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Background Notes

News 08-09-2001

  • Page reformatted and expanded.

The West | The East | Levant | On Constantine

The Oath of Empire series is set in the 7th century of the Common Era. There are two Roman Empires (the West, comprising modern Italy, France, Spain, Switzerland, England and parts of German and North Africa; as well as the East - controlling Greece, parts of Bulgaria, most of Turkey and large portions of Egypt, Israel, Syria and Lebanon).

Though the twin Roman Empires (divided long ago in an attempt to maintain central control over a vast area in the face of sustained attack) are considered the pre-eminent power in Mediterranean, they are not alone.

To the north, the Scandanavian countries are ruled by a rabble of pirate-kings and warlords. The greatest of these tyrants are the Stormlords of the Dannmark, whose great fortress of Roskilde dominates the entrance to the Baltic Sea.

In Germany, beyond the fortified frontier of the Rhine (in the west) and the Danube (in the south) there are a collection of barbarous kingdoms formed by the German tribes. Despite vigorous attempts to break through the Roman frontier into Gaul and Italy, the Germans have been held at bay for nearly six hundred years. At last civilized by long commerce with Rome, the German states now form an important barrier against even more barbarous tribes further to the east.

Russia itself is dominated in the north by Scandian settlements along the Baltic coast, and the remains of ancient Turkic empire based around modern Kiev (the Blue Turks). Southern Russia, as well as the Wallachian plains and large portions of Bulgaria, are controlled by the vigorous and highly-organized Avar Khanate. Like the Blue Turks, the Avars are a race of nomads out of central Asia, though they are in the flush of power as our story opens. Their khagan rules from a great tent-city, ringed by three ramparts, called the Hring.

Driven into the Roman frontier by the Avars are a motley collection of tribes in modern Romania / Hungary / Slovakia. The most powerful of these are the Gepidae, who are dominated by an ancient race of sorcerers called the Draculis - a non-human, dwindling and foul proto-human society.

At the junction of the Western Empire and the Eastern, in modern Croatia, is a Roman ally - the barbarian feodoratii state of Magna Gothica. The Goths had once threatened to overwhelm the Western Empire, but had been defeated in their siege of Rome. The Gothic kings, faced with dispersion and annihilation, swore fealty to the Empire, and were given the old province of Pannonia and part of Illyricum to settle in. Now, Gothica is a sprawling, vibrant state, steadily expanding to the north and east, and the strong right hand of the Western Empire.

The Eastern Empire is locked in a death-struggle with not only the Avar Khaganate, which has overrun the province of Thrace and besieges the Eastern Capital, Constantinople, itself - but also with the Sassanian Persian Empire. While a Persian expedition lies encamped in Chalcedon, within eyesight of the sea-walls of Constantinople, Persian armies are poised to strike into the Levant and drive on Egypt itself.

While Persia controls Mesopotamia, Iran proper and stretches to the Indian frontier and north into the valleys of the Oxus and Syr Darya, another power holds the lands around the Caspian Sea - the realm of the Khazars. These vigorous people, the successors of the T'u-chueh Turks in the lands from the Azov to the Sea of Darkness (the Black Sea), have been the allies of both the Eastern Empire and Persia. Their khagan Sahul now faces a delicate choice between supporting Chrosoes, King of Kings of Persia, or Heraclius, avtokrator of the Romans, Emperor of the East.

Finally, a patchwork of small states controls the rich periphery of Arabia, growing wealthy on the trade from India and China that passes into the Empire itself. These are Nabatea in southern Jordan, then Palmyra in eastern Syria, as well as the loose tribal confederations of the Tanukh (the allies of Palmyra, itself an ally of Rome) and the Lakhmids (long the allies of the Persians).


