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The Byzantine Empire, 1045 by Undevicesimus The Byzantine Empire, 1045 by Undevicesimus
Byzantion (Greek: Βυζάντιον) was the name of a humble city located on the Bosporus, later called Byzantium by the Romans. It was founded by Dorian Greek colonists from Megara during the seventh century BC to secure Greek shipping routes to and from the Black Sea region. The city achieved some prominence as a trade hub during the zenith of the Roman Empire before being sacked by the forces of Septimius Severus in 195, as a result of having sided with the usurper Pescennius Niger during the Year of the Five Emperors (193). Although Septimius Severus recognised the city’s potential and rebuilt it, Byzantium was given a far greater destiny only in 330 when Constantine the Great (r. 306 – 337) chose the city as his new imperial residence and capital, a decision which altered the course of Roman and indeed European history.

Several factors influenced Constantine’s choice: Byzantium’s strategic position at the gateway between two continents, the increasing economic and demographic importance of the Roman Empire’s eastern territories and last but not least, Constantine’s desire to literally distance himself and his government from the less than cooperative senatorial elite back in Rome. Constantine and his son Constantius II (r. 337 – 361) did everything in their power to make Byzantium – soon renamed as Nova Roma Constantinopolitana or Constantinopolis – into a citadel with all the imperial grandeur of Rome in its heydays, combining the fledgling Christian architecture with the established Roman urban culture. At the death of Constantius II, the city’s governmental and ceremonial heart consisted mainly of the Great Palace (Greek: Μέγα Παλάτιον), the Hagia Eirene (Greek: γία Ερήνη), the Hippodrome (Greek: Ιππόδρομος) and the Forum of Constantine (Greek: Φόρος Κωνσταντίνου). On top of that, a new Byzantine Senate was established with its own Curia to emphasise Constantinople’s status as the New Rome, free from the corruption and conspiracies of the Roman senators in the west. 

The continuous dedication of the Roman – Eastern Roman after the imperial division of 395 – government to the construction of Constantinople caused its population to skyrocket between the fourth and sixth century, in sharp contrast to the decline of Rome itself. Of the approximately 800,000 people living in Rome at the time of its infamous destruction by the Visigoths in 410, a mere 30,000 remained halfway through the sixth century. Constantinople had by this time become the greatest metropolis of the Mediterranean with around 500,000 inhabitants. Although the city’s population dwindled slightly over the next centuries and never outclassed the imperial zenith of Rome, Constantinople was undoubtedly the supreme jewel of medieval Europe until the forces of the Fourth Crusade desecrated the city in 1204.

The fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and the disappearance of its last splinter territories by 486 caused the imperial government of Constantinople to begin propagating a renovatio imperii, a restoration of the empire’s territory and authority. To Constantinople, the fall of the west meant before anything that there was finally a single Roman Empire again. Moreover, that the ‘inferior’ western barbarians had not only toppled Rome but also claimed its legacy was considered an unforgiveable insult. As the sole continuation of the empire, Constantinople considered itself the rightful ruler of all the former Roman territories in the west, a claim it considered both possible and inevitable. 

The man who zealously pursued the renovatio-policy was Justinian the Great (r. 527 – 565). From the moment of his ascension to power, he embarked on an ambitious quest consisting of four objectives: the reconquest of the lost western territories, the purification and codification of Roman law, the establishment of religious unity and a military-first economy. Justinian’s multi-front wars, vast construction programs (most famously the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople) and heavy taxation pushed the empire and its people to the limit of their abilities. Despite considerable successes, the ultimate goal of restoring the Roman Empire proved unrealistic, all the more because difficulties turned into calamities as the sixth century progressed. The first plague epidemic hit the Mediterranean hard from 541 onward, the war against the Ostrogoths in Italy dragged into the 550’s and the Sassanid Empire reinitiated hostilities in the east from 542. In the north meanwhile, barbarian invasions breached the imperial frontier once more: the Avars and Bulgars entered the Danube Valley from the Ukraine, subjugating Slavic tribes along the way and forcing them to in turn invade the Balkans in search of a new home. In the west meanwhile, Constantinople’s hard-fought victories in Spain and Italy were all but undone by the Visigoths and Langobards, although the empire long held on to key Italian regions which included Rome and Ravenna. The catastrophes towards the end of Justinian’s reign and after his death in 565 proved to be merely the overture to the storms of the seventh century. The power of Constantinople nevertheless held out well enough at first: emperor Herakleios (r. 610 – 641) booked a spectacular victory at the Battle of Nineveh in 627 which shattered the Sassanid Empire, secured the imperial frontier in the east and allowed Constantinople to begin planning the reconquest of the Balkans against the Slavs. 

