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Friday, September 30, 2016

Surrender of the Holy City - September 30, 1187

As dawn broke on September 30, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, residents and refugees alike, were facing almost certain slaughter. The city had been under assault for eight days, and on the night before the forces of Saladin had successfully undermined a stretch of the northeast wall roughly 30 meters long bringing it crashing down. Jerusalem was no longer defensible. Because the citizens had rejected an earlier offer of honorable terms, the Sultan had vowed to slaughter or enslave every man, woman and child in Jerusalem. But the expected slaughter did not take place. Was this evidence of the benevolence of Saladin? Yes and no. Saladin did allow himself to be persuaded not to carry out the promised slaughter, but this change of heart had more to do with the wiles of a Frankish baron than the benevolence of the Sultan. Below is the story of Jerusalem's surrender in 1187.

At a strategic level, the surrender of Jerusalem was the inevitable consequence of the devastating defeat of the feudal forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin three months earlier. That battle had left Jerusalem defenseless; all fighting men including the knights of the Temple and the Hospital had been called up to halt the invasion that ended in disaster at Hattin. As a result, the city itself was denuded of troops. Left behind in Jerusalem were non-combatants: women, children, the old and infirm, and the clergy. Furthermore, by the time Jerusalem surrendered, these civilian residents of Jerusalem had been joined by as many as sixty to eighty thousand refugees from other parts of the Kingdom overrun by Saladin’s troops. An estimated 100,000 Christians were in Jerusalem when it surrendered, predominantly women, children and clergy.

What is remarkable about the surrender of Jerusalem in 1187 was not that it surrendered under the circumstances, but that it did not surrender without a fight. Saladin had offered the inhabitants very generous terms. He said he did not want to risk damage to the holy sites in Jerusalem (as was nearly inevitable in an assault) and therefore offered to let the inhabitants leave peacefully with all their portable goods if they would surrender peacefully. But the anonymous “burgesses,” who represented the city of Jerusalem in the absence of any noblemen, refused. According to the Old French continuation of the Chronicle of William Tyre (widely believed to be based on first-hand accounts) the “burgesses” replied “if it pleased God they would never surrender the city.” Saladin the offered to leave the city alone for roughly six months if they promised to surrender the city at the end of that time, if no reinforcements had arrived. They still refused, saying again “if it pleased God they would never surrender that city where God had shed His blood for them.”[1] This was a clear commitment to martyrdom rather than surrender — perhaps not such a surprising sentiment from a city that at this time must have been dominated by clergy as they would have been the only men of “authority” (read noble birth and education) left in the city.

The "Dome of the Rock" erected over the rock on which Mohamed allegedly ascended into Heaven; it was this monument sacred to Islam that Saladin did not want to risk damaging in a siege and assault.
But Saladin did not enter Jerusalem over the corpses of “martyrs” and their families. He entered it peacefully after a negotiated settlement that ended a week of ferocious fighting.  Ibn al-Athir writes: “Then began the fiercest struggle imaginable; each side looked on the fight as absolute religious obligation. There was no need for a superior authority to drive them on... Every morning the Frankish cavalry made sorties to fight and provoke the enemy to battle; several of both sides fell in these encounters.”[2] 

Imad ad-Din’s report is (as always) even more melodramatic. According to him, “They challenged [us] to combat and barred the pass, they came down into the lists like enemies, they slaughtered and drew blood, they blazed with fury and defended the city, they fumed and burned with wrath, they drove us back…. They fought grimly and struggled with all their energy, descending to the fray with absolute resolution… they blazed and set fire to things…they made themselves a target for arrows and called on death to stand by them.”[3] 

Turning to Christian sources, the source considered by scholars the most authentic claims that: “The Christians sallied forth and fought with the Saracens…. On two or three occasions the Christians pushed the Saracens back to their tents.”[4] Women, children and clergy did that? For eight days?

