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Crusades

Europeans behaving badly?

 

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In Preparation

The Crusades were the first war the Europeans waged outside Europe. Some of the attitudes that were expressed during the Age of Hegemony were first revealed during this period - insensitivity to the culture of non-Europeans, for example, and a propensity to set up their own kind of state in colonised land.

Motivation?
The motivation in Europe was clearly at least partly religious. The Europeans (or at least their rulers and leaders) were adherents of Christianity, a religion that claimed its origin in the territory now known as Palestine, centered on the city of Jerusalem where its supposed founder was believed to have lived. During the time the Byzantine Empire occupied the area a number of Christian sites had become places of pilgrimage for citizens of that empire. After the country had been conquered by the Arab armies the whole area of Palestine, Syria and Egypt came under Muslim rule.

The custom of pilgrimage made it possible for religious leaders to rouse enthusiasm for liberating the "Holy Places" from Muslim occupation. From about the 11th century onwards a few Christians from Europe had begun to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, much as Muslims went to Makkah. There they would visit the places in the city where Jesus was said to have taught, or that were mentioned in the New Testament (and buy the fake relics sold then as now by astute local traders).

However, after the whole region had been conquered by the Muslim Arabs in 633 they too had made Jerusalem a "Holy" City, based on the sites referred to in the Quran, especially the site of the former Jewish Temple on which the Muslims had built the Dome of the Rock to commemorate the Night Journey of Mohammed.

Some of the dissident Christians of the empire - Monophysites for example - had welcomed the transfer of power as a relief from the persecution they experienced from the Orthodox, when those controlled the central government in Constantinople. Many Christians continued to live in the conquered area, though they had to pay a non-believers' tax to the new regime. This of course was on the one hand an incentive to convert to a religion which was not in fact radically different from some versions of Christianity - some of the sects that had been hostile to the Orthodox regime in Byzantium. On the other the tax was also an incentive for the Muslim rulers not to pursue conversions. The remaining Christians belonged to various sects, including the Greek Orthodox, mostly under the authority of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Others were Monophysites, opposed to both the Orthodox and the Romans. Few were Roman. After Greek Orthodox the most prominent were the Armenians. As was the custom in Middle Eastern empires, each religious community had considerable autonomy under the rule of its religious leaders, but were not allowed to bear arms.

By 1071 the Seljuk Turks were pressing on Anatolia and had conquered the remaining heartland of the Eastern Roman Empire at the battle of Manzikert. Byzantium thus lost an area of taxable land and a source of soldiers. It was gravely weakened.

Appeal from Byzantium
The emperor Alexius Comnenus (1081) was under further pressure from the Turks who had already conquered most of Anatolia and called from help from western Europe. In 1095 he appealed to the Pope Urban the second for assistance from the West. (However, his western territories were also threatened by the Normans who were making an empire in Sicily and Italy.)

At this time the western (Roman) and eastern (Greek Orthodox) versions of Christianity had diverged, with a formal split in 1054, each regarding the other as "heretical".

The antipathy by the Orthodox of the east for the followers of Rome, in the west, made it difficult for him to appeal to westerners and his reluctance was shown to have been justified when the westerners sacked Byzantium when they got there - like a massive stag party of football hooligans. The emperor had wanted reinforcements for his army - individual soldiers to help him defend and reconquer the lands he was losing in Anatolia. He was not himself worried about Jerusalem which was in fact still open to the small stream of pilgrims. What he got was a large undisciplined army of wild westerners who cared little for Anatolia. Pope Urban, however, saw it as a solution to his pressing problem - too many unemployed Knights and Barons - mainly second and other sons who could not inherit - struggling among themselves with private wars to obtain fiefs.

The ideological objections also made it difficult to ask for help. The Orthodox and Catholic churches differed in certain formulae on "the nature of Christ" and also in organisation. The Pope of Rome maintained (at least in theory) a central control of all the Catholics in the west, whereas the Eastern Orthodox church had several heads (Patriarchs: Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch and others). Other differences were that Orthodox priests had to be married, though bishops, as monks, were not. Catholic priests were not supposed to be married - mainly because if they were, their sons would try to inherit church property, the only kind of wealth in a moneyless society. These differences made it difficult for the two types of religion to cooperate, especially as each party regarded itself as entirely "right" and the other "wrong".

