More about the Mongols

The Mongols’ cultural ways were so different that by comparison, Arabs and Europeans look like they’re part of one single culture. In a way, they were; they were all part of the Mediterranean continuum. They had been influencing each other for many centuries. They’d even taken some influence from the Chinese at a distance. But the Mongols, separated by the Gobi Desert, had not done cultural exchanges with any of them. They did everything backwards from the West because it just seemed the right way to do things.

For example, Jack Weatherford (Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, 2004) points out that to everyone else, chasing an enemy meant you were winning and hiding behind a stout wall meant you were safe. To the Mongols, walls enclosed the animals they were hunting, so anything enclosed in a circular wall was ready to be picked off at will. And they had never had a fixed place to defend or come home to (just temporary camps). So all fighting was done in motion, and the direction didn’t matter. They won by killing the enemy while moving, no matter who was chasing or being chased. So the decisions they made during a battle left their enemies bewildered.

For the rest of the world, moving an army was a big deal. The army needed provisions that entailed a secondary force going along with them, just to house and feed them. This doubled their pack animal need and cut their speed way down. We saw that Richard the Lion-Heart solved the problem by keeping the provisions afloat so that his men could march as fast as possible while the food kept up with them at sea. But that was a unique solution not applicable in most cases.

The Mongols, however, didn’t eat grain. To them, eating grain meant you were an animal. They were hunters who lived on meat and milk. It turns out that if your diet is entirely protein, you don’t have to eat as often. They could eat dried meat from a saddlebag and not be hungry during a long ride or battle, where their foes who ate carbohydrate-based foods were fainting. So they didn’t need provision trains or any wagons at all. They wore a thick coat that doubled as a sleeping bag. They carried some tents, but in a pinch they easily slept on the ground as they were. No need for fires if you’re only eating dried meat and can skip food for a day.

The Mongol hordes had no foot soldiers, so they all moved at the speed of cavalry. Every other army, including all of the Crusader and Muslim armies we’ve discussed, had more soldiers on foot than on horseback. They all moved at a walking pace. But the Mongols could trot and canter for miles, moving far faster than adversaries calculated that anyone could move.

The Mongols had a taboo about touching blood, so they much preferred to kill at a distance by arrows. Also because they were always moving, their primary fighting was firing on horseback, as the Plains Indians later did. (The two cultures have a lot of parallels.) The civilized world assumed that fighting meant you would come into close contact, so they taught their boys hand-to-hand combat. The Mongols preferred to have most of the enemy dead before they got close. In the same spirit, the Mongols did not talk about dying for the Khan, any more than flight attendants talk about crashing. The idea was not to die! They wanted to win with no casualties, if possible.

One way to win cheaply was to use trickery. Mongols had no sense of chivalry holding them back from lying, using disguises, or any other ruse they could think of. To understand this, it helps to remember that every city they encountered was a novel situation, not something they had seen before. Like aliens in sci-fi, they saw everything with fresh eyes and invented a new method. There was no sense of “it’s just not done that way.”

When Mongol warriors did fall in battle, nobody worried about burial. It was steppe tradition to allow the Sky Father to look down on the bodies and dispose of them naturally, probably with vultures. Here again was another task that weighed down other armies, but not theirs. Mongols just walked away from a battlefield, leaving everything as it fell. In fact, when the Mongols began to see their enemies stripping and burying bodies, they were alarmed. As possible, they sent their dead back to the steppes where they’d be given a decent non-burial!

The Mongols preferred to fight in the winter, when the Gobi Desert was not as hot and draining. Frozen rivers could be crossed easily. Their horses scratched the snow for grass either way, and they could eat meat in any weather. So without the seasonal rhythm of planting and harvest shared by everyone else, they could catch their targets off guard.

Genghis Khan was a very intelligent man who admired the technology of every culture he saw. As soon as he was in control of the Northern Chinese cities, he ordered craftsmen into his service. Many were sent to Mongolia, where eventually they began to build a store-house city, Karakorum. Craftsmen were set up in workshops to start doing their technology miracles for the Khan. The Khan paid special attention to war machinery.

When the hordes had absorbed what Chinese and Uyghur culture had to offer, they began to bring squads of engineers along on expeditions. These men could build every kind of siege weapon on site. They didn’t have to bring anything with them. On arriving at a city, the Mongols enslaved everyone in nearby villages and set them to cutting trees. Their Chinese engineers quickly built every sort of catapult or tower needed for the situation at hand. The Chinese also had primitive gunpowder in rocket form, and the Mongols happily borrowed this, too.  One great thing about siege machines was that the Khan could pretend to abandon them, to draw the enemy (who thought chasing meant winning!) into the open.

The Mongols used displaced refugees as human shields, herding them ahead to create riots and confusion. They might herd refugees into moats to fill up with bodies. They used survivors as messengers, letting them go out with florid stories to scare other cities. They conscripted them as labor, and rewarded those who joined them. In fact, they had a tradition that if you fed their horses, you were a servant to be protected. When a Mongol accepted the hay or water you brought, it meant he had hired you and you had submitted. In this way, they absorbed as many people who would join them, and made material use of those who would not.

Finally, the rest of the world had come to an understanding that their ruling classes could respect each other. Saladin had sent ice to Richard when he was sick, for example. But the Mongols singled out the ruling class of each city to publicly blame and execute. They invoked whatever latent revolutionary energy was in the working poor. Because they made it crystal clear that submission was rewarded and resistance punished, their conquered cities usually remained submissive. The Mongols wanted tribute and treasure, but they did not want to take away anyone’s farmland. They didn’t want anyone to change religion or name. It wasn’t that hard to become Mongol vassals, if you were just ordinary people without a stake in the ruling class.


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Temujin’s Rise, 1206-1218

Far away, in a part of the world utterly unknown to Europe, a world-changer had been born around 1167. Temujin, or Genghis Khan, is one of those people in history whose intelligence still shines brightly. First, Genghis is pronounced Jengis. Modern Mongolian uses Russian letters and spells it Чингис (Chingis). This throws me every time, since in American English, we commonly start it with a hard G. I have to correct the voice in my mind all the time. Genghis Khan, the name we know, is of course a title, just as we know the Caliphs by chosen titles, not by their given names. But in the Great Khan’s case, we do know his childhood given name: Temujin, man of iron. Legend says he got that name because his father had just killed a Tatar named Temujin! Imagine having to name your baby after the last thing you killed.

