by Max Barry

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History of Pax Aurea II: The Middle Ages

The Aurean Civil War and the Birth of the Republic (477–482)

From the shocking aftermath of the Fall of Rome, two competing factions soon emerged in the provincial council of Pacifica. The Imperialists, backed by the last Imperial Proconsul Titus Servius Scaeva, refused to acknowledge the authority of the emperor in Constantinople and saw the Aureans as the last remaining "true Romans" in the world. Therefore, Proconsul Scaeva argued, he should be crowned as Emperor. His ambitions were resisted by the Republican wing of the provincial council. The council had enjoyed large autonomy in the past -- the weaker the emperors, the greater the autonomy -- and harboured a dream of a senate-led Republic, like the Rome of old, governed by the current councillors, naturally. Their most vocal spokesman was Flavius Aurelianus, a descendant of St Aurea, and a charismatic leader. As diplomacy failed, violence broke out. The Aurean Civil War had begun.

It was a grim period of the history of the islands. Never before had such devastation and scourge fallen upon the colony. At first, the Imperialists had the upper hand, for most of the experienced generals of the legions supported their cause. In 477, only few weeks into the war, they wrestled the control of Pacifica itself from the hands of the Republicans, forcing them to flee to Aureanopolis, which became their capital for the time being. By 479, most of the isles had fallen under Imperial control, and Scaeva was confident of his victory. He made a grievous error, however, in trying to hasten the end of the war by committing brutal atrocities against his opposition. He had hoped the mass crucifixions of his captives would frighten the population into submission, but they had an opposite effect. More and more regular people flocked under the banners of Aurelianus and his Republicans, and the tide of the war soon turned.

In the April of 482, the Republicans had besieged Pacifica, the final stronghold of the Imperials. Having witnessed the ravaging of the beautiful city in 477, Aurelianus wanted to avoid the battle if possible. He demanded the Imperial leadership to surrender, promising them their lives in exchange. The pretender Emperor Scaeva refused adamantly, at which point his palace was stormed by an angry mob of commoners. Facing the end of his reign, Scaeva took his own life, stating that he did not wish to be paraded in Aurelianus's triumph "like a barbarian slave". With his death, the rest of the Imperials laid down their arms, Aurelianus entered the city as the celebrated liberator, and the civil war came to an end.

As the provincial council and the people of the colony gathered together, Aurelianus declared the birth of the Aurean Republic (Res publica Aurea), the reformation of the old provincial council into the Republic Senate, and the "restoration of Pax Aurea". The Senate elected him as the first Consul of the young Republic, the title making him both the Speaker of the Senate and the head-of-state.

Aurelianus served as the Consul for 12 years, working tirelessly to heal the enmities and wounds of the civil war and raising the Aurean Isles back to their former glory. As he passed away in 494, the Aurean Republic had a strong foundation, but it now faced the thread of complete isolation from the rest of Europe.

Merchants, Monks, and Mariners (c. 500 – c. 800)

The Aurean Republic continued to preserve their Roman heritage -- or rather "Aurean Roman", as it was soon being described, and with pride -- to the very best of their ability. The cataclysmic upheavals of the barbaric migrations in the continental Europe made it especially important, many a scholar claimed, as in many places academies and libraries had been sacked and burned, aqueducts and highways had been devoured by the elements, and "lawlessness and uncivility reigned". In practice, this meant an increasing focus on the protection and cultivation of the cultural institutions of the Republic. Philosophers, theologists, artists, and other scholarly men and women continued to copy old manuscripts while authoring new ones. Latin was still the national language, and over the centuries it remained more akin to the Classic dialect than the medieval Latin used in many European nations (and was considered as superior by many Aurean scholars of that time).

But the wealth and prosperity of the Republic depended on foreign trade. Without it, the yield of the gold mines would become irrelevant; port cities would stagnate; academies would have to close their doors one by one. The old maritime trade routes had become dangerous and uncertain, however. Pirates and raiders lurked everywhere. But the ancient shipwright skills of Greeks and Phoenicians and the Romans of their golden era were still known in the Aurean Isles, and during the Early Middle Ages, Aurean shipwrights and sailors were among the best of the known world.

The sturdy quinquiremes, and later on, cogs, started finding their way to European ports again: what would become Os Corelia in the north, the British and Occoronian kingdoms in the west, many and more peoples and dominions along the Mediterranean coastlines. They sailed with books and wool and marble, salt and fish and olive oil -- and gold, gold, gold. From a hundred port, they returned sailing deep, their holds filled with iron and copper, black tar and the strongest timber, luxurious spices and fine fabrics, and even more books and manuscripts and half-broken statues and holy relics they were determined to "save" from becoming lost in the so-called "Dark Ages".

