The Antonian Ventrue
(modified from Constantinople by Night, pp. 72-74)
The Antonian Ventrue, masters of politics and temporal powers, are the childer of Antonius the Gaul. It was he who helped Michael mold his Dream of a new and powerful empire of the spirit into the reality of Constantinople. Antonius knew that Michael’s vision would need tempering and direction if it was to become reality. Even from the heady dreams of philosophies and religions, Antonius helped craft the unity of the empire and the power of the emperor. He sought to ensure that Byzantium had the means to thrive and the will to govern, withought the chaos and intrigue that had characterised Rome. Antonius and his family were only partially successful. Intrigue and betrayal plagued the family from the very beginning. Early conflicts stemmed from the increasing rivalry between Antonius and the Tzimisce Dracon, while Michael the Patriarch took great pleasure in playing his companions against each other. As the Dracon promulgated the worship of his creations as holy icons, Antonius came to hate the practice.
Michael’s efforts to mend fences only made things worse. He sought to restore the Trinity by bequeathing a gift of two brothers to his companions, but the Dracon’s delusional fledgeling Gesu Embraced Antonius’ promised Symeon. Enraged, Antonius took advantage of mortal Iconoclasm and attacked the Tzimisce power base.
Michael was incensed by Antonius’ actions, and the Trinity seemed shattered until Caius and Septima Dominica – two childer of Antonius – secretly approached Michael and the Dracon. In the secret Fourth Council, the two argued for their destruction of their sire for the sake of the Trinity – and their own desires for power. The two Methuselahs eventually sanctioned action and Antonius was put to the stake; Caius became the leader of the Antonian Ventrue, with Septima as his second.
The crime drove a wedge between the Ventrue and Toreador, though, and Caius – secretly longing for Michael’s company – withdrew, leaving Septima Dominica in effective control. In 1001 another intrigue claimed her life and Caius was left completely alone, only able to play the factions of his family against each other rather than provide the strong leadership they needed.
At the top of the Antonian Ventrue order sits Caius, basileus (emperor) of the family. The family’s nightly affairs are directed by his caeser magister (second-in-command), the conservative Nicepherus. Anna Comnena serves as the family’s Quaesitor and chamberlain; she rules on interfamily conflicts and oversees family members. With so much influence, she is almost as powerful as the family’s two leaders. Both Anna and Nicepherus report directly to Caius.
Below these top-ranked officials is a series of prefects, each of whom is responsible for an area of Antonian jurisdiction. Prefects supposedly take their daily orders from the caeser magister and are overseen by the chamberlain – all in service to the basileus. But in reality, the prefects are caught up in their own intrigue. They generally deal with Nicepherus or Anna, depending upon whom they support, while others ignore both as best as they can, seeking to gain power directly from the basileus.
A ROSTER OF THE ANTONIAN VENTRUE
- Caius, Basileus of the Antonians (5th gen. Childe of Antonius[d], e. early 4th century CE)
- Nicepherus, Caeser Magister (6th gen. Childe of Septima Dominica [d], e. early 7th century)
- Anna Comnena, Quaesitor and Chamberlain (7th gen. Childe of Ducas, e. 1153)
- Ducas, Palace Prefect (6th gen. Childe of Septima Dominica [d], e. early 9th century CE)
- Belisarius, Military Prefect (5th gen. Childe of Antonius [d], e. mid 6th century)
- Helena the Armenian, Eastern Praetorian Prefect (6th gen. Childe of Belisarius, e. late 11th century; in Torpor)
- Basil of Thessalonica, Western Praetorian Prefect (8th gen. Childe of Theodora [d], e. early 11th century)
- Irene Stellas, Domestic Prefect (8th gen. Childe of Anna Comnena, e. 1169)
- Alexander Rangabes, Magister Secretarius (7th gen. Childe of Nicepherus, e. early 12th century)
- Theodorus Kolettis, Quaesitor Secretarius (8th gen. Childe of Anastos of Monemvasia, e. mid 12th century)
- Maris Argyros, Doux Chrysopolis (6th gen. Childe of Caius, e. late 8th century)
- Gregory, the Wondermaker (9th gen. Alexandrite Ravnos, Childe of Icarus the Fool, e. early 7th century CE)
These are difficult times for the Antonians. The imperial throne, which has always been the source of their strength, is now their greatest weakness. The mighty Comneni emperors have given way to the mad and ineffectual Angeli dynasty, and the Antonian family has become mired by intrigue and hatred. Each Ventrue appears to be operating on hidden agenda, and internal divisions regarding the best imperial candidate are rife and acrimonious- particularly between Anna’s and Nicepherus’ factions. Caius refuses to act decisively, and Ducas is more interested in controlling access to the Angeli than actually influencing them for the betterment of the state and the Dream. For the first time in centuries, the mortals are finding themselves in command of the empire.
