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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review - "Myth of the Andalusian Paradise" by Dario Fernandez-Morera




Fernandez-Morera strips away the veil created by politically-correct modern historians to look at the real face of Muslim Spain based on contemporary, predominantly Arab sources. Conscious that he is taking on the entrenched academic establishment, Professor Fernadez-Morera documents his book meticulously, quoting numerous sources for each assertion and providing more than 100 pages of notes. 


What emerges is a hideous image of brutal aggression, consciously humiliating oppression, and intolerance on all sides (Muslim, Christian and Jewish).  This book is not a diatribe against Islam. Rather it is a bitter and biting attack on Western historians who in their search for an example to justify their own fantasies about “multicultural harmony” inside Islam have ignored or consciously distorted the facts.  


For example, Fernandes-Morera quotes the following passage from another contemporary historian: “It is important to understand that medieval Islamic civilization had a different attitude toward slavery than that seen in Western Europe. Slaves were much better treated and their status was quite honorable. Furthermore, there were many career opportunities open to a skillful mamluk [slave soldier], and the higher standards of living available in the Islamic Middle East, meant there was often little resistance to being taken [as a slave] in Central Asia and south-eastern Europe.” Fernandes-Morera replies: “One can certainly imagine the throngs of girls and boys in Greece, Serbia and Central Asia clamoring to be taken away from their families to be circumcised, to become sexual slaves, or to be castrated to guard harems as eunuchs, or, in other cases, to be raised in barracks with the sole purpose of becoming fearless slave-soldiers.”


Fernandez-Morera systematically debunks the allegations of a more “relaxed” Islam and multicultural equality.  He does so by quoting Arab sources which (among other things) brag about the wholesale destruction of churches and the slaughter of Christian prisoners, praise the crucifixion of apostates, and texts advising Muslims how to collect the tax from non-believers. (Make them stand before Muslims sitting on a raised platform, call them “enemy of Allah” and then push them around for the amusement of any Muslim “who want[s] to enjoy it.”) He also documents the extent to which Islamic Spanish society was dependent on slaves. For example, Abd al-Rahman had 3,750 slaves in his court, 6,300 sexual slaves in his harem, and 13, 750 slave soldiers. Furthermore, he notes that slaves were a major export of the kingdom, particularly eunuchs (castrated Christian males.) He documents the racism that characterized all blacks as fickle, foolish and ignorant and valued “white” slave girls at almost 15 times that of black slave girls.


Fernandez-Morera reminds readers that in Islamic Spain sharia law was the law of the land, and he goes into considerable detail on the specific form of sharia law applied, namely the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. He points out that the Maliki school, far from being particularly liberal and tolerant, “is one of the more conservative schools, though not the most conservative — an honor that corresponds to the Habali school, predominant in the Arabian Peninsula.” (Fernandes-Morera, p. 96.)  Fernandez-Morera points out that Maliki sharia law included many niceties like female genital mutilation (even for adult sexual slaves), counted a woman as half a man, and banned musical instruments and singing altogether (as well as painting and sculpture, of course). The law even went so far as to order a man who bought a non-Muslim sex slave and discovered she was a singer to return her (p. 108).  


Obviously, as Fernandez-Morera admits, the elites in Muslim Spain (as all over the world) often ignored the law. Non-Muslim slave singers and dancers are tolerated and even coveted. However, he is right to remind his readers that lapses in the application of law do not constitute a positive culture--much less a shining example of “paradise.”


In short, Fernandez-Morera uses the Arabic sources to create his picture of Islamic Spain, and he applies logic and common sense ruthlessly to expose “political correctness” masquerading as history.  This book is important not just to those interested in learning about Medieval Spain, but as a lesson in how ideology can pervert allegedly scholarly writing. I recommend to everyone with an interest in history and historiography.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Childhood of a Disastrous Queen: Sibylla of Jerusalem - Part I

Sibylla of Jerusalem, Queen of Jerusalem from 1186 – 1190, was a tragic figure. The antithesis of a power-hungry woman, she put her affection for her second husband above the well-being of her kingdom — and in so being doomed her kingdom to humiliation, defeat and almost complete annihilation. But to what extent was her devotion to Guy de Lusignan a function of insecurity that developed during her childhood? 

