Part 66: The Mediterranean AflameChapter 2 - The Mediterranean Aflame - January 1821 to December 1821
More than any other, Iberia is a land wrought by constant war, burned and pillaged and plundered since the days of the Roman Empire. By all accounts, it ought to be nothing more than a colony to some other empire by now, to the Almoravids or Sahim Tirruni - and yet it wasnt.
The peninsulas rich resources, combined with the highly-dense coastal cities cultivated by the Andalusi, fueled its recovery from one disaster after another. As another series of bloody revolutionary wars dawn, however, a reckoning is fast approaching. Two paths lay before the bickering powers of the peninsula, and by the end of the Tirruni Wars, Iberia will either be subject to a foreign empire for the first time in millennia, or bear witness to the rebirth of al-Andalus.
The only way to reunify al-Andalus, however, is through war. The Majlis of Qadis and the Mahdiyyah of Qurtubah are fanatically opposed to one another, but with the immensely rich and highly-populous city of Qadis firmly under their control, the emirs and sheikhs seated on the Majlis are already one step ahead.
Despite nobility making up the entirety of their ranks, however, the Majlis is not led by some overbearing emir or puppet sheikh. Instead, the Majlisi Guard - the standing army sworn to defend the ideals of the assembly - stormed Qadis and installed their own commander as Grand Vizier.
Raed al-Zulfiqar thus rose to rule over all of the Majlis territories, stretching from Qadis in the south to Galicia in the north. A soldier through and through, Raed never claimed to be much of an administrator or diplomat, his talents lay in the way of the military arts instead.
That didnt mean he didnt have his own ambitions, however, his own hopes and aspirations for the future. His predecessor as Grand Vizier, Ibn Timu, had been decadent, corrupt and negligent in his duties, and had suffered through a painful death in the end. Raed was determined to rule differently, and earn the favour of Allah the right way.
Having essentially grown up in the army, Raed fostered a strong dislike for the pompous nobles making up the Majlis al-Shura, as was typical for a lot of soldiers. Despite his Republican sympathies, however, the Grand Vizier also saw them as a useful force for stability, and was not eager to unleash the chaos of revolution on his country.
Raed thus struck a deal with the elites of the assembly: he would leave their vast estates and rich treasuries undisturbed, and in return they would grant him unconditional power as Grand Vizier. And with the entirety of the army at his back, the nobles had little choice but to agree, turning Raed into a military dictator with a single stroke of ink.
Once the documents were signed and dusted, the new Grand Vizier left the capital for Granada, taking personal charge of the army stationed there.
The cream of the crop, the Majlisi Guard was made up of the very best that Qadis had to offer, a large force numbering almost fifty thousand trained and tried soldiers. Raed had the army organised according to typical Tirruni formations, with most of his elite guardsmen and artillery on the flanks, where they were joined by a few cavalry brigades, whilst common infantry made up the thronging masses of the centre, backed up by dragoons and supply brigades in the reserve.
A smaller army was stationed at another border city, Sevilla, which was prone to Mahdist raids and attacks. Raed al-Zulfiqar was widely known to be the best tactician that Qadis had to offer, but he couldnt be in two places at once, so this army was led by one Uthman al-Houd instead. Nearing fifty years of age, Uthmans tactics werent particularly novel or unorthodox, but he had helped assassinate rival commanders during Raeds rise to power, and was thus rewarded with the enviable position of Second Marshal when Zulfiqar became Grand Vizier.
Once again, this army was made up of a strong centre of infantry, with most of the guns and horse on the flanks. Only numbering about 30000 soldiers, Uthman didnt have much of a reserve to work with, instead forced to stay near and rely on Raeds larger and better-equipped army.
And strong communication lines between the two armies would be essential, if the Majlis was somehow going to emerge victorious from the oncoming wars. Eighty thousand is a lot of men, but when compared with the combined forces of the Almoravids and the Mahdiyyah, it definitely wasnt enough.
