Thursday, January 12, 2017

Battles of the Crusades: The Road to Dorylaeum:

I'm pleased to present the first entry in the "Battles of the Crusades" series by Rand Brown II. Rand will be bringing us short essays on some of the most important battles of the crusades at irregular intervals. For each battle, he plans to provide a discussion of the circumstances, leadership, forces and objectives in one entry and a description of the battle, its aftermath and consequences in a second. He starts with the Battle of Dorylaeum in the First Crusade.

After Pope Urban II officially began the First Crusade with his famous Clermont address in November of 1095, it was nearly a year and a half later before the first real military clash between Latin crusaders and their Islamic foes took place.  Understandable for an undertaking of this magnitude, the First Crusade had gotten off to a rocky start – in the previous year, a mob of commoners led by the self-proclaimed visionary Peter “the Hermit” ignored Pope Urban’s exhortation to wait for the various lords selected to lead the crusade and marched off in a frenzy for Constantinople.  After crossing the Bosphorus against the advice of Emperor Alexios, they were promptly and easily massacred by the Seljuk Turks - who at that time handily controlled the vast majority of Asia Minor having seized it from the Eastern Roman Empire throughout the previous century.  According to various sources, the Turks made massive mounds of the pilgrims’ bones that were still there when the actual crusading army passed that way.  However, this tragic event actually worked in the crusaders’ favor, as it fooled the local Turkish sultans into thinking that Peter’s ill-fated mob had been the extent of the West’s efforts to reclaim the East, causing them to be caught completely off guard at the arrival of the far more professional Lords’ crusading armies.   

Although the logistics of meeting up all the various contingents at Constantinople had been a fraught and time-consuming process that took over a year after Clermont, the armies that crossed the Bosphorus in early 1097 were well-equipped, disciplined, and led by a cadre of some of the finest leadership in Europe.  With virtually no warning, the crusaders – bolstered by contingents of Byzantine forces – rapidly seized the famed city of Nicaea which surrendered with very little resistance.  The local sultan, Kilij Arslan, was now faced the dilemma of having to respond once again to an unexpected foreign threat or lose vital credibility as a leader among his fellow Turkic warlords.  As the crusaders continued to make their way eastwards, Kilij knew he had to act and soon.

In stark contrast to the disastrous lack of leadership of the so-called “People’s Crusade,” the armies of the First Crusade followed representatives of perhaps one the finest generations of Western medieval leadership.  Broken into regional contingents and strongly divided along ethnic identities, the crusading army sported a sort of “council” of nobles who all viewed each other (more or less) as peers.  Some of the more prominent obviously carried a bit more weight with regards to administrative and command decisions.   

At the nominal head of the army was the papal legate, Bishop Adhemar le Puy, who had been hand-picked by Pope Urban to represent papal authority for the pilgrimage and serve as both the moral guide and unifying element for the lay leaders who might be tempted to stray from the intended goal or, worse, begin fighting among one another.  Among the lay leadership, Count Raymond of Toulouse had been one of the first to take the cross and was allegedly personally involved with Pope Urban during the planning phases even before Clermont.  An elderly man by the time of the First Crusade, Raymond had already fought Moors in Spain in his younger years – according to some sources, he had even ridden alongside Rodrigo de Vivar (the famed “El Cid”).  He was also handily the wealthiest of the crusading lords, bringing immense financial resources from his holdings in the Languedoc to the disposal of the crusade.  Raymond led a vast contingent of troops from Provence, Aquitaine, Gascony, and the north-eastern coast of Spain.   

Juxtaposed to Raymond was the Italio-Norman warrior, Bohemond of Taranto.  He was the son of the famed Norman adventurer, Robert Guiscard – who gave Bohemond his nickname (his Christian name was Mark) due to his immense size in reference to a giant in Italian folklore. Bohemond’s participation in the crusade was at first problematic.  For the past several decades, Bohemond’s family had relentlessly attacked Byzantine territories in the Adriatic and Bohemond himself had dealt the Emperor Alexios a particularly humiliating defeat at Dyrrhachium in 1081.  It took the swearing of multiple oaths before Alexios relented to Bohemond’s presence within the crusader leadership, and even then, the tension was palpable.  However, Bohemond was by far the most militarily experienced leader among the various lords, having spent a lifetime fighting in the eastern Mediterranean and who knew what to expect once they crossed into Asia Minor.  His expertise would prove invaluable during the engagement at Dorylaeum as would his contingent of crack Italio-Norman knights, Sicilians, and Neapolitans.   

