King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Sunday, January 31, 2010

History of Syldavia, Chpt. 2. The Fall of the Kingdom of Muskar I

Brother Demetrios of Travunje, in his biographical chronicle Vita Moscari, De Principio Regis Sildavinae, gives us a description of King Muskar in his later years : “The dread King, despite having occupied the throne for a score of years, remained in great health and resembled a young man in his vigour and his sharp instincts.  Always a great and strong man, he towered over most of his knights.  He was blessed with the bearing and the voice of command with which he cowed the young nobles of court, many of whom had known no other sovereign.” 

Even while his sixties and venerable for his times, King Muskar cut a terrifying political figure and managed to keep the restive nobles obedient through his charismatic leadership and his rapport with the common folk.  Undoubtedly, his readiness to mete out swift and severe retribution in the face of opposition, demonstrated on several occasions, helped to dull some noble’s instincts for rebellion.  The Vita Moscari relates that King Muskar faced and put down plots against his rule. On one occasion in 1139, he was the target of an attempted assassination while hunting in his ancestral domain in Travunia.  In the hunting party was a squire, the younger son of a noble family from the Bellicosow region that Muskar had reinstated after wresting the territory from the Bordurians.  Knowing that the King had let the hunting party pass ahead of him while he refreshed himself at a spring, the squire hid himself along the trail with a slaughtered hen to attract the King’s dogs.  The King finally came along with his dogs ahead, who fell upon the bait.  However, one dog, received as a gift from the Byzantine Emperor and an animal of rare intelligence, scented the hidden squire and warned the King with her barking.  The King spotted the assassin just as he raised his crossbow and was able to move in time, receiving only a minor wound.  Muskar then wrestled the now-terrified squire to the ground, disarmed him and bound him with his own belt.  The squire implicated his uncle, the Count of Tremens, and Bordurian agents in the plot.  Muskar quickly moved to apprehend the Count and his family.  The exact punishment that Muskar meted out is told only by rumours rather than by the admiring author of the Vita, but the count was executed and the family disappeared from historical records at that point. 

Muskar long showed no signs of weakening except for passing most administrative tasks on to his long-time counsellor Father Nikephoros, and his son Danilo, and giving up his favourite past-time, (campaigning, of course) in favour of doting on his building projects.  Nevertheless, mighty Muskar I finally fell ill and died in 1149, having been on the throne for twenty-one years.  The newly-crowned King Danilo, buried his father in the new St. Vladimir's church in Klow, in a sumptuous tomb befitting the founder of a dynasty.  If the nobles breathed a sign of relief and looked forward to looser reigns under Danilo, however, they were mistaken.  Danilo proved a masterful ruler cast in mould of his father, though he lacked the charisma and taste for battle.  He retained Father Nikephoros, who was more or less his political mentor and effectively kept the nobles under his thumb. Danilo never mounted a military offensive beyond his father’s borders, finding that the mountain ranges surrounding Syldavia provided natural and relatively easily defended frontiers.  He did, however, lead his army in responses to numerous raids into Syldavia, mostly originating in Borduria.  

The luck in Muskar’s bloodline ran out in Danilo, however.  Danilo had two sons.  The elder, Wastrelmir, was clearly more interested in racing his horses and in seducing the daughters of the court than in the affairs of State.  The nobles, who saw his indifference and self-indulgence, regarded him with antipathy.  Branislaw, the second son by Danilo's second wife, resembled much more his feared grandfather, but he was ten years the junior of Wastrelmir.

King Danilo passed away suddenly, and in somewhat mysterious circumstances, in 1162.  With the less than firm King Wastrelmir on the throne, the restive nobles finally had an opportunity to test royal power and this they did immediately. Wastrelmir could not obtain the obedience of the most belligerent nobles or the confidence of those still loyal.  The country suddenly lurched towards civil war.  Syldavia’s neighbours (chiefly the Bulgarians, through their vassals in Borduria) plotted to cut up the country and conspired with like-minded nobles in Syldavia.  Finally, in 1165, the viceroy of Borduria interceded «by invitation» at the head of an invading army.  King Wastrelmir was stirred to action, mustering his available forces and levying the peasants in the highland provinces.  He then established a defensive position in the Djrinje River valley leading to Bellicosow.  Teen-aged Prince Branislaw was to gather reinforcements and join Wastrelmir. 

