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?

Since the founding of Islam in the early 600s by the great prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), its word spread throughout the Arabian peninsula and nearby lands (with a little help from the sword). Many of these places had previously been dominated by Christianity, such as the Levant, North Africa, and even Spain, to which the followers of the cross didn't take too kindly. To make matters worse, Christians became split over silly things like what exactly was the "Holy Spirit," should people leaven their bread before using it as communion, was the Pope really the voice of God on Earth, and who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? This eventually created the East-West Schism between Orthodox Christians in the East and Catholic Christians in the West, with sad places like Croatia forever the monkey-in-the-middle. The Byzantine Empire ruled over most Orthodox lands, but their hold was slipping over the greased pig that is the Middle East. Alarms went off after losing the Battle of Manzikert to the Seljuq Turks in 1071, cutting Byzantine land in half (fig.2) and bringing the wonderful religion of Islam to even more followers. (See guys, I'm playing nice. So lay off the fatwa talk, will ya?)

Fig.2: Blue denotes Byzantine territory before (left) and after (right) the Battle of Manzikert, with the Seljuqs Turks taking over most of modern-day Turkey. Maybe they should have thought of that before they named it Turkey!
Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos knew his realm was in trouble if he didn't act quickly. Even though he knew it would hurt his pride, he had no choice but to ask the Catholic West for help. Pope Urban II jumped on the opportunity, somewhat because he thought that helping his Christian brethren was the right thing to do, but mostly to shame the Orthodox Byzantines for needing their assistance and convince them to worship His Popliness in the end. At the Council of Clermont in southern France in 1095, Pope Urban gave a stirring sermon that called young nobles to take up arms against heathens in the land Jesus Christ once preached, citing Muslim violence against Christian pilgrims and the need for unity among all parishioners under the Church (he also added in something about automatic entry into heaven after going on the Crusade, which seemed to get people pretty interested). While the holy town of Jerusalem was not specifically mentioned by Pope Urban, resting it from Muslim control soon turned into the focal point of the Crusade in the same way that a stop at In-N-Out Burger becomes the entire reason for a West Coast road trip.

Fig.3: Contrary to this image, folks on the 
People's Crusade didn't always stay in a 
single-file line and use their inside voices.
While the common perception of the Crusades is that of knights in armor carrying shields painted with crosses and swords that shine blue when orcs are near, these were not the original Crusaders, nor the majority of them. Much to Pope Urban's chagrin, about 40,000 lowly God-fearing peasants also stepped up and marched towards Jerusalem in 1096, despite their lack of military training and magical weaponry. This "People's Crusade" was led by an influential priest/curmudgeon named Peter the Hermit, who was famed for his inflammatory homilies as well as his ability to keep kids from getting on his lawn. Unfortunately they got distracted on the way through Europe, laying siege and sacking several Christian towns such as Belgrade over food and provisions, as well as massacring thousands of Jews whose fault it totally was that Muslims ruled the Holy Land. When they reached Constantinople in August, Emperor Alexios immediately regretted asking Western Europe for help, and ferried the peasants along before anyone else got killed over a sandwich. To the surprise to no one (except the People's Crusaders themselves, who truly believed they were blessed despite all the crap they pulled earlier in the trip), the Turks destroyed the ragtag army in a target practice session. Peter managed to survive with just a couple thousand other pilgrims, who then decided to wait for the guys with the pointy things before going any farther.

Later in 1096, those real Crusaders were ready and raring to go. Despite their shared goals and annoying habit of invoking Christ's name for everything, the armies were not in the least united, and more resembled fraternities competing for campus supremacy during Greek Week. There were four major players here, leading their own armies who were more loyal to them than any lame philosophy of teamwork:

Raymond of Toulouse, a noble from southern France, had already fought Muslims in Spain, and was ready to bring home the prize for his hungry brothers from IΗΠ.

Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the king of France and just as much of a jerk, led ΑΣΣ, the frat everyone hates but is tolerated because they throw the best parties.

Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of German lands near Belgium, was deeply religious and longed to win back the Holy Land in the name of ΓΟΔ, a service fraternity.

Bohemond of Taranto, a Norman prince in southern Italy, was egged on by his ancestral Viking blood and love of the ΚΙΛ, which was kicked off campus long ago for being far too rowdy (even by Norman standards).

Each army left Western Europe separately and met up in Constantinople for a good old fashioned inter-fraternal kegger. Alexios, tried of these Catholic hijinks, locked the leaders up until they swore an oath stating that any lands captured by the Crusaders would be returned to the Byzantines, and that they also retrieve the furniture from off the roof (you know it's a good party when that happens). Many shuffled their feet with the oath, since these were the type of guys that never liked to be kept at their word ("Yeah baby, I'll totally call you!"). In the end, all four eventually swore allegiance to Alexios before moving on into Turkey, having a good laugh at the fact that Raymond had his fingers crossed the whole time. In the first fight against the Seljuq Turks at the Battle of Nicaea in June 1097, the city was taken after a month-long siege, but Byzantine troops were there to ensure it was promptly handed over before anything crazy happened. The Crusaders longed to head south to Jerusalem before the Byzantines cramped their style anymore.

