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Strange question, but then again I think this forum positively welcomes those! I'm aiming to create a campaign centred around a fictional 13th century Byzantine successor state based in the Crimea.

My main question is where, logically, it would make better sense to base this city, there are two options I can think of centred around the Kerch straits (pictured).

On the West side of the straits you have Kerch itself, the area is well elevated, the straits give it excellent defences though it is somewhat dry and water is more limited.

On the East side of the straits you have plentiful water, good farming land, however you are also bordering the steppes; any steppe hordes can sweep down and attack your city, however they would have to get through some fairly nasty swamps and rivers to reach the city.

Where should I locate it? I'm slanted towards the West side but i'm not sure if the water problem would be solvable.

The locations in question

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    $\begingroup$ That area has a long and interesting history of habitation. Are you going to build around something that actually happened there - alternate history style? Where does real history change? $\endgroup$ – Willk May 23 '17 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ The answer's almost certainly going to be both sides. See: Istanbul, was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron May 23 '17 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @jdlugosz Thanks! I'm a bit obsessive about the details so when I found this place it was like a breath of fresh air! $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 23 '17 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Will I'm not really sure what the area was like in the 13th century, I think the settlement that predated Kerch was fairly insignificant, simply a trading post, so its almost 'brownfields' $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 23 '17 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Azuaron I think long term it would be, short term it sounds like the West may be suitable for a moderate city. $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 23 '17 at 20:03
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If the west side's water situation is unsolvable then they might put defenses on the west side and use it for control of the strait and as a bolt hole in response to an attack from the steppes. The swampy lands might be enough to slow attackers enough to evacuate across the strait. There would also have to be enough defense in depth to allow evacuation.

So, people would live and farm on the east side. The military and, likely, rulers would live on the West side. If the granaries are on the west side, the drier climate would be better for storage. I would also put the religious institutions on the west side to reinforce the fact that the townsfolk need the west side.

If the people can evacuate across the water, steppes attackers would go through all that effort for nothing. Also, if the military gets good at water navigation, they can probably put harassing troops behind the attackers for hit and run attacks. All this is an effort to discourage further attacks. The combination of being a pain in the rear to attack and having food for trade might be enough to work out a peaceful arrangement with the nearest steppes tribe.

If the steppes tribes are too much of a threat, then most of the population can be on the west side. Then water may have to be transported up to the city. In this scenario, you only have farmers on the east side. The evacuation would be quicker that way but more effort needs to be put into water and food transport.

[Edit]

I just looked at the map on Google. It shows water sources and farming on the west side. It might not be as good as on the east side but, combined with farming on the east side, I think the west side can support a decent sized city. I don't get a good feel for relative elevations so I don't know how difficult it would be to get water to the city from the small lakes up there. So, city on the West and farming villages on the east sounds like a good solution if you want grain for trade.

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  • $\begingroup$ aquaducts are a possible solution to that last water issue! though I don't know if/how they would bridge the straits themselves! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps May 23 '17 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps, Aqueducts would work for water sources on the west side. I saw plenty on the google map. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat May 23 '17 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat I believe some of the lakes are fairly recent additions, the problem is its hard to find detailed information on the Crimea in previous centuries, some are natural and some are artifical. I believe water sources for that part of the region are simply springs, there is a river that runs through Kerch itself (Melek-Chesme) but it is quite small, I did envision though that the water could be diverted and stored in cisterns. $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 23 '17 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Trotskisaurus, If they have some water but not enough, the pre-edit suggestions should still be valid. They would be easier to implement with some water, especially the military holdout. As time goes on, they may be able to divert water from farther and farther areas. My original assumption was that the Black Sea water is not potable since there is a mix with the Mediterranean. If the saline content is low enough at the strait, they could rig up a bucket line to pull water from the strait. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat May 23 '17 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat I think you may be right, i'm not sure if in the short term water would be a problem for any settlement near Kerch, in the long term it is feasable that aqueducts and pipes could bring water from other parts of the Crimea maybe even from the Dneiper as is done presently, the Eastern Romans still had a good knowledge of water management so I think you may be right :) $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 24 '17 at 7:19
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You are spot on with Kerch. Why not playing along with real history and use the actual Byzantine successor state in Crimea, the Empire of Trebizond?

This region was called Perateia and recounting its story (and how it seceded and eventually became the Principality of Theodoro further west) would make a great historical novel.

It's possible that reality was even wilder than whatever fiction we could come up with. So perhaps if you contacted a Byzantinologist and got acquainted with the literature about it (or even translated primary sources) you could strike gold!

Let me know, because I would look forward to read it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was about to answer along these lines -- the rulers were of the Palaiologos line, so had a legitimate if distant claim to the imperial title. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa May 23 '17 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ @fralau Theodoro is an extremely good idea but I was actually hoping to focus on the half-legendary story of the Anglivarrangoi; English refugees from the Norman conquest that are speculated to have settled in the Crimea and served the Eastern Roman Empire; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_(medieval) I picked the Kerch strait because if I was going to construct a mini-Constantinople that would be the place and there are vague claims that even at quite a late date the English lived in these areas. $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 24 '17 at 7:15
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting; I didn't know about this story of English settlers. For a good fictionalization of Varangians (in an earlier period), see Michael Ennis, Byzantium; but perhaps you already know it. Theodoros (though geografically distinct and later in time), could be a source of inspiration for the general athmosphere, with its multi-ethnic composition? $\endgroup$ – fralau May 24 '17 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ @fralau I cam accross the book in my research, haven't read it but the extracts I read did look excellent and really engaging! I think you're right, Theodoro would be a good basis for my work! $\endgroup$ – Trotskisaurus May 24 '17 at 11:31

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