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What caused Belisarius to accept the title of Western Roman Emperor? Historians debate whether Justinian feared his General’s betrayal and had his wife murdered, or if he waited until after Belisarius betrayed him to slay her, either way Belisarius was now free to marry again, and chose an Ostrogoth Princess as his new wife, uniting the Romans and the Goths of Italy into a single political power.
An outraged Justinian wanted nothing more than to see the blood of Belisarius spilled before him, his plot for revenge would have to wait, as he turned his attention east to fight the Persians. Belisarius spent the years strengthening his position in Italy, forming alliances with the Barbarian tribes and Visigoths, and supporting the anti-Byzantine uprising in Carthage, by the time Justinian could focus on the usurper in Ravenna, it was too late. Justinian’s Army was annihilated at the Battle of Syracuse in 545.
The resulting loss led to a rebellion against the rule of Justinian in 547 the elderly general and hero of the campaign against the Persians, Narses led a coup in the East establishing himself as the Emperor of the East. Justinian was captured along with his wife Theodora trying to gather troops loyal to them in Anatolia to reclaim the throne. Justinian was tried for treason and executed, Theodora spent the rest of her life as a nun in Macedonia, and she died in 549. Narses extended his recognition of Belisarius as the Emperor of the West and began a long and unpopular rule being overthrown by Justin II, the nephew of Justinian in 568. Narses died in prison a few months after the coup.
The year of the coup in Constantinople was also the year the Lombards invaded Italy, Belisarius personally took command of the Roman and Ostrogoth Armies leading them to victory after victory, while pushing the Lombards into the Alps. Justin II had his hands full in the east as well fighting against the Persians with neither Belisarius or Justin able to help one another in their times of crisis.
Belisarius died in Verona en route to Ravenna in 572 and was succeeded by his son Theodosius III. According to legend Theodosius had met with Lombard King Albion to arrange a cease fire. Because of early defeats many of the Lombards' Germanic allies had deserted them, alone Albion hoped to become a vassal of the Western Roman Empire. Theodosius fell in love with Albion’s wife Rosamund having a sexual affair with her. Together they plotted to kill Albion and arrange for Rosamund to flee to Ravenna and be with her lover.
The plot succeeded, Albion was murdered by one of Theodosius’ most trusted warriors, and Rosamund escaped into her lover's arms. The murder however provoked another war with the Lombards and an alliance between the Lombard’s and the Burgundy Franks. Albion’s nephew Gisulf became the King of the Lombards and renewed hostilities with Rome. Gisulf conquered Tuscany and Provence from Rome before his own demise 587; he was succeeded by his son Gisulf II.
Under the rule of King Gisulf II, the Lombards allied with the Avars began harassing Roman settlements in Illyria and nearly marched to the gates of Ravenna before the Byzantine-Roman alliance defeated them in 609. Believing Ravenna to be vulnerable the elderly Theodosius moved the capital to Rome itself. Theodosius died in 612 and was succeeded by his son-in-law Constantius IV.
Constantius arranged an armistice with the Lombards in 615, making his reign the first peaceful one since the restoration of the Empire. During his twenty three years of rule, Constantius rebuilt much of the eternal city, making the jewel of his Empire and of Europe. The Roman Forum was renovated under his supervision, the Roman Coliseum was restored, and many new Cathedrals were built including St. Belisarius Chapel. The population of Rome began to swell once more, when Constantius died in 638 it was claimed over a million Romans mourned him in the great city.
When the reign of Gelasius began in 655 Arianism had all but vanished in the Empire and much of Lombardy had been conquered by the Roman Armies including Provence. With the Lombards neutralized, Gelasius planned on reconquering Gaul and driving the Franks into Britain or Germania but a new enemy revealed itself to Gelasius, the Arabic Muslims.
For more than 20 years the Arabians had been conquering the Holy Lands from the Byzantines, and in spite of the Byzantine Emperor’s pleas, Gelasius’ father Theodosius IV refused to send aid. Now the territory of the Western Empire was being attacked, the Arabs attacked the city of Carthage first in 659 with little success and attempted another failed assault on the city in 664; finally the year Gelasius died 673 Carthage fell to the Arab armies, and was the staging point for the invasion of Sicily the following year.
The Romans suffered military defeat after defeat to the Arabs in Sicily and Southern Italy until turning their fortunes around with a major victory at Naples in 688, the Arabs were gradually pushed off the Italian Peninsula by 702.
Although Sicily remained firmly in the hands of the Arabs, the Caliphate turned its focus west eventually crossing into Hispania, marching their way into Europe until their defeat at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Christian victory at the Battle of Tours is often marked as the end of the Late Antiquity era and the beginning of the Medieval Ages by modern historians.
The Early Middle Ages progressed similarly to OTL, the Western Roman Empire follows a line of history similar to that of the Eastern Roman Empire with periods of great power under the guidance of competent Emperors followed by sharp decline under the leadership of fools and imbeciles.
