| Agent of Byzantium |
POD: AD 610
|Appearance(s):||"The Eyes of Argos"-"Superwine"|
|Date of Birth:||AD 1288|
|Date of Death:||Unknown|
Basil Argyros was born c. 1288 AD in the town of Serrhes in the Byzantine Empire province of Strymon in the Balkans. He was a tall, lean man with dark hair and beard and a single, solid, dark bar for eyebrows. He served the Empire both as an officer of scouts in the army and then as a magistrianos.
1305 ("The Eyes of Argos")Edit
Basil Argyros was an officer in the army of the Byzantine Empire. In Etos Kosmou 6814 (1305 AD) he commanded a unit of scouts in an army commanded by the hypostrategos Andreas Hermoniakos on the Danube frontier. The army had crossed into the steppe country north of the river on a punitive mission against the Jurchens for their raids into the territory of the Empire.
Argyros had sent his scouts ahead of the army to look for the main group of nomads and had himself taken part in the search. On one such expedition, he and his companion Demetrios found the hoof prints of about a half dozen unshod horses on the banks of a stream. Since the Roman cavalry rode iron-shod horses, these were signs of a Jurchen scouting party.
Argyros reported this directly to Hermoniakos who ordered his army to alert with the intention of attacking the main body. He addressed his troops and then had prayer services held to properly purify his men and have them atone for their sins prior to battle. Once this was done, the army formed up into three divisions and, with the scouts leading, advanced on the enemy.
Demetrios was the first to spot the grey-brown smudge to the northeast caused by the horses of the Jurchen army. Argyros sent a scout back to bring word to Hermoniakos. The rest of the scouts advanced and spotted a group of plainsmen on the top of a low rise. Argyros ordered them to take the hill since it would give an equally good view of the Jurchen army as it gave them of the Roman one.
The two forces exchanged arrow fire from extreme range as the Romans closed in. Argyros expected the plainsmen to scatter when his force pressed them since the Romans wore chain mail and had bigger, stronger horses but, instead, they stood firm and drew their sabers for hand to hand combat. As he closed, Argyros noticed an older man standing at the hilltop with a long tube held to his face and the other end pointed at the Roman army. It looked like the Jurchen wizard had invented a spell to project the evil eye.
Argyros and his scouts fought but, aside from Demetrios, did not break through the defensive picket before elements of the main Jurchen army approached. He ordered his scouts to break off and watched Demetrios ignore him and attack the hilltop by himself. Demetrios and his horse were killed by arrows before they got within fifty yards.
Unable to avenge him, Argyros lead his scouts to another hilltop about a mile away and which had a poorer view of the battlefield. Whenever he had a chance to look, he saw a steady stream of riders going to and from the other scouting party. He also witnessed Hermoniakos' failed flanking attacks on the Jurchen's left and right flanks. From the enemy's hilltop, they should not have been able to see and warn of the moves but, somehow, they did.
When Hermoniakos sounded retreat, Argyros ordered his troops to abandon the hilltop and fall back to the encampment containing the supply wagons. Because the opposing armies were between them and the camp, he took his scouts in a wide arc around them. Yet, because they did not have to fight, they were the first into camp and assisted the reserve force in forming the wagons into a defensive perimeter.
The Jurchens lay siege to the camp for three days but were forced to abandon it due to lack of food and water. Hermoniakos then convened an officers' council to discuss their next move. He indicated that he was inclined to retreat across the Danube. Constantine Doukas, the merarch who commanded the right division, added that the devil must have been telling the khan what they were up to since the Jurchens should not have been able read their plans that well. Hermoniakos retorted that some people blamed the devil to cover their own shortcomings.
Argyros spoke up in support of Doukas. He reported seeing the white-haired Jurchen holding a tube at the Roman army as it manoeuvred and thought it was a new magic involving the evil eye. Doukas agreed it was a potent spell and that they needed to find out how it worked, else it be used against the Romans again. All eyes turned to Argyros. He thought to himself that if Hermoniakos had in mind for him to kill himself, why not just hand him a knife?