It was a cursed day for Wastrelmir and Syldavia, however.  A grand trap had been laid for him. The traitorous Baron of Djordjevaro ambushed Branislaw en route to his rendezvous; his force was destroyed and Branislaw himself was never found.  Many nobles never honoured their duty to provide reinforcements and stayed home while others marched openly with the invading force.  Standing alone, Wastrelmir’s small army was met by a Bordurian army over twice its size.  The battle went badly from the start, as the demoralised Syldavian levy broke and fled when attacked by countrymen.  An eyewitness account relates that Wastrelmir, showing a resolution others had never seen in him, stood firm with his household retainers and with the rapidly diminishing ranks of his most reliable troops, raised around Klow and Istow.  The desperate battle effectively ended when the guard was overrun and Wastrelmir was cut down with them.  In a stroke, the Bordurians extinguished the dynasty of Muskar, and annexed Syldavia while securing the obeisance of those nobles who survived the battle.  Upon reaching Klow, Bordurian soldiers removed the skeleton of King Muskar from his tomb and dispersed his remains so as to remove all trace of their hated enemy.  They found the relics of St. Vladimir already missing, however, along with other elements of the treasury.

The Demise of King Wastrelmir, illumination from the Vita Moscari, De Principio Regis Sildavinae

With very little further resistance, the Bordurians installed a new and cruel regime, the viceroy seeing Syldavia as a source of money and manpower useful for aggrandizing Borduria.  Taxes on the commoners were ratcheted up, peasants became poorer and the architectural legacies of Muskar, such as the grandiose St. Vladimir's church in Klow, began to decay.  Small uprisings occurred here and there, resulting in skirmishes, round-ups of rebels and incipient outlawry.  Some, in furtive hope, whispered rumours of the return of Prince Branislaw.  Others, such as the now-landless nobles of Travunia and the stubborn germano-slavic farmers living around Klow and Istow, kept their arms hidden and sullenly waited for the winds to change. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

History of Syldavia Pt. 1

Part of what fired my imagination upon reading King Ottokar’s Sceptre as a child was that Syldavia seemed like it could have been a real place, just somehow overlooked by time and the modern world. It reminded me of the history books I devoured and the museums I visited, except that it had a plot. Hergé accomplished this sense of plausibility with some smoke and mirrors, I think. He sketched out only a bare skeleton of a historical context (it is a comic book after all) and he relied on liberal doses of charismatic props like renaissance uniforms, invented dialects, castles, archaic dynastic law, coup d’états built around dynastic artifacts and the hinted-at historical presence of Islam to convey a sense of history and of the exotic. He then let our imaginations do the rest. This stuff was Mother’s milk to me back then and I lapped it up. I suspect that I am not the only one around here with this story, however (n’est-ce pas, Jean-Louis?). I had a model castle, a small squad of Britains Guardsmen and some Timpo crusaders and black knights with which I recreated bits of the book, modern and medieval, and then I went on to other stories. And here I am now, still at it, it seems!

Now, because it seemed like a good idea a the time, I chose to shoehorn my revision of Syldavia into the map of the south-western Balkans and to attempt to maintain some degree of historical plausibility as well. This is a tall order it seems, as Hergé’s history, as ambiguous and incomplete as it is, does not reconcile with the history of the real-world Balkans (the Ottomans arrive 400 years too soon? tsk, tsk!). One might well ask “why should it smack of the truth”? Syldavia was Hergé’s Imagi-Nation after all. My answer is yes, but -  I had hoped to preserve in this project the sense of plausibility in Hergé’s book that originally hooked me. The grown up me is a more sceptical guy and it seems that it takes more now for me to be convinced to suspend disbelief (no doubt the result of an academic career spent working with the past!). So, naturally, I have decided to twist and elaborate Hergé’s history, incorporating bits of equally twisted “real” history to keep (I hope) the juvenile lustre the story had for me. I hope that the built-up story will also make Syldavia a more interesting and useful setting for 18th century wargames and for the EvE universe. I have already started this process with maps, so now I will begin to set out my own pocket version of Syldavia’s history. I should note I have kept almost all the sparse "facts" Hergé incorporated in his story, most of what I have done is flesh out the outline. And no, these posts wont all be so long!

