Friday, February 24, 2017

The "Conquest" of Edessa: Crusader Adaptation and Assimilation



The establishment of the crusader “county” of Edessa is often ― at least implicitly ― treated as a “conquest.” The impression conveyed is that the crusaders (or Franks) invaded, seized control of territory by force, and established a state (in this case styled a “County”) that was controlled by Latin elites. But Baldwin of Boulogne was accompanied by just sixty knights when he followed an invitation from a local warlord, Thoros, to go to Edessa. As Christopher MacEvitt makes clear in his meticulous study The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance, the crusader County of Edessa was more a complex network of local alliances than an invasion ― much less a colony.



The story of the crusader presence in Edessa, as indicated above, started with an “invitation” from a local warlord, and was legalized by an official adoption. Edessa was an ancient and wealthy city that at this time rivaled Antioch and Aleppo in importance. When in 1098 the First Crusade reached northern Syria, Edessa was in the hands of a Greek Christian warlord, the most recent “strongman” in a long line of short-lived warlords, who came to power by murder or popular acclaim ― only to lose favor rapidly and themselves be murdered or flee. Thoros fearing the fate of his predecessors if he could not fight off the ever present Turkish threat, sought help from the most recent military force to arrive on the scene: the crusaders. MacEvitt suggests convincingly that Thoros was making the same mistake that the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenus had made, namely, of conflating crusaders with Frankish/Norman mercenaries. Thoros wanted the evidently effective commander Baldwin of Boulogne to come fight his battles for him; he never really thought he was inviting in a successor.



Baldwin, however, was not a mercenary. He rejected mere material gifts such as gold, silver and horses, in a bid for something more important still: power and control. When Thoros refused, Baldwin threatened to leave, and “the people” (by which one presumes the chroniclers mean the elites) insisted that Thoros give way. Thoros formally adopted Baldwin in a ceremony (telling) using Armenian relics and customs. Unfortunately for Thoros, this proved insufficient to placate an evidently unruly population. Within a month of Baldwin’s adoption, the mob had turned on Thoros, murdering him, his wife and his children mercilessly. Once Thoros was dead, the citizens jubilantly proclaimed his "son" (Baldwin) doux” ― a Greek title that usually implied subordination to the Emperor in Constantinople. Although he benefited from Thoros' murder, there is no evidence that Baldwin was behind it, and the fact that he was neither well connected with local elites nor yet conversant with Armenian politics speaks against his complicity.



Furthermore, despite the title awarded him, Baldwin of Boulogne was no vassal of Constantinople. But he was not a conqueror in control of invaded territory either. He still had only 60 knights of his own and he owed his elevation to the local, predominantly Armenian population. MacEvitt makes the point that from the point of view of the Edessans they had not helped establish a “Frankish” or “Latin”  or “crusader” state at all; they had (as so often in the past) simply replaced one “strong man with vague Byzantine ties” with another. 



Furthermore, Baldwin’s career would certainly have been as short-lived and as forgettable as that of the previous half-dozen “rulers” of Edessa, had he not proved astonishingly adept at building alliances with surrounding warlords, nobles and elites. That process started with the simple expedient of leaving the Armenian administration of the city undisturbed. Baldwin also adopted Armenian symbols and rituals, and he rapidly married into the Armenian aristocracy as well.

SStill he faced not so much opposition as indifference on the part of all the other petty Armenian warlords in the surrounding countryside because the “County” of Edessa was not a unified territory at all, but rather a patchwork quilt of minor princlings and lords, who each ruled their individual towns and castles by force. This was a land of “robber barons,” each jealously guarding their own territory and always on the alert to weaken or take advantage of the weakness of a neighbor. The Armenian warlords also rapidly set to work pitting one crusader lord against another, in what (in retrospect) seems like an almost playful experiment of seeing just how far they could go. The crusaders, significantly, after some initial squabbling eventually countered these attempts by closing ranks against the Armenians and eliminating the worst trouble-makers.



More dangerous to Baldwin in Edessa, however, was that as soon as he started to exert his authority there, the very citizens who had “elected” him, decided to depose him ― just as they had all his predecessors. Baldwin was lucky. One of the “councilors” turned traitor, told him what was afoot, and Baldwin struck first. He arrested the councilors, threw them in a dungeon, extracted ransom payments from them and then released them ― without noses, hands and feet or blinded in the case of the ringleaders. All were expelled from the city. Notably, this punishment, particularly the blinding of opponents and rivals, has a long tradition in the Eastern Roman Empire, but none at all in northern France. In short, even in his rage, Baldwin of Boulogne had adapted the customs of his adopted father.