Representing many of the northern European nobles was Godfrey of Boullion.  A highly respected lord within Europe, he had initially been a key vassal of the Holy Roman Emperor and incorrigible enemy of the papacy, Henry IV.  After the end of the Investiture Crisis, however, Godfrey became closely aligned with the Popes in Rome and his joining the crusade against the wishes of his excommunicated liege-lord must have been a significant public relations victory for Pope Urban.  After selling off his lands, Godfrey used the sum to raise a considerable force from the Rhineland, Flanders, Lorraine, and other territories loosely associated with the German Empire.  Lastly, the crusader lords were accompanied by a Byzantine military advisor, Tatikios, and a nominal contingent of Imperial troops from Constantinople.  Relations between the Western lords and Emperor Alexios were strained at best and a significant amount of distrust resided between both sides.  Tatikios essentially served as the eyes and ears of Alexios on this endeavor and ensured that any formerly Byzantine territory recovered by the crusaders was promptly returned to Imperial rule.

On the opposite side, the crusaders were about to face one of the premier Seljuk warlords of the day, Kilij Arslan (whose second name means “the Lion” in Seljuk), the sultan of Rum.  Kilij was a formidable leader who belonged to the same generation of Turkic warriors that had inflicted the disastrous defeat upon the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071 (which provided the initial inspiration for the First Crusade).  However, Seljuk society was still predominantly nomadic and they were definitely the newcomers in Asia Minor.  Seljuk society was stratocratic in nature and fiercely competitive – the loss of prestige for a particular warlord could easily mean his downfall.  Petty rivalries between various tribes and chieftains were the order of the day and, unbeknownst to them, the Western crusaders marched into a land with very little real unity governing over it.  In his effort to halt the crusader advance, Kilij called upon his kinsman, Ghazi, of the Danishmendid tribe to assist him.  While very little is known about Ghazi, he was undoubtedly one of the few warlords Kilij could trust to answer his call in his desperate hour.

The crusader army that marched upon Asia Minor was the product of nearly 500 years of Western military tradition that arose after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  This was the era of the heavily armored knightly cavalryman and the dawn of the military tradition that would later become known as chivalry.  Developing from old Roman cavalry methods and Frankish improvisations during the Carolingian period, the premier Western warrior was the knight.  Heavily armored with maille hauberk and coif, armed and trained for close-in melee combat, and mounted on steeds especially bred for massed charges, the Western knight in the 11th Century was the epitome of shock and maneuver and was especially lethal in hand-to-hand combat.  Supporting these knights were thousands of infantrymen of varying degrees of quality – ranging from highly disciplined specialists wielding both melee and ranged weapons to inexperienced volunteers eager to do their part in the “fighting-pilgrimage” to Jerusalem and who would often prove to be a hindrance in battle rather than a help.

In stark contrast to the melee-centric traditions of the Western crusaders, the Seljuks exemplified the skirmishing traditions of their fellow steppe-peoples.  As with their Hunnic, Avar, and other Central Asian kinsmen, the Turks relied on a potent mix of mounted speed, maneuver, and massed firepower to rapidly outmaneuver and swarm their foes – all while staying clear of any close encounters until the odds were heavily in their favor.  Turkic armies of this period were almost entirely mounted on hardy steppe breeds that were tough, but fast when well-handled.  The core of the army usually formed around the warlord and his elite retinue of Sipahi, hybrid mounted warriors who usually carried both lance and bow.  While these were the cream of the horde, the meat consisted of thousands of mounted archers – all barely armored, but carrying the classic weapon of the steppe cultures, the recurve bow.  

Small in size, but very powerful within its 150-200yd range, the recurve bow was comprised of wood, horn, and sinew all glued together and “recurved” for greater power within a smaller frame – the ideal weapon for the mounted archer.  Crusader chroniclers like Raymond of Aguilars commented that in battle the Turks “have this custom in fighting, even though they are few in number, they always strive to encircle their enemy.”  They often used feigned retreats and ambushes to overwhelm squadrons of pursuing opponents, as they did in several engagements with the Byzantines.  Speed, surprise, and mobility were critical for the Seljuks – because the alternative often meant their ruin.  In close quarters melee, even the finest Seljuk warrior was at a disadvantage.

For those who wore any armor at all, Turkic armor consisted of multiple variations on the lightweight hazagand – a sort of cotton jerkin coat with possible scale or light maille sewn into it.  Compared against the far heavier and higher quality steel armor and weaponry of the West, the average Turk stood little chance in close melee unless his arrow-fire had sufficiently worn down his opponent.  These two warfighting traditions were on a collision course as the crusader host precariously made their way across Anatolia towards the small abandoned military outpost of Dorylaeum.