Learning the history of the Khan’s family is difficult because the family seems to have viewed information as power and actively prevented people from learning Mongolian if they could. When someone wrote up a history of the Khan and his family, it was only for the family’s use, and it was kept in a locked chest. Only parts of it have survived, and it may have been literally censored with scissors at points, someone removing a name that was better left hidden from posterity (in their view). This document is now known as the Secret History of the Mongols. We have a few supplemental records to help check and flesh it out. I’m indebted to Jack Weatherford’s diligent work in assembling what can be known; after the USSR fell and Mongolia became an open country, he went to live there, using the local knowledge of herders to supplement the wisps of information Soviet-era Mongolian scholars had hoarded. All credit goes to Weatherford, and I highly recommend his books.

Temujin’s Mongols were people who lived at the border of the tundra, probably genetically related to the Eskimo-like Siberians who lived on the tundra proper. They were fur hunters who traded mink and bear pelts to the south. But just south of Temujin’s Mongols were tribes they were also related to, who were herders. We think of these groups as Mongols now, but before Temujin made Mongol identity a thing, they were just Merkit, Ongut, Kerait, Naiman, and Khitan. They were part of the trading chain from north to south, but their place was more firmly in the sheep and goat pastoral niche, whereas Temujin’s Mongols also hunted. The Mongols began to move out of the harsher conditions of the mountains and tundra, toward the plains, and began to adopt some of the pastoral ways.

Temujin’s father Yesugei was a “blood brother” to the Khan of the Keraits, Toghrul. This connection didn’t help Temujin much at first. Yesugei was killed by a rival tribe or rival leaders, and his two wives and their children were driven out to die in the wilderness. They survived; Temujin was not the oldest, but he rose to family leadership. He reportedly killed one of his half brothers when he was about 12. Temujin’s early life was filled with hardship: they starved, then he was captured and enslaved by another tribe. A friendly member of the capturing tribe helped him get out of the camp, and he hid in a freezing river for a long time while dogs searched for him. His family then lived as outcasts, tribeless wanderers, for a few years.

Temujin approached the Khan of the Keraits and asked to be made a commander. Toghrul seems to have led a similarly hard life, enslaved by the Merkits but escaping to rise to leadership among his people. It’s a bit hard to figure these things out because, at the same time that we get hard-luck stories, these tribes had a rigid idea of aristocracy. Lineage was counted both maternally and paternally, and there were right and wrong ways to be descended from the same person. Temujin seems to have taken a visceral dislike to aristocracy. In his early rising years, it came back to bite him again and again: his blood line was not quite the right stuff, so his children would be turned down for marriage alliances.

Temujin’s big break came when his wife, who had been engaged to him back when his father was still alive, was kidnapped by the Merkits. Toghril Khan had no fondness for the Merkits, so he approved Temujin’s request to lead a force out to find his wife and punish the Merkits. He obliterated those Merkits and found his wife Börte. She was pregnant, and it was never clear to anyone if the father was her husband or a Merkit, but Temujin raised the child as an oldest son. (As we’ll see, Mongols had some ways of looking at life that were very different from ours.)

Temujin did wonders for the Kerait as a war leader, but when his power seemed to threaten the Khan’s family, he was cast out. It was 1203. By now he was in his 40s, with a large family. He was again an outcast on the fringes of eastern Mongolia. He had a war band but they were reduced to starvation. However, in eastern Mongolia, they were on the edge of the Gobi Desert, which traders crossed in search of Siberian furs. A trader for the Onguts fell in with them and decided to give them food. Soon after, the rebel brother of the Kerait Khan who had cast out Temujin got in touch and made marriage alliances to gain his support.

Temujin’s power increased from that day. His genius lay in seeing that tribalism was keeping his people powerless against the Jin, the northern Chinese dynasty that usually dominated them. He wanted to forge a super tribe out of all of them. With marriage alliances and force, he brought in the Siberian fur-hunting tribes, the Keraits, the Naimans, the Merkits, the Onguts, the Tanguts, and the Tatars (previously the Mongols’ fierce enemy to the north and west). In 1206, at a massive Khurultai assembly of all tribes, Temujin became the Great Khan of them all: the Khan of the Grass Sea, the Jengis Khan. He doled out former tribal territories to his wives to rule, and then began marrying off his daughters, creating a family-run empire.

One of the quirks of Mongol family life (quirk in our eyes) is that they had a tradition of marrying young boys to older girls. Giving birth and surviving is much more likely if a girl’s bone structure is mature, and survival was tight on the plains. A 12 year old boy (considered an adult fighting warrior) could father a child, but a 12 year old girl might not safely bear it. So Temujin married his sons to older girls, and his girls to younger boys: but strategically. The girls had been tutored by Börte to know how to rule a tribe. Nobody was surprised when Temujin married them out, but then he did something nobody anticipated.

When Genghis Khan married his daughter into your tribe, there were special conditions. First, other pre-existing wives were out. After the husband had an opportunity get his Mongol wife pregnant (maybe), he had to go join the Khan’s horde. (Horde, by the way, is a genuine Mongolian word.) He was needed as a son-in-law to lead a brigade, but he was not needed to rule his own land. Each daughter was charged with ruling her new tribe as a subsidiary of the Khan’s enterprise and for his benefit. The new tribe was left in no doubt what would happen if they didn’t obey her.

One daughter went to the Oirat in the fur-hunting north. One went to the Uyghurs, a southern tribe that controlled some important caravansaries along the Silk road. Another two were similarly positioned in key places along Mongolia’s border with China. The new Queen of the Uyghurs actually learned to read several languages, since her city had a rich library. The Uyghur script was the first used to write the Mongolian language, though soon after, Chinese characters were also adapted. The daughters appear to have been very intelligent and capable. Genghis Khan’s rise was certainly fueled by the tribute they kept steadily pouring in, and the border stability they maintained. When a husband died, the Queen just married the heir, whatever his age or relationship: son, nephew, uncle, whatever.

Temujin’s four sons were not as bright, and they tended to drink too much. They were all married to Khatuns (princesses) from the confederacy tribes, like the Naimans and Keraits. Their wives were from Buddhist-based tribes that had adopted Nestorian Christianity in the last few generations. Genghis Khan didn’t care; he was a Tengrist, praying to the Father Sky and Mother Earth. Later, some of his grandsons enjoyed hosting religious debates among Jews, Christians, and Buddhists.

By 1206, Genghis Khan came onto the international radar (though not yet Europe’s) by taking his united “Mongolian” tribes to conquer the Jin dynasty, the northern Chinese who represented settled civilization to the Khan. They were farmers who ate rice, instead of the meat-only diet of the plains tribes. They used writing; they networked with powers even farther south. They built walls and trained standing armies. Conquering the Jin would be quite a feat. Spoiler: Yeah, he did it.

