The Crusades – The Real Story

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Facts About

the Crusades

At some point, slightly over a millennia ago, the entire civilized world decided to collectively go nuts. European armies rampaged through the Middle East, Islamic armies rampaged through the Balkans, and a whole lotta people died in a crazy religious war. Known as the Crusades, this state of affairs lasted the best part of 200 years.

 Since then, the Crusades have taken on an almost mythic resonance in both cultures. Everyone knows them… or at least thinks they know them. But the history we’re sold of the Crusades isn’t exactly the full version. In fact, go digging through the tall tales and mountains of propaganda, and you’ll uncover a whole lot of information suggesting the Crusades were even crazier than you ever thought possible.

10. They Weren’t Totally Unjustified

The standard image of the Crusades is one of opportunist European mercenaries trashing the Middle East under the guise of ‘religion’. While there’s plenty of evidence that individual crusaders didn’t care much about spreading Christianity, the same can’t be said of their commanders. According to historian Rodney Stark, the decision to launch the first crusade was both religiously motivated and totally justified.

Before the Franks started devastating Asia Minor and the Levant, the Islamic Empire had undergone a crazy period of expansion. Mohammed had turned his tribe from a minor group into a global power, and they’d moved out of the East and into Europe. Spain, Sicily and Southern Italy had undergone extreme wars of conquest, and Seljuk Turks were threatening Christian Constantinople. In Stark’s view, Pope Urban III’s call to the First Crusade was an example of Europe getting its act together to defend itself from an expansionist superpower.

On a personal level, too, some of the crusaders had justifiable motives. Many knew relatives who’d been killed on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and signed up to fight to avenge them. Popular history may say the Crusades were an unprovoked attack, but Stark’s reading suggests otherwise.

9. The Arab World Hasn’t Held a Grudge All this Time

Osama bin Laden used the Crusades as justification for 9/11. Islamist terror groups use them to spread an ideology of vengeance. Even mainstream Arab politicians consider the Crusades a dreadful historical wrong that should be taught in schools. Way to bear a grudge, right?

Not exactly. See, the idea that the Arab-Muslim world has stewed over the Crusades for a thousand years may sound plausible, but it’s anything but. Until the mid-19thcentury, Arabic didn’t even have a word for ‘Crusades’.

By the 18th century, most Arabic societies had long forgotten about the Crusades. They were wars that had happened centuries ago; about as relevant to their lives as the 30 Years War or the Battle of Agincourt are to yours. The only reason they came back into the public consciousness is because early-19th century French scholars ‘rediscovered’ them at around the same time France invaded Algeria. Suddenly, these 800-year old battles were being used in Paris as justification for the current ‘civilizing’ war.

But the real trigger came with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. As European powers gobbled up Turkish territory after WWI, Arab scholars searched for a historical analogue for their present suffering. They seized on the crusades, and they’ve stayed in people’s minds ever since.

8. They Weren’t Just about Christianity vs. Islam

In our current, troubled, times, the desire to look back on the Crusades as an epic clash between Muslims and Christians is strong on both sides. To be sure, the majority of battles did take place between those two groups. But all of them? Not even close. An integral part of many of the Crusades was the elimination of everyone from Jews to pagans.

These guys weren’t just accidentally caught up in the crossfire. They were the targets of the Crusaders themselves. In the First Crusade, for example, Count Emicho switched the Levant for the Rhineland in modern Germany, where he laid siege to Jewish towns and massacred their inhabitants. The Albigensian Crusade of 1208-29 took place in France itself, and only targeted members of the Albigensian-Christian minority. Then there were the Baltic Crusades of 1211-25, which went after pagans in places like Transylvania. For those involved in these wars, seeing even a single Muslim or a patch of desert was as likely as you seeing an escaped rhinoceros on your way to work.

Across the whole Crusader period, significant battles were being fought with nary a Muslim in sight. And, while we’re on the subject…

7. The Crusaders Totally Sacked Christian Cities, Too

If anyone out there still believes the main goal of the Crusades was a clash of Islam and Christianity, we invite them to explain the Fourth Crusade. Called by Pope Innocent III, it started with Christian armies marching off to invade the Levant… and ended with the Crusaders sacking the Christian city of Constantinople and massacring its inhabitants.

