Though Videssos is not alternate history per se, there is a lot of analogy to real-life Byzantine history. Many people, places and events also occurred in our world. This article is an effort to record all analogues. Any additional information is encouraged.
Parallel Characters Edit
Stavrakios appears to be a rough analogue of the Roman Emperor Trajan, who ruled the Empire before it was divided into Eastern and Western halves (and before the Western half collapsed, analogous to the Khamorth invasions that claim the eastern provinces of the Videssian Empire). He and Trajan are both depicted as soldier-emperors who brought their respective empires to their greatest territorial extent.
Likinios Avtokrator is an analogue of the Emperor Maurice. Both Emperors ordered their armies to winter north of the river that serves as their emperor's north frontier--for Maurice, his forces mutinied when ordered to spend the winter north of the Danube. This propelled the usurper Phokas (represented by the character Genesios) into power.
Genesios is the usurper Phokas, an officer of the army of Emperor Maurice who was declared emperor by his troops after a mutiny. Phokas is universally referred to in contemporary written sources as a cruel tyrant and an inept ruler, much like Genesios who is depicted as murderous and whose incompetence allows Makuran to make many easy conquests in the Westlands. Both are defeated when their own troops offer no resistance to a new usurper.
Maniakes the YoungerEdit
Maniakes leads a rebellion against a usurper, much as Herakleios did, both from relatively obscure provinces (Egypt, Kalavria). Both appear to have succeeded in their revolts because the soldiers of the emperor simply switched sides at the quickest opportunity.
Heraclius inherited a rapidly-deteriorating fiscal and military situation. He is able to salvage it somewhat, first by raiding the churches for relics to melt down into gold coins (just as Maniakes does). Herakleios defeated several times by the Persian armies in Anatolia, resulting in the Persian conquest and occupation of nearly the entire peninsula. Maniakes similarly loses a battle to the Makuraners and they quickly arrive in Across, just opposite the Cattle-Crossing from the city of Videssos. Herakleios, however, rather than surrendering or even attempting to fight the Persians in Anatolia, used the Byzantine naval supremacy to land in Mesopotamia, shifting the center of gravity of the war to the Persian heartland. Maniakes invades the Land of the Thousand Cities as well.
Both generals are forced to return to their capitals to defend against a siege by barbarians working in concert with their civilized foes, and both are ultimately able to exploit the internal divisions of their foes to force their enemies to return conquered Videssian lands.
Herakleios was successful in restoring the True Cross (lost in battle against the Sassanids) to Jerusalem.
Both emperors also had incestuous relationships, Herakleios with his niece and Maniakes with his first cousin, that are deeply unpopular among the populations of the capitals, and with the priests of their state religions.
Sharbaraz, the Makuraner King of Kings who is restored to his throne with the help of Videssian forces, is a rough analogue of the Sassanid King Khosrau II, who also had his throne usurped and was forced to ask the Byzantine Empire for assistance. Both Emperors then declare war on the Byzantines/Videssians when the emperor who aided them is overthrown and killed.
Khosrau later ordered the death of the Eran Spahbod (the highest rank in the Sassanid army), only to have that general rise up and overthrow him--just as Sharbaraz orders Abivard executed only to have Abivard rise up and overthrow him.
Krispos, a peasant with some Vaspurakaner blood, rises through much intrigue and conflict to become the Avtokrator of the Empire of Videssos much like Basil I rose to become Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. Like Krispos, who was born in a remote village north of Imbros, Basil I was born in an obscure place in an obscure Byzantine province.
Basil is said to have to been kidnapped by Bulgarian barbarians, much like Krispos was taken captive by the Kubratoi. However, Basil basically just escaped home while Kripos was ransomed off. Krispos also rose up by becoming a groom of an relative of the patriarch. Basil also worked as a groom, for a relative of the Emperor.
While working for Iakovitzes, Krispos gains the attention of a seer-noblewoman Tanilis, who foresees him becoming Avtokrator and helps him get to that position by endowing him with money. Without anything about prophesies, Basil also gains the attention of a wealthy woman named Danielis, who endowed him with a fortune. Krispos gets the attention of the Sevastokrator by wrestling with a Kubratoi and winning, while Basil gained the attention of the emperor himself by defeating a Bulgar champion.