What’s really notable about the Khan, though, is how he organized his tribes into one super-tribe. He banned the old aristocratic notions of lineage, first. Then he did what early democratic Athens had done (without knowledge of Athens): he created artificial organizations to mix tribes together.

Ten fighting men were organized into a unit that, they were told, would replace their families. Not their actual wives and children, who were left home in any case, but their brothers and cousins. From now on, they had familial duties to their brothers in the “aravt;” they were to leave none behind, betray none, and so on. Ten tens were a “zuut,” and the aravts in a zuut also owed each other extended-family loyalty. The commanders of zuuts conferred with their commander of a ten tens of tens, the “mingghan” thousand. Ten mingghans were a “tumen,” and each tumen was led by someone personally appointed by the Great Khan. A son, a son-in-law, a friend, or someone who had risen by merit.

That’s the innovation: promotion was based on merit, not blood. The Khan passed over his own kin at times for someone more effective, which is utterly shocking in comparison with Frankish and Turkish or Arab familial loyalty. How could you build a strong organization without a band of brothers? Temujin had faced that question early in his life, and he had decided that merit and oaths meant more than blood. Your family may desert you to starve. Your band of brothers, made up of outlaws and strangers, can save your life. The Khan loved personal heroism as much as he hated aristocracy.

All of the ten-based units crossed not only familial but ethnic lines, mixing Merkits with Tatars, Uyghurs with Onguts. They all became Mongols. His tumen leaders composed marching songs that recited in Tatar the new set of laws and obligations they all lived under, so that every man knew just what he owed to the tumen, mingghan, zuut, and aravt. They also had marching songs with geography rhymes, so that messengers were sent from tumen to tumen with orders made up of the scraps from familiar rhymes. They had only to remember a few new numbers or words, and the rest fitted into a jingle to get stuck in their heads. In addition to his jingle-chanting horse messengers, the Khan set up a regular pony express postal service along the Silk Road as it came gradually under his control.

That’s the state of the Mongol super-nation when it conquered the Jin, sending Chinese aristocrats fleeing to Beijing to await the return of their time. The entire Siberian north had unified. The riches of China were exactly what the Khan had been hoping to find, but the Silk Road pointed west.


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The Fifth Crusade, 1216-1221

With many French and Anglo-Norman knights already fighting a Crusade in France, and several crowned heads excommunicated, the pickings were slim for a major crusade effort. After Pope Innocent III died, his successor Honorius III inherited the task. Pope Honorius had at least one unique qualification: he had been tutor to the child king Frederick in Sicily. Frederick was King of Sicily from the age of two, and at 18 had become King of the Romans (aka Germany) in 1212. Nobody knew the brilliant, sardonic, strong-willed German king better, and the two Crusades of this period turned out to be all about Frederick.

Frederick did not participate in the Fifth Crusade directly, however. Rome had spent decades, even centuries, trying to stay independent from the French and German crowns, the heirs of Charlemagne, whose power had first made the Roman Pope a real player on the international stage. That’s the downside of French and German military might: they pick you up, raise you up for all to see, then put you on their hands like a puppet. In the last century, Popes had been fighting free, in the most literal sense. So in 1215, the issue was that a marriage of the German king and the Norman Queen of Sicily had created this child, Frederick, who inherited both legacies. This meant that the German crown would now encircle Rome geographically.

Like a US federal regulator, the Pope preferred that Frederick break up his monopoly and rule only Sicily, leaving the German crown to someone else, like his infant son. Frederick, on his side, wanted all of it with the Imperial title added. Only the Pope could agree to crowning a Holy emperor, so both Innocent and Honorius said no. Fine, then, Frederick said no too. No to their Crusade. Negotiations went in circles and nobody ever closed the door decisively, but neither did Frederick raise troops and set out. So the Fifth Crusade was really all about Frederick’s absence.

King Andrew II of Hungary was the highest-ranking monarch to take the Cross this time. His nation had been closer to Constantinople for years, through marriage alliances, but both Andrew and his brother married into Western families. The Latinization of Constantinople was an interesting opportunity: it had no firm royal inheritance pattern, so new kings could be elected, and they needed firm ties with Rome. The Crusade presented an opportunity for Andrew to cement his ties with the Roman Church. He had recently given a huge land grant to the Teutonic Knights, who were certainly involved in this Crusade. Now he gave Venice the rule of one of those rich Adriatic coast towns they’d coveted, to pay for ships. He appointed regents, including his German queen, and joined her brother the Count of Merania (Bavaria) and the Duke of Austria.

In 1217, the German and Hungarian forces landed in Acre. They had 10,000 horses and a much larger number of foot soldiers. All three military orders sent knights to the war council in Acre, as did the Latin ruler of Cyprus. Saladin’s brother Sultan al-Adil took the threat very seriously, fearing another First Crusade event. He ordered the walls of Jerusalem to be torn down, as Saladin had done with Jaffa when Richard was marching to occupy it. Sure, it made Jerusalem easier to capture, but it also made it hard to hold onto.

Sultan al-Adil met the Crusaders in battle at the town of Bethsaida on the Jordan River on November 10. It’s a little hard to understand what happened next. First, the Crusader forces overwhelmed the Muslims at this battle. woohoo! Then the Muslims scattered and withdrew into fortresses. And after that, the Crusaders were supremely ineffective. Their siege machines didn’t arrive when needed, their sieges and assaults didn’t work, and King Andrew II got sick. And that was it.

The situation in the Mediterranean had changed so that it was now pretty easy to go and come from a Crusade. No longer did they have to fight their way through Anatolia; while the situation was not yet like booking tickets for a Crusade cruise, Venice’s ships had made it stable enough to rotate Europeans in and out of Acre by turns. King Andrew and some others went home, while a new wave arrived in 1218. The Counts of Cologne and Holland arrived with their fresh troops, but the new leadership decided to give up on the Holy Land itself.

With the Pope’s encouragement, the new Crusade leadership sailed to the Egyptian port of Damietta. This port is at the mouth of one of the branches of the Nile. It guarded the river with a huge iron chain that stretched from shore to shore, with a tower in the middle. The Crusaders landed on the west bank of the river, while the city was on the east. Sultan al-Kamil marched north to camp on the east side.

The Crusaders had early success, inventing a new ship-borne siege tower raised by pulleys, and cutting the chain. But after that, it began to go wrong. In the winter of 1218, rough seas flooded their camp, leaving fish in the tents. Besieging soldiers came down with scurvy: painful mouth sores and general wasting, some falling into comas and dying. By May 1219, those who could go home, did.

