Zombies in History
The Mediterranean World
The classical Mediterranean world is a study in opposites. The Byzantine Empire, on one hand, is a gigantic, centralized monolith obsessed with protocol and law. To the west, structure has almost abandoned Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire, and it consists of a group of squabbling merchant republics and small monarchical city-states. The common language of the region is Latin, which is spoken in all Byzantine religious and government functions and by anyone with an education in Italy. Italian is spoken by everyone in Italy and Sicily, and the eastern regions of the Mediterranean are commonly Greek-speaking.
Italians are indebted to the culture left for them by the Romans. They worship old Roman household gods and superstitions. Italians speak Italian, and, though Milanese will have difficulty understanding Sicilians, they can communicate with each other. Nearly everyone also speaks Latin, though it’s less common in the south, where French is prominent. Florentines, Venetians and Genoese are likely to speak a hodgepodge of languages due to their positions as maritime traders.
Ruling the surrounding Piedmont and Lombardia regions, Milan is one of the world’s largest and most populous cities. Its power is derived from two main industries. Unlike Milan’s Italian neighbors, it is landlocked, and as such relies on overland trade with the Teutonic Empire and France, and with Genoa to the south. Milan’s export goods consist primarily of textiles and agricultural product, including wine. The Po River valley, Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore regions are agricultural powerhouses, providing Milan with trade goods. France to the west is a popular trade partner, and goods are also sent to the north through the Alps to the Teutonic Empire, which maintains cautious relations with Milan. Milan’s primary trading partner is its close ally Genoa, which disperses its goods throughout the Mediterranean Sea. The alliance between Genoa and Milan is particularly close because of the threat posed by Venice, to the east. Milan provides the armies, primarily drawn from the mountainous regions of northern Lombardia and Genoa provides the ships to counter Venice’s power on the sea.
Milan is a hereditary Duchy, governed by the Duke of Milan. Unlike traditional feudal societies, Milan boasts no other hereditary noble titles. Power and influence are based on money and a clientella system. The Milanese are very conscious of power and monetary considerations and tend to be cautious and wary of risk. The spearmen and crossbowmen from Lombardia are highly sought-after in mercenary corps.
Urbino is the heir to the traditions and authority of Imperial Rome. Governing from the majestic Lateran Palace, an elected Princepes rules the city and surrounding territory with the aid and consent of the Imperial Senate, continuing the traditions of the Empire, including the clientella system and an active slave market, along with civil employment for educated freedmen. Urbino produces the world’s best mercenaries, though the condottiere system weakens its own national defense. The princepes depends on prestige and diplomatic methods to avoid conquest, though he is able to compel the loyalty of the more powerful condottiere warlords by promising them high office and the chance to endear themselves to a voting public. In the conflicts between Genoa and Milan, and Venice, Urbino is uneasily neutral, attempting to play both sides off against the middle.
Until a single generation ago, Naples was ruled by Norman kings. Unable to deal with growing pressure from Carthage amidst problems with France, the border states of the Teutons, Wales and Scotland, the Normans read the writing on the wall and created Naples as a client-kingdom. That relationship was fatally weakened with the events of the Sicilian Vespers, and Naples now sits in a strange position. The Apulia region and the city of Naples, combined with diplomatic and trading ties inherited from the Normans, make it a formidable power in Italian politics, but it alone cannot withstand Carthage. Consequently, Naples is attempting to forge military alliances and increase its own military strength, looking to the kingdoms of Iberia and France, further isolating it from its old Norman masters.
Naples boasts diversified economic power, with interests in agriculture, banking and trading. The city of Naples itself hosts art academies which are the equal of anything in Rome, Avignon, Constantinople or Alexandria, and Neapolitan art is very much in fashion in the high society of the west. The King is an institutional patron of the Accademia delle Arti, and his emulators follow suit. Noble titles are granted, not inherited, and they do not come with landed estates as in other parts of Europe.
Siena sits in a hilly region in western Italy. While Siena lacks the diversified economy of the rest of the peninsula, it makes up for it with a single nearly indispensible product: silk. Siena is the only place in Europe, and, in fact, the only place west of India that produces high quality silks. In addition to silk, Siena produces a variety of other agricultural goods, but silk is the life’s blood of their economy. As such, Siena has remained neutral in the conflicts between states, as their navy is not expansive enough to defend their shipments from Genoese, Florentine or Venetian aggressions.
