Monday, 16 July 2007

War On Terror - Medieval Style.

The anniversary today of the crusaders' capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

National curriculum history is again being revised, and again the idea seems to be that kids should better understand the world around them and how we managed to get into the mess we are currently in.

So here follows the First Crusade for Dummies:

The pope is having a bit of bother with the nobles of Europe who are generally getting a bit uppity. Calling on them to take part in a crusade is an excellent way of getting them all in line and bigging up the authority of the church. A spot of adventure especially suits the younger sons of the nobility who can’t get their hands on any spare land at home, particularly the various branches of Norman medieval mafiosi .

Meanwhile in the Middle East, the Orthodox Byzantine empire which is normally considered to be a heretical rival, is turned into a victim who must be defended from Muslim hordes threatening pilgrims visiting the holy land.

In fact there's no such problem. No weapons of mass destruction aimed at the Byzantine empire. There's a bit of faction fighting going on between Sunni Seljuks and Shi-ite Fatamids, but no real threat to Christians at all. Actually the holy land is at this time a more multicultural patchwork of various types of Christians, Muslims and Jews than it ever has been since.

The crusaders are undeterred by the truth of the situation and so set off on the long overland journey to the Middle East. They start off with a pogrom of European Jews just to show that they mean business. When they finally get to Constantinople, the Byzantines are horrified at their uncultured ‘saviours’ , and the nervous emperor gets the leaders to swear loyalty to him ( although a couple of them cross their fingers at this point).

Pleased to get them off his hands, the emperor packs them off to fight their way to Jerusalem. Along the way there's numerous rows as the various leaders will insist on venturing off on their own to claim land. Baldwin of Lorraine is the first to do so when he gets himself made Count of Edessa having grabbed the title from the (Christian) Armenian King. Bohemond of Toranto then gets himself made Prince of Antioch by ‘liberating’ that city which previously belonged to the (Christian) emperor.

Things get a bit tetchy and the crusaders decide that they need a sign to confirm that they are on the right course, or they will all go home.
Miraculously, the ‘holy lance’ is duly found. Re-enthused, the crusaders go off to Jerusalem where, after a particularly gruesome siege they liberate the holy city on July 15th 1099. Not only do they slaughter the Muslim men women and children who have taken refuge in the Al-Aqsa mosque, they also slaughter the Jews who do the same in the synagogue. And many Orthodox, Coptic, Maronite and other Christians who happen to get in the way.

Regime change complete; Baldwin’s brother Godfrey is made de-facto King of Jerusalem.
The resulting occupation and insurgency last for about 250 years and the effects are still being felt today. Still it's not all doom and gloom though; the crusaders did manage to bring back mathematics, astronomy and medicine - all of which they learnt from the Muslims.

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