By Tomas Mc Rae,
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, ©2009
article is featured in the Lowlands-L Gallery presentation.]
hen a stone is thrown into a pool ripples radiate far beyond its point of impact.
Similarly ripples of the seven Crusades between 11th and 13th centuries still
spread out to create problems in our time. There is little sign of respite.
did it all start? Under Constantine the Great Christianity became the dominant religion in the vast Roman Empire. In the mid 4th century
he shifted his seat of power from Rome to the new city of Constantinople, thus becoming Emperor of the Eastern Empire, much more powerful and wealthy
than its ever more chaotic Western partner. The West became an Empire in
name only by the 6th century and from its remains emerged the Holy Roman
Empire, neither holy, Roman, nor an empire.
died seven years after establishing Constantinople. This eastern empire flourished despite religious schisms and some incompetent
rulers. The Byzantine Church, while subject nominally to the Pope, developed its own liturgy and
controlled the Christian sites in the Holy Land.
must give just one important date when the seeds of the troubles were sown:
the year 610. In that year, at Constantinople, Heraclius displaced its corrupt ruler to become Emperor of the East. Also,
in a cave near Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula, Mohammed, a well-travelled
merchant, slept in a cave and had a divine vision that would change the world.
in Zoroastrian Persia King Chosroes II began his campaign to destroy the Eastern Empire.
Anatolia and Syria quickly fell and in just four years Jerusalem followed
amidst great slaughter of its Christian inhabitants. The emergent kingdoms
of Europe did nothing to help prevent this aggression. Heraclius actually
became the first crusader, finally defeating the Persians and returning the
Holy Cross and other sacred relics to Jerusalem.
to the combatants, in remote Arabia, Mohammed began to promote a new faith
to the idolatrous Arabs of Mecca who drove him and a handful of followers
from the city. They fled to Medina where his simple one-god-based faith developed
and became accepted by the populace. Twenty years later he returned to Mecca
in triumph and Islam began its lightning spread from the Arabian Peninsula.
Mohammed decreed that heathens should be given the choice of conversion or
death but the “People of the Book,” i.e. Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians,
should be allowed to retain their places of worship. They were not allowed
however to evangelise, carry arms, or ride on horseback, but overall they
received excellent treatment from their Moslem rulers. Mohammed died and
was succeeded by the first caliph Abu Bakr who started Islam’s lightning
spread over the Middle East. One strong faction believed that Ali, the Prophet’s
nephew and son-in-law, should have received the succession. This group is
still active today. They are the Shiite Moslems; mainstream Moslems are known as
the Sunni. Sound familiar?
second caliph, Omar, continued spreading Islam and entered Jerusalem just
28 years after Mohammed’s vision in the cave. Christians were neither massacred
nor persecuted and their holy places were respected, Still no reaction from
the whole Christians and Jews did well under Islamic rule with taxation lower
than it had been under Byzantium and their talents well utilised by the conquerors.
Egypt was next to fall and 90 years after Mohammed’s vision all of Roman
Africa was in the hands of Islam. This still remains the situation.
in fact became fourth caliph but was murdered four years later, although
the Shiite branch continued. Much of today’s troubles in Iraq involves Sunni
and Shiite factions. In time another important faction evolved from the Shiites,
the Hashashim whom we know as “The Assassins.” But I can tell more of their tale in a later lecture. Ali’s son became Shiite
leader, but 14 years after his father’s death he and many of his followers
were slaughtered in Iraq at Karbala. A very sacred Shiite shrine remains
there around which bloody conflicts still arise.
Byzantium regained much of its former power, although Jerusalem remained
beyond its reach. For ten years in the early part of the 11th century Caliph
Hakim began persecuting Christians, destroying many churches including that
of the Holy Sepulchre. At the same time Jews and even Moslems were persecuted
by the caliph. Europe did not respond.
ended up by proclaiming himself divine. He banned the feast of Ramadan and
the pilgrimage to Mecca and started favouring Jews and Christians above Moslems.
Finally he just vanished, was probably murdered. His friend Daraza fled to
Lebanon where he founded the Druze Sect which still believes Hakim will return
one day. Heaven forbid!
relations were now re-established between Egypt-based Islam, Shiite Islam
and Byzantium. Then, about thirty years after its destruction, the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt along with other places of Christian worship.
the middle of the 11th century Christians in Palestine had never had it so
good. Trade with the West grew as did income raised from numerous pilgrims.
Christian, Jew, and Moslem lived in co-operative harmony. All was well … Then all hell broke loose!
its huge empire stretching from the Lebanon to the Danube, from Naples to
the Caspian Sea, Byzantium seemed to be established on a rock of economic
and political stability. However, there was already a nibbling at its fringes.
A new Islamic force from Turkestan started making incursions while Norman
knights, desperate for land, invaded Lombardy with the support of the Holy
Roman Empire’s King Charles III and the Pope. Finally they took Sicily.
