by Demetrios Rammos
The philosopher emperor part 1
For someone who was one of the most learned royals of his time and arguably as competent as his father Theodore II Lascaris remains a rather obscure figure in Byzantine history. The fact that he ruled only for 4 years before dying at age 36 in 1258 and his reign is between the rather lengthier reigns of Ioannis III Vatatzes and Michael VIII Palaiologue may well have a lot to do with this. So lets assume that Theodore II is healthier than in OTL. He still suffers somewhat from his OTL problems but instead of dying at 36 he dies at 60 in 1282.
In 1258 the empire was facing the last obstacle to the road of retaking Constantinople in the form of the alliance between the despot of Epirus Michael II Angelos, emperor Manfred Hohenstaufen in Sicily and the various latin principalities of southern Greece. While Theodore was able to save recently acquired Dyrrachium from Manfred's attacks he was not able to stop the latter for taking control of Valona and Vouthroton south of it, nor Michael Angelos from invading the western parts of the empire's Macedonian holdings.
The Nicean answer comes the next year when Theodore sends the imperial armies under Michael and Ioannis Palaiologue against the allies. The Nicean army clashes with the allied armies in the field of Pelagonia with catastrophic results for the latter. The latin armies are decisively beaten, Achaen ruler Godfred Villearduine is captured on the field and most of Epirus including the despotat's capitals of Arta and and Ioannina were in imperial hands by the end of 1259. Sicilian reinforcements sent to Valona and Vouthroton are able to stop a total Epirote collapse temporarily.
It takes the 2 Palaiologues the next 2 years to destroy what remains of the despotat. While Ioannis, arguably the best Greek general of his time, battles the Sicilians capturing Vouthroton in 1260 and Valona the next year, Michael seizes control of western central Greece and Thessaly using diplomacy and deceit almost as much as using actual military force. Finally Michael II Angelos left only with Corcira capitulates in 1261 to the Byzantine emperor changing Corcira for lands in Bithynia. His second son Ioannis in OTL despot of Thessaly for nearly three decades who had joined Nicea before Pelagonia (both in OTL and ATL) has been married by Theodore with one of his daughter and is safely placed running Nicean defences in Asia Minor post Pelagonia. Up to the early 1290s he will play a crucial role in countering Turkish pressure in the east.
In mainland Greece the empire gains in 1262 a foothold in Peloponnese as Godfred exchanged his freedom with the fortresses of Mystra, Monemvasia and Mainalon. Michael Palaiologue is sent there with an army of close to 20000 and wages a very successful campaign capturing the Karytaina and the Alfeios valley in 1263. In 1264 with adequate funding from Nicea to keep his 5000 Seljuk mercenaries on the Nicean side he decisively beats the Franks in Makryplagi thus regaining Arcadia. The remains of the principality of Achaea fall by 1268 when the last Latin stronghold, Corinth falls to Greek hands.
In the north the Byzantine pressure on the remains of the Latin empire of Constantinople keeps increasing. Constantinople itself survives to late 1266 when Theodore in the wake of his successes in mainland Greece sets it under siege and enters the city early the next year with help from the Greeks inside the city.
The rest of the reign of Theodore II between 1267 and 1282 is largely characterized by his attempts to stabilize his empire and re-establish it as a major power on a permanent basis. This effort can be divided to 2 distinct and sometimes conflicting sets of actions.
First the continued wars with the Latins with the empire both defending against Latin attempts to retake Constantinople, initiated usually either by Venice or Charles of Anjou and trying to regain the last Latin holdings in mainland Greece and the Aegean. Second persistent attempts on the part of Theodore II to create a strong economy and re-establish the soldier-farmer class that in previous eras had proved the spine of the empire's military power in continuation of his father's and
Against the Latins perhaps ironically the delayed recapture of Constantinople both delays serious Latin reaction and lets Theodore use resources Michael VIII would be using on the rebuilding of Constantinople in mainland Greece up to 1267 explaining to no small excess the more complete Nicean victories against Epirus and Achaea in the same timeframe.
These victories in turn deny Manfred and later Charles d'Anjou their OTL foothold on the Albanian coast, a not inconsiderable consideration in an era of oared warships. In Italy Manfred is defeated and then replaced on the throne of what becomes the kingdom of the two Sicilies by Charles d'Anjou. With the Villearduines either fighting for their life or in Greek hands though while Charles still defeats Corradine in Talliakotso Corradine manages to escape.
Theodore keeps a more conservative policy towards Bulgaria and Serbia compared to Michael VIII. In 1262 Theodore intervenes into Bulgarian internal politics in support of tsar Constantine Tich who is married to his daughter and regaining the ports of Anghialos and Mesimbria in the process. Constantine remains a Byzantine ally till his demise in 1277 although in the later years only due to the pressure of Nogai's golden horde in the north. Post 1277 Theodore is quite willing to leave
Ivajlo in the throne of the Tsars in exchange for continued peace in his northern border, a deal the rebel leader is quite willing to take. Serbia having dynastic ties with the Anjou remains hostile to Byzantium. The Byzantine alliance with Hungary though, sealed with a dynastic marriage between Theodore's son and one of the Hungarian king's daughters mostly neutralizes the Serb threat.
Direct conflict between Charles of Anjou and Theodore II centers in the coastal region of Albania and Epirus as Charles tries to secure bases there much like Norman invaders the past two centuries . A first siege of Dyrrachium fails in 1271 as Charles has to follow his brother Luis in Tunisia for the 8th crusade. A second siege in 1275 ending in disaster when Ioannis Palaiologue destroys most of the French army around Dyrrachium. In 1278 d'Anzou's army with Venetian aid takes Dyrrachium after a 7 month siege and in the following year secures his bridgehead in the eastern side of the Adriatic. Unfortunately for Charles his commander in Albania Hugues le Rousseau de Sully proves too overconfident of himself and his army is destroyed in Vellagrada in late 1280. The Byzantines follow up on their victory with a siege of Dyrrachium the next year. The Sicilian vespers breaking out in March 1282 with not inconsiderable Byzantine aid permanently eliminate
the danger Charles poses for the empire.
In mainland Greece the last Latin areas are the duchy of Athens, consisting of Attica, Thebes and the marciony of Salona , Euboea and a handful of Aegean islands under a variety of Latin rulers. As soon as Constantinople is retaken in 1267 Byzantine pressure against the duchy mounts with attacks both from the old Epirote domains and post 1268 also from the south. Anjou aid keeps the duchy afloat in the early 1270s but the duchy is suffering from mounting attrition under the constant
pressure. Two major Byzantine campaigns in 1275 and 1277 drive the Latins out of Salona and Thebes respectively. Athens falls to Michael Palaiologue 3 years later.
For the duration of Theodore's reign the Aegean is a battleground for Greek, Genoan and Venetian fleets with effectively everyone fighting against everyone else even when officially at peace or allied. One of the treaties between Byzantium and Venice specifically retaining for both the right to fight each other in Euboea while at peace is perhaps characteristic of the situation. Throughout the period Genoa in the midst of its antagonism with Venice is usually on the Byzantine side. Genoese relations with Byzantium are rather more strained than in OTL as Theodore in continuation of the policies of his father keeps economic exemptions to the Italian republics to an absolute minimum and whenever possible even undermines existing exceptions. Still Genoa considerably inferior to Venice during the period and suffering considerable setbacks against the Venetian navy in the Aegean throughout the 1260s can't afford to openly alienate the empire.
The Byzantine navy is in the ascendance during the same period. Theodore has inherited a medium sized navy, compared to the Italian fleets, from his father and further expands it during his reign. Post 1262 with Monemvasia he gains its fleet while he is anything but shy in absorbing former pirate ships in the imperial forces. By 1278 there are no less than 90 corsairs flying the imperial colours in the Aegean in addition to the "regular" Byzantine navy. Thus it is not odd that the 2 best known Byzantine admirals of the time "Megas Dux" Licario and John de la Cavo are both former pirates. By 1278 Licario has forced the Latins out of Euboea and most of the Aegean islands formerly under their control. John De la Cavo deals a severe defeat on a Venetian fleet of 40 galleys in 1278. Cythera and Zakynthos fall to the ships of the Demonoioannes and Mamonas families from Monembasia before the death of Theodore.
In his domestic policies Theodore continues and builds uppon his father's work. Throughout his reign his laws support the lower classes and small farmers at the expense of the nobles. Theodore is a great proponent of minimizing dependence on mercenaries in favour of farmer-soldiers. While the continous wars he has to fight don't quite allow him to go as far as he would like and throughout Theodore's reign the Byzantine army employs large numbers of mercenaries alongside locally drawn troops Theodore's policies further strengthen the small farmers that form the spine of the Byzantine army and imperial defences to the east. Understandably Theodore's policies don't make him particularly popular among most nobles. Still his popularity, with the army, the church and the masses keep dissent in check. Whatever nobles are less that careful towards the emperor quickly find their estates confiscated by the crown.
The economic policies of the emperor remain nearly indistinguishable from this of his 2 predecessors. The court strictly keeps its expenditures to an absolute minimum and Constantinople sees rather less money invested in its reconstruction than in OTL. While new exceptions to the Italian republics are hardly given Theodore passes laws that outright undermine existing exceptions usually in the guise of laws against luxury. Restored Byzantium keeps on the economic track of its Nicean predecessor.
Nearly continous wars for 2 put a not inconsiderable strain on the imperial finances nevertheless. The economic burden isn't much smaller than in OTL in absolute terms but the empire can afford it better for a variety of reasons. It can draw uppon Epirus and Thessaly as well as the whole of the Morea and doesn't have to spend resources against either Achaea and the two despotat's while relations with Bulgaria and less strained. Combined with Theodore's domestic policies the empire Ioannis IV Lascaris inherits in 1282 is in considerably better shape compared to what Andronicos II would inherit the same year in OTL.
In the east the empire is facing mounting Turkish pressure. While the sultanate of Konya, by now a puppet of the Il Khanids in Persia is not in shape to threaten the empire's Asia Minor holdings a number of smaller emirs on the imperial border pressed by tribes that fled the Mongols press in turn Byzantium. Yet the border proves largely impregnable. Theodore doesn't make Michael's VIII mistake to weaken the "akritai" and remove their estates in favour of the nobility , while maintaining considerable regular army units in support of the akritai. Creation of military colonies, additional militarily estates for soldiers, pronoia estates given in exchange for military service and then reverting to state control  further strengthen the border. The eastern border is used by the empire to settle some of the defeated of its European wars to the east as well as Cretan refugees, by 1282 Epirote, Albanian, Cretan, and Latin military colonies can be found in Asia minor.
Caesar Ioannis Angelos Dukas, the illegitimate son of the last despot of Epirus plays a not insignificant role in the maintenance of Asia Minor. Married into the imperial family after the battle of Pelagonia Dukas is placed in command of imperial forces in the east, conveniently distant from his father's former realm, close to the emperor's eyes and highly placed enough to remain loyal at the same time. An aggressive and resourceful commander with a knack for dividing up his opponents he allows the empire to concentrate on its western efforts without undermining its position in the east.
 For the quite simple reason that the akritai are loyal to the Lascarids. Thus when Michael VIII took the throne from the 8 year old Ioannis IV in OTL the akritai as well as a not insignificant part of Asia Minor populations opposed Palaiologue. Here it goes the other way round.
 Pronoia estates were made hereditary by Michael VIII. It doesn't happen with a Lascarid on the throne.
The philosopher emperor part 2
In December 1282 Theodore II Lascaris dies in Nicea. His marriage with Helen Asen daughter of John III Asen of Bulgaria would leaves behind 5 daughters Herene, Maria, Eudokia, Anna and one son Ioannis. Maria is married with Nicephoros Angelos Ducas son of former despot Michael II of Epirus, Herene with tsar Constantine Tich of Bulgaria, Anna with caesar Ioannis Angelos Ducas and Eudocia with young Conrad Hohenstaufen. 
Ioannis IV married with Anna of Hungary is raised by the army on a shield and declared emperor at age 32 uppon his father's death. While he can't be accused either of genius or the extreme competence of his father and grandfather he is a reasonably competent administrator and soldier. Given a thorough education by his father his reign is not be characterized by any dramatic changes of policy or reforms. Instead he steadily continues the work and policies of his predecessors.
Constantinople when Ioannis rises to the throne has seen better days. After 62 years of Latin reign the city is down to around 60,000 people. Throughout his reign Theodore, born and raised in Nicea, was stringent with spending money on the reconstruction of the old imperial capital especially with pressing needs elsewhere. Still the capital due to its geographic position and the very fact of being the capital is steadily growing back in size and importance. Someone might even add that its
growing more healthily as an organic part of the empire instead of "an oversized head over a weak body" as it was characterized in other eras. By 1300 the population of Constantinople is around 75,000. By 1320 it has risen close to 90,000.
For 3 generations after the fall of Constantinople to the Latins in 1204 the prime efforts of the empire have been centred in the west. The Lascarid emperors have been careful to keep their eastern border impregnable but with the exception of Theodore's I war with the sultanate of Konya that ended in the death of Kajchusraw I and Seljuk defeat in the battle of Antioch on the Meander the empire has kept largely on the defensive in the east.
While Turkish pressure mounts during the reign of Theodore II the Turks are broken up to no less than 10 separate states competing among themselves as often as with the empire. If someone adds lesser Armenia and the empire of Trebizont in the picture there are 13 different states on Asia minor and Byzantium is arguably the strongest of them. The situation is ripe for a strong power to move in and absorb most the lesser ones. Karaman the largest of the Turkish states poses as a potential candidate to do as much. The small Ottoman beylik is a rising power among the other Turkish states even if its size doesn't make it an obvious candidate.
Theodore II isn't blind to the potential opportunity the fragmentation of Asia Minor presents but for most of his reign can't do much about it apart from securing his border. As soon as the Latin threat diminishes though Theodore turns his efforts in the east. Michael Palaiologue joins Ioannis Ducas and launch offensives against the Turkish tribes in 1280. When Theodore dies in Nicea in 1282 he is in the middle of plans to campaign against the Turks. 
Ioannis IV is quick to follow up if not exceed his father. As soon as he rises on the throne he moves the majority of the imperial armies in Asia Minor leaving only defensive forces in Europe. Between 1283 and 1294 Ioannis IV personally leads campaigns every year against the Turks. Gaining ground is difficult and slow process but by 1294 Byzantine offensives have eliminated the Aydin emirate and have put under hard pressure the Menteshe in the Aegean coast. More to the north Ioannis Ducas defeats the Ottoman attack in Melageion kastron in 1291. Osman rather practically sides with the Byzantines in the aftermath of his defeat expanding at the expense of his neighbouring emirs.
Events force Ioannis IV to turn his attention to the west in 1294. The start of the war between Genoa and Venice the same years gets the emperor into the war in the side of Genoa. Crete the most significant part of the empire still under Latin rule is in the middle of the Kallergis revolt since 1282. Venice is unable to put down the revolt while Kallergis while controlling most of the island can't take remaining Venetian forts alone. Ioannis takes the chance sending his fleet and troops in the island to complete the reduction of Venetian holdings. The war doesn't turn well for Venice. The Genoan fleet defeats the Venetian off Alexandretta in 1294, a Venetian fleet that comes to the aid of Crete under Ruggiero Morosini is defeated by the Byzantines the next year and the Venetian fleet suffers a crushing defeat in Curzola in 1299. The peace that ends the war in 1302 sees Venice forced to leave Crete. The same year there is a first conflict between Byzantium and Genoa as the Genoese Zaccaria family tries to size Chios from the empire.
