llisha responds to Just_Stopping_By and his comments about Islamic Spain. llisha goes on a long rant about Islamic Spain and Western Imperialism which we will concern ourselves with in a later post. I just wanted to give the full context so she can't accuse me of taking her comments out of context again
She says not all invaders are the same. She later compares the legacies or Islamic Spain to the legacies of the Crusades and Western Imperialism. So we can see that her comments about "not all invaders being the same" is a reference to the Islamic invaders whom she deems less violent.( I shall refute her myths about Islamic Spain in my another post). Here llisha is more or less presenting a paradigm with Muslims at one end being the least violent, the Crusaders being somewhere in the middle and the Mongols being the most violent. This is far from the case, the crusaders did commit murder, cannibalism, rape, pillaged, perpetrated massacres and various other atrocities. However, they were no more violent than anyone else of the period.
Part 1 Crusader Violence
We will examine four of the worst instances of Crusader atrocities that are often put forward by ideologues as showing the innate primitive barbarity of the Crusaders. These are the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099, Cannibalism at Ma'rrat al-Numan in 1098 , the massacre at Acre in 1191 and the Rhineland Massacres of 1096. It should be noted that llisha didn't mention these incidents by name but rather just generalised about the Crusades. As these are four of the most infamous events of the Crusades, I chose these to examine to see if her claims are true. My focus is neither to demonise or idealise but simply examine the historical events in light of scholarship and see whether, by the brutal standards of the day, they were excessively violent. I also want to see if the Christian chroniclers always "boast about killing in lurid detail." I want to see if the crusaders deserve their singling out and constant demonisation as excessively violent barbarians that endures to this very day. As we shall see, llisha's demonisations are largely myth.
Siege of Jerusalem
llisha complains about the crusaders who " according to their own accounts. They boasted about killing in lurid detail." This is in obvious reference to the crusader accounts of the massacres of Muslims and Jews after the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099. The Popular myth believed today alleges that the crusaders were exceptionally brutal massacring some 70,000 Muslims and Jews after the siege of Jerusalem. Arab accounts of those killed after the siege were between 30,000 - 70,000. These have largely been discounted by scholars because it is doubtful Jerusalem had such a large population at the time (Peter Thorau, Die Kreuzzüge, C.H.Beck, München 2007). The origin of the 70,000 figure comes from Ibn al-Athir who lived 100 years after the events and had political motivations for his assertions. We need to remember he was a scribe attached to the Court of Saladin. His account of 70,000 Muslim civilians and devout religious clerics getting massacred in one of Islam's holiest places can be viewed as trying to provoke Muslim outrage at the crusaders which didn't really exist after the completion of the First Crusade.
Now llisha is right in that contemporary crusader accounts do revel in widespread bloodshed after the siege of Jerusalem. Fulcher of Chartres, said 10,000 were killed the mosque and Matthew of Edessa who puts the figure at 65,000. However, what llisha fails to do is examine the accounts critically or engage with modern scholarship which views them as largely being exaggerations. The chroniclers of the Crusades were exaggerated for numerous reasons. Politically, it asserted the primacy of the Papacy against the Pope's biggest opponent the Holy Roman emperor. Similarly, in an age when winning a battle was a sign of God's favour and losing punishment for sins, these exaggerations served a religious function of showing how the crusades were indeed sanctioned by God. The bigger the recorded slaughter, the bigger the victory ordained by God. These exaggerations of slaughter show how the city had been purified of heresy in the holiest places of the infidel. Also, these exaggerations were a way of the chroniclers praising the Crusaders
Fulcher of Chartres
" Count Raymond and his men, who were attacking the wall on the other side, did not yet know of all this, until they saw the Saracens leap from the wall in front of them. Forthwith, they joyfully rushed into the city to pursue and kill the nefarious enemies, as their comrades were already doing. Some Saracens, Arabs, and Ethiopians took refuge in the tower of David, others fled to the temples of the Lord and of Solomon. A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to escape from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple, almost 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared"
Historian Thomas Madden wrote
" By the standards of the time adhered to by both Christian and Muslims, The Crusaders would have been justified in putting the entire population of Jerusalem to the sword. Despite later, highly exaggerated reports, however, that is not what happened. It is true that many of the inhabitants both Muslims and Jews were killed in the initial fray. Yet many were also allowed to purchase their freedom or were simply expelled from the city."
The New Concise History of the Crusades , p.34
Historian Michael Haag wrote
"In a letter sent by crusade leaders to the pope in September, just two months after the city was taken, they wrote "If you wish to know what was done unto the enemies found there, rest assured that in Solomon's portico and in the Temple (as the crusaders believed the Aqsa mosque to be) our men rode in the Saracen's blood up to the knees of the horses." In an age when victory was seen as a sign of divine favour and defeat as punishment for sins, exaggeration served both the purposes of both the papal authority and of the crusade itself. The chroniclers followed suit, for example, Raymond of Aguilers, Robert the Monk and Fulcher of Chartres all of whom favoured the reformist programme of Gregory VII and Urban II. The greater the victory, the more justified the pope's ability to raise armies and fight wars, an authority opposed by the papacy's greatest adversary in the Investiture Controversy, the Holy Roman emperor and his allies.
And so Raymond of Aguilers, who was to Raymond of Toulouse and entered Jerusalem with the crusaders, does not hesitate to embellish the victory with exaggerated gore in these often quoted lines:
" Piles of heads, hands, and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are ordinarily chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth , it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers, since it had long suffered from their blasphemies."
Where the crusade leaders had written of blood up to their horses' knees, here Raymond of Aguilers goes one better and mentions the bridle reins, thereby raising the level of blood by at least a foot. But Raymond was something of a credulous apocalyptic and described all sorts of visions and miracles, and his accounts of slaughter at Jerusalem had more to do with his notions of the Last Days than with what actually happened.