The odds certainly werent favourable, some would even say impossible. Fortunately, the one good thing going for the Majlis was that Raed al-Zulfiqar thrived on war, it was all he was good at. And he wasnt blind, he knew that a devastating conflict was fast approaching, and he had spent the past few years preparing for it.
Thus, by January of 1821, the Majlisi Guard was larger and better-trained than ever. Drilled in Tirrunis revolutionary tactics, armed with the best weaponry, blooded in the war against France. Qadis was ready for war.
Command over of the many cities dotting Majlisi territories were awarded to various members of the Majlis al-Shura, as per their agreement with the Grand Vizier. Their garrisons were fairly large, but these numbers were almost entirely made up of untrained militia, with the larger and more important fortresses also granted a few artillery pieces.
The capital of Qadis, obviously, had a much larger garrison to defend it against any Moroccan attacks. The commander of the garrison - a particularly comfortable and attractive post - was awarded to Iskander ibn Ayyub, an especially corrupt sheikh seated in the Majlis, but one who was in the pay of the Grand Vizier.
The Grand Admiral of the Majlisi Fleet, meanwhile, was allowed to maintain his position. Abu Affi had overseen the rapid expansion of the navy in recent years, and though it still wouldnt stand a chance against the full might of the Almoravid Navy, it would be able to put up a decent fight for control of the straits.
The economy of Qadis was as strong as could be expected. War on the horizon meant that trade with the new world had dwindled, but the coastal cities of Iberia were thronging and richer than ever, giving the Majlis a healthy tax base to draw from.
Most of the income was being spent on maintaining the massive army and navy, of course, and with a general ruling as Grand Vizier that wasnt going to change anytime soon. In fact, the early days of 1821 saw Zulfiqar order the construction of a number of depots across southern Andalucia and Portugal, hoping to further increase his army numbers.
Beyond the borders of Iberia, meanwhile, the cold war between Sahim Tirruni and the Almoravid Sultan was quickly spiralling out of control. War between the two powers seemed imminent as both played to their strengths, with Tirruni giving orders to raise and drill a new batch of troops, whilst the Berbers developed innovative ways to keep their precious navy afloat.
And another war was being waged on the political front, with Sahim - now styling himself Emperor Tirruni - issuing a guarantee of Qadis and all her territories, warning the Almoravid Sultan that an attack on the Majlis was an attack on him.
In response, Sultan Yahya V guaranteed the Jizrunids of Palermo against any foreign aggression, knowing full well that Tirruni had ambitions to one day unite the entirety of the Italian peninsula.
Before long, coalitions began to emerge, both fiercely devoted to their ideals and both aggressively rivalled to one another. The so-called Revolutionary Pact was made up of the Tirruni Empire and Qadis, whilst the Monarchist Coalition counted Almoravid Morocco, the Mahdiyyah, and the principalities of Swabia and Lorraine, both of whom felt threatened by Tirrunis ambitions.
Halfway across Europe, meanwhile, the inevitable war between Smolensk and Novgorod inched ever-closer as both powers guaranteed the independence of Pskov. The Baltic kingdom had thus far managed to maintain its independence by playing both powers off each other, but it would have to pick a side sooner or later.
Tsarina Dobroslava of Smolensk was obviously very confident about her immediate prospects, however, because she authorised a declaration of war on Cherson mere weeks later.
Her reasoning became clear within a few days, when the Consul of Revolutionary Serbia also declared war on the Principality of Cherson. Serbia and Smolensk had obviously reached an agreement regarding the partition of Cherson, as both worked together to cleave its territories between them, with thousands of soldiers clashing in minor battles all across the border.
Moving westward, a minor raid on Manchester quickly escalated into a bloody battle, with High King Fáelbe of the Celtic Empire declaring war on France two days later. Determined to stymie his empires decline and reverse a century of losses, the High King vowed to recapture his lost possessions in England, before taking the fight to France proper.
