Thursday, July 25, 2019

Byzantium and the Crusades Part III: Detente and Defeat




It is easy to conceive of the crusades as a conflict between Latin Christian West and the Muslim Middle East, forgetting that between these two geographic/

religious groupings was the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. Yet the latter both triggered the crusades and became a victim of them. Today I continue my four-part series on the complex role played by Byzantium in the era of the crusades by looking at the reign of Manuel I Comnenus and the Third Crusade. 

Manuel I and his second wife, Maria of Antioch

Manuel I Comnenus reigned from Constantinople for nearly 40 years from 1143 to 1180 and has gone down in Byzantine history as a great monarch. During his reign, the Byzantine Empire continued to flourish economically and artistically, while also maintaining its political position despite some setbacks and defeats.




At his ascension, Manuel inherited the by now traditional suspicion of the crusaders and their motives of his predecessors. His attitude was reinforced by the indiscipline and reprehensible behavior of some German elements during the Second Crusade. The Byzantines responded with open hostility that escalated into armed clashes -- right up to the gates of Constantinople itself. Yet eventually Conrad III and, after his arrival, Louis VII of France were able to reason with Manual. Their differences were settled, and Manuel concluded an alliance with Conrad III aimed at the Normans of Sicily.


Conrad III and Louis VII arrive at Constantinople during the Second Crusade

Relations between Constantinople and the Latin West suffered a renewed setback, however, when Reynald de Châtillon invaded Cyprus and engaged in an orgy of savagery including the mutilation of prisoners, extortion, rape, pillage, and destruction. Although Châtillon was condemned by the Latin Church and the King of Jerusalem, his behavior only reinforced existing Byzantine prejudices against the Latin Christians as “barbarians.” Manuel responded by collecting a large army and marching on Antioch. Châtillon had no allies. The King of Jerusalem explicitly encouraged Manuel to teach Châtillon a lesson. Châtillon chose submission and met Manuel barefoot and bareheaded with a noose around his neck to symbolize his submission to the Byzantine Emperor.



This event appears to have been a turning point in Manuel’s policies toward the crusader states. At the latest from this time forward, Manuel adopted “crusader rhetoric” in his communications with the West and in official statements. That is, rather than retaining a disdainful distance from the notion of crusading, Manuel embraced the cause as worthy. While this may reflect acknowledgment that the crusades had done some good by restoring most of the Holy Land to Christian control, it was probably also an attempt to regain the initiative for Constantinople.  


King Amalric of Jerusalem and his Byzantine Queen, Maria Comnena

Manuel's new policies included a series of marriage alliances with key crusader dynasties. Two of his nieces married successive Kings of Jerusalem, Theodora married Baldwin III and Maria married Amalric I. His son was married to the daughter of King Louis VII of France. His daughter married a son of the powerful North Italian family of Montferrat. Most important, following the death of his empress, Manuel himself married Maria, the daughter of the Prince of Antioch. Manual’s marriage offensive was most likely a conscious attempt to civilize and subtly influence policy in Western courts, particularly the Kingdom of Jerusalem.




Manuel's emphasis on cultural influence is further evidenced by the substantial resources he devoted to the restoration of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and contributions to the decoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Particularly in the reign of Amalric I, art historians detect increased Byzantine influence on architecture, illumination and other art forms.


Mosaic Tiles at the Church of the Nativity

More obvious and more direct was a willingness on the part of Manual to ransom prominent crusader lords languishing in Muslim captivity. Ransoming prominent prisoners naturally created ties of gratitude, while also serving as magnificent public relations gestures that earned respect and admiration from the public at large. Thus Manuel ransomed even his arch-enemy Reynald de Châtillon, as well as Bohemond III of Antioch and, in one of the more dramatic and significant actions, paid a king’s ransom (literally) for Baldwin d’Ibelin, the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel. (For more on the significance of this event see: https://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com/2018/07/the-house-of-ibelin-baldwin-proud.html)



The most important feature of Manuel’s co-operative policies with the crusader states, however, were the series of joint military operations initiated during the later years of his reign. These included action against Nur ad-Din in 1158-59 and an invasion of Egypt in 1167-68.



The reward for his change in tone and substance was the acknowledgment of Byzantine suzerainty over all the crusader states during a state visit by King Amalric (and his Byzantine Queen Maria Comnena) to Constantinople in 1171. Yet in this moment of triumph over the “barbarians” Manuel also made a fatal miscalculation. In 1171, apparently in response to growing popular discontent over Venetian privileges and increasing wealth, Manuel ordered the simultaneous arrest of all the Venetians resident in his Empire and the confiscation of their property. 


