thing happened with the Genoese at around the same time. One moment their trade posts are springing up in Sardinia and along the French coast, the next they are gone. The cause appeared to be revolt about crown authority. They did reappear shortly afterwards, but were once again stamped out with Genoa was taken and briefly held by one of the French Karlings.
And so that was the end of any outside competition. And by the 882, when the first Duke Merinos died, and was succeeded by Polkarios Polkarios (cue Billy Joel), the first conquest had been made, Naples was to follow shortly, and a pattern had been firmly set of triangular diplomacy between Constantinople, Rome and Pavia.
There was ongoing tension the Duke of Salerno, which was eased slightly by his being restricted to the county of Salerno due to Taranto being taken first by the Italians, then by a Muslim adventurer, then by the Byzantines, then by the Duke of Salerno himself following a Byzantine revolt. The cause of the tension was twofold, he had a de jure claim on Amalfi, and we had a trade port in his territory and I suppose he had seen what happened to Capua and Naples and didn't want the same thing to happen to him.
But luckily for us, whenever the situation appeared to be heading for war - a war we frankly did not want - something would happen to diffuse the situation. Obviously there was the distraction of Tarantino for him to deal with, but he also had to fight off a not entirely serious Byzantine attempt to push a de jure claim on him. I say not entirely serious, because they only sent a token force at first, and then the whole thing fell apart when the Byzantine's collapsed into a massive revolt. Which as I mentioned above allowed the Duke of Salerno - by this time ably assisted by the deposed Count of Capua - who happened to be a genius with 20+ ratings in diplomacy, intrigue and learning - who was presumably urging him not only to push the de jure claim, but to then follow up with pushing his claim on Capua.
If you find yourself wondering if there is a God, I really urge you to play Crusader Kings II, because there will be times when you wave your hands in the air like an Evangelical and rapturously thank the lord.
Because what happened in 900 was just such a moment.
Karl is an unlikely angel I will admit.
He was a pagan Norse raider who somehow had go together a force of 30,000 vikings. By now I had grown used to fighting off small bands of viking raiders intent on pillaging my lands but this was something I didn't expect.
Karl descended on the Italians and drove them out of Apulia. He then chased them up the coast with marauding units of 8000+ men. I can't tell you where they went because they disappeared into the fog of war. I suppose I could have sent my chancellor to find out, but he was too busy buttering Karl up diplomatically, and I couldn't send the court chaplin because Karl had imprisoned him when I sent him to try and convert the pagans.
Add to this that by now the Byzantines had settled whatever differences they had, meaning that the Duke of Salerno had bigger things to worry about than pushing a de jure claim on me.
Which is not to say that I would have lost the resulting war. Indeed, I would have won it, I had already fought a short campaign against him to get control of his city - using my trade port.
The point was I didn't particularly want the county of Salerno, or the Duchy, I wanted to focus on building my trade.
Another piece of luck occurred around this time too.
I had built a port in Benevento in an effort to block the Venetian advance and at least contest the Adriatic. When they were annexed, the port became rather a liability because it didn't have a clear route back to the Bay of Naples. This was streadily being rectified by my murdering my rivals, and lady luck handing my the necessary ports in Calabria, Sicily and Apulia to make the connection around the foot of Italy.
But the real piece of luck came in the form of the Duke of Benevento having two daughters and no sons. I tried to get a marriage with his eldest daughter, but the Duke refused, on the grounds that we were 'trade' and therefore too common for his blue blooded daughter. So I had him murdered, and with him out of the way, the girl agreed to the betrothal and thus the Polkarios family had their foot in the Benevento door.
In theory, the plan if you will, was for Polkarios Polkarios's (so good they named him twice) son to marry her, and then being the eldest he would inherit Amalfi, the two would be joined into a single realm and peace and light would shine throughout the world.
What I forgot to factor in was the Barony of Beaumont.
The Barony of Beaumont became for the period of around 150 years the bane of my life. It was a swear word. I loathed the place with a passion.
The basics of the story is that the first Duke, Merinos, married a woman who was the heir to the barony of Beaumont - mainly on the basis that she had good stats, but more importantly she was cheaper than paying for a debutante to come to court - when he died she returned to Beaumont, and she happened to be pregnant. Because I resent paying family dues, when some loafing sons got the religious bug and wanted to go off and fight the infidel with the religious orders, I was only too happy to let them go - not really knowing or understanding the consequences. Thus suddenly instead of the putative Duke of Benevento being my heir in the ducal elections, up pops these relatives I had completely forgotten about in Beaumont. And worse they have been breeding, there are loads of them, and they all like hanging out in a drafty old castle in France instead of growing merchant republic in Italy - meaning that I can't give them titles or land, and none of them will accept invites to court no matter how much money I pay them.