Robert the monk, who was not there, envisages waves of blood that drive dead bodies across the floor, while dismembered arms and hands float on a sea of blood until they haphazardly join up with a corpse. And Fulcher of Chartres, who had been with Baldwin at Edessa and came to Jerusalem in December to celebrate Christmas, makes up for not being an eyewitness to the siege by making himself a nose-witness to the aftermath, remarking that such were the numbers of dead still lying both inside and outside the city walls that he had to hold his nose against the stench - a patent nonsense, as a body left unburied in July would have been reduced by rats, dogs, birds, flies and beetles to a fleshless and odorless skeleton within a month- that is, if any bones would have been left at all.
By the Standards of the time, and adhered to by Christians and Muslims alike, if a city resisted conquest the lives of its inhabitants were forfeit when it fell. But despite exaggerated reports that Jerusalem's entire population was put to the sword -10,000, 20,000, 30,000 even over 60,000 killed, depending on the source - this is not what happened. The killing was never as massive as indicated or as indiscriminate as certain medieval historians have alleged, or as many modern historians have chosen to accept. Exaggeration was due to misinformation, or a desire to praise the crusaders or to assert the power of the papacy, or to captivate an audience; exaggeration was also due to ideology, the belief that tales of massive and indiscriminate bloodshed conferred a kind of purification on its perpetrators and the city. Yet no less a figure than Steve Runciman has written that "the crusaders rushed through the streets and into houses slaying everyone they saw, man, woman and child" and that "the only survivors" were the few hundred troops of the garrison who surrendered to Raymond of Toulouse, yet he contradicts himself by noting that the city was cleared of corpses after the siege by the surviving inhabitants. Which raises the question of Runciman's motives and bias in distorting history, and the motives and bias of those who repeat the distortions to this day.
The anonymous Gesta Francorum mentions that prisoners, men
and women were taken at the Aqsa mosque, which the crusaders, referring to King Solomon , called the Templum Solomonis. The Gesta also says that it was the surviving inhabitants who cleared the corpses. Moreover, letters sent to the Jewish community in Cairo and throughout the Eastern Mediterranean by the Jews of Jerusalem at the time tell of Jewish survivors, Jews held for ransom, and captive Jews sold in such numbers that they depressed the price of slaves. Quite apart from the Fatimid governor and his forces who were set free, Muslim captives are known to have survived, many later turning up at Damascus. None of which means there was no massacre when Jerusalem was captured. But one should listen to Ibn al-Arabi, that young Islamic scholar from Seville who had lived in Jerusalem until only three years before the arrival of the crusade and knew it well. In 1099 he was in Egypt, mostly in Alexandria where he followed events in Jerusalem with an intimate knowledge of the setting and its people. Certainly, there was a massacre, for al-Arabi writes of 3,000 men and women "including God-fearing and learned worshipers" being killed on Friday morning 16 July in the Aqsa mosque, and he also mentions several women who were killed near the Dome of the Rock. Against this informed account, we have the rhetoric of Fulcher of Chartres, who says ten thousand were killed at the mosque, or Matthew of Edessa who puts the figure at 65,000. But as one eminent historian of the crusades has written "stories the streets of Jerusalem coursing with knee-high rivers of blood were never meant to be taken seriously. Medieval people knew such a thing to be an impossibility. Modern people, unfortunately, do not."
On one point all the chroniclers agree. When the killing was over, the knights went "rejoicing and weeping" to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks to God at the site of the death and resurrection of Jesus." The Tragedy of the Templars: The Rise and Fall of the Crusader States p.114 -117
Historian Thomas Asbridge wrote
" By the thirteenth century, the Iraqi Muslim Ibn al-Athir estimated the number of Muslim dead at 70,000. Modern historians have long regarded this figure to be an exaggeration, but generally accepted that Latin estimates in excess of 10,000 might be accurate. However, recent research has uncovered close contemporary Hebrew testimony which indicates that casualties may not have exceeded 3,000 and that large numbers of prisoners were taken when Jerusalem fell. This suggests that, even in the Middle Ages, the image of the crusader's brutality in 1099 was subject to hyperbole and manipulation on both sides of the divide.
Even so, we must still acknowledge the terrible inhumanity of the crusader' sadistic butchery. Certainly , some of Jerusalems' inhabitants were spared; Iftikhar ad-Daulah for one took sanctuary in the Tower of David and later negotiated terms of release from Raymond of Toulouse. But the Frankish massacre was not simply a feral outburst of bottled rage; it was a prolonged, callous campaign of killing that lasted two days and left the awash with blood and littered with corpses....
By the 1220's the Iraqi historian Ibn al-Athir was more fulsome in his censure, recording that "In the Aqsa mosque, the Franks killed more than 70,000, a large number of them being Imams, religious scholars, righteous men and ascetics, Muslims who had left their
native lands and come to live a holy life in this august place." He then described how the crusaders looted the Dome of the Rock. Ibn al-Athir added that a deputation of Syrian Muslims came to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad in late summer 1099 to beg for aid against the Franks. They were said to have recounted stories of suffering at Latin hands "which brought tears to the eye and pained the heart." and to have made a public protest during Friday prayer, but, despite all their entreaties, little was done, and the chronicler concluded that "the rulers were all at variance...and so the Franks conquered the lands." How Should this apparent lack of historical interest in the First crusade within Islam be interpreted? In Western Europe, the expedition was widely celebrated as an earth-shatteringly significant triumph, but in the Muslim world of the early twelfth century, it seems barely to have registered a tremor. To an extent, this may be attributed to the desire of Islamic chroniclers to limit reference to Muslim defeats, or to a general disinterest in military events on the part of Islamic religious scholars. But it is surprising nonetheless, that the most contemporaneous Arab accounts do not show a clearer traces of anti-Latin invective or contain more vocal demands for vengeful retribution."