At the time, Constantinople was the beating heart of the Byzantine Empire, an Eastern offshoot of the bygone Roman Empire that had traded pagan worship for Christian. No other city on Earth was so central to the spreading of Christianity about the world. And still the Crusaders declared it a target and destroyed it. On April 12, 1204, they entered the city and massacred thousands of their co-religionists.

There were semi-logical reasons for this course of action, related to the split between Western and Eastern Christianity and the internal politics of the Byzantine Empire (most of which is too complex or confusing to go into here). But the result was still one of the nastiest Christian-on-Christian massacres of the entire Crusades. Not the sort of outcome you’d expect if you truly believed this was a holy war between Allah and God.

6. Islamic Commanders Spent More Time Fighting Other Muslims than Christians

Given all this infighting and confusion in the Christian lands, you might expect to hear the Islamic commanders took advantage of it to portray a united front. Well, you’d be wrong. Just like the Crusaders themselves, the Muslim forces weren’t into this whole clash of civilizations narrative. By which we mean they spent almost as much time fighting other Muslims as they did the European invaders.

 Seriously, just look at the story of Saladin. A Muslim commander famous today for standing up to the Crusaders, Saladin was way more two-faced than his reputation suggests. Between 1174 and 1187, he spent most of his time beating on other Muslims, netting his family a vast dynasty that stretched all the way from Aleppo to Mosul, via Damascus. During this period, he even made truces with the Crusaders to free up his forces to fight his fellow Muslims.

Nor was he the only one. Saladin’s teacher, Nur al-Din, spent the time between the Second and Third Crusades riding into Egypt to whup Shi`ite Fatimid butt, ignoring the outposts of Christendom all around him. If these two were motivated by a hatred of all things Christian, they sure hid it well.

5. No One Realized for Ages that the Crusades Were Meant to be Religious

The First Crusade started way, way back in 1096. It was remarkably successful. By 1099, Jerusalem had been captured, Christian states had been established at Tripoli, Antioch and Edessa, and the Levant was no longer purely under Muslim control. With such a blaze of religious violence, you might have expected everyone to see the Crusades as we do now. But that simply wasn’t the case. According to history Professor Jonathan Phillips, no one realized the Crusades were meant to be religious for ages.

You gotta remember that the medieval period wasn’t a nice one to live in. Empires were constantly clashing, raiding parties routinely massacred entire towns, and pirates dominated the coastlines. So when a bunch of Europeans swept through the Levant, toppling Islamic governments and killing Muslims, most locals simply shrugged and decided they were just another raiding party.

It wasn’t until the First Crusade had ended that anyone realized there was something deeper going on than mere opportunism. Rather than sack Jerusalem and run off with its riches, the Crusaders stayed around, ruling their new territories as part of Christendom. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 1105 that conquered Muslims began talking about waging a jihad in response, and it wasn’t until 1144 that anyone actually agreed to do so.

4. It Wasn’t Just the Catholics

It’s an undeniable fact that the First Crusade was called by the Pope, at a time when most of Europe was Catholic. As a result, many still fervently believe that the Crusades were carried out entirely by Catholics. However, this version of events misses some pretty fundamental truths about religious alliances in the 12th and 13th centuries. Far from going it alone, the Catholics were often joined by members of the Orthodox Church.

One of the most-famous was Patriarch Heraclius, who fought alongside the Crusader nobleman Balian during the Siege of Jerusalem. Another was the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who got the Crusades kick-started by appealing to the Pope to save Constantinople from Turkish hordes (eventually leading, ironically, to the sacking of Constantinople by those same Crusaders). On a lower level, there were Greek Christians involved in various crusades, alongside Armenian Christians and even some Russian Orthodox.

In short, many different branches of Christianity got involved, and the same was true on the Muslim side. Sunni, Shi’ite and various sub-divisions all piled in, creating a multi-faceted campaign where no group was obviously pulling all the strings.