The next morning, Hermoniakos publicly denounced Argyros as a coward for refusing orders. Argyros defended himself, stating that suicide was a mortal sin so it was proper for him to refuse. Hermoniakos demoted Argyros on the spot to private soldier and sent him back to be under orders of his now former aid Justin of Tarsos. Justin set him on patrol with Bardanes Philippikos and Alexander the Arab to the east of the army's position.
While nominally their subordinate, the two still viewed Argyros as their superior. When they reached a tree lined creek that would make a good place for a Jurchen ambush, they looked to him for direction. He suggested that the two circle the stand towards the south while he go north. They would then ford the stream and meet up to the east of the trees. They agreed and set out.
Argyros went his way but did not turn to rejoin them. He continued northeast towards the Jurchens. When the two did not find him, they would double back fearing he had been ambushed. However, they would find no sign of one and would conclude, correctly, that he had deserted.
1307 ("Strange Eruptions")Edit
1309 ("Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire")Edit
He presented a letter of introduction to Mouamet Dekanos, the deputy of the Augustal prefect, in order to determine what was being done to rebuild the pharos and why reconstruction had stopped. Dekanos explained the Egyptian practice of "khoresis" or "withdrawal" had been exercised by the guilds. If the authorities attempted to return the craftsmen to work by force, Dekanos feared the khoresis would spread. On a couple of occasions, the whole Nile valley had been paralyzed, from the delta to the first rapids.
With the lighthouse, convicted felons could be forced to grub rock in the quarries and common, strong-backed and brainless laborers could haul it to the pharos. But the skilled craftsmen, the stone-cutters, the concrete-spreaders and the carpenters who built the necessary scaffolding had all withdrawn their labor. All three guilds had also indicted that none would return to work until all had been satisfied. When Argyros asked what had caused the khoresis, since some work had been done previously, Dekanos replied no one knew. Argyros planned to find out.
As a first step, he sought to interview leaders of the guilds. The carpenters, having shops in the business district of the city, were easiest to find. Argyros, after a few missteps, found the area the carpenters congregated. He entered a shop with both Greek and the local Coptic on its sign and convinced the proprietor, Teus to take him to a guild leader. Teus did so to a carpenter by the name of Khesphmois.
At first, Khesphmois wanted nothing to do with the magistrianos, ordering him out of his shop. However, Zois his wife, intervened suggesting that Argyros was a stranger and so knew nothing of the dispute. She said it would do no harm to talk with him and that some good may come of it. Reluctantly, Khesphmois agreed to explain his side.
Khesphmois did so by taking Argyros to the worksite of the pharos. Arriving, Argyros saw a group of men marching in front of the partially built tower. They had signs saying things like "This labour is too dangerous" and "Paltry pay for deadly work". There was also a group of soldiers present but their function was to ensure no pilfering took place rather than to drive the carpenters away.
Khesphmois took Argyros to the top of the half finished tower, a couple of hundred feet tall. Khesphmois explained that several workers had fallen during the construction to date, leaving nothing but a smear on the ground below. He also said that it would only get worse since the space to work in would narrow as the tower grew. Argyros swore by God, the Virgin, and by Saint Mouamet to find an answer.
Argyros' next step was to meet again with Dekanos. He sounded him out on the possibility of meeting with the leaders of the guilds exercising khoresis. Dekanos was appalled at the precedence this could set but Argyros convinced him that the urgency of rebuilding the pharos outweighed it. He conditionally agreed provided all three guilds agreed to meet with him.
Argyros then set out to speak again with Khesphmois. He was not in his shop, but away working on a parade grandstand and not due in until the next day. As Argyros was leaving, Zois once again stopped him and asked what she could do to help. Argyros explained and Zois agreed to try to convince Khesphmois to meet with Dekanos along with the other two guilds.
The meeting took place several days later. In addition to Khesphmois, Hergeus of the concrete spreaders and Miysis of the stonecutters also attended. Representing the Empire was Dekanos and nominally Argyros but he mediated rather than negotiated directly.
After some discussion, Khesphmois and Hergeus felt that sufficient silver would mitigate the risk but Miysis disagreed stating no amount would be enough especially since there was plenty of other, safer work. He then left the meeting. Khesphmois and Hergeus remained and, in response to Argyros' question, stated their comrades would return to work if the wage was doubled. Dekanos was outraged, stating he might go up one part in twelve more but anything higher was thievery.