To be continued January 27,

Sources Referenced:

John France.  Victory in the East – A Military History of the First Crusade.  Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

_______.  Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades 1000-1300.  Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Fulcher of Chartres, et al.  The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials.  Ed. Edward Peters.  Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

Rand L. Brown II is a co-founder of Real Crusades History.  He possesses a MA in Military History from Norwich University and currently serves as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps.

To Shine with Honor: Coming of Age describes France in the decades before the First Crusade.

REVIEW: The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem

This book by one of the great 20th century historians of the crusader states is an invaluable resource. It is divided into two parts. The first “Lords and Lordships” provides a wealth of information in concise and readable form about the economy, social and legal structure, and the administration of the crusader states. The second part, “Constitutional Conflict,” looks at the sophisticated legal issues surrounding the governing of the kingdom and the school of highly articulate and respected jurists that evolved original theses on feudal government.  It also provides a chronology, two genealogical charts, and lists of the regents and lieutenants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The first part on Lords and Lordships was particularly valuable because the information provided is relevant to any study of the crusader states, regardless of focus. It is, furthermore, a gold mine for a novelist, who needs to be able to describe everyday life in the Holy Land in this period. The second part is very legalistic and many readers without a legal background or interest in constitutional issues of a long-since defunct state may find it tedious. The conclusion Riley-Smith draws from his own research in two short pages was also sadly unsatisfying, as it seemed to answer a question that had not been asked, or at least failed to address many questions that I still had. However, even this second part shines a needed light on the high levels of education and the sophisticated reasoning of elites in the crusader states.
In my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin I endeavor to depict feudal socity in the Kingdom of Jerusalem accurately.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Popular Misconceptions about the Crusades: A Rebuttal

Readers of this blog will be familiar with (and annoyed by) popular misconceptions about the crusades -- such as blaming the rise of the Islamic State  on the alleged "atrocities" and "aggression" of the crusaders, or lumping the crusades together with the holocaust as one of the worst crimes against humanity in human history. Nevertheless, you may find the following concise rebuttal of common myths useful in your own discussions with people who have fallen victim to persistent misinformation.

1. The crusades were not an act of genocide. There were battles and sieges, but at NO time was the extermination of any ethnic or religious group the policy or goal of the crusades.

2. The crusades were not wars of aggression. They were a response to over three hundred years of Muslim aggression in which invading Muslim armies had threatened Constantinople and nearly reached the Loire.

3. The crusades were not an invasion of traditionally Muslim territory. The Holy Land had been the home of Christianity since Christ himself, and Christianity had become the official and dominant religion by the end of the 4th Century. At least 50% of the population of the Holy Land was still Christian when the first crusaders arrived.

4. The crusades were not wars of religious conversion. There was no attempt to force the Muslim population in the crusader states established by the First Crusade to convert to Christianity. The Church explicitly condemned forced conversions, and secular authorities found it convenient to tax non-Christians at a higher rate.

5. Except for the First, and to a lesser extend the Third and Sixth Crusades, the Christians LOST all the crusades, and were driven out of the Holy Land in a long series of brutal, bloody campaigns in which the Mamlukes repeatedly slaughtered civilians, broke truces, failed to keep their word and enslaved tens of thousands of civilians. The last crusader foothold in the Holy Land was lost in 1291 with the fall of Acre. In short, there is no need for modern Islam to revenge the crusades--they did that very effectively and brutally in the late 13th century.

Modern apologists for ISIL, however, are obsessed with pointing to the atrocities and injustices allegedly committed by the crusaders, while excusing, dismissing or simply ignoring the atrocities perpetrated by their contemporary opponents. This narrative is apparently motivated by the na├»ve hope that if we “confess” our “guilt” we can somehow deflect or weaken the hatred directed against us.  Or perhaps it is motivated by a desire to demonstrate the superiority of our “enlightened” standpoint over the “bigotry” of our enemy? 

Whatever the reason, most modern references to the “barbarism” of the crusaders and the “atrocities” they committed are little more than rhetoric, yet they draw their inspiration from two "facts" that have been repeated so often that most people don't know the source but accept them unthinking. 

First, the Greek historian Anna Comnena used the term “barbarian” to describe the participants of the First Crusade, and second, after finally taking Jerusalem by storm in 1099, the crusaders unquestionably sacked the Holy City and massacred the garrison.