Serb king Stephan Uros II Miliutin takes the opportunity of the Byzantine war with Venice to attack Byzantium in 1296. A Byzantine counterattack in 1297 drives him back into Serbia. Afterwards Byzantium utilizes its traditional diplomacy to neutralize the Serbs. Miliutin is in conflict with his older brother Dragomir inside Serbia. Ioannis fans the conflict. A peace treaty is signed in 1298. Serbia falls to open civil war between the two brothers in 1301-1312 and won't threaten the empire for the remaining of the reign of Ioannis.
In Asia Minor Byzantium stays on the defensive for the duration of its wars with Venice and Serbia. Young general Alexios Philanthropinos is an exception keeping up the pressure on the emir of Mentese post 1294.  As soon as peace with Venice is concluded in 1302 Lascaris turns back his efforts on Asia Minor. With the exception of 1305-1307 the emperor campaigns almost every year against the Turks till his death in 1320.
The only significant European conflict for Byzantium after the Venetian and Serb wars in the turn of the century is a war with Bulgaria in 1305-1307. Bulgaria after the Ivajlo revolt in 1277 and subsequent civil wars has fallen under the Golden horde. With Nogaj fall in 1299 Theodore Svetoslav reestablishes the Bulgarian state in1300 and in 1305 tries to regain the black sea ports from Byzantium. But Bulgaria having suffered too heavily during the previous decades is still too weak to immediately confront Byzantium. Ioannis drives back Bulgarian attacks in 2 campaigns in 1306 and 1307 forcing Theodore to peace.
When Ioannis IV dies in 1320 he leaves behind an empire stronger than the one he inherited. In Europe the last Latin possessions have been taken back. In Asia Minor the empire has reclaimed the area occupied by the emirs of Tekke, Aydin and Menteshe. The economy of the empire is on the rise. And after more than a century the soldier-farmer system reestablished by the first Lascarids and on which Byzantine military power lies is on a steady footing.
Outside the empire Serbia is on the rise with Stephan Uresh III taking the throne in 1321. In the east the Ottomans have absorbed the neightbourhouring emirats of Karrasi and Saruhan and are driving into Germiyan and Hamid. Back in the empire the aristocracy after 3 emperors undermining it in favour of the low classes is weakened. It is also becoming radicalized and turning rebellious.
Ioannis dies in Smyrna in September 1320  leaving behind two sons Theodore and Constantine.
 Every Anjou opponent is useful. And given the circumstances renewing the Lascarid-Hohenstauffen alliance from the days of Vatatzes and Frederick II seems logical.
 Michael died at about the same time in OTL in the middle of taking the offensive on the Turks. Andronicus then found the army and the navy costly and disbanded most of them. Of course the good emperor somehow did not find monasteries costly at the same time.
 If Philanthropinos could do as much in OTL under far worse conditions someone may well argue he can in the ATL.
 Ioannis exact date of death in OTL is not known. Some sources point to 1300-1305. Not certain how correct or not correct they are. If they are his living conditions in the ATL have been...arguably better compared to being blinded and imprisoned.
The philosopher emperor part 3
Ioannis IV leaves behind an empire controlling the largest land area post the late Comnene dynasty and in a relatively sound economic state, by 1320 state revenues have risen to roughly twice these of 1260 while the hyperpyron, as the Byzantine "nomisma" is known after the Comnenes is partly regaining its value.
That the empire isn't exactly liked by its immediate neighbours would be an understanding. Serbia is in the mid of its expansionist phase and surrounded by Byzantine, Venetian and Hungarian holdings. Bulgaria has long standing differences with Byzantium. In Asia Minor the Byzantine counterattack has also led to a consolidation of power among the surviving Turkish states as the Ottomans use the vacuum of power created by the Byzantine attacks to expand at the cost of their Turkish neighbours.
By themselves these are problems that the resurgent Byzantium can well cope with. Internal trouble coming up makes things more complicated. Ever since Theodore I the aristocracy is being under the constant pressure of the Lascarid emperors as a strong centralized state is rebuilt and the lower classes, uppon which the military and economic might of the empire lie, supported against the nobles.
The nobles find a somewhat unexpected ally in the face of Theodore, Ioannis IV elder son. A scholar and theologist Theodore has little concern for state affairs much to the dismay of his father. By the later part of Ioannis reign differences between the two men become more open and Theodore influenced by his close friend Michael Palaiologue
 turns to de facto leader of the nobility, who waits with some
anticipation the day he takes the throne.
The aristocracy is not the single group that sees what is coming though. Ioannis youngest son Constantine is a disgrace for the scholarly traditions of his family as he personally shows very little interest in scholarship, with the rather notable exception of matters military, even if he is quite willing in supporting education or inflicting it uppon his own kids. Scholar or not Constantine as a general shows considerable capacity against the Turks and unlike his brother is backing what has become traditional Lascarid domestic policy. With his elder's son shortcomings becoming more apparent Ioannis starts brooding Constantine as the next emperor .
Ioannis proclaims Constantine his heir on his deathbed in Smyrna. The army is all to happy to follow the dead emperor's wish and Constantine is raid on a shield and declared emperor on October 1st 1320. Three days later as news of the death of Ioannis and Constantine's coronation reach Constantinople, Theodore is declared emperor as well, claiming to be the "lawful emperor" and backed by his noble allies. For the first time in 2 generations Byzantium is in the middle of civil war.
The first phase of the civil war goes decidedly on Constantine's side. Nearly all of Asia Minor declares for him. The fleet and with it the islands follow the army lead in backing the young emperor. In Europe Theodore controls Macedonia, Thessaly and Thrace, where most of his noble allies strongholds can be found. Morea, central Greece, Epirus and Albania, where merchant and small farmer classes are more dominant join Constantine. Even the areas Theodore controls are not quite secure.
Tenant farmers look uppon Constantine in the countryside, while the bigger cities are seething with revolt.
During the winter of 1320-21 Theodore and Michael try to overcome their military weakness through diplomacy. In Asia Minor they manage to gain the alliance of the Ottomans offering them to keep what land they can take from Constantine. In Europe bribes and the hand of one of Theodore's daughters, alongside chunks of Macedonia as a dowry, gain Serb support. To balance Constantine's naval superiority exceptions are given to the Genoese.
The news of Theodore's... creative diplomacy don't go very well with the populations in the areas he controls. Riots in Constantinople are put down harshly while Adrianople and Thessaloniki rise up in revolt, the second at the news of the exceptions given to Genoa. The countryside rises up as several peasant communities revolt. Theodore's army takes back Adrianople after a siege that lasts into the summer. The rebels of Thessaloniki, quickly helped by Constantine's navy, prove more
successful withstanding a siege by a Serb army and later proving a valuable contribution for the fleet. it takes till 1322 to crush the resistance of the peasantry.
Constantine is forced to concentrate his forces on the Ottomans and Genoa for the first years of the civil war. He holds off the initial Ottoman attack in 1321 at the cost of leaving his European supporters mostly on their own. In 1322 he smashes an attempt by Theodore to invade Asia Minor outside Nicea, Theodore's army mostly consisting of foreign mercenaries and nobles forces is no match for the veteran Byzantine troops Constantine can draw uppon but the Ottomans take advantage of the diversion to loot most of the Meander valley. In 1323 Constantine takes the offensive against the Ottomans, traps and destroys an Ottoman
army in Laodiceia uppon the Meander  in August and sends raiding parties into the Ottoman lands. The Ottomans had gained from a de facto alliance with Byzantium during the reign of Ioannis. The other surviving emirates on the Ottoman borders take take now the opportunity to try to regain some of the lost ground against the Ottomans, somewhat helped to their decision by Byzantine bribes. Pressed from both sides Osman signs peace with Byzantium in 1324, thus freeing Constantine's hands to act in Europe.
Genoese help had proved less useful to Theodore than he hoped. A Genoese fleet and troops under the Zaccaria family land in Crete trying to take it over from Constantine. The Cretans less than 2 decades from regaining independence from Venice don't take particularly kindly to it. The island has been heavily fortified in the 2 decades after the end of the Venetian war in fear of a possible counterattack by Venice and the forts easily withstand the relatively small Genoese army, who suffers heavily from Cretan guerilla tactics outside the forts. The Byzantine navy keeps control of the Aegean throughout the civil war.
In Europe the war proves much harsher. The bulk of the imperial forces were in Asia Minor at the start of the war. Constantine forces are thus relying more on peasants rebelling against the nobles and what soldiers are settled in south Greece and Epirus. These forces are not as well trained or equipped as their counterparts in Asia minor and are severely lacking in heavy cavalry. In a day that cavalry is still considered the prime battlefield arm their opponents consider them more as rabble than an army, even if some veteran infantry units are among the pro Constantine supporters.
In 1323 a Theodoran army spearheaded by Serb and Thessalian heavy cavalry drives looting all the way to the walls of Athens. Thebes heavily fortified during the Frank period holds out against Theodore's troops. A detachment that tries to take Salona is surprized on Parnassus and defeated. The victors mostly ex peasants and infantry armed with spears, halberds and crossbows kill without regard nobles and soldiers alike without taking any prisoners.
Constantine lands in Athens in 1324 bringing with him the imperial guard regiments, after concluding peace with Osman. Reinforced by his supporters in south Greece he moves to lift the siege of Thebes. In Boeotic Cephesos Constantine's forces, mainly infantry clashes with the nobles and Serbs cavalry. The heavy horses either get trapped in the swamp when the field is flooded or stopped cold in front of the wall of spears and halberds. Most of his army still somewhat lacking in discipline and cavalry to pursue afterwards most of Theodore's army survives but Constantine takes notice of the success of the infantry. As it is difficult for Constantine to transport significant forces, especially cavalry, from Asia Minor, both due to logistical and political considerations he sets uppon reorganizing his European forces for the remainder of the year.
The army that Constantine leads into Thessaly in the summer of 1325 has some considerable changes from other armies of the era. For the first time in centuries it is infantry that dominates the army. Constantine has made only slight changes in the arms of his troops, most notably providing them with a 14 feet pike instead of the traditional 12 feet spear. Changes in organization are more visible. Constantine resurrects  the "tagma" as the basic infantry with around 400 men, with pike or halberd armed heavy infantry consisting between half and 2 thirds of the total. The remainder is about evenly broken between sword armed light infantry and crossbowmen. The light infantry and crossbowmen comes mostly from older farmer soldiers. The heavy infantry sees its ranks filled mostly with former peasants given the promise of their own land. Constantine's new army os perhaps the final evolution of the reestablishment of the farmer soldier system, its men combining a sense of loyalty and nationalism  with iron discipline.
Thessaly is secured with minimal resistance in 1325 and the next year Constantine turns his attention north of Olympus. A quick advance lifts the blockade of Thessaloniki and continues north to deal with Serbia, the principal ally of Theodore. In the battle of Prilep Serbia's heavy cavalry under the son of Stefan Uresh III suffers crushing defeat at the hands of the tagmata. With the guard and stratiotai cavalry mercilessly pursuing the survivors afterwards the flower of the Serb nobility is nearly annihilated. Serbia signs a humiliating peace returning it's territorial gains of 1320 and paying indemnities. Stefan Uresh III then moves into the vacuum of power created to increase the power of the Serb monarchy at the expense of the greatly reduced nobles.
The end of the civil war comes in 1327 with Constantine moving to Thrace and entering Constantinople in June. Theodore suicides in fear of reprisals. Palaiologue is cached while trying to flee to Bulgaria and executed. Of the great noble families all that openly supported Theodore lose their lands, which Constantine distributes to the peasantry and his soldiers, and their assets, which fill the imperial coffers.
At the cost of 7 years of civil war Byzantium has seen the breaking of the nobles power and the firm reestablishment of the central government. The rising middle class has both helped the success of the throne and benefited from the throne's support. It ends the war with considerably increased influence, Constantine making membership of the senate eligible on the basis of wealth in general instead of just owned land is only an example of this increase of influence.
Constantine spends the first decade of his reign after the civil war rebuilding the damage caused from the war, engaging only in minor defensive operations in Asia minor. By 1338 with Byzantium sufficiently recovered from the storm it has endured, Constantine returns to the project of recovering Asia Minor. The Umurbey emirate falls by 1343. Five years later the tagmata advance to the gates of Trebizont. After a brief siege that sees a newfangled invention called cannon used, without much result, against the walls the city surrenders to Constantine. Byzantine ships that took part in the siege of Kaffa, one of the Trebizontian strongholds in Crimea bring back the plague to Constantinople. From there it will spread to the rest of Europe and the middle east, taking a dreadful toll on the population.
Following Trebizont Constantine sets his eyes uppon lesser Armenia, the last christian state independent of Byzantium in Asia Minor. The army of Constantine IV who usurped the throne of lesser Armenia in 1344 is no much for the "new army" of his Greek namesake. Lesser Armenia falls in 1351. The next year a Byzantine army lands in Cyprus. With the Greeks of the island rising in revolt the army of the kingdom is defeated outside St. Ilarion monastery. By the time Constantine dies in 1355 the island is again under Byzantine control.
Constantine leaves behind a Byzantium with a thriving intellectual and cultural life as the renaissance is making its first steps in Byzantium and Italy. The army he passes to his heir is the best organized military machine of Europe. In the Balkans Byzantium is in a near power vacuum with Serbia exhausted after a decade long war with Bulgaria in 1330-1340 and Bulgaria in total collapse, broken up to 3 independent principalities. In Asia Minor Byzantium is in an uneasy coexistence with the Ottomans and the emirate of Karaman. All smaller states have fallen pray either to Byzantium or the Ottomans. It will be up to Constantine's successor to solve this problem.
 ATL grandson of OTL Michael VIII.
 Which is not the first time happening in Byzantine history. Manuel
Comnenos being one example.
 Modern Denizli.
 Assuming it ceased to be in existence which is somewhat questionable
 In lack of a better word.
The philosopher emperor part 4
Ioannis V Lascaris is declared emperor after the death of his father in 1355. Starting in 1356 he takes the offensive against the Turkish emirates in the eastern border of the empire in hopes of achieving a final victory against the Turks. The war takes 14 years with more than a single setback and frequent changes of sides by both sides. By the end of it in 1370 Byzantium is in possession of nearly two thirds of Asia Minor, including almost every area with a significant christian populations, the Ottomans are the dominant Turkish power and the Emirate of Karaman has nearly disappeared from the map.
In Europe Serbia and Byzantium move into the vacuum created by the collapse of Bulgaria. By 1378 the Serbs have absorbed the Vidin principality and part of the Tyrnovo principality. The remaining of the Tyrnovo principality as well as the Dobroutja principality have fallen to the Byzantines, the fall of Tyrnovo to the armies of Ioannis V marking the end of Bulgarian independence. The Bulgarian lower classes will see a not inconsiderable improvement of conditions compared to their previous situation under both the Serbs and the Greeks. For Serbia and Byzantium their expansion in Bulgaria reheats the antagonism between the two countries. The presence of Byzantine armies across the border of the Romanian principalities doesn't fail to alarm Hungary as well.