By becoming Anthimos III's vestiarios (chamberlain), Krispos ascends higher and higher towards the throne, while Basil became the bodyguard of his Autokrator, Michael. Finally, both men killed their sovereigns and take the throne for themselves. Each then holds their respective Empires for a long, stable reign; something that is rare in the tumultuous histories of both countries. They both also become known for being exceptional rulers, despite no previous experience in administrative or military affairs.
Anthimos III's reign is quite similar to Michael III, also known as the Drunkard. Both were known to squander Imperial money needlessly for their own festivities. Byzantine accounts describe Michael's habitual drunkenness as disgusting the general population just as Anthimos' constant revelry and drinking shocked and dismayed most Videssians. Note however, that Michael was less of a debauch than Anthimos and devoted more attention to Imperial matters.
More fatally, both were killed by someone they trusted: their chamberlains. Anthimos was killed by Krispos, Michael by Basil (see above). In Anthimos' case, he was trying a sorcerous attack on Krispos before the latter killed him.
Parallel GeographyEditThe geography of the world of Videssos is a very loose flip of the OTL map. Note the differences and similarities in the maps of OTL and Videssos-world.
Vaspurakan resembles Armenia in most respects. Both countries were stuck between two powerful empires, Vaspurakan between Videssos and Makuran (later Yezd), Armenia between Byzantium and Sassanid Persia. The name Vaspurakan is of a province in Armenia.
Both were ruthlessly fought over by the two major powers. This caused both peoples to have a major diaspora in other countries. The Vaspurakaner leather cap with streamers is also worn by Armenian men. The Vaspurakaner name 'Gagik Bagratouni' is also the name of Armenian kings.
Makuran is heavily based on the Sassanid Persian Empire. The architecture, such as onion domes and rising minarets, can be found anywhere in Iran or the Middle East. Much like Persia, Makuran too has desert-like conditions.
Like the Persian King of Kings, the Makurani kings were also called King of Kings. The religion of the Makurani is a thinly-veiled Islam (with a single God and four supreme Prophets; in Islam though there is One God and One Prophet) that the Persians would later follow. The caftan and striped headdress is also similar to the dress Arabs wear.
The customs of the Makurani is similar to Middle Eastern traditions. Nobles in both regions had castle-like strongholds beside a town. Women were often kept in harems and given off to polygamous marriages. Their life was also tightly controlled.
The Khamorth Invasion of the EmpireEdit
As depicted in Bridge of the Separator, about 800 years before the events of the Legion cycle a civil war weakens the military forces defending the Empire from outside invasion, and the nomadic Khamorth tribes sweep in, invading and occupying nearly half the Empire's territory. In terms of timing this event resembles the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but it also has elements of the Arab conquests of the Byzantine Empire's eastern provinces in the mid-7th century.
Time of Troubles CycleEdit
The Time of Troubles Cycle is not a simplified but essentially faithful version of events that occurred in the first decades of the 7th century. From the period roughly 610-630 the empires were almost constantly at war, and the Persians conquered Anatolia, the Byzantine heartland, analogous to the Videssian westlands. The period was also characterized by frequent usurpations of the thrones of both empires. The Kubratoi (analogous to the real-life Bulgars) besiege Videssos with the help of the Makuraners (in OTL the Avars with the help of the Persians lay siege to the city). In real history, the wars weakened each empire greatly, so that (as some historians have argued) neither was able to resist the Arab Muslim armies that soon after swept out of the Arabian peninsula. In the Videssian timeline, nothing analogous to this occurs and the Makuraner state survives for many centuries into the future.
Powerful landholders Buy Up Freeholder Land, Transforming Peasants into Debt PeonsEdit
In Videssos by the time of the Legion Cycle the system is quite feudal. Noble landowners bought up land that belonged to freeholding peasants, in return for protection from Imperial tax agents. These peasants were then used as soldiers by the landowners, who disobeyed the Emperor and answered to themselves only.
This reduced the number of peasant-recruits to the army and weakened the Empire itself. This happened in several stages in Byzantine history. Notably, in real-life history the previous system which was fairly similar to that of the late Roman Empire was transformed into the Theme system by Heraklios (of whom Maniakes is an analog), which much more closely resembled the feudal system.