The move reflected Byzantine hubris: the confidence that the Venetians would never be able to take revenge for this arbitrary act. Certainly, the initial attempt by the Venetians to send a fleet to free their captives met with defeat. It would take 33 years before the Venetians would have their revenge, but when it came it would surpass the worst nightmares of the Byzantines.

Meanwhile, Manuel died in 1180 and was initially succeed by his eleven-year-old son Alexios. The government fell to his widow, Maria of Antioch. However, she was not popular, and her policies, which favored the other  Italians, who had flooded to fill the vacuum left by the expulsion of the Venetians, earned her even more hostility. The anti-Western faction in the capital found an ally in the ambitious uncle of the late Manuel I. In April 1182, Andronikos entered Constantinople and the mob was set loose on the Latin population. According to Charles M. Brand in his history Byzantium Confronts the West, 1180-1204, (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1968): 
The populace turned on the merchants, their families, and the Catholic monks and clerics who lived in the crowded quarters along the Golden Horn…When the mobs attacked, no attempt at defense was made. The crowds raced through the streets seeking Latins. The choicest victims were the helpless: women and children, the aged and the sick, priests and monks. They were killed in streets and houses, dragged from hiding places and slaughtered. Dwellings and churches full of refugees were burned, and at the Hospital of the Knights of St. John, the sick were murdered in their beds.  The clergy were the particular objects of the crowd’s hatred. The head of the pope’s emissary, Cardinal John, was cut off and dragged through the streets on the tail of a dog….The Orthodox clergy took the lead in searching out concealed Latins to deliver to the killers.




Maria of Antioch was deposed and, for a brief period, Andronikos ruled with Manuel’s son Alexios II. During this period, Alexios was forced by Andronikos to sign his mother’s execution order. In Oct. 1183, Alexios was strangled on the orders of Andronikos, who assumed sole power. Just two years later, in Sept. 1185, Andronikos was himself deposed and tortured to death by a mob in Constantinople.



His successor, Isaac II Angelos, was in a precarious situation that precluded the pursuit of clear policy. Already in 1187, he faced a rebellion from one of his most successful generals, Alexios Branas, and only months later was taken by surprise by the devasting Christian defeat at Hattin and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem. Significantly, however, his brother was at Saladin’s court at this time and Isaac promptly started negotiations with the Sultan. Historian Michael Angold notes: 

This represented a clear break with Comnenian policies. There were many in the Byzantine administration…who were critical…. [However,] once it became clear that reviving Manuel Comnenus’s policy of entente with the crusader states was impractical — largely because of the loss of Cyprus — an understanding with Saladin was the most effective way of protecting Byzantine interests in Anatolia, where Saladin could bring his influence to bear on the Seljuqs of Rum. [Angold, 297.]




From cooperation with Saladin to opposition to the Third Crusade was a small step. Isaac initially wanted to prevent the German crusaders under the leadership of Frederick Barbarossa from passing through his territories altogether. He appears to have reverted to the earlier pattern of assuming the “real” reason for the crusade was to overthrow him and seize Constantinople rather than restore Christian control of the Holy Land.


Frederick Barbarossa
Isaac’s anti-crusader policy met with serious opposition within his own government, and when Isaac proved incapable of countering Barbarossa’s superior military capabilities, Isaac was forced to modify his policies. Yet the combination of his treaty with Saladin and his initial attempts to prevent the passage of the German crusaders fueled Latin suspicions of the Byzantines. Increasingly the “Greeks” were seen as duplicitous, treacherous, and cowardly. Fatally, Western sentiment turned decisively against Byzantium at a time with the Empire lacked competent, popular and entrenched leadership.



Next week I will conclude this four-part series with a look at the Fourth Crusade and its aftermath.


Sources and recommended reading:

Angold, Michael, “The Fall of Jerusalem (1187) as Viewed from Constantinople,” in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 289-309.

Chrissis, Nicolaos, “Byzantine Crusaders: Holy War and Crusade Rhetoric in Byzantine Contacts with the West (1095-1341),” in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 259-277.

Papayianni, Aphrodite, "Memory and Ideology: The Image of the Crusades in Byzantine Historiography, Eleventh - Thirteenth Centuries," in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 278-288.

Wright, Chris, "On the Margins of Christendom: The Impact of the Crusades on Byzantium," in ed. Conor Kostick (London: Routledge, 2011), 55-82.