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land,p.102 -112
Historian Thomas Asbridge wrote elsewhere
" The Gesta Francorum, Albert of Aachen, Hagenmeyer Kreuzzugssbriefe and Ibn al-Athir number the dead at 70,000. Ibn al-Qalanisi indicates that a large proportion of Jerusalem's Jewish population were also slaughtered during the sack. France,Victory in the East pp.355-6, suggests that most of Jerusalem's population was massacred in cold blood three days after the city fell. I am most grateful to Professor B.Z Kedar for allowing me to see his forthcoming article "The Jerusalem massacre of July 1099 in the western historiography of the Crusades" in advance of its publication in Crusades, vol.3 (2004) His work provides an excellent overview of all the evidence for this episode and offers a useful summary of the material contained in the Geniza texts. These contemporary letters written by Jews living in the eastern Mediterranean make it clear that some Muslims and Jews did survive. Kedar also notes that the contemporary Arabic writer Ibn al- Arabi estimated the number of Muslim dead at Jerusalem at only 3000, still a significant figure but far less than that offered by other Islamic sources"
The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam p.376
So we can see that llisha is correct in asserting that "crusader accounts boasted about killing in lurid detail." However, she fails to treat these accounts critically or examine them in light of modern scholarship. If she had , she would see that they are largely exaggeration for certain religious and political ideological reasons. Modern scholarship has largely abandoned the idea of 70,000 being butchered after the siege of Jerusalem. The high death tolls recorded in crusader accounts from 10,000 - 60,000 are exaggerations. Ibn al-Athir also was attached to Saladin's court so he has a vested interest in playing up crusader atrocities in advocating Jihad against the crusaders. Death tolls from 30,000 - 70,000 would have been impossible given the population of Jerusalem at the time. Instead, modern scholars favour al-Arabi's account mentioning only 3,000 dying which is also confirmed by Jewish letters from the time. Certainly, the crusaders were brutal and violent massacring 3,000 people in cold blood. However, according to the standards of the day followed by both Christians and Muslims, if a city surrendered quickly, it was spared, if it resisted a siege, then it's inhabitants were put to the sword and enslaved. That is exactly what happened, so the siege should be viewed by the standards of the day where such a thing was a common occurrence. By taking these events out of their historical context people have used it to unfairly demonise the crusaders as fanatical butchers.
Historian Rodney Stark argued
"First of all, it is not only absurd but often quite disingenuous to use this event to “prove” that the crusaders were bloodthirsty barbarians in contrast to the more civilised and tolerant Muslims. Dozens of Muslim massacres of whole cities have been reported in previous chapters, and the crusaders knew of such occurrences. Second, the commonly applied “rule of war” concerning siege warfare was that if a city did not surrender before forcing the attackers to take the city by storm (which inevitably caused a very high rate of casualties in the besieging force), the inhabitants could expect to be massacred as an example to others in the future. That is, had the Muslims surrender Jerusalem on June 13 when the towers were ready to be rolled against the walls, they would no doubt have been given terms that would have prevented a massacre."
God's Battalions p.157-158
The crusaders were just following the conventions of the time and were no more violent than anyone else. People forget that there are instances when Muslims did surrender they were granted terms and either allowed to leave or remain under Crusader rule. Such instances instance as the siege of Acre in 1104 and the siege of Tyre in 1124. It should be noted in both instances some Muslims chose to remain in the cities under Crusader rule and in Acre, Baldwin even allowed Muslims to operate a mosque
To put the massacre of 3,000 inhabitants into context, in 1144 when the Seljuk warlord, Imad ad-Din Zengi conquered Edessa, 6000 Christian men, women and children were killed.
Similarly, the Egytian Mamluke Sultan Baybars committed what has been described as the "greatest massacre of the crusading era"
Historian Thomas F Madden Writes
" In general, Baybars made a point to massacre or enslave Christians wherever he found them, be they in great Citadels or modest villages. As his biographer, Shafi' bin Ali recorded Baybars was determined to wage war until "no more Franks remain on the surface of the earth." In 1268, he captured Jaffa and brutally sacked the city. Later the same year, Baybars led his forces north against the great city of Antioch. It fell after only four days. The Sultan ordered the doors of the city be closed and the inhabitants, including women and children, massacred. This atrocity shocked Muslim and Christian chroniclers alike. It was the single greatest massacre of the entire crusading era. Upset to see that Count Bohemond VI was not in the city, Baybars wrote to him to describe the carnage he had missed:
"You would have seen your knights prostrate beneath their horses' hooves, your houses stormed by pillagers and ransacked by looters, your wealth weighed by the quintal, your women sold four at a time and bought for a dinar of your own money. You would have seen the crosses in your churches smashed, the pages of the false testaments scattered, the patriarch's tombs overturned. You would have seen your Muslim enemy trampling on the place where you celebrate mass, cutting the throats of monks, priests and deacons upon the altars, bringing sudden death to the patriarchs and slavery to the royal princes. You would have seen fire running through your palaces, your dead burned in this world before going down to the fires of the next, your palace lying unrecognisable, the Church of St. Paul and that of the Cathedral of St Peter pulled down and destroyed; then you would have said "Would that I were dust, and that no letter had ever bought me such tidings"
The Concise History of the Crusades, p.168
Cannibalism at Ma'rrat al-Numan in 1098
The crusaders are often demonised as being excessively violent barbarians because of the accounts of cannibalism recorded in crusader accounts of the Siege of Ma'rrat al-Numan. What do these accounts actually say?
Fulcher of Chartres
" Then they hastened to the other city and besieged it for twenty days. Here our men suffered from excessive hunger. I shudder to say that many of our men, terribly tormented by the madness of starvation cut pieces of flesh from the buttocks of Saracens lying there dead. these pieces they cooked and ate."
Edward Peters, The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials p.84.
Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Saint Gilles
" After we had triumphed over the enemy, as our army was wasting away at Antioch from sickness and weariness and was especially hindered by the dissensions among the leaders, we proceeded into Syria, stormed Barra and Marra, cities of the Saracens, and captured the fortresses in that country. And while we were delaying there, there was so great a famine in the army that the Christian people now ate the putrid bodies of the Saracens."