Neither side trusted the other, but all agreed that Argyros, as an outsider would give the fairest judgement as to what the wage should be set to. All swore a might oath to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to the Virgin and to Athanasios, Cyril, and Pyrrhos saints of Alexandria that they would abide by his decision. After some thought, Argyros split the difference and set the wage for work on the lighthouse to half again the standard. In addition, he stated that the government of Alexandria should pay for the funeral of any worker killed rather than his guild. Finally, the wife and children of any married worker would receive six months of his pay as compensation.
Two weeks after the meeting, the stonecutters remained withdrawn. Argyros spoke with Miysis again but the latter indicated he was content to work at a lower paying but safer job and so were his colleagues. As Argyros walked away, he had an inspiration. He ran to Dekanos' office and convinced him to issue an edict, in the prefect's name, to halt all construction in stone for three months.
The lack of work was effective. The stonecutters agreed to resume work on the lighthouse. Although Argyros was tempted to withhold the extra wages for the dangerous work since Miysis was not a party to the agreement, he elected not to since the disparity in wages would only create more problems than the revenge was worth.
When Argyros set sail back to Constantinople, work had resumed with all the craftsmen that could fit in the worksite.
1315 ("Unholy Trinity")Edit
In 1315 Basil Argyros was assigned the task of investigating the recent successes the Franco-Saxons had in Ispania. He sailed to New Carthage on a merchantman posing as a trader in garum. On arriving he sought an interview with Arkadios, the strategos of the province. Arkadios was in the field against the barbarians but a bribe of half a gold nomisma allowed Argyros to meet with Isaac Kabasilas, his chief deputy.
Argyros met privately with Kabasilas and presented him with a sealed letter which indicated he was a Magistrianos of the Emperor. This information Argyros wanted kept secret to which Kabasilas agreed. He then asked about the successes that the Franco-Saxons have had. Kabasilas indicated that the Franco-Saxons had seized eight fortresses and four cities, including Tarrago three weeks earlier. He also indicated that it seemed they were in league with Satan as witnesses reported seeing great red demons ripping open the gates of the city. Argyros was sceptical and asked where these witnesses could be found, as he wanted to interview them himself. Kabasilas directed him to Ioan's Inn, within the city, so Argyros went there next.
At the inn, Argyros continued to pose as a garum merchant. Sitting in the taproom, he didn't need to direct the conversation to the attack on Tarrago as those who had escaped spoke of little else. However, they had little to add to what Kabasilas had told him. He gained the most information from the Anglelanders Wighard, a tin merchant, and his niece Hilda, an apothecary.
However, not having learned as much as he wanted, Argyros bought a horse the next day and set out into occupied territory. While the Franco-Saxons were fierce in battle, they lack sophisticated military skills and so did not patrol their newly conquered lands. Argyros had no trouble crossing the Eberu and riding to Tarrago. He was not surprised to find it guarded as the town had only recently fallen and so rode on. He was surprised to find Barcilo garrisoned as it had fallen the previous autumn and so he continued along the old legionaries coastal road to Empurias. That too was occupied and Argyros became concerned. He was undecided as to head inland or to continue along the road. In the end, he continued along the road to the Pyrenees and the pass at Pertuis.
Although sacked and burned, the fortress was unoccupied. Argyros made camp within its walls. There he found a number of potsherds that were of a uniform yellow-brown clay and blackened on one side as if exposed to fire. Several carried the potter's mark of the Monastery of St. Gall which was in the far off Alps. Since the monastery was not noted for its pottery works and the pieces were from rather mundane crockery, their being in a place so far from where they were made was most unusual.
Argyros decided to camp for the night and search further in the morning. He found more potsherds and examined the scorch marks on the walls but learned nothing more. Mid-morning he spotted two riders approaching and so put on his helmet and armed himself with his bow. Nonchalantly Wighard and Hilda rode up. Wighard hailed him and commented that he were unlikely to find much fish sauce there. He then looked at the sun half way up in the morning sky and declared this a good place for lunch.