Now, it must be remembered that the Greeks used the term “barbarian” to refer to anyone who didn’t speak Greek. This included, in a different age, the highly civilized Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians etc. Second, the Greek Emperors considered themselves the descendants and heirs to the Roman Empire—and viewed the German, French, and Norman crusaders as the descendants of the “barbarian hoards” that had over-run the Western Empire.

Furthermore, because the Byzantine Empire preserved greater continuity with Rome, it also had a very sophisticated bureaucracy and hierarchy that left the Byzantines confused and offended by the lack of formalized command structures among the crusaders. Indeed, the complete absence of a supreme commander among the crusaders was utterly incomprehensible to a society in which the Emperor was an autocrat. 
Anna Comnena certainly saw the crusaders as barbarians – that does not mean that we should. The lack of understanding for a different culture exhibited by the Byzantine chroniclers does not mean that that other culture was inherently inferior. Modern readers—particularly enlightened, tolerant modern readers
— ought to appreciate and recognize that fact.

The sack of Jerusalem, on the other hand, was unquestionably a barbaric act—from the modern perspective. It was hardly so in the eyes of contemporaries. The contemporary rules of war were clear and universally accepted: a city that surrendered could expect mercy, a city that did not could expect “to be put to the sword.” This had been the rule of war at least since the sack of Troy.

Modern sensibilities are offended particularly by the fact that Christians, allegedly fighting in the name of a peaceful, forgiving and loving Christ, could commit this “atrocity.” The fact that they did commit this act of bloodshed may be evidence that the medieval understanding of Christianity and our own diverges somewhat — but that would ignore the very sophisticated and centuries-long discussions about the nature of “just wars” and the complex theological debates about the justifications for the crusades themselves. Far more likely, by the time the crusaders at last reached Jerusalem after horrendous suffering and huge losses, they were simply not willing to curb their baser instincts -- even in such a sacred place.

Yet this does not make the crusaders “barbarians” in the contemporary context, certainly not when it is clear that most apocalyptic descriptions of the sack are exaggerations and that thousands of Jerusalem’s inhabitants survived. Nor was this in any way an exceptional atrocity, much less justify modern-day atrocities against innocent and unarmed populations inside the Islamic State, or against unarmed civilians in terrorist attacks around the world. 

My novels depict life in the crusader states: 

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Short Reign and Tragic End of Henry of Champagne

As the consort of Queen Isabella of Jerusalem from May 1192 until September 1197, Henry of Champagne was recognized by the High Court of Jerusalem and by all his contemporaries, domestic and foreign, as the rightful King of Jerusalem ― yet he preferred to call himself the Count of Champagne to the day he died. We can only speculate on whether that preference sprang from humility or a failure to identify with his adopted kingdom. Certainly, Henry of Champagne came to the throne unexpectedly and with little preparation, and had he lived longer, he might well have come to feel more comfortable in his role as King of Jerusalem. But his life was cut tragically short in an accident at the age of 31.

His reign started auspiciously. His first act as King of Jerusalem appears to have been to persuade his uncle the King of England to remain through the campaign season rather than depart for England at once. As a result, the crusading army was kept together long enough for a second (albeit equally unsuccessful) attempt on Jerusalem. 

Richard of England then set his mind to regaining the coast between Tyre and Tripoli, a clear means of strengthening Henri’s new kingdom, but Saladin’s sudden assault on Jaffa forestalled him. Richard immediately took a handful of knights in a few ships and set off for Jaffa to stiffen the defense long enough for relief to come by land.  

Henri meanwhile mustered the Army of Jerusalem and started down the coast to relieve Jaffa. When the army found its advance blocked just south of Caesarea by Saladin’s forces, however, Henri followed his uncle’s example and took ship with just a few men for Jaffa ― abandoning his army. It was not a particularly regal or strategic thing to do, but Henri appears to have gotten away with it. The relief of Jaffa was eventually successful, and his ignominious behavior at Caesarea was forgotten.

A month later, a truce had been signed with Saladin lasting three years and eight months or until April 1196. Richard Plantagenet was free to return to his besieged inheritance in the West, taking with him not only the bulk of the crusaders but the enormous shadow he had cast over Henri. Henri was at last in a position to show his merit as a king.

Unfortunately, Henry stumbled at once. Almost immediately after Richard’s departure, the Pisans started attacking shipping going to Acre. Whether this was state-piracy or instigated by the still-embittered deposed-King Guy de Lusignan is not clear. In any case, Henri blamed the Pisan Commune in Acre of abetting their countrymen, and when Aimery de Lusignan, the  older brother of Guy, defended the Pisans, Henri saw a Lusignan plot against him. He ordered Aimery de Lusignan arrested for treason. 