Clearly this was not merely a fanatical but a well-organized defense, and the key to that is one man: Balian d’Ibelin. Balian, Baron of Ibelin, had been one of only four barons to escape the catastrophe at Hattin. At Hattin he had commanded the third largest contingent of troops after the King and the Count of Tripoli, and he, along with the Templars, had been charged with the thankless and gruesome task of commanding the rear-guard in a situation where it was under near continuous attack while on the march. The Templars suffered enormous losses during this march and we must assume that Ibelin did too. Certainly, when he broke out of the trap at Hattin it was with at most 3,000 infantry and a couple hundred knights.  These troops, however, he had led to Tyre. 

His presence in Jerusalem, however, was solitary — the result of a safe-conduct granted him by Saladin so that he could remove his wife and children to safety. The terms of the safe-conduct were that he go to Jerusalem unarmed and remain only one night. On arrival, however, the citizens of Jerusalem and particularly the Patriarch begged him to remain and take command of the defense. This he did.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Patriarch clearly recognized Ibelin’s value. He wasn’t just any baron, he was a man who had played a prominent role in the defeat of Saladin at Montgisard, and had fought at every major battle against Saladin since. Still, he was just one man. He brought not a single additional fighting man to the defense of Jerusalem, and -- on taking stock of what men he had in Jerusalem -- he discovered there was only one other knight in the entire city. This induced him to knight over eighty youths of “good birth,” which was undoubtedly a morale-booster to the individuals honored, but hardly a significant increase in the fighting strength of the defenders!

The Seal of Balian d'Ibelin's son John
So how did Ibelin put up such a ferocious and effective defense with women, children and clergy for 8 days?  We don’t know exactly, however, it is clear Ibelin must have had an exceptional organizational talent and also been a charismatic and inspirational leader. He would have had to organize civilians into improvised units, and then assign these units discrete tasks — whether it was defending a sector of the wall, putting out fires, or ensuring that the men and women doing the fighting were supplied with water, food and ammunition. Most astonishing, his improvised units not only repulsed assaults, they also sortied out several times, destroying some of Saladin’s siege engines, and “two or three times” chasing the Saracens all the way back to the palisades of their camp.

Ibelin must have relied heavily upon women in his defense of Jerusalem. The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre quotes the Patriarch of Jerusalem saying: “For every man that is in this city, there are fifty women and children.” [5] Furthermore, we know from sieges only a few decades later in the Languedoc (notably the siege of Toulouse in which Simon de Montfort was killed) that women could be very active in manning the walls. Unlike Victorian women, medieval women were not known for being delicate and prone to swooning. They were partners in crafts and trades, often had their own businesses, and when it came to this siege they understood perfectly what was at stake: their freedom.

Although hard to see in this medieval depiction, the siege engine that fired the fatal shot against Simon de Montfort was allegedly manned by women.
Notably, the Arab sources never acknowledge this simple fact. First of all, their own women were not in a position to contribute to the defense, so women manning siege engines, pouring boiling oil over the ramparts, or even exposing themselves to danger to bring men (strange men not their husbands, brothers or sons) water, food and ammunition was utterly inconceivable to them.  Secondly, it was considered dishonorable to be killed by a woman under any circumstances, so no one wanted to even contemplate this possibility; it would have disgraced the fallen. Instead, the Arab sources explained the surprisingly spirited and tenacious defense of Jerusalem to phantom survivors of Hattin. Imad ad-Din conjures up no less than “70,000 Frankish troops, both swordsmen and archers”[6] — a fantastic figure more than double the total Frankish army deployed (and destroyed) at Hattin!

After five days of futile assaults on the northwest corner of the city from the Gate of St. Stephen to David's Gates, Saladin had nothing but casualties to show for his efforts. He therefore redeployed opposite the northeast corner of the city. More important, he deployed sappers to undermine the walls.  The sappers were protected by heavy wooden roofs and platforms as well as covering fire. Within three days they managed to dig tunnels under the city walls, and on September 29 a segment of the northern wall roughly 30 meters long collapsed. Although the Christians managed to beat-back the initial assaults sent through the breach, by nightfall it was clear that the city was now no longer defensible.

That night, Ibelin led a last desperate sortie out of the Jehosaphat Gate, probably directed at Saladin’s own tent, which had been set up on the Mount of Olives. The sortie was easily repulsed. Ibelin had lost the battle and he knew it.

