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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Christianity in decline? (part 4)

"High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God", according to Sir Steven Runciman who was a professor of Byzantine Arts in the University of Istanbul and who published 3 tomes on the subject, the most important is A history of the Crusades (Volume 1, 1951) 

This article will be on the Crusades. I decided to write on the subject because I am interested in it and I disagree with mainstream arguments on their wars, and I also read the publication of Paul Crawford: Four Myths about the Crusades. 

The Crusades were military campaigns led by Western Europeans Kings and noblemen to re-conquer/liberate the Holy Land. The Byzantine Emperor asked for help against islamic raids and Pope of Rome initiated it. The fact what we think on the Crusades depends on the sources we read, religion, way of thinking, country we live in. 

Let’s make a quick overview on the Crusades themselves:

How it started: Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenos asked the Pope for help for the re-conquest of Asia Minor. In 1095 Pope Urban II made a speech in Clermont in which he asked Christian princes of Europe to stop fighting each other and to unite in fighting for gaining back Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslims and assure a safe way for pilgrims.

The 1st Crusade (1096-1099): in 1096 the armies were ready. By 1099 Jerusalem was taken back, in a bloody way unfortunately as historians cite the event. 4 crusader principalities were founded.

Islamic resistance movements started to get organized slowly because of internal conflicts. Zengi was the first who organized a raid against Crusader principalities. Arabs succeeded to capture Edessa which was the biggest city for the Crusaders’ North-East fields.

The 2nd Crusade (1147-1149) had the goal to take the city back but was unsuccessful, meanwhile in Western-Europe, Christians recaptured several cities in Iberia during the Reconquista.

The 3rd Crusade (1187-1192) was proposed because Salah el Din (Saladdin) united Muslims and took back the Holy Land except many coastal cities. The German emperor died en route, French and English monarchs had conflicts over Normandy, Richard I Lion-Heart had many victories but didn't get Jerusalem.

The 4th Crusade (1202-1204) had for purpose to conquer the Holy Land across Egypt but because of lack of Funds Crusaders sacked Constantinople and this can be considered as the final breaking point of The Great Schism.

The 5th Crusade (1217-1221) also was to recapture the Holy Land across Egypt, the Crusaders landed in Egypt, attacked Cairo (1221) and failed.

St Francis of Assisi crossed the frontlines to talk with the Sultan. The Sultan was impressed by St. Francis and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land was established.

The 6th Crusade (1228-1229) led by Frederick II of Holy Roman Emperor, made a peace treaty with European Sultan of Egypt and gained back Jerusalem without fighting.

The 7th Crusade (1248-1254) Mameluks led by Baibars defeated Templars in 1243, Louis IX, king of France organized a Crusade but was defeated en route to Cairo.

The 8th Crusade (1270) again organized by Louis IX, landed in Tunisia in the hottest period of the year, it was a big defeat and the king also lost his life.

The 9th Crusade (1271-1272) Mameluks were taking coastal crusader cities 1-by-1 so Edward I of England went for the defense of the remaining territories. Crusaders made an alliance with Mongols against Mameluks but Mongols came in small number then retreated to Iraq, then Crusaders made an agreement of Peace of 10 years with Baibars.

In 1274 a new Crusade was proposed but nothing happened, then internal conflicts weakened Western Christian states in the Middle East and Acre fell to the Muslims in 1291 and this date can be considered officially the end of the Crusades.

Well, in fact there were much more Crusades like for example the Norwegian (1107-1110), the Albigensian (1209), the Children’s Crusade (1212), Northern Crusades (1198-1290) aiming to convert Baltic Slav populations to Christianity, Swedish Crusades to Finland, Aragonese raids to regain Iberia from Muslims etc.

There were also Crusades to support resistance to Ottoman Islamic invasion like Crusade of Nicopolis (1396), Belgrade (1456), the liberation of Buda by united Christian army (1686) and other minor raids in the Mediterranean that lasted until 1798. 

Let’s get back to Paul Crawford’s work.

4 myths were listed according to what today’s children study in their history books on the military campaigns:

Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.

Myth #2: Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.

Myth #3: Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.

Myth #4: The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

The bigger threat to the Christian states and pilgrimages provoked the Crusades. I have mentioned the Byzantine Emperor asked for help from Western Christians but it has much longer antecedent.

Muslims conquered the Middle East by 632, the whole of North Africa and Iberia and a significant part of France by 732. Constantinople itself was attacked several times in the early Islamic conquests, Rome itself was attacked but Christians won the Battle of Ostia.