A Brief History of Syldavia Pt. 1: The Foundation of the Kingdom

The Xth to XII century was a tumultuous period along the Dalmatian coast, rife with conniving rulers and would-be potentates, incessant raiding and full-scale warfare involving the Byzantine empire, Serbia, Hungary, the Kingdom of the Bulgars, and a number of petty states. The foundation of what emerged as the state of Syldavia was composed of Hum, Travunia and Zeta, a group of now-obscure principalities that had to fight tooth and nail for their survival and that were periodically vassals of one or another of their more powerful neighbours. These principalities were home to peoples of numerous ethnic identities, Slavs mostly, but also descendants of the Visigoths, Hungarians (who arrived along with the expansion of the Hungarian kingdom), descendants of the Romans, more recent Italian settlers of the coastal region and, finally, German settlers, who moved into the fertile valleys of the Wladir and Moltus Rivers in 10th to 11th centuries.

In a dramatic series of campaigns in 1125-27, Hvegi, the Duke of Travunia, defeated Byzantine and Bulgarian armies in separate battles and then, having overcome his most important foes, created a new kingdom by invading or otherwise obtaining the vassalage of the neighbouring petty states, amalgamating Travunia, Hum and Wladruja into the new somewhat-less-petty-state of Syldavia. After conquering Hum, Hvegi marched his army north into the central highlands, then held by the Bordurians, who were vassals of the King of the Bulgars at that time, and he routed the Bordurian-Bulgar army in a bloody battle near the marshes of the Wladir river, next to the city of Zileheroum. Having gained what amounted to a free hand, Hvegi quickly rousted out the weak Bulgarian garrisons of Zileheroum and surrounding towns, leaving him master of the valleys of the central highlands. Zileheroum was renamed “Klow” (city of the Conquest) in celebration of these victories.

With many other pressing concerns elsewhere, the Byzantine Emperor decided to try to stabilize part of his northern frontier by offering Hvegi (who now styled himself Muskar) a favourable peace treaty that recognized him as King of Syldavia. In return, King Muskar I consented to became a vassal of Byzantium, to sponsor the Orthodox Church and to fund the establishment of a new bishopric at Klow, to pay annual tribute and to contribute a force of soldiers to the Byzantine Army. The Emperor slept well knowing that he had turned a minor military defeat into a useful diplomatic victory with little more than laurels. Muskar I was happy as well, for he was King and Syldavia had arrived. This event is also the origin of, and justification for, the somewhat grandiose status of little Syldavia as a kingdom.
Muskar I adopted the Black Pelican as the heraldic symbol of the new Kingdom. The Black Pelican is a bird unique to the region, found principally in the river-mouths of the Syldavian lowlands, some of the larger lakes of Travunia and Zeta and especially in Lake Skadar, and esteemed for its longevity and seemingly insatiable appetite. A Bordurian wag coined a pejorative for Muskar I, “vulture”, based on the Black pelican coat of arms, obviously spurred by their hard treatment by him.

Muskar I’s subsequent conquests included the duchy of Zeta to the east of Travunia (the Duke of Zeta accepted to become a Duke of the Kingdom once Muskar arrived at the old Zetan capitol of Duklja at the head of his army), all of the Lake Skadar region and finally the upper Drinje River valley, with the town of Bellicosow, another conquest made at the expense of the Bordurians. Muskar I went on to construct numerous important cultural institutions. He started by rebuilding the church and monastery at Travunje, the capital of his old duchy of Travunia. At Klow, he established a law court, a mint, a great church and monastery. He also established his new Royal Court at Klow, a strategic move as the city lies at the crossroads of most travel routes in the kingdom.

The new church and Episcopal seat was named after St. Vladimir, the predatory Prince of Kiev who had embraced Christianity and converted Kiev with him in 987. Vladimir had renounced his past life as a bloodthirsty pagan warmonger to become a ruthless and pious scourge and extortioner of his neighbours. Muskar I naturally appreciated the example set by St. Vladimir and modelled himself after his example. He saw to it that the new Bishop dedicated the new church in Klow to the warrior saint. The Prince of Kiev eventually sent Muskar I a priceless diplomatic gift, two holy relics of St. Vladimir for the church at Klow, initiating enduring friendly relations between these Slavic nations. The Mace and the Purse of St. Vladimir had been used by the saint during his tribute-collecting expeditions, such as that during which he finally met his maker. These objects became the prizes of the church’s treasury and Muskar I even carried the mace into battle on occasion.

