For those of you who haven’t been able to make it to all of my Crusades classes and those who are interested but don’t live nearby, I am, belatedly, giving a summary of the last few classes.
The leaders of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem in 1099. They also had control of Antioch, Edessa, Tripoli and other coastal cities. Most of those who survived went back to Europe. The ones who remained were largely from three areas: Flanders, Norman Italy, and Languedoc/Provence. Most of the time, the rulers of these areas worked at consolidating their holdings and conquering more. As time went on, they established law codes of a sort, often regulating religious practice and trade.
I handed out time lines in class with names of the rulers and dates of battles etc. But what is difficult to do in any short session is to show how the invading Crusaders were much the same as the Sunni Turks who had invaded only a few decades before, the Byzantine Greeks who were trying to regain their land and the Shi’te Fatimids who had recently conquered Egypt. The natives of the area were largely made up of Islamic and Christian sects descended from the ancient invaders as well as the Persian, Greek and Roman colonists. These included, Maronites, Syriac Christians, Nizari, Jacobites, Druze, Armenians (fairly new) Yazidi, Allowites and many other sects. Added to that were at least three Jewish sects: Palestinian, Samaritan and Karaite. Genetically, they were, and are, a mix of millennia of conquests.
Recently, I endured an exchange on Facebook on the Crusades. At least some of the participants were historians, although no medievalists. They repeated the same weary arguments about either the barbarian Europeans destroying a peaceful Muslim kingdom for profit or a valiant effort by the West to take back the cradle of Christianity. The number of ‘facts’ stated was amazing, although no sources were given. Neither of these opposing arguments are true, although one must acknowledge that many of those who made the expedition were motivated by strong religious feeling.
Bishop Admer leading the army of the First Crusade
What many people don’t know about the period is that only the first generation of invaders could be called Crusaders. Their children were natives of the states they were born in. Some were the product of mixed marriages. Melisende (whom I wrote a book about) was the daughter of the Flemish King Baldwin and the Armenian, Morfia. She never went to Europe and certainly spoke French, Armenian and possibly, Arabic. Jerusalem was her home and her kingdom.
The major opponents of the Latin States were the Muslim rulers of Aleppo and Damascus. However, they were often fighting each other, too. The Norman rulers of Antioch loathed the Frank/Armenian counts of Edessa. More than once Aleppo teamed up with Antioch to fight Edessa and Mosul. By the third generation, many of the descendants of the crusaders spoke Arabic or Syriac. Visitors from Europe commented that they had created their own dialect, which some called poulain. Churches and homes were built, along with fortresses. Monasteries copied and illuminated manuscripts. There were stone carvers, jewelry makers and other artists. It’s only in the intervening centuries that most of this has been lost, along with stories and music that might have been a part of this mixed culture.
It wasn’t a peaceful land. There were always pilgrims and warriors coming from Europe. There were new Turkic tribes moving east. Eventually, in the thirteenth century, there were Mongol armies. They soon realized that India and China were richer by far than the near east and set up kingdoms in those countries.
I believe that the Latin States would have eventually assimilated in the mix, becoming part of the culture of that thin strip linking Europe, Africa and Asia. But two things happened. The first was the rise of a strong Sunni leader, Zengi, who united squabbling factions and captured the city of Edessa. This loss prompted the Second Crusade, led by Louis VII of France, the Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad and the young co-ruler of Jerusalem, Baldwin III. This new invasion solved nothing, as a council decided to attack Damascus instead of Edessa. The attack failed but, what was worse, it drove the Damascenes to make a treaty with Zengi and then his son, Nur al-Din. Thus, a cosmopolitan, fairly tolerant city was taken over by fundamentalist Sunni. Their successor, Saladin, was determined to drive the Fatimids out of Egypt and, after that, to eradicate the Latin States. He succeeded in taking both Cairo and Jerusalem.
This led to the new king of England, Richard I and the king of France, Phillip II, joining in another Crusade with the Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa. This led to a lot of ballads and legends and the strengthening of some of the coastal Latin states, but it also galvanized Muslims who hated each other to fight against the common foe.
Saladin and Richard. I think Richard is on the left, but I’m not sure.
Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth were brought back into the Latin States by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and enemy of Pope Innocent III. In 1229, he made a treaty with the Egyptian sultan, Al-Kamil that regained the territory and allowed Muslim control of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. How Frederick became involved is a long dynastic story. Al-Kamil wanted peace with the Latin Kingdoms in order to engage in his own wars within his own religion. Jerusalem was lost for good in 1244 when it was taken by the Khwarezmians, a group from Central Asia who were being pushed west by the Mongols, under Genghis Khan. However, the final battle consisted of the leaders of Jerusalem and Damascus against the sultan of Egypt and Khwarezmian mercenaries.
Frederick and Al-Kamil bargaining.
The last major crusade (in two parts) was that of King Louis IX. He accomplished nothing except to die at the gates of Tunis and be made a saint. Why Tunis? Another long story; history is really messy.
The era of the crusades to Palestine ended with the capture of Acre in 1291. But the idea of crusade took on a life of its own, becoming a term for any single-minded fight. The Teutonic knights, formed in the Latin States, soon began a crusade to wipe out paganism in Poland and the Baltic, although some remained in Acre until the end. Innocent III set off a crusade against the Albigensian heretics in what would become the south of France.
I recently stumbled upon a book on the Children’s Crusade, which will be discussed in class on Oct. 27. I really mean I stumbled on it; it was in a stack on the floor of my office. The author, Gary Dickson, does a wonderful job of disentangling the myth from what might be the reality of the events. Even more, he talks about the creation of myths and why we prefer them to the messy, multi-sided truth. Crusades have taken on a life of their own and that means that the first crusades and the multi-cultural life of the Latin Kingdoms are likely to be lost, smothered by the myths we have created.