Siena’s capital boasts one of the finest universities in the world, especially in the field of musical training and study. The government consists of elected representatives from various Sezioni. Each sezione consists of members of a single trade or political interest. While in theory each representative is equal, the government in practice is dominated by the representative of the Sezione Seta, who represents the silk industry. In order to vote for a representative, the voter must prove both his connection with the industry and that he has been educated at one of the many universities. The Sienese tend towards diplomacy in all things, and produce some of the world’s finest bards and cantors.
Venice is the most powerful city-state in Italy. It operates a massive trading network with close connections to the Teutonic Empire, the Byzantine Empire and Egypt. Its traders also have contacts in the Hanseatic League, France, Iberia, the Caliphate and Carthage. Even with its aggressive stances, its trade is nearly indispensible and goods from even such antagonists as Milan and Genoa flow through the marketplaces of Venice. Venice has agricultural interests, but they pale in comparison to its trading superiority.
That economic power buys it one of the finer militaries in the world. Its naval strength is unmatched, even by Byzantium or Carthage. Only Genoa boasts a similarly advanced and ubiquitous maritime presence, but Genoa lacks the land armies of Venice. Venice’s armies are primarily mercenary infantry culled from the condottiere of Urbino. While their morale is lower than that of their Milanese counterparts, their ranks are far more diversified and include barbarian warriors from Thrace and scimitar-wielding Arabs. Venice is a merchant republic. The hundred leading merchant families each have a vote with the commander of the Navy acting as the tiebreaker. The families elect a Doge who serves for a period of ten years.
Genoa is a Republic ruled by a Doge, elected for life by the various factions within the state, including naval commanders and trading and banking companies. As it controls very little territory, its power is primarily naval, and the Genoese fight very well on the seas. On land, they have very few men under arms and distrust condottiere, knowing that Venice can hire their loyalty away with relative ease. Consequently, Genoa depends on its alliance with Milan to supply land forces.
Like Venice and Florence, the life’s blood of the Genoese economy is trade. The majority of Milanese wine and Sienese silk flows through Genoa, and they have trading partnerships with parts of Iberia and France as well. While Genoese vessels ply the trade routes of the eastern Mediterranean, their relationships with the Byzantine Empire and Egypt are slowly fading away. However, for now, the Genoese are cosmopolitan people and likely to speak a great many languages.
Florence elects a Primo Cittadino every five years through the direct vote of its citizenry. This facet of its government makes it unique among states in Europe. Culturally, the state is an amalgamation of Urban, Genoese, Venetian and Milanese facets. It has a small army and naval presence and trades with all of its neighbors, keeping reasonably amiable relations with all of them, which is quite a trick in the delicate world of Italian politics. Florentine traders are particularly welcome in Marseilles, where Tuscan wine is quite popular.
Sardinia and Corsica
Corsica and Sardinia are islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea and are quite unique in the world. The two islands are governed by an elected body of five craftsmen, five magic-users and one tradesman who represents the interests of the islands overseas. The two islands maintain scrupulous neutrality, and have binding defensive alliances with France, Naples, Urbino, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Venice and the Byzantine Empire, a relic from the time of the Romans. The islands are important centers of trade, but don’t project their influence overseas and tend to look inwardly rather than outwardly. The island’s importance is due to its manufactories, which use magically-assisted techniques to produce truly exceptional items, which it sells to the highest bidder, without regard for nationality. Those who do leave the islands are invariably craftsmen, either magical or otherwise.
Lucca is a fortified city-state, with tremendously thick walls. Within its walls and in the surrounding territories, Lucca boasts the greatest university system in the world for judges, politicians and legal theorists. The city controls enough surrounding areas to feed its own population, and, if necessary, can raise magical barriers of pure force to guarantee its safety. Its safety is seldom imperiled, however, for Lucca is the international city. It maintains a diplomatic presence in every state west of the republic of Novgorod and Persia, and hosts a leading citizen in return. Because of Lucca’s perfect neutrality, its banks are renowned throughout the entire world, and even the Caliphate has an account in Lucca.
Lucca’s neutrality springs from its unparalleled university system. Because of the high reputation of Luccan arbiters, its leading judges were occasionally brought in to mediate conflicts between city-states. After their successful mediation of the first conflict between Milan and Venice, their reputation spread throughout the world, and a Luccan judge drafted the agreement which created the Iberian Confederation. Lucca’s obsession with law and order manifests itself in its government, the Noveschi. The Noveschi are the nine most prominent judges, as chosen by their peers in a blind vote. The mediation of the Noveschi is greatly sought-after in disputes between nations.
