Sunday, September 21, 2014

Avoid Clumping Christians

The Papal Crusades
It's important to delineate between Western Latin and Eastern Greek Orthodox Christians when discussing the Crusades. The Eastern Christians took no part in any of the Crusades. Also, the first and longest Crusade, the Reconquista, was uniquely western as it took place on the Iberian peninsula. Begun in 718 to push the African Moors from Europe, it lasted until the 1492 Treaty of Granada. However, persecution of the "Moriscos" continued for more than a century afterwards.

The Siege of Acre (detail), by Dominique Papety

The Western Purge

The First Knights Crusade (1095-1099) and the People's Crusade (1096) to the Holy Lands coincided, at least at the outset, with one another. Most of the damage done by the People's or "Paupers" Crusade were to European Jews. As the "Paupers" consisted of mostly untrained civilian rabble, they met their end the same year they began, when they were slaughtered by trained Muslims forces upon arriving in Anatolia (today's Turkey). However, the First Knights Crusade was composed of trained knights and foot soldiers who the Muslim's simply referred to as "The Franks".

Also important to note, the western Popes, who the Eastern Orthodox only referred to as a "Bishop of Rome", issued Papal Bulls inciting the creation of the Crusader armies while granting each the crusaders plenary indulgences (no stain of sin) for the wholesale slaughter of all non-Christians, Muslim and Jew alike.

Colonization of the Middle East
The first crusade to the Holy Land proved a successful colonization effort by the western Europeans as they captured and held the cities of Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli and Jerusalem (territories lost earlier on by the Eastern Christians to Muslims).

However, at the time the city of Jerusalem was captured, Muslim, Eastern Christians (Byzantines) and Jews where co-existing within the city. When the Western Latin Christians (Franks) penetrated the walls of Jerusalem in 1099, it was pretty much a surprise, as the city was not reinforced with Byzantine or Muslim troops at that time. Consequently, any Muslim, Jew, or Eastern Christian man, woman or child, who remained in the city after its capture were put to the sword.

Jerusalem returned to Muslims control in 1187, after just 88 years. However, Papal Bulls would call for the assembly of 8 more crusades to the Holy Lands, lasting up until the year 1272. All would fail to regain Jerusalem.

Other Western Crusades
Albigensian Crusade
Consequently, there were several other papal bulls calling for "Crusades" by numerous Popes for the purpose of stamping out heresy as well as for political and territorial gain by the Papal States within western Europe.

Possibly the bloodiest was the 20 year Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229), carried out against what the papacy called the "heretical Cathars", a Christian sect with Gnostic influences who challenged and criticized the established Latin or "Catholic" Church. It is estimated that as many as one million Europeans perished during the Albigensian Crusade, many (probably most) of whom were wrongly accused of being Cathars.

Eastern Tolerance
Nevertheless, Eastern Christians (Greek Byzantines) had no history of anti-Semitism. They were able to co-exist with Jews and Muslims, even if it was a grudging coexistence. Additionally, the "holy wars" lead by the Prophet Muhammed and the earlier caliphates were limited to attacks on polytheists (Zoroastrianism). They deliberately excluded all those who followed Abrahamic beliefs (later charging only a tax).

It wasn't until the rise of the western Latin Church, their invasion of the Middle East (crusades), and subsequent indiscriminate slaughter, that antagonism between Muslims and Christians truly escalated.

The ongoing and later wars between Byzantium (Constantinople) and Muslim neighbors (Seljuk Turks) were territorial in nature, due to the rise and expansion of the Ottoman Empire. However, the stain left by the crusaders certainly didn't help save Constantinople.

Subsequently, it's inaccurate, even prejudicial, to make blanket statements about all Christians as it is for all Muslims.

Division, Schism and Collapse
Ironically, in 1095, before the crusades began, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus had posted a letter to Pope Urban II requesting military aid to reenforce the walls Constantinople, after losing the holy cities of Nicaea and Acre to the Seljuq Turks. Urban then held his now infamous Council of Clermont where he declared war on all non-Christians.

Expecting to receive a dozen lieutenants and maybe a hundred or more soldiers, Alexius was horrified to awake one morning to find Peter the Hermit, a small contingency of knights (led by Walter Sans Avoir) and roughly 30,000 unarmed, untrained Europeans (The Pauper's Crusade) outside the city gates of Constantinople's, all wanting to kill Saracens.

Wisely, Alexius refused to let any of them into Constantinople.  However, he provided them ferry transportation across the Bosporus Strait into Anatolia where they were then slaughtered by the trained forces of the Selquq caliphate. Later when the armed and trained Knights Crusade showed up he only allowed three of their officers entry to the city. Alexius would work with the Knights to take back the city of Nicaea but later tricked them, locking them out of the town. From that point on, the Crusaders worked on their own and often times against the interest of the Byzantine Christians.

The Entry of the Crusaders in Constantinople, by Eugène Delacroix.
In 1054, the Christianity would formally divide into two churches, during the Great Schism, with the Latin West becoming the Catholic Church and the Eastern Church the Greek Orthodox.

A couple centuries later, in 1204, Pope Innocence III launched what was, by then, the Fourth Crusade. Before entering the Holy Land, the Crusaders first attacked and looted Constantinople. Murder and rape occurred on a vast scale as Christian killed Christian and the great Library of Constantinople was burnt to the ground. Art treasures and valuables were either melted down for the return journey to Europe or destroyed.

Lacking any support from European Christians, Constantinople would eventually fall to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and the once glorious Eastern Christian Empire would cease to be. What's truly unfortunate is that the Catholic Church beatified Pope Urban II, the individual responsible for instigating the Crusades, as late as 1881.

Additional Reading: 






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