Back in the Mediterranean, meanwhile, tensions continued to simmer between the two dominant powers of North Africa. The rivalry between the Almoravid and Apanoub dynasties was in full heat by now, with both empires jostling for influence in Libya, a minor power that had no hope of holding off either of its neighbours alone.
Sahim Tirruni, of course, knew of the escalating rivalry between the two powers and had diplomats dispatched to Alexandria before the month was out. It took another month of negotiations before the terms could be ironed out, but by mid-February an alliance between Emperor Tirruni and King Anaboub was reached, with Egypt formally admitted into the Revolutionary Pact.
And mere days laters, the Almoravids suffered another blow as it was announced that the kingdom of Greece would also be joining the Pact. Threatened by Serbia and relatively weak on land, Greece offered little other than its ports and its navy, which was large enough to keep the Berbers out of the Aegean.
Back in Iberia, meanwhile, Grand Vizier Zulfiqar was focused on his constant expansion of the army. Two new artillery brigades were raised towards the end of February, though both had little training and no field experience, functioning as reserves until called upon.
Zulfiqar wouldnt get much more time to prepare, however, because the Mediterranean would be engulfed in war before the month was out. In the early hours of the 27th of February, Sahim Tirruni crossed the border into Italy proper, prioritising the element of surprise by refusing to so much as warn the Majlis of his plans.
Mere hours later, Sultan Yahya declared war on the Revolutionary Pact, with three ship-of-the-lines sinking five Majlisi merchant vessels plying their trade in the Straits of Gibraltar.
And just like that, the Tirruni Wars roar into life, with ships and armies clashing from Iberia to the Levant.
Unprepared for the sudden onslaught of Berber attacks at sea, Grand Vizier Zulfiqar was taken aback and unprepared, but he acted quickly to manoeuvre his land forces into position. A large Mahdist army had crossed into Majlisi territory early in March, but Raed had it surrounded within half a month, moving quickly to pin it down and force a favourable battle.
And thats exactly what he did, with the first Majlisi-Mahdist battle breaking out on the 18th of March as 140000 soldiers clashed on the fields of Bailén. As the defending force, the Mahdist army initially held the stronger position, but Zulfiqar was able to goad the opposing commander into attacking his centre whilst cavalry drove into the enemy flanks, pushing the Mahdist army back over the course of half a day.
With Mahdist forces temporarily thrown back, Zulfiqar ordered his battery corps to pound their centre, committing the entirety of his artillery to breaching enemy lines. The tide of the battle turned soon after, with the Mahdist centre collapsing into a chaotic and disarrayed retreat.
The casualties of the day would number fifty thousand, with the better half of that being enemy deaths, but the battle certainly wasnt decisive enough to crush the will of the Mahdi - not by a long shot.
Further north, Tirruni had managed to break through the line of border fortresses and capture Pisa, forcing the Provencal court to flee south to Rome. All of north Italy lay open to Tirruni, though the Emperor immediately drove southward, determined to end this petty war and shift his attention to Africa as soon as possible.
On the eastern coast of Iberia, meanwhile, Zulfiqar was preparing for his first offensive of the war. The meat of the Mahdist Army was thrown back and temporarily winded, but the Almoravids had landed a large expeditionary force near the coastal city of Lorca late in March, forcing Raed to intercept before they could join forces with their allies.
During the battle of Bailén, unfortunately, it was Raeds army which had suffered the brunt of the losses. So this time he sent Uthman al-Houd and the Second Army to deal with the Berber force, which was initially numerically-inferior to his own. Unbeknownst to Raed, however, the Moroccans had landed another 23000-strong force further upcoast, which quickly joined the fray once the fighting began.
What began as a skirmish in Lorca thus quickly escalated into another large battle, with the Andalusi slightly inferior in numbers. What they lacked in bodies they made up for in training and professionalism, however, and Uthman was able to cleverly pin down the enemy flanks whilst barraging its centre with concentrated artillery, killing tens of thousands in the space of a day.