The remaining of Ioannis reign to 1385 is relatively peaceful despite the problems with Serbia. The only exception is a short war with the Mameluks over Cilicia in 1375. The Byzantine navy holds control of the seas over the Mamelukes and shows it in practice when a Byzantine fleet raids Alexandria. With the Mamelukes plagued with chronic dynastic problems both sides are quick enough to sign a peace treaty in 1376. He leaves his successor with a strong state, deteriorating relations with Serbia and Hungary and improving relations with Venice as the two states increasingly find their interests in the Adriatic and elsewhere coinciding.
In the east the Ottomans keep expanding at the expense of their eastern neightbours helped to no small extend from the Persian problems at the time. The Byzantine- Ottoman border is remaining quiet, if you forget nearly constant small scale fighting between the Akritai and the Gazis on the borders. The empire is careful enough to maintain a strong military presence in Asia Minor nevertheless and Ioannis settles large numbers of christians, especially Bulgarians in the areas reclaimed from the Turks.
Constantine XII proclaimed emperor in 1386 is the one to face the consequences of the tensions created with Serbia and Hungary. In the decades after it's defeat from Constantine the XI Serbia had become a more centralized state on the Byzantine model, helped to no small extend of the heavy casualties Constantine's infantrymen exacted on the Serb nobles. It's expansion into Bulgaria has nearly doubled the size of the kingdom but at the cost of straining the newly established institution and of course relations with Byzantium. King Stephan sees the death of Ioannis as an opportunity and with Bosnian aid goes to war with Byzantium. Constantine lying on much larger resources than Stephan contains the Serb offensive with relative ease and goes to the attack. In 1389 the Serb army is dealt a crushing blow in the battle of the Morava. Serbia is forced to give up part of its Bulgarian conquests to Byzantium and become a Byzantine vassal but otherwise it is left largely intact.
The vassalization of Serbia drives the other great power of the region to war in 1392. The Hungarian army still largely based on feudal levies is distinctly inferior to the Byzantine, in organization and discipline not to mention tactics as the Greek heavy infantry, by now named hoplites by a classically minded emperor, has nearly no match in western Europe  and artillery and handguns are quickly finding their way in the battlefield. The battle of Vidin in 1396 ends the war in a Byzantine victory.
The string of Byzantine successes breaks with Timur's appearance in Anatolia. For once the Byzantine's and Ottomans find themselves in the same side trying to hold the menace from the east. In the battle of Alys in 1401 Constantine leads the Byzantine Asia Minor armies against Timur. A third of the imperial army and the emperor fall in battle with the remainder making a fighting retreat under Constantine's son. The next year the new emperor Theodore III moves more than half of the imperial army of Europe in addition to the imperial guard to join the Asia minor armies in the fight against Timur. In July 16 1402 100,000 Byzantines face the somewhat larger army of Timur. The clash between the two rival military systems takes all day. By the time the sun sets the defending Byzantines are still holding the field but casualties have been heavy on both sides. Theodore doesn't lose time to put to use the greater of Byzantine weapons, namely diplomacy, and signs a peace treaty with Timur.
On the first half of his long reign the young emperor concentrates on rebuilding the damage caused by the Timurid incursion. Fortunately for Theodore the Ottomans have suffered even more heavily than Byzantium, Hungary is facing its own problems and has to fight against Venice over Dalmatia. The only serious loss in Serbia regaining its full independence something that Theodore is willing to let go for the time being. Venice is helped by Byzantine troops and ships in its Hungarian war but Byzantium stays officially neutral.
Renewed war with Hungary, this time backed by Serbia and Wallachia breaks in 1420. Byzantium has largely recovered from its confrontation with Timur but it's opponents are more potent than in the 1380s and 1390s and Byzantium has to face them simultaneously. By 1431 Serbia has been forced back to vassalization and Hungary to peace. Wallachia is outright conquered by 1437. Theodore III dies 3 years later at 65.
 If one forgets the Swiss. Or of course English longbows but these are using the other method of breaking cavalry.
The philosopher emperor part 5
The Sicilian vespers in 1282 marked the end of Charles d' Anjou imperial hopes. They also marked the start of more than two decades of war in south Italy and on occasion Iberia. Charles was faced by 2 major opponents, Peter of Aragon and no else but Conrad Hohenstaufen. Conradin after surviving the defeat of Taliakotso takes the opportunity in the aftermath of the vespers to reclaim his grandfather realm, backed with a Byzantine marriage, bringing with it Greek and Albanian mercenaries , Florentine money German knights and above all popular support among the hard pressed Sicilian and Italian populations. Peter and Conradin while
allied don't maintain the best of relations.
For its duration the outcome of the Sicilian war is generally favouring the Aragonese-Hohenstauffen clause. Sicily and Sardinia are under Aragonese control from the start. South Italy itself is divided roughly in two with Conradin and the Aragonese controlling an area roughly similar to the old Byzantine south Italian holdings and the Angevins Naples and the remainder of the kingdom.
Aragon drops out of the war when king James takes it's throne in exchange on Sardinia and Corsica while denouncing all claims to Sicily or South Italy. James younger brother Peter, married to Conradin's daughter, as well as Conradin refuse to accept the arrangement and by 1303 force the Angevin king to peace that leaves Conradin with Sicily, Calabria, Apulia and Vasilikata. Conradin dies a decade later. leaving behind a single daughter with Eudocia Lascarina, daughter of Theodore II of Byzantium. Her husband Frederick III succeeds Conradin in the Sicilian throne. War with the Angevins restarts the same year lasting to 1327. Frederick dies in 1337 and is succeeded by his son Theodore, claiming to the somewhat long name of Aragon-Hohenstauffen-Lascaris.
The Sicilian kings follow a domestic policy similar to that of their Lascarid relatives in the other side of the Adriatic, supporting the lower classes at the expense of the nobility and being patrons of the arts and education. Under their encouragement thousands of Greeks and Albanians are settled in South Italy and Sicily reinforcing the Greek communities there. Culturally the Sicilian kingdom plays a significant role as one of the connecting rings between the two rising centres of humanism in Italy and Greece.
Warfare between Sicily and the Angevin controlled kingdom of Naples remains endemic throughout the 14th and the early 15th century. The wars being generally inconclusive, Sicily takes advantage of the the internal troubles of Naples and some Byzantine backing to hold its own against the Angevins. The death of Conrad II in 1440 though leaves the kingdom to a 5 year old Theodore II. Naples takes advantage of the situation and Byzantium's inability to take any action in support of Sicily in the 1440s to finally destroy the Sicilian kingdom. Theodore II is killed in 1449 by the Angevins. His older sister Ioanna married with then crown prince Theodore of Byzantium becomes the last member of the Sicilian royal house.
To the north of Sicily the Neapolitan kingdom fares rather worse than its Sicilian antagonist during the 14th century, to no small extend due to dynastic problems and infighting. These come to an end when Rene d'Anjou takes the throne of Naples with the aid of France and the Milanese Viscontis in 1435. Rene then proceeds to conquer the Sicilian kingdom between 1444 and 1450 reestablishing Sicily and Naples under a single crown for the first time since Charles d'Anjou in the 13th century.
At the same time south Italy is in the grip of the antagonism between Naples and Sicily, north Italy becomes the ground of a unification effort driven by the Visconti dukes of Milan. Between 1277 and 1378 the Milanese rulers steadily expand their hold on north Italy despite increasing resistance from Florence and Venice. Duke Gian Galeazzo rising on the throne in 1378 and becoming sole ruler of Milan in 1385 by 1402 unites nearly all of north Italy with the exception of Venice and
Piemond including Florence by 1403. In 1404-1410 Visconti armies further advance into the papal domains and at the time of Gian Galeazzo's death
in 1410 his army is in the gates of Rome.
Gian Galeazzo's succesor Philipo Maria Visconti is faced with revolts among his fathers domains as soon as he rises to the throne. Verona, Vicenza and Padua are absorbed by the Venetians and the papacy regains its lost ground post 1415. Nevertheless in the course of his reign Philipo Maria is able either to hold to the remainder of the Milanese empire either breaking the revolts or reconquering them later. His successor Fransisco Sfortza while not expanding the Milanese domains
during his reign keeps the state intact and further intergrates the elements of the Milanese state into a homogenous state.
 Ioannis Vatatzis as emperor of Nicea had send mercenaries to Frederick II, some 7000 according to one source. It's rather easier for Ioannis IV to provide that kind of support to his brother in law.
The philosopher emperor part 6
Almost inevitably the Byzantine resurgence in the eastern Mediterranean doesn't fail to affect central and western Europe. In the west the empire is part of the conflict between the Angevins and the kingdom of Aragon usually siding with the latter. This in turn sours relations between Byzantium and the French kings. While Byzantium is too far away to take any active interest in the hundred years war it remains diplomatically friendlier towards the king of England and his allies for the duration of the war.
For most of the 14th century it is the Angevin family that suffers the most due to the Byzantine influence. The kingdom of Naples is faced with the rather larger Sicilian kingdom and more often than not with the Aragonese as well. This in turn takes it's toll on Angevin influence in France itself by the early 15th century. The d'Anjou family is still among the prime supporters of the French kings. It is something of an irony that the lesser Angevin influence till then ends up to work to their favour. In 1417 the death of Louis II of Provence and Naples leaves Provence to his young son Rene d'Anjou. The prospect of a marriage alliance with Isabel of Lorraine 2 years later fails to come to fruition. 
Rene plays a not inconsiderable role in Jeanne d'Arc's campaigns in the late 1420s. Come 1431 Joanna II of Naples declares Rene's elder brother Louis her heir. With Louis death in 1434s and Joanna's death the next year Rene inherits the kingdom of Naples. The inheritance puts him to direct conflict with Alfonso V of Aragon who also has claims on Naples. Events are further complicated as Rene has a rival claim to the throne of Aragon through his mother.
Rene is the first to seize control of Naples after Joanna's death. Charles VII of France, his brother in law provides him with some token support as he is embroiled in the final phase of the hundred years war. Milanese support, especially in the form of the Genoese fleet is more important in the outcome of the conflict. Alphonso's fleet manages to burn Marseilles but is decisively defeated by Rene's Genoese allies and Alphonso is almost captured in the battle.  Rene then takes the offensive and Alphonso faced with revolt in Aragon has to cede Sardinia as part of the resulting peace treaty in 1442.
The Angevin king is then presented with a major opportunity when the Sicilian kingdom is left to 5 year old Theodore II Hohenstaufen in 1440. With Aragon defeated and Byzantium unable to intervene in the 1440s Rene is able to conquer the Sicilian kingdom between 1444 and 1449. 14 year old Theodore II dies in the storming of Syracuse in 1449. Between 1449 and his death in 1480 Rene d'Anjou will be one of the strongest monarchs of his time with holdings extending from Provence to
More to the north the dukes of Burgundy rise in importance during the second part of the 14th century and the first part of the 15th. By the end of the 14th century the Burgundian dukes also find themselves in conflict with the party of Orleans for influence over the French throne. After the assassination of John the Fearless by knights belonging to the dauphin's party in 1419 his successor Philip the good allies with the English king.
Philip is a man of considerable talents, founding a university in Dole and taking care for the development of Burgundy's economy. During his reign he cultivates a close relationship with Constantinople, marrying in 1430 with Herene Lascarina, the emperors daughter. Burgundian mercenaries will serve with Greek armies during the reign of Herene's brother  while Greek scholars and advisors find their way in the duke's court after Herene's marriage. Philip's son with Herene, Charles
will spend some years in his uncle's court in Constantinople in the early 1450s. Charles returns from Constantinople with a deep impression from the imperial army and some 3,000 Greek mercenaries to use as basis for reforming his own army.
Charles enters into a protracted struggle with Louis XI of France becoming one of the principal leaders of the League of the Public Weal. His victories against Louis in 1465 and 1471 secure the towns of the Somme for Burgundy. Charles further expands buying in 1469 the county of Ferrette, and the landgraviate of Alsace, from the Austrian archduke. In 1473 emperor Frederic is persuaded by Charles to crown him king. In September 16, 1473 with Charles coronation in Trier, Burgundy becomes a kingdom.  In 1474 Charles army takes Neuss on the Rhine in support of the archbishop of Cologne thus putting the city under his influence.
Charles successes almost inevitably lead to reaction as France turns Lorraine and the Swiss confederation against the Bavarians. Charles takes Nancy in November 1475 forcing the duce of Lorraine to flee and follows his victory up with taking Granson. Outside Granson a Swiss army of 10,000 pikemen surprises a Burgundian army twice it's size. The Swiss get though a surprise of their own as they are find themselves faced by some 11,000 Burgundian pikemen  that may not be up on par with the Swiss but are good enough to pine them down so that Charles superior numbers, artillery and heavy cavalry can have their effect. By the end of the day some nearly half the Swiss army is lying on the field, the first major Swiss defeat in 150 years.
Three months later a Swiss army of 20,000 supported by 1800 Lorraine knights clashes in Morat with Charles 30,000 Burgundians. The Swiss drive the Burgundians out of the field but the latter are still able to retreat in good order. Burgundy signs a peace with Switzerland in the winter of the same year leaving Lorraine alone in the fight against Burgundy. Or at least technically alone as some 19,000 Swiss fight as mercenaries with the colours of Lorraine the next year. Charles is held before Nancy throughout 1477 only to take it and the rest of Lorraine the next year as Swiss numbers keep diminishing through attrition and lack of pay. The next year France goes openly to war against Burgundy only to be defeated in the battle of Guinegate. By the time the kingdom of Burgundy passes from Charles to his son
Philip in 1493 it's existence as a kingdom independent of France in on secure ground.
 In OTL it was a success. Claiming then Isabel's inheritance in Lorraine ended with Rene in the hands of the Burgundians and 400,000 crowns paid for his freedom.
 In OTL he was captured. As prisoner he influenced the duke of Milan enough for the latter to change sides.
 In 1446 despot Constantine Palaiologue had some 300 Burgundian heavy cavalry
 In OTL Frederick fled away in the night as he didn't quite like Charles attitude. Our version of Charles has a Byzantine mother and spent years in the court of Constantinople so is rather more refined. And his cousin in Constantinople being on very good terms with him certainly doesn't hurt in persuading Frederick that fleeing may not be the best idea.
 In OTL he raised 30,000 after getting smashed in Granson. Here the Burgundians will be rather stronger and more experienced as well.
 Three years before the first OTL appearance of Burgundian pikemen in similar numbers in Guinegate in August 1479. ATL Burgundians have the benefit of Charles Greek mercenaries forming the core that trains the Burgundians in tactics similar to the Swiss earlier on.
The philosopher emperor part 7
In 1440 emperor Theodore III of Byzantium dies after generally successful reign of nearly 40 years. His son Constantine XII is already forty years old when he rises to the throne. While a capable administrator who had played a considerable role under his father the new emperor is suffering from chronic illness and his situation further deteriorates as the burden of running the empire falls on him. Constantine does his best to face up to the task but the international challenges he is facing are considerably more serious than compared to these of his father.