The next day, under a flag of truce Ibelin sought a parlay with Saladin. The Sultan met him outside the walls of the city, but flatly refused to negotiate. He reiterated his intention to take the city by storm. Indeed, while Ibelin and Saladin were speaking, the Sultan’s banners were planted on the northeast corner of the city, and Saladin pointed out that no one negotiated for a city he already possessed. 

Fortunately for the Christians in the city, the Sultan’s banners were tossed down again; Ibelin could retort that Saladin did not yet possess the city. Ibelin then played his only trump. He told Saladin that if the defenders knew they would be granted no mercy, then they would fight all the harder. Not just that, he said, they would slaughter their own families, the Muslim prisoners/slaves inside Jerusalem, and then they would destroy the holy places — including the Rock sacred to Islam — before sallying forth to kill as many of the enemy as possible before dying a martyr's death.

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Today; the Dome of the Rock is visible between the trees.
Saladin, who had already made his desire to preserve the holy places known, capitulated in face of this blackmail. After consulting with this emirs, he agreed to spare the lives of the Christians in Jerusalem, but only on the condition that they bought their freedom. After much haggling, it was agreed that each man would have to pay ten dinar, each woman five and each child two. Those that could not pay this ransom would become the property of the Sultan, slaves.

Ibelin protested that the city was full of refugees who had already lost everything. According to the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre he argued “In a city such as this there are only a few people apart from the burgesses who could manage [the ransom], and for every man who can pay the ransom there are a hundred who could not redeem themselves even for two bezants. For the city is full of ordinary people who have come from the surrounding area for protection.”[7] After considerable haggling, the Sultan agreed to a lump-sum payment of 30,000 bezants for (varying by source) between 7, 000 and 18,000 Christian paupers.

The Medieval Working-Class would have had difficulty paying the ransom set by Saladin. 
These 30,000 bezants were paid by the Hospital with the money deposited by King Henry II of England, but even so when the 40 days granted the Christians to raise their ransoms were up, some 15,000 Christians were unable to pay and condemned to slavery. Ibelin, appalled, offered to stand surety for them while the ransom was raised, but Saladin refused, although he did “give” 1,000 slaves to his brother and 500 each to Balian and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, so that 2,000 souls were freed at the last minute.

Allegedly, some Orthodox Christians also opted to pay the extra taxes imposed on Christians in Muslim states in order to remain in Jerusalem, but there is no indication that Orthodox Christians undermined the defense of Jerusalem itself. On the contrary, they appear to have contributed substantially to the defense of Jerusalem as long as the fighting was going on. Only after the city became indefensible as a result of the breach in the wall, did they seek a compromise with their assailants — a perfectly comprehensible reaction that does not imply fundamental hostility to the Latin rulers of Jerusalem.

On November 18, 1187, forty days after the surrender of Jerusalem, the Christians departed Jerusalem, leaving the city in Muslim hands. The news of the fall of Jerusalem allegedly killed Pope Urban III and so shocked the Christian kingdoms in the West that it set in motion the Third Crusade.

The siege and surrender of Jerusalem in 1187 is described in:

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[1] The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 55.

[2] Ibn al-Athir, translated and quoted in Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli, p. 140-141.

[3] Imad ad Din, translated quoted and translated in Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli, p. 154.

[4] Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 56.

[5] Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 58.

[6] Imad ad Din, translated quoted and translated in Arab Historians of the Crusades by Francesco Gabrieli, p. 154.

[7] Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, translated and quoted The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, by Peter Edbury, p. 60.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hygiene in the Crusader States: Of Baths, Aqueducts and Sewers

One of the most persistent myths about the Middle Ages is that people did not bathe regularly and went around dirty and stinking. This is demonstratively not true. The have published a good and lengthy post on the topic (Bathing in the Middle Ages), which provides a great deal of documentation and detail (such as Paris having 32 public baths in the 13th century and King Edward III installing taps for hot and cold running water in his palace at Westminster.) This entry is not intended to recount or compete with that or other sources, but rather focus on the unique traditions of "Outremer" or the Crusader States.