But a new factor had arrived in the Fifth Crusade: a papal legate who basically ate iron nails for breakfast. Cardinal Pelagius was absolutely convinced that any day now, Frederick II would arrive with a massive German-and-Sicilian-funded force and help them sweep Egypt. They just had to hold on. When al-Kamil offered a truce that left them with control over Jerusalem, Pelagius made them turn it down!

Why did al-Kamil offer them such a generous truce? Because summer 1219 was a bad Nile year. Kamil was facing constant internecine battles with his relative in Syria, and food prices shot up in Egypt. Damietta was suffering, the Europeans did not know just how much until later. Kamil was trying to do what Egypt needed. If the Crusaders would just take Jerusalem for ten years and go home, he could help Egypt get through a bad year.

In the summer of 1219, St. Francis of Assisi arrived in Damietta. Apparently we know little of this visit; the Crusade’s main chronicler, the French Archbishop of Acre, tells only a little, while the Muslim records didn’t see fit to even mention it. But in fact, Francis believed he had a divine mission to preach to al-Kamil, and he did. Kamil permitted him to visit and listened patiently. When Francis offered to test the truth of his Gospel by the ordeal of fire, Kamil said no. Francis was dismissed. He traveled a bit more in the Holy Land, but really was not able to make a difference.

In the fall of 1219, Damietta was essentially dying from the siege and lacked manpower to keep all of its walls defended. Some Crusaders noticed the gap in defenses and got a ladder, scaling the wall. They opened the gates for the rest of the Crusader army, who streamed in and began to plunder. But they were shocked to see just how badly Damietta was doing. Streets were strewn with dead and dying. Houses had corpses laid out with other corpses that had dropped dead caring for them. Tens of thousands had died. Still, the Crusaders cheerfully found any valuables and removed them. They also kindly baptized all surviving Muslim children (and probably some Coptic kids into the deal).

Cardinal Pelagius claimed Damietta for the Papacy and tried to govern it. As 1219 ticked by, conditions were still miserable all over. Many Crusaders wanted to give up, but Pelagius showed them a miraculous book that had just surfaced. What are the odds, you know? Just at that time, they find a book written by St. Peter, filled with prophecies that fitted exactly the conditions of the Fifth Crusade! St. Peter prophesied that soon a King from the West would arrive and complete the conquest of Egypt.

Then in the winter of 1220, the Pope finally struck a deal with his old pupil, and Frederick II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. This was it! Pelagius’ dream come true. In the spring, new Crusaders arrived, and they decided it was time to press forward. In July of 1221, their force marched toward al-Kamil’s camp along the east Nile bank.

Sultan Kamil, we recall, knew Egypt well. He’d lived there all his life, unlike his more famous conquering uncle Saladin. He knew something that the Crusaders must have sort of known, but apparently did not keep in the front of their plans. That is, every August, the Nile flooded. The last year had been a low flood year, but apparently Kamil knew that 1221 would be a normal flood. So he camped at an intersection of a Nile tributary and the great river itself, in a carefully chosen spot. He sent emissaries to talk peace again, hoping to drag things out just a bit longer…August was coming.

I think the Crusaders who’d been in the region a bit longer got it. By July 24, the current “King of Jerusalem” wanted to turn back. But the Papal Legate held steady, and then…it was too late.

Just after the Crusaders crossed a canal that would complicate their retreat, Kamil sent men upstream to open flood-control gates. The canal flooded. The Nile’s tributary flooded. The Nile flooded. Kamil had them open the Nile’s gates wider. The fields that the Crusaders had anticipated to be battlefields were now several feet under, and there was no high ground to retreat to that wasn’t already occupied by al-Kamil.

Defeated, Legate Cardinal Pelagius sued for surrender terms. Kamil let them retreat, but his terms had changed. Jerusalem was off the table. So was Damietta. The terms were simple: go home and we’ll let you. And so they did. It was to be an 8 year truce.

And that was the Fifth Crusade. Frederick II never did show up. But we’ll hear from him again.



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Quia Maior and the Fifth Crusade, 1213-1215

The Fifth Crusade left a permanent mark on Roman Christendom, laying the foundation for the Protestant Reformation but even so, altering the way we look at serving in the church, even now.

It was Pope Innocent III’s second attempt to organize and lead a Crusade; he had learned from the Fourth Crusade and believed that the key lesson was not to lose control. And to raise enough money. In 1215, the Pope hosted the Fourth Council to be held at the Lateran Palace in Rome, a general church council like the great old ones at Nicaea and Chalcedon, except that by now, only Rome was involved. He had given participants a long time to plan their journeys, so the council was very well attended. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes the presence of 71 archbishops, 412 bishops, and 900 abbots!

The Council mostly dealt with theological issues like transubstantiation, which it affirmed as a necessary belief. (That’s the literal transmogrification of bread and wine into flesh and blood when the priest blesses it in the Mass.) There were also some interesting details, like the establishment of a 12-month probation period for heretics, during which if they took no action to defend themselves, they were presumed to be admitting to it (and then the secular ruler was obliged to banish the person).  Or, in a very different vein, one canon required every bishop’s seat (cathedral) to establish a school. Differently again, the Council proclaimed no new religious orders; if anyone wanted to start a new thing, he had to choose from an existing template.

The Council also cleaned up some political messes, excommunicating the Kings of both France and Germany, much as the Council of Clermont had done in 1095, and for basically the same reasons. That action had an impact on the upcoming Crusade, of course. It seems likely that royal lobbyists were quietly pointing out that evicting the two richest kings from Christendom’s good graces was a really bad way to launch an international project. But the Council was firm, divorce was not acceptable.

The Council also set up some rules looking forward to the next Crusade, which was being called by a separate Papal Bull known as Quia Maior. The Council stipulated that Jews and Muslims should wear a distinctive of dress, so they could be told apart visually. (I guess it had unnerved them to see how easily a Crusade could slaughter Catholics in Provence?) It also laid an arms and even shipping embargo on the Muslim lands, to prepare the region for war.

But the bull itself, Quia Maior (its opening words), laid out a new vision of how Christendom could participate in the Crusade. In this vision, you could go on Crusade without leaving home. The whole church could become a Crusading machine, as it were. That’s because Pope Innocent III recognized that giving money to the Crusaders was as important as going personally on Crusade.