To the north of the empire Hungary is under the increasing influence of a former minor noble Matthias Hunyadi . Under his influence the Hungarian army is reorganized on more effective lines, if still not a match for its Byzantine counterpart, and an alliance with Moldavia is established. Matthias one of the most talented commanders of it's time takes the offensive in 1443 forcing within a year the Serb king Lazar to shift his allegiance from Byzantium to Hungary and in the next year
invades Greek held Wallachia in conjunction with its Moldavian allies. The second Magyar war starts. 
For the first time in nearly a century Byzantium also faces a serious threat from the Turks in Asia Minor. The constant campaigns of the early Lascarid emperors had driven the Turks from the coastal areas of Asia Minor as well as a significant part of the interior leaving to the Turks an area that roughly defined from Ankara in the west, to Ikonion in the south to Sevasteia in the north. A series of Ottoman sultans unite this area and unable to expand in the west expand in the east in the chaos
created in the aftermath of the Timurid invasions. By the 1440s further expansion in the east is becoming problematic as the Ottoman sultanate is faced with the powerful Ak Koyunlu and Kara Koyunlu emirates. Young Murad II takes the opportunity presented by the Byzantine preoccupation with Hungary to make incursions into Hungary.
Constantine makes his best to confront his multitude of enemies. The imperial armies may not have someone of Matthias calibre but they are superior to their Hungarian and Moldovan counterparts on almost every other aspect. Matthias gradually gains ground in Wallachia but it takes him till 1448 to drive back the Greek armies on the Danube. In Serbia Constantine's son Theodore accompanied by his cousin Charles of Burgundy force Lazar to switch back his allegiance to Constantinople. In Asia Minor Murad's advances are checked but not before the Ottomans make some relatively considerable gains. In the meantime Byzantine diplomacy is at work making trouble in the Hungarian rear were Matthias becomes embroiled with emperor Frederick III when the latter refuses to deliver
young king Lasislaus V to Hungary. Hunyady reacts by ravaging Styria, Carinthia and Carniola and even threatens Vienna before signing a two year truce with Frederick. Nevertheless the diversion combined with the stubborn defense of Wallachia gives Byzantium time to mobilize it resources and organize a counterattack. The Hungarians suffer a serious defeat in the two day battle of Nicopolis in 1449 and in the following 3 years the armies of crown prince Theodore drive the Hungarians out of Wallachia once more. The war will continue till Matthias death in 1456 with varying results as Theodore forces the Moldavian prince out of the
war and raids Transylvania but Matthias manages to defeat him in Belgrade in 1456 thus saving Hungary proper from invasion. With Matthias death Hungary plunges into civil war failing to pose any serious threat to Byzantium or for that matter to Serbia which conquers Bosnia by 1463.
Constantine has already died in 1453 before the end of the Magyar war. His son Theodore IV will end to be known mostly as a warrior emperor. While no doubt correct Theodore one of the most capable emperors to rise to the purple is also an excellent administrator reforming the imperial tax system and supporting trade and industry in his domains during his reign and a great supporter of education and the arts. The court of Constantinople to which the emperor isn't so often seen compares favourably with Milan and Naples or Rome, centres of renaissance in the west. Perhaps more importantly the emperor supports the introduction of the printing press from Germany, making Constantinople one of the prime book printing centres of the world by the end of his reign. To the existing universities of Constantinople, Nikaia, Athens and Trebizont by the time of Theodore's death in 1497 are added universities in Thessaloniki, Smyrna and Ioannina.
It is though the young emperors military accomplishments that are most associated with him. Theodore is the one to end the Magyar war in 1456. The next year we find him campaigning against the Ottomans this time determined not just to reclaim the areas Murad gained during the reign of Constantine but to complete driving the Turks out of the interior of Asia minor as well as the coasts which most concerned him predecessors. With nearly 100,000 imperial troops driving into the Ottoman domains the outcome is not for long in doubt. The Ottoman sultanate can't match the imperial resources either in manpower or money, lacks a heavy infantry force capable of standing up to Theodore's hoplites that form the bulk of the imperial army, much less his guard regiments  and is faced with the best artillery of Europe . Theodore deals a devastating defeat to Murad's army before Ikonion and after subjecting the Ottoman capital to a month long artillery bombardment storms the city in July 1457. Sevasteia falls in 1459 to one of Theodore's generals Michael Grenza Palaiologos marking the end of major Ottoman resistance. The remainder of the Ottoman Asia minor holding is systematically reduced by 1470 leaving a rump Ottoman state in eastern Anatolia that later falls to the Ak Koyunlu.
Theodore is quite willing to accept the existing status qwo in the Balkans as further advances against Hungary would be costly and the empire is still absorbing Wallachia and Bulgaria. Wallachia relatively thinly populated comes under systematic settlement as it is one of the prime areas of settlement for retired soldiers as well as a promising destination for the poor in the more densely populated areas of the empire. Bulgaria comes under gradual hellenisation especially in the cities. 
Theodore makes a brief exception to his policy with a brief war with Moldavia in 1470-1472 where Greek influence competes with that of Poland and Hungary thus forming a potential danger for the empire. Moldavia becomes vassal to Byzantium similar to Serbia but the Moldovan princes remain in their throne and have to pay only a token tribute. Moldovans will find orthodox Byzantium preferable to the catholic Poles and Hungarians especially as Byzantium doesn't show any particular interest to get heavily involved into Moldavian internal affairs.
The Moldovan war leads to the third Magyar war with Lazlo Corvinus, a son of Matthias Hunyadi who has risen to the throne of Hungary in 1463. Theodore defeats Lazlo's "black army" when it invades Wallachia in 1473, invades in turn Transylvania with mixed success before Lazlo forces him to retreat in the next year. The war continues to 1478 without any major actions by either side. In the treaty of Belgrade that ends it Lazlo is married with one of the emperor's daughters.
Theodore is the first to actively involve Byzantium in Crimea where Kaffa
and Cherson are under constant attack from the Crimean Tatars. In 1465 the
Byzantine fleet lands an army to the north of Crimea cutting of the peninsula
from the Ukrainian mainland. Settlers come next as the Byzantines build two
fortified towns Theodosioupolis and Ioanneia named after the emperor and
his wife Ioanna of Sicily.
In 1480 Rene d'Anjou king of the two Sicilies and count of Provence dies. His successor Charles of Maine dies two years later leaving Louis XI of France as his heir. As the French army quickly occupies Provence Theodore goes to action to reclaim the old kingdom of Sicily in the name of his wife and their son Ioannis. Spain comes on the Byzantine side as king Ferdinard has claims of his own for Sardinia and makes an agreement giving Naples to Spain. The two powers find one more ally in the face of Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan. During the 5 decades of the rule of Rene I in Naples the papacy has come under the influence of France and
the Angevins. While Milan helped Rene's rise to the throne of Milan the relations between Milan and the kingdom of the two Sicilies gradually sour in the following decades as the two countries compete for the dominance in Italy. The papacy forms the main Italian ally of Rene. Thus it is not particularly difficult for the duke of Milan to find common cause with the Spanish Byzantine alliance.
Theodore lands in Otranto in May 1483 at the head of 35,000 men and 200 galleys. A month later the Spanish fleet lands and army in Sardinia. Sicily rises in revolt at the news of Theodore's landing in Otranto while the Milanese armies set moving towards Rome at the same news. France with the death of Louis XI is not able to take any immediate action as what is to become the Italian wars starts.
 And who Matthias would be in OTL should be obvious.
 Second if one conveniently forgets the wars during the Comnenes.
 No Jannisaries this time as the Ottomans never got to the point of developing them and lacked sufficient christian areas for the devshirme. They do have "Yaya" infantry short of a precursor to the jannisaries but it is not on par with the latter.
 Alongside France and to a smaller extend Hungary and Burgundy.
 Both happened to a greater or lesser degree under the Ottomans. If anything they will be much more pronounced with the active support of the emperors this time.
The philosopher emperor part 8
The dismemberment of Rene d'Anjou's kingdom of the two Sicilies in what comes to be known as the first Italian war turns out to be a relatively easy affair for the alliance between Byzantium, Spain and the duchy of Milan. This is to no small extend due to the neutrality of France during the war. The death of Louis XI of France in 1483 creates a temporary vacuum of power as his son Charles VIII rises to the throne. Charles born in 1460 is more interested in the early years of his reign with maintaining the gains of his father's reign and confronting the great nobles instead of getting involved in a costly war with both Spain and Byzantium simultaneously over Italy. In effect Charles can be said to even participate in the war against the kingdom of the Two Sicilies as he annexes Provence to France.
Major Angevin resistance is crushed early on when Theodore after taking Otranto, Brindisi and Taranto forces the Angevin army to battle in Massafra in late 1483. Massafra is both the first major battle between a condottieri army and the newer "Greek" style of warfare and the mark of the end of the previous era of warfare. Despite being considerably outnumbered by the joint Neapolitan-Papal forces Theodore's army, numbering some 30,000 men of which nearly two thirds belong to the elite imperial guard formations, utterly crushes it's opposition with a ferocity not to say savagery it's opponents are almost totally unaccustomed with and reminiscent only of the Swiss. At sea the combined Angevin-Papal fleet poses a danger to the Spanish and Milanese navies but is itself seriously outnumbered by the Byzantine navy. In a stroke of luck for the allies it is trapped by the Byzantines while trying to support Palermo against the Sicilian rebels. In the battle that follows
most of it is either captured or destroyed.
The Spanish army landing is Sardinia in the same year, includes a few thousand lansknechte mercenaries alongside considerable numbers of Spanish troops trained in the same way. It quickly reduces most of Sardinia before landing in south Italy and besieging Naples alongside the Greeks in 1484. More to the north the Milanese armies invade the Papal states and drive towards Rome if not with the efficiency of their Greek and Spanish counterparts. By the end of the first Italian war it
controls most of the papal states including Rome.
The end of the first Italian war comes in early 1486 with the victors dividing the captured areas among themselves. Byzantium takes the old kingdom of Sicily. Milan ends up with most of Romagna including Rome. Spain takes Sardinia, Naples and the remaining of the papal states. The pope on agreement between the Sforza and the Spanish crown comes under Spanish influence to balance out Milan actually holding the city. The choice of Rodrigo Borgia as Alexander VI under the spirit of this arrangement a few years later will prove than satisfactory though.
Theodore IV returns to Constantinople in triumph in 1487. The final decade of his reign to 1497 will be spent in organizing the areas the empire has gained in the previous economy and domestic affairs. Constantinople as well as Nicea, Thessaloniki and the other new large cities of the empire find themselves in the midst of an architectural revolution as Greek architects are directly influenced by their Italian counterparts in the immediate aftermath of the Italian war.  The university buildings of Nicea, Thessaloniki and Constantinople are examples of the new era. Still more characteristic is the cathedral of St Theodore the stratelate  rivaling in size Hagia Sofia that is completed by Theodore's son Constantine. Hagia Sofia itself gets some not inconsiderable additions during the period. Of a more...utilitarian
character are the "trace Italiene" style fortifications with which the emperors vest their holdings.
The first Italian war is perhaps the turning point for Milan in the road towards unification of Italy into a single state. In 1490 the duke of Milan buys the title of the kingdom of Italy from the German emperor and is crowned with the iron crown of the Lombard kings. Genoa already a Milanese protectorate for every practical purpose is outright annexed in 1496. With Charles VIII taking over Savoy the same year the only Italian state outside the Milanese dominion is Venice.
In 1493 a Spanish expedition under Cristofforo Pizon in search of a road to India that won't depend on Venice and Byzantium crosses the Atlantic and comes back to report its discoveries of new lands accross the ocean.
 And who in OTL would have been Anne of France.
 And vice versa of course.
 stratelate freely translated to victorious. St Theodore is one of the prime "military" saints of the orthodox church and especially Byzantium.
The philosopher emperor part 9
When Charles VIII rises to the French throne at the age of 23 he is almost immediately faced by the opposition of his nobles who hope to regain the power they had lost under his father. Quite unfortunately for the nobility Charles is no less capable than his father and much like him no less ruthless in the means he is willing to use to further whatever he considers advantageous for the kingdom.
One of the first acts of the new king is to recognize Charles the Bold royal title thus securing his neutrality in the conflict with the nobles. Then a combination of bribes, threats, assassination and trials on grounds varying from treason against the crown to whichcraft divides and destroys the noble opposition. Charles isn't shy to use outright military power when he finds a gain to it, annexing Provence to the crown after Rene's death in 1483 and doing the same with Brittany in 1488.
Charles while staying neutral in the first Italian war does not fail to notice it's potential effects neither forgets his rights to Naples. With the pope coming under the direct influence of Spain and the soon to be kingdom of Italy Charles takes the example of his orthodox counterparts and sets forth with the creation of a national church of France recognizing in paper the supremacy of the pope of Rome but being independent of him and controlled by the crown on all other accounts. 
This causes some consternation both inside and outside France. Charles crushes the opposition inside his kingdom, which with the first seeds of what would become the reformation is not so strong to start with. Outside Charles does not avoid neither cares for a temporary schism with Rome. When Alexander VI Borgia rises to the papacy the French king applies his favourite weapon, the gold ducat, to secure from the pope a recognition of the French church on his terms.
With the internal affairs of his kingdom in order Charles starts setting his eyes on what he deems as his external problems Italy and Burgundy. When Charles the Bold dies in 1493 Charles makes a quick attempt to take care of the opportunity and attacks Flanders and the Somme towns. Young Philip IV of Burgundy proves a tougher opponent than Charles would expect. The Burgundian army rebuilt alongside the Greek lines by Philip's father proves considerably more effective than it's French counterpart despite the presence of Swiss and Lansknechte mercenaries in the ranks of the latter. Of no small importance is the support the Burgundian king gets from his Greek and English allies. Theodore IV the uncle of Philip sends his fleet out of Sicily to ravage the south French coast in support of his nephew while an English force lands in northern France. Charles is quick enough to recognize a mistake for what it is signing a peace with the Burgundians in 1495. Still the war leaves
France with some profit as Calais the last English holding in France is captured during the war.
The next year finds Charles campaigning in Italy. The king of Savoy Charles II dies at an early age in 1496. Charles of France claims the throne through his mother Charlotte of Savoy despite the opposing claim of Philip of Bresse and is quick to back his claim with force of arms invading and conquering Savoy by 1498, securing the Italian neutrality by turning a blind eye to the annexations of Genoa that happens at the same time.
Nine years later Charles "remembers" the Italian claims he is heir too in a somewhat inflated fashion as he comes up with a claim to to Milan through a marriage with the Visconti family a century earlier in addition to Naples. Charles secures Burgundian neutrality by renouncing claims to the old French fiefdoms that belong to the Burgundian king, gains the alliance of Venice which is all too happy with anything that will weaken its Milanese rival and is opportunate enough for Byzantium
to be otherwise occupied at the start of the war.