Most notably, Muskar I used the mace in conspicuous fashion in his last battle. According to his biographer, the chronicler Brother Demetrius of the Abbey of St. Stanislaus at Travunje, Muskar I gained a tactical victory over an invading Venetian mercenary force at the Battle of Gorostic Bridge in 1142. The mercenary general Don Carlo Cravenelli had been engaged by the Doge to take coastal territories in Dalmatia and moved on Dbrnouk first. Unable to force his way into the recently fortified port with his fleet, Cravenelli landed his forces in a secure cove to the north and marched back to the city. Muskar I rushed south with a small force of cavalry to join up with the hastily assembled provincial forces. He arrived just in time to meet the invaders at the village of Gorostic, where he was able to set up a defensive position while his opposite number attempted to force the crossing of a bridge. Amidst bitter hand-to-hand fighting, Muskar I encountered the commander of the leading Venetian wing and despatched him with a crushing blow from the holy Mace. Hotly engaged, peppered with crossbow fire from friend and foe alike and shocked by the demise of their leader, the leading Venetians cracked and routed with great losses back through the lines of their fellows. Cravenelli chose to withdraw rather than expend more of his army forcing the bridge a second time. The next day, having struggled to re-establish control over his forces and fearing the arrival of Syldavian reinforcements from Douma in his rear, Cravenelli negotiated a truce for safe passage back to his transports, and so quit Syldavia in search of easier pickings. Substantial reinforcements were still days away, so Cravenelli would likely have prevailed if he had persisted or regrouped. In the words of Brother Demetrius, “Such was the fortune of Muskar I in battle, and by such Grace are the small nations of this world preserved”.

The battle and a mass afterwards was dedicated to St. Vladimir, who was then proclaimed the patron saint of Syldavia, its protector and deliverer from invaders. This campaign also marks the beginning of centuries of persistent Venetian attempts to annex parts of Syldavia and to meddle in its politics.
Now united within Muskar I’s kingdom, Klow and the growing port of Dbrnouk in Travunia developed a potent and natural economic partnership that greatly enriched both of these cities and Syldavia in general. As a result of these developments, Klow gained substantial influence in the southwestern Balkans. As well, the German-coloured Slavic dialect of the Klow region became widespread among the elites of Syldavia. This was the origin of a distinctive Syldavian tongue.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Books and a Pocket Geography of Syldavia

Greetings to all, and before it is quite too late, my very best wishes for 2010. Winter has descended on the highlands of Syldavia, whose people (on the Orthodox calendar) are still in the festive season. They are a happy lot, making merry while we are at work! Come to think of it, maybe all the Syldavians do is make merry, plot and fight! A permanent wargamer's holiday.

While I haven't too active on this blog the last two months, I have finally managed to finish a post to submit today. I have also been reading quite a bit as I have had some time with little else to do but sit in a chair and hold the baby as she hasn't been sleeping too well lately and because my uninvited H1N1 guest decided to outstay its welcome. I managed to read for the first time Savory's wonderful history of the Hannover campaign, which I found to be a very lively and informative narrative. Savory wrote very well and he managed to a take an instructive critical perspective on the campaign and retain a great deal of sympathy for the participants as real and fallible people facing great problems with limited means and information. I am pretty new to the SYW and while I realized that command, intelligence, strategic maneuver and supply were all big problems for the era (as in any), I hadn't realized just how serious they were. Savory's descriptions of how almost all the offensives begun by Brunswick and the various French commanders finally ended in dead ends shows just how often commanders in the SYW were essentially groping in the dark when looking to engage with the enemy. Also worth noting, as has been often pointed out by Bill Protz and Der Alte Fritz, the French army proved highly capable in this campaign when well lead and were several times poised on the brink of complete success. Likewize, it seems to me that the Prussian-Hannover-British contingent largely deserved their good reputations and were for the most part well-lead, but they nearly lost this arduous campaign on several occasions, frequently exhausted, out of supply, and often used overly aggressively at key moments. A final comment is to note Savory's demonstration that the campaign was drawn out again and again, not because of static tactics but because decisive results in key maneuvers and battles were foiled repeatedly because of command factors, such as the occasional inaction of certain sub-commanders at inopportune moments, incomprehensible now, poor or misinterpreted orders (a regular event it seems), and governmental interference.

