The Concord of Ashes
Also known as Jadera, Iadera, Diadora, Jadres and Zadar
(modified from Bitter Crusade, pp.12-14 and wikipedia)
Zara is the major city of Dalmatia, a region of the Adriatic coast of the Balkans and several islands along it. It is basically a thin strip of land squeezed between the sea and the Dinaric Alps, tall mountains that cut it off from the rest of the Balkans. Dalmatia’s clement weather and many natural ports make it an important part of any effort to control shipping access in the Adriatic. This makes it a strategic region for several Italian cities, most importantly Venice at the northern end of the sea.
Settlements on the site of Zara date back to the 9th century BC, when it was a Liburnian settlement called Jadera. By the 7th century BC, Jadera had become an important centre for their trading activities with the Phoenicians, Etruscans, Ancient Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples. A prosperous and easily defensible port, it retained its independence in this way until the middle of the 2nd century, when Roman incursions forced the Liburnians to change their position.
Eventually Iadera became an important municipality of Illyricum. From the early days of Roman rule, Iadera gained its Roman urban character and developed into one of the most flourishing centres on the eastern Adriatic coast, a state of affairs which lasted for several hundred years. The town was organised according to the typical Roman street system with a rectangular street plan, a forum, thermae, a sewage and water supply system that came from lake Vrana, by way of a 25 mile long aqueduct. Much of this ancient architecture can still be found in the city.
The fall of the Roman Empire, and attack or occupation by successive waves of Huns, Goths, Avars and various tribes of Slavs, saw Iadera fall into a long decline. This was exacerbated by a particularly devastating earthquake in the 6th century. The Byzantine Empire took possession of the much-reduced city and gradually rehabilitated it as Diadora, the capital of the Archonty of Dalmatia, but it wasn’t until the 8th century that the city truly began to find stability and growth again. With its fortified peninsula and focus on fishing and sea trade, Diadora became an invaluable link between the Croatian hinterland and the wider world.
When the salient Kingdom of Croatia challenged Byzantine authority in the 10th century, Diadora once again adapted to the times. They remained a client city of Byzantium in name and they still paid taxes, but they enjoyed considerable autonomy and a period of great prosperity. The Croatians called it Zadar, and used it as one of their principle ports of trade. This brought the city into direct competition with the city states of Italy, which was also once again expanding their trade portfolio on the Adriatic. Venice in particular was a fierce mercantile rival of Zadar, or Zara as they called it. Unfortunately, as in the times of antiquity, prosperity along the Dalmatian coast brought with it a rise in piracy, and Zadar was not immune to the peril.
In AD 998, Zadar and some of the other Dalmatian settlements sought Venetian protection against the Neretvian pirates. The Venetians were quick to fully exploit this opportunity. That same year a fleet commanded by Doge Pietro Orseolo II, after having defeated the pirates, landed in Korčula and Lastovo. Dalmatia was taken by surprise and offered little serious resistance. Trogir was the exception and was subjected to Venetian rule only after a bloody struggle. Tribute previously paid to Croatians Kings by Zadar and her fellow Byzantine client, Ragusa, was soon redirected to Venice, a state of affairs which lasted for some time into the 11th century.
The citizens of Zadar, now getting used to the name Zara as well, started to work for the full independence of the city from both Byzantium and Venice. By AD 1135, Zara was a vassal of the Byzantine Empire in name only. The head of this movement was the mightiest Zadar patrician family – the Madi, who sought, and achieved, the union of Zadar with the Croatian state led by King Petar Krešimir IV in AD 1069. Later, after the death of King Dmitar Zvonimir in AD 1089 and ensuing dynastic strife, in AD 1105 Zadar accepted the rule of King Coloman of Hungary, who had proclaimed himself king of Croatia as well.
Throughout the course of the 12th century, Venice never forgot its ambitions on Zara. Citing money owed from tribute, Venice repeatedly invaded Zara between AD 1111 and AD 1154 and then once more between 1160 and 1183, when it finally rebelled, appealing to the Pope and to the Croato-Hungarian throne for protection.
