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.

Saladin rose to the top not only for his skill in diplomacy and war-making, but also for being the nephew of one of Nur ad-Din's generals (meaning if my roommate's uncle's second cousin-in-law is the CEO of General Electric, I should be in the line of succession). By 1174, he established the Ayyubid Dynasty from Egypt to Syria, invading the personal space of the Crusaders. Jerusalem was ruled by a weak king in [Stephen] Baldwin IV, and couldn't do anything to prevent the conquests of Saladin around his kingdom (or of Pauly Shore on my brain cells in Bio-Dome). Once out of Baldwin rulers, a French knight named Guy of Lusignan took the crown and led his forces into the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187; unfortunately he was too distracted by the Fourth of July fireworks, and was captured by Saladin. This allowed the Ayyubid sultan to take back the holy city of Jerusalem after its capture by the First Crusaders nearly a century ago, causing all of Europe to shout in unison, "Well that was a waste of time!" Pope Gregory VIII claimed this was punishment for their sins (haven't heard that one before), and called for a new crusade. You know what that means? We gotta look at the major players! We just gotta!

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, nicknamed "Barbarossa" due to his long red beard, proving that gingers can be cool sometimes. He accompanied his uncle, Conrad of Germany, on the Second Crusade, and was ready to give it another go. Unfortunately he was in his sixties at this time, and might have been better off at home in his favorite recliner watching The Price is Right instead.

King Philip II of France, nicknamed "Augustus" because he is seen as the first true king of a unified France, and also believed the month of August didn't get enough love on the calendar. Cold, calculating, and just a tad of a jerkwad, Philip wasn't as charismatic as many of the past Crusaders, and became more out of place in the Holy Land than a hot dog vendor at a PETA convention.

King Richard I of England, nickamed "the Lionheart" due to a experimental organ transplant when he was young, was the son of Henry II and that grumpy Eleanor of Aquitaine. While he was "King of England," he and his family were French in origin, and cared much more about their holdings there than that silly island where they called cookies "biscuits." Though technically subordinate to Philip (which the King of France reminded him every chance he got), Richard commanded more respect than him, which never causes problems in any workplace environment.

While Guy of Lusignan ("Guy" sadly not a nickname) was King of Jerusalem, he was captured by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin, after which Jerusalem itself was captured, and then a video of his crying about it was captured and went viral (1187 was a bad year for him). Nonetheless, he still referred to himself as the King of Jerusalem after his release, and still used his royal business cards to enter to win free lunches at local diners.

On the other hand, Conrad of Montferrat (nicknamed "the Kegdrainer" from his college days) ruled the city of Tyre within the borders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where he repelled a Muslim siege. By this right, he believed he should be the King of Jerusalem, and refused to recognize Guy's claim. Because, you know, a division of Christian leadership was exactly the thing that would help them defeat Saladin.

Speaking of which: hey there, Saladin! I believe I've already introduced you rather thoroughly to the folks at home. What's that? You wanted a picture of you here? Oh, well I can do that. Seems rather iconist of you, but who am I to judge?

Eager to get a move-on before his arthritis started acting up, Frederick Barbarossa began the Third Crusade in 1189 with reportedly 100,000 well-trained German troops. By this point in history, the Byzantines outright hated these crusade-things, even though it was one of their past emperor's desperate pleas for help that started them in the first place (be careful what you wish for). Emperor Issac II Angelos even agreed to a secret alliance with Saladin, in which he impeded Crusader progress through Byzantine territory with some light skirmishing, a lack of provisions, and awkwardly-positioned rakes that smacked them in the nose when accidentally stepped on. Frederick eventually made it into Turkish territory, where was harassed by the Seljuqs and their well-placed mousetraps and banana peels (Tom and Jerry were strongly influenced by the Third Crusade). Things started to look up when the Germans captured the Seljuq capital of Iconium, which concerned Saladin greatly. But then, in an anticlimax worthy of The Village, Frederick drowned while crossing the Saleph River, whose current swept both he and his horse away while the lifeguard was on lunch break. The army fell into chaos without his fabulous red beard to guide their path, with most soldiers giving up and returning home (like I did with Shyamalan after seeing The Village).

With the obvious trolling by the Byzantines, Philip and Richard decided to catch the 7:15 ferry across the Mediterranean to the Holy Land instead. Richard had some errands to run on his commute; his sister, Joan, had married the King of Sicily, but when the king died, she was imprisoned by his successor. Richard rescued Joan and, more importantly, her dowry, before heading onward. Philip made it to the Levant on time (which he annoyingly boasted to everyone with, "I see I'm superior to that King of England in both prestige and punctuality!"), but one of Richard's ships crashed on the island of Cyprus, ruled by the Byzantine pretender Isaac Komnenos. Isaac held Richard's possessions hostage, which included his fiancée, Berengaria, and more importantly, her dowry (money over honeys in those days). Richard used this slap in his Lionface as an excuse to capture the entire island within a month, creating a valuable base that would provide supplies and a clean restroom for the rest of the crusade.