So by the time Raed had arrived in Lorca with reinforcements, the battle was already decisively won, with the shattered remains of the Berber army in full retreat.
Across the Mediterranean, on the other hand, the guns were quiet and waters as tepid as ever. With the Almoravids focused on Tirruni and Zulfiqar, the Apanoub were left relatively undisturbed, and chose this opportune moment to declare war on the Vakhtani Caliphate.
Egyptian armies would be marching into Anatolia before the end of the month, but by then the Armenian Caliph will have already joined the Almoravid cause, formally inducted into the Monarchist Coalition and opening a new theatre of war.
Back in Italy, meanwhile, Tirruni rampaged across the peninsula with almost no opposition. His advantage in numbers and genius on the battlefield meant that the Provencal could do nothing as cities and forts fell one by one, before Rome alone was standing defiant, blockaded on sea and land both.
The holy city would hold out for the rest of the year before succumbing to the besiegers, but they would suffer blow after blow throughout those long months. The hardest to bear would have to be the capture of Pope Nicholas, halted and arrested by Tirruni soldiers after attempting to flee the city by night. After failing to convince the Pope to wilfully give up his crown and sceptre, Emperor Tirruni had him transported to Narbuna overland, declaring the dawn of Atheism in Italy instead.
Westward in Iberia, Zulfiqar was preparing for another offensive, this time led personally by him. The recent victories had given him and his soldiers an air of confidence, and eager to build on them, the Grand Vizier awarded new command posts to generals based on their merits during battle.
Once he was confident in his numbers again, Grand Vizier Zulfiqar launched his offensive northwards, marching towards the vital Almoravid fortress of Qartayannat. There was supposedly nothing more than a token force defending the fort by land, so it shouldnt take much to surround it and prepare for siege.
Of course, no sooner had the Andalusi reached Qartayannat than another Berber army was landed by sea, this one numbering 25000. Again, the numbers were roughly equal, but Raed was able to use the hilly terrain to force holes in the enemy line, holes which were forced into breaches by a few concentrated cavalry attacks, breaches which were quickly used to cleave the enemy army apart.
After sixteen hours of heavy fighting, the Berber army was forced to retreat towards Qartayannat whilst the Andalusi harried at their rear, eventually taking refuge behind the forts sturdy walls. The battle had been bloody and their casualties were heavy, with three thousand dead and another nine thousand taken prisoner, whilst Majlisi losses were much lighter.
This victory would be short-lived, however, because scouts picked up on another oncoming army a few weeks later. It would seem the Mahdi had managed to raise another army of fanatics, because almost 50000 freshly-recruited troops barrelled towards Qartayannat, forcing Zulfiqar to combine his two armies.
The Majlisi Guard had a definite advantage in numbers, and combined with the fact that this new Mahdist army had little training and experience, made it all too easy to rend it apart. After another long day of bloody fighting the Mahdist army was forced to fall back, suffering almost thirty thousand casualties as they did so.
Back in Qadis, meanwhile, the Majlis were growing skittish over an anticipated Moroccan attack by sea. These nerves quickly escalated until, early in October, a small faction of nobles commanded the Grand Admiral to venture out into the Straits.
To his surprise, Admiral Abu Affi found it sparsely defended, with only a few real warships assigned to defend Tangier and Ceuta. The Majlisi Fleet made short work of them, of course, before sending word to Zulfiqar that now was the time to strike Morocco on land.
By then, however, another crisis had descended on the Majlisi Guard. The Almoravids had obviously rerouted their warships to blockade the eastern Iberian coast as they landed another large army, amounting to some 30000 Berbers, which quickly assaulted Andalusi positions around Qartayannat.