Fate decided otherwise: less than a decade after Nineveh, the imperial armies were retreating in the face of the Arab tribes, recently united in the new faith of Islam. Shortly after Herakleios’ death in 641, Arab forces had secured the entire Middle East and went on to conquer Egypt by 642. These colossal demographic and territorial losses inflicted an unprecedented internal crisis upon Constantinople’s economy, military and administration. In response, Herakleios and his successor Constans II (r. 641 – 668) embarked on a campaign of sweeping reforms to suit the new situation and consolidate what was left of the empire. The result was the emergence of a ‘new’ Greco-Roman state, indeed the immediate continuation of the (Eastern) Roman Empire but one which had been thoroughly altered by decades of catastrophes and the rising significance of its Greek component. From around this time, the dominion of Constantinople is popularly known to modern-day people as the ‘Byzantine Empire’. However, both the government and the people stubbornly continued to call themselves and their empire ‘Roman’.

The reforms which shaped the emergence of the Byzantine state were nevertheless huge: the countryside of the empire was given a new taxation system which called for taxes in the form of gold alone and charged the local leaders of peasant communities with coordinating tax collection. The vital monetary link between the empire’s tax payers and government officials was thus preserved and strengthened. This was indeed of the greatest importance: the loss of inhabitants, resources and territory both required and implied a more efficient micro-management of the remaining territories. As a result, both the imperial army and bureaucracy shrunk significantly during the seventh and eighth century. Whereas Constantinople fielded an army as large as 150,000 soldiers in the days of Justinian the Great, it could count on ‘only’ 80,000 halfway through the eighth century. Likewise, the central government in Constantinople consisted of about 2,500 officials when Justinian came to power, as opposed to a mere 600 at the dawn of the eighth century.

In said situation of severe contraction, emperor Constans II also enforced a complete reorganisation of the Byzantine military around 660. It continued to be made up of semi-professional soldiers and enlistment remained voluntary, but its structure was rebuilt around four field armies: the themata (Greek: (pl.) θέματα), which were all stationed in the empire’s new heartland of Asia Minor. A fifth thema was soon established in the Aegean Sea to represent the Byzantine war fleets, followed by the creation of themata in the remaining Byzantine territories in the western Mediterranean. The new system was quickly expanded and enhanced under Constans II’s successors and ultimately became a new Byzantine administrative framework which replaced that of the Roman emperors Diocletian and Constantine.

To complement the themata, prevent a repeat of the Arab sieges of Constantinople (673 – 678 and 717 – 718) and more effectively combat the increasing number of internal conspiracies against the emperor, Constantine V (r. 741 – 755) created new units with only professional soldiers: the tagmata (Greek: (pl.) τάγματα), which in theory numbered altogether 18,000 men. Constantine V thus dramatically increased Constantinople’s defensive capacity and his own ability to crush internal threats to his power. However, the emperor’s position ultimately came at risk of being challenged or controlled by his own tagmata-commanders. To solve this, a new force was fielded in the tenth century to serve as the emperor’s personal bodyguard, one which largely consisted of Scandinavian soldiers: the famous Varangian Guards (Greek: Τάγμα των Βαράγγων). The downside to assembling the tagmata was the gradual decline in quality of the themata. Two main reasons can be brought up for this: firstly, the general preference of cavalrymen to serve in the tagmata rather than the themata, not in the least because the former paid better; secondly, the gradually increasing importance of cavalry-heavy armies. Already in the ninth century, the Byzantine military had to order peasant communities all over the empire to reserve a certain number of cavalrymen for service in the themata.