All the Crusader States established in the course and subsequent to the First and Third Crusades were in locations that had been under Greek influence since Alexander the Great at the latest. They had also been part of the Ancient and Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empires before coming under Arab and Turkish influence from the 7th to 11th centuries AD. This means that for the native population the predominant traditions with respect to personal hygiene came not from the Germanic tribes, Vikings or Celts, but from Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Arabia.

Whereas bathing in Western Europe is usually depicted in small, wooden tubs with curtains over them...

..the baths of any Roman town were gracious, spacious and elegant, often open to the skies in a series of atriums surrounded by colonnades.  They were public spaces in which men conducted business and politics. The baths of Turkey and Arabia, on the other hand, while darker and more inward-looking, nevertheless were sumptuous with domed roofs and elegantly furnished with marble floors, benches, and fountains. They were less important for business and politics but all the more important culturally because of the emphasis Islam places on personal cleanliness. Both the Greco-Roman and Arab/Turkish traditions shared the principle of having both hot rooms for steaming/sweating (like a sauna) and cold rooms for washing off. Both also integrated massages with fragrantly scented oils into the bathing experience.

When the crusaders arrived in Outremer they found a large number of functioning bathhouses, particularly of the later (Turkish/Arab) type, already in place. Far from scorning, abandoning, dismantling or altering their function, the Frankish settlers adopted them readily -- rather like ducks to water, one might say.  Indeed, they started building their own, and archaeologists have identified a number of Frankish baths. These include baths in the Hospitaller and Templar headquarters in Jerusalem, at or near the monastery on Mt. Zion, at Atlit, a bathhouse on the Street of Jehoshaphat near the convent of St. Anne, and another in the Patriarch's quarter. (For more details I recommend Adrian J. Boas' excellent works Jerusalem in the time of the Crusades and Crusader Archaeology.) 

The Frankish settlers in Outremer adopted some of the bathing customs as well. Thus, while men and women bathed jointly in Western Europe, they probably bathed separately (either in separate spaces or at different times) in Outremer, although this is not 100% certain. The crusaders certainly adopted the custom of massages with scented oils stored in lovely glass vessels produced locally.

It wasn't only the bathhouses that the Frankish settlers of Outremer inherited from their predecessors. They also inherited Roman aqueducts and sewage systems. The Greeks (both Ancient and Byzantine) and Romans were famous for building very sophisticated and extensive networks for bringing fresh water to the public fountains of their cities, often from many miles away. The Franks followed this example and built a number of their own. Thus while cities dating from the Roman period or earlier had Roman aqueducts that the crusaders merely needed to maintain, the construction of new castles, new towns or water-intensive industry such as sugar plantations, brought forth new aqueducts that clearly date from the crusader period.

In crusader times, the city of Caesarea was served by no less than three Roman aqueducts. All photo copyrights:
Likewise, the ancient cities were served by extensive (and again very solid and sophisticated) sewage systems. These consisted both of stone-faced drains and stone or pottery pipes. The Byzantines, for example, used pottery pipes to bring sewage down the outside of their residences from upper stories to underground sewage systems. Frankish castles had extensive latrines with sewers that emptied well below the level at which people lived. While rooftop cisterns and tanks provided the means to flush out these latrines with water (as we know castles in England did a hundred and fifty years later), the archaeological evidence is insufficient to verify the practice in the Holy Land. Archaeological evidence of highly sophisticated drainage systems to divert underground streams, however, have been uncovered, and the level of engineering skills available to the Frankish settlers of Outremer should not, therefore, be under-estimated.

To conclude, there may be a direct link between the hygienic conditions in Outremer and the hot-and-cold running water of Edward III and the Black Prince. The bulk of the crusaders, including Richard the Lionheart and Edward I of England, returned home, and by the time they went home they had probably become fond of the higher standards of hygiene enjoyed by the Frankish settlers -- the very standards that had induced the crusaders to ridicule the native "poulains" initially. (See Clash of Cultures)  The large number of crusaders returning particularly to France, Germany, and England may, in fact, explain the fact that Western Europe saw a flourishing of "bathhouse culture" in the 12th - 14th centuries. 

