Monday, May 24, 2010

Outremer: The Principality of Rhodes

Rhodes is the last remnant of the Latin Empire of Constantinople formed in the Fourth Crusade. Rhodes is a sea power, and the Rhodian galleys are a powerful force in the Mediterranean. Its trading ships are everywhere in the eastern Med, as ubiquitous as Venetian or Turkish traders.

With the fall of Byzantium to the Turks in 1453, much of the Christian nobility - and many sacred relics - escaped to Rhodes. As a frequent ally of the Othmanli Turks, the Rhodians were perfectly placed to offer safe sanctuary to the fleeing Byzantines, who brought sought-after skills and much treasure with them. Now, having lived in Rhodes for over a century, they are well integrated into the social fabric.

There are a great number of churches in the City of Rhodes, Latin and Orthodox, and even a couple of mosques. Each church has a relic of some sort, most by way of Byzantium. In addition to the usual saints' bones and such, in various churches of Rhodes are splinters and nails of the True Cross, the Crown of Thorns, the lancehead dug up in Antioch during the first crusade and assumed to be the lance of Longinus, the Veil of Veronica, and the Holy Shroud. Rhodes is therefore a target of pilgrimage from everywhere in Europe. Immense sums of money are brought by these pilgrims, most of whom go on to Galilee and Jerusalem.

The city of Rhodes itself is a great seaport, and heavily fortified, with massive walls and great guns from Europe and Acre. The fortifications mostly encircle the main harbor as well as the city itself. The city is crowded and teeming, with Greeks, Byzantines, Turks, Armenians, Italians, and the native Rhodian Latins all with separate quarters. The Exchange, located on the waterfront, is a bustling trade entrepot, with goods from Malta to Jerusalem passing through. The Rhodian Latin aristocracy have long had villas scattered over the island as well as town houses in the city, and wealthy members of the other cultures have copied this fashion.

Kos is much like Rhodes, but somewhat smaller, and with a correspondingly larger naval contingent. It too has a fairly exensive hinterland, and great families of several different cultures. The Naval base is the main center for the Rhodian Navy, even larger than that of Rhodes itself.

Scarpanto, or as the Greeks call it, Carpathos, is a more bucolic city, though like all Rhodian cities it is a trading center. Scarpanto's lifestyle is more languid and less frenetic than that of Rhodes or Kos, and natives of Scarpanto are thought to be slow by Rhodian or Kosian natives.

Castelrosso lies far to the east of Rhodes. This city thrives on coastwise trade with the Turks, Armenia, Cyprus, and Antioch. It was purchased from the Turks early on, and the population is overshelmingly Rhodian Latin, unlike the other cities of the Principality. An enormous rose-red castle overlooks the city and its twin harbors, giving its name to the city itself.


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