Peter the Hermit was a popular preacher who roused ordinary people - not trained soldiers - to go on Crusade. In the so-called People's Crusade almost all of them died.

Bernard of Clairvaux
He was an influential priest, monk and abbot who founded a monastery and was also involved in the foundation of the Cistercians, an order devoted to economic growth by developing uninhabited areas such as the Yorkshire Dales for sheep and wool production.

Templars and Hospitallers
A religious order of knights was founded in 1118 by Hugh de Payens and eight other knights. They were also endorsed by Bernard of Clairvaux. Their claim was to guard the Temple site and the pilgrims. In practice they were a fighting force in the battles with the Muslims, rather better disciplined than the general armies. They were decisive in several battles. They were not however under the control of the kings of Jerusalem.

Another order was that of the knights Hospitaller. These too were not under control of the king.

The later history of the Templars, after the Europeans had to leave the Levant, was as revivers of European trade by acting as a bank and making the roads safe for the goods they carried about. This was probably more important than their role in the Crusades. (Nothing to do with the Dan Brown type of literature.) They were suppressed in 1307 (see Fringe history).

UK Amazon Review of Templar documents

If one googles "Templars" one finds a large number of articles on the web about "the Knights of the Temple of Solomon of Jerusalem". To the professional historian most of these articles are distressingly inaccurate and lacking in hard facts about this organisation.

This book is a useful correction to the fantasies. It is a collection of translations of original French and Latin documents about the Templars. Many of them were written by officials of the organisation.

It is useful for students of history to read these documents, which tell us what is actually known about the Templars, as opposed to the fantasies that so many authors feel happy to write, presumably without having read them.

For example, some of the fantasists feel quite happy to state that the Templars were a subversive, non-Catholic organisation with secret beliefs. The actual documents provide no evidence at all that they believed anything other than the ordinary Catholic theology, nor that their ceremonies were anything other than the customary rites of the Church.

Their real history is quite spectacular enough without making them the "fathers" of Freemasonry or other weird religions, something for which there isn't any evidence. In the case of Freemasonry there is nothing to connect the Templars after their suppression in 1312 to the emergence of Masons in the 17th century - 300 years of absence of evidence.

There are 85 pages on the trial of the Templars at the instigation of the King of France, Philip the fourth. Interestingly, the documents about their Trial, when they were suppressed because the French king wanted their money, remind the reader of the accusations made during the Show Trials during Stalin's Terror in the 1930s. The accusations against them are obviously entirely fabricated. No modern jury could possibly find them guilty, there being no evidence other than confessions forced from the accused by torture.

Did the king, or anyone else, seriously think they were "heretics"? The documents presented at their trial do not provide hard evidence. A possible speculation about them might be that their experience of living in the Middle East among people of different religions and cultures may actually have made them more tolerant. This is hinted at by the well-known document (not in this book) of the Muslim physician Osama Ibn Munqidh who describes a Templar ordering a Christian fanatic not to impede a Muslim wanting to pray in the Mosque which the Templars were using as their headquarters in Jerusalem. If they had learned tolerance - or ordinary human decency - this in itself may have made them suspect in the fanatical and ignorant west where people hated the Muslims without ever having met any. (That's very modern.) Thus there was an organisation with great wealth partly from generous donations and partly from successful business, practicing honest banking (if only we had something like that today) and staffed by people with knowledge of the real world. Religious fanatics were bound to hate it.

Far from being the practitioners of secret philosophies these monkish-knights were hard-headed practical men who may well have refounded the European economy simply by conveying produce under armed guard, buying in one area and selling in another for a higher price. What they should be famous for is the revival of the European economy, making possible the end of feudalism by giving rulers something to tax - trading and urban life.