Sibylla in the Hollywood film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
Sibylla was born in 1160, the daughter of Amalric of Jerusalem, the younger brother of King Baldwin III, and his wife Agnes de Courtenay, the daughter of the Count of Edessa. At the time of her birth, her father was Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, while her mother was landless, since the entire County of Edessa had been lost to the Saracens. Shortly after her birth, however, in 1163, King Baldwin III died without issue, and the High Court of Jerusalem agreed to recognize Amalric as his heir — on the condition that he set aside Agnes de Courtenay. The official grounds for the annulment were that Amalric and Agnes were related within the prohibited degrees of kinship, something the church had suddenly discovered after six years of marriage. Obviously, the real reasons lay elsewhere, but it is not possible to know from this distance in time if the determining factor was Agnes' alleged immorality (as the Chronicle of Ernoul imputes) or fear that the Courtenays would try to muscle into positions of power in Jerusalem (as Malcolm Barber suggests in The Crusader States) or some other consideration now lost to the historical record. For Sibylla the implications, however, were severe. Her mother Agnes was banished from court, while she and her younger brother Baldwin remained under their father’s control.

While Baldwin remained at court to be raised in close proximity to his father and learn his future role as King of Jerusalem, Sibylla was sent to the convent at Bethany near Jerusalem to be raised by her father’s aunt, the youngest daughter of King Baldwin II, the Abbess Yveta. From that point onwards, although she may have seen her father or brother on special occasions, she would have seen almost nothing of her mother, her promptly re-married.

The contemporary cloisters at Bethlehem as the look today.
By 1170 it was apparent that her brother Baldwin was suffering from leprosy. This meant that he might not live to adulthood and even if he did was unlikely to have heirs of his body. Finding a husband for the 10-year-old Sibylla was, therefore, of paramount importance to the kingdom. Friedrich, Archbishop of Tyre, was dispatched to the West to identify a husband for her, a man who would be suitable, when the time came, to rule the Kingdom of Jerusalem as her consort. 

A year later, Friedrich of Tyre returned with Stephen of Sancerre of the House of Blois. Stephen was clearly of sufficient rank; his sister was married to Louis VII of France and his brothers were married to Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughters by Louis VII. But Stephen unexpectedly refused to marry Sibylla and returned to France, squandering his chance to be King of Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine that about a young girl living in a convent could have so offended an ambitious noblemen, and it is probable that his decision had nothing to do with Sibylla at all. Very likely he discovered he disliked the climate, the food, the role of the High Court of Jerusalem, or simply the military situation as Saladin was increasing in power. Then again, given Sibylla’s obvious lack of intelligence as demonstrated by her subsequent actions, maybe Stephen of Sancerre really was disgusted with her. Whatever his motives, Sibylla was probably deeply hurt by the public rejection.

In 1174, Sibylla’s father died unexpectedly and her younger brother ascended the throne as Baldwin IV. He was only 13 at the time and so placed under a regent, Raymond, Count of Tripoli, to whom fell the duty, in consultation with the High Court, of finding another man for Sibylla.  This time the choice of the High Court fell on William Marquis de Montferrat. William was first cousin to both Louis VII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich, and his family had a long tradition of crusading.

William of Montferrat arrived in the Holy Land escorted by a Genoese fleet in October 1176, and within six weeks, he married the then 16-year old Sibylla. He was invested with the title of Count of Jaffa and Ascalon, the now traditional title for the heir apparent to the throne.  The contemporary chronicler and then Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, William of Tyre, describes William of Montferrat as follows:

He was reasonably tall and was a good-looking young man with reddish-gold hair. He was brave, but quick-tempered and liable to over-react. He was very generous and completely frank, totally lacking in any kind of pretense. He ate to excess and was a very heavy drinker, but this did not impair his judgment.

There is no reason to think that Sibylla was ill-pleased with this choice of husband, or he with her. He certainly did not reject her and she became pregnant shortly after the marriage. Unfortunately, William de Montferrat became ill within six months and after eight, in June 1177, he was dead. Sibylla gave birth to a posthumous son in August and named him Baldwin after her brother.