Within 100 year, two thirds of the Roman Empire became under Muslim rule and Christians were driven out slowly from Arabian Peninsula, but there was still a Christian majority in Egypt, the Holy Land, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor and Iberia.

Western Christians were busy to pull back Muslims in Iberia and protect their cities from Mediterranean muslim pirates, the sarracens, meanwhile Byzantines were busy protecting their territories in Asia Minor and the Middle East.

In 1009, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was burnt down by the Fatimid Sultan, Al-Hakim and Christians were put out to several forms of persecution. By the 1030s Byzantines gained a permit to rebuild the Church.

The beginning of the 11th century was a major challenge for Christians as Seljuk Turkish tribes converted to Islam and started their migration consecutively into Asia Minor. Unlike arab rulers they did not respect the pilgrimage of the Christians to the Holy sites. Pilgrimages during the 11th century were mainly armed pilgrimages i.e. protected by soldiers because of robberies and killings. On the millenary of Christ’s death huge numbers of Christians visited the Holy Land and lots of monasteries were built during that period. In 1064, Siegfried, the Archbishop of Mainz led a pilgrimage of 7000 people, among them dozens of knights, they were attacked and annihilated near Ramallah in March 1065 according to Jacques Heers in his book La première croisade, (ISBN 978-2-262-0868-9). Between 1085 and 1092 there were 6 bigger pilgrimages and there was no significant blast, only smaller robber attacks by Bedouins, according to Robert Mantran in his book A l'aube de la première croisade : le face-à-face des chrétiens et des musulmans. So we can see that European pilgrims at the time were conscientious they could never come back from the Middle East.

In 1071 Seljuks won the battle of Manzikert and the turkification of Asia Minor began.

By the time Italian and Spanish were counter-attacking successfully, Italians sacked Mahdia in Tunisia, Spanish Christians have consolidated their territories by the Millenium and started the Reconquista.

And, we don’t have to forget that 3 (Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch) of Christianity’s 5 holiest cities were in Muslim hands (today 4/5) so the Crusades were the first major western Christian counter-attack against Muslim invasion, simply a tool of the defensive options. 

The statement that Crusaders were motivated by getting richer was a popular argument, at least from Voltaire on.

Crusading was ruinously expensive for most participants and Pope Urban II at Clermont in 1095 urging Frankish warriors to embark on what would become known as the 1st Crusade does note that they might make spoil of treasures but this was only an observation on the usual way of financing war during that period.

It is not much different from what is known as ghana’im. 

Responding to the statement that says Crusaders didn’t believe their propaganda, it is untrue again. The rate of injured during the 1st Crusade was 75%. Most of the Crusaders who went on Crusades knew they could never get back home to their families so a deep and profound religiousness was needed for the soldiers to make this crucial decision. I would like to mention the statement of the 13th century crusader Robert de Creseques that he had “come across the sea in order to die for God in the Holy Land” and he died soon in a battle.

It is difficult for individualistic European societies and modern people to understand that most crusaders were motivated by a desire to please God, expiate their sins and put their lives at the service of the people love but also for the people they don’t like. 

And just to repeat and clarify Muslims started the conquests, within 100 years large territories were taken from Christian authorities, dozens of cities sacked and lots of tribes and regions converted to occupiers’ religion.

Muslims learnt to respect Christian pilgrims’ visits to the Holy Land. They had to make a difference between occupying western Christians and local Christians, Egyptian Coptic Christians fought on the side of Muslims although they were 2nd grade citizens for 5 centuries.

One more thing to know, most writings in the Arab world on Crusades until the 19th century were written by Arab Christians and most of them were positive according to Jonathan Riley-Smith as he wrote in his book: The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. 

The myths denied and explained, let me present the importance of the Crusades on the life in the Europe of the Middle Ages. 

The Crusades brought about results of which the popes had never dreamed, and which were perhaps the most, important of all. They re-established traffic between the East and West, which, after having been suspended for several centuries, was then resumed with even greater energy; they were the means of bringing from the depths of their respective provinces and introducing into the most civilized Asiatic countries Western knights, to whom a new world was thus revealed, and who returned to their native land filled with novel ideas... If, indeed, the Christian civilization of Europe has become universal culture, in the highest sense, the glory redounds, in no small measure, to the Crusades."

According to Crusades in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966, Vol. IV, p. 508. 