Balian d'Ibelin married a Byzantine princess and their sons retained an exceptional appreciation of Byzantium's role in the Eastern Mediterranean.


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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick and the barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Byzantium and the Crusades Part II: A Horde of Barbarians


It is easy to conceive of the crusades as a conflict between Latin Christian West and the Muslim Middle East, forgetting that between these two geographic/

religious groupings was the Orthodox Byzantine Empire. Yet the latter both triggered the crusades and became a victim of them. Today I continue my four-part series on the complex role played by Byzantium in the era of the crusades by looking at the Byzantine role in and reaction to the First and Second Crusades.





As almost every student of the crusades knows, it was the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Comnenus who ignited the crusading movement by sending an appeal for aid to Pope Urban II. The request that reached the West in 1095 was a response to increased pressure on the Eastern Roman Empire’s eastern frontiers. The Seljuk Turks had converted to Islam and with the passion of the newly converted and the skills of nomadic warriors had set about establishing their domination over Syria and then turned on Armenia, Cilicia, and the Levant, driving the Byzantines out, before striking at Anatolia. In 1071, the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes had assembled the military forces of his empire and marched to the defense of this vital heartland -- only to be decisively defeated on August 26 at the Battle of Manzikert.  

In the quarter century that followed, the idea that Western (barbarian) Christians might be able to assist the Empire in its struggle with the Turks had gained popularity. After all, the Byzantine Emperors were familiar with the fighting qualities of many of the Western “barbarians” because they employed Norse, Norman, English and Frankish mercenaries in the Varangian Guard, the personal body-guard of the Emperors. The Byzantines had also had the less than pleasant experience of clashing with the Normans over control of Southern Italy and Sicily. While these encounters increased their contempt for the Normans as barbarians, it also convinced them of the value of the Normans as fighters.  




What the Byzantine Emperor had in mind when he requested aid from the West was the recruitment of several hundred trained knights to serve as mercenaries in the Byzantine army. The Emperor planned and expected to place these trained fighting men strictly under the control and command of Byzantine authorities. What he got, as everyone knows, was tens of thousands of undisciplined, amorphous “armed pilgrims” (an oxymoron in Byzantine tradition). The Byzantine government and administration were overwhelmed, baffled and ultimately frightened of the monster they had created.



Byzantine sources reveal a sense of horror at the sheer numbers of “crusaders” that suddenly descended upon them. Sources described them as “a crowd as innumerable as grains of sand and the stars” or “like rivers which, flowing from all directions…came against our [lands]” and “beyond count.” The daughter of the ruling Emperor, Anna Comnena, writing decades after the First Crusade (that she had personally witnessed) that “the whole of the West and all the barbarian races who had inhabited the land beyond the Adriatic” descended on her homeland. [Anna Commena, trans. Aphrodite Papayianni, 283-284.] 


Yet nearly as terrifying as their numbers was the character of these “pilgrims.” Particularly shocking was the presence of women and children among the “pilgrims.” Because the Byzantines had requested military support, they expected trained soldiers. Because they did not have a secular tradition of pilgrimage, they did not understand why women or children would want to undertake a long and perilous journey. Because they did not see Jerusalem as central to Christianity (now that it had been replaced by the New Jerusalem, Constantinople), they could not fathom the emotional appeal of Jerusalem for Latin Christians.  



Added to the bewilderment about the nature of the crusaders themselves was confusion -- and ultimately disgust -- at the lack of unified command. The Byzantine Empire was still a highly centralized and hierarchical state. All power derived from the Emperor, even the church was no competitor and challenger to secular authorities as in the West. Byzantine armies had traditions reaching back to the legions of ancient Rome. Although in this period the army had been newly reorganized under Alexios I, the basis of this army remained proud professional and disciplined units. The Byzantines retained from the Roman past clear command structures, ranks, and regiments — units of a specified size (e.g. 10, 50, 100, 300, 500). 




The crusaders, in contrast, were what leading crusades historian Prof. Thomas Madden called “a loosely organized mob of soldiers, clergy, servants, and followers heading in roughly the same direction for roughly the same purposes. Once launched, it could be controlled no more than the wind or the sea.” [Thomas Madden, The Concise History of the Crusades, 10. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.] There was no overall commander. There were no organized units. Even those bodies of men associated with one another through kinship and vassalage could be any size from a handful to scores and all remained volunteers on pilgrimage for the benefit of their individual soul, not soldiers under orders.