At once the search for a new husband for Sibylla commenced. The Count of Flanders arrived with a large force even before Sibylla gave birth to her son, and as a close kinsman (his mother was Baldwin and Sibylla’s aunt) he felt entitled to decide Sibylla’s next husband. The High Court of Jerusalem disagreed. Worse, the name he put forward was a comparatively obscure Flemish noblemen, who the High Court viewed as an insult to the crown of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he wanted to marry this man’s younger brother (of equally inferior status) to Sibylla’s half-sister, Isabella, thereby binding both princesses to his vassals — a crude means of making himself master of the kingdom without actually doing the hard work of fighting for it or ruling it. This was, understandably, unacceptable to the High Court of Jerusalem.  The Count of Flanders returned to Europe and Sibylla was still without a new husband.

According to the Chronicles of Ernoul, it was after Sibylla had been widowed, that the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel became interested in marrying Sibylla. While Ernoul is considered a biased and unreliable source, nevertheless, Ramla clearly had designs on Sibylla three years later and it is very possible that it was after Flander’s unsuitable suggestions had been rejected that he started to harbor hopes that the High Court would favor a powerful local baron over an unknown and unsuitable nobleman from the West.

Meanwhile, Baldwin IV took the step of associating his sister with him in some of his public acts as a means to reinforce her stature as his heir. (His great-grandfather, Baldwin II, had done the same toward the end of his reign to stress that his daughter Melisende would succeed him.) Baldwin IV also wrote to the King of France (perhaps convinced that the King of England — as represented by Philip of Flanders — did not have the best interests of his Kingdom at heart) and begged him (Louis VII) to choose from among his barons a man who could take up the burden of ruling the “Holy Kingdom” (i.e. the Kingdom of Jerusalem). Louis’ choice was Hugh, Duke of Burgundy, a very high-ranking nobleman indeed. He was expected to arrive in the spring of 1180.

Meanwhile, Baldwin of Ramla had been taken captive at the engagement on the Litani in the summer of 1179, and Saladin demanded the outrageous ransom of 200,000 bezants.  This was without doubt a “king’s ransom” — indeed higher in monetary terms than the ransom demanded for Baldwin II of Jerusalem when he had been taken captive by 1123, and more than twice the ransom paid for the Count of Tripoli in 1174. It was clearly beyond the resources of Ramla’s baronies to pay, and suggests that Saladin thought (had intelligence to suggest?) that Ramla was destined to Sibylla’s next husband and could command (in advance) the resources of the kingdom. Even more significant: the Byzantine Emperor paid a significant portion of Ramla’s ransom. Again, there is hardly any other plausible explanation of such generosity except that the Byzantine Emperor also believed Ramla was destined to become King of Jerusalem by marrying Sibylla.

It was a scenario that appeared more plausible than ever when, for a second time Sibylla (and Jerusalem) was rejected after everything appeared to be settled. At least the Duke of Burgundy’s excuse was clear: the King of France had died leaving the kingdom to his young son Philip II and the Plantagenets were predatory. Burgundy felt he had to remain in France to defend it. The impact on Sibylla's self-esteem, however, may have been profound -- a topic I will explore next week.

Sibylla plays a major role in my Jerusalem Trilogy:




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Friday, July 21, 2017

Jerusalem Fights Back


In early June 1189, the survivors of the catastrophe at Hattin — with the architect of that disaster conspicuously absent — took to the field in an offensive operation to re-take the lost Christian territory of Sidon. The German crusade under Friedrich Barbarossa had just set out, but was more than a year away from reaching the Holy Land — even if all had gone well. Henry II of England was fighting with Philip II of France (and his son Richard), and neither king was preparing for a crusade at all. Guy de Lusignan was in Antioch after swearing an oath never to take up arms against the Saracens again. Saladin, on the other hand, was not only in complete control of all the cities of the former Kingdom of Jerusalem except Tyre, he had recently taken the defiant Christian castles of Safed, Belvoir, Montreal and Kerak. Taking the offensive at this time was therefore a remarkable demonstration of defiance and spirit on the part of the men concentrated in Tyre.

Unfortunately, we know very little about this operation. The leadership is unnamed in surviving sources, but was almost certainly Reginald de Sidon and Balian d’Ibelin. Both barons had fought their way off the field at Hattin and been engaged in military operations since: Sidon in a futile attempt to defend his inland castle of Belfort (sometimes called Beaufort), and Ibelin at Jerusalem. Not only were both barons in Tyre at this time, but both had an interest in recapturing the important coastal city of Sidon. The Lord of Sidon obviously wanted his barony back, while Ibelin had betrothed his eldest daughter to Sidon, so that he too had a vested interest in the return of Sidon to his furture son-in-law’s control. While it is possible that Conrad de Montferrat also took part in the expedition, there is no mention of this, and he had little reason to undertake an adventure of this sort. A bird in the hand, as the saying goes, is worth two in the bush and Tyre was his; to take part in the expedition was to risk losing his grip on Tyre (or his life) for an objective that would fall to another, namely the Lord of Sidon. 