Nor did his “brutality” provoke outrage or rebellion. On the contrary, the chronicles record with what amounts to approval that Baldwin was now “feared.” The Armenian church and population appears to have welcomed the restoration of a really strong strongman, capable (they hoped) of ending the fragmentation and lawlessness in the region that had followed the defeat of the Byzantine army at Manzikert.



Baldwin of Boulogne had no chance to prove himself further. He was called away to Jerusalem to take up his elder brother’s mantle. He was crowned King of Jerusalem in the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Day 1100. He did not just abandon Edessa, however. Instead, he invited his cousin Baldwin de Bourcq to succeed him as ruler of Edessa. Baldwin II (as he was to be known in both Edessa and Jerusalem) was quick to take the opportunity, and his eighteen-year rule in Edessa truly established Frankish control over Edessa.



It was Baldwin II who extended Frankish power beyond the city of Edessa into the surrounding region. This was no easy task as various warlords held castles at strategic points ― some Christian, some Muslim. Like Baldwin I, Baldwin II had too few Frankish troops to impose his rule. He was dependent on the goodwill of the bulk of the ruling class and the loyalty of Armenian soldiers to remain in power, much less extend it. Significantly, he never faced any rebellion in Edessa itself.



Baldwin II adopted much the same tactics as his cousin Baldwin I. He promptly married an Armenian wife, daughter of one of the strongest warlords. Other Franks in his entourage, significantly his cousin Jocelyn de Courtenay who would succeed him when he too went to Jerusalem to become king there, also married aristocratic Armenian women. Equally important, he continued to depend largely on local Armenian elites to administer his territory. However, an early incident in which he lost a key city to Turkish forces and had to borrow troops from the crusader Principality of Antioch, induced him to place more of his own relatives in key strategic castles.



Yet as MacEvitt documents, this was not the same thing as “oppressing” much less “exterminating” the local elites. Rather, Baldwin sent a clear signal: cooperate or lose you lands. The majority of Armenian warlords preferred to “submit” (nominally) to the Franks than risk seeing one of their Armenian rivals win greater power and authority. So, yes, some of the larger warlords lost out, fled to Constantinople and bewailed their fate to sympathetic ears. Their lament found a voice particularly in the chronicler Matthew of Edessa, but they were a minority. The bulk of the Armenian ruling class, MacEvitt argues, “preferred to trust the Franks rather than others of their own kind.” (The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, p. 83.) The Franks, in turn, rewarded loyalty, and the Armenians willing to recognize Frankish suzerainty were richly rewarded with new lands, titles and revenues.



Meanwhile, the Frankish leaders and their Armenian wives became increasingly integrated in the local society, honoring local saints, adopting local symbols, titles and customs. MacEvitt sites evidence that local (non-Latin) priests served as confessors for some Frankish lords. This is a far cry from 18th and 19th Century European colonists “picking up the white man’s burden,” yet meticulously maintaining their “superior” customs while treating the “natives” with condescension bordering on contempt. In 19th century Europe “going native” -- as the crusaders did -- was scorned, and those that did "go native" were viewed with contempt.



Furthermore, this pattern of integration and alliance with local (non-Latin) Christian elites was both continued under Baldwin’s successors, the Courteneys, and also transferred to Jerusalem when Baldwin II of Edessa became Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Significantly, his half-Armenian daughter Melusinde succeeded him to the throne, reinforcing the influence of native Christians at the heart of the crusader states.

MacEvitt argues, I think convincingly, that the tiny Frankish elite in all the crusader kingdoms was both more dependent and more integrated in Eastern Christian society than previous historians have been willing to admit. His work The Crusades and the Christian World of the East: Rough Tolerance is well worth reading.










Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Human Body, Illness and Death in the Crusader Era

It is often assumed that the people who practiced medicine in the Middle Ages were ignorant, untrained, guided by “pure superstition” and accountable to no one. Today’s post, the first in a series of guest essays by German scholar Fermin Person, looks at medical practitioners and standards in the Crusader States.


The medieval concept of illness was different from our current understanding. In the medieval period, medical theory (common to both East and West) explained illness as an imbalance of the four humours (body fluids), as divine punishment, as astrology or as the working of evil entities.


These basic concepts existed parallel to each other and mixed to some degree during the medieval period. There already existed the notion of infectious diseases and of epidemics, but with the very limited diagnostic capabilities of the period (seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling), it was not possible to differentiate infectious diseases from auto-immune disease or poisoning.