Throughout my Award-winning "Jerusalem" trilogy I endeavor to depict the lifestyle of the characters as realistically as possible.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Jerusalem Forgotten? The Struggle for the Holy City before the First Crusade

Jerusalem fell to invading Muslim forces in 638 AD. It was conquered by force of arms, not by gentle persuasion and enlightened preaching (as some modern commentators suggest) after a year long siege. It would be 1099 AD or 461 years before it was returned to Christian hands. That over four hundred year gap between the Muslim conquest and the Christian liberation has led  many to argue that 1) Christianity didn't really care all that much about Jerusalem, 2) after so  much time it has become a Muslim city, and so 3) the First Crusade was not defensive or liberating but rather offensive and aggressive. It is, therefore, worthwhile to look at that "461 year gap" and see what happened between the Muslim conquest and the Christian re-conquest of Jerusalem.

But first, let us recall just how Christian Jerusalem was.  First and foremost, of course, it was the site of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, and a small Christian population lived in the city from the time of Christ onwards. Admittedly, it remained a predominantly Jewish city, despite the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, until the Romans expelled the entire Jewish population after renewed insurrection in 135. 

Jerusalem was then rebuilt by Hadrian, given a new name (Aelia Capitolina) and Roman temples were built on the site of the old Jewish Temple and on the sites sacred to Christians. The objective was to humiliate Jews and Christians alike and, in the case of the Christians, to wipe out the association with Christ's life and certain sites. Furthermore, both Jews and Christians were expelled from Jerusalem and persecuted. Aelia Capitolina was a pagan city, and as such it was nothing more than provincial backwater of little importance to the Roman Empire.

All that changed after the Emperor Constantine came to the Imperial throne. His mother, Helena, was Christian, and she persuaded him to end the persecution of Christians in 313 and to allow her to make a pilgrimage to Palestine. She is credited with locating the sites of Christ's nativity, execution and resurrection. Little more than a decade later, a massive construction project was undertaken to turn Jerusalem into a major Christian capital. In 326 work began on two magnificent basilica: one in Bethlehem over the site of the nativity and the other in Jerusalem over the site of Christ's grave (the Holy Sepulcher).

For nearly 300 years thereafter, Jerusalem was one of the most important cities of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although unable to compete with Constantinople and Alexandria in terms of trade and industry, it was revered for its sacred traditions. Pilgrims flooded to the sacred sites providing a strong economic base that was reflected in construction of churches, monasteries, shops, inns and residences. The inhabitants of this revitalized city were primarily Christian, although Jews were allowed to return as well. The population exceeded 60,000 -- a very substantial population for this period.

In 614 disaster struck. A Persian army surrounded Jerusalem and took it after a 21 day siege. Aided by Jewish allies, the Persians slaughtered an estimated 26,500 Christian inhabitants and enslaved an additional 35,000. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was raised to the ground. In an ironic twist, the Church of the Nativity in nearby Bethlehem escaped destruction because the mosaic Adoration of the Magi over the portal depicted the Magi as Persian kings; the Persian troops stayed their hand out of respect for the "Persian" kings.

Thirteen years later in 627, Emperor Herakleios wrested control of Jerusalem back from the Persians after defeating them decisively at the Battle of Ninveh. The treaty following the battle required the Persians to withdraw from all conquered territories, including Palestine and so Jerusalem. Yet while Byzantine control over Jerusalem was thus restored, the destruction of the city's sacred monuments and the slaughter or enslavement of the inhabitants could not be so easily overcome. All the Emperor could do was start a rebuilding and resettlement program. In punishment for their role in the slaughter and destruction of the Christian population thirteen years earlier, however, the Jews were again expelled from Jerusalem and prohibited from entering.

Thus at the time of the Muslim conquest, the city was exclusively Christian. Furthermore, the fact that despite the terrible losses and destruction, the city held out for a whole year before surrendering to the armies of Caliph Omar I is a testimony to how vigorously the Christian defenders resisted the Muslim attack. In the end, they were too weak -- as was the entire Eastern Roman Empire. 

For the next three hundred years, Islam continued to expand -- by the sword. Indeed, within the next fifteen years alone Syria, Persia, Anatolia, Egypt and Libya fell. These loses crippled the economy of the Eastern Roman Empire, and in 655 the Byzantine navy was also effectively destroyed in a major engagement that left Constantinople incapable of providing support to the far-flung outposts of the Eastern Empire.  