As for the troops involved, although individual crusaders were starting to trickle into Tyre, no large contingents had yet arrived.  Therefore, the men who set out to re-take Sidon on June 3, 1189 were predominantly men from Outremer, mostly survivors of Hattin. The bulk of these men would have been the Turcopoles and sergeants that broke out of the encirclement at Hattin with Sidon and Ibelin. They would have been cooped up in Tyre almost two years, and would have survived two sieges from Saladin since. The remainder would have been the remnants of the garrisons of other Christian cities, who had been given a safe-conduct to Tyre in exchange for surrendering the cities they had been left to guard. Most of these men would have left families behind in the now-lost cities, towns and villages of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Most would have had no knowledge of what had become of their wives and children. These were men who had already lost everything, but were not prepared to crawl away in despair; they wanted to fight back.

While Sidon and Ibelin’s personal interest in Sidon may have inspired them to action, the operation was far from a personal or selfish one. It had the clear strategic goal of extending Frankish control in the direction of the remaining remnants of the other two crusader states: the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch. The capture of Sidon would have been a first step toward the re-capture of Beirut, and the re-establishment of contiguous Frankish control of the coastline of the northern Levant. In addition, the territory between Tyre and Sidon is very fertile and firm Frankish control of the cities at both ends would have enabled cultivation of the coastal plane, something vitally important to support the population of Tyre, which was flooded with refuges from the rest of the kingdom.


Last but not least, Sidon had been a major ship-building port for centuries.  The survivors of Hattin were more dependent on communication and trade with the Western world than ever before. Having a native ship-building industry would have been an important asset.

In short, the assault on Sidon makes more strategic sense than the siege of Acre which Guy de Lusignan started a few months later.  To be sure, Acre was the larger, better and more prosperous port. Lusignan may have been motivated by the desire to reward his followers with various monopolies and “money fiefs” after taking Acre. Yet re-establishing solid lines of communication and supply to Tripoli and Antioch is a much more compelling military argument for the assault on Sidon. Notably, Richard the Lionheart planned a similar attempt after it became clear that Jerusalem and Cairo were beyond his grasp.

Due to the paucity of sources, we know almost nothing about the course of the campaign beyond the fact that ten days later the Frankish forces were back in Tyre having been forced to withdraw. That is notably not the same thing as being routed or chased back to Tyre with their tails between their legs. There is no indication of significant casualties; certainly Sidon and Ibelin were healthy and hearty on their return based on their continued activities. All of this sounds suspiciously as if the Franks did not engage in a battle at all, but rather prudently withdrew when confronted with overwhelming (or at any rate insurmountable) opposition.

Because of the lack of either success or spectacular failure, the incident has been all but forgotten. Yet it deserves remembering because it is poignant evidence of the fighting spirit of the men of Outremer.  Later crusaders were all too ready to report about their own courageous feats at arms, belittling the prowess, courage and, indeed, manliness, of the natives of Outremer. The legend arouse of the weak, effeminate, decadent “poulains” (Franks born in the crusader states) and the heroic crusaders. It is a legend we should not to perpetuate, as the evidence points to the opposite: the “poulains” were fierce and canny fighting men, more than ready and willing to fight for their homeland. They simply tempered that valor with discretion learned from being perpetually outnumbered by their foes.

The campaign to retake Sidon is described in fictionalized form in the third book of my Balian d'Ibelin trilogy, "Envoy of Jerusalem."


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Muslims in the Crusader States - Living under Sharia Law

One of the most popular misconceptions the crusader kingdoms is that the crusaders were a tiny Christian elite ruling over predominantly Muslim population. It is time we stopped perpetuating this (among other) myths. The Muslims in the crusader states were a minority -- and they lived according to Sharia Law.