Excurs: Bloodletting
Following the works of Galen bloodletting was practised extensively both in the western as well in the Islamic world since the antiquity. Bloodletting was used prophylactically in healthy persons as well as during illnesses. The statutes of the Templars and of the order of St John specified, for example, the possibilities and the treatment of members of the Orders that had been bloodlet. The laws of Outremer specifically demanded that a physician use bloodletting, if a patient was suffering from fever.












Ergotism (called “holy fire” or “St. Anthonies Fire”) for example, caused by alkaloids produced by fungus that befall cereals during wet weather, broke out in epidemics.

There was some understanding that blood loss from wounds was an important factor in the death from injuries, but there was still no understanding of the pathophysiology of haemorrhagic shock.

Another point of discussion was whether pus in wounds was something negative or positive. Medieval western (and Arabic) physicians lacked an understanding of infectious diseases and microbiology. 

Similarly, the exact function of many organs was unknown or was misinterpreted, and the working of the circulatory system was also wrongly understood. For example, based on the classical scholar Galen, medieval physicians considered the liver to be the place of blood production.

Excurse: Galens teaching of Humours
Galenos of Pergamon (129/131 – 200/215 a.C.) was a Greco-Roman physician and anatomist. His works were translated into the Arabic language. He influenced heavily both western Christian, eastern roman and Arabic medicine. He applied the teaching of humors to medicine. According to him there were four body fluids blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. If the four humors were in misbalance illnesses could result from that. Through diet, appropriate medication and bloodletting the body fluids could be brought into balance again.









Additionally, physicians generally had only had a rudimentary understanding of the internal anatomy. Knowledge of the anatomies resulted most probably from animal corpses, practical experience with wounds and from antique literature. Autopsies started in the western world only at the beginning of the Renaissance at the end of the 14th century. This is in contrast to the Eastern Roman Empire, where it is reported that in 1110 a contingent of Scandinavians that had taken up the cross fell ill in Constantinople. Autopsies were performed on the dead to clarify the cause of their death.

The medieval attitude to death was likewise different.

About 1/3 of the children born in the medieval west died before the age of five. Overall life expectancy varied significantly based on period, location and social strata a great deal. Based on archaeological and genealogical evidence it can be assumed that life expectancy was as low as 25-30 years during the medieval period. No exact data was available on the live expectancy in Outremer. 

In short, death was much more present in the medieval world than in the modern period. During the medieval period the average human had a strong belief in an afterlife and the later bodily resurrection of the dead. It was considered ideal to have a period of illness before death in order to prepare as a good Christian for death. A sudden unprepared death, in contrast, was considered something terrible.

Sources:

Mitchel, Piers D.  (2007) Medicine during the crusades, Cambridge University press
Tony Hunt (1999) The Medieval Surgery, Boydell & Brewer Inc
Edgington, S. (1994) Medical knowledge of the crusading armies: the evidence of Albert of Aachen and others. In M Barber, The Military Orders: Fighting for the Faith and caring for the Sick, (Aldershot, Ashgate)
Keda, B (1998) A twelfth century description of the Jerusalem Hospital, In H. Nicholson (ed.). The Military Orders. II Welfare and Warfare (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 3-26.

 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eleanor of Aquitaine on Crusade

“I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure and I damn near died of windburn, but the troops were dazzled.”
 Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 1967 film “The Lion in Winter” starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn.


As with most good historical fiction, there is more than a grain of truth to this fictional line from The Lion in Winter. Not only did Eleanor of Aquitaine take part in the Second Crusade, her role soon became  controversial and her participation precipitated a marriage crisis. Here is a summary of what happened.

In 1144, the crusader County of Edessa was overrun by the atabeg of Mosul, Zengi.  The news shocked Western Europe and Pope Eugenius III called for a new crusade. St. Bernard of Clairvaux enthusiastically took up the call, and at the pope’s bidding preached the crusade far and wide, including on Easter Sunday in Vezelay, Burgundy.  Here King Louis VII of France knelt before the abbot and took the cross to the thunderous cheers of his vassals and subjects. When he finished, his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, knelt beside him and likewise took the cross.

