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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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July 15 1099 – one of the great days in history. Jeru-salem retaken.

Book summary: “The First Crusade, 1096-1099”, by David Nicolle.

by Ferdinand III








In his book The First Crusade 1096-1099: Conquest of the Holy Land, David Nicolle, a mid-East scholar and writer, displays a great depth of knowledge about Crusading history. It a book worth reading for one simple fact: Nicolle argues persuasively and correctly that the Crusades and in particular the First, were a success and that they marked a major realignment in European consciousness and in world geo-political competition.

The First Crusade is the expression of European confidence, wealth, power and economic-military sophistication. It was not just a march of religious zealots in the name of Christ to reconquer the Jewish spiritual capital. It was a display of European ingenuity, courage and talent in response to 400 years of Muslim predations, carnage, conquests and domination of the Mediterranean world. It was a display of self confidence long since lost in a Europe mired in relativity, self-loathing and with a distaste for reality.

In a mere 120 years Muslim armies had swept across North Africa and conquered Spain, Portugal, parts of Italy, pieces of the Balkans, with Arab navies even trying to invest the largest city in the world at that time, the Christian epiphany of Constantinople. The Mediterranean had become a Muslim dominated sea. After the Turks – originally mercenaries from Central Asia used in Arab armies to conquer parts of Asia - converted to the cult of Mohammed in the 9th century, there was a resurgence in Muslim ferocity, expansion, and war making.

As Nicolle relates a Western response to Muslim imperialism was long overdue. Not only had the Muslim or Moslem appropriated all the Christian, Jewish and Greek lands in the middle East, North Africa and even in Europe, but they dominated Mediterranean trade from East to West, including valuable raw materials, cereals, minerals and manufactured items. There was a cost of living impact to having the Muslim squat on, and tax key trade routes. Even more important was the true temporal threat of maurading Islam. The Seljuk Turks recent converts to Islam, migrated West from the Asian steppes and in 1071 inflicted a monumental defeat on the poorly led armies of Byzantium at Manzikert. Shortly there-after the Turks conquered Jerusalem and the Levant, which impeded Christian trade, travel and made a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem almost impossible.

The Turks of course viewed the Muslim Arabs as effeminate and lazy. For the Turk, the Arab conception of Islam was not pure or fundamental enough. The Arabs were happy to squat on superior cultures and civilisations and after 350 years of imperialism were content to enjoy the fruits of their warring. The Turks were imbued with a more missionary zeal. Islam was to dominate all of Europe and indeed the world, led by Turkish armies.

It was clear to the Byzantians that their shrunken empire would not long persist. So a call went out from East to West for help. Pope Urban II's call to arms at the Synod of Clermont (1095) was the response and it was a clear message that a Crusade was vital to defeat the invading Muslim forces which threatened to engulf the entire known world. Urban went on a speaking tour and galvanized enough public and political support – some of it extraordinarily enthusiastic – to effect the formation of a professional army for the recapture of the Holy Land.

As Nicolle relates the main issue with all the Crusades including the First, was that there never was a proper command structure or unified command. Some exceptions to this general rule are plain, but overall one of the great weaknesses of the Crusades was the lack of a singular leader and commander – one who could manage men from many different countries with different self-interests and ambitions. Thus in the First Crusade we have a motley collection of leaders including: the Normans Duke Bohemund of Taranto, his nephew Tancred, and Duke Robert of Normandy, along with Count Reymond of Toulouse, Duke Godfrey de Bouillon of Lorraine, his brother Baldwin, Duke Hugh of Vermandois, brother of the king of France, Count Stephan of Blois, and Count Robert of Flanders. Different men, different regions, different languages in some respects, and different self-interests and motivations.

From the start there were tensions between these leaders, but at least until his death, the Papal legate, Bishop Adhemar de Puy, was able to keep these tensions from causing too many problems. Thus the Church became the overarching authority – but in the field of battle and in all the complexities of fielding 50.000 heavily armored men, knights and their attendants, a lack of clear decisive leadership was always to plague the progress of the Crusades. In any event as Nicolle details, the various groups under their varied barons agreed to assemble at Constantinople, and each group travelled separately, some traveling along the Danube, others down the Dalmatian coast, and still more down Italy and then by sea to Greece.

The assembly at Constantinople was troublesome. Byzantine Emperor Alexius had not expected an army of 50,000 enthusiasts, having probably hoped for a few thousand mercenaries, and over the winter of 1096-7 the two sides bickered. Alexius wanted to re-conquer Anatolia, lost after 1071, but that was of little interest to the crusaders, but eventually they came to an agreement, with Alexius agreeing to aid their march to the Holy Land, while the crusaders agreed that any lands they conquered would be held from the Byzantine Empire, a promise they probably never intended to honour.