For sixteen years Zadar stood finally independent, a nominal vassal of the distant King of Hungary but free to chart its own destiny. While aware of Venetian antagonism, they believed themselves under the protection of the Pope and King Bela. A sort of stalemate became the order of the day, with Venetian ships being mostly unwelcome at Zara but hardly cut off from their home city or the other great ports of the Adriatic and Mediterranean. They did became an increasingly strong rival of Venice and quietly sought to undermine their influence throughout the Adriatic in order to gain more allies.
With the Crusade gathering in Venice over the first 6 months of AD 1202, some of the citizens of Zara became rightly nervous. Others reasoned that their feudal protector,* King Emeric of Hungary*, was committed to the Crusade as well, and that by papal edict no Crusade would turn on a fellow Christian city. Surely that should provide for the city’s security
Clearly, the Zarayans underestimated the Doge’s powers of persuasion. The conquest of Zara was firmly on the agenda of* Enrico Dandolo’s* hard-nosed negotiations with the leadership of the 4th Crusade in August of AD 1202.
The Fourth Crusade
On the 9th of November, the first elements of the Crusader fleet arrived on the southern flanks of the city. There was much disagreement, even among the Crusaders themselves, regarding the course of the next two weeks. It is known that the Venetians immediately assaulted the walls after making an amphibious landing. Some speculate that they hurried the attack because they were in search of the best glory and plunder. Others say that the Venetians were aware that a number of the Crusader Counts had already approached the *Zarayan*s and claimed that they would not back a Venetian attack, and the Italians were desirous of forcing the issue. Ever one to back an ally (even a disliked one), Count Louis of Blois joined in on the initial assault on the walls. Without further support, the attack was thrown back to the chagrin of the Venetians.
With the army now committed to the attack, the Crusaders settled into a short siege of the city. The harbour was first blockaded, and the land access to the peninsula cut off and siege weapons laid. On the 23rd of November, the eastern walls of the city gave way to the catapults, the harbour chain was broken by the Venetian galleys and the Crusaders stormed the city and the Zarayans quickly surrendered. For the most part, the militi christi were disciplined in the sacking of the city: slaughter, rape and destruction were kept to a minimum, and the worst cases were punished with death. When the dust settled, little more than 200 people lay dead, and perhaps 500 more were cleaved and injured. An Orthodox Greek monastery (said to be inhabited by the servants of Satan) was burnt to the ground, and many rich houses were looted. Some claim that Boniface of Montferrat led the attack, and others claim that he was not present during the entirety of the Siege.
As winter approached, the Venetians elected to winter in the city. Food, already scarce from a poor harvest, was seized by the army for their own use. The citizens were forced to live on rations assigned them by Venetians, who placed their own soldiers and constables in charge of law, order and distribution. The Crusaders, who were forced to give up most of their booty to the Venetian debt, were also deeply resentful of the Italians. A disagreement over rationing a few weeks after Zara was taken escalated into a riot,and many Zarayans joined in as well. This riot caused almost as much damage as the actual siege.
Zara sits on a peninsula arcing from the Balkan mainland into the Adriatic, creating a well-sheltered port. The city is a warren of cobblestone streets, and many of the Roman buildings there are still in use. The last few centuries have seen commercial prosperity and with it religious construction, including the Church of St. Donatus and the Church of St. Mary. Before the Crusade sacked the city, the latter was said to hold many great relics, but these have now been shipped to Venice along with the rest of the spoils. Both churches radiate with True Faith, and are uncomfortable in the extreme for Cainites.
Cainite Affairs of Zara
The vampiric population of Zara has always been relatively small, and such even more the case at the beginning of the 13th century. Dalmatia’s ports have made the for tempting domains for those vampire’s who like to feed off sea trade- and seamen- and various members of both Clans Lasombra and Nosferatu have been here since antiquity. However, the mortal population is not large enough to support a large number of Cainites easily, so whenever a Zarayan prince becomes powerful, he draws attention from other Balkan and Italian princes with greater resources. For several centuries, Dalmatian Lasombra existed as part of the Narsene Lasombra of Venice, along with some Cappadocians who were said to have established hidden havens on some islands. Such remains the case in certain areas, but the revolt of 1186 saw the destruction of Cosimo Lucretia, a grandchilde of Narses and the ascension of the Gari (an unaligned Malkavian) to take his place. Narses and several other Venetian vampires are eager to see Zara return to the fold, but Gari has so far been unresponsive to overtures by the Narsene agentson the Crusade.