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Alternate History II: Son of Alternate History

Dude, you guys rock. I never fail to be amazed at how many creative and well-read people read this blog. Thank you so much!

We wound up with two very good scenarios, which basically hinged on how badly I wanted Constantinople sacked and how vital the Byzantines are. In the end, I wound up sort of smooshing them together and decided that the Byzantines were really rather crucial to keeping that end of things together.

(I also am going to have to use the word “Byzantine” despite the fact that it’s of later coinage. Rhoman vs. Roman would be too visually confusing, and Byzantine is such a gorgeous word. I do feel a twinge of guilt, though, akin to the one I feel drawing humans and dinosaurs together. (Forgive me, father, for I have sinned…))

A whole lot of people weighed in with very useful bits, and big specific thanks to learnteach, babbleon1, laughingbadger, siliconshaman, siriaeve and to prodigal for naming the Templar Plague.


The year is 1246.

Life went on pretty normally until the Third Crusade, which was a horrific awful disaster. They didn’t get within spitting distance of Acre, and instead all the port cities and a chunk of the Holy Roman Empire were hit with the Templar Plague, which is blamed on the filthy, filthy Templars. The Holy Roman Emperor died on the Crusade, the Crusaders pissed off the peasantry, dropped dead of plague, and the Holy Roman Empire (the Byzantines) nearly broke up. Hence the Third Crusade is the Cursed Crusade.

Saladin, aided by a very angry peasantry and the fact that Saracen doctors were credited with stopping the Templar Plague,  marched north practically to the gates of Constantinople and said “Hi, guys! I can see your house from here.”

The Fourth Crusade never actually happened as such. Venice, realizing that the Byzantines were actually standing between them and the Saracen, said “Y’know, we just don’t feel like funding that. Y’all have fun!” when the would-be Crusaders showed up, belatedly, in 1218.

What followed became known as the Byzantine War. The would-be Crusaders, aided by mercenaries and led by the increasingly unpopular Knights Templar, go after Constantinople. They get their asses handed to them, as the Byzantines have a substantial navy and their own crusaders, but the Byzantines, still smarting from the awfulness of the Cursed Crusade, are not happy with the West.

Our hero was one of those would-be Crusaders, a young idiot out to win a knighthood. He probably came to Venice in the retinue of one of the knights hoping to convince Venice to back the Fourth Crusade, but when it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen—hey, the Knights Templar are right there! We came here to fight Byzantines! Let’s go!

When the dust clears, he is eventually ransomed back to the West and returns to Venice, instilling in him a great appreciation of Saracen medicine, a loathing of the Byzantines, and some mild PTSD.

Meanwhile, in the larger world, the Lion Pope dies suddenly. (“He fell down the stairs. Onto fifty-three daggers. It’s a great tragedy. Mysterious are the ways of the Lord.”) A cardinal of St. Equus ascends and does not want to keep fighting these wars, because the world needs to rebuild and hey, has anybody noticed that there’s a guy named Khan clearing his throat in the direction of Northern Europe? Maybe this isn’t the time for yet another doomed Crusade. Maybe we should all just get along.

At the time of our story, Byzantium is becoming increasingly xenophobic and keeps screaming that Roman Catholics are devil-worshipping shapechangers. (They’re not getting a lot of traction though, because seriously, tell people the Pope is a were-horse and see how far you get.) Venice has taken over some of Constantinople’s former glory as the crossroads of the world. Saladin’s dead, the Saracen expansion has been cut nearly in half by the Turks, who are also pestering the Byzantines. At the end of the day, everybody’s just glaring over the walls and doesn’t want to start anything, except maybe the Templars, who are an embarrassment akin to people who speak in tongues at the church picnic.

While all this is important to backstory, the odds of most of it appearing in the story directly are slim–but that’s writing for you! The fact that I know is the important part.

However, the really relevant part back in England is that the Great Heathen Army of Danes that took over Northern England never went home. Everything north of Hadrian’s Wall is now Lochlann. It’s been a hundred and fifty years, so it’s nominally peaceful at the moment, and Lochlann is largely Christian, so there is commerce and travel back and forth, but there are pockets of paganism and every now and again somebody with too much time on their hands decides a Viking raid would be just awesome.