A letter from Godrey and Raymond to the Pope
“Some cut the flesh of dead bodies into strips and cooked them for eating." Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum, 10.33.80
" After our leaders had seen this [the eating of the dead], they had the pagans moved outside the city gates. There they piled them into a mound and later set fire to them."
Peter Tudebode, Historia de Hierosolymitano Itinere, ed. J. H. Hill and L. L. Hill, intro, p.124–25
Historian Rodney Stark Writes
" Meanwhile, the army suffered. An epidemic broke out (it may have been typhoid), and many died. They ran short of food and began to eat their remaining horses. Soon many were eating "leaves, thistles and leather" Again, as at Nicea, many of the poor starved to death. In December, under the leadership of some dispossessed knights, a group of poor men armed themselves with the abundant captured Muslim weapons and formed a fighting brigade known as the Tafurs, they were remarkable for their religious fanaticism and ferocity. Lacking the funds needed to buy what little food was available, the Tafurs overwhelmed the Muslim town of Ma'arrat al-Numan. A massacre followed, and, according to some reports, so did incidents of cannibalism."
God's battalions p.154
Historian Thomas Asbridge notes
"The poor who had already endured a hungry Christmas were now left destitute. Suddenly it seemed that the horrors of starvation had ravaged the Frank some years earlier had returned. Now at Ma'rrat without princely guidance, the most destitute Crusaders went to appalling lengths to alleviate their hunger, some Desperate to find money wherever they could "ripped up the bodies of the Muslim dead", because they used to find coins hidden in their entrails. Others took even more, savage steps; "here our men suffered from excessive hunger. I shudder to say that many of our men, terribly tormented by the madness of starvation, cut pieces of flesh from the Saracens lying there dead. These pieces they cooked and ate, savagely devouring the flesh, while it was insufficiently roasted." Another account that is perhaps even more disturbing asserted that "food shortages became so acute that the Christians ate with gusto many rotten Saracen bodies which they had pitched into the swamps three weeks before. This spectacle disgusted many crusaders as it did strangers."
This cannibalism at Ma'rrat is among the most infamous of all the atrocities perpetrated by the First Crusaders. These acts were so extreme that, in contrast to the usually offhand contemporary descriptions of violence, both key sources here show dismay and revulsion. To the men writing about the crusades, some forms of violence- holy war carried out in the name of God - were acceptable, while all other deserved condemnation. On this occasion, the line of acceptability was crossed."
The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam p.273-274
So we can see that at the time there was widespread starvation and disease and a small contingent of crusaders known as the Tafurs left the main force and struck out on their own besieging
Ma'rrat al-Numan in hopes of getting a supply of food. The town resisted the crusaders so the massacre of the inhabitants was nothing exceptional by the standards of the day. Upon capturing the town, they found out that they only had very limited stores of food. Without princely guidance, these crusaders who had stuck out on their own descended into madness and desperation that made them resort to eating the corpses of the slain. These events should be viewed through the context of a disaster caused by excessive starvation not any " inherent barbarous and violent nature". Similarly, far from approving of these actions, the chroniclers of the crusades are disgusted by them. So llisha's claim that the chroniclers always boasted of killing in lurid detail is far from true.
Massacre at Acre in 1191
Another incident that is frequently used to demonise the crusaders as simple and violent barbarians is King Richard's massacre of 2,700 Muslim soldiers in 1191, after successfully conquering Acre. We will examine the events that took place and learn that as with other popular demonisations, it largely ignores the historical context. Richard actually wanted to exchange the prisoners for ransom and the holy relic of the "true cross" captured after Saladin's victory at Hattin.
Gesta Regis Ricardi
" After the expiry of the time limit fixed by the Saracens for the return of the Holy Cross and freeing of the hostages as stated in the agreement, King Richard waited for another three weeks to see whether Saladin would stand by his word or whether the treaty maker would infringe his own treaty. But Saladin seemed to have no concern about it... Meanwhile, Saladin sent frequent gifts and messengers, gaining time with deceitful and crafty words; but never carried out any of his promises. He aimed at keeping the King hanging on for a long time through his myriad of subtleties and ambiguities... As the time limit had expired long before, King Richard was certain that Saladin had hardened his heart and had no concern about ransoming the hostages. He assembled a council of the greater people, which decided not to waste time waiting any longer for anything but that the hostages should be beheaded."
Chronicle of the Third Crusade, Trans. by Helen J Nicholson p.227-231
Saladin is quoted as saying " As for the Cross, its possession is a good card in our hand and it cannot be surrendered except in exchange for something of outstanding benefit to all Islam"
Arab Historians of the Crusades p.226
Historian John Gillingham Writes
" Richard had to move on; a bargaining counter which tied him to Acre was hardly an asset. Saladin was delaying things - even Baha ad-din admits that - and to this extent must share the responsibility." Richard The Lionheart p.183
Historian Thomas Asbridge Writes
" Saladain sought to insert new conditions into the deal, demanding that the entire garrison should be released upon the first instalment, with hostages exchanged as guarantors that the later payment of the remaining 100,000 dinars would be made. When the king responded with blunt refusal, an impasse was reached. Settled in his camp at Saffaram, the Sultan must have imagined that there was still room for negotiation, that Richard would tolerate further delay in the hope of an eventual resolution. He was wrong. On the afternoon of 20 August Richard marched out of Acre in force...the bulk of Acre's Muslim garrison - some 2,700 men- were marched out of the city, bound in ropes..."Then as one man (the Franks) charged them, and with stabbings and blows with the sword they slew them in cold blood."
Richard turned back to Acre, leaving the ground stained red with blood and littered with butchered corpses. His message to the sultan possessed a stark clarity. This is how the Lionheart would play the game. This was the ruthless, single-mindedness that he would bring to the war for the Holy Land. No event in Richard's career has elicited more controversy than this calculated carnage.