The Venetian participation on land proves of relatively limited value as the Venetian condottieri army is defeated time and again by the new style army created and led by the Vitteli brothers in the name of the kingdom of Italy. The preoccupation of the Vittelis with Venice though leaves the older condottieri forces that still form the bulk of the Italian army facing Charles's French army, amply provided with German mercenaries and French troops drilled on the Swiss tactics. Venice has a considerably greater impact at sea as it's navy neutralizes the Spanish fleet leaving the Spanish commander in Italy "gran capitan" Gonzalo di Cordoba with what Spanish troops are already present in Naples.
It is only the "trace Italiene" style fortifications that save Milan and the kingdom of Italy from collapse. Charles takes Rome in 1508 suffers a defeat at the hands of Gonzalo when he attempts invading the Spanish domains in the same year but further strengthens his position in 1509 and 1510 closing on Naples and threatening Milan itself. Then with his troubles in the east over Constantine XIV of Byzantium actively comes to the aid of his Spanish and Italian allies. The Venetian navy is driven to the Adriatic by the combined might of the Greek and Spanish fleets in 1511 and suffers a crushing defeat at their hands the next year. On land as a combined Greek and Spanish army under Gonzalo of Cordoba and Krokodeilos Kladas drives the French back in the south, king Maximilian Sforza secures the aid of the Swiss confederation in the north to no small extend through the use of of Greek and Spanish gold. Rome is retaken in 1512 and the next year the French army is defeated by Gonzalo and Kladas in the battle of Viterbo and by the Swiss in the battle of Novara.
Charles reacts to the failures in his usual fashion. He offers peace to his opponents while he still holds a part of Italy. He renounces the Anjou claim on Naples as part of a royal marriage with Spain to secure peace with Spain and sells out his Venetian allies for peace with Italy and Byzantium. The French period of the second Italian war is over by 1514. Venice with most of her fleet lost in Lissa surrenders to Byzantium and Italy in 1516. Byzantium keeps a number of islands as naval bases in the Dalmatian coast and Venice is incorporated into the kingdom of Italy but with considerable internal autonomy.
Charles spends the rest of his reign trying to drive Spain away from its alliance with Byzantium and Italy in order to break the strategic encirclement facing France. The marriage of his daughter in 1514 with king Juan of Spain is a significant step in this direction. Rising commercial antagonism with Byzantium and Italy especially after the discovery of the new world and the Portuguese circumnavigation of Africa further drive Spain towards an understanding with France especially in view of Spanish hopes of controlling Rome and similar Italian hopes for Naples and Sardinia.
Charles dies in 1523. Despite his defeats in the Burgundian and the second Italian war he leaves a kingdom significantly larger and stronger than the one he had inherited. His creation of a national church of France will prove to play a crucial role in the centuries that come. Of no small effect are the centralized state organization he leaves behind as well as the creation of an effective French infantry force on the Swiss style mainly recruited from Gascogne and Picardy freeing the
French throne from it's previous dependence to Swiss and German mercenaries.
 Or in short what an orthodox would call an autocephalous church.
The philosopher emperor part 10
In contrast to its French, Burgundian and Italian neighbours Germany by the end of the 15th century is still a collection of states of varying sizes. Most important among the native German states is probably Austria. Under the control of the Hapsburg family it forms the largest among the German states and steadily holds the imperial throne. Emperor Frederick III that rules, at least on paper, Germany after 1452 and for more than 3 decades proves largely ineffective, and certain of his actions like the raising of the Burgundian dukes to kings are to say the least unfortunate. Frederick is also largely unsuccessful in his conflict with Hungary as the Hungarian king Lazlo Corvinus takes Vienna in 1485 and by 1487 is in control of Austria, Styria and Carinthia.
Burgundy while not properly considered a German kingdom plays nevertheless a role at least as significant as Austria. Charles the bold finds himself in direct conflict with Frederick in the aftermath of his war with the Swiss and Lorraine, his earlier intervention in Cologne and the final annexation of Lorraine to Burgundy. Between his victory against France in 1479 and his death in 1493 Charles steadily expands into the Rhineland taking advantage of both the the weakness of the emperor and the divisions among the Germans. Charles efficient and tolerant administration may be welcome by the common people in his new acquisitions but doesn't fail to alarm the German rulers.
Elections for the imperial throne are held in 1486. Charles who makes a bid for the throne faces by Maximilian Hapsburg. Burgundy already controls Cologne and thus its electoral vote at the time. The elector of Palatinate dangerously close to the tide of Burgundian expansion votes for Maximilian. Securing the votes of the remaining electors becomes almost purely a matter of having the deepest pockets. Maximilian gets crucial help on that matter from the French king as Charles VIII is not particularly interested in seeing the Burgundian king becoming emperor as well. Vladislav the Bohemian king votes for Maximilian through a combination of skilful diplomacy and gold and Burgundy buys half the remaining electors the last two being "persuaded" to vote for Maximilian. With 4 out of 7 votes Maximilian rises to the throne.
Maximilian proves a man of considerable talents. By 1490 he manages to drive the Hungarians out of their conquests. In the same year he sells the title of king of Italy to the duce of Milan for an all but inconsiderable sum. For the remaining three decades Maximilian concentrates his efforts on trying to unite Germany through what he considers the sole means possible, Austrian expansion. Maximilian inherits Gortz and Tyrol fight a short war with the Swiss confederation in 1499 only to find like everyone else in the same period that the Confederates are too strong to conquer and with the death of Louis IX of Bavaria Ingolstadt in December 1503 he moves in to claim the area thus getting involved to war with Bavaria Munich as well. The war of Bavarian succession takes some 9 years but in the end Maximilian unites Bavaria to his Austrian domains. The next year Maximilian gets involved in the second Italian war taking Gradiska from Venice.
To the west of Germany Philip IV of Burgundy takes advantage of the preoccupation of France and his Hapsburg rival to further expand with the goal of putting the Rhine basin under Burgundian control. By the time the war of Bavarian succession is over the Rhineland and the Palatinate have fallen to the Burgundians. When Philip moves into Baden in 1513 the two rivals clash directly. Austria is exhausted from it's Bavarian war and Burgundy is both richer and possessing the better army.
On the other hand Maximilian can for once count on some actual aid from his German subjects and Charles VIII of France may not be be willing to go to war right after the end of the second Italian war but this does not stop him from threatening to do so, massing troops on the Burgundian border, paying German rulers and generally making trouble for Philip. The war ends with the treaty of Frankfurt in 1520 a year after Maximilian's death with Philip taking Baden and recognizing Maximilian's successor as the next Holy German emperor.
Four years before the treaty of Frankfurt a hereby unknown German monk Johannes Luther disgusted by the practices of the popes, especially the late Alexander VI Borgia takes an act that will prove one of the major turning points of world history. In all saints day in 1516 Luther nails on the front door of the cathedral of Wittenberg his "100 theses" starting the reformation.
Catholic Europe reacts in a variety of ways to the reformation. Italy and Portugal remain virtually untouched by it. Spain stays catholic but king Juan III reacts to the challenge towards the papacy more coolly than his mother and so do his heirs. The Spanish kings are more interested to problems at home and their involvement in the struggle between catholicism and the reformation will be largely peripheral and tied to the interests of Spain.
France stays catholic at least on paper. In practice the French church is practically independent from Rome since Charles VIII and under no small influence from people positive towards the reformation especially after the French translation of the bible. Thus the French church while catholic accepts a considerable part of the Lutheran doctrines and remains relatively tolerant towards French protestants  The monarchy will experience problems from ultra catholics or their Huguenot
counterparts in the early decades after the reformation but it will be able to keep them under control with relative ease.
In England king Henry VIII separates the church of England from the papacy more on grounds of economic and personal reasons that actually believing in the reformation.
Burgundy follows to some extend the French lead but from the other side of the religious schism. The Burgundian kings starting with Charles III are openly Huguenot and so is the Burgundian church and the largest part of its population. Nevertheless the Burgundian kings will enforce a strict policy of religious tolerance for both catholics and protestants, or for that matter Jews and orthodox  present in the kingdom.
Unlike France or Burgundy, Germany is effectively turned into a battleground by the reformation. Between 1521 and 1522 Germany is faced with the revolt of the ritterschaft. As soon as it ends the "peasants war" starts in the same year as the peasantry inspired by Luther's teachings and hard pressed during the past century rises in revolt. The revolt takes several years before it is brutally suppressed by the German princes. By 1530 the princes themselves are separated between
those in support of the reformation and those against with the emperor Frederick, a grandson of Maximilian, leading the catholic side. With Frederick embroiled to the third Italian war and the war of Hungarian succession in the 1530s protestantism gains ground and power in Germany. After 1546 Ferdinard is met with considerable success against the protestants in 1548 only for Burgundy to come to their aid in exchange for Wurtenburg in 1552 and the conflict goes on inconclusively till Frederick's death in 1561.
 In short the English church in the reverse. French protestants will be relatively fewer in number, as more will be willing to stay with a church that is "semi-Huguenot" in nature. And for outright Huguenots there is Burgundy as an alternative.
 The Valois-Burgogne keep a close relationship with the Lascarids and vice versa. So Greek trading communities are anything but rare in the Burgundian cities especially in the Netherlands.
The philosopher emperor part 11
With the death of Theodore IV in 1497 his son Constantine XIV rises to the imperial throne. The new emperor for all purposes is a man of mediocre talents much in contrast to his father. On the other hand he is an experienced if not imaginative soldier and administrator by the time he takes the throne and in what has become by this point Lascarid tradition has received a thorough education and even more thorough preparation for his duties. Combined with an efficient military and domestic bureaucratic system and the slowly increasing influence of senate after the 1320s the imperial system can work relatively well without depending on the actual capacity of the emperor to the same extend with previous eras.
During his reign Constantine follows up on his father's steps. Byzantium is content both with it's Balkan and Italian borders and thus Constantine's policy in both areas is more concerned with maintaining the status qwo unchanged than anything else. Constantine also maintains friendly relations with the Ak Koyunlu in the east and Muscovy to his north and doesn't interfere neither with the Safavid unification of Persia nor their conquest of the remains of the Ottoman sultanate that
turns them into an immediate neighbour of the empire.
Constantine takes a far more aggressive policy towards the Mameluks and the Tatar khanate. During the 28 years of his reign Constantine is in near constant conflict with the Tatars as new Greek settlements make their appearance in the Black sea coast between the mouth of the Danube and the sea of Azov and steadily push the tatars north. Constantine finds a ready ally in the region to the emerging cossacks whom he is all too happy to support and a rather less enthusiastic ally in Sigismund I of Poland. Sigismund's brother has led an attack in to Moldavia in the last year of Theodore's reign in hopes of forcing the Moldavians to pass under Polish instead of Byzantine protection. The Polish army of the time still based on knights and feudal levies suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Greeks and Constantine built Odessa in the mouth of Dniestr right afterwards but otherwise avoided conflict with Poland. Relations slowly improve with the rise of Sigismund to the throne.
In Syria the empire still has claims on the Antioch and Edessa and some interest in recovering Jerusalem while at least in theory holds claims on the whole of Egypt and Syria although after the pass of nearly 9 centuries since the muslim conquest noone really takes the latter seriously. Deteriorating relations with the Mameluks complicate things for the empire though. During Theodore's eviction of the Ottomans from Asia Minor the Mamelukes favoured the sultan even if they were kept
neutral. In 1485 there is a brief clash between the two states on the Syrian border and while Byzantium at the time does not escalate the conflict, Constantine who has led the Byzantine army then isn't particularly positive towards them. Things go worth when Venice signs and alliance with the Mameluk sultan after Theodore's death as Constantine rightly perceives this as being targeted against Byzantium. With the outbreak of the second Italian war Constantinople and Cairo go to war.
Despite some limited Venetian aid as well as naval help from the north African states the Byzantine navy dominates the eastern half of the Mediterranean especially with its control of Crete and Cyprus driving away the much smaller Mameluk fleet and allowing the army a ready line of supply. On land the Mameluks have not introduced neither firearms or modern infantry in any sufficient numbers. They suffer a crushing defeat outside Antioch in 1507 and most of Syria falls in the aftermath. By 1509 Egypt itself comes under attack from both land and sea, the Byzantine navy takes Alexandria and Damietta and the Mameluk army suffers a second defeat before Cairo.
Military defeating the Mameluks is for Constantine rather easier than finding what to do with his victory and making the needed peace arrangements. Outright annexation may be immediately feasible but Constantine knows better than add 6 million subjects most of them muslims to his empire. In Syria Byzantium annexes Antioch, Edessa, Palestine and the Sinai peninsula and places a muslim vassal ruling from Damascus in control of the rest. In Egypt Constantine is mostly
interested in securing imperial economic dominance over Egypt and with the Portuguese appearance into the Indian ocean giving his country the
potential ability to get directly involved in the region should the Indian trade get threatened. His Egyptian arrangements show both concerns. Byzantium keeps direct control over Alexandria, Damietta and a small number of forts between the Mediterranean and the red sea coasts, declares itself protector of Egyptian christians copt and orthodox alike and forces the Mameluk sultan to pay tribute.
In the west Constantine gets involved in the second Italian war till its conclusion with the capitulation of Venice to the kingdom of Italy, gains some naval bases in the Adriatic, most notably Lissa in the process and strengthen his ties with Italy and Burgundy concluding royal marriages with both kingdoms.
In the Balkans the peace is maintained to 1520. Moldavia and Serbia are gradually turning more from vassals into close allies of Byzantium benefiting from the close cultural and economic ties with it as well as its military backing against their stronger northern neighbours. From the Byzantine point of view the two smaller states provide some economic advantage, additional armies and not least of all a shield through which its northern adversaries have to pass if they are to invade the empires core areas. Hungary after the conclusion of the third Magyar war and the marriage of Lazlo with Constantine's sister stays at peace with Byzantium. Their son Janos Corvinus is 24 years old when his father dies in 1506. Despite a rival claimant in the king of Bohemia, Janos is elected to the throne, to no small extend due to the aid of his uncle and keeps the peace with Byzantium.
The assassination of Janos in 1520 throws Hungary into chaos. His son Matthias is 10 years old at the time of his father death and in addition to him Ferdinard of Austria and Louis of Bohemia, not much older than Matthias at the time, appear as candidates for the throne. Janos Zapolya the voivode of Transylvania also puts a claim to the throne or failing to this to turning Transylvania into a separate state. Conflict between the candidates and their supporters is inevitable.
The immediate involvement of Byzantium to the war of Hungarian succession is mostly limited to financing the supporters of Matthias. Serbia takes a rather more active role in hopes of gaining Krajna and Belgrade from her support of Matthias. The Bohemian claim is somewhat academic with Louis being only 14 years old in 1514. Ferdinard coming out from a costly war with Burgundy is initially interested more with securing gains in Croatia and Slovenia than taking the crown.
The situation takes a drastic turn in 1524 when Louis reaching his 18th year of age actually assumes his duties. In one of his first acts he masses a Bohemian army of some 25,000 men and leads it into Hungary. His action is met with success at first and Louis moves to relieve the fortress of Beleaguer who is under siege by the Serbs. For the past century Serbia has prospered from trade with Byzantium, the elimination of feudalism and mining while it has incorporated Bosnia after the
1460s. Louis hastily assembled army is met with what amounts to one of the best armies of Europe despite it's relatively small size and is routed outside Belgrade. Louis drowns on the Sava opening the question of the Bohemian in addition to the Hungarian crown.