As the ninth century progressed, the internally reconsolidated Byzantine Empire could finally prepare its great war of reconquest. Byzantine forces had managed to reclaim the western Peloponnese shortly after 800 – killing or deporting the Slavs and repopulating the area with Greeks – but were hindered in further expansion by internal strife and strong foreign enemies, most notably the Bulgarian Empire. The fall of the Avar Khaganate by 804 had allowed for a remarkable rise in Bulgarian power and prosperity, establishing an empire which roughly encompassed modern-day Bulgaria, all of Macedonia and vast portions of modern-day Serbia, Greece and Albania. For centuries, the Byzantine emperors could do little more than to tolerate the Bulgarian khans, all the more because Constantinople’s Arab nemesis continued to terrorise the Mediterranean.

By the end of the ninth century, Byzantium achieved new successes by driving the Arabs out of Cilicia and strengthening its hold on southern Italy. The subsequent string of Byzantine victories which happened throughout the tenth and early eleventh centuries were the result of the internal weakening of the Arabs in the Middle East and the creation of political stability within the Byzantine government. A kind of balance of power had emerged between the hereditary monarchy of the emperor and the governmental influence of the Byzantine army, which implied that the Byzantine generals agreed to act reservedly in case of troubles within the monarchy but were allowed considerable influence over the seating emperor. Though said balance was indeed the fundament of the tenth century Byzantine successes, it turned the imperial court of Constantinople into a grand theatre of hypocrisy, flattery, factionalism and backstage conspiracies where one had to tread lightly to avoid disappearing from the stage at the command of either the regime or the military.

Two emperors defined the Byzantine tenth century: Constantine VII (r. 913 – 959) and his grandson Basil II (r. 963 – 1025). However, Constantine stood initially under the regency of the Patriarch of Constantinople, subsequently ruled alongside his mother Zoe Karbonopsina and then had to tolerate general Romanos Lekapenos as co-emperor until 944. His grandson Basil II ruled consecutively alongside his generals Phokas until 969 and Tzimiskes until 976.

The upside to the immense power of these generals was that the Byzantine armies could act decisively on every front, being commanded by men who had no real superior. Lekapenos turned the tables in the Balkans and increased Byzantine pressure on the Bulgarian Empire, which had reached the zenith of its power under khan Symeon (r. 893 – 927), even attempting a siege of Constantinople itself (923 – 924). Phokas reestablished firm Byzantine control over Cilicia, reclaimed Crete in 961 and Cyprus in 965, annexed Armenia and secured the gateway into Syria by reconquering Antioch in 969. Tzimiskes then initiated the annexation of Bulgarian Thrace, reduced the Mirdasids of Aleppo to a Byzantine vassal and invaded the Middle East, conquering key cities like Edessa, Tripoli, Sidon and Damascus but falling short of Jerusalem itself.

The downside to the Byzantine army’s state-influence became clear upon the death of Tzimiskes in 976: the empire fell into thirteen years of civil war before Basil II managed to regain control, greatly aided by a military alliance with Vladimir the Great of Kievan Russia. Once firmly in power, Basil II pushed the military policies of his late co-emperors to the limit. In 1014, Byzantium obliterated the Bulgarian army at the Battle of Kleidon and systematically conquered the Bulgarian Empire. By 1018, all remaining Bulgarian resistance had been destroyed. The ruthlessness of the Byzantine armies – even by medieval standards – gained Basil II the epitaph of ‘Bulgar Slayer’ (Greek: Βουλγαροκτόνος), by which he is known to this very day. Basil subsequently annexed significant territories in the Caucasus before turning west to strengthen Byzantine positions in southern Italy. Throughout his reign, Byzantium’s only military failure was the attempted invasion of Muslim Sicily.

The wars of reconquest waged by Basil II transformed the Byzantine armies along the general lines of military development going on in both the Latin West and the Islamic world. The importance of cavalry units increased dramatically: heavily armoured cavalrymen were given a more offensive role on the battlefield, whereas infantry units were trained to protect cavalry with carré formations. The new battle tactics stood side by side with a new system of military recruitment and maintenance. Basil II introduced the principal of subsidiary fiscal solidarity, which meant that rich land owners had to take over the fiscal duties (and not the land) of low-class peasants with financial difficulties. When lands fell to the tax collectors of the government, it was not sold but given in ‘lease’ to richer citizens which then had to pay for the armour, horses and wages of cavalrymen. As such, the Byzantine government both managed to maintain the army as a public institution to which all imperial citizens contributed and prevented – at least initially – that local or regional potentates gained too much power and could establish their own de facto autonomous dominions (which was the case all over the Latin West during the Early Middle Ages).