Baha al-Din noted that the Lionheart "dealt treacherously toward Muslim prisoners", having received their surrender "on condition that they would be guaranteed their lives come what may", at worst facing slavery should Saladin fail to pay their ransom. The sultan met the executions with a measure of shock and rage. Certainly, in the weeks that followed, he began ordering the summary execution of any crusader unfortunate enough to be captured. But equally, by September, he had sanctioned the re-establishment of diplomatic contact with the English king and some members of his entourage went on to develop close, almost cordial, relations with Richard. On balance, they and Saladin seemed to have taken the whole grim episode for what it probably was; an act of military expediency, designed to convey a brutal, blunt statement of intent. More generally, the slaughter seems to have sent a tremor of fear and horror through Near Eastern Islam. Saladin recognised that, in future, his garrisons might choose to abandon their posts rather than face a siege and possible capture. But even for Muslim contemporaries, the events of 20 August did not prompt the universal or unmitigated vilification of the English king. He remained both "the accursed man" and "Melec Ric" or "King Ric", the spectacularly accomplished warrior and general. In time, the massacre took its place alongside other crusader atrocities, like the sack of Jerusalem in 1099, as a crime that did not, in reality, spark an unquenchable firestorm of hatred, but could be readily recalled in the interests of promoting Jihad.
Of course, Richard's treatment of his prisoners also impacted upon his image within western Christendom, in some ways with a far lasting and powerful effect. Calculated or otherwise, his actions could be presented as having contravened the terms agreed when Acre surrendered. Should Richard be seen to have broken his promise, he might be open to censure, the transgressor of popular notions regarding chivalry and honour. Fear of such criticism can be detected in the measured and carefully managed manner in which the King and his supporters sought to present the executions.
The dominant issue was justification. In Richard's own letter to abbot of Clairvaux, dated 1 October 1191, he stressed Saladin's prevarication, explaining that because of this "the time limit expired, and, as the pact which he had agreed with us was made entirely void, we quite properly had the Saracens that we had in our custody - about 2,600 of them - put to death." Some Latin chroniclers likewise sought to shift blame on to the sultan - affirming that Saladin began killing his own Christian captives two days before Richard's mass execution - and also explained that the Lionheart acted only after holding a council, and with the agreement of Hugh of Burgundy (who was now leading the French) Despite a few traces of censure in the West - the German chronicler "Ansbert", for example, denounced the barbarity of Richard's act - the English King seems to have escaped widespread condemnation.
Meanwhile, assessments by modern historians have fluctuated over time. Writing in the 1930's, when the general view of the Lionheart as a rash and intemperate monarch still held sway, Rene Grousset characterised the massacre as barbarous and stupid, concluding that Richard was moved to act by raw anger. More recently, John Gillingham's forceful and hugely influential scholarship has done much to rejuvenate the king's reputation. In Gillingham's reconstruction of events at Acre, the Lionheart comes across as a calculating and clear-headed commander; one who recognised that the resources to feed and guard thousands of Muslim prisoners could not be spared, and thus made a reasoned decision, driven by military expediency.
In truth, King Richard's motives and mindset in August 1191 cannot be recovered with certainty. A logical explanation for his actions exists, but this in itself does not eliminate the possibility that he was moved by ire and impatience."
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land p.452 - 455
Historian John Gillingham notes
"Could the crusaders afford to march away from Acre leaving only a garrison to guard 3000 Muslims? Merely to feed so many men would be difficult enough since on Saladin's orders the countryside around Acre had been pillaged."
Richard the Lionheart, p.184
So we see that it is quite likely that Saladin used the 2,700 captured Muslim soldiers to delay Richard in Acre. Richard waited for longer than agreed in the initial deal and that Saladin later tried to impose new conditions and have the garrison released upon the first instalment of the ransom in exchange for hostages. Arab sources state that Saladin was not interested in relinquishing control of the holy relic of the true cross at this time either. So I think as Gillingham argues, in all likelihood Saladin's constant delaying, forcing him to remain in Acre and not continue his campaign really motivated Richard. Richard made a tactically shrewd and militarily expedient decision. Yes, by out standards today it was brutal but we should not forget that Saladin at numerous instances also massacred prisoners but not on the same scale. After the battle of Hattin, 4 years earlier he massacred hundreds of templar prisoners. Similarly, Richard's actions motivated him to similarly massacre any Christian prisoners who came under his power afterwards. Christian chroniclers, did view this as justified with a few notable exceptions but they didn't boast of it the way llisha suggest. Richard had to be careful to try and justify the act to prevent him being censured for contravening the standards of the day.
I think it likely that Saladin purposely sought to delay negotiations to keep Richard in Acre and bogged down with the prisoners. As John Gillingham notes, both Richard and Saladin should bear the blame. So this incident does not prove that the Crusaders were innately barbarous or violent. If they were they wouldn't have tried to ransom them in the first place but would have instantly massacred them, neither would they have waited so long. Secondly, if they were some western sources wouldn't have criticised Richard for the massacre. Similarly, whilst Muslim sources criticised it, there was no widespread anger caused by it and it was accepted by Saladin as being an act of military expediency rather than innate barbarism. Saladin readily resumed diplomatic contact with Richard. So as usual, demonising of the crusaders based on this largely ignores the historical context.
Now another incident often used to present the Crusaders as violent barbarians are the Rhineland massacres of 8000 Jews in 1096. In this instance, I think the crusaders involved were inherently violent. I will examine the differing views of 4 scholars. Also it worth noting that all Christian commentators at the time all denounced these acts, rather than "boast of them in lurid detail."
Albert of Aix
"From this cruel slaughter of the Jews a few escaped; and a few because of fear, rather than because of love of the Christian faith, were baptised....So the hand of the Lord is believed to have been against the pilgrim who had sinned by excessive impurity and fornication, and who had slaughtered the exiled Jews through greed of money, rather than for the sake of God's justice, although the Jews were opposed to Christ. The Lord is a just judge and orders no one unwillingly, or under compulsion, to come under the yoke of the Catholic faith.