The following year, however, the Shia-Sunni split led to the first civil war within the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) lasting from 656-661. At roughly the same time, Arab invaders encountered serious resistance from the Berbers in North Africa.  

By 678, however, the forces of Islam were again so powerful that they launched an assault on Constantinople itself. The Byzantines fought off the assault with the aid of their massive walls and the use of a new weapon which became known as "Greek fire" - a napalm-based substance that was delivered in pottery vessels that broke on impact resulting in fires that could not be extinguished by water. The attacking Arabs suffered such severe losses that they agreed to a thirty year truce in the wake of defeat. Constantinople was temporarily saved, but the Eastern Roman Empire was in no position to defend its remaining Mediterranean territories, much less undertake an offensive to regain what had been lost. In 698, the mighty (Christian) city of Carthage fell to the advancing Muslim forces and by 700 Islam was ready to turn its violent tactics of "conversion" on Western Europe. 

A Crusade-Era container for "Greek Fire." Photographic credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority
Attacks on Sicily and Sardinia are recorded as early as 704 and Corsica fell in 713. More important, of course, the invasion of the Iberian peninsula began in 711. By 720 the Muslims had forced the Christian defenders into the mountains of the northwest and, dismissing them as a no longer viable fighting force, crossed the Pyrenees to start subjecting the land of the Franks

In 732, outside of Tours, a Frankish army decisively defeated the invading Muslims in a desperate defensive battle. The Franks furthermore continued fighting the invaders, finally driving them back across the Pyrenees a generation later in 769. By 795 Charlemange had taken his forces over the Pyranees to assist the Spanish Christians in regaining their territories as well. The Reconquista had begun. In short, in the 8th century Western Christians joined Eastern Christians in opposing the brutal invasions conducted against them in the name of Islam. 

Meanwhile, Constantinople as still fighting for its very survival. In 717 a new Muslim force by land and sea appeared outside of Constantinople and a year-long siege ensued. After a desperate fight, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire fought off the besiegers, but it remained mired in a struggle for survival. There could be no thought of freeing something as distant as Jerusalem when Anatolia was constantly raided and plundered. It was not until 740 that the Byzantine victory at Acroinon provided the Eastern Roman Empire with a degree of security in the Anatolian heartland. 

The Byzantine victory at Acroinon notably coincided with a general decline in the power and strength of the Umayyad dynasty, which was also beset with problems on its eastern frontiers. This allowed the Eastern Roman Empire to at last start a "reconquista" of its own. In 746, Constantinople regained control of Syria and Armenia, but already by 781 the Byzantines were again on the defensive. For the next half century, the Byzantine Empire was locked in yet another bitter struggle in Anatolia

Meanwhile Arab rule of the conquered Christian territories from Syria to Spain was characterized by brutality, oppression and humiliation for their majority Christian subjects.  (See The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.) The small Arab elite ruled initially over populations that were overwhelmingly Christian. Due to the burdensome taxes, humiliations and oppression, however, more and more people chose to abandon their faith for the sake of economic gain. Yet conversion is a far slower process than invasion and occupation. To this day, even after 1,400 years of Muslim rule, there are significant Christian minorities in Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. Historians estimate that after four hundred years of occupation the inhabitants of formerly Christian territories was still roughly half Christian.

The plight of the oppressed Christians population (whether majority or large minority) remained, therefore a motivation for the recovery of lost territory and by the mid-9th century, the Eastern Roman Empire had recovered sufficient strength to launch a sustained "reconquista." In 853 Constantinople sent a fleet to attack Damietta in the Nile Delta. Thereafter, despite some setbacks, the Byzantines continued to regain lost territory right through the middle of the next century. In 943 they liberated Mesopotamia with its overwhelmingly Christian Armenian population. In 961 they recovered Crete and in 965 Cyprus. In 969 Antioch was at last freed from Muslim rule and Aleppo offered tribute to Constantinople to avoid a similar fate. 