Approximately halfway through the eleventh century, the Byzantine Empire had once again become arguably the strongest state of the medieval Mediterranean world, having almost doubled its territory since the eighth century and ruling unopposed from the Straits of Messina to the Caucasus Mountains and the eastern shores of the Black Sea. However, the rapid expansion caused the iron grip of the imperial government to loosen under the rule of Zoe Porphyrogenita (r. 1028 – 1050) and her successive co-rulers (Romanos III, Michael IV, Michael V, her sister Theodora and Constantine IX), causing the powerful families of Asia Minor to gain significant local autonomy and act increasingly without orders from Constantinople

© undevicesimus.deviantart.com

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:iconimpesio:
Impesio Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2017
What font do you use?
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2017  Student Digital Artist
Helvetica Neue.
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:iconromanophile:
Romanophile Featured By Owner Edited Nov 29, 2017
"I knew that city was destined for greatness someday!" - Septimius Severus ;)
An excellent map and accompanying description of events! Thankyou for all the hard work you've done. May Fortuna smile upon you.
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2017  Student Digital Artist
Thanks for your kind words!
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:icontotocapt:
totocapt Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2017
So sad to say Byzantine empire doesn't exist anymore now... Thanks for showing us its greatness before sad time of Crusades...
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:iconelvinkin66:
Elvinkin66 Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2017  Student Writer
Yes.

I wish it still existed.
Reply
:iconcalcraft:
Calcraft Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2016
A long time ago, I read somewhere that the Byzantine double-eagle flag is still hoisted every day at Mount Athos.  Do you know if that is true?   These are superb pages by the way, even better than Gibbon!
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2016  Student Digital Artist
No I have no idea about that, sorry ^^; Thanks for the compliment!
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:iconrogueleader1000:
RogueLeader1000 Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2016
Surprised you didn't mention Emperor Maurice, probably the greatest Roman Emperor since Justinian up till that point, and his successor, Phocas, probably the worst Emperor in the entire history of the Roman Empire, and the reason the Muslims were able to defeat the Persians and the Byzantines in the first place. It be nice to see maps illustrating these two characters.
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:iconheliosmegistos:
HeliosMegistos Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2016
Constantinople I refound you as Eosopolis, may you reach even great glory and status then that which you held when Apollonia II destroyed you.

Alexandria may now be the capital but you were the capital first and for far longer then that backwater called Rome!

:XD:
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:iconemmetearwax:
EmmetEarwax Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
The moldy empire as seen by Gibbons, land of eyeball gouging...
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:iconhillfighter:
Hillfighter Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2015
It's somewhat ridiculous how strategically located Constantinople was and still is. Its ability to withstand sieges and the number it successfully repulsed may be unmatched.
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Yea Constantine knew what he was doing when he chose Byzantium as capital :)
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:iconwoodsman2b:
woodsman2b Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2015
I didn't manage to comment on your main page so I do it here, a bit late but... Happy birthday :D :D
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thank you ^^
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:iconwoodsman2b:
woodsman2b Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2015
You're welcome ^^
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:iconlugia20711:
Lugia20711 Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I always found it interesting that Justinian the Great took a commoner as his wife rather than a royal princess.

Are you a Historian or have a Degree in History?
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2015  Student Digital Artist
No I don't (:
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:iconheliosmegistos:
HeliosMegistos Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2015
Beautiful.

Sadly Rhomaion didn't have a powerful young women to save them like they do in my Dawnverse.
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thanks :bow:

Yea perhaps, but at least the Byzantine legacy still lives on in reality and we can make many Byzantine what-if stories in fiction ^^
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:iconheliosmegistos:
HeliosMegistos Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2015
Indeed and that's better that what happened with other lost empires like Sassanid Persia and such.