Turks also began moving into Arab Islamic territory. From small raids their
attacks expanded and they would finally replace the Shiite Caliphates in
Egypt. Another new influence emerged in Kurdistan which, in time, would have
major consequences. This produced new Islamic leaders including the greatest
of all, Saladin.
detail the Byzantine decay is beyond the scope of this lecture. Suffice it
to say that in the closing years of the 11th century the Eastern Empire was
crumbling within and without as were relations between the Byzantine and
Roman churches. The new Turkish incursions caused ever growing problems to
Byzantium, Arabic Islam, and even Europe. Palestine, including Jerusalem,
fell into their hands and as the result of coup and counter-coup chaos reigned
supreme in the corruption-ridden Turkish territories.
pilgrims from Europe had previously travelled to Jerusalem with relative
ease. But now deteriorated roads and corrupt officials made access nigh on
impossible. In 1095, Pope Urban called upon Christendom to join in a great
crusade to liberate The Holy Land and thousands responded. They came mainly
from Frankish areas but also from, among others, the Germanic States, England,
Scotland, Denmark, Poland, and the Italianate States. All over Europe streams
of volunteers prepared to fight the infidel. Whilst many were devout Christians
who believed they were serving God, others were landless knights and petty
criminals seeking land and pillage.
First Crusade begun with two premature incursions. A priest, Peter the Hermit (Pierre L’Hermite, Pierre d’Amiens), launched
his Peoples’ Crusade consisting largely of ordinary men and some women along
So ignorant was this rabble that one group even decided a stray goose would
lead them to Jerusalem.
malnourished, superstitious, poorly armed mob pillaged its way over Eastern
Europe and Asia. They slaughtered and robbed food and wealth as they stormed
towards Jerusalem the Golden. This peoples’ crusade was easily wiped out
by the Turks near Nicea. Thousands were slain and many others enslaved. Peter
the Hermit survived to join the main expedition.
similar fate awaited a German contingent that started off by murdering Jews
all over Germany thus starting the wave of anti-Semitism that peaked with
the Nazi Holocaust over 800 years later. The king of Hungary, menaced by
this lawless mob, destroyed most of them in a series of battles. People who
opposed the crusades, claimed this was God’s vengeance on the Germans for
slaughtering the Jews. Others saw it as God’s open disavowal of the whole
the real crusade was being organised. It was an expensive business for leaders
to equip themselves and their forces and many “loans” were extorted from
the unfortunate Jews. Godfrey de Bouillon being one such “borrower”.
disorganised rabble this time round, those veteran warriors travelled overland
to Constantinople, then across the Bosporus into Moslem territory. They fought
and defeated the Turks as they travelled, often receiving help and support
from the Turk-suppressed Arab populations. This however did not stop them
pillaging settlements as the armies passed through their lands.
now look at the combatants. The Moslems were largely literate, devoted to
personal hygiene, and well skilled in the arts and sciences. Militarily they
were great horsemen and expert at using curved swords and short bows while
mounted. A vibrant creative culture devoted to their faith.
vast majority of the Crusaders were illiterate, unwashed, and louse-ridden.
Excellent horsemen, skilled in long sword play and warfare, but largely uneducated.
No shining armour, just hooded long chain-mail tunics with Norman-style helmets
if any. Many, like Godfrey, were devout Christians, but others were junior
sons of noble families desperate to win lands of their own. This force overthrew
a great civilisation which has never fully recovered.
mid 1098 the army captured Bethlehem. Then, after a very bloody siege, Jerusalem
fell with Godfrey de Bouillon fighting bravely in the vanguard. The victorious
Christians then vented their shocking blood lust on the populace, slaughtering
the vast majority of Islamic and Jewish residents Moslems will never forget
nor forgive this disgraceful conduct. We see the current results.
power was consolidated there was great debate as to who should be King of
Jerusalem. The lot fell to Godfrey of Bouillon Duke of Lower Lorraine (Godefroy de Bouillion duc de Basse-Lotharingie). Most agreed he was a godly man as well as a brave fighter. To that I would
add a humble human being who refused to assume the title of king and, as
we all know, would not wear a golden crown where Christ had worn a crown
of thorns. Two weeks after the fall of the city Pope Urban died before the
news of the victory reached Rome. Godfrey ruled well and wisely and established
trade relations with most neighbouring Arab provinces. He brought new prosperity
to them as well as to his Frankish kingdom, although conflict and expansion
of territory persisted.
Roman Catholic clergy assumed supreme authority, displaced the Byzantines, appointed a Roman Catholic Patriarch, and took control of the holy places. Just two years later Godfrey became
seriously ill, probably with typhoid, and about a month later he died. His
brother Baldwin succeeded him, assumed the title of king, and accepted the
crown. Thus was born The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
lavish coronation marked a fitting end to the First Crusade and is also a
fitting end to this section of my lecture. But let’s face the sad fact that
the mediaeval pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the wars to make them possible
were largely illusory. As early Christians ignored the city and proclaimed
the universality of Christ, such pilgrimages were very rare. Forty years
after Jesus was crucified Titus, son of Emperor Vespasian, brutally put down
a mass Jewish revolt and razed the city to the ground.
years later the emperor Hadrian visited the site and decreed that remaining
ruins be destroyed. Any usable building materials were to be employed with
others to construct a new Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, in its place. He
did all in his power to destroy sites associated with Christ; even building
a temple of Venus where the crucifixion allegedly occurred. A Jewish revolt
against idolatory had them banned from Aelia apart from an annual fast.
Jerusalem that grew from this city of Hadrian therefore initially showed
little or nothing of the City of David. Thankfully, since 19th-century archaeologists
have unearthed many of the ancient biblical treasures, this work continues
and modern pilgrims can visit excavated ancient sites.
on a later occasion I can tell of Saladin’s rise, the fall of Jerusalem,
and the creation of the Assassins. Consummatum est!