There was another detestable crime in this assemblage of wayfaring people, who were foolish and insanely fickle. That the crime was hateful to the Lord and incredible to the faithful is not to be doubted. They asserted that a certain goose was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that a she goat was not less filled by the same Spirit. These they made their guides on this holy journey to Jerusalem; these they worshipped excessively; and most of the people following them, like beasts, believed with their whole minds that this was the true course. "
August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 54-56
Ekkehard of Aura
"Just at that time, there appeared a certain soldier, Emico, Count of the lands around the Rhine, a man long of very ill repute on account of his tyrannical mode of life. Called by divine revelation, like another Saul, as he maintained, to the practice of religion of this kind, he usurped to himself the command of almost twelve thousand cross bearers. As they were led through the cities of the Rhine and the Main and also the Danube, they either utterly destroyed the execrable race of the Jews wherever they found them (being even in this matter zealously devoted to the Christian religion) or forced them into the bosom of the Church
August. C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eyewitnesses and Participants, (Princeton: 1921), 53-54
William of Tyre writes
" So it happened that when, in the fear of God, they should have proceeded on the journey which they had undertaken and in obedience to divine commands, should have advanced with strict discipline on the pilgrimage which they were making for Christs' sake, they turned to mad excesses."
Willaim of tyre, A history of Deeds done beyond the Sea vol 1, trans babcock and krey p.113
Chronicler Hugo of Flavigny
"It certainly seems amazing that on a single day in many different places, moved in unison by a violent inspiration, such massacres should have taken place, despite their widespread disapproval and their condemnation as contrary to religion. But we know that they could not have been avoided since they occurred in the face of excommunication imposed by numerous clergymen, and of the threat of punishment on the part of many princes."
Salo Wittmayer Baron (1957). Social and Religious History of the Jews, Volume 4. Columbia University Press.
Historian Michael Haag writes:
"The worst violence came when Peter's crusade appeared along the Rhine, one of Europe's major trade routes, where Jews had lived for centuries in large numbers, their economic usefulness recognised by the encouragement and protection they had always received from the bishops in the cathedral towns. During May and June 1096 Jewish quarters were attacked, synagogues were sacked, houses were looted and entire communities massacred. The bishops and burghers did what they could to protect the Jews but were often overwhelmed. At Worms, for example, the bishop sheltered Jews in his castle but he could not resist the combined force of the crusaders and his poorer townsfolk who demanded their death or conversion; and when the bishop offered to baptise the Jews to save their lives, the entire community chose suicide instead. During that May and June as many as eight thousand jews were massacred or took their own lives as the crusading rabble marched through Germany.
Far removed from the spirit and the intentions of Clermont, tributaries of this popular crusade passed across Europe, through France, Germany and Hungary, but only the chaotic stream led by peter the Hermit and known in history as the People's Crusade got as far as Asia Minor where in October 1096 it was annihilated by the Seljuks, though Peter who had hung behind in Constantinople, lived to preach another day.
The official crusading army, led by Adhemar and the great secular lords, had no part in these massacres. Assembling their forces in the west, in France especially, they made their preparations and when the harvest was brought in they set out to liberate Jerusalem.
The Templars: The History and the Myth p.80
Historian Thomas Asbridge writes
" In the months that followed the Council of Clermont, the crusading message spread throughout Western Europe, evoking an unprecedented reaction. While Pope Urban broadcast his message throughout France, bishops from across the Latin world who had attended his sermon took the call back to their own dioceses
The cause was also taken up by a number of, rabble-rousing preachers, largely unsanctioned and unregulated by the Church. Most famous and remarkable was Peter the Hermit. Probably originating from a poor background in Amiens (north-eastern France), he became renowned for his austere, itinerant lifestyle, repellent appearance and unusual eating habits - one contemporary noted "he lived on wine and fish; he hardly ever, or never ate bread". By modern standards, he might be deemed a vagabond, but among the poorer classes of eleventh-century France, he was revered as a prophet.... A Greek contemporary noted; "As if he had sounded a divine voice in the hearts of all, Peter the Hermit inspired the Franks from everywhere to gather together with their weapons, horses and other military equipment."He must have been a truly exceptional orator - within six moths of Clermont, he gathered an army, largely made up of a poor rabble, numbering in excess of 15,000. In history, this force, alongside a number of contingents from Germany, has become known as the "People's Crusade." Spurred on by crusading fervour, its various element set off for the Holy Land in spring 1096, months before any other army, making ill-disciplined progress towards Constantinople. Along the way, some of these "crusaders" concluded that they might as well combat the "enemies of Christ" closer to home, and thus carried out terrible massacres of Rhineland Jews."
The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land p.41
Thomas Asbridge writes elsewhere:
"But while still in their homelands, many of these "poor" crusaders became embroiled in one of the blackest, most bloodthirsty episodes in all medieval history. Revealing the full power of the crusading message to inspire horrific violence and incite profound racial hatred, these "soldiers of Christ" turned their weapons against an "enemy" near at hand - the Jews of Europe. This flood of anti-Semitism spread like a contagion from the crusaders to the local Christians of central and eastern Europe. Together they conspired to perpetuate a series of murderous attacks upon the Jews, a people who had for generations lived in peace among them, in what has been called, "the first holocaust". The pogroms began as early as December 1095 with anti-Semitic riots in Rouen and by early 1096 anxious French Jews were warning their German brethren to be wary of these new crusaders. Just a few months later, between May and July 1096, the Rhineland Jews fell victim to sadistic persecution as a tide of anti-Jewish sentiment swept eastwards through Germany and beyond. Beginning in Speyer incidents soon followed at trier, Metz, Regensburg and Cologne among other cities, with perhaps the most infamous and disturbing attacks taking place at Worms and Mainz. Historians long believed that these atrocities were the work of uncontrolled peasant mobs, a vile distortion of the crusading ideal at the hands of undisciplined and illiterate masses.