The general theme of a free peasantry turned into dependents of the nobles by debt is a common one that recurs throughout the history of civilization.
The Divisions with Christianity/Phos' CultEdit
The split between the Catholic, Latin West and the Orthodox, Greek East in real life is represented in the series with the conflicting variations of the cult of Phos, and the often-violent clashes between the Balancers, Gamblers, and orthodox Videssians. Further, the Armenian variant of Christianity is represented by the Vaspurakaners' theology.
A Government of Powerful BureaucratsEdit
In Byzantium's waning years, under the intellectual Emperor Constantine X Ducas, the Byzantine Empire became increasingly polarized between the bureaucrats who controlled the government and the military aristocracy.
The very same problems also plagued the Empire of Videssos, ever since the rule of weak Emperors who came from the ranks of bureaucrats. Infighting between the military aristocracy and bureaucracy was as constant in Videssos as in Byzantium.
One effect of this factionalized government, was the fact that bureaucrats replaced the peasant-soldiers in the Videssian military, who were already getting scarce, with unreliable foreign mercenaries who had their own agendas. This same effect could also be found the the Byzantine Empire.
While the beliefs and rites of the Videssian religion most closely resemble Zoroastrianism (a historical inversion of which Turtledove appears to be fond, since Zoroastrianism was the faith of the real-life Persians who were most often enemies of the Romans/Greeks) its ecclesiastical hierarchy is closely similar to the real-life Greek Orthodox hierarchy. The faith is led by a patriarch from the capital of the Empire, and the religious controversies frequently cause trouble for the emperors, often culminating in outright rebellion and heresy. The Byzantine Emperors in real history often had to contend with various heretical factions attempting to secede from the Empire. One major difference is that in real life there were many Patriarchates, notably in Jerusalem and Antioch as well as Constantinople, but the former two were lost during the Arab conquests of the 6th century.
Haloga Conquest of KalavriaEdit
The Haloga conquest of Kalavria, and their establishment of an independent duchy there that alternates between providing mercenaries for the Empire and attempting to conquer it is analogous to the conquest of Sicily (and some of Italy) by the Normans, who furnished many mercenaries for the Byzantines in real life but also attempted to carve out sections of the Empire by conquest numerous times, with Norman leaders of mercenaries fighting for the Byzantines also rebelling (analogous to Drax's rebellion during the Legion Cycle).
Conquest of Makuran by the YezdaEdit
This event can be seen as an analogue of two separate historical events: it has elements both of the Arab conquest of Sassanid Persia (the imposition of a new religion, Islam in OTL and the cult of Skotos in the world of Videssos), but also of the Great Seljuq Empire, which was established when the disunified states occupying the territory of the former Persian empire was conquered by the Seljuk Turks. The timing of this event corresponds roughly to the conquest of Makuran in the context of the Videssian world, and the following events depicted in the Legion Cycle are a somewhat simplified and compressed version of the First Crusade and the reigns of the first emperors of the Komnenoi dynasty. The Battle of Manzikert is an obvious parallel to the Battle of Maragha, and the victors at Manzikert were the Seljuk Turks rather than the Arabs.
Manzikert = MaraghaEdit
Just like how Romanos IV Diogenes ascended to the Imperial throne, wresting it from the bureaucrats, Mavrikios Gavras also rebelled and took the Videssian away from the bureaucratic faction.
Their task was to strengthen their respective realms from barbarian invasions. The barbarian invaders in the case of Diogenes were the Seljuk Turks, the Yezda in Mavrikios'. Their goal was complicated by the opposition thrown up by the bureaucratic factions.
To appease them, both Emperors put the scion of the powerful faction in command of some part of their armies. It was Andronikos Doucas in Diogenes' time, Ortaias Sphrantzes' in Mavrikios'. Both men lost the battle for the Emperor by running away during the fighting. This caused the barbarian invaders to win.
Doucas failed the Battle of Manikert for the Byzantines. Sphrantzes lost the Battle of Maragha for the Videssians. Each battle saw the respective Empire largely lose control of what had once been considered its heartland. The difference is that Videssos was able to reconquer the Westlands while the Byzantine empire never really recovered Anatolia. Historians point to the battle of Manzikert as the decisive stroke that broke the Byzantine military power and from which the Empire never fully recovered.