3. The Mongol Conquests Were Much, Much Worse

Pretty much everyone agrees the Crusades were bloody. There’s a reason groups like ISIS love to bring it up as an example of Christians beating on Muslims. But the idea that they were unprecedented is, frankly, nonsense. From an Arab perspective alone, the Crusades were far from the worst calamity to hit the region. The Mongol Conquests were much, much worse.

If the European invasion was like having a gang of masked men ransack your house, its Mongol counterpart was like having your house torched while you’re still tied up inside it. The Mongols swept across the Middle East, laying waste to everything in their path. When they sacked Baghdad in 1258, over 200,000 people were put to the sword, and the Caliph viciously beaten to death. This followed on from their total destruction of the Sunni Muslim Khwarezmid Empire, which had seen around 1.25 million slaughtered in less than three years.

It’s impossible to state how much the region suffered under the Mongols. From 1240 to 1300, various Khans laid waste to Aleppo and Damascus, and conducted repeated raids into the Levant. Unsurprisingly, it was these super-massacres Arab historians tended to remember, rather than the less-violent Crusades.

2. One of the Great Muslim Commanders Wasn’t Even Religious

A lot of this article has dealt with how our beliefs about the Crusades and religion are kinda misguided. Well, prepare to have your minds blown all over again. It wasn’t just the Christian side that had a great big mixed bag of religious viewpoints. One of the greatest commanders of the Muslim armies, Zengi, wasn’t even religious at all.

In a 2010 article for History News Network, Professor Johnathon Phillips claimed that Zengi was a “secular individual.” This is pretty shocking, as Zengi was one of the great commanders of the Muslim fightback against the invaders. In 1144, he captured the major Crusader city of Edessa, inspiring Saladin to get involved in the wars, which led to Christians being driven out of many areas. Yet all available evidence shows Zengi wasn’t really interested in religion at all. When he wasn’t retaking Crusader strongholds, he was busy sacking Muslim cities, as part of his personal crusade to (presumably) get rich or die tryin’.

1. The Crusades May Have Led to the Discovery of America

The Ninth and last Crusade ended in 1272. Columbus discovered America over 200 years later, in 1492. In temporal terms, he was as distant from the rest of this article as you are from the Napoleonic Wars. So how could one possibly lead to the other? To answer that, we’ll have to hand over to cultural anthropologist Carol Delaney. In 2011, Delaney published a book on Columbus’s motives for discovering the New World. Rather than a thirst for adventure, or a desire to enrich himself, she maintains that Columbus was secretly hoping to find enough gold to finance a Tenth Crusade.

At the time, Jerusalem had been in Islamic hands for centuries. According to Delaney, Columbus considered this an affront against his religion. So he set off to collect the funds needed to raise an army and take Jerusalem back for Christendom. It was while on this mission that he accidentally stumbled across America.

 If true, that would mean that everything from New York, to the Brazilian football team, to Eva Peron and Simon Bolivar, to this very website are all a historical accident caused by the inconclusive end to the medieval Crusades. Now there’s a weird thought.

The Crusades

The Real Story

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 148

…“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?” asks the President of the United States…

Francine could not possibly guess what Roy is about to tell the leader of the free world, of all people.

“Please don’t beat around the bush. What the hell happened to the United Korean Peninsula’s sovereign property? I have to tell them something…… and I have a stump speech to deliver in 10 minutes.”

“I’m sure that will be a Democratic knee-slapper!” Roy is sure that the President has heard the rumblings about Roy’s possible political plans. “We have thrown a wet blanket over the whole Sang-Ashi thing and I guess you can spin it any way you want.”

“Well then just spin-it-out man!”

“We have indisputable proof that Sang-Ashi was built by the Koreans for the sole purpose of sabotaging the Space Colony program, doing whatever it takes to stop it in its tracks. To that end, they have used a deep-space probe to disguise their destructive ways.

“In response to that aggression, we needed to disable Sang-Ashi as it was about to take out the New Mayflower as well. However, the crew did not pull the trigger, the onboard mainframe did.”

This information produces differing reactions; Francine cannot believe Roy was so blunt. President Sanchez sits down, aghast at the notion.

“We can’t do that!” he proclaims.