But first, lets go back to the basics. We should not, in an excess of politically correctness, forget that Christ was born in Bethlehem in what was to become the Kingdom of Jerusalem, that he lived and worked in Nazareth (in the Kingdom of Jerusalem) and that he was crucified in Jerusalem. Christ did not dream about going to heaven from Jerusalem; his death in the city is historical fact. Jesus, son of Joseph, actually lived, worked, preached and converted many to his new religion during his own lifetime in what came to be called the “Holy Land” and was later the heart of the crusader kingdoms. St. Paul established the first Christian community in Antioch in roughly 50 AD. In short, the territories conquered by the crusaders encompassed the very oldest Christian territory on earth. There were Christians in these lands for almost 600 years before Mohammad was even born.

Furthermore, the territories that later formed the crusader states, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, had all be part of the Roman Empire and Christianized in the 4th century AD. From being a minority religion, Christianity became the state and majority religion in 325 under the reign of Emperor Constantine, who rebuilt Jerusalem between 325 and 330.

The territories that later became the crusader states of Jerusalem and Tripoli remained Christian until they were conquered by Muslim invaders almost exactly 300 years later. Although Muslim rule was not broken for three hundred years (in the case of Antioch) and four hundred twenty years in the case of Tripoli and Jerusalem, that “Muslim” rule was not a single block of continuous lordship but, rather, three distinctly separate epochs. The Arab-dominated, Sunni elite which had conquered Syria and Palestine in the 7th century was defeated and driven out of the Levant in the tenth century by the Shiia Fatimid dynasty, which had taken control of Egypt in 905.  At the same time, the Byzantine Empire struck back and reconquered Antioch. Then in 1040 the Seljuk Turks, recent converts to Islam, started expanding eastward, and reached Jerusalem, driving out the Fatimids.

The fact that the territory had been conquered and was ruled by Muslim elites, is not the same thing as mass conversion of the population. There are to this day significant Christian and Jewish populations in countries such as Egypt and Syria that have been continuously Muslim for 1400 years. Professor Rodney Stark notes: “It was a very long time before the conquered areas were truly Muslim in anything but name. The reality was that very small Muslim elites long ruled over non-Muslim (mostly Christian) populations in the conquered areas.” (God’s Battalions, Harper Collin, 2009, p. 29.) Andrew Jotischky sites research that argues “for a much more even proportion of indigenous Christians to Muslims than most historians have previously allowed — perhaps even a 1:1 ratio.” (Crusading and the Crusader States, Pearson Longman, 2004, p. 132)

In short, the crusaders conquered territories in which roughly half the population was still Christian. They then opened these territories to settlers from the West — and the settlers came.  Bernard Hamilton estimates that as many as 140,000 “Franks” (i.e. Western Christians following the Latin rites) had immigrated to the Kingdom of Jerusalem by the second half of the 12th century (The Leper King, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 47). According to Professor Hamilton, the total population of the Kingdom was roughly 600,000 at this time. Thus, Christians (230,000 native Orthodox Christians plus 140,000 Latin Christian settlers) would have made up roughly 60% of the population of the crusader states.

Even if the Muslim population was a minority — not the overwhelming majority so often assumed in popular literature and film — it was still a sizable minority and would have posed a serious threat to fragile crusader rule if that population had been rebellious. Far from being rebellious, Muslim visitors such as Ibn Jubair, who visited the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1183 from Grenada, noted that the Muslim peasants he saw in Galilee “seemed more prosperous and content than those living under Islamic rule outside the Kingdom of Jeusalem.” (Jotischky, p. 129) 

This was because, as Hamilton puts it, “once their rule had been established the Franks proved remarkably tolerant in their treatment of non-Christian subjects.” He notes that “the Franks allowed complete religious freedom to all their subjects.” (Hamilton, p. 49.) While Hamilton stresses that Jewish synagogues and rabbinic schools existed in many of their towns, contemporary Muslim sources noted with surprise that mosques were allowed to function in the crusader states (albeit not in Jerusalem itself), and Muslim subjects were even allowed to participate in the haj. This was because, as Jotischky notes, “the First Crusade was a war of liberation and conquest; it was not a war for the extermination or conversion of Muslims.”  Far from being forced to convert, the Muslim villagers were run by a council of elders who in turn appointed  a “rayse” to represent the community to the Christian lord, while all spiritual and social matters were regulated by the imams in the community in accordance with Sharia law! (Jonathan Riley-Smith, Atlas of the Crusades, Swanston Publishing Ltd, 1191, p. 16 among others.)

Muslims are shown living in overall harmony with the Christians majority in my three-part biography of Balian Baron of Ibelin.




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