The Aureans had abolished slavery with the formation of their Republic, with the noble ideals of their most respected religious teachers and philosophers. The Aurean Christianity in particular found the practice abhorrent. The Republic never entered into slave trade, and over the years, many escaped slaves found a new beginning in the Golden Isles, and they were welcomed with open arms.

Despite the fact that the number of Christians in the country grew from 40% to 70% between the years 400 and 600, the Consuls were careful not to incite interfaith conflict. All creeds were allowed to live side by side, as long as they caused no trouble. This openness gave birth to a lively and fruitful debate, and Aurean priests and philosophers alike were known for their eloquence and rhetorical aptitude.

Missionaries were also seen aboard many vessels that travelled back to the continental Europe. Most of these were monks of this order or that. They spread their faith, founded many monastic communities in various kingdoms, and did their best to collect and preserve as many invaluable texts as they could. "Another ship of golden crows arrives", was a common saying in port cities.

The Republic had to defend itself as well, from external and internal threats both. In 556, a large fleet of Goth ships approached the islands, determined to sack, plunder, and despoil -- perhaps conquer, even. The Golden Peace was threatened, but an early autumn storm wrecked the fleet, drowning hundreds of hapless warriors. Another invasion attempt took place when a Moorish fleet embarked on a similar mission than their Gothic adversaries a hundred years earlier. In 661, the great fleet commanded by Emir Hamid ibn Mohammad an-Najjar, appeared in the Pacifican horizon. The Senate decided to send one of their most articulate philosopher, Gallinus, to represent the Republic and negotiate with the superior invaders. The Emir agreed to accompany Gallinus back to Pacifica, and it is said that once he laid his eyes upon the marble columns, the stained glass windows, and the lush gardens, he wept, and vowed that he would not lay waste on such a paradise. Peace accords were signed with the Moors, and the Aurean Republic soon entered prosperous trade relations with the Muslim kingdom. This also opened doors to the sophisticated Islamic culture, and a flourishing exchange of ideas began.

Internally, from time to time too ambitious Consuls rose to power, seeking to turn the Republic into a monarchy. The civil war had left a deep distate for dictatorial regimes in the hearts of the Aurean people, however, and the Senate was quick to intervene if its own political power was threatened.

The High Middle Ages (c. 800 – c. 1300)

The incident with the Moors once again proved the old wisdom the Aurean politicians already knew very well: the Golden Isles might be rich, but they were also small. The best aegis against the invasions of foreign armies, therefore, lay in making friends and trying to maintain cordial or at least civil relations with the rest of the neighbouring nations. In practice, this proved to be far more challenging a task than in the lecture halls of the scholars. As petty kingdoms and powerful empires battled for dominance, and religious schisms and holy wars raged, being the friend of one's enemy was a quick way to freezing relations.

Not everyone even sought friendship and trade with the Aureans. In 822, a Danish Viking fleet sailed south in search for rich coasts to plunder. Unexpectedly, they landed at Port Aureus and attacked the city. Much of it was burned and looted in the fierce battle, before the Aurean legions repelled the berserkers. But despite the heavy losses, the northmen had gazed upon the opulence of the affluent mercantile city, and vowed to make a speedy return. Next year, they proved to be true to their vows, as an even larger Viking armada approached the archipelago. This time, the Aurean navy was ready. Close to Pacifica, at a small island called Lucana, the fleets clashed in the largest naval battle in the Aurean history. The Danes were fearless warriors, but they had never faced an opponent quite like the "Roman" legions of the Republic. Greek fire in particular proved devastating against their fast and nible longships. In the end, the Vikings withdrew, but the Aurean navy had suffered heavy losses as well. The close victory did bring some relief to the Republic and bought enough time to replace the lost ships, as it took many years until the Vikings returned again, and never with such a force. The smaller raiding parties were more easily driven back, and later on, the northmen who arrived were looking for trade instead of spoils of war. Amber, fur, hides, and other northern goods found their eager buyers in the busy marketplaces.

Despite these incidences, Aureans managed to stay in good terms with most of their neighbours -- be they Christian, Muslim, or pagan. This was not always looked too favourably by the Holy See of Rome, and as the papal influence grew over the 11th century, so did the demands for a more clear submission of the Aurean clergy to the will of the throne of St Peter's. There are mentions of only a handful of Aurean cardinals during the 11th–13th centuries. Despite their long Christian traditions, they were not the most popular people in Vatican. To the horror of many a Roman high-ranking cleric, the peaceful coexistence of Christians, Muslims, "heretics", and even pagan religions just did not seem to be ceasing.