They were also the armed forces of the Papal empire which was above the various kingdoms. A good example is the 1306 reply (page 105) of James of Molay - the last Grand Master (CEO) of the organisation. He had been asked by Pope Clement the fifth for his views on whether there should be a new Crusade. Molay's letter is like a report of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States military to the President. He assesses in clear language the possibilities of invading the Levant. The Crusaders by this time had been driven out of the lands they had conquered in the previous centuries. Molay is frank on the need for a very large force indeed and explains why small forces would be inevitably defeated. His advice is realistic and professional. Of course no crusade was called. The enthusiasm of the European rulers was not enough to finance such an enterprise.

(One is reminded of the advice of the Joint Chiefs to Donald Rumsfeld in the Iraq war that he should send larger forces. They were proved right.)

This report was a year before the attack on the Templars by the king of France who wanted to cancel his debts to the organisation.

Normans
What we may consider to be a tribe of people descended from the Vikings were an important component of the western armies. The Vikings who settled in northern France (Normandie) had learned French. Their leader William had gone on to conquer England. Other Normans had conquered Apulia and Calabria in Italy from the Byzantines, and then had conquered Sicily from the Muslims. As always it was second sons who went out looking for new lands to conquer to get themselves fiefs (see Fedualism). It was Normans who became rulers of Antioch (Bohemond) and Jerusalem.

First Crusade
There were two groups who set out. The first was an enthusiastic but disorganised crowd of ordinary people - not Knights or trained soldiers - stirred up by the preaching of Peter the Hermit. These streamed across Europe. Most died before even reaching the Byzantine Empire.

The other groups were the organised armies of knights and their support people. On the way their religious enthusiasm took the form of massacring Jews living in Europe. When they reached Constantinople Comnenus was quick to move them on in case they sacked his city. However, their motivation led them not to his eastern frontier, where he needed them, but to the "Holy Land" which they gradually occupied - not, however, handing over the lands they conquered to the Emperor.

Second Crusade (1100-1101)
The Lombard Crusade

Third Crusade (1123)The Venetian Crusade
Venetian Navy defeats Egyptian navy at Askelon.

Salah al Din
The most famous Kurd in history was the founder of a state that took over all the land occupied by the Crusaders, and then resisted the Mongols. He combined Egypt, after conquering the Fatimite Khalifate, and Syria. His forces conquered Jerusalem in 1187, which provoked new enthusiasm in Europe leading to the campaign of Richard of England - coeur de lion.

1191 Richard the first of England lands and restores the position of the crusaders.

What did they achieve?
Not much in the long run. The kingdoms and counties of Outremer lasted only as long as they received support and reinforcements from Europe.

Crusader states
The crusaders conquered and occupied a coastal strip of the lands now known as Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and parts of Turkey. They organised these in the same way as their states at home - feudal kingdoms, counties and lordships. The most important ruler was the King of Jerusalem, but like the king of France his power over his feudal vassals was not absolute. The Crusader states as a whole were known in Europe as Outremer - Overseas.

Only a small number of the people in these states were actually westerners. Most were the natives whose ancestors had been there for centuries: some Christians of various sects, others Muslims, Jews or other local religions. The cultural effect of rule by the Franks was less even than the later rule by Europeans of their colonies.

Many of the "native" Christians who had been living in Palestine and the surrounding areas were massacred, both by the invading Franks and by the reconquering Muslims. Their own versions of Christianity were ignored in favor of the westerners' version (Catholicism). This too has an echo in the modern wars in the Middle East where long established Christian communities have been massacred or expelled as a result of western intervention, as in Palestine and Iraq.

The states formed by the Crusaders were short lived. There were two main reasons for their failure. One was that Europeans at home lost enthusiasm for going on Crusade. The Popes continued to call for Crusades, but, like the UN calling for peacekeeping troops in modern Sudan, few responded. The states could not be maintained without continual reinforcement. As the economy in Europe recovered there was less need to export surplus knights. The other reason of course was the better organisation of the Muslims as they developed states capable of dealing with the Crusader states.