It is hardly surprising that when confronted with this flood of undisciplined, disorganized armed pilgrims engaged in an incomprehensible undertaking that the Byzantines became unnerved. The irrational always triggers suspicion in humans, and so, unable to believe that these disorganized and undisciplined barbarian hordes could really hope to regain Jerusalem, the Byzantines concluded that the real intention of these masses descending on them was the capture of Constantinople itself!




Thus, Anna Comnena wrote in her history: “to all appearances, they were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; in reality, they planned to dethrone Alexius and seize the capital.” [Wright, 61] A Byzantine historian writing about the Second Crusade (1147-1159) likewise claimed: “…the whole western array had been set in motion on the handy excuse that they were going to cross from Europe to Asia and fight the Turks en route and … seek the holy places, but truly to gain possession of the Romans’ land by assault and trample down everything in front of them.” [Wright, 62]



The fact that the crusaders failed to take Constantinople and, in fact, did continue on to the Holy Land where they captured Jerusalem, established independent states and continued to fight the Saracens for the next two hundred years was attributed (conveniently) to the brilliance of Byzantine policy. The Byzantine court patted itself on the back for deflecting the crusaders from their evil intents and successfully diverting their energies to the conquest of Muslim-held territory. 




Indeed, the actual conquest of Jerusalem not only failed to assuage suspicions but rather created new problems. On the one hand, the Byzantine Emperors claimed all the lands conquered by the crusaders as their own since it had once been part of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Furthermore, the Byzantine Emperors as (in their eyes) the Head of the Christian Church claimed to be the protectors of the Holy Sepulcher. As the crusaders were understandably unwilling to recognize the claims of the Byzantine emperors to their conquests (won with hard fighting, blood, and casualties) and equally unwilling to recognize the primacy of the Orthodox Church over their own, the Byzantine suspicions of the western “barbarians” only increased.



The tragedy was that Byzantine suspicions of the crusaders turned into a self-fulling prophesy. In the first century of crusading, Byzantine emperors so frequently hampered or harassed crusaders that sentiment in the West turned increasingly hostile to the “Greeks” (as the Latin Christians called the Byzantines). The history of tension and broken promises as seen from the crusaders’ perspective made the assault against Constantinople possible. Yet, that nadir in Latin-Orthodox relations was preceded by a period of relative cooperation which I will look at next week.




Sources and recommended reading:

Angold, Michael, “The Fall of Jerusalem (1187) as Viewed from Constantinople,” in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 289-309.

Chrissis, Nicolaos, “Byzantine Crusaders: Holy War and Crusade Rhetoric in Byzantine Contacts with the West (1095-1341),” in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 259-277.

Papayianni, Aphrodite, "Memory and Ideology: The Image of the Crusades in Byzantine Historiography, Eleventh - Thirteenth Centuries," in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 278-288.

Wright, Chris, "On the Margins of Christendom: The Impact of the Crusades on Byzantium," in ed. Conor Kostick (London: Routledge, 2011), 55-82.


Balian d'Ibelin married a Byzantine princess and their sons retained an exceptional appreciation of Byzantium's role in the Eastern Mediterranean.


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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick andthe barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Byzantium and the Crusades Part I: The Real Rome


It is easy to conceive of the crusades as a conflict between Latin Christian West and the Muslim Middle East, forgetting that between these two geographic/

religious groupings was the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. Yet the latter both triggered the crusades and became a victim of them. In a four-part series, I look briefly at the complex role of Byzantium in the crusades, staring today with a look at the Byzantine perspective of the world on the eve of the crusades.




Despite its near ubiquitous use, the term “Byzantine Empire” to describe the powerful state that at one time controlled the Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, and North Africa is an anachronism. The term was not used until after the demise of this once great empire. During the roughly one thousand years of its existence (ca. 330 to 1453), the residents of the “Byzantine Empire” called themselves “Romans” and the “Byzantine” Emperors viewed themselves as the legitimate successors of the Roman Emperors. Emperor Constantine I (Roman Emperor 306 – 337) had moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to a city he built on the Bosporos, straddling the straits to have a foothold in both Europe and Asia. He named his new capital after himself: Constantinople.

Constantine I as Founder of Constantinople
Roughly half a century later, in 395 AD, the Emperor Theodosius divided the Roman Empire into two parts.  All of Western and Central Europe and the eastern parts of North Africa fell to the “Western Empire” ruled from Rome, while most of the Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, and Egypt composed the “Eastern Empire” ruled from Constantinople. However, the Western Empire was at this time very weak and in 404 the capital was moved from Rome to Ravena. In 476 AD, the last Western Roman Emperor was deposed, making the Emperor in Constantinople the sole successor to the traditions, glory, and heritage of the entire Roman Empire.
 