Fig.4: This illustrator certainly had the art of 
perspective down-pat!
They came upon the wealthy trading city of Antioch on the eastern Mediterranean coastline, which was taken by the Seljuqs fourteen years prior. Seeing this as the first true test of God's divine will and their own fraternal dominance, the Crusaders laid siege to the city walls in October 1097. It took eight months of planning, fighting, and bribing an Armenian guard inside the city before Antioch was finally taken (mostly because of that third thing). However, the Crusaders never got a chance to make themselves comfortable or hang up their Greek paddles as two days later, a Muslim army led by a Turk named Kerbogha arrived to lay their own siege! That summer of 1098 was a crummy one for the Crusaders, many of which deserted or died of starvation and alcohol-deprivation ("Worst party ever, man!"). Hugh of Vermandois was sent to Constantinople to ask Alexios for reinforcements, but the Byzantine Emperor placed them on double secret probation instead, leading to Hugh and his ΑΣΣ to head back home to France. But hope arrived with the supposed discovery of the Holy Lance, the spear used to check that Christ was dead while on the cross, which was randomly in someone's basement keeping Dracula and the rest of the Halloween decorations company. This finding, as well as all the surviving armies coming together, and the fact that half of Kerbogha's soldiers abandoned him due to a power struggle (once again, mostly the third thing), allowed the Crusaders to fend off the siege and defeat the Muslims in open battle.

Since Emperor Alexios refused to send troops to aid the Crusaders at Antioch, they decided that the oath they halfheartedly swore to return captured lands to the Byzantines was null-and-void, and that soon there would be a stinkbomb with Constantinople's name all over it (give it a couple more Crusades). After heated arguments and an epic airband competition between the Crusade leaders, Bohemond won the right to take city and re-established his brotherhood as rulers of the Principality of Antioch, one of the first Crusader states. With Bohemond staying behind and Hugh hightailing it back to the comforts of home, the Crusading force was effectively cut in half to 12,000 troops on the home stretch to their goal: Jerusalem. Raymond and Godfrey led their armies on nonetheless, reaching the holy city in June 1099. Little did the Crusaders know (nor did they really care) that a different group of Muslims ruled the area: the Fatimids from Egypt took over Jerusalem from the Turks the previous year. In a situation reminiscent to your old roommate's ex-girlfriend coming over and trashing your place in revenge, the Crusaders didn't distinguish which Muslims they were fighting, and began their attack of Jerusalem in earnest.

Instead of working together like good Christians, Raymond and Godfrey's forces made separate assaults on city that were easily repelled by the Fatimid defenders. This back-and-forth game was not nearly as effective or entertaining as the rivalry between Legolas and Gimli at Helm's Deep, and went on for a couple of weeks before yet another perfectly-timed divine intervention occurred. This time, a priest had a vision of the biblical Battle of Jericho, which he decided meant that the city would only be taken if the Crusaders fasted and marched barefoot around the city walls for three days (singing "Kumbaya" was optional but encouraged). They did so, with Muslims periodically looking over the walls and mumbling, "What's up with these crazy crackers?" But this routine, along with their new-found comradery, and gifts of siege engines from Italian merchants (do I even need to tell you which one of those was most important?), allowed Jerusalem to fall on July 15, 1099. Unfortunately, a massacre ensued soon after the city's capture, with the Crusaders killing not only Muslims, but the Jews who had lived under the Fatimids' policy of religious tolerance as well. Hmm, which team are we supposed to be rooting for here?

Fig.5: What about that whole "Thou shalt not kill?" thing?
After they cleaned out all the bodies (frats are used to that type of thing), a council was held to create a new Kingdom of Jerusalem. Raymond was first offered the crown, but he refused for the sole purpose of looking humble and then having his ego boosted when the crowd begged him to accept (everybody loves Raymond). Godfrey, not missing a beat, said he'd gladly rule; while he wouldn't accept the title of "king," as he believed only Christ could be king of Jerusalem (*rolls eyes*), he was made "Defender of the Holy Sepulcher," and future Kings of Jerusalem would come from his line. Raymond got grumpy about this and marched his army north, establishing his own little piece of the Holy Land to rule in the County of Tripoli. While most Crusaders said, "Welp, that was fun," and went back to Europe once the killing was over, the Levant was reinforced after the small "Crusade of 1101," comprised of former Crusaders who left before Jerusalem was captured and were nagged by their wives and children for being such a sissy. This included Hugh of Vermandois, whose ΑΣΣ was shot by the Turks and never made it to Jerusalem. But much of this force became established as useful military orders such as the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, and the most-feared Knights Who Say "Ni!" (You better have a shrubbery handy!)

Fig.6: The Crusader States: proudly 
continuing the Middle Eastern tradition 
of bickering with your neighbors since 
And so Godfrey's Kingdom of Jerusalem, Raymond's County of Tripoli, Bohemond's Principality of Antioch, and the County of Edessa (ruled by Godfrey's brother, [Alec] Baldwin I) formed the Crusader States (fig.6), or Outremer if you wanted to be all French about it. These states would suffer from a constant fighting between each other, as well as with the Byzantines, their Muslim neighbors, and themselves through coups and succession crises and lemon chicken recipes (you have to have the right one). They struggled along for nearly a half-century before Edessa was taken back by the Turks, prompting a long-waited sequel crusade.

But Europeans gained more than land and heaven's favor in their conquests. Islamic scholars had been renowned for their math skills for centuries, and happily tutored the Christians after school in the library. The writings and ideas of Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, who had been more revered and preserved by Muslims to this point, were rediscovered by Europeans and promptly claimed as their own ideas. Most importantly to the future of the world, the Crusaders acquired a taste for spices imported from India to the Middle East, which soon became all the rage in Europe. This need for garlic cheesy bread prompted an increase of maritime trade and exploration, leading to the discovery of a little place known as America. Without the Crusades, European colonization of the "New World" would have occurred much later or not at all, adding people like Pope Urban II and Byzantine Emperor Alexios to my all-time favorite game: "Six Degrees of Separation to the Forced Removal and Near-Irradiation of Native Americans." Play it with a stranger the next time you're waiting at the bus stop!

Until then, check out my history on the Second Crusade. C'mon, I know you're not sick of needless religious warfare yet!

No comments:

Post a Comment