Legacy
The memory of these wars still has its effects today. On the Muslim side the extreme brutality of the Farangi (Franks) is remembered. The memory of the war crimes committed by both sides lives on: the massacres of the inhabitants of Jerusalem when the Crusaders captured it - Christians, Jews and Muslims alike; the massacre of Crusaders at Hattin; the massacre of Muslim captives by Richard after a battle. Added to the Arab and Muslim experience of 19th and 20th century colonialism in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, they remain part of the Middle Eastern historical mythology and affect such things as the language and motivation of people like Osama bin Laden. Europeans are still known as Farangi - Franks, the people who invaded their lands, so long ago. One of the most popular themes for Arabic tv films has long been the Crusades - perhaps the equivalent of Westerns in the United States and other western countries. And which side had the Black Hats? Thus, it was unwise for President Bush to say that the war in Iraq was a crusade. Even if he just meant it vaguely to be "a good struggle", as is common usage in western countries, many people in Arab countries would have interpreted it differently. Correct use of language is important. The wars looked different in the Middle East from the way they look in Europe - where they are largely forgotten.

Israel
Arab nationalists regard Israel as a similar state to those of the Crusaders - a European colonial state that has expelled the original inhabitants. Will it last as long? They note that like the Crusader states it too needs continual subsidy and reinforcement from the west.

Lebanon and Syria
France's relation to Lebanon and Syria also goes back to the time of the Crusades. When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the first world war France demanded a mandate of that part of Syria where the Maronite Christians lived (Christians owing allegiance to the Pope, though with their own quasi-Orthodox rituals). Syrians thus regard Lebanon as a sort of Crusader state, maintained only because of the will of westerners. When the French took over Syria as a mandate, after the first world war, the first governor went to the tomb of Salah ud Din in Damascus and announced "we've returned".

Effects on Medieval Europe
The initial call to go on Crusade had some useful effects on the situation in Europe. It was the height of the Feudal period when each baron and lord felt little need to support a political system beyond his own domain. The historic states in Europe were only just beginning and hardly existed. Instead there was continual warfare between individual barons, counts and dukes (people who, in modern times, would be considered Warlords). One of the factors encouraging this continual war was the large number of younger sons who could not inherit their father's estate, which would always go to the eldest son. They had trained in warfare and wanted to acquire their own estates in battle. There was a surplus of Knights. (These were the sort of people William of Normandy recruited to invade England in 1066, and other Normans used to conquer Sicily and southern Italy.) Many of these younger sons were encouraged to go off on Crusade and either died in the battles (probably most of them) or gained new lands in the Levant. At home their absence resulted in more peaceful conditions and the increase in the authority of the kings. Pope Urban was well aware of this problem and had it in mind when he called for Christian Knights to go east.

Collapse of Byzantium
Alexius Comnenus hoped for western help to strengthen his empire in its struggle with the Seljuk Turks. The result was the opposite. After the Crusaders had captured Constantinople in 1204 and sacked it while setting up a Catholic Latin Empire there, the Greek empire was weakened so that the most it could do was to survive as a rump which in reality was a puppet of Genoa and Venice who fought each other in the shell of the City. The Turkish grip on Anatolia was confirmed, and the final fall in 1453 became inevitable as the Ottomans spread into Europe, eventually occupying all the lands of the former Byzantine Empire as far west as the "gates of Vienna" (Austria) in 1683. (See Balkans.)

Culture
It is often said that the Crusades had cultural effects on Europe. There is some truth in this. As we can learn from the writings of the physician Usamah ibn Munqidh (born 1095) (in Kritzeck - Anthology of Islamic literature) the European warriors were seen over there as crude uncivilised barbarians - not just by the Muslims but also by the Greeks in Constantinople (see Anna Comnenus's Journal quoted in Oldenbourg). Ibn Munqidh notes their ideas of medicine which usually killed the patient, and was shocked by what he understood as the freedom of women.