In the original vision, a penitent sinner showed his wish to be forgiven by going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was a way of acting out repentance: you stop sinning, turn from that life, and take up another life. The only way to earn the forgiveness of sin was to act through the deeds of repentance, making and keeping a vow. The Pope’s proclamations merely stated that this particular act was a sufficient penance for any sin, however large. But if a knight did not make a vow, or did not keep it, then he did not earn forgiveness. He had to go or die trying. (or he could try another kind of penance at home)

After the Fourth Crusade went so tragically off the rails for lack of funding, Pope Innocent III widened the meaning of participation. The penitential action that earned forgiveness now included any sort of help. You could go, or you could for example buy your poverty-stricken neighbor knight a horse, so he could go. You could donate cash to the expedition directly, to be used for whatever need. In fact, just as with charities today, that was the preferred option. Please consider NOT going! Please consider just giving as much money as you can: rest assured, it is sufficient penance, you will be forgiven.

What Pope Innocent III did not realize is that he was setting up a new church custom: buying forgiveness. By the time of Martin Luther, selling “indulgences” was a practiced fundraising operation. The money didn’t need to be used for Crusades, once it was in the church coffers, though doubtless during the run-up to a Crusade, much of it did go there. They say some cathedrals were funded mainly from “butter indulgences,” the purchase of regional forgiveness for eating butter during Lent’s long fast. (In places where olive and walnut oil were plentiful, they didn’t need butter.)

The Pope had an idealistic view of it: he was permitting all men to participate and contribute, even if they could not fight or go. Even if they gave the widow’s mite, their priest could still assure them of forgiveness. The whole of Christendom was thus mobilized to be cleansed of sin while building up the church’s power. Innocent III died soon after the Lateran Council broke up, so he never saw the way his precedent worked out. It’s ironic that the same Pope could lead the Council to forbid monasteries from requiring entrance donations, at the same time that he set up the indulgence-selling precedent. He genuinely did not see the connection.

Innocent’s death was the occasion of showing just how much his parishioners were not…innocent. He was laid out in state in Rome, that is, wearing his robes and jewels. By the next day, when the future Archbishop of Acre came to receive his blessing, he found the Pope’s body stripped of all valuables and most fabric. Next time they say “when in Rome,” just remember that sometimes what the Romans do isn’t worth imitating. (Nothing against Rome really: the poor are the poor, all over the world and through time.)

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Acre in 1215

By the time of the Fifth Crusade, the medieval port of Acre was not only the capital of the “Kingdom of Jerusalem,” it pretty much was the kingdom. But if you had to choose one city to pretend was a whole kingdom, medieval Acre was not a bad choice.

Alexandria, Egypt had been the primary Mediterranean trade city for centuries, and of course it remained a key port. But Northern Europeans were more comfortable bringing their products to the Crusader city, where Old French was the official language and it was easy to find speakers of German or Provencal. And so Acre became the primary trading port for about a century.

Northern Europe’s key export was wool. The cold climate encouraged sheep to put on thick coats, and the entire culture was set up to process wool into cloth, from cottage spinsters to water-powered weaving mills. Europe had two other valuable products to trade: amber from the Baltic and saffron, the pollen of the crocus flower. They also exported hunting dogs and falcons.

Everything else that the medieval world valued (and was portable) tended to come from the East: other spices, gemstones, silk, glass, and ceramics. Europeans made their own glass and pottery, but it had little value next to what came from Baghdad or Egypt. Of course you could find these things in Alexandria, but if you were a Northern merchant stocking up after unloading your bolts of wool, you were already in Acre. And so more and more trade went north.

Both Alexandria and Constantinople, the other ancient trade hub, had doubled their profit by manufacturing raw materials. Soda was made locally by burning plants that had grown in salty places, so a glassmaking factory was obvious. Acre now acquired glassmakers. Cities were where the most skilled workmen could find sufficient wealthy customers, so workshops for gold and silver smithing and fine silk weaving also grew up. There was a large scriptorium that produced fine book copies.

Exports from Acre weren’t just high tech or long-range, they also included local products. Farmers brought their animals to Acre’s slaughterhouses, where the animals turned into meat, leather, parchment, and soap. Dates and sugar were also grown locally; Acre had a sugar refinery for a while.

The city became horribly overcrowded and polluted. Windows facing the port had to be kept closed or refuse might blow in. We don’t even want to know what was floating in the water. Blood from slaughterhouses, even fouler refuse from tanneries, and household sewage was all poured raw into the sea.

Trade always has a pacifying effect on a region. The Franks in Acre were highly motivated to promote peaceful travel to and from Damascus and Aleppo, which were still Ayyubid-governed cities. Most of the time, a truce was in effect and life was pretty normal. It’s hard to know how the average person in Acre felt if he heard a new Crusade had been called. Was he glad knowing that trade would spike as newcomers came through, hopeful that regained territory would add to the city’s wealth, or sorry that roads might be closed as truces collapsed? The last seems likeliest, as we see in the history of modern Europe how allowing trade to be the most important consideration set up a Common Market that sponsored Europe’s longest period of internal peace.

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The Orders of Knights, 1209 forward

In 1190, some German merchants set up a field hospital at the siege of Acre. The hospital soon became an Augustinian monastery, then a military order like the Templars. It was called the Order of the Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, or for short, the Teutonic (German) Knights. By 1209, it was increasingly a fighting force rather than a hospital. In 1220, the order purchased a castle on the road to Jerusalem, called Montfort or (for German tongues) Starkenburg. Its ruin is now a tourist attraction in an Israeli nature preserve.

The other military orders, the Hospitalers and the Templars, were prospering too. At this time, when the Crusader States were small and weak, the knight orders were correspondingly huge and powerful. Much of the settling and “peacekeeping” of the Holy Land was carried out by these non-governmental orders, who reported directly to the Pope. During this period, the Hospitalers built Krak des Chevaliers into a massive fighting machine that was almost unconquerable.

All three received by will acres of farm and forest land that they didn’t directly live on or rule, but they collected profits from it. The Templars owned so much of France that they became an international banking house. They pioneered the use of a cheque, that is, a certified withdrawal order on paper that could be presented in Acre after money had been deposited in Paris (or anywhere). All of the orders began managing such large tracts of land and sums of money that they were in effect supra-national organizations, floating sovereign states.

In 1211, the Teutonic Knights offered their services to King Andrew of Hungary, who would soon lead the Fifth Crusade. He gave them a province in Transylvania, where they began settling other Germans. They were supposed to help defend the border of Hungary against the Turkic Cumans. But like the other military orders, the German Knights soon grew so rich and powerful that they lost interest in serving the King of Hungary. They asked to be placed directly under the Pope, like the other orders. In 1225, Hungary revoked their land grant, though they did not carry out ethnic cleansing against unarmed Germans.