Of equally pressing concern is the current lack of an Eastern Praetorian Prefect.Helena the Armenian and her bodyguard of Varangians were attacked by an unknown party (thought to be an Assamaite) in the early months of 1198 CE. She would have been slain outright by the assailant if not for the fortuitous appearance of some of the Baron’s Gangrel, who reported seeing a shadowy figure dash away from the fallen and make for the rooftops before disappearing. A city-wide manhunt was conducted, but it is thought that the would-be assassin fled into the Latin Quarter, where Baron Thomas and his followers were unable to follow. The trail swiftly went cold, and the prefect was plunged into a poisoned torpor from which she has not emerged. Shabah, the Assamite envoy (who is a steadfast ally of Helena and her sire, Belisarius) has made inquiries regarding the attack amongst her clan-mates in the Sultanate of Rum and the Assamaite scholar Tegyrius and his fellows have also come forward to offer their support and apologies over the matter. For now, the intrigues between Nicepherus’ and Anna’s factions have prevented Helena’s replacement from chosen except on a pro tem basis. Both Theodorus Kolettis and Alexander Rangabes have both served for temporary terms, but it is known that Caius prefers that an outsider from the eastern territories take the post on a more permanent basis.
RELATIONS WITH OTHER FAMILIES
The Antonians oversee two scion families, and formerly held a measure of authority over a third. The first of these had the potential to become a fully fledged family, but its progenitor, the Lady Alexia, has always been curiously reticent to even accept the mantle of Scion. She has never sought to expand her mandate and tends to be lumped in with the rest of the Antonians as a result. The second, known as the Lexor Brujah, had always been a curious anomaly in the normally acrimonious relations between the Warlords and the Zealots. Since the execution of their beloved founder, Tribonius, in AD 1185, the Lexor Brujah have increasingly distanced themselves from the Antonians, whom they blame for his loss. The Narsene Lasombra formerly existed under the aegis of the Ventrue, but concessions made to the Venetians during the Eighth Council allowed them to exist within the city outside the authority of the Family system.
The first “family” consists of the Cappadocian Alexia Theusa, who has never actually taken up the mantle that was offered to her, and is variously numbered as just one more of the Antonians. She has never sired or adopted, nor has she ever suffered any other Cappadocian to exist within the bounds of the Dream. As far as the rest of the clan is concerned, Byzantium is hers alone (although Markus Musa Giovanni might disagree). Alexia advised Antonius the Gaul on certain matters when asked, but she has become irreplaceable to his successor, Caius, especially since the demise of Septima Dominica. He trusts her above all others, and no one has such ready access to him as Alexia. Her ability to remain close to the evasive basileus amazes some Ventrue and infuriates others.
The second scion family, the Lexor Brujah are keepers of the Codex of Legacies, the Cainite laws of Constantinople, and are also overseers of the mammoth Byzantine bureaucracy. They were formerly looked upon quite favourably by the Antonians, but the outbreak of the Latin Riots in AD 1185 and the subsequent execution of Epirus, the Domestic Prefect, and Tribonius, the Lexor Autokrator, brought the alliance under strain. Tribonius’ successor, Natalya, has been less conducive to doing what she is told. Since the mid-1190’s, she has increasingly taken power into her own hands rather than cooperating with the Antonian Quaesitor and the new Domestic Prefect. The relationship between the Antonian and the Lexor families could now be deemed cool at best and antagonistic at worst. Natalya now cooperates more with Baron Thomas Feroux and Malachite than her former supervisors, and has been heard to say that if the Antonians are not prepared to do their jobs, perhaps others should take the initiative and do it for them.
Relations with the other members of the Trinity are extensive and complex. In short, for the most part the Trinity families may cooperate on an individual level and continue to socialise at an official level, but they no longer perform their intended duties.
At present, the Michaelites and the Antonians maintain cordial if not exactly cooperative relations. Petronius and his fellow Muses are always invited to the Antonian blood feasts, and indeed are quite welcome, for their aesthetic sensibilities, talent for carousing, and artistic creations. However, that is essentially where association ends. The Michaelites are caught up in their own devolution as a family, and while individual members of each family maintain relationships with the other, there is no cooperation as the Triumverate originally intended.
