Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Fourth Crusade

Fig.1: "Why did I come in here again?"
You know when you walk into a room and forget why you got up in the first place? So then you decide to smash the nice china cabinet with a baseball bat for no good reason? That's sort of like what the Fourth Crusade was like. Like the previous crusades, its propose was to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and wrest control of it from the Muslims. The Third Crusade did this pretty well, except that Christians failed to recover the super holy city of Jerusalem (having the Holy Land without Jerusalem was like eating fried chicken without the skin...or the guilt). Luckily for them, a Fourth Crusade was called in 1198 for this exact purpose. Unfortunately, it got a little distracted and spent all of its time attacking Christian cities, most notably the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. While the Catholics did manage to absorb territory that had been out of their fold for centuries, they essentially weakened the position of Christianity in Eastern Europe, and allowed Islam to dominate the region within the next two hundred years. But at least they got lots of loot out of it in the short run! (Sadly, the crusaders never took Macroeconomics 101.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Third Crusade

Fig.1: Tripoli and Antioch didn't 
appreciate the Dominions of Saladin 
being all up in their business.
Typically, the third chapter of a story leaves more to be desired. The "Part Threes" of Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Godfather, and that Keanu Reeves alternate-reality thing (whose third movie was so bad I dare not mention it) all fell flat in adequately wrapping up the story. The Third Crusade would follow much of the same pattern. After the Blues Brothers 2000-like debacle that was the Second Crusade, the state of Christianity was one of disunion. The Crusader States continued to squabble against each other and within themselves when the throne or the TV remote was up for grabs. The kings of Europe became too distracted with petty wars over land, titles, and how many peasants they'd like to rule over. No one in their right mind trusted the Byzantine Empire anymore (in fairness, those guys were more two-faced than Harvey Dent). All this was almost slightly excusable since the Islamic world was just as divided; the only thing that the Seljuqs in Turkey, the Fatimids in Egypt, and the Zengids in Syria and Iraq could agree on was that Muhammad is the messenger of God (which is a great thing, don't get me wrong, guys!). This changed with the rise of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb (called Saladin by me and my fellow lazy historians), who united much of the Islamic dominions, stole territory from the Crusader states (fig.1), and forced the Christians in both Europe and the Holy Land to at least consider fighting some on else for once.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Second Crusade

Fig.1: The Crusader States of Edessa, 
Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem might as 
well have been renamed Grumpy, Dopey, 
Bashful and Doc based on their actions 
between the First and Second Crusades.
As far as the Crusaders' goal of pilgriming to Jerusalem, taking back the Holy Land from the ruling Muslims, and annoying the crap out of everyone with their backstabbing ways, the First Crusade was a total success. As for the rest of the Crusades, don't get used to it. The Second Crusade, called nearly fifty years after the First, began the pattern of the European invaders having a goal in their heads, and then getting completely distracted on the way there. This strategy might work on a Saturday night-out with your friends, but had devastating consequences for all the money, manpower, and Mapquesting needed for your typical crusade. Add in the shifting alliances, political intrigue, and huffy overreactions typical of European relations at this time (or really anytime), and the Second Crusade was basically a drama-ridden train-wreck of a Spanish soap opera, without those spicy senoritas. I know, I wouldn't blame you if you stopped reading either.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The First Crusade

It is written in the Holy Scrolls of Acre that June shall be Crusades month! Okay, maybe I jotted that down on a Wendy's napkin last week at lunch, but it is written nonetheless! All this month, I will be covering the first four Crusades, which were honestly the only really effective Crusades (the words "effective" and "Crusades" aren't used too often together, but we're grading on a curve here). So sit back on your horse, get your chain mail on, and let's get ready to add a little more bloodshed to the tumultuous history of the Holy Land (more like the Bloody Land, if you ask me).

Fig.1: A sandbox next to the twirly 
slide is worth fighting for.

Remember when you were six-years-old, and some bully kicked you out of your favorite sandbox at the playground? Well what if, twenty-some years later, your cousins went back to that sandbox and beat up the random kids playing in it, just for revenge? That's sort of like how the Crusades went. Orthodox Christians lost control of the Levant (the "Holy Land" region now chiefly shared by the uncomically grumpy roommates: Israel and Palestine) during the Islamic conquests of the Middle East in the 7th century. Over four hundred years later, Catholic Christians went on a temper tantrum about it and decided to "take back" the region, even though it hadn't been under Western control since Ancient Roman days. Of course the people ruling there were a different group of Muslims than the ones who took it over in the first place, but they were making castles in the wrong sandbox nonetheless. What resulted was the beginning of religious and political strife that covered the Levant in blood for the next two hundred years...and then all the hundreds of years after that (not to mention the hundreds of years before). But hey, at least Europeans learned some maths and acquired a taste for spices! That makes up for it, right?