But back to Karl.
For the space of about 5 or 6 six years he appears content with sending thousands of men up the coast into the Kingdom of Italy. And I am content to send him tributes of 100 gold or so every couple of years, and include him in the diplomatic circuit. Like so much else in the game, I don't understand the mechanics of a pagan invasion, and with figures crossed was happy to sit it out, on the assumption that now he had settled in Apulia, he would become civilised and his thousands of men would dwindle down from their 20,000, and follow the normal rules of levies and recruitment.
Ok, that wasn't happening.....
But no matter, he was sending the men north, and not bothering me.
then in 907, all that changed when a war band of 25,000 men suddenly turned and attacked the Duchy of Salarno. Their siege equipment was clearly not up to much, because despite outnumbering the defenders 10 to 1, they took the best part of a year to take Taranto and Salarno. There was a brief exchange with the Byzantines in Calabria but 909 I was faced with a wall of screaming pagans on my border, Karl had stoppped playing nice and all my diplomatic efforts were rebuffed.
On paper I was doomed.
According to the realm chart I had around 4500 men, and was doomed go the same way as the Duke of Salerno - who also had around 4500 men.
What was different was that while Karl was laying siege in Salerno, I had been busy murdering 6 business rivals before that had chance to get started, meaning that I had 2000+ gold and was therefore able to hire 2 of the biggest mercenary groups.
Thus I waited for Karl's troops to split into two units - due to continued clashes with the Byzantines to the south - and in 909 launched a Holy War. With his forces now split I outnumbered each seperate force by roughly 5 or 6 thousand, and was able to destroy them both in a single battle - the second force arriving just at the point the first force was about to break, meaning that they inccured huge morale penalties.
His forces were totally routed, and almost destroyed. A token force fell back to Taranto, but it was wiped out by my pursuing forces. Mopping up the garrisons was a formality. And the doom for Karl the Conqueror came when the Byzantine's crossing the Salerno Mountains and crushed the few thousand men he still had in Apulia.
By 910 the pagan presence in Italy was gone.
Karl's prestige was ruined, his religious authority wiped out and pretty much all of his money gone.
I had him as a person of interest for a while, and noticed that he was being touted as the leader of some pagan tribal thing in Ireland for a while. And there was some talk of him leading another invasion, but it all came to nothing.
However there had been a fundamental change in Italy.
The stage was now set for what was to be a hundred year long between myself and the Byzantines, the key to which was my ability to always have 2000 gold on hand to raise the mercenaries to fight them. It was not a constant war. And it didn't begin immediately with the defeat of Karl.
There was a period of about five or six years in which both sides pretty much gone on with each other, but in the 920's the Byzantines decided they didn't want two independent, and by 927 when the first Polkarios Duke of Benevento came into being with the death of the Duchess, firmly independent Duchies in 'there' Kingdom of Sicily.
It couldn't have helped matters that the Duke of Benevento had an annoying habit of getting involved in every war he could. And, from a Byzantine perspective this was all the more bothersome because the Benevento branch of the family had married into the leading families of Croatia and Bulgaria. Thus whenever there was a Croatian ot Bulgarian uprising or war, off would go the Duke with his 2000 men, to get his additional prestige points for fighting as an ally.
It was just as annoying for me. Because I ended up being his protector, putting down revolts, for him and twice saving him from the Italians who had decided they wanted Foggia. To give you an idea of the military skill of the Benevento Duke's - or perhaps to demonstrate the limitations of the AI - on one occasion the Italians were advancing with 15,000 men. I had raised a force of about 25,000 men - city improvements and by mansion had by now given me a sizable levy, the rest were mercenaries - I had a large unit of 10.000 in the centre and two flanking units of @7,5000. The tactic was simple, get the larger Italian force to attack one of the units - they were all in hilly or mountainous terrain, and then thrown in the other two units and crush them. Because the Duke of Benevento had been fighting somewhere in the Balkans, he had a force of about 1000 men.
So on come the Italians, they are going to fall for the trap - when suddenly the Duke of Benevento changes ut to meet them, gets his whole force wiped out, has some of his commanders captured, and for no reason at all gives a huge boost to the enemies war score.
Anyway, we won and the Italians were forced to pay Benevento a large reparation.