“We had to take defensive measures,” Roy indirectly crediting Aldona Afridi. “We are not going to sit on our hands while two rogue global powers have their way with us!”

“Two? Who is the other one?”

“Talibanistan.”

“That’s impossible. My Secretary of State tells me that he has a working relationship with Kamran Khan-Nutkani.”

“Sure it works for them! And who do you think is behind the freeing of Samiq Gaad and the kidnapping of the McKinney boys?” He warns, “Do not be hoodwinked by a Talibanistani Trojan Horse.”

“What do I tell the world? And will they believe me?”

“Think about Sampson and Celeste McKinney, stranded on Mars, running out of food, water, and oxygen.”

“The country would not stand for news of their deaths, they adore that couple,” he makes a politically generic statement.

“Exactly.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Talibanistan

Episode 148


page 140

We’re Only Human – WIF Anthropology

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Moments That

Shaped Modern

Human Life

The evolution of our species has been… eventful, to say the least. While some form of semi-bipedal hominids and apes have existed for millions of years, our march toward modern civilization began relatively recently. In a short period of time, our species has gone through many monumental changes that gradually gave shape to everything we see around us today.

While some of these crucial historical moments are intuitive and well known, others aren’t that obvious. Almost all of them, though, are only apparent in hindsight…

9. The Possibility of Life On Other Planets

That we are alone in the Great Expanse is a frightening thought. After all, if Earthlings are the most advanced beings in the Universe… well that just cannot be, can it? Still, it is a distinct possibility and if that is the case, we won’t be meeting any aliens anytime soon.

BUT, and is a BIG but, most of us have the sneaking suspicion that our government know more than they are letting on. What aren’t they telling us about Area 51? And then there are those Air Force pilots that report seeing (UFO) Flying Objects that speed away faster than you can say, “Did you see that?”.

No one really knows (that we know of) for sure that there is intelligent life on other planets or that we have been visited by them. That very possibility gives us hope that someone smarter than us is out there somewhere… Got to be someone smarter!

8. When We Stood Up On Two Feet

If we get down to the basics, there aren’t many differences between our closest, four-legged ancestors: the intelligent apes. Apart from minor differences and some chance mutations, we may never have never been able to stray too far from that lineage. Then, some forward-thinking ape – or a group of them – around two to four million years ago decided that standing up was a way better way to live, and we’ve not looked back since.

The decision to stand up on two feet instead of four may seem to be insignificant and intuitive to most, though if you think about it, it’s an unprecedented trait in the tree of life. Humans are the only creatures that have ever evolved to walk on two feet, even if its immediate evolutionary advantages aren’t clear to science. Regardless, bipedalism freed our hands to be able to make more complicated tools, setting the stage for everything to come, making it one of the most important steps in the evolution of early humans.

7. The Domestication Of The Horse

We have a long history of domesticating animals for our needs. From sheep to cows to our best friends, the dogs, the animal kingdom is full of examples of animals that we have tamed and modified, and that have played important roles in the rise of our civilization.

One domesticated species, however, has been so important for humanity that we’ve written entire books and historical journals on the topic: the horse. First domesticated some time around 3000 BC in the Central Asian steppes, the horse initially served as a good source of meat and fur, much like other livestock animals at the time. Soon, however, people realized that it could be used for movement across large distances like no other animal we’ve ever been able to tame. They may not have realized it at the time, but that realization would become one of humanity’s most pivotal. The histories of all the earliest and biggest Eurasian civilizations perfectly coincide with the history of horse domestication in their respective regions. The horse finally allowed us to step out of our limited range and inhabit far off regions.

Not just that, but it also played an important role in the militaries of almost all major armies until the invention of gunpowder. Horse cavalry was often the most powerful unit in major ancient and medieval armies, often deciding the course of a battle entirely on its own.

6. The Rise Of Homo Sapiens

Even if most of us may not realize this, humans weren’t always the only hominid species on the planet. We’re only one of the many different branches of humans to evolve out of intelligent apes, some of whom we may not yet even know about. Moreover, it wasn’t always obvious that we’d be the last ones standing, either. In fact, the exact circumstances that led us to emerge as the ultimate victors of the early hominid race aren’t that clear. Neanderthals, for example, were much stronger than our homo sapiens ancestors, and may even have been capable of designing tools as advanced as us.