The Knights also offered to help defend the borders of Poland from the pagan Prussians. In 1226, Emperor Frederick II gave them a land grant to possess and rule any Prussian territory they could conquer. So they set out to do that. It took about 50 years, but they subdued it, both killing and baptizing as they went. By the early 1300s, there were Teutonic Order castles all over Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and Germany.

In 1230, the Knights declared a new Crusader State in central Europe, later governed from their main Marienburg Castle in Malbork, Poland. It was made of red brick, and it is the largest castle in the world. It’s now a museum, World Heritage Site, and so on.

And of course, the Teutonic Knights also fought in the Fifth Crusade, alongside the other orders. All wore large crosses, but the German knights wore black cross on white, while the Templars wore red cross on white, and the Hospitalers white cross on black.

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The Children’s Crusade, 1212

If the Children’s Crusade took place, the year was 1212. Whatever happened, that was the year. Pope Innocent III had been preaching Crusade, and more Crusade, for years. He was promoting the Spanish Crusade, the Crusade against the Cathars, and of course a new Crusade to the Holy Land (the 5th). Was it any wonder that an unauthorized Crusade might spring up in 1212?

It seems that something happened, but it’s unclear who was involved. Traditional legends say that two boys, one in France, one in Germany, began preaching Crusade to other children. Following their lead, bands of children swelled to crowds, a veritable unarmed army. Sure that their innocence would win where the sins of the adults had failed, they marched to the Mediterranean Sea and waited for it to miraculously open up. Then disaster took them as most were sold into slavery.

Contemporary historians are more cautious. Bands of unauthorized, unarmed (at best poorly armed) people did swarm like that in 1212, coming from France and Germany. But were they children? Or perhaps were they just swarms of paupers and beggars, who were also considered innocent like children? Did the two streams join and suffer one fate? Or were there two or more separate movements from these two places?

It seems most likely that all of these things were mostly true. Europe was becoming over-populated for its current economy, and there were some young men who could not find a good place in society. They were considered adults somewhere between 12 and 16, although in an apprenticing system they were not on their own until they were over 20. So probably we could call them children and adults, depending on how they’re seen. The leaders were shepherds, that is, rural workers in a marginal hill economy, not plowmen or vine-tenders in rich Burgundy. Their followers were probably similarly from poor, rural families that could not afford to settle sons in a town trade and could barely feed themselves. The diet of these European poor was mainly peas porridge, not the rich foods we think of as “European” now.

The young men picked up a religious vision in which they were not useless; in God’s kingdom they had value, and in this Crusade they could work miracles. In spirit, it was probably a lot like the popular movements of the 20th century in which people have gathered for the end of the world (or moved to Guyana). Many of the marchers believed they communicated specially with God or had miraculous powers. Town paupers joined the rural Crusaders as they passed through. They had nothing to lose.

The stream from Germany marched to Genoa, where they expected the sea to part. It did not, and some grew angry and felt cheated. However, many found work in the expanding shipping industry; Genoa was a good place for unemployed men to end up. The leader, Nicholas of Cologne, led a core band to Rome, where they met the Pope. The Pope blessed them but told them to return home. Exhausted by their travel over the Alps, few survived the walk back. Nicholas did not, but his father was held responsible by the furious families of other young men who died en route.

The stream from France first gathered around Paris, where the shepherd Stephan of Cloyes tried to deliver a letter from Jesus to the king. The people said that Stephan was working miracles, but the clerics at the University of Paris told the king to send them home. Stephan continued to preach as he made his way south toward the sea. Large bands of adults and adolescents followed him as far as they were able; the crowd grew and shrank, until finally thousands of them arrived in Marseilles. It’s not clear what happened in Marseilles. Probably many different things happened: some found passage on ships and later realized they were now slaves; some settled in Marseilles, some went home. The traditional story says that definitely they all became slaves; historians now question this conclusion.

Peter Raedts, a history professor in the Netherlands, made a detailed study of the original sources for the 1212 Crusade. In 1977, he published an article in the Journal of Medieval History that showed how thin its contemporary evidence was. Most sources gave a short passage about this Crusade, no more. Many sources that look contemporary to us were actually written 25 years later, so they were based on hearsay or distant memory. Apparently, the later the source, the more likely it is to say that children were involved.

Later sources may also be more likely to play up their being sold into slavery. Stories tend to grow in the telling. A single occurrence becomes a generality, and in the next telling it’s a universal. So in the end, we really don’t know. Europeans were still keeping records on parchment; it was in the next century that paper became widely available and regular people could start keeping journals and writing letters. Until then, if a king was not involved, we probably don’t know much about what happened.

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The Spanish Crusade, 1212

During the Third Crusade’s years, power in Spain swung back in the Muslim direction, but by the time of the Fourth Crusade, the Christians were again ascendant. As in the Middle East, the key to not losing was to stop infighting and join a larger movement. Human nature being what it is, that was always harder than it sounds.

By 1194, there were five important Christian kingdoms: Portugal (based in Lisbon, prize of the Second Crusade), Leon, Castile, Navarre, and Aragon. Navarre was the smallest, but it was also set most securely in the Pyrenees. The language of these kingdoms was halfway between Spanish and French, in fact nearly identical to the language of Provencal, home of the Cathars. There was minimal cultural barrier to French knights riding south to join these kingdoms’ Crusades, and the royal families on both sides of the mountains were tightly intermarried and related. Richard the Lion-Heart’s bride was from Navarre, and one of his sisters married the king of Castile.

In 1194, a truce between Castile and the Almohad king in Morocco expired. King Alfonso of Castile attacked Seville, with the help of the Order of Calatrava (Spain’s answer to the Knights of the Temple). The Almohad king, al-Mansur, brought a force from Africa to defend Muslim holdings, and the armies met at a field on the border of Castile. Alfonso had asked help from Leon and Aragon, but those reinforcements had not yet come. I don’t fully understand how battles were joined at that time; there seems to have been an element of choice, often. Either king could have held back and just stayed out of reach, waiting. In any event, Alfonso did not wait, and in the battle, Castile lost badly. The losses were so severe that they abandoned the castles along their southern border. Toledo, the most important Christian capital of the time, was threatened.

Alfonso of Castile began building a stronger coalition and planning more carefully. Fifteen years passed, during which his southern border was never safe, and at any time, Muslims probably could have taken Toledo. But Alfonso’s luck held; the Almohads would generally rather go home to Morocco (much like the Franks wanting to go home from the Holy Land), so they made no determined effort. Finally the kings of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal agreed on a joint effort to drive the Almohads farther south. This was a diplomatic coup, since the Christian kingdoms were themselves often at war. One source says that the King of Portugal arrived at the truce meeting on a dragon, with a Berber in a box. But that’s the internet for you.