The Antonian and Obertus have been rivals since the families were formed. The Ventrue still perceive the Tzimisce as fiendish, incomprehensible lunatics, and tend to look upon their use of icons with distaste. Yet, an unlikely détente formed between the Antonian and Obertus families in the wake of the destruction of Antonius the Gaul. When Michael rejected Caius, the Ventrue as a whole felt abandoned. By the 11th century it had become clear to the Antonians that the Michaelites were completely oblivious to the dangers facing the empire and were unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices to right matters. The secular Obertus, led by Quaesitor Symeon and his childe Myca Vykos proved quite susceptible to the empire’s woes. Together, the resurgent Belisarius and Symeon guided the empire out of trouble after the disastrous Battle of Manzikert in AD 1071. The irony of the fact that Symeon, Antonius’ intended heir, had been of such excellent assistance to the empire is lost on few of the Antonians, and some privately wonder at what might have been accomplished if fate had not taken such an ill turn. In any case, while Gesu and his monks have become increasingly insular in recent decades, Symeon and his childer are most welcome at the blood feasts, and their support is frequently sought both in matters of external security and in the internal intrigues that belabour the Ventrue.
More than any other family, the Antonians despise the outsiders who have flocked to the city in the past few centuries. To them, the Latins represent the degenerate bastards of Rome and the barbarous West. The commercialism of the Lasombra and the other Latin wretches leaves a foul taste in the mouths of the proud Ventrue, made all the more bitter by the knowledge that it was they that first granted the Narsene Lasombra a foothold within the city. Even if they could forget, their detractors (including the Latins) would never let them.
RELATIONS WITH OUTSIDERS
The members of the Ventrue hierarchy are not exclusive to the city itself. More than any other family, the Antonians have laid down roots in the provincial cities. The princes of Nicaea, Chalcedon, Trebizond, Nicomedia, Phillippopolis, Arcadiopolis, Monemvassia and Nikopolis all claim a place in the Antonian hierarchy, and no few ancillae have been sent out to oversee minor Domains within a few days or weeks of the capital. New Cainites can easily find their way into this great family, provided that they are of an eastern lineage. A Ventrue of the west will be scorned and spurned, in accordance with an ancient grudge.
The conflict between the Byzantine Ventrue and their feudal brethren from the West is common knowledge. This conflict stems from the fall of Rome, and the failure of the western Ventrue to hold back the barbarian invasions. The Eastern Ventrue have always maintained their superiority for hanging on to the true glory of Rome, and the Western Ventrue have always resented them for it. Now that the Byzantine empire is weak, and the Antonians are failing, the Ventrue of France, Italy, and the Holy Roman Empire are crowing with delight in their drafty Elysiums.
Coteries that associate themselves with the Antonian Ventrue are slowly and inevitably drawn into their intrigues. Cainites may be forced to choose whom to support between Anna Comnena and Nicepherus, or may find themselves drawn into the murkier intrigues of Ducas, Belisarius or even Basileus Caius himself.
Those who might be flabbergasted by the extent of the double-dealing regarding the Antonians and any outsiders they encounter would be stupified by the extent of betrayal, intrigue and waste in any dealings between themselves. Caius appears to rule by unpredictably shifting support at random between Anna and Nicepherus, both of whom are forced to spend an undue amount of their energies trying to curry his favour in return. While the basileus openly plays a reasonably transparent game, the minutiae of the Antonian machinery of intrigue is truly bewildering in its complexity, and cannot be easily quantified by those inexperienced at playing the game.
Anna Comnena, even as a mortal, always craved the power that she felt was her birthright. While barely more than a neonate (having been Embraced in AD 1153), she has managed to gather an extraordinary degree of influence to herself for one so young. She sees the waste inherent in the failing Antonian system, but is powerless to change that system from without and so must compromise to gain power from within. She is backed by her childe Irene Stellas (the Domestic Prefect), Theodorus Kolettis (her secretary) and the increasing support of the formerly ambivalent Belisarius. In contrast, her once supportive sire, Ducas has drawn away from her in recent years, and now actively curry’s favours for his benefit alone.
Nicepherus, on the other hand, is consumed with preserving the status quo. He and his supporters believe that the Antonians can ride out the ills that befall the empire, and slowly return to mastery in accordance with the cycle of ascension and decline that Byzantium has always followed. They actively despise the Latins, and work at the seemingly insurmountable task of dismantling their trade superiority. Nicepherus is backed by Maris Argyros (the princeling of Chrysopolis), Alexander(his secretary) and Basil (the Western Praetorian Prefect).
To be Continued