Again, the two armies were quickly combined into a greater whole, but this Berber force proved to be much better-drilled than the previous two. After suffering heavy losses in the first day of fighting, Zulfiqar withdrew from his positions and instead harried at the enemy centre, whilst concentrating his firepower at their flanks. Once the enemy cavalry was incapacitated, the artillery was swung around to barrage their centre, forcing the Berber commander to order a retreat after enduring heavy casualties of his own.
Dusk brought victory with it, but whilst Zulfiqar had masterminded a tactical triumph and maintained his siege, hed suffered very heavy losses doing it. What was left to his army was just 30000, but the walls of Qartayannat had also been breached a few days before the attack, so he decided to maintain the siege and hope to Allah that the fortress would capitulate before another army arrived
Unfortunately, that wasnt to be. A third Mahdist army had been raised over the space of just weeks, and with the Majlisi Guard weaker than ever, theyd chosen this moment to strike.
Having already fended off four or five different attacks, the Majlisi Guard was suffering in morale and supplies, and werent ready to fight another battle. All the same, Zulfiqar threw his forces into the frenzied struggle that broke out in mid-October, determined to keep his siege going at any costs.
The Guard put up a good fight, with Zulfiqar hoping to make up for his inferior numbers by executing a double-envelopment manoeuvre. Before his plan could come into fruition, however, the Guards right flank (under the command of Uthman al-Houd) capitulated to enemy artillery, quickly followed by the rest of the army.
Zulfiqar ordered an immediate retreat, knowing full well that a slaughter would follow unless be managed to fall back. As the Majlisi Guard fled along the coasts, however, they were pinned down by another Moroccan army, and was utterly annihilated over the course of six bloody hours.
The Grand Vizier managed to escape the slaughter with a few thousand veteran troops, fleeing across the border and back to Qadis, where he pinned the blame for the disastrous defeat solely on Uthman al-Houd.
Whilst uproar broke out in the Majlis Assembly, however, Sahim Tirruni finally managed to capture the holy city of Rome. Marching into St. Peters Basilica as a conqueror, Sahim forced the king of Provence to unconditionally surrender and cede the entirety of his possessions, annexing Italy to the Tirruni Empire.
Further east, meanwhile, the inevitable finally arrived as Novgorod declared war on Smolensk. The Tsarinas war against Cherson was going well, but hoping to catch his rival with her armies divided and disorganised, Tsar Vasiliy chose this moment to pounce. With that, the War of Russian Leadership began, and wouldnt end until one of the two powers ruled from Kiev to Siberia
And with his large Russian neighbour distracted, King August-Wilhelm of Hannover also took advantage of the chaos to declare war, this time on the Archduchy of Bavaria - guaranteed against any aggression by Novgorod.
Whilst each of the Russian powers were dragged into two separate wars, Emperor Tirruni orchestrated a grand coronation ceremony in Rome, in which he declared the formation of the Kingdom of Rome. His reasons were simple enough - Italy was large, rich, and very Catholic, he would need a firm hand to enforce Atheism on the populace, and keep them subsidiary to the growing Tirruni Empire.
The crown would be granted to his eldest son and heir, Hafid Tirruni, though the new Roman King would be nothing more than a puppet to his father.
Back in Iberia, meanwhile, the Grand Vizier was struggling with crisis after crisis. Facing the possibility of open revolt from the Majlis, Zulfiqar was desperately trying to raise another army, both to suppress internal unrest and to throw back the invading Berber and Mahdist forces.
The Mediterranean is aflame with the fires of war, but its been less than a year since its outbreak, and nothing is set in stone just yet. A long and arduous struggle lies over the next few years, but those that manage to emerge triumphant will survive for centuries to come, whilst those that are defeated will undoubtedly be partitioned, divided and carved apart by their enemies.
We stand to gain a lot, but with that comes the threat of losing everything.
So thats the Tirruni Empire, Roman Kingdom, Qadis, Egypt and Greece at war with Morocco, the Mahdiyyah and the Vakhtani Caliphate.