In 1211, the Almohads captured Salvatierra Castle, which the Order of Calatrava had just built to replace the castles lost in the 1190s. Interesting bit of trivia about the current Almohad Caliph, whose name was Mohammed al-Nasir: Matthew Paris, the English chronicler, claims that King John sent envoys to Morocco asking for military help in exchange for his own conversion to Islam. It’s a stretch. If John’s envoys actually had some other message, then it’s just interesting that Matthew Paris thought the scuttlebutt he picked up about a conversion offer was plausible enough to report. Just imagine England minus the Magna Carta, plus Almohad-style Islam!

In any case, the Almohad gains were very bad news for the Christian towns along the southern border. To stop the Almohads from going further north, Pope Innocent III (the one in Rome) proclaimed a new Crusade. French knights who had missed the Holy Land voyages or couldn’t stomach fighting French villagers now came to join the combined Christian armies.

The story says that a shepherd helped the Christian armies come through a pass in the Sierra Morena mountains, while the African army was off its guard, thinking the mountains impassable. The pass they used was actually a very ancient road in this region; there are prehistoric cave paintings in the Despeñaperros Canyon. Perhaps the secret lay in knowing enough different paths that a large army could assemble on the other side fairly quickly, instead of trickling in, single file, over the course of a day. In any case, the shepherd marked the road with a cow’s skull and was rewarded with the hereditary title “Cabeza de Vaca” (Cow’s head). His descendant Alvar Nunez made the title famous when he explored the New World.

The surprise attack worked, and the Almohad army was devastated. The Caliph escaped, but his survival in this case did not amount to success. In the next years, all of the Christian kingdoms pressed their advantage by seizing border cities, then farther and farther south. The original Castilian King Alfonso’s grandson Ferdinand took Cordoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248. In 1252, he was preparing to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, taking the battle to Morocco, but when he died these plans were abandoned. Still, talk about momentum! You can also see the Kingdom of Castile pulling ahead in the rivalry with other kingdoms. It was already moving into the position that it held two centuries later, when its Queen Isabella would merge Castile with Aragon for a united Spain.

Here’s a picture of the monument to the battle at Las Navas de Tolosa.


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The Cathar Crusade, 1209-1229

The Crusades that took place entirely within Europe aren’t really part of the narrative of the Muslim Empire, and its contacts and conflicts with Europe, that I’m primarily telling. However, it’s worth seeing how the idea of “crusade” developed during that time, and I think it also helps put the remaining Holy Land crusades in context. We have to start with the church’s view that loss of Jerusalem was punishment for group sin; one of the sins was tolerating paganism or heresy, thus weakening Christendom.

Europe’s largest counter-cultural religion at this time was the Cathar religion. It seems to have developed during the Dark Ages in Armenia, diffusing through parts of the Byzantine Empire, especially Bulgaria. In the century before the Crusades, the Byzantines used a group of these believers, called Bogomils (Friends of God), as a frontier population stabilizer in Thrace (north of Greece). Travelers through Thrace brought the new theology to Northern Italy and Southern France, where its adherents became known as Cathars, the Pure Ones.

Catharism had little in common with orthodox Christianity. It posited a dual set of gods, good and evil, one of spirit, the other of the material world. Food and sex were bad, while everything of the spirit was good. Priestly hierarchy and civil authority were both bad; Cathar believers would not take vows, so they could not serve in the army or courts. For the most part, Cathars lived side by side with Roman Catholics, as different sects do in modern times. In the region around Toulouse, there had been Cathar believers for several generations by the time the Pope decided to put a stop to it.

Previous church councils had labeled it as wrong, but nothing had been done. Now, Pope Innocent III decided to use the tool of Crusade. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins, and a reward of land, to any French knight taking the Cross against the Cathars.

The knight who stepped forward to lead was an Anglo-Norman who had actually left the Fourth Crusade when he saw it was going to attack fellow Christians. Simon de Montfort had traveled to Hungary instead, and then to Acre. Now he was back on his lands in France, looking for a new Crusade. The French knights of Southern France were very reluctant to actually kill the Cathar believers among them, but Simon de Montfort apparently had no sentimentality about them. It seems likely he was also ambitious to increase the legacy he left to his heirs, and there were some very good estates owned by Cathars.

So in 1209, Montfort met with 10,000 knights and soldiers in Lyon. They besieged the town of Beziers, knowing it had a mixed population of Cathars and Catholics. They told the populace that the Catholics should come out, and the Cathars should surrender. When the city gates were forced open, the Crusaders killed every resident of Beziers and set it on fire. The papal legate who accompanied the troops was untroubled by the deaths of so many Catholic believers too, including priests killed at their churches. It was worth it.

The walled city of Carcassone prepared to defend itself, but after the besiegers cut the water supply, the town surrendered. Here, they were not massacred, but they were expelled. Most other towns surrendered after this, but the town of Minerve didn’t, and was also besieged. Here, when it fell, Simon de Montfort and the papal legate decided to punish Cathar leaders publicly, and their actions set the first precedent for what we’d call, today, an Inquisition. The Cathar leaders who refused to convert to Catholicism were burned at the stake.

For historians, the Cathar Inquisition is a rich source of documentation. For several years, teams of priests questioned locals about Cathar believers or witchcraft, and they often asked details information about the neighbors: who was married to whom, who did what work, who thought what about their neighbors’ beliefs. It was all written down and much of it has survived unscathed, like the walled city of Carcassone, to this day. From the Inquisition documents, it appears that there was no zeal for punishing the people they were questioning and often just gave them penance.

But the military destruction of the region continued for several years, too. In 1211, the Count of Toulouse called on King Peter II of Aragon to help them. Peter was a good Roman Catholic, but his sister had married the Count of Toulouse; they were near neighbors in a time when Southern French and Northern Spanish were essentially the same language. So the grand finale battle of the Cathar Crusade pitted Simon de Montfort against Toulouse and the Aragonese knights. In the Battle of Muret, King Peter was killed. Simon de Montfort was victorious again! The Count of Toulouse fled to England for sanctuary, and the Crusaders occupied most of the Toulouse region. In 1215, the last fortress fell, and Simon de Montfort became, in effect, the Count of Toulouse.