À propos of the Syldavian campaign, I also read Ottoman Warfare by Rhoads Murphey and Ottoman Wars 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged by Virginia Aksan in order to learn a little about how the Ottomans and Bordurians should play out in this campaign. Murphey's book, an academic volume, doesn't deal much with things of immediate use to the wargamer such as the structure of the Ottoman army, troop types or tactics, but he does discuss at length the financial and infrastructural support for the Ottoman's very effective military machine. He argues that much of the Ottomans tremendous successes into the 18th century were due with highly effective bureaucratic structures that amassed and transported immense quantities of matériel for campaigning and patient tactics (disdaining winter campaigns) that ensured that the Ottoman forces were always in supply. The Ottomans were thus regularly fighting at a considerable advantage relative to their opponents, more capable of exploiting victories and of recovering from reverses.

Aksan's book, also academic in orientation, seems the more interesting work for a wargamer. She sketches out the course of several campaigns and has a chapter dealing with the structure of army and grand strategy, also stressing the importance of supply therein. She also examines the wars of the 17th and 18th with Austria and Venice along the Danube and in Crete and Morea, and with Russia in the Ukraine and the Crimea. This book is of particular interest here as a guide to how the Ottomans and Bordurians should function as Syldavia's opponents.

I also obtained a copy of L'esercito Ottomano di Candia a Passarowitz ( 2 vols) by Bruno Mugnai (published by Filippi Editore Venezia). The books are in Italian so I can't actually read them, and this is a pity as they are clearly highly useful for anyone interested in the period and the Ottomans. There are precious few good sources of detailed information on the various troop types of the 17th-18th century Ottoman army or of their dress and other details such as flags, tents and personal arms. These books are well-illustrated with black and white drawings and colour plates based on contemporary descriptions. One plate features troops raised in or based in the Balkans, very useful for me. There are english resumés of the plates as well. The appendices of Vol. 2 also contain useful information such as the size of feudal sipahi cavalry contributions from different regions, summary details of army structure for different campaigns and brief orders of battle for some major battles between 1683 and 1716. With the judicious use of some translation software, I suspect that there is a wealth of useful information to be wrung from these excellent books.

Last but not least, easily the best reading treat I had over the holidays was to purchase a pdf copy of AJ's Hetzenberg Chronicles. It was great fun to read it again all in a few goes, I was no doubt wearing a silly grin despite the ornery infant in my arms. I am eagerly awaiting vol. 2. AJ no doubt put a lot of work into this project but I sincerely hope that one day there will be a new story at some point, or something along the same lines.


Without further digression, on to Syldavia. I have edited my campaign map, adding in provinces, some place names and some geographical features. I took great liberties with David Linienblatt's NBA map icons, reworking them in Abobe Illustrator to create individualized city sketches. I also drew some new ones; minaret-like towers, watch towers, houses and a Vauban-esuqe fortress. Like David's drawings, these are available to anyone who wants a copy, just drop me a line in the comments. Thanks again to David for his original work.