Finally, in the spring of 1097 the crusaders came to grips with the 'Moslems' or Turks. Despite their lack of interest in the re-conquest of Anatolia, the crusaders still had to cross it, and the Turks controlled most of the area. The first target for the crusaders was Nicaea, dangerously close to Constantinople. The siege of Nicaea lasted from 14 May-19 June 1097, and just when the crusaders were about to break into and sack the city, Alexius negotiated its surrender and managed to get troops into the city, once again souring relations between the Byzantines and the crusaders. The crusaders now began their march across Anatolia, marching in two parallel columns, with no overall command. At the battle of Dorylaeum (1 July 1097), Bohemund's column was nearly annihilated by a much larger Turkish force, and was only saved by the arrive of Godfrey and Reymond from the other column. Soon after, the first contingent left the army, when Baldwin left to carve out his own principality centred on Edessa. Meanwhile the main crusader army reached Antioch.

The resulting siege of Antiioch lasted from 21 October 1097 to 3 June 1098. Once again, the crusade came close to disaster, this time from starvation, and was only saved by late arriving English and Pisan fleets, before finally capturing the city with the aid of a Turkish traitor on 3 June, only two days before a 75,000 strong Turkish army arrived, trapping the crusaders inside the city, where they were themselves besieged from 5-28 June. The siege was ended on 28 June, when the massively outnumbered crusaders sallied from the city, with at most 15,000 combatants. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the crusaders won the resulting battle of the Orontes (28 June 1098). At this point disaster stuck, with the death of Bishop Adhemar, after which tensions between the leaders grew worse. When the crusaders moved on to march against Jerusalem, Bohemund and the Normans remained in Antioch, where they founded their own principality.

The remaining crusaders now found themselves facing a new foe, the Fatimids from the Egyptian Muslim state, who had just re-conquered Jerusalem. The Fatimids had a 3 or 4 to 1 superiority in troops. The remaining 12,000 crusaders which reached Jerusalem were too weak to maintain a siege similar to that at Antioch. The siege of Jerusalem (9 June-15 July 1099) was dominated by preparation for the successful assault, which defeated the more numerous Fatimid defenders. It was an audacious and well executed siege against heavy odds of success.

After the fall of the city, the crusades sacked the city, massacring most of the population, not limiting themselves to the Moslems, shocking even their contemporaries with the violence of the sack. It was however standard for armies of the time to decimate cities which would not surrender to a siege. The Moslems were experts at annihilating entire populations having done so numerous times throughout the Arab and Turkish conquests. The Turks would make the streets of Constantinople run with blood in their pillage of the weakened Christian capital in 1453.

After taking Jerusalem Godrey of Bouillon was now elected its Guardian but faced yet another large Fatamid relieving army arrived from Egypt. Despite outnumbering the Crusaders 5 to 1, the Fatamid army was nowhere near as dangerous as the Turks had been, and Godrey won a crushing victory at the Battle of Ascalon (12 August 1099). The crusade had been an overwhelming success, but the seeds of eventual failure were already present. The crusaders established four principalities - Jerusalem, Edessa, Tripoli and Antioch - which were often at odds with each other, while many of the crusaders returned home soon after their victory, reducing the crusader strength in the east. Despite this, the crusader kingdoms managed to survive until the fall of Acre in 1291.

This outreach of European power was vital for Europe's development. Europe was not an impoverished unenlightened backwater circa 1100 A.D. It had a complex political-economy. Numerous inventions populated the military, agriculture, science and medicine – inventions never developed by the Arabs or Muslims. Numerous centers of learning and artistic development dominated whole regions of Europe and the massive stone structures of the Gothic era give current testimony to the intelligence of European engineering and the use of advanced machinery – none of which could be found in any contemporary Islamic state.

Thick forested Europe with a hard climate and varied geography was an advanced and confident state by 1100 A.D. Its collective resources far outweighed that of the Moslems and the Turkish empire. The problem for Europe was unity of purpose – without which a decisive eradication of the Muslim threat would never occur. Europe was in almost every respect by 1100 A.D. superior to the Moslem states. The Crusades were but a reflection of this basic fact.

Yet in today's world the really 'smart', 'progressive' types loathe the Crusades. In their very profound 'study' and 'analysis' after independent reading, these massive minds reach a very quick conclusion – that the Crusades were a bloody and criminal failure. How dare anyone travel thousands of miles to fight peaceful, sedate, cultured and superior Muslims they cry ! After all the Muslims had only conquered, slaughtered, enslaved and extirpated Christians, Greeks, Berbers, Jews and Europeans for 4 centuries ! Why the rush to fight back ? What about dialogue and comity of cultures and multi-cult harmony they implore ?

In reality of course the First Crusade was a holy success and a definite turning point in European and world history – all for the better. This deeply offends the relativists and the great numbers of Western hating bigots who unfortunately populate the heights of popular culture, politics education and the media. Ignorance is not bliss, it is just simply ignorance.


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