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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A History of the Crusades Vol. I: The First Crusade and the Foundations of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Volume 1) by Steven Runciman | LibraryThing

A History of the Crusades Vol. I: The First Crusade and the Foundations of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (Volume 1) by Steven Runciman | LibraryThing:

Steven Runciman in volume 1 of his History of the Crusades:The First Crusade and the Foundations of the Kingdom of Jerusalem describes an 11th century that witnessed massive movements of peoples and political reorganizations. The Byzantine and Latin churches had parted company in 1054. The Turks were causing great distress among pilgrims who could no longer make the journey to Jerusalem. Until that time the Byzantine Empire, which stretched from Lebanon to Austria to Italy, had maintained a very prosperous and peaceful empire through the use of chicanery and trickery. War was to be avoided: it represented a confession of failure. It was considered shameful, a violation of Christian principles and simply wholesale murder. Occasionally, it could be condoned if against infidels. Pope Urban II and Alexius I, the Byzantine emperor, both looked for a way to heal the great rift and as luck would have it the Turks gave them the excuse they needed. Alexius put in a call to the Council at Piazenza for soldiers to fight the infidel Turks. This played into Urban's hands. He was looking for a way to heal the wounds in the church but also to bring the East under domination of the Roman patriarch. He had become increasingly concerned about the cult of the warrior promoted by the Norman code of chivalry and barbarian heritage. The Crusade would be an ideal way to channel this bellicose activity into an endeavor he could dominate.

He got more than he bargained for. Urban had promised grants of land (with him as suzerain, of course) to crusaders who were successful in battle in the East. Not just soldiers responded to the call. Peter, the Hermit, who preached approaching apocalypse, famines and mass destruction, in 1094 led 20,000 ruffians and brigands on a rampage through Hungary toward Constantinople. At Semlin a dispute arose between the locals and the people's crusade: 4,000 Hungarians were killed. Alexius was worried. He had assumed the soldiers he had asked for would take the southern route and would be a disciplined army. When the People's Crusade finally arrived in Constantinople he moved them through as rapidly as possible. They continued killing everything in the way, mostly Greek Christians. Finally, they were tricked into an ambush by the Turks who killed thousands. The French, German and Italian princes, who arrived later, were more disciplined. When they arrived at Alexius' headguarters they were met graciously, but cautiously, and asked to swear allegiance to Alexius. Reluctantly, they agreed. Generally, they were awed by the immense wealth of the Byzantines not to mention their generally higher level of culture.

Problems of greed and politics arose immediately upon their departure for Jerusalem. At Antioch, following a long siege, the Franks took the city but instantly argued over who was to control it. 

In the meantime, Alexius who was dismayed by the Franks' miserable treatment of the native Greek Christians whose protector he officially was, opened negotiations with the Egyptian Fatimids, who then ruled Palestine and who generally had been quite tolerant of native Christians and Jews. The Fatimids offered safe conduct for all pilgrims, but the Crusaders by this time saw Jerusalem within their grasp.
In July of 1099 the city fell. The massacre which followed was to sour relations between Moslems and Latin Christianity for centuries. The Crusaders murdered everyone in Jerusalem. The Moslems had been willing to accept the Franks as just one more factor in the tangled political environment of the Middle East, but the slaughter in Jerusalem became proof to them of bloodthirsty Christian fanaticism. Treatment of local Christians who had been sent out of Jerusalem before its fall was not much better. Local priests were tortured to reveal where they had hidden sacred relics of the Cross (they were reluctant to turn them over to a foreign patriarch.)

After 4 years of struggle the First Crusade ended with the creation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem under the leadership of Baldwin of Bologne, a penniless French knight who was to be a good king, but the Crusade had sown the seeds of mischief which would generate the undying enmity of the Moslem world.

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