Rome holds part of Brittania (England), plus nearly all of Gaul (France), Batavia (Belgium), Hispania (Spain), Helvetia (Switzerland) and North Africa. Germany and the Balkans are a patchwork of relatively advanced Gothic, Valach, Frankish and German principates. A plague has recently devastated the Western Empire and Galen has come to power in the wake of a failed invasion of Gaul and Batavia by the Franks. The previous Emperor, Publius Septimus Geta, was killed in battle at Troium (Troyes) and Galen acclaimed by firs t the legions in Gaul and then by the Senate after his victory over two other pretenders to the throne at Mediolanum (Milan). Now, however, he can turn his attentions to the East, where his brother Emperor Heraclius is in equally dire straits.


Constantinople is besieged on the western side by an Avar army, while most of Thrace and parts of Greece have been overrun by Valachs and Avars. A Sasanian Persian army is encamped across the Propontis (Hellespont), while much of the rest of Anatolia is still in Roman hands. The eastern islands are all still Roman, as the Persians have (as yet) no fleet in the Mediterranean.

The Sasanian Persian Empire



The Persians have already pressed as far west as Antioch by the time Ararat opens. Palmyra and Petra are allies of Rome, but they are hoping to avoid destruction in the coming war. The Persian general Shahr-Baraz is preparing to attack south, against Palmyra and Damascus and thence to Egypt.

THE KHAZAR REALM and the Trans-Caspian


On Constantine, the "Great Rebel" (or how the division of the Empire came about)

The main point for the division of the Empire into two halves was that problems had arisen which could not be solved by the application of sorcery. In fact, the problems which led to the collapse of Roman authority would, in many cases, be worsened by the application of magic.

One point which I have never made clear (enough), I think, is that the number of people born with the healing power (as exemplified by Maxian and his teacher Tarsus) is very small. Certainly not enough to avert the Empire-wide disasters of the various plagues in the 4th and 5th centuries.

In addition, the slow destruction of the Roman economy is, well, economic in nature. The Oath has two effects on this - first, the economy attempts to stay in the model defined by Augustus and the Principate even though historical and situational pressures are trying to force it out of that model - second, possible innovations or changes in practice which might advance the economy are suppressed.

The end result which -I- see is the attenuated endurance of the Empire into this sort of twilight period in the 7th century. The cities are half-empty, the overall population of the West greatly reduced. The economy continues to struggle along with an archaic model. The Legions are almost entirely unchanged from their original, Late Republic form. In fact, the use of sorcery in the Legions (which one might expect to expand into an overwhelming emphasis) is constrained by the Oath instead, fixed to military doctrines evolved when Rome did not have as sophisticated a knowledge of sorcery as it does at the time of the book.

"Sorcery is for defense, not for the attack." - Shadow of Ararat.

As noted in GATE, the Empire was split into east and west for administrative purposes. When this occured - as an EMPEROR had declared it be so - the "Eastern" pattern of the Oath was split away from the Western (original). Coupled with a pattern of Legion settlement (the Oath-bound) which historically favored the Western (less populated) half of the Empire, and the development in the time of Vaspasian of the system of arenas on the model of the Flavian (again, concentrated in the West, as the Greek theatre predominated in the East), the Oath remained strong in the West, and weak in the East.

The result, for the East, was a long struggle matching up moderately well with real history. As we see in the books, the culture / military / administrative practices in the East are markedly different from those in the West. In part, this is because there are more pressures in the East (more trade, more exposure to foreigners and their ideas) towards change, and the concomittant weakness of the Oath there is unable to resist the deformation of society.

So, there was a Constantine who renamed Byzantium after himself. There was a Justinian who wrecked the Eastern economy, and a Phocas who was overthrown by Heraclius. The reapproachment between East and West in SHADOW, in fact, is possible because Heraclius' father (Heraclius the Elder) was a -Western- provincial governor (of Africa), whose son raised a mercenary army and set out to win the Eastern throne in a time of terrible anarchy and chaos.

In STORM, I mention some (real history) Emperor's who were not (Oath) Emperors - Caligula was never Emperor, as Claudius Drusus reigned after Trajan. Commodus was killed in the arena. Etc.


Copyright Throneworld Ltd. 2001 Design by James Gemmill