No one wants to rule Sicily, except the Sicilians. The Normans tried, as part of their Mediterranean ventures that saw them ruling Naples and points southward. Only within the last decade has the Norman presence in Sicily been eliminated, through the War of the Sicilian Vespers. The war was a reaction to the repressive Norman rule of the island, and its conclusion saw nearly every Norman on the island slaughtered; the few who lived fled for their lives in the face of armed Mafiosi.
The Mafiosi grew out of grassroots opposition to Norman occupation, and, now that the foreign presence is gone, they rule the country with iron, or not, fists. Every town, village and territory has its band of Mafiosi, centered around the men who resisted the Normans. While not criminal bands per se, they effectively control the law, as Sicily has no real government. The island’s residents are furiously nationalistic, but refuse to accept any sort of government, fearing a repeat of the repressive rule of the Norman kings. Instead, the bands of Mafiosi enforce order based on the preferences of the families of the members. This piecemeal approach to law and order means that Sicily has a much lower standard of living than its neighbors on the Apennine Peninsula. Relationships with other countries, except Sardinia and Corsica, are nearly nonexistent, though more ambitious Mafiosi are reaching across the water and forging trade and diplomatic relationships.
Because of the disruption of society, Sicily produces very few wizards, as the academies necessary to train them have been destroyed. Because of the nature of the Mafiosi and the covert war fought against the Normans, Rogues and Urban Rangers are quite common, as are Thugs and illusion- and enchantment-focused Sorcerers.
The Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire is gigantic, powerful and frozen by indecision, internal strife and corruption. Created by Constantine I, the empire endured the tribulations that destroyed the Roman Empire in the west and emerged relatively unscathed, though its time as a major world power is drawing near to a close as well. The Empire rules Greece and domains on the western coast of the Black Sea from its capital in Constantinople, as well as territory surrounding the city of Theodossia, a trading center for goods from Kiev and points northeast. The Empire also controls territory in Anatolia, though Islamic conquests by the Caliphate have reduced this territory drastically, and only the threats posed by Persia and Egypt on the Caliphate’s flanks prevent them from losing Anatolia entirely, as Byzantine troops are hard-pressed to hold. While the areas around the Black Sea are relatively secure, they are also nearly completely unassimilated, consisting primarily of forts and trading towns in the wilderness. These owe nominal allegiance to the Emperor, but the problems besetting the Empire occupy enough of his attention that they act relatively autonomously, as long as they contribute the required numbers of mercenary troops and pay the correct amount in tax. These centers tend to allow the tribes of Thrace and Sarmatia to keep their old customs and languages, leaving them in peace in return for trading rights and stability.
The Empire’s control of Greece is much tighter and more precarious. Over the past century, revolts and rebellions in Greece and Macedon have become relatively common, and the Emperors, save John II, have responded by tightening their grip and exacerbating the problems further. Major cities, like Athens, Thessalonica and Thebes, have large Byzantine military garrisons and government presence. However, in the countryside and, increasingly, in smaller cities, ancient Greek religion and government are reasserting themselves as the citizens sense the weakening of the Empire. The citizens of the Empire as a whole speak Greek as a common language, though government and religious functions are conducted entirely in Latin, which is the official language of the state.
The Empire is highly centralized, with a large bureaucracy that is completely answerable to an all-powerful monarch. The Emperor is expected to exercise direct control over every facet of the day-to-day life of the Empire, but, practically, this is impossible and certain bureaucratic divisions and territories have achieved some degree of autonomy. The Empire depends on magic to ensure its smooth functioning, and it has set up large, permanent magical gates between parts of its domains. Without magic, practical life would be impossible, as magic provides sanitation, light, food and water, and is used in transportation, agriculture, and construction and production, to say nothing of defense and warfare. The Emperor himself is a Sorcerer or Wizard, always. As he approaches the end of his life, he chooses his successor from the most politically savvy and powerful magic users in the Empire. The official religion of the Empire is Christianity, though prayers are not offered to God through the figure of Christ, but rather through the current and, occasionally, past emperors. Consequently, prayers are not actually answered, and the Empire depends on mystics to provide divine magic. All religions other than Christianity are illegal, though visitors are exempt. Because the Empire is a mageocracy, classes which cannot make some use of magic are held in contempt, and the Empire produces few of them, though many Duskblades and Hexblades. The religious difficulties mean that the Empire produces almost no clerics.