The recovery of Jerusalem now seemed possible, and Constantinople was determined to regain this most sacred of all Christian cities. A series of campaigns were launched that systematically recovered the coast of the Levant including Beirut, Sidon, Tiberias and Nazareth. Acre and even Caesarea were returned to the Eastern Empire, but Jerusalem remained just out of reach. As the tenth century came to a close, the Byzantines lost momentum and their attempt to regain their lost territories faltered.

What followed was the worst phase yet for subject Christians in Palestine. The new and powerful Shia Fatamid Caliphate pushed back their Sunni rivals and took control of Palestine, including Jerusalem. The Caliph al-Hakim, who ruled from 996-1021, persecuted Christians and Jews and destroyed what was left of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

In the West, however, the set-backs had started sooner. In 827 the Muslim conquest of Sicily commenced and although it would take until 902 to complete it would eventually be successful. Meanwhile, in 837 a Muslim army had landed on the Italian mainland, ironically at the request of the Duke of Napes who wanted help in his squabbles with his local enemies. Throughout the rest of the century, the various Italian cities remained divided among themselves and all too ready to accept Muslim assistance, which in turn opened the doorway to Muslim mercenaries sacking, pillaging and pirating from bases in Italy. In 846 Rome itself was attacked by a Muslim raiding force and the basilica of St. Peter was looted but not destroyed.  

When three years later a larger Muslim fleet set out to attack Rome again, however, it was met by a combined Christian fleet that defeated it. What followed, however, was not peace but rather a long struggle for control of the Italian mainland. Indeed, the Muslims succeeded in establishing a base for raiding on the coast of Provence at La Garde-Freinet in about 888. While neither the raids from Italy or the base in Provence were comparable to the great Muslim conquests of the 7th century, they posed a menace to travel and trade and kept Western Christendom on the defense.

This did not end until 915 when an alliance of Roman and Byzantine forces drove the last Muslim strongholds off the Italian mainland. For a time, however, the Muslims continued to raid the Italian coastal cities. In 934/35 Genoa was sacked, its male population massacred and the women and children carried off into slavery. Pisa beat off attacks in 1004, 1011, and 1012. Four years later, Salerno came under siege and was only rescued by a band of Normans -- notably on an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

It was only now, at the start of the 11th century, that the tide began to turn in favor of the Christians in the West. The Italian city states were gaining sufficient wealth to finance stronger defenses. In 1034, the Pisans launched an attack on Muslim North Africa. A generation later the Pisans again raided Muslim territory, this time Palermo in 1062 and 1063. Finally, in 1087, a combined force raised from Pisa, Genoa, Rome and Amalfi struck at the main base for many Muslim pirate attacks on Italian ships and cities: Mahdia in what is now Tunisia. The expedition was so successful that it enabled the victors to free prisoners, obtain huge reparations payments, and gain trading privileges. Most important, after the raid on Mahdia, Muslim attacks on Italy ceased almost entirely.

But just as the Western Christians were gaining strength again, the Eastern Roman Empire underwent a new crisis. The Seljuk Turks had converted to Islam and with the passion of the newly converted and the skills of nomadic warriors they set about establishing their domination over Syria and then turned on Armenia, Cilicia, and the Levant, driving the Byzantines out, before striking at Anatolia. The Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes assembled his forces and rushed to the defense of this vital heartland -- only to be decisively defeated on August 26, 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert. Shortly afterwards the embattled Byzantines started sending appeals for help to the apparently now stronger West. That aid would, a quarter century later, materialize in the form of what we have come to call the First Crusade.

In summary, Christendom did not "wait" four hundred years to respond to the loss of Jerusalem. On the contrary, throughout the four hundred years between the fall of Jerusalem in 638 and the First Crusade in 1095, Christendom had been fighting perpetually -- and often desperately -- for its very survival. The First Crusade was not "late" response to the fall of Jerusalem, but rather the first viable -- and even so highly risky and audacious -- attempt to retake the city of Christ's passion that had never, for a single day, been forgotten by Christendom.

Knowing the history of Jerusalem is useful in understanding the thinking and attitudes of people in the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem -- the context of my "Jerusalem" trilogy.

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