Ferdinard is quick to take advantage of the new circumstances. He is crowned king of Bohemia in 1525 and then turns his attention to Hungary were the balance of power seriously favours him. In 1527 the Austrian army enters Buda and Ferdinard seems to be about to secure the crown when emperor Theodore V of Byzantium, who had succeeded Constantine to the throne in late 1525, alarmed by the Austrian success openly enters the war. Buda is retaken mere months after its capture and in 1529 Theodore at the head of a combined Greek-Serb-Hungarian army captures Vienna.
The fall of Vienna quickly spreads the war over most of Europe. Poland enters the war on the side of Austria. France and Spain find the moment opportune to go to war against Byzantium and the kingdom of Italy starting the 3rd Italian war. Burgundy is inevitably drawn into the war in the side of its Greek and Italian allies and so is England not much later.
The war despite being generally inconclusive draws on for some 16 years before the treaties of Milan and Belgrade end it. Burgundy is able to more than hold its own against the French and the Spanish as long as it stays on the defence but its own attempts of invading France or threatening price fail throughout the war. In Italy the French and Spanish are slightly superior on land against the Italians and the Byzantine army of Italy but the combined Greek and Italian are stronger than the Spanish and French fleets balancing things out. In the end it is the defeat of the Spanish navy outside Sardinia that gives the impetus to end the war. The border changes in the treaty of Milan are only of cosmetic value.
Byzantium is faced with revolt at home as the recently defeated Mameluk sultans in Cairo and Damascus rise in revolt followed by muslims in Asia Minor. Theodore crushes both revolts by 1535, changes the troublesome sultans with more co-operative and more..conservative sultans in the aftermath but has to primarily take care of the revolts instead of dealing with Austria and Poland.
The Byzantine army is forced by the Poles and the Austrians out of Vienna in 1530. in the years that immediately follow the Austrian and Polish army together with what supporters they have among the Hungarians make significant inroads in the Hungarian domains taking Croatia, Slovakia and no small part of Hungary proper. The tide starts turning the other way round as soon as Theodore is able to take care of his eastern trouble. The Byzantines take Transylvania capturing Zapolya
in the process, then drive the Poles out of Slovakia and by 1546 threaten Poland even if too exhausted to actually be able to exploit their advantage and soon peace follows. Transylvania becomes autonomous under the loose control of the Hungarian crown, Ferdinard keeps Croatia and a small chunk of Hungary while Serbia takes Belgrade. What remains of Hungary is ruled by Matthias.
Theodore V dies in 1549 leaving the empire intact but seriously strained from his wars. Before his death he secures a place in history when Byzantium and the orthodox church change to a new calendar solving the problems of the Julian calendar in 1548.  The Theodoran calendar as it comes to be known is gradually accepted by the rest of Europe. The orthodox patriarchates outside Byzantium are among the first to follow, the catholic church follows suit under pope Gregory a few decades later and the protestant churches greatly vary from Burgundy adopting the new calendar before the catholic church to others adopting it in the early
 The first proposal by Greek scholars to the emperor dating back to 1324 in OTL.
The philosopher emperor part 12
The two immediate successors of Theodore V, Ioannis VI and especially Constantine XV are often accused of at least inactivity if not outright incompetence. It is rather more questionable whether the accusation is totally accurate. When Ioannis VI comes to the throne in 1550 the resources of the empire have been heavily taxed by the wars of the previous half century. Byzantium's adversaries have come under a similar strain but a variety of factors lets them recover faster than Byzantium and it's allies. The most obvious of these factors it the shift in the patterns of trade as the route around Africa comes to dominate the Indian trade breaking the Byzantine and Italian control over it. Both economies are able to compensate for the loss of trade by moving towards manufacturing, by the end of the 16th century Venice and Constantinople are amongst the largest industrial centres of the world but the wars combined with the transition period put a strain on revenue.
Ioannis quite understands the need of the empire for a period of peace to recover and acts accordingly. For the 22 years of his reign both the army and the navy maintained by the emperor are considerably smaller compared with these of his three predecessors. Ioannis tries to avoid war at all costs and largely manages as much, fighting only against Persia between 1555 and 1560. While the empire wins its war it attains little gain from its victory and leads Persia to a period of military
reform in the aftermath.
Ioannis though manages to keep the peace only through giving up ground diplomatically unless what he considers the most crucial interests of the empire. Serbia and Moldavia become fully independent if friendly, Hungary practically a satellite by the end of the Hungarian war is drifting away by the time of Ioannis death in 1571. One year before his death the start of one more war with the Franco-Spanish-Austrian alliance will seal the bad reputation of Ioannis.
Constantine XV has to deal with the less than positive effects of the military and foreign policies of his father in the conduct of the fourth Italian war. In 1570 and 1571 the Spanish navy under crown prince Juan of Asturias destroys first the Italian and then most of the Greek fleet in what will turn out to be the last large scale galley battles in the history of warfare. By the time the war is over in 1576 the Spanish have taken Corsica and forced the Greeks out of mainland Italy while the
French have taken Genoa.
The war is relatively more balanced in the Balkans and Germany. Maximilian II of Austria is tolerant to the extend of being accused of being a crypto-protestant by the more radical catholic elements in his country. With the protestant princes in Germany among themselves Maximilian is able to keep the peace in Germany. When the Italian war breaks out Maximilian joins his French and Spanish ally concentrating his efforts against Burgundy. A Byzantine army moving through Hungary
will threaten Vienna in 1576 and Transylvania that makes the mistake of joining the Austrian side is devastated by the Byzantine attacks but in general Maximilian helped by ankward Byzantine logistics can keep his border secure with relative ease. Burgundy overextended in the previous decades comes under attack from nearly all sides with its main allies unable to provide any considerable aid and England alarmed from Burgundian growth in the previous decades remaining neutral. The massive fortification effort of the Burgundian kings in their western border lets Burgundy survive the storm losing to France only the cities of the Somme. In the east the Austrian army drives the Burgundians out of the eastern bank of the Rhine. The Byzantine Vienna campaign allows the Burgundians to reclaim baden but Wurtenburg ends up in Austrian hands by the wars end.
Byzantium is hardly any more successful in the east. Persia has reacted to its defeat in the 1550s by thoroughly reorganizing it's army along European lines. When war breaks out in 1580 the Persian army conquers Georgia, invades Asia Minor but is driven out by the Greek and when finally Byzantium concedes defeat in 1588 the Byzantine vassal state in Syria has become a Persian vassal.
For a country that has been used to success for more than a century the series of defeats are hard to shallow. Constantine is faced with revolt in Egypt and as soon as the Persian war is over by a revolt aiming to drive him from the throne under an Adreas Paleologos governor of Bulgaria. Constantine involved with the Palaiologue revolt lets his Egyptian vassals go and even accepts the loss of Damietta to independent Egypt. Against Palaiologue who finds widespread support among the nobles
Constantine takes rather more drastic measures. Constantine seeks support from the middle classes splits the senate to an upper and lower chamber, named Gerousia and Boule respectively, and bestows the lower chamber coming through the middle classes significant concessions to secure their support. Two years into the civil war in 1592 Constantine passes what will become the first constitution of the empire. Palaiologue is utterly crushed by 1593 Constantine and the parliament
break up the estates of him and his noble supporters and the bulk of his surviving followers and soldiers while given amnesty finds itself as colonists in Ukraine, a mixed blessing given the combination of free land and Tatar raiders that comes with it.
Up to his death Constantine puts his efforts on rebuilding his army and the economy. Even if often forgotten due to defeats of the first part of his reign it is Constantine that puts the bases of the Byzantine recovery after 1593. Under the auspices of Alexandros Grivas a young general who started his career as a former history student turned officer with great success during the later phases of the Persian war and Palaiologue's revolt and whose advance through the ranks culminates in marrying the emperor's daughter the army is reorganized into using the "Netherlander" tactics pioneered by Burgundian Charles of Nassau at about the same time. The navy introduces sailing vessels en masse for service in the Mediterranean, they are the main ship type already for the Byzantine squadron in the Indian ocean. And of as much if not more importance is the economic recovery brought by the early 17th century that allows the needed revenue to modernize. Constantine dies in 1610 at
62 remaining a controversial figure at least in public consumption histories. It will be his successors that reap the benefits of his reforms and the glory from the successes.
The philosopher emperor part 13
In contrast with the rest of Europe the Polish commonwealth of the 16th century remains largely non centralized, with the power of the monarch severely curtailed by the aristocracy and no other establishment that could take the place the kings of most other kingdoms of the era holds. Still the commonwealth under the Jagellos is the strongest power in eastern Europe and it's careful diplomacy allows it to take advantage of conflicts between Constantinople and Vienna without getting usually embroiled with them. The last of the Jagellos, Sigismund III coming into the throne in 1574 is able to exploit the effects of the last of the Italian wars and the problems of Byzantium in the 1580s. Transylvania utterly exhausted in the aftermath of multiple Greek invasions and occupation during the war is quickly absorbed by the Polish king. Moldavia in not particularly better situation and unable to draw uppon Byzantine support is taken over by Poland in the same period.
To the west of Poland Austria is one more power to take advantage of Constantine's XV problems. By 1576 the Hapsburgs are dominating south Germany controlling Austria, Bavaria and Wurtenburg. Coupled with control over Bohemia, Croatia and parts of Hungary. Maximilian II facing little trouble from the protestant princes in Germany moves into the remnant of Hungary in 1582 conquers most of the country, secures Sigismund's support in exchange of Slovakia and is finally crowned king of Hungary in 1588.
In the east Sigismund is able to secure his border against Muscovy and control over the Baltic coast. By the time of his death in 1610 Courland Memel and East Prussia have come under the direct control of Poland. Against Muscovy Sigismund takes advantage of the Russian problems after the death of Ivan IV to recover Smolensk and the Polish troops even enter Moscow before Sigismund's death only to be driven out again when Constantine Romanov finally rises to the throne of Muscovy in 1613.
Sigismund's death in 1610 without a son and a single unmarried daughter nearly drives his work to collapse as the szlachta comes together to elect a new king. Understandably the election is of immediate interest to Poland's neighbours and thus Greek, Austrian and Swedish candidates are present and find support along different elements of the electorate. At first the Hapsburg candidate ends with the throne only to be driven out by his Greek counterpart who proves way more resourceful marrying the daughter of Sigismund and bringing into the equation Byzantine gold and military support. Perhaps more importantly the Greek candidate gives more signs of religious tolerance compared to his two main adversaries. Thus in 1613 Theodore Comnenos becomes Theodore I of Poland. The royal
election has cost Poland 3 years of near civil war, part of Moldavia, which is retaken by Theodore VI of Byzantium and a brief conflict with Erik XIV of Sweden in the north. In the Ukraine the cossacks, over which Byzantium and Poland have been competing for some time come to be dominated by Byzantium. That the emperors in Constantinople combine being Orthodox with being rather more punctual and open handed than the Poles in economic support and showing a marked aversion to serfdom plays it's own role into ensuring cossack allegiance.
In Austria the death of Maximilian II in 1590 proves a misfortune both for the house of Hapsburg and Germany as a whole. His son Matthias coming to the throne is rather less tolerable than his father and antagonism between catholics and protestants is renewed. By the time of Matthias death in 1615 the protestant states are organized into the "evangelical union" countered by a similar catholic union ominously under Matthias son Ferdinard. Ferdinard's rise to the throne is met immediately with the outbreak of hostilities as the Bohemians refuse to acknowledge him as king. Hungary while catholic follows the Bohemian example.
Frederick has a powerful army but is also faced with considerable economic troubles. Between 1615 and 1620 he breaks the Hungarian and the Bohemian rebels, bans their German supporters and secures Thuringia and Hessen by 1622. Denmark that attempts to come to the aid of its correligionists is faced with the army of the league and the army of a "military enterpauner" Johann Burgenstein and knocked out of the war in 1626.
The emperor's success proves his undoing when in 1627 Byzantium and Burgundy join the war in the Protestant side to be followed by Sweden in 1630. While Spain and Italy come to the aid of Austria, Spain is not able to provide much aid in the face of the combined might of the Burgundian and Greek navies, especially with Alphonso not particularly interested in bankrupting his realm. Italian involvement is more concerned with settling it's differences with Byzantium than with
helping out a potential rival. Austria comes under heavy pressure under the combined weight of allied armies and despite the entry of an alarmed France in the war on it's side when it seem that Burgundy might end up dominating Germany concedes defeat after Vienna is captured by the Greeks in 1635.
The ensuing treaty of Vienna is more a partition of Germany between the major powers involved in the war than an actual peace. Austria has to give up Bohemia, which becomes independent under a relative of the Lascarid and Valois-Burgogne families, gives up Voivodina and Krajna to Serbia and keeps Thuringia and Hessen. Burgundy has to give the Somme cities and Auxerre to France but gains Oldenburg and Hannover in Germany thus coming to dominate the whole coast to the Danish border. Sweden gets western Pomerania while a dynastic marriage with Brandenburg will lead to a union of the two crowns in the future.
Back in Poland Theodore carefully stays out of the 20 years war. With Russia too weak to pose a threat to Poland for some time the only potential threat for Poland is Sweden to the north. Theodore more interested in securing his position on the Polish throne puts significant efforts in keeping the peace with not inconsiderable
success, helped by Sweden's Russian and Danish war's before 1630. Helped by the early Danish involvement in the 20 years war Gustav II of Sweden  gains by 1630 Scania and Trondheim from Denmark-Norway.
With no serious external challenges Theodore sets on establishing a more centralized state in Poland itself. Theodore is directly holding Moldavia and Transylvania in addition to Poland proper. He uses the two areas as the base to build up his personal power in order to be able to confront the szlachta. The conflict finally breaks out in 1629 over the levying of tolls at Pillau, Memel, Danzig, Labiau and Windau. The civil war drags to 1637 and by the end Theodore and his supporters end with the victory. The powers of the szlachta are seriously curtailed and the new Sjem is organized uppon the lines of Constantine's XV reforms in Byzantium 4 decades earlier.
 Who unlike OTL Gustavus Adolphus, is a competent but no extraordinary general but is...more pragmatic in the Louis XI fashion as well.
The philosopher emperor part 14
Under the house of Valois, France sees steady economic and population growth throughout the 16th century. Charles VIII is succeeded by Louis XII in 1522. It is under the Louis that the alliance with Spain and Austria engineered fully comes to fruition. On the other hand Louis involvement in the 3rd Italian war after 1529 also so the limits of French power. After 16 years of war Louis gains nothing either in Italy or in Burgundy at the peace settlement.
Charles IX that comes in the throne in 1553 proves more successful in the 4th Italian war as he gains Genoa from Italy and the Somme cities from Burgundy. Once more though it is shown that the large Burgundian kingdom can effectively check French expansion eastwards. The French kings have either to try destroying Burgundy or put their energies on different goals.