The unsettling reality is that, although peasants did make up a large portion of the People's expedition, most contingents in the first wave of the crusade were controlled by knights, many of them powerful latin aristocrats. Indeed, a Jewish eyewitness recorded that his people had been abused by" both princes and common folk who placed an evil sign upon their garments, a cross, and helmets on heads." One of the largest groups gathered at Mainz in late may; Germans led by the powerful Emicho, count of Leiningen;
Swabians under Count Hartmann of Dillingen; and a well-equipped and well-organised army of crusaders from France, England, Flanders and Lothringia including the notable lords Drogo of Nesle and Willaim the Carpenter. Certainly, no rabble, this contingent, thousands strong was a potent military force. Even princes from the main, second wave of the crusade may have been guilty of anti-semitic tendencies, as Godfrey of Boullion is reported to have extorted 500 silver pieces from the Jews of Mainz and Cologne in return for promises of protection that he failed to fulfil. The pogroms of 1096 were not simply random, rogue incidents, Nor were they misrepresentative of the ideals that drove many first Crusaders. But why did an expedition preached as a war of reconquest against Islam result in the murder of Jews? Even latin contemporaries were unsure, one noting:
" I know not by the judgement of the Lord, or by some error of mind, they rose in a spirit of cruelty against the Jewish people scattered throughout these cities and slaughtered them without mercy...asserting it to be the beginning of their expedition to Jerusalem and their duty against the enemies of the Christian faith"
Two forces seem to have been at work, stimulated by the crusading message that Urban had Shaped. Characterising Muslims, the expedition's projected enemies, as a sub-human species, the pope harnessed society's inclination to define itself in contrast to an alien "other". But tapping into this well-pool of discrimination and prejudice was akin to opening a Pandora's Box. A potentially uncontrollable torrent of racial and religious intolerance was released.
The First crusade was also styled, perhaps most forcefully by popular preaching, as a war of retribution to avenge the injuries supposedly meted out against Christendom by Islam. This message, itself a ghastly distortion of reality was ripe for further manipulation. The dreadful power of these twin impulses was underscored by a Jewish near-contemporary. Recreating a discussion of ideology among a group of crusaders, he imagined them proclaiming:
" Behold we journey a long way to seek the idolatrous shrine and take vengeance upon the Muslims. But here are the Jews dwelling among us, whose ancestors killed (Jesus Christ) and crucified him groundlessly. Let us take vengeance upon them. Let us wipe them out as a nation. Israel's name will be mentioned no more. Or let them be like us and acknowledge (Christ)."
Cloaked in an aura of divine sanction, these Latins gave free rein to long-simmering animosity, subjecting the followers of Judaism to a ruthless programme of violence, extortion and forced conversion. Wherever they went, the crusader's blind hatred, greed and bloodlust infected local Christian townspeople, turning them against their Jewish neighbours. In all this, the German Church maintained a disapproving but largely ineffectual stance. Its bishops knew full well that Rome did not advocate the victimisation of Jews and that canon law explicitly prohibited forced conversion. Some like the bishop of Speyer, duly worked to protect imperilled Jewish citizens, offering them shelter and support. Yet others looked on unmoved or worse still, collaborated in the attacks. Of all the crusaders implicated in this inexcusable episode , none eclipsed the notoriety of Emicho of Leiningen, the self-styled champion of this holocaust. Decades later one Jewish observer recalled how : " Count Emicho , the persecutor of all Jews , may his bones be ground up between millstones..became head of the and concocted the story that an emissary of (Christ had) given him a sign in the flesh indicating that, when he would reach Byzantium, (Christ would) crown him with a royal diadem"
His crimes and those of his followers were recorded with distressing clarity by both Jewish and Christian contemporaries.
The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam p.84-86
Historian Thomas Madden Writes
"The People's Crusade was not the only misfire of the movement. When peter the Hermit made his way across Germany, in his wake sprouted a number of smaller crusade armies determined to catch up to the famous holy man. Some made it, but most did not. Instead, the lure of Jewish riches distracted some from their original purposes. Protected by the German crown and local lords, Jews were abundant in thriving cities along the Rhine. They became rich targets for avaricious crusaders. The most infamous of the anti-Jewish crusade leaders was count Emicho of Leiningen. On a rather pronounced detour, he and his followers marched down the Rhine plundering and massacring Jews in the cities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Trier and Cologne. Some local bishops did their best to protect the Jews but many were killed all the same. In Mainz, Emicho's men stormed the palace of the bishop, where the Jews had taken refuge. Albert of Aix described the terror:
"They killed the women, also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex. The Jews seeing that their Christian enemies were attacking them and their children, and that they were sparing no age, likewise fell upon one another, brother, children, wives and sisters, and thus perished at each other's hands. Horrible to say, mother cut the throats of nursing children with knives and stabbed others, preferring them to perish thus by their own hands rather than to be killed by the weapons of the uncircumcised"
Much has been written concerning the motivation behind these massacres. One must accept from the outset that just as there were many participants, there were also many reasons formulated for the attacks. For some, it was a matter of penury. Like the followers of Peter the Hermit, they lacked the funds to make it to the East. Here were Jews, they reasoned, many of whom had grown wealthy through the sin of usury. Why not take their ill-gotten gains and use them in a holy cause? Others considered the conversion or destruction of the Jews to be a first order of business. Why should Christians march two thousand miles away to expel the enemies of Christ when there were also many dwelling here in their very homes? Undoubtedly the image of the crucified christ employed by crusade preachers led some to look not to the Muslims but to the Jews, who, the Bible records, were responsible for the crucifixion. As one crusader explained to a Jewish rabbi "You are the children of those who killed the object of our veneration, hanging him on a tree; and he himself had said "there will yet come a day when my children will come to avenge my blood"
As it so happened, none of these anti-Jewish "crusades" made it to the East. Most simply evaporated when resistance in the cities became too severe. Count Emicho pressed on to Hungary, where he continued his belligerence. There, his army was crushed."