Those who settled on their new estates learned from their neighbors and adopted such customs as washing, knives and forks, better medical ideas and of course the local language - Arabic. They married local women and their children acquired even more of the local culture. Some of these customs filtered back to their homelands. Probably the more profound ideas of science and philosophy came to Europe not via the Crusaders but from the scholars who went to Muslim Spain and acquired the texts in Toledo at the School of Translators or from Sicily where the regime of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the second - Stupor Mundi - also brought together Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars (see "Baptised Sultans" in book list).

It may well be that one of the sources of hostility to the Templars in Europe was not just their wealth but also their tolerance, learned in the Levant. The Europeans at home interpreted this as heresy or too much sympathy for the "infidel". They were accused of being "secret Muslims". Ibn Munquidh records an instance of Templar sympathy for a Muslim who wished to pray in the former Mosque converted into the Templars' Headquarters in Jerusalem. This would seem to be a rare example of human decency rather than secret adherence to Islam. However, Oldenbourg notes that those Crusaders who had settled in the Levant tended to be more tolerant than those newly arrived from Europe. Munqidh also notes this.

A Speculation
The Crusaders had provoked a defensive force in Salah al Din and his dynasty, creating a strong state in the area of the Levant by conquering the Fatimite state in Egypt and combining it with his main base in Syria. The result was a military culture strong enough to resist the Mongols under Hulagu when they arrived in 1243. The Egyptian Mameluke Empire was able to reconquer Aleppo and Damascus from the Mongols. This was a setback to the further invasion of the Mongols. Was this an after-effect of the Crusades, preventing the Mongols destroying Egypt and the Mediterranean world? In the north they reached Poland. In the South they were defeated in Syria. If the Mongols had reached north Africa the world might have been very different, even today.

Other Crusades
The idea of "religious" wars was extended to other areas. The Reconquest in Spain was regarded as a continuing Crusade. The activities of the Teutonic Knights in the Baltic (similar to the Templars) were also a religious duty, and, most notoriously, the persecution of the Cathars in Provence (Albigensian crusade 1209). In Bosnia (1240 & 1345) too the Pope called for a Crusade against the Bogomils, a dissident group, possibly related to the Cathars, but this also extended to massacre against the Orthodox, one of the distant causes of the current Balkan problems.

Dates
610 - Mohammed began his preaching
532 - Death of Mohammed
633 Muslims conquer Persia
636 Conquest of Palestine and Syria

642 - Conquest of Egypt
711 - Invasion of Spain
1054 - Schism between Rome and the Orthodox
1071 - Battle of Manzikert, fall of Anatolia

1095 - Comnenus appeals to the Pope
1096 - First Crusade sets out, massacres Jews in Germany
1099 - capture of Jerusalem
1100 - Baldwin I king of Jerusalem

1118 - foundation of Templars

1174 - Saladin comes to power in Damascus

1187 - he conquers Jerusalem

1191 - Richard arrives

1204 - capture of Constantinople - Latin Empire
1209-1229 - Albigensian Crusade
1243 - arrival of Mongols
1244 - Jerusalem captured by Turks
1260 - Mongols capture Aleppo and Damascus

1261 - Greeks recapture Constantinople from the Latin emperor
1291 - final fall of the Frankish states
1307 - suppression of Templars

Interesting reading

Zoe Oldenbourg - The Crusades
Essential reading




Steven Runciman - History of the Crusades


Crusades through Arab eyes




Der Heilige Krieg der Barbaren. Die Kreuzzüge aus der Sicht der Araber.

Karen Armstrong - Holy War




Im Kampf für Gott

Brief History of the crusades



James Kritzeck - Anthology of Islamic Literature



Frank McLynn
Useful account of the role of King Richard in the Crusades



Lionheart and Lackland: King Richard, King John and the Wars of Conquest


The Templars - Manchester Mediaeval texts




The Templars: Selected Sources (Manchester Medieval Sources)

DVD Kingdom of Heaven - Ridley Scott
Kingdom Of Heaven [Blu-ray] [2005]


Kingdom Of Heaven [UK IMPORT]


Königreich der Himmel (Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]


Baptised Sultans, Norman kings of Sicily
Cultural Transfer


Last revision 30/05/11


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