French inability to destroy the Burgundians is clearly shown when in 1593 Louis XIII and his Spanish ally go to war with Burgundy once more. At sea the Spanish naval assault at the Netherlands aiming to destroy once and for all its Burgundian colonial rival ends in disaster. On land the new "Netherlander" army of the Burgundians led by one Jan Tzerkas repeatedly defeats the French army and regains the Somme cities in the process.
By the same time the alliances of France with Spain and Austria and Burgundy with Italy and Byzantium are slowly but steadily coming apart. In the first case France while catholic is far more liberal in its catholicism compared to her Spanish and Austrian allies while finding her interests and these of Spain diverging. In the second case Italy, the land of the pope finds itself allied with orthodox schismatics and protestant heretics against the 2 or three of you count France catholic kingdoms in the world.
It is Juan IV of Spain that brings this "first diplomatic revolution". As a young crown prince Juan had let the Spanish into their successes of the 4th Italian war. As kin Juan is capable enough to see that Spain for decades is wasting her efforts in endless Italian wars and her Italian holding are a net loss.  Juan marries his sister with 20 year old Gian Galeazzo III Sforza with Naples as a dowry.
For the Italian king the marriage is a major diplomatic success as it unites in a single stroke the whole Italian peninsula. For Juan it takes away the Italian border from Spain, gains the Italian alliance and puts the papacy under the immediate Spanish influence. Juan is less successful in his attempt to break his Burgundian enemy in the 1590s. This war turns to be the effective end of the Franco-Spanish alliance and the start of major reforms in Spain by Juan IV and afterwards his son Alphonso.
France also turns inward for nearly a generation after its defeat by Burgundy as Louis XIII and after 1611 Charles X seem more interested with promoting industry and trade inside France, strengthening the navy and colonial expansion than with trying their luck against 2 centuries of fortification effort in the east. The new French navy finds itself into major action for the first time in 1618 against a somewhat unlikely opponent, Algeria.
For the past centuries the north African coast has been the base of muslim  pirates hindering trade in the Mediterranean, raiding in the Atlantic and even reaching island at the time. The European wars of the second part of the 16th century further help the Barbary pirates operations and so does the Egyptian independence. The Mameluk sultans recruit from the Barbary coast for their own fleet, allow Barbary ships into Damietta and raid themselves.
The four christian maritime powers in the Mediterranean can't quite ignore the situation and for a rare instant their interests are in agreement. In 1616 the league of Syracuse between Byzantium, Italy, France and Spain is created with the goal of eliminating the muslim pirates. In 1618 the north African coast comes under attack by the christian powers. Damietta is burned down by the Greek fleet in February and the imperial army invades in the wake of the victory defeats the Mamelukes and forces Egypt to pay tribute once more. More to the west the Italians take Tripoli and Tunis, the French navy bombards and the captures Algiers. On a somewhat more dramatic move the Spanish army invades Morocco while Tangiers is taken by the its navy.
The French drive to the east proves more successful during the 20 years war in Germany. Charles X enters the war late much to the concern of his supposedly Spanish and Austrian allies. With the Burgundian army exhausted from the fighting in Germany, France is able to regain the Somme cities in addition to long lost Auxerre but also to accept the Burgundian gains in Germany.
 Of course ATL Spain is way better off, as it avoided the Hapsburg marriage. It still is at conflict with Burgundy but this is almost solely a naval and colonial confrontation.
 If you forget the actual crews of the ships.
The philosopher emperor part 15
The end of the 20 years war in 1635 probably finds France as the country that most benefited from the war. Entering the conflict at it's latest phase France made not inconsiderable gains while being the one kingdom to be the least burdened by the war. By 1640 a fully recovered France is eyeing her neighbours for further gain. With Burgundy closing access to the east and Italy in a rather strong position herself the French turn uppon Spain. While the Spanish war will prove harder than expected by 1652 France has broken Spanish resistance. By the treaty of the Pyrenees the French add Sardinia to Corsica and only Italian intervention , at the cost of the Rio de la Plata colony passing to Italy, saves Spain from worse. By 1650 France is probably the strongest kingdom of Europe, with the largest army in the continent and one of the largest navies in the world.
Italy after a less then positive 16th century is in the ascendance during
the 17th century. It's participation in the 20 years war has been confined
to a brief naval confrontation with Byzantium due more to economic competition
and conflicting Byzantine claims to south Italy and Italian claims to Sicily
than anything else. Italy then takes advantage of the French preoccupation
with Spain to attack a weak Austria expanding her Dalmatian holdings and
gaining Istria and Trieste in the process. Her intervention in the Franco-Spanish
war afterwards gains the Italians their first major overseas colony. By
1650 Italy is powerful and prospering but faced with a serious strategic
dilemma as it finds potential opponents on nearly all directions and lacks
the resources to field both an army and a navy on par with major continental
powers like France and Byzantium.
For Burgundy the 20 years war proved a mix affair. In the east Burgundy
made large gains in Germany but in the west it had to give up land to the
French. Still Burgundy can claim the highest per capita income in the world,
result of massive trade and an ever increasing industry, the strongest navy
afloat and a fledging colonial empire around the world. Both France and
England are major Burgundian antagonists overseas despite focussing on
European concerns in the case of France and domestic problems in the case
Byzantium finds itself in 1635 with a secure border in the north given it's victory over Austria. Alexander II Grivas seizes the opportunity and unleashes his battle hardened troops against the Persians. Within 6 years Byzantine armies are at the gates of Baghdad and the shores of Caspian forcing the Persians to terms. With the treaty of Ankara the Syrian emirate's allegiances, and tribute, pass to Byzantium and in addition to the Iberian kingdom a kingdom of Armenia, needless to say under heavy Byzantine influence, is established by Alexander. In the Ukraine Byzantine troops and right behind them Greek settlement keep advancing at the expense of the Tatars while Byzantine influence over the Cossacks is increasing. This in turn gradually entangles Byzantium in a three way conflict with Poland and Russia.
In the north Gustav II turns his attention back to Denmark as soon as
the treaty of Vienna takes hold. While the Swedish army in Germany overruns
Sleswig Holstein and Jutland, back in Scandinavia Norway is invaded and
the Swedish and Danish fleet clash in the Baltic. Despite stiff resistance
especially in Norway Denmark can't stop the Swedes by itself and has to
give up Sleswig Holstein and Norway in the treaty of Stockholm in 1645.
Sweden will have to deal with revolts in Norway for nearly a century afterwards
but the Scandinavian balance of power will remain forever to her favour
in the aftermath of Gustav's victories.
Alexander II of Byzantium dies in 1648 leaving behind an empire that has secured her borders in nearly all directions during his reign. His successor Michael VIII Lascaris takes advantage of the temporary respite his father successes have provided to secure Byzantine interests in the Indian ocean and eastern Europe, areas where Byzantium is traditionally active but usually are of secondary importance compared to the eastern and western frontiers. The imperial fleet has been active in the Indian ocean ever since the recovery of the Levant in the early 16th century has provided it with bases in the Red sea coast. While the Byzantines were able to defeat Portuguese attempts to bottle them up in the Red sea and gradually established forward bases in the East African coast though out the century, the inability to easily shift naval resources from the Mediterranean to the Indian ocean puts them at a disadvantage against their rivals, while more importantly the Indian trade gradually shifts from it traditional route through the Eastern Mediterranean to routes around South Africa. Michael's solution to the dilemma is daring if costly. Between 1648 and 1673 Byzantine engineers cut a canal uniting the Mediterranean with the Red sea. While the canal has it's limitations it's effects on eastern trade and balance of power will prove profound.
Michael VIII is faced with a quite more complicated situation in eastern Europe. Sigismund IV Comnene-Jagello of Poland is faced with trouble as soon as he succeeds Theodore the throne as the szlachta suppressed by his father rises against him almost immediately in 1652. The scope of the conflict quickly broadens as the cossack communities get embroiled into it, serfs revolt against the nobility and the Tatars are drawn into the war by the nobles to counter the Cossacks. Michael is in turn drawn in the war to support his Cossack allies and ensure that Sigismund, a Lascarid relative, keeps his throne and the Russian Tsar takes the opportunity to expand. The resulting war draws on for 15 years, costs Poland Smolensk that falls to the Russians, sees the destruction of the Tatars at the hands of Byzantines, Russians and Cossack and nearly costs the Poles Kiev which while taken by the Russians is retaken by Sigismund. While the Russians and the Byzantines don't directly clash during the war the antagonism between the 2 orthodox powers is becoming evident and in it's aftermath they share a common border for the first time in centuries. The cossack communities already under heavy Byzantine influence before the war are incorporated into the imperial structure while maintaining their internal autonomy. The szlachta ends up destroyed by the blows delivered by rebels, Cossacks, royal troops and foreign armies never to recover. But Sigismund in the aftermath of the revolt moves more toward absolutism severely curtailing the powers given the Sjem by his father's constitution. Poland may have passed away from the feudalism of the szlachta but will have to deal with French style absolutism for the next century.
The philosopher emperor part 16
In 1655 after the sudden death of Louis XIV 20 year old Charles XI rises
to the French throne. France of the time is the strongest country in the
continent and one of the strongest colonial powers in the world. Both in
Europe and in the colonies though it is faced with Burgundian antagonism.
Despite close cultural and other ties between the two kingdoms for the past
2 centuries they have been almost constantly on opposite sides. And with
the Burgundian holdings extending from the Swiss border to the sea French
expansion towards Germany is practically impossible. Nearly 3 centuries
of Burgundian independence have seen considerable changes inside Burgundy
as well as the French, Dutch and German populations of the kingdom gradually
involve into a single nation with a language based on German but
with a very heavy infusion of French and Dutch into it.
As soon as he takes the throne Charles sets his efforts uppon eliminating his Burgundian rival. Charles secures an alliance with Austria, the strongest German state in existence and a rival of Burgundy as well. Then he goes a step further by making an alliance with England as well. In the past England had been either of the side of Burgundy or neutral in the Franco-Burgundian conflicts. Rising commercial antagonism and the English king's need to secure French monetary and at need military support inside his own country drive England of the French side. Spain while a French enemy since the time of Charles father is exhausted and not particularly friendly towards the Burgundians either thus Charles can secure her neutrality. Italy of the time is undecided over the course to take after her victory over Austria, namely whether it should primarily antagonize Byzantium or France. Liberal use of French gold to get her on the French side is countered with that oldest and most effective of weapons in the Byzantine arsenal, namely gold but Italy remains undecided and thus neutral when the war breaks out. With Byzantium and Poland embroiled in war in the east Charles considers the possibility of either intervening in the war rather small.
The Burgundian war breaks out in 1660 with the French and Austrian armies invading Burgundy from the west and the east respectively. At sea Burgundy may have the largest and best navy in the world but the combined English and French navies are larger than the Burgundians and not much worse in quality especially in the English case. Initial prospects for the Burgundians look rather bleak especially if they end up fighting alone. As it turns out they do not. Byzantium despite its eastern entanglements enters the war on the side of Burgundy followed by Serbia and Bohemia and a little later Sweden. The Swedish entry in the war in turn drives Denmark into the French camp in 1661. Following the Danish entry in the war Scania and Norway revolt against Sweden. In Germany Brandenburg follows the Swedes to war.
As it turns out Byzantium is not able to mount any significant land effort for some time with large numbers of troops concentrated in Poland and Ukraine but the imperial navy is an entirely different question. Byzantine squadrons hit Algiers and Marseilles in the first year of the war, land troops in Sardinia the next and force the French to concentrate most of their navy against them thus balancing out the initial Anglo-French superiority over the Burgundians. In land most of the Swedish effort goes against Denmark but the combination of Serbia, Brandenburg and Bohemian in addition to what forces Byzantium and Austria can spare takes most of the burden on their Eastern border from the Burgundians.
The war is still largely undecided by 1665. On land the French army has slowly but steadily driven back the Burgundians, the Norwegian revolt has been put down and the Swedes have taken Jutland while Bohemia has fallen to the Austrians. At sea the combined Byzantine and Burgundians have maintained a slight edge over the French and English. In March 1665 the situation at sea is drastically changed when the Burgundian admiral Maarten de Ruyter traps and destroys the greatest part of the English navy, off Dunkirk. Followed by the defeat of the English Mediterranean squadron and a French fleet by the Greeks in the battle of Malta a month later Dunkirk turns out to be the spark for the English parliament's revolution against the king especially as lord Chatham, the admiral in command of the fleet in Dunkirk had been a royal appointee placed in head of the fleet more due to his contacts with the king than any apparent qualities. With England sinking into civil war command of the seas passes firmly into Burgundian and Byzantine hands.
The neutralization of England proves the death of Denmark as the Burgundian navy comes to the aid of the Swedes. The Danish navy is annihilated in the 3 day battle of Skaggerak, not without inflicting heavy casualties on the victors, and Copenhagen falls to the Swedish army in 1666, the same year the Austrians force Brandenburg out of the war. By the end of 1667 Burgundy is winning in the colonies but the French and Austrian pressure in the continent is stronger than ever with the French army threatening Brussels. But 1667 is also the last year of the eastern war thus freeing up Byzantine armies.
1668 sees the turn of the land balance against the French and Austrians. As the freed up Swedes invade Austria from the north and joint Greek and Serb army takes Budapest. Italy enters the war in the same year in exchange for securing for Italian ships the right to use the Red sea canal on the same terms with Greek ships. While the French and Austrians check Italian offensives with relative ease the forces pulled away from the Burgundian theatre allow the Burgundians to hold back the French. With the Spanish about to enter the war and Byzantine and Serb armies massing up in Hungary to strike Vienna peace is signed in 1669. Denmark is annexed to Sweden, Bohemia to Austria, a rump Hungarian state is created, effectively establishing a cordon of allied and puppet states for Byzantium to cover it's northern border, and some minor adjustments in the French favour are made in the Franco Burgundian border with France returning the rest of her gains in Europe to gain back her colonies. If any French king needed proof that Burgundy should be dealt with some other way as simply destroying it is unfeasible, Charles has amply demonstrated as much.
The philosopher emperor part 17
A very sketchy description of the Americas aka Hesperia
The continent that will come to be known as Hesperia is discovered by the Europeans when Cristofforo Pizon's ships trying to reach India reach instead Cuba in June 1493. Over the next decade Pizon will make several more journeys to the new world , help establish the first Spanish colonies in Hesperia and become the first governor of the Spanish Cuban colony, a position he will retain to his death. It will take some time for European geographers and navigators to understand the full extends of their discovery. The continent is nearly named Colombia after a Milanese geographer Sergio Colombo, one of the first to realize as much ,before the name Hesperia first used by Byzantine scholars takes hold.
The early decades of exploration and colonization of the new world are dominated by the Spanish. The Cuban colonies are followed by settlements in Panama in 1510 and the conquest of Mexico by 1521. Peru follows in 1524-1535 and by 1550 Spain is in control of an area from Mexico to Chile. The only other significant colonization effort in the same period comes from Portugal, that shortly follows the discovery of Brazil in 1511 with establishing colonies in the area. In 1534 the Portuguese crown divides the coast into captaincies and in 1549 these are in turn united under a single governor general.