This only had the effect of angering Henri’s vassals and the Masters of both the Knights Templar and the Knights of St. John. Aimery de Lusignan, unlike his younger brother Guy, had been in the Holy land for nearly two decades by this point and he enjoyed the respect of his peers. He had been appointed Constable of the Kingdom by Baldwin IV, long before the catastrophe of Hattin.  Furthermore, and most important, the King of Jerusalem did not have the right to arrest the Constable ― only the High Court did.  Henri was forced to back down, but Aimery (not surprisingly) did not want to remain in a Kingdom ruled by a man who had arrested him unjustly. He surrendered the office of Constable and went to join his brother on Cyprus.

Henry’s next known act is considerably more to his credit. Sometime during the truce with Saladin ca. 1195, King Leo of Armenia seized Prince Bohemond of Antioch during a state visit in revenge for a similar incident years earlier. He demanded the surrender of Antioch to Armenia. Prince Bohemond ordered the surrender (to secure his own release), but the citizens of the city led by his own sons and the patriarch refused to follow his orders. Instead they sent to Henry of Champagne to negotiate the release of the Prince of Antioch on more reasonable terms. Henri appears to have carried out this diplomatic mission successfully, arranging that an Armenian princess marry Bohemond’s heir. 

On his return trip, Henri traveled via Cyprus, where Aimery de Lusignan had not only succeeded his brother as lord of the island but persuaded the Holy Roman Emperor to make him a King. Meeting now as equals, the two men were reconciled, and to symbolize their new friendship (and secure the future of their houses) they agreed that Aimery’s three sons should be betrothed to Henri’s three daughters by Isabella of Jerusalem. 

Henri then returned to his own Kingdom as the truce with the Saracens drew to a close.  Saladin had meanwhile died and his brother al-Adil had successfully eliminated Saladin’s eldest and second sons to seize power for himself in Damascus and Cairo. As the truce ended, he took a large force to attack Acre, evidently seeking to bolster his popularity and support by delivering a victory against the Franks. 

Champagne went out to meet al-Adil with a force composed primarily of German crusaders, who had since arrived in the Holy Land in anticipation of the end of the truce, and the knights and barons of Jerusalem. These proved insufficient to defeat the threat, and Champagne had to call up the commons as well, who then managed to thwart the invasion and send al-Adil back across the border. Little is really known about this engagement, but the Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre gives the entire credit for this victory to a local baron, Hugh of Tiberius, with Champagne simply taking advice. While implausible as written, the account may be indicative of a general feeling among the local barons that Champagne was not a terribly effective battle commander, certainly not comparable to his famous uncle Richard the Lionheart.

His death, however, may have contributed to this retroactive assessment of him. On September 10, 1197 Henry of Champagne accidentally fell from a window into a courtyard of the royal palace at Acre and broke his neck. There was no question of foul play. One version says he stepped backwards into the window and lost his balance. Another says he leaned out of the window and the railing gave way. Apparently his jester, a dwarf, either tried to stop him and also lost his balance, or flung himself after him in grief. Either way he allegedly landed on top of Champagne, ensuring his injury was fatal. 

Henry of Champagne left behind three young daughters, the eldest of which died young, and the second of which, Alice, became Queen of Cyprus in accordance with the agreement he had made with Aimery de Lusignan. 

He also left behind an ugly law-suit. Since he had never returned from the Holy Land, his brother Theobold laid claim to the County of Champagne and his sons after him, but Henri’s surviving daughters, Alice and Philippa, challenged their cousins claim. They argued that as the daughters of the elder son (Henry) they were the rightful heirs to Champagne. In an effort to negate Alice and Philippa’s (very valid) claim, Theobold’s son attempted to argue that Henry’s marriage to Isabella had been bigamous, thereby making his cousins Alice and Philippa illegitimate. The reasoning was that Isabella’s divorce from her first husband Humphrey de Toron had been bogus and so she was still married to him (since he was still alive) at the time of her marriage to Henry. This claim was spurious and never accepted by the courts, but it colored the chronicles (all written in France).  As a result, this court case has left lasting legacy of distorted historiography, which casts Isabella’s divorce from Toron is a lurid light and makes villains of all who supported it -- from Henry himself to Isabella's  mother, Maria Comnena, and her step-father Balian d'Ibelin.

Henry de Champagne is a significant character in “Envoy of Jerusalem,” where his relationship to Isabella is developed and examined.