Still the fighting did not stop. It was an ancient, proud, independent region. The Raymonds, father and son, fought back while the King of France started joining on the Crusader side. That’s the tip off that if political conquest hadn’t been the original goal, it surely had become it. The men of Languedoc sometimes won back their land, but the tide was against them. It was now a war of France vs. Toulouse, with religion as a formal excuse. It finally came to an end in 1229 when Queen Blanche offered a truce to Raymond (by now these were both 2nd generation inheritors of the Crusade) in which his daughter married Prince Alphonse of France, and from that time, Toulouse would be a Crown property. Raymond had no option but to accept.

The culture and land of Southern France had been laid waste. Wars tend to get more bitter as they go, and in this one, the “Crusader” forces had begun wantonly burning vineyards and fields all around Toulouse, smashing what they could find. It took years for agriculture to recover, and the arts culture of Provence and Toulouse never recovered. Troubadours who fled the genocide went northward, gladly received in less cultured cities and courts. That’s how the southern troubadour music reached Paris and London, then even cities along the Rhine. And the Cathar religion came to an end, as the Inquisition went on for years in the desecrated region. After that, they were just a region of France.

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Ayyubid Egypt, 1192-1250

Saladin’s empire was split up among four sons, with his brother al-Adil receiving two important castles in Jordan. The oldest son was not a natural ruler. Uncle al-Adil had to broker peace among the brothers several times, until basically he just took over. Adil had been co-ruling with Saladin for years, so he had the most experience and connections. By 1200, Adil was formally the Sultan of Egypt, and his sons inherited after him.

There’s one interesting thing that happened while Saladin’s son was still ruling, before his death in 1198. Al-Aziz was the one Muslim ruler of Egypt who tried to tear down the idolatrous Pyramids! He decided to start with Pharaoh Menkaure, though it seems likely he didn’t know whose it was that he singled out. “Start with that one.” For eight months, a team tried to pull out stones. It seems likely that they were experienced at demolition, since Saladin’s men had destroyed many stone walls in Palestine and Syria. But when they came to Menkaure’s pyramid, they had little luck. It took about a day to remove one stone, and then the stone had to be cut in pieces to remove across the soft sand. When they gave up, they had made a vertical gouge in one side, but had not altered the structural integrity.

Adil’s son al-Kamil and two grandsons al-Adil II and as-Salih were the rest of the Ayyubid dynasty. By 1250, their rule had ended. Ayyubid extended family members were appointed to many regional ruling positions, and in turn they appointed friends and relatives to rule land grants called iqtas. I wonder if their structure was modeled after the Frankish feudal one, or if that structure was just common sense in the time.

Saladin set out to make Egypt into a Sunni land again. He promoted Sunni institutions, but he also fired a large layer of Christians and Jews who had been working in government under the Fatimids. A lot of these were Armenians, promoted by Armenian viziers. But keeping Christians out of government was a bad long-term strategy, since a higher percentage of people who knew how to track the Nile’s flood cycle were Coptic (native Egyptian) Christians. So after Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem made his power secure, his government rehired Christian and Jewish scribes and officials.

Al-Kamil was long remembered by Copts as a good ruler. He ruled as a governor even before he became Sultan, so he got to know Egypt well. He chose to live permanently in Cairo and govern in a hands-on way. He became friends with priests and monks, too.

Wealthy Copts were secure enough to commission art and literature during al-Kamil’s reign. A team of painters created a large set of murals around the walls of the Chapel of St. Anthony, inside a monastery. Scholars wrote books to keep the Coptic language alive; it’s one of the few times when a very old language was being replaced but with time and interest in documenting it. They wrote dictionaries and grammars, and one book even had a rhyming story to teach Arabic speakers some Coptic words. Coptic was still spoken in the farming areas, but not in the cities outside of church.

During an easy time, there were conversions between Christianity and Islam in both directions. Egypt had two periods when harsh repression of Christians caused waves of mass conversion to Islam, but the Ayyubid period was not like that. Interestingly, one of the documented reasons to convert to Islam at this time was quite personal. A Christian monk had sworn to celibacy: if he slipped into sexual sin, one way out was to become a Muslim, who merely preferred that he marry the woman. But these converts had a hard time feeling good about what they’d done, and some converted back. This sort of case went before the Islamic Qadi (judge), and frequently they were given the death penalty, but not always. They always expected it and made their decision knowing what it meant.

One big issue for the Christian churches was that they had to get their appointments approved by the Muslim government. It was hard enough sometimes to agree on a Pope among themselves. During the first half of Ayyubid rule, there was a stalemate, and the church had no Pope. When Pope Cyril III was finally elected and approved by al-Kamil, many church offices had fallen vacant. Cyril sold some of the appointments for donations, a practice called “simony” and specifically forbidden. Cyril’s defense is that he was himself forced to pay a large fee (1000 silver dinars) to the Sultan to buy approval, and he was trying to make up that sum. Cyril was able to appeal to the Sultan (by then Kamil’s son) to preside over his trial, and the Sultan influenced the vote to be in his favor. It was always tempting for Christians, divided by sectarian allegiance (Armenians, Syrians, Greeks, Copts) or concerned about each other’s doctrine, to appeal to the Muslim ruler. And the Muslim rulers always stayed involved in church affairs this way.

Christians in Egypt always suffered when European Crusaders attacked Egyptian ports and fortresses. In our time, Muslims are all held responsible for terrorist attacks by radical Muslims; in that time, all Christians, especially the ones who answered to Constantinople, but also the native Copts, were held responsible for whatever the Franks did. In Syria, during the First Crusade, Christian Armenians had often helped deliver their cities to the Crusaders. In Egypt, during the later Crusades, they were very afraid that Christians would do the same. So during those times, the army more often tore down nearby churches to make fortifications. During those times, Christians were more likely to be fired from government jobs that required a 13th century security clearance.  There had already been a painful rift between Rome and Alexandria in the 6th century; now Egyptian Christians found themselves turning more and more anti-Rome (and anti-Constantinople) to prove that they had no sympathy with these invasions.

Al-Kamil’s sons were nothing like him, and their misrule ended the dynasty’s future. The longer-ruling one, Salih, invested in new buildings, particularly a new palace on Rawda Island in the Nile. In order to build this palace, he had to demolish a historic church that had only recently been repaired from flood damage under his father’s rule. He was a forbidding, severe man. Salih made up for losing support at home by importing more slave soldiers, with one key mistake: he brought in mostly Turkish mamluks, and this disturbed a previous balance of Turks and Kurds among their ranks. The Ayyubid family was mostly Kurdish. In theory, mamluks were loyal to whoever paid them, but in reality, Turkish mamluks were less inclined to support a Kurdish Sultan.

The Ayyubids will still be part of the next few Crusades, until 1250.

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