As the crusades began, the Senate kept the Aurean legions steadfastly home, irritating the Holy See even further. More than one Aurean Consul was excommunicated during this era. In 1209, as the Albigensian Crusades were on their way, many persecuted Cathars and Waldensians found a sanctuary in the Republic. To Pope Innocent III, this was the last straw. He placed the entire Republic under an interdict, excommunicated its leaders, and called a holy crusade against Pacifica. Not much came of that, and when Innocent passed away in 1216, Aureans were welcomed back to the communion with the church.

But even as peace reigned once more and courteous letters were written, the edict of Innocent had began a process that could not be stopped. The relations between the Senate and the Holy See would grow more strained over the years, sowing seeds for the upcoming Aurean Reformation.

The squabbling with the Pope in no way meant that Aureans were a godforsaken people. The High Middle Ages were the golden era of majestic ecclesiastical architecture. The cities literally competed with the construction of the great gothic cathedrals. From the Moors, a breathtakingly beautiful Mosque architecture was adopted. Never before had so many religious texts and treatises been written by Aurean scholars in their academies, seminars, and monastic chambers.

These were also times for an ever-increasing international contacts. Aureans continued to keep their distance to the petty wars and conflicts of the continental Europe, but as nations grew, so did trading possibilities. The new ship-building techniques, the introduction of compass, and the leaps in astronomy and navigation made it possible for Aurean merchants to reach a larger market than ever before. Banking institutions were established. Urbanization continued.

Unlike most of Europe, the feudal system never got a hold in the Aurean Isles. The citizens of the Republic did not became serfs, nor were they being legally oppressed by the more wealthier patrician families. In fact, the Republican law -- from which the first Constitution was born in 1245 -- made no distinction between people based on their birth or bloodlines. There were ancient patrician houses, some of legendary wealth, but they were not nobility per se, merely richer citizens. Naturally they wielded more power as well, due to their deep coffers. Not only patricians, but also commonborn citizens and members of the scholarly circles were represented in the hundred-strong Senate.

The Pale Horseman: The Black Death Pandemic (1348–1349)

As the Aurean Republic of the High Middle Ages lived and breathed on trade, its ports were among the busiests in Europe, with galleys and cogs and hulks arriving every day carrying hundreds of seamen and merchants of different nationalities. There was no chance, then, to avoid the horrible bubonic plague epidemic known as the Black Death when Venetian merchants brought the disease with them from the Caspian Sea. The Black Death reached the European mainland in 1348, and almost immediately, the trade routes brought it to the Aurean doorsteps.

The epidemic lasted for nearly two years, originated from not one but three separate harbours: Pacifica, Port Aureus, and Aureanopolis. It swept quickly across the small main islands, slaying horrified people in heaps in its wake. Of the circa three million people that had gathered together in the large Aurean cities and scattered around the countryside, around 800 000 -- almost a third -- died.

One of the main reasons for such high mortality rates were the dense urbanization of the isles. Population tended to cluster in the largest port cities. The trade was there, of course, as were all the necessary services: aqueducts, apothecaries, workshops, guildhouses, government offices, academies, cathedrals... When a large city became infected, the people living close together had but two choices: run for the hills, literally, or trust in their prayers.

But the cataclysm could have ended much worse, too, precisely due to these very reasons. Why were not more Aureans killed by the plague? Evidence points to four major factors: a relatively good hygiene, with aqueducts, sewer systems, public bathhouses in every city; well-fed population, for the most part; the spread of the population on a hundred smaller islands, some of which never became infected and served as temporary sanctuaries to many; and the skilled and unwavering determination of Consul Ludovicus Occoronicus. He may not have understood the mechanics behind the disease, but he did realize how effectively it infected people who became into contact with it, rather than "the dark miasma" materializing out of thin air. He quarantined entire cities, severed trade routes on land and sea, set blockades on ports and supervised the evacuations of people and trying to ensure they received the best treatment that was available at that time. The actions of Consul Occoronicus probably saved hundreds of thousands of Aureans. He died in October 1349 -- one of the last souls to succumb to the deadly disease.

The outcome of the Black Death was more than grief and mass graves. As was accustomed, men moved around more than women, so they became more easily infected. Aurean women also tended to be strict of their own hygiene. Approximately 29% of all Aurean males died during those two years. As a result, there was a gaping lack of men in various trades and professions that had been traditionally considered as "men's work". The gender equality of the medieval Aurean Republic was relatively high, compared to the trends of the era, but after the Black Death, women took even more active roles in the society.