Crusaders had many effects on different levels of society, economy and scientific life:

-social: there are 3 characteristics that can be common in the description of the Crusaders in the Middle Ages scriptures: piety, pugnacity and greed. The Crusading spirit was still seen as a heroic act and the Crusading campaigns, defense of Christians and Christian interests was still going on until 1798. Crusading leaders, especially Richard I Lion-heart and Louis IX of France, who were seen by their enemies as men of integrity and valor.

-political: Western Europeans especially Frankish came to the Middle East in big numbers and ruled over the Holy Land for long decades, but the important was the political opening of the continent, it was no more isolated as before. 

-cultural: many contemporary Arab and Muslim but even western thinkers blame them for the decline of the Arabs’ scientific golden age. In fact knowledge was inherited, transferred to the West, destruction of the Baghdad library and the neutralization of Muslim intelligentsia is more related to Tatars campaign led by Hulagu.

Architecture and buildings of fortresses and defense systems to the cities developed a lot after gaining experiences in the Holy Land. 

-economic: transit roads and supply chains between Western Europe and Asia Minor became used more often which led to infrastructural developments and the evolution of trade. Maritime transit corridors were more frequently by Europeans, especially Venetians benefited from the entering into the Mediterranean which was a monopole territory for the Sarracens before.

New agricultural and irrigation techniques were brought into Europe from the Middle East and new kinds of vegetables and fruits were produced.  

-military: Crusader knights were fighting permanently, in attacks and in defending the Christian principalities. There are many techniques the Crusaders took from there like the drummers’ warrior motivation technique from Seljuk Turks. They abandoned consecutively helms because of hotter weather and sunshine.

New monastic-warriors societies, religious military orders were founded like Templars and Hospitallers which had for purpose to defend the weak, the children, the women and the pilgrims against “infidels”.  

But we also have to recognize there were very harsh mistakes and crimes committed on the battlefields and in the sieges of towns and the Pope John Paul II asked for apology for these acts of horror in the Church of St. John the Baptist, now the Umayyad Mosque. Another very negative effect is the rise of tensions between Christians caused by the 4th Crusade, during which Catholics established a kingdom in Constantinople.

Crusades by Western Europeans were seen as pirate campaigns by Orthodox Christians,  this has contributed to the losses of the last Crusades and the lack of confidence of local Christians (Coptic Orthodox for example) towards Western Christians. 

Is the subject actual to talk about? 

The subject is still very timely. I have written on the persecution of Christians in muslim countries, the loss of identity in Western Europe and the islamization of Europe.

Islamism is rising since the fall of communism, number and rate of Muslims is rising in the Middle East, North Africa, Caucasus, Western Europe and the Balkans.

In the UK radical Muslims name their opponents Crusaders, there was a radical group called Muslims against Crusaders (MAC) aiming to impose Sharia in the UK instead of the democratic establishment.

On the other side there are new extreme right movements in Europe which aim to free their countries from Islamic invasion and they put Crusaders as their examples in the accomplishment of the struggle.

The term Crusade is used by western new-Muslims and Islamists referring to western invaders and supporters of Israel. Bin Laden named western governments' military campaigns against Muslim countries Crusades aiming to message the need of Muslim unity against the West.

Meanwhile Christians' self-confidence is deteriorating caused by pacifist and leftist views, movements and alleged clergy scandals.

Ex-US president Bill Clinton made a speech in 2001 in which he cited a scene of Crusaders walking after the battle with blood to the up of their knees, he was maybe trying to give an explanation on the thinking of terrorists and alleged causes of “revenge”.

Christians' are being building internal ghettos by convincing themselves religion is a private issue. And Christianity in general is threatened by attacks from several fronts, in the mainstream media and in everyday life (workplaces, public sphere, street violence etc.)  


We, Western and Eastern Christians need to rediscover our culture, heritage and past. Then we can make it understandable for people of different religions and then we can defend it with the right reasoning from insults. We have to be proud of the history and the accomplishments of our ancestors and to commemorate the victories even if they are not considered “politically correct” and hurt the interests of feelings of neighbors or investors.  

The values the Crusaders represented and the religious-military orders set up to protect the weak, the children, women, seniors are needed in today’s individualist societies.

Pride and self-confidence of Christians need to strengthen again so Christians and Christian statesmen should have the courage to defend the Crusades (while recognizing the fateful mistakes) and should mutually ask for apology for Islamic conquests.

This is a subject that will be referred to a lot more in politics and publications in the near future.

Joseph Y.F. Potter

Budapest, June 2012

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