Eleanor did so as the Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitou – not as Queen of France. The importance of her gesture was to muster support among the barons and lords who owed her, but not Louis of France, homage.  However, Eleanor’s example inspired many other noblewomen to take the cross as well. 
When King Louis’ crusaders set forth on their crusade, the estimated 100,000 French included an unnamed number of ladies – or “amazons” as some liked to call them – determined to take part in the crusade themselves.  Far from being Eleanor’s “maids,” most of these women were the wives of noble crusaders, wealthy enough to afford horses and armor, since according to a Greek chronicler writing some fifty years after the event, they rode astride and wore armor.  They were also accompanied by servants and a great deal of baggage.
Depiction of Eleanor of Aquitaine in a German 12th century Manuscript
The first stages of this crusade went remarkably well, with the army making good progress.  Although accounts differ on the extent to which Louis was able to prevent pillaging and abuse of the civilian population along the route, it is clear that the French intention was to pay for provisions and leave the Christian populations in peace. Unfortunately, they were preceded by German crusaders under the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III that behaved so badly the French found all the cities closed to them, and the price for goods exorbitant.
Nevertheless, they reached Constantinople in comparatively good order, and while the common soldiers encamped outside the walls, the nobles, including Eleanor and her ladies, were introduced to the luxuries and splendors of the fabled Queen of Cities. They were lodged in palaces the like of which they had never seen before, feted and entertained. 
The news that the Byzantine Emperor had just concluded a 12 year truce with the Turks, however, cast serious doubts upon his reliability.  The mistrust of the Greeks only increased when the Byzantine Emperor tried to make Louis swear to turn over any territories his army conquered to the Emperor. Louis thought he had come to fight the Turks and restore Christian rule – not expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.  Nevertheless, Louis rejected calls by some of his advisors to capture Constantinople and depose the Greek emperor.  Instead he set out for Jerusalem determined to fulfill his crusading vow – and consult with the King of Jerusalem about further action.
The French crusaders advanced along the southern, coastal route at a leisurely pace until at the end of October they encountered deserters from the German crusade, who reported that the Turks had all but annihilated the Germans and now lay in wait for the French.  A few days later, the French caught up with what was left of the Germans, including Emperor Conrad, who was suffering from a head wound. Together Louis and Conrad’s crusaders followed the Mediterranean coast, finally reaching Ephesus in time for Christmas. Here, however, Conrad decided he was too ill to continue, so he and his nobles took ship back for Constantinople, while what was left of the foot soldiers continued with Louis’s army.
No sooner had the German Emperor departed, than adversity struck the French. Torrential rains lasting four days washed away tents, supplies, and many men and horses. After this catastrophe, Louis elected to strike out inland across the mountains, despite the absence of guides, in an attempt to reach Antioch as soon as possible.  This route, however, was not only through rugged terrain and along bad roads, but took the French where they were constantly harassed by Turkish skirmishers. By now, at the latest, the “gayness and the gilt” of Eleanor and her lady-crusaders (or amazons) were “all besmirched with rainy marching in the painful field.”
Disaster, however, did not overtake them until mid-January, when two Poitevin nobles in command of the van took fatal independent action.  They had been ordered to set up camp for the main army at a specific place, and Eleanor was sent with them. (Throughout the crusade, King Louis maintained separation from Eleanor in order not to be tempted to break his vow of chastity for the duration of the crusade.) When the main army reached the designated camp, however, they found it empty. The vanguard of Poitevins with the Queen had decided to move to a more attractive-looking spot down in the valley. The exhausted troops at the rear, including the King with Eleanor’s baggage train, could not possibly catch up and as darkness fell a large gap had opened between the Christian van and main force. The Turks quickly exploited the situation. They attacked the main force, killing Louis’ horse under him and some 7,000 crusaders before darkness fell, putting an end to the slaughter. Many in the army blamed Eleanor, because it was her vassals who had left the main French army in the lurch.
After this disaster, the French returned to the coast, now determined to continue the crusade by ship. They were without supplies, however, and soon reduced to eating their horses before what was left of Louis’ force finally reached Antalia on January 20, 1148.  Here they discovered it was impossible to find sufficient ships for the whole force at prices King Louis was willing to pay. Plague broke out in the crusader camp, decimating a force already on the brink of starvation. At this junction, King Louis VII (not to be confused with his namesake and future saint, Louis IX) abandoned his troops and took ship with his wife and nobles for Antioch. Abandoned by their king, some 3000 French crusaders are said to have converted to Islam in exchange for their lives and food.
Louis and Eleanor, meanwhile, arrived in Antioch. Antioch was a magnificent, walled city, which had been one of the richest in the Roman Empire. At this time it was inhabited by a mixed population of Greek and Armenian Christians ruled by a Latin Christian elite, headed by Raymond of Poitiers, the younger brother of Eleanor’s father, William Duke of Aquitaine. The language of the court at Antioch was Eleanor’s own langue d’oc, and the customs were likewise those of the Languedoc. Within a very short time, Eleanor and her uncle developed such rapport that the king became jealous and then suspicious. The clerical chroniclers are united in condemning Eleanor of forgetting her “royal dignity” – and her marriage vows.
The situation was aggravated by the fact that Raymond of Antioch thought the crusaders had come to restore Christian control over the county of Edessa – and so secure his eastern flank, but Louis thought he had come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and insisted on continuing to the Holy City, rather than following the Prince of Antioch’s military advice. At this junction, with Louis already jealous of Eleanor’s close relationship (sexual or not) with Prince Raymond, she announced that she – and all her vassals – would remain in Antioch, whether Louis went to Jerusalem or not. Since her vassals made up the bulk of what was left of the French forces, this was an effective veto. Louis threatened to use force to make her come with him as was his right as her husband. Eleanor retorted their marriage was invalid because they were related within the prohibited degrees and demanded an annulment. Louis responded by having her abducted in the middle of the night and carried away from Antioch by force. 
Although Eleanor then spent several months in Jerusalem while her husband’s crusade came to its final humiliating disaster outside Damascus, nothing is recorded of her activities.  Her influence on Louis and her role in the crusade was over. Furthermore, despite an attempt to patch up the marriage, after their return to France, the birth of a second daughter made a divorce a dynastic priority, paving the way for Eleanor to marry Henry of Anjou, the future King Henry II of England.
(Truly, fiction does not get better than facts like these!)
There are many biographies of Eleanor, I personally relied on Alison Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England, (London, Pimlico, 1999), and Amy Kelly’s Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, (Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press, 1950). There are innumerable novels about Eleanor. I have not read them all and the ones I did read, failed to do her justice, so I’ll refrain from a recommendation.