A Pocket Geography of Syldavia
The historical integrity and bare survival of Syldavia probably has much to due with its position nestled within a crook in the protective arm of the Dinaric Alps. The topography of Syldavia consists of a network of mountain ranges and valleys, some fertile, others dry or forested. The bulk of these valleys run very roughly northwest to southeast, although some rivers and passes escape the valleys of the central highlands though spur valleys, draining away to the south and so connecting the central highlands to the coastal region and the Adriatic, or to the north, connecting eventually to the Danube.
Most of the territory along the Adriatic Sea is hilly or mountainous, with lowlands found at the embouchures of the Wladir River and adjacent to Lake Skadar. The coastal region is hot in summer, cool in winter and generally dry, except for valley bottoms and the south and west facing flanks of mountain ranges, which catch rain. The rivers of the region tend to fall quickly and do not permit boat traffic (excepting the smallest of craft) far inland. The coastal region produces fruit, olives, salt, sheep, a modest quantity of wine, wood and some metals mining. On the coast itself, there are innumerable small natural harbours sheltering fishermen (and smugglers) but few developed ports that are connected to population centres by rivers or valleys. The notable ports include Douma (a poor harbour on the sandy outlet of the Wladir River), Dbrnouk (an excellent and easily defended port and important trade centre, linked to the interior by a long mountain pass), Cataro (another excellent harbour located in a mountain-ringed fjord) and Budva (a small port vulnerable to raids from the south). The coast is culturally and economically heavily influenced by Italy, particularly by Venice.
The central highland valleys are much more moderate in climate, warm in summer to cold in winter and relatively moist, as high mountains to the north and east create consistent precipitation. Winters here are quite snowy. The broad Wladir and Moltus river valleys and to a lesser extent the Trebjesa valley have broad and well-watered valley bottoms and the climate supports the cultivation of cereals, cattle-rearing, as well as relatively dense human settlement. Three of the country’s largest towns cluster in the middle of these valleys. Klow, the capital, was founded adjacent to a marshy lake at the confluence of the Wladir and Moltus rivers, a region which supports the richest agricultural land in Syldavia. Horses are raised in modest numbers on the grassy foothills of these valleys. It was in these lands that King Ivan II settled German (Austrian) colonists in order to reinvigorate the depopulated region, after its reconquest from the Ottoman-backed Bordurians in 1683. These settlers reinforce the notable traditional German character of the Wladruja and Moltuja regions and especially of Istow town. Woodcutting and mining are also significant economic activities.
The northern valleys (of the Bejsu Reka and Djrinje Rivers) are surrounded by high mountains, forested and relatively dry. These valleys are less densely populated than those of the central highlands, except for the area around the major town of Bellicosow, which has abundant farmlands in river valley lowlands. Mining is an important activity in these regions, especially at Sbrodj, where a number of important materials are mined, including iron and saltpetre, there found in an uncommon natural mineral form, linked to geothermal activity. Several hot springs dot this region, the largest of which is located at the frontier town of Kragoniedin, on the shore of Lake Polishov. The Romans established a bath there, the preserved ruins of which are the central part of a new spa constructed by King Vladimir III in 1720, who, enchanted by the beautiful setting, established a huge hunting preserve nearby and sought to attract the grand and the good of Syldavia to his little pleasure dome.
Syldavia, with its borders of 1739, is composed of six administrative districts whose boundaries are largely based on the ancient duchies conquered long ago by Muskar I. These include on, the Adriatic coast, Hum, Travunia Zeta and Ragusia, the latter having been split off from the Duchy of Travunia by the Venetians in the 13th century. The central highlands comprise Wladruja (the Wladir river and the Klow district) and Moltuja (the Moltus river valley). Zympathia is the northwest frontier of Syldavia, representing the western slopes of the Zympathia mountains and the Bejsu Reka river valley. Finally, Polishov represents the eastern slopes of the Zympathian Mountains and the northerneastern frontier of Syldavia.
Major topographic features and products

Wladir River Valley, port of Douma, farming, fruit, wine, fishing, sea salt. Well populated, prosperous.

Sheep herding, wood cutting, iron mine and smelter, wool and weaving. Modest population, relatively poor.

Port of Dbrnouk, trade, finance, fishing. Densely populated, quite prosperous.

Port of Cataro, fruit, vineyards, sheep herding, agriculture, weaving. A silver mine is the source metal for much of the Syldavian currency. Relatively well populated and relatively prosperous.

Wladir River valley, iron mine and smelter, cereal agriculture, livestock, wood cutting, Royal Court, trade, control of strategic transport routes. Well populated, quite prosperous.

Moltus River Valley, cereal agriculture and livestock, wood cutting, copper mine, weaving. Well populated, relatively prosperous.

Bejsu Reka River, Forestry, mines of strategic materials at Sbrodj, potential for new mines. Sparsely populated, poor.

Djrinje River valley, agriculture, wood cutting, hunting, major route to Borduria. Well populated valley bottom, underpopulated margins, relatively poor.