The New Concise History of the Crusades p.18-19
Historian Rodney stark writes
" First came the People's Crusade - the main body led by Peter the hermit, with an advance party led by Walter the penniless. Several later leaving groups were associated with the Peoples Crusade but are more appropriately treated separately as the German Crusade. one of these groups was led by a priest named Colkmar; another was led by peter's disciple, a monk named Gottschalk. The third was recruited by a minor Rhineland nobleman, Emicho of Leiningen and probably was not associated with Peter's expedition. Aside from the fact those involved in these groups were mostly Germans rather than Franks, a major reason to examine these three groups separately from the people's crusade is that they committed a series of Jewish massacres along the rhine in preparation of going east. All three were, in turn, annihilated when they tried to force their way through Hungary. "
God's battalions p.121
So according to Michael Haag, the popular crusade that ravaged the rhine were not part of the officially sanctioned crusade. The Jews had been protected by the bishops and princes for centuries and they initially tried to stop the bloodshed but were simply overwhelmed resulting in the deaths of 8000. Haag views this as a big deviation from what had been set out by the pope at Clermont.
Thomas Asbridge takes a very different view he views the resulting violence against Jews as largely being the result of the pope dehumanising Muslims as subhuman and setting society against "the other" and though this was intended against the Muslims, the renegade crusaders took it out against the Jews. So it is more systematic, caused by the very act of crusading. Rather than this simply being a rabble of peasants as usually presented he states that numerous nobles and knights took part. He presents it as a multinational force of knights rather than simple peasants. However, he notes that they weren't part of the main crusader force. He notes that the actions of these "crusaders" went against canon law and were opposed by many in the church, ignored by others and supported by some. Thomas Asbridge views the massacres as not being a deviation of what the pope had set out at Clermont.
According to Thomas Madden this was a misfire where groups were trying to catch up to Peter the Hermit. Madden says the main factor was greed. There were also numerous reasons for anti-Semitism towards Jews: anger of usury which had made the Jews wealthy, the Bible blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, the image of Christ on the cross used by zealous crusade preachers, a desire to fight the enemy at home first as well a means of getting money to make it to the east. Madden presents the church as trying to prevent the bloodshed but being unable to.
Rodney stark is careful to differentiate between the People's Crusade and the German Crusade specifically , three groups one led by a priest named Colkmar one by a monk named Gottschalk and one Emicho of Leiningen. He argues that it is these three groups of crusaders that perpetrated these massacres.
I think in this instance the crusaders were extremely violent, even for the time. This was not the first instance of large scale Medieval pogroms against the Jews. In Granada in 1066, 4000 jews were massacred Muslim a mob in Granada and in 1033, in Fez Morrocco 6000 Jews were massacred by local tribesman. The Rhineland massacres of 8000 Jews were one of the largest to ever take place on European soil. Maybe Asbridge is right and that the crusades released a pandoras box of hate against "the other." but this does not really explain why these renegade crusaders ignored church authorities. It is worthy to note that these atrocities were not committed by the main crusader force but by various unofficial bands that arose in the Rhineland that were somehow associated or influenced by Peter the Hermit and the People's Crusade. It is also worthy to note that this was not in any way envisaged by the Church and in Speyer, Worms and Mainz the Church actively tried to protect jews. I think the unauthorised crusade preachers whipped up hysteria which erupted in the Rhineland.
We know from the writings of Albert of Aachen that Peter the Hermit had a big influence upon Emicho. We also learn from this source that Emicho claimed to have had visions of christ and to hold bizarre apocalyptic views that he was to march on Contanopile ,overcoming the forces there and becoming the "last world Emperor" mentioned in certain Christian apocalyptic traditions. Albert of Aix also notes that Emicho's band followed a she-goat and goose across the Rhineland believing them filled with the "the Holy Spirit". In a different era, Emicho would have been undoubtedly burnt as a heretic, if this is correct.
So in this instance, the crusaders were exceptionally violent though these attacks were unforeseen and not participated in by the Authorised crusade. Nor were these atrocities condoned by the church, far from it, they were nearly universally condemned after the attack. It is also worth remembering that none of these three crusader groups actually made it to the Holy Land. So certainly these three groups of renegade crusaders were terrible but I think generalising about all the crusaders is not fair, accurate or helpful as the crusading period lasted from 11th to the 15th Centuries and was made up of many different armies.
Overall, I would say that generalising about the violence of all crusaders the way llisha does is a distortion of History. Whilst the crusaders did commit numerous attrocities, llisha's complaint that "they boasted of killing in lurid detail" is erroneous. Whilst the Christian chroniclers did boast of killing after the siege of Jerusalem, it is largely viewed by contemporary scholarship as unfactual, exaggerations for various ideological reasons. In fact, most historians think the siege of Jerusalem only resulted in the deaths of 3000, not the massacre of 70,000 which has made its way into the popular imagination. Massacring 3,000 after a siege when the besieged resisted was relatively standard for the time amongst both Christians and Muslims. The Crusaders should not be unfairly singled out. Crusader cannibalism at Marra was largely the result of widespread famine which far from boasting of it the crusader chroniclers show their disgust at. The Massacre of 2,700 Muslim prisoners by Richard the Lionheart was militarily expedient and scholars have described Saladin also bearing part of the blame for delaying Richard and keeping him bogged down in Acre on purpose. Whilst in the west Richard largely got away with it in the west, there were a few noticeable criticisms of him made by western chronicles. Saladin, himself largely recognised that this was an act of military expediency, not an innate violent nature.
The Rhineland massacres by unauthorised bands of nobles, knights and peasants were condemned by Christian chroniclers for their acts of violence. llisha's statements about Crusader violence and Christian chroniclers"boast(ing) about killing in lurid detail." are largely unfactual, ideologised myths aimed at showing the Crusaders as inherently violent compared to Muslims. This is absurd, the crusaders and Islamic powers were both prone to violence when it suited them. Similarly crusader violence for the most part was not anything extraordinary for the violent age in which they took place. As we shall see in my next post, Arab chroniclers of the actions of Muslim rulers are just as violent as anything perpetrated by the crusaders.