A similar thing happened when the Byzantines pushed a de jure claim on Foggia. And when they tried to push a de jure claim on us the Byzantine emperor was forced to raise taxes, borrow from the Jews, and from some other group related to the Orthadox church and was still left 600 gold in debt.
The pattern for the wars was simple enough. After those de jure claims and the costs the Byzantines incurred, they stopped attacking. Which handed us the initiative. We would attack and take the city, then after ten years - a shorter period depending on deaths - go back and take the county.
And the pattern of the campaign was pretty much the same. Forces would be sent to besiege Apulia, which the main force would work it's way down the toe of Italy and into Sicily.
In terms of territory gained it was pretty slow going. As mentioned above, Kroton fell in 959, then to lessen the numbers needed for the Apulian sieges Brendision was taken in 977, Rhegion in 985, and finally Messina in 1001.
After 1001, there was a lull in the fighting, because crusading started, first in Spain and then in Lithuania. But also because of legalism I couldn't absorb any more counties. And by now I was running into diffculties with my dynasty due to an entire generation of only daughters, and the loss of previous generations to allowing sons to go off and join holy orders - difficulties that were compounded by Beaumont castle, and the reluctance of anyone to leave it, unless they were forced to due to their being elected Duke.
The Byzantines were also pretty much spent. After each defeat, their empire would erupt into anarchy, and while we spent the intervening period getting together the necessary 2000 gold for the next campaign - by trade and murder - they spent the time fighting iconoclasts and the various pretenders and ethnic rebels that took the latest defeat as a sign that they should rebel. Also the Abassids were pushing them hard in the east - with a successful Jihad for Anatolia.
And then a most extraordinary thing happened.
The Byzantine Emperor named a Muslim as his successor.
My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw this. It was all the more extraordinary because the person in question was not even a Byzantine - he was related to the Emperor - but he was an Abassid. Effectively the Byzantine were going to hand themselves over to the Abassid empire and dissolve themselves.
In the end sense prevailed, and an Orthadox candidate was found.
But there then followed a period of three or four extremely elderly Emperors, before once more a Muslim was named as a successor. And in 1024, the Byzantine Empire took a bottle of gin and a packet of razor blades into the bathroom, ran a nice hot bubbly bath, climbed in, slit their wrists and waited for the painter David to record the moment in all it's gory detail.
Because in 1024, Musa became the Emperor of Byzantium.
At the time my Doge was an equally unlikely fellow, Leon I 'the old'.
He had been tutored by a Norse soldier and though born Greek, had decided to adopt viking culture. Which was rather quaint, as he was also Catholic. He was the first of a number of Norse Doge's, and started the trend of capping the pilgrimage to Jerusalem by erecting a runestone to his ancestors.
Because Musa was 'a person of interest' I followed the chaos of his accession with some interest, as one after another the Dukes, Counts, Barons and Majors were forced to convert to Islam. There was rioting and uprisings throughout the Greek side of the Empire, and less than helpfully the Abassids went on the offensive in the east.
It didn't help matters that Musa was straight out of central casting - he was pure Lawrence Olivier in the Four Feathers - or Khartoum - or whichever film it was.
I wasted no time, and rejoiced that the tedium of attack the town, wait ten years, capture the county was gone - and launched a Holy War for Apulia.
By this stage the Byzantine's couldn't have resisted even if they weren't engulfed in the choas of forcible Islamisation, my forces were too strong - I had now a sizable levy, a retinue of about 10,000, plus the money for mercenaries, and a tried and tested plan of attack.
And in 1025, with Apulia under my control, I was able to usurp the title of Kingdom of Sicily from the Byzantine Empire.
In a little under 150 years, the Polkarios family had gone from a trading house in a single tiny county, to being the effective kings of South Italy, with a trading empire controlling all the seas around Italy and stretching out as far as Spain and well into the seas of Greece. Without any outside competition, and what competition their was in Amalfi was best described as limited. The rival families owned the odd trading post here and there, and even the occasional far flung trading region, but only because I had long since passed the limit where I was able to build new posts - by now I had the legal right - based on the mansion and my family size etc to hold around 6-8 trading posts, yet I actually owned more than 20.... and they were all fully built and garrisoned. I was easily earning 1000 a year, and maybe by now getting on on for 1500 to 1800.
I had achieved everything that I had dreamed of when I started to play.
I had money. I controlled a decent chuck of territory, without any real rival. And I had a solid base on which to build further. Plus I was at peace when I wanted and at war when I wanted.
Little did I realise how that was all about to change......