The Papacy and the Roman Emperors fell out with each other in the last years of the ninth century, Pope Leo III exchanged several letters with King of the Franks, Charlemagne declaring him the true Emperor of the Western Empire.
The move outraged Emperor Constans III who banished Leo from the Empire and replaced him with a more loyal bishop who took the name Pope Zachary II. The Roman Catholic Church was divided with the Franks, Christian Saxons and Visigoths supporting Leo and the Romans and Byzantines supporting Zachary. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Northern (Holy) Roman Empire in Paris on Christmas Day 800.
The Franks conquered much of Northern Europe conquering the Avars and Germania while protecting themselves from the pagan Viking raids in the north. Charlemagne dreamed of conquering Italy and Constantinople and uniting the entire Roman Empire under his reign but died before he could accomplish his dream.
Charlemagne was succeeded by his only surviving son, who would become known as Louis the Pious. Louis followed in his father’s footsteps fighting a series of wars against his pagan neighbors when news reached him of the death of his oldest son Lothair at the hands of the pagan Danes in 823, Louis fell into a depression from which he never recovered, dying in 828 dividing the Kingdom between his two surviving sons, Pepin and Louis. The Frankish Pope Philippe I feared the division of the Empire would weaken it and the claim that it is the true Roman Empire, attempted to convince the two brothers to rule the Empire jointly with little success.
As the senior of the line the Frankish Papacy favored Pepin over his brother and has been implicated by modern historians as being involved in the death of Louis the German in 846, uniting the Empire under Pepin rather than allowing Louis’s son Carloman to succeed him. Carloman fled to Rome where he swore allegiance to the Roman Pope. Ten years after his father’s death Franks loyal to Carloman and their Roman allies invaded Germania propping Carloman up as King. With his capital in Vienna, Carloman was crowned King of Germania in 858 by Pope Gregory VI.
The Franks fought a series of wars with Germania and Rome throughout the ninth century until finally being wore down by the alliance. The Northern Roman Empire was dissolved after two major events in the tenth century the first being the reunion between the Roman Church and the Frankish Church upon the death of Pope Philippe III in 909 and the death of the last Emperor Pepin V in 918.
Pepin followed Frankish tradition by dividing his Empire up between his sons his oldest son Pepin ruled Northern Francia , his second oldest son Henri ruled Southern Francia, his third oldest son Louis ruled Eastern Francia while his youngest son Charles ruled Western Francia.
Within a generation only Charles remained alive, his brothers died with out issue or without sons, the Franks were united once more with Charles as the King of Francia, often considered the beginning of modern France.
The next major event of the medieval era was the Holy Crusades fought between the Christians of Europe and the Muslims of the Holy Lands between 1089-1307. In the year 1081 the Caliph ordered the destruction of the Church of Holy Sepulchre causing much anger and resentment in Christian Europe. Pope Sylvester IV called for a Holy Crusade against the Muslims to protect Christian interests in the Holy Lands; his call was answered by the Kings of Europe and the Emperors of Rome and Constantinople.
Armies from across Europe united and descended upon Palestine eventually conquering Jerusalem in 1090 and creating small Crusader states along the Mediterranean Coast. Four Crusader states altogether, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Aleppo, the Duchy of Tyre and the Duchy of Galilee, with the Kingdom of Jerusalem being the most powerful. Along the way the Romans and French stopped at Sicily conquering it from the Muslims in the name of Christianity, creating in some regard the fifth crusader state, the Kingdom of Sicily.
The Crusaders held the Holy Land for over a century until the Muslim Warrior Saladin conquered Jerusalem for the Muslims and began pushing the Christians back into the sea in the Second Crusade, two more crusades were attempted but by 1307 the crusading spirit in Europe had died, the last vestiges of the crusader states was destroyed when King Edward II of England failed to protect Tyre. The Crusades did however teach the Europeans a valuable lesson in logistics that would be applied centuries in the future and had given rise to powerful Christian militant groups such as the Knights Hospitaller, Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights.
Scholars and historians debate when the Renaissance actually began but most tend to agree it was between the thirteenth and fourteenth century in Athens. By the period of the Renaissance the image of the classical Empires of Greece and Ancient Rome were romanticized by the intellectuals of Europe. This in part is one explanation as to why the Renaissance began in Athens, though Athens is hardly unchallenged as the birth place of the Renaissance. Many speculate the foundation of the Athens University and it’s great library containing the works of scholars from ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt were contained in its hallowed halls, as well as the research of many great Arabs and early Christians captured during the Crusaders. Intellectuals from Egypt, Syria, Italy, al-Andalusia, France and Germania traveled to Athens and marveled in its historical structures and the vast knowledge of the great library.
The work of Renaissance men would influence all of Europe, Persia and the Middle East in art, literature, medicines, philosophy, science and politics and changed the world forever.