The Abbey is in a Yet Unnamed Made-Up English Town that’s near Durham. (The Cathedral of St. Cuthbert there is possibly run by were-otters!) The Abbey is also along the River Wear, and was built as a fortification against Danish raids sometime earlier.

What all this backstory means…

A) our hero, when woken abruptly, tends to go for a sword in case Byzantines are attacking.

B) There are Saracen scholars, merchants, and travelers roaming around Europe, largely unmolested. They are a rarity but nobody wants to kill them because the Saracens are helping hold the line against those awful Byzantine heretics (Did you hear what they said about our pope?!) and because Saracen medicine is held in awe, even if it’s probably witchcraft, but seriously, Cousin Bob nearly died, and this nice man went in there and made sure they kept him wrapped and warm and didn’t bleed him or anything.

C) Minor character and murder suspect in the actual book lost a cousin in the Byzantine Wars, who would otherwise have been the heir.

D) our hero might kinda be a knight, although he’s renounced all that and mostly just keeps bees. You know where you stand with bees.

E) You see a lot of Danes in town. They are considered somewhat barbaric weirdos, but they’re neighbors, so what’re you gonna do? The Danes, following the historical path of the Scots, are somewhat resentful of imposition of English law on border territories, but this hasn’t boiled over yet.

F) People get much more ticked about the Eastern Orthodox heretics than they do about Islam. Everybody’s still down on paganism, of course, although it’s probably going on in isolated pockets in Lochlann. The Inquisition is focused primarily on said heretics.

…whew. As I said, this probably isn’t going to get into the story as a big ol infodump, but it’s helpful to me for sorting out what goes where. Thank you all so much!

Also, does anybody know what language you’d be familiar with if you were our hero? What’s gonna be the lingua fraca of Venice and the Byzantines? And are the Danes called Danes?

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.


You know where you stand with bees.

Yes, yes you do!

I was told you never can tell with bees. Silly old werebear.

Bees carry much smaller lances than knights!

The official language of Byzantium - the Roman Empire in the east - was Greek, with Latin lasting as a secondary official language until late. The lingua franca of the Eastern Roman Empire from Alexandria through Jerusalem to north of the Black Sea was Greek.

The Venetian empire of our middle ages had Italian as its lingua franca, but anyone trading east of Illyria did business in Greek or a creole of Italian, Greek, and whatever the local language turned out to be. (I don't know about much the medieval languages in use in the Greek mainland in the medieval period, but up until the 1920 population exchange and even slightly after Greece, particularly norther Greece, had pockets of other Balkan languages.)

Greek would be the official language of the Byzantine Empire during the 1200's. The everyday languages in Anatolia would be Armenian with Farsi (Persian) along with Arabic being spoken. Arabic would be the common language amongst most of the Saracens- who would also be familiar with Persian and Berber which was spoken in Moorish Spain and North Africa.

The language of Venice at this time would be Venetian, which is a Western Romance language. It is not Italian but Italian was introduced to Venice in the 15th century. Venetian is still spoken by over two million people in Northern Italy. He would be familiar with Latin also.

The Danes would be referred to as Danes or Denes depending on who was talking about them.

Right, so which Great Heathen Army are we talking about here? The one most commonly meant established the Danelaw in the middle and north of England in the 860s, settled, and lasted until the mid-10th century when Alfred the Great and later Athelstan reconquered England. The settled Danes largely remained, in enough numbers to make King Ethelred invent ethnic cleansing and order all Danish men put to death in the St Bryce's day massacre in 1002AD. Unfortunately, a lot of Danish women were killed too, including the sister of Swein Forkbeard of Denmark, who got peeved enough to gather an army and conquer the place.

You mentioned 1070 before - is that the aborted invasion by Swein II you mean? He took over York, got bought off, sailed home, and William killed all of Yorkshire to teach them to be less welcoming.

I guess you could have the Danelaw stretch further up North, and see the Kingdom of the Isles and the Kingdom of Northumbria ally and then merge, defeating the Pictish and Scottish kings, perhaps with some help from the Norse kings in Ireland.

Anyway, after 150 (or perhaps 350) years the Danes in Lochlann wouldn't be Danes any more (unless you have a Danish empire, with the Danish king ruling Lochlann and also, probably, most of Norway?) among themselves. They'd be "Lochlanning". To the Picts and Gaels they'd probably be Norse. To the English, they'd be Danes, and to the Normans (who dropped most of their Viking cultural heritage within a couple of generations of settling in Normandy) they'd be Dene, I think.