Eleanor’s Tomb at the Abbey of Fontevrault

Helena P. Schrader is the author of a number of books set in the Middle Ages. Her most recent series, a three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin a contemporary of both Eleanor, has to date won 8 literary accolades. 



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Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Crusader States

The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem


The first crusade re-established Christian rule over some parts of the Holy Land, notably Antioch and Jerusalem, but the Western knights and noblemen who finally made it to Jerusalem felt they had been betrayed by the Byzantine Emperor. Instead of returning the territory they had captured to Byzantine control, the crusaders established a series of independent states with Christian rulers: the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa, the County of Tripoli, and – most important – the Kingdom of Jerusalem. (Later, during the Third Crusade, the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus was also established, but that will be dealt with in a separate entry.)

Initially, these "kingdoms" were little more than Christian-controlled islands in an Islamic sea, separated from one another by large swaths of territory. Between 1099 and 1144 the Christians steadily increased their area of control -- in most cases giving the defeated Muslim defenders of cities and castles a safe-conduct after surrender. By 1144, the crusaders controlled the entire coastline of the Levant from south of Gaza to roughly Antalya. In short, the crusader kingdoms covered all of what is now Israel, most of modern Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria and Anatolia as well.

Likewise, initially there was only a tiny elite of Latin Christians, dependent economically on the local population composed predominantly of Melkite (both Greek and Arabic speaking), Jacobite, Maronite, and Armenian
Christians, with smaller populations of Jews, Samaritans, and Muslims. However, with the establishment of Christian control over the Holy Land a wave of immigration from Western Europe began. By 1180, an estimated 20% of the population was composed of settlers from the West – all speaking a variety of languages - including second and third generation immigrants descended from earlier settlers.


These "crusader states" were distinctly different from the feudal societies from which the founders of these states stemmed. To be sure, leaders of the First Crusade sought to recreate familiar structures and customs, but they had to adapt these to the unusual circumstances in which they found themselves. The result was a hybrid-society composed of diverse elements, many of which were found nowhere else in the medieval world.

In future entries, I will explore the following unique features of the crusader states: 1) the elected kingship and the role of the High Court; 2) the high status, power and independence of women, 3) the multi-cultural, multilingual native population; 4) the "sergeants" and settlers that  made up the backbone of the feudal army 5) the urban economy, 6) a rural economy based on trade,  7) the sophisticated administrative apparatus, 8) the complex legal system; 9) the militant orders, and last but certainly not least 10) the powerful, educated and independent knights.  

The Cloisters at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem: A Crusader Legacy
In my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin I endeavor to portray the crusader society as accurately as possible.



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