The Aurean Renaissance (c. 1300 – c. 1500)

In the Aurean Republic, the traditions of antiquity had never really ceased, they had just constantly evolved and found new forms. But all the spheres of cultural life experienced a vivid and passionate boom from 1300 onwards, as the Renaissance started to flower in all around Europe, and the Republic became intertwined in the network of fresh ideas and practices.

The ideas of citizenship and individualism were welcomed and discussed with enthusiasm in the continental Europe. New painting techniques spread to Aurean ateliers. Breakthroughs were achieved in architecture. On some level, the classical masters of old Rome had dominated the Aurean literature, poetry, and lyrics for centuries; at last, it became acceptable and it was even encouraged to deviate from "true" poetry and prosaic texts and explore entirely new avenues.

Nowhere else was this felt as deeply as in the academies. In the Republic, art was not considered as mere handcraft -- the Renaissance woke people to see it as having almost philosophical and mystical dimensions. It crossed with mathematics, too, with the perspectives of frescoes and the notes of music. Music had been part of the academic studies earlier, and so had the old Greco-Roman texts, some of which were plays; but it wasn't until the Renaissance that theatric studies made their way from the amphitheatres themselves into the venerable halls of the academies. The same was true in all forms of art.

This resulted in a never-before-seen explosion of artistic and cultural masterpieces, and one of the driving factor was the mosaic of dozens of ethnicities, cultures, languages, and religions on the main islands, all of which contributed something unique to the Aurean culture. This was also a very productive era of religious debate and refinement of thought and interfaith relations.

Among the most prominent names were the painters Cornelius Salveni and Jean-Baptiste Murcellius, the writer-poets Catharina Decanto and Valenius Macer, the composers Caius Volusus and Emeric Puylaurentius, and the master playwright Plectro.

The Age of Exploration (c. 1400 – c. 1600)

The expansion of trade and travelling in Europe had a direct impact in the Aurean Republic. Even the Black Death, catastrophic as it was, could not halt the process. The Aureans had preserved and cultivated the shipbuilding skills of the antiquity, and by 1400, their caravels were sturdy enough to enter the open waters of the ocean. Merchant houses were eager to acquire new naval routes, especially to the Far East, to reach the exotic riches without the middle man. The insatiable curiosity of the Renaissance spirit also had its part to play in this development.

In 1412, an Aurean explorer, trader, and poet Cleisthenus Brasca set his sails towards south. He made his way along the western coast of Africa, mapping the routes, exploring new lands, and meeting previously unknown cultures and peoples. His voyage was a success, resulting in the founding of trade posts along the coast, and most importantly claiming the nearly-uninhabited islands of Provincia Africa to the Republic. There, a new town of Port Africa was founded in 1416, later to become one of the most important metropolises of Pax Aurea.

Brasca continued his voyages, and many more soon followed. The goals were clear: the Aureans had not come seeking conquest, but trade and friendly relations with the natives. Exotic African and Arabic goods soon started flowing back to the fascinated citizens, further fueling the Renaissance; Aurean gold, products, and culture spread on their wake. By 1480, they had reached the Cape of Good Hope, and in 1500, Captain Marcus Vulcarius set his foot on Indian soil. A decade later, China was reached.

Aurean scholars had speculated about the possibility of previously uncharted lands in the west, and when Columbus arrived in "the West India", many mathematicians and cartographers immediately suspected he had found something entirely different, as calculations (and estimations and guesses) did not match very well with his reports. A fleet of carracks was assembled, and under the command of the determined explorer Maria Apearus set sails for the New World. Apearus was the first Aurean to set her foot on a Caribbean island in 1493.

This gave birth to a whole new era of colonization. The founding of Port Africa was just the beginning. Colonia Nova was established in the Caribbean Sea in 1495, and more trading posts and coastal settlements soon followed. The Republic entered into lucrative trade agreements with the Mesoamerican kingdoms, at the same time fascinated and appalled by the enthralling beauty and savage cruelty of this brave new land.

Around these times, cocoa, coffee, and tea found their way to the Aurean cuisine, and became hugely popular among all societal classes.

By 1600, Aureans had established more than a dozen thriving colonies in their newly acquired African and Caribbean provinces. The settlements remained meager in size if compared to the cities of the Golden Isles, with Port Africa, Colonia Nova, and Celestica being the largest, but trade made them rich, and through them, the Aurean Isles received a curious flood of strange and interesting immigrants of African, Mesoamerican, Indian, and even Chinese origin.

The contact with foreign cultures also brought new philosophical and religious winds blowing to the streets and forums of Pacifica. The schools of Buddhism in particular was treated with great curiosity. When the Christian denominations squabbled during the reformation era, many Aureans were drawn to the intriguing and new ideas expressed in the Buddhist teachings.