I came in here just to ask this! Thank you, sir.

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No, Danes aren't going to be wearing kilts! Those are an 18th century invention, from Walter Scott. I don't know what they would be wearing, but it ain't kilts.

Are there Jews?

What's happening in the Baltic -- is the Hanseatic League being formed? Are the Teutonic Knights up there converting the Prussians and Lithuanians? (Lithuania was huge back then, stretching to the Black Sea and nearly to Moscow.)

There are always Jews. They are especially useful because they're allowed to trade with anyone, while Christians aren't supposed to trade with infidels. They'd be very common in Venice and Constantinople.

RE: St. Cuthbert and the were-otters-- don't forget that he loved seals! (Hmmm; selkies?) And he managed to get laws enacted that protected Eider Ducks and other birds of the Farne Islands (they still call Eiders 'Cuddy Ducks.') Just saying.

Speaking of St Cuthbert, The Wind Eye by Robert Westall has a rather good depiction of the times off Lindisfarne.

Our hero would probably be multi-lingual, given that he's a monk and a former crusader and from/living in England. The English of the time would sound and look more Germanic than modern English does. I'm not sure if the Danish of the time and the English of the time were sufficiently close for relative mutual intelligibility. Possibly the folks in Lochlann speak a Danish/English pidgin. They've been there long enough for it to be a pidgin rather than a creole.

Greek would be the most common in the Byzantine areas. In our reality the church stuck with Latin and so did scholars, but in this reality Greek could be in strong competition with it. And that could be a point of contention in the midst of all the heretic finger-pointing.

But I'd figure our hero at least speaks English (of the time period) and Greek and/or Latin, and probably at least phrases in a few other languages.

I love the bit about the death of the Lion Pope!

Possibly the folks in Lochlann speak a Danish/English pidgin. They've been there long enough for it to be a pidgin rather than a creole.

I believe that it's the other way around: creoles develop from pidgins. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language

- InfamousSnake

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Most likely the hero would know whatever vernacular version of corrupted Latin that was spoken in continental Europe. At that time, closer to Spanish than to Italian - Romance languages haven't separated as far as they are now, yet.

As for the Danes, yes, they would be called Danes. Throw some confusion about Tuatha de Danaan in, if you like (the Celts in Scotland might notice the name similarity.)

hmmm... Marco Polo? Ibn Battuta, maybe squeeze in a little Leo Africanus?

Saracens were valuable for international trade (Silk Road), as well as math and geometry.

Darn it, too early for Tamerlane.

Ok, firstly.. Eeeee! You used some of my ideas! Way cool! [*ahem*]

Right, our hero would probably be familiar with a language that's basically a bastard mash-up of mostly vulgate Greek, with legacy Latin and a smattering of loan words 'borrowed' from other tongues.

Not unlike English really, with different roots. Speaking of which, odds are the main language spoken in Alba is probably saxon, with germanic roots, but with a lot loan words from Gaelic thanks to the refugees and a bunch of stuff from old Norse thanks to the Danes. [who would probably call themselves by their tribal names or possibly Dani as an over-all name.] North of the border it's probably mostly Old Norse, with Gaelic loan words. Close enough that people from both sides can more or less understand each other.

As an aside, I think most of the paganism would found up in the Isles and Highlands... i.e rural backwaters.

Oh..and how about Stockpoole as a name? [it's similar to a bunch of names in the area, but not actually one as far as I know.] Following the naming convention of the area it would imply there was originally a good watering point for the cattle nearby.

Edited at 2013-02-07 08:35 pm (UTC)

Lutra! Lutra!

Nifty! You might find of interest Edward Luttwak's The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire although possibly the same effect can be achieved by binge-reading Harry Turtledove.

How made-up does the Unnamed Town near Durham have to be? Can I sell you Chester-le-Street? Roman origins, association with Cuthbert? If you made Finchale into a town, you could bring in St Godric the Pirate - but it's not an obviously fortifiable site.

If there's any On The Spot information required from Durham, please ask - anything I can do to get the place into the hands of the were=otters.

P.S. Otter! Near Durham!