Spain and Portugal are hardly the sole European countries interested in Hesperian colonies. All major powers including Mediterranean ones like Byzantium and Italy will get involved in exploration and colonization of the new continent. Byzantium the most unfortunate geographically wise will not obtain any presence in the area. Italy is in a somewhat better position and in addition most of the early explorers of Hesperia are of Italian origin. Still the sole Italian colony comes when the Rio de la Plata colony is transferred from the Spanish to the Italian crown in the mid 16th century.
Burgundy is the first non Iberian power to engage in exploration of Hesperia as early as 1496. It is followed by the English the next year and the French in 1524. France is the first to successfully establish a colonial presence in north America with the colony of Carolina, named after Charles IX in 1562 followed by the colony of Florida 3 years later . The French colonies expand north to OTL Virginia by 1589 and south to the establishment of Louisiana in the early 1600s. French expansion in the nest two centuries will mostly follow the route of the Mississippi from Louisiana and secondarily move west from the Carolina and Virginia colonies west into Tennessee and Kentucky.
Burgundy early on is more interested in central and south America than in north American colonies. The Burgundian navy seizes a multitude of West Indies islands during the various war against Spain during the 16th century and most end up under permanent Burgundian control. Portugal has to face a first Burgundian incursion into Brazil in 1555 that is beaten back by 1567. The Burgundians return in force during the 20 years war permanently seizing all of Brazil to the north of Minas Gerais.
Burgundian colonization in north Hesperia comes relatively late compared to the French and the English colonies but quickly gains momentum. The first Burgundian settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam in 1614 is followed in 1617 by the colony of Charlesveld (Pennsylvania) and Nouveau Antwerp in Delaware in 1632 . The three colonies would form the core of Nouveau Burgogne drawing considerable immigration from Burgundy, especially it's German areas, in the decades to come. The Burgundian's set up forts into Ohio in the early 18th century and further expand into Indiana and Illinois later in the century. Expansion further west or towards the south is checked by the French and British expansion over the route of the Mississippi.
English colonization slightly precedes the Burgundian settlement and follows the French settlement chronologically. The first English colony is that of Newfoundland in 1583. It is followed by the colony of Nova Scotia in 1607, Boston in 1620 and Pennsylvania (Quebec) in 1622. From there English gradually expand into Ontario and further south into Michigan and Wisconsin.
By the mid to late 18th century Nouveau Burgogne's southern border is extending roughly along the lines of the OTL northern limits of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky to the route of the Mississippi in the west to the borders of Michigan and Wisconsin in the north, practically sandwiched between the French and English settlements.
 Shamelesly stealing from Sprague de Camp.
 In OTL both were attempted by the Huguenots under the inspiration of Coligny. In our case they are given far stronger support directly from the French crown. Post that without religious wars in France and alt Huguenots as the spearhead of French colonial expansion the latter is going to be both faster and a lot more dynamic than in OTL.
 Nya Sverige was first settled by Dutch, Walloon and Flemish colonists in OTL. ATL it is a direct Burgundian effort instead.
The philosopher emperor part 18. Burgundians and the rising sun.
Up to the start of the 16th century Japan remains little affected by the
changes occurring to Europe. The first Europeans to reach Japan are the Portuguese
in 1540. They are well received by the Japanese, with their firearms becoming
subject of no little interest and christianity subject of curiosity as well.
The first catholic missionaries follow the Portuguese ships to Japan in 1547
and in short order catholicism is expanding in Japan more often than not
at sword point and with the
Portuguese trade backing its expansion. By 1580 according to the missionaries there are nearly 100,000 catholics in the islands .
The Portuguese are not the sole Europeans reaching Japan though. Spain already in control of the Philippines sends her own missionaries and traders shortly after the Portuguese. Burgundy, being the prime merchant power of the time can't quite miss the opportunities presented in Japan. The first Burgundian ships reach Japan in 1550. Unlike their Portuguese and Spanish counterparts the Burgundians do not tie trade with christian preaching and thus gain considerably greater influence in Japan. By the end of the century English, French and even the occasional Greek and Italian traders can be seen in the Japanese ports.
Japan of the period is evidencing the final phase of nearly two centuries of civil wars. In the wake of massive firearms use Japan is unified first under Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi and finally Tokugawa Hidetada who establishes a dynasty for the shogunate. All three shoguns are quite interested in trade with the west but not necessarily over the strings the Spanish and Portuguese put into it. A Burgundian settlement is already established in Yedo since 1570 when Hideyoshi rises to the shogunate while the Burgundians are more than happy to provide Hideyoshi assistance with naval construction and mining, or even complete ships further strengthening the shogunate. While the first Japanese merchant ships make their present well outside Japanese waters the Hideyoshi becomes increasingly alienated by the Portuguese and Spanish while he comes to consider the Catholics in Japan as a threat, probably with reason. When the "king Juan's war" starts in Europe in 1593 the Japanese jump on the Burgundian side and invade the Philippines. The 6 year campaign that follows sees the Spanish forced out of the Philippines , and marks the entry of Japan in the world stage as a major colonial power as well as the end of the presence christianity in Japan as a major religion. Accidentally it also saves
Korea as Hideyoshi's PPhilippinecampaign prevents him from putting his plans of invading China through Korea into effect.
Japan under the Tokugawa aggressively enters a period of overseas expansion and participation in European affairs. The Philippines war with Spain is followed in 1617 by an invasion of Korea. With the Koreans unable to defeat Japan's "new navy" and China preoccupied by Manchu invasion Korea is securely under Japanese control by 1620. With China just too strong to take on Japanese interests turn overseas partly driven by the ever growing Japanese trade with the west. During the 20 years war the Tokugawas faithful to their alliance with Burgundy declare war on Spain and Portugal in 1627. Remaining Portuguese and Spanish holdings in the far east are swept away, and in 1629 Japan lands an expedition in Peru. With the population at best indifferent toward its Spanish overlords resistance is overcome by the end of the war. Japan comes out of the final peace treaties with the seeds of a future colonial empire in Indonesia, side by side with the Burgundian holdings
there and more importantly in control of Peru, allowing Japan both to finance further expansion and modernization in the years to come as well as dominate the Chinese trade.
For Spain the loss of Peru is a major blow, felt all too keenly in the Franco-Spanish war 2 decades later. But it also sparks a wave of reforms by the Spanish kings both on their remaining American colonies and their European and north African holdings. Spain might have lost a major part of the flow of specie from the new world. In the long run the benefits of the reforms instituted in reaction to the loss prove of far greater significance to the kingdom.
 As opposed to a supposed 150,000 at the same time in OTL. Quite a few things conspire to that effect. First there are early alternatives to the Portuguese trade. And the alt-catholic church is much weaker than in OTL. Which adversely affects the Jesuits counterpart influence. Combined with the trade changes Spanish missionaries from the Philipines also make their presence felt earlier thus adding infighting among the missionary missions.
The philosopher emperor part 19 Amaltheas horn
The centuries after the rise of islam haven't been particularly good for
the ancient Aksumite kingdom especially in comparison to the past. Christian
Ethiopia finds itself increasingly under muslim pressure, the core of the
Kingdom driven to the interior and an ever increasing number of muslim hostile
neighbours to cope up with and no powerful christian ally anywhere close
in sight. Although the Ethiopians were able to beat the Ifat sultanate in
the 13th century by the late 14th century the sultanate of Adal has risen
Ethiopia is largely saved from worse due to internal disputes between the muslim states facing it throughout the 15th century. Things turn much to the worse when the charismatic Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al Ghazi the "Gran" comes to unite the diverse muslim states in jihad against his christian enemies. Increasingly devastating invasions starting in 1525 culminate in a decisive muslim victory in Shimbra Kure in 1529.
By 1529 though Ethiopia is hardly the sole christian power of any significance in the region. In the aftermath of Constantine XIV Lascaris victories over Egypt 20 years earlier Byzantium is again a power in the Red sea, a power with an interest on expanding on her position there, especially since the Portuguese threaten her hold on the Indian trade. Under the circumstances christian Ethiopia seems a natural ally to the emperor's. From the Ethiopian point of few any aid is good, Byzantium's version of christianity is closer to it's own that catholicism and with the renaissance, influence from the reformation and several centuries of hard taught experience Constantinople less demanding than Rome regarding religious matters. Byzantium answers to the Ethiopian calls for help with mercenaries, cannon and firearms given to it's new Ethiopian ally and the growing imperial navy's Red sea squadron making it's presence felt in the horn of Africa. The Ethiopian emperor Lebna Dengel may not be a general of any stellar ability compared to his muslim adversary but his new Greek trained army and mercenaries more than even the odds. As the muslim armies are broken under cannon fire and Ethiopian infantry, the kingdom rises back to power and under contact with Byzantium and western Europe extends modernization from it's army to the state as a whole.
Ethiopia starts expanding at the expense of her muslim neighbours under Lebna Dengel successors. By 1600 the modern Eritrean and Somali coasts are under Ethiopian control while modern Djibouti is under Byzantine control. Internally the Ethiopian emperors have utilized their hold on firearms to secure their position and the country is increasingly becoming a centralized monarchy on the Byzantine model. A reasonably well organized bureaucracy is holding the army together, books and printed presses are imported from Byzantium, while coffee starts proving a quite important export commodity.
With the return to relative prominence Ethiopians also start making their presence felt in the Indian ocean. In centuries past Axum played a rather important role in Indian maritime trade. In the aftermath of the Arab expansion Ethiopian maritime presence has fallen from her previous position even if it did not disappear at all. Now the Ethiopian merchant marine slowly but steadily starts increasing again in significance, helped by Greek maritime interests as well as Ethiopia's hold over the horn of Africa. The Ethiopian navy comes almost as an afterthought as the emperor's seek some leverage with their Greek ally and the needs of protecting the growing merchant marine and fending off Portuguese pressure in the Indian ocean. The restrictions geography puts on the size of Byzantine naval presence in the Indian ocean force Constantinople not to just accept the Ethiopian fleet but also actively aid with it's development. by the start of the 17th century the Ethiopian navy is still relatively small by European standards but a modern well trained force with no little experience from fighting piracy and it's new found Portuguese adversary.
The 17th century becomes the golden age for Ethiopian expansion. Close to home the Ethiopians gradually take control of the Sudanese coast up to the border with the Mameluks while steadily expanding into Sudan. On the other side of the Arabian sea by the end of the 17th century Ethiopia is firmly in control of most of Yemen and Oman while in conflict with the Persians over control of the approaches of the Persian gulf. In the eastern coast of Africa the combination of the Ethiopian and Byzantine navies has driven the Portuguese out and the former Portuguese holdings in Mombassa and Mozambique are under the Ethiopians. In India the Portuguese have been mostly driven out by a combination of Greeks, Ethiopians and Burgundians by the mid 17th century. Ceylon and Malabar pass under Burgundian control while the Ethiopians hold a fort in Bacalm. By the century's end Ethiopia's merchant marine holds a major part of Indian ocean maritime trade, has ships sailing relatively regularly to west European ports and the occasional ship can be even found as far as Japan and the Americas.
Ethiopia is hardly alone in the Indian ocean during the same period. Greek and increasingly Burgundian merchant interests are providing a large part of the capital on which the Ethiopian merchant marine is operating while the Ethiopians are still quite dependent on their European allies for sophisticated equipment, for that matter the first Ethiopian university won't appear before the 18th century, while throughout the 17th century the Greek Red sea squadron is at least as powerful as it's African ally's navy. The Byzantines are holding both sides of the straits of Aden as early as 1600. During the next century to these will be added Socotra, Zanzibar, forts in the mouth of the Zambezi as well as Goa and Diu in India. But by the dawn of the 18th century Ethiopia is definitely on the rise, the strongest and most modern native African kingdom and an emerging major power.
The philosopher emperor part 20 The horse nomad and the dragon
To the uninformed observer China of
the 16th and early 17th century is an economic and military giant stronger
and richer by far compared to anyone in the rest of the world. Contact with
Europe is opened when Portuguese ships reach Canton and in the following
decades considerable trade develops between China, Europe and the European
colonies in America. China is disturbed by internal revolts early in the
century and finds itself raided both from the north and the sea in the 1540s
but otherwise the century pass in relative peace. Christian missionaries
also make their presence felt, at least in court.
The internal problems of the Ming dynasty come to the fore in the next century when the Manchus go to war with the empire in 1616. The Chinese army is completely defeated by the Manchu and in 1619 Liaotung is lost. While the Manchu declare independent in 1620 while China is falling into civil war. By 1642 rebel forces enter Peking only for factions among the imperials to conclude peace with the Manchu and call them in.
It proves a particularly wrong action. The Manchu defeat the rebel armies and capture Peking but afterwards don't show any particular interest in returning it to the previous owners or for that matter recognizing the Ming at all. a Manchu emperor is installed in Peking in 1644 and Nanking where a rival Ming emperor tries to set up himself is taken shortly after. Ming resistance keeps on but it is too disorganized to effectively stop the Manchu alone.
Fortunately for the Ming they are hardly alone in their conflict with the Manchu's. Japan in the wake of her expansion in Korea in the 1610s doesn't find it to her interest for the Manchu to end the indisputable rulers of China. In early 1646 Japanese armies cross the Korean border opening the war with Manchu. The Japanese smash through Manchu resistance early on threatening to overrun Manchuria and Peking. Only the Manchu ability to call up on considerably larger numbers from China allows them to hold back the Japanese and slowly drive them back. Still when the war ends in 1656 Japan is firmly in control of Korea and her armies have repeatedly defeated Manchu offensives over the Yalu. The agreement to make peace in 1656 comes more due to economic exhaustion and Japan de facto achieving her goals of keeping China divided than actual victories of Manchu arms.
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary apart from the Ming is the Koreans as the shogunate has to give them much increased rights to secure their loyalty during the war.
The division of China hasn't come in exactly the best fashion for the Japanese nevertheless. Surviving Ming strongholds were given precious breathing space by the war. In the same time a somewhat unlucky but highly capable leader arises among them. The new Ming emperor Coxinga is the son of a pirate and only loosely connected with the dynasty. As emperor he is able to weld the remaining Ming areas into a single unit, his fleet is large enough to allow him seizing Taiwan from the Burgundians while a Spanish alliance brings to him European guns and instructors, train and large numbers of Jesuits. Coxinga takes back Sanghai and by 1656 has established a solidly based state in the south of China. The Manchu armies that turn up on him find his new army far more potent than the Ming ever were. After eight more years of warfare peace comes in 1664 and the middle kingdom finds itself divided between the Yuan with their capital in Peking and what is still called the Ming, with their capital in Shanghai.
The "new Ming" more actively represent a return to the Shung days than the original dynasty. The southern Emperors maintain close contact with the west are actively trading with it and are anything but say over introducing technology either from Japan or from Europe directly. Ming maritime power also fast expands and the fleets of the middle kingdom find themselves again in the ocean routes they had left two centuries ago. The Yuan secure in their greater size look down uppon their neighbours in the south.
By the end of the 17th century Japan and the 2 Chinese states are dominating the far east. Japan is probably the most advanced of the three and the Yuans the most backwards. Japan and the Ming are also art of the general European balance of power. While Japan is generally closer with Burgundy and Byzantium, the Ming find themselves closer to Spain and Italy. The Yuan are still considering the Europeans are tribute bearing barbarians.