Fig.2: Despite being one of the most 
important cities in the Levant, Acre could
 fit at most 17 people, as seen here in this 
accurate illustration.
Richard decided it was high time he started fighting the Muslims (like Crusaders are supposed to), and landed near Acre in June 1191 (fig.2). That city had been taken by Saladin's forces shortly before Jerusalem, and the Maybe-King Guy began a siege to take it back. Philip joined the attack back in April with little success, but when Richard showed up in June, it took less than a month before the doors flew open and everyone started kissing his Lionfeet. This made Philip even more jealous of Richard, which was compounded by the fact that the Levant's dry air really messed with the French king's allergies (or was it dysentery? Same thing, really). Tensions between the two grew significantly with the debate over Jerusalem's throne. Both Guy and Conrad were respected nobles who were both married to a daughter of a former king (that's the only time the honeys really came in handy). Philip supported Conrad as his first cousin once removed, but Richard supported Guy as his former vassal in Aquitaine and all-around good Guy. Philip was so fed up with Richard's popularity, his own shortcomings in the siege, and all the sand that got everywhere that he decided to forgo the crusade altogether and head back to France. Conrad was eventually elected king by a council of barons in 1192, but was assassinated by an Assassin shortly thereafter (I blame Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad). Guy was given Cyprus as a consolation prize, which stayed in the family for 300 years before being sold to the pawn shop that is Venice. Richard quickly made his nephew, Henry of Champagne, the next ruler of Jerusalem. Nepotism really was the cool thing to do back then!

Now that all the not-killing-Muslims issues were ironed out, Richard could once again concern himself with Saladin. Things were already heated between them, as Richard ordered the death of over two thousand Muslim prisoners from Acre after Saladin missed a ransom payment (sounds like my student loan provider). The two met at the Battle of Arsuf on the way to Jerusalem in September; Saladin tried forcing the Crusading regiments to break ranks and give up their supplies, but Richard held them in place to protect their year's rations of Twinkies (great for crusades because they never expire). Then at once, the Christians counterattacked and routed the Muslims. This decisive Crusader victory convinced Saladin not to engage Richard in direct combat, giving the Christians control of the Mediterranean coast. The King of England was then able to take the city of Jaffa, just a few Lionsteps away from Jerusalem.

Fig.3: Official portrait of King John 
commissioned by Sir Walter of Disnie.
But Richard was never able to set foot in the holy city. As Jerusalem was not situated on the coast, supply trains had difficulty making it from Jaffa to Jerusalem, and there was no way the Crusaders could mount a siege against the city without the necessary caloric intake from their Ho Hos. In addition, Saladin poisoned the wells around Jerusalem, meaning a long siege with little water in the Middle Eastern sun might leave the troops rather parched. Worst of all, Richard feared that as soon as they took Jerusalem, the majority of the Crusaders would clap their hands and say, "Yelp, it looks like my work here is done," before heading back to Europe; this would leave the city poorly defended and force them to re-gift it back to Saladin. Twice Richard marched his troops to Jerusalem, stood outside the city walls, shook his head, and marched his troops away. Most distractingly, he began receiving reports that King Philip was taking advantage of his absence to cause rebellions in his holdings in southern France, and that his brother, Prince John (fig.3), was wasting all of England's resources to capture a lowly bow-wielding outlaw in Sherwood Forest. As great as marching around in the desert was, Richard knew he had to get back home as soon as possible before everything turned to Lionpoop.

Luckily for him, Saladin was ready to call it a day as well. In the Treaty of Ramla signed by the two men in 1192, it was decided that Jerusalem shall remain under Muslim control, but that Christians would be allowed to visit the holy city, pray at their holy sites, and browse the holy gift shops without harm. In turn, Saladin would leave the Crusader-held cities of Antioch, Tripoli, and Acre alone, the latter of which became the new capital of the now Jerusalem-less Kingdom of Jerusalem (which is like most of Kansas City not being in Kansas... oh wait). While Richard and Saladin never met in person, the two seemed to have become very fond of each other in their correspondences: Saladin gave Richard a horse to replace one he lost in battle, and Richard even offered his sister in marriage to Saladin's brother (there's a sitcom waiting to happen). Despite differences in creed, culture, and crusadingness, Richard and Saladin developed a mutual respect for one another, and thus the two share favorable descriptions in both Christian and Muslim sources. Maybe we in the modern-day should take a lesson from this show of civility in a world filled with violence, misunderstandings, and blind ambition. Except when oil is involved. Then we totally need to bomb the crap out of each other.

While Richard was happy to return home to save his possessions, and Saladin was happy to focus on consolidating his own territory, no one else was very happy with the conclusion of the Third Crusade. Christians wanted Jerusalem back in their hands, and Muslims wanted the Crusaders completely out of their hair. Instead what they got was a dud of an ending that tried to satisfy everyone, but really satisfied no one (I blame the Ewoks). Christians really had to facepalm when Saladin died in 1193 and left his realm in chaos, meaning that Richard could have easily conquered the Holy Land if he stayed for one more year. Richard would die in 1199 by an unlucky crossbow shot to the neck while in France; he was succeeded by John, who sucked his thumb while his family's holdings was reduced to just England (not like that place would amount to anything). So the Third Crusade, which for the most part maintained its epicness (except for the whole old German emperor drowning thing), fizzled away in the interest of an uneasy piece. Most franchises are more than willing to end this way, but not the crusades, baby! Get ready for a fourth installment! (Not that those don't "nuke the fridge" sometimes.)

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