I dare say that my own what-if-story is pretty much a fantasy (as fantasy fiction mixed with alternate history) rather then something realistic since it involves telepathy and such, Byzantium/Rhomaion been de-christianised as Heliosian/Celestianism spreads and Rhomaion expandanding to cover the combined borders of the Justinian era (minus most of Italy) and Alexander's empire.
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Sounds like quite a story ^^ I like the idea of a pagan/non-Christian Byzantium although I don't see how that could've happened historically :) Christianity was such a big part of what Byzantium stood for that I don't see how they would ever have abandoned it. Oh well ^^
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:iconheliosmegistos:
HeliosMegistos Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2015
True, I had to cheat in story and have Telepathy/mind control cause the initial spread of the new fairh
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Telepathy and mind control? Well, that's a creative solution :la:
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:iconheliosmegistos:
HeliosMegistos Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2015
Thanks :)

Essentially accident time travel sends a young American Telepath called Persephone back to the 1070's and been a Byzantophile and lover of antiquity and various other things sets her selfup as ruler in instead of Alexios Komneos with her dynasty going on to be called the Eosopoulou.

It's kind but one of my friends did a full map on it if you want me to send you the link, it's somewhat out of date however and is his own interpretation but it's still valid.

This is the Heliosianism/Celestianism I've mentioned heliosmegistos.deviantart.com/…

While this makes the deity family tree clearer although I need to tweak it with some final details at some point to show parentage better heliosmegistos.deviantart.com/…
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Quite a story, you really put a lot of effort in this :)
I like that deity family tree, it's quite creative ^^

Sure, send me that link to the map.
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(1 Reply)
:iconsunny-cyberspacer:
Sunny-Cyberspacer Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Long live Imperium Romonum!!!!!
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:iconk-haderach:
K-Haderach Featured By Owner Edited Sep 2, 2015
Ah, the magnificence of New Rome at her (second) zenith! If only Manzikert hadn't happened...
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Indeed, Manzikert was a tragedy on so many levels...
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:iconlazarist:
Lazarist Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Ah Byzantium, how I miss your glory, a damn shame 1204 happened.
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Indeed!
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:iconarminius1871:
Arminius1871 Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2015
We could need such a Reich now!
Fantastic map!
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Yea how would Byzantium deal with the refugee crisis if it was still around in these borders? Could be something for an alternate history story ^^
Thanks so much! :bow:
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:iconk-haderach:
K-Haderach Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2015
Refugee crisis? What refugee crisis? Byzantium wouldn't be sitting around passively waiting for refugees to flee from war, terror and genocide. It would mount a full-scale assault on Daesh, annihilate them, and re-annex Syria to the Empire. Then the refugees could go back to their homes.
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Yea you're right, it's bad wording on my part to call it a refugee "crisis" cause it's really not the refugees that are the problem, it's the EU leadership's utter failure to work out European-level solutions for just about any issue. It's more of an EU-crisis because it shows how badly the EU acts as a bloc.

Byzantium probably would do that yes... Thing is, Daesh/ISIL would be gone and destroyed within a month if the big powers set their mind to it and cooperated fully in that goal. That is not the case, there are too many corrupt ambitions and interests at stake, so Daesh continues to exist and wreak horrible havoc upon the common people of Syria and Iraq.
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:iconheliosmegistos:
HeliosMegistos Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2016
Irony that the more recent Russian bombings are more effective then the longer Nato ones
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:iconarminius1871:
Arminius1871 Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2015
Lol yeah but I have hardly time for maps atm ><
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Well times will change and you'll be able to make more, I hope ^^
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:iconarminius1871:
Arminius1871 Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2015
Yeah tho I would have to learn Inkscape to make atlas like maps,
but I more concentrate on project maps.
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:iconpaddythelad:
paddythelad Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2015
I cri evryteim I hear Romes zenith. Once again thank you very much for these. They help me put things in context :D
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:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2015  Student Digital Artist
You're welcome, and thanks for the compliment! :bow:
Reply
:iconpropagandastamps:
PropagandaStamps Featured By Owner Edited Aug 31, 2015
Briliant job, as always! Byzantine Empire is my favorite!
Reply
:iconundevicesimus:
Undevicesimus Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thank you so much! :bow:
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