Seen from Constantinople, the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne in 800 AD was not a legitimate “revival” of the Western Roman Empire. First, the Orthodox Church did not recognize the authority of the Pope to crown Emperors, and second Charlemagne was himself a Frank — i.e. he was a barbarian, not a Roman. 

Charlemagne by Albrecht Duerer
The Byzantine categorization of all peoples who were not subject to Constantinople as “barbarians” was a fundamental feature of Byzantine identity that shaped and colored all their policies and interactions. To the Byzantine elite, the Kings of France and England and the Holy Roman Emperors were no less uncivilized barbarians than the sultans of Damascus and the Atabegs of Aleppo. The former were only slightly better for being Christian barbarians rather than Muslim barbarians.



Thus, even in the 12th century, during a period of (rare) accord between Constantinople and the crusader states, the Byzantine Emperor could describe the Latin Christians as “Barbarian peoples whose way of life is entirely incompatible with our own. Their gaze is scarcely human, while ours is full of humanity; our speech is agreeable, while theirs is harsh and garbled. They are all armed and … bloodthirsty … while we are peaceful and compassionate and refuse to carry weapons needlessly, not being in thrall to Ares.” [Manuel Comnenus, trans. Michael Angold, 291.]



Added to this profound sense of cultural superiority came to the religious belief that Constantinople — not Rome or Jerusalem — was the center of the Christian world and that the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire was the head of the Church. Thus, the authority of the Pope was nil in Constantinople, where the patriarchs of the Eastern Church were more beholden to the Emperor than the other way around. In the eyes of the “Romans” living in the “Roman Empire,” Constantinople was not only the new Rome, it was also the new Jerusalem since it as here that the Head of the Church resided and ruled, surrounded by sacred relics displayed in the Pharos chapel in the Imperial district of the city.


Agia Sophia, Constantinople/Istanbul
With Constantinople the center of the Christian world, the role of Jerusalem became increasingly secondary in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Even when Jerusalem was a component part of the Byzantine Empire, there was no strong tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Although for devout Latin Christians the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was viewed as the ultimate pilgrimage long before the era or the crusades, for Eastern Orthodox Christians a “pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to a large extent the preserve of ascetics."  [Angold, 291.]


If the tradition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem was rare, the concept of Holy War was an outright alien. As Nikolaos Chrissis explains: “…in Byzantine thought there was an emphasis on peace, while war was not seen as meritorious or glorious in itself but rather as a necessary evil, a last resort if all efforts at peace had failed.” [Chrissis, 261.] The Orthodox Church resisted recognizing soldiers who died defending Christendom as martyrs and even questioned whether soldiers shouldn’t be excluded from communion for three years “since their hands were not clean.” [Chrissis, 261.] While the attitudes of the Orthodox clergy toward soldiers defending Christians and Christendom softened over time as the threat became ever greater, still Orthodox Christianity never produced militant religious orders similar to the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights.



All these attitudes combined to make misunderstandings and tensions between the Eastern Roman Empire and the crusaders inevitable. Next week I look at how those conflicts manifested themselves in the early crusades and the first half of the 12th century.


Sources and recommended reading:

Angold, Michael, “The Fall of Jerusalem (1187) as Viewed from Constantinople,” in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 289-309.

Chrissis, Nicolaos, “Byzantine Crusaders: Holy War and Crusade Rhetoric in Byzantine Contacts with the West (1095-1341),” in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 259-277.

Papayianni, Aphrodite, "Memory and Ideology: The Image of the Crusades in Byzantine Historiography, Eleventh - Thirteenth Centuries," in The Crusader World, ed. Adrian Boas (London: Routledge, 2016), 278-288.

Wright, Chris, "On the Margins of Christendom: The Impact of the Crusades on Byzantium," in ed. Conor Kostick (London: Routledge, 2011), 55-82.



Balian d'Ibelin married a Byzantine princess and their sons retained an exceptional appreciation of Byzantium's role in the Eastern Mediterranean.


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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her current series describes the civil war in Outremer between Emperor Frederick and the barons led by John d'Ibelin the Lord of Beirut. Dr. Schrader is also working on a non-fiction book describing the crusader kingdoms. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com