Despite the mystery surrounding our early days, it’s clear that the evolutionary domination of homo sapiens over other hominid species was one of our most crucial early steps. It eliminated the only challenge to our hegemony on the planet – other humans – and directly paved the way for all of the biggest moments in our history since.

5. The Age Of Revolutions

While most of this list deals with evolutionary and technological developments, the story of humanity is incomplete without its political and cultural milestones. Where bigger brains and opposable thumbs gave us the physical tools to win the Darwinian race, our decisions with organizing our society, economy and politics have been equally influential in shaping up our civilization.

In that respect, the events in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries are perhaps some of the most important in our social history. For the most part, the majority of humanity has lived in rigidly structured, hierarchical societies controlled by a handful of people with power.

That changed in the 17th century beginning with the French Revolution, and eventually spread to the rest of Europe and the world. The Industrial Revolution – an important moment in its own right – led to people demanding better rights and living conditions, culminating in the massive revolts seen across European workplaces in the late 17th and 18th centuries, including the colonies.

This period laid the foundation for the largely liberal, democratic and developed part of the world today, where the majority of the population is free from the threat of hunger or conflict. The revolutions such as the French Revolution, American Revolution, and the 1848 wave of Revolutions in western Europe triggered the the rearrangement of the society, economy, and political structure away from Feudalism and in the favor of the individual, giving way to all of our modern ideas of human rights, liberty, freedom of faith and so on.

4. Islamic Golden Age

While Europe was the birthplace of some of the biggest social and political changes of the early modern era, the scientific revolution had already happened centuries before in a completely different region of the world.

The Golden Age of Islam – from seventh to the 13th century – was when we took the biggest leap forward in our scientific understanding of the world. Some of the earliest versions of most modern fields of science – such as medicine, flight, chemistry, astronomy, etc. – first developed in that region, thanks to scholars from around the world who were encouraged by the caliph and other local rulers. The period was so influential that, throughout that era, Arabic was the global language of science. That fact is evident in the vestiges of Arabic still found in much of our modern scientific lexicon; for example, algebra, alchemy, algorithm, and so on.

Unfortunately, all of that came to an abrupt end with the Mongol siege of Baghdad. Its library – the biggest in the world at the time – was burned to the ground. Regardless, the knowledge we gained from that period set the stage for some of our biggest scientific achievements since, such as the European age of exploration, industrial age, and steam engine.

3. The Great Leap Forward

For most people, it would probably come as a surprise that for the most part of our history, absolutely nothing was happening. Of course, there was that existential struggle with the other humans we mentioned above, though other than deciding the existential, yes/no fate of humanity, it didn’t do anything nuanced for the human race. For millions of years, homo sapiens and other human species had almost no major scientific breakthroughs. That was, however, until something happened around 60,000 years ago, when everything changed.

Archaeologists still find clear evidence of a massive leap in tool making technology, societal structure, language, art, and many other fields around that time, and have called it the Great Leap Forward. It’s possible that it may have been thanks to a language based mutation in our brains at the time, though for all we know for sure, it could have been something random, too. What we do know, however, is that the Great Leap Forward is a clear line separating us from the relatively primitive early men, and the species set to conquer the moon in the distant future.

2. Writing

While many people would consider the development of language to be a pretty important development in our history – and it absolutely is – it’s difficult to decide on a singular definition of ‘language’. Many ancient cultures communicated with systems of language that would be barely recognizable to us, but fulfilled all the criteria of what a language is supposed to be. People have been using some form of language to talk to each other for as long as we can remember.

Writing, however, can be considered to be a clear marker, as we can precisely tell when and where it first originated. It independently arose – at different points in history – in the Near East, China and Mesoamerica. All writing systems of today trace their roots to those first languages, as well as most cultures.

Writing gave a boost to human progress like nothing else, allowing us – for the first time in our history – to reliably record, manipulate, store and disseminate information. For example, generals could now write down the details of their battles, allowing future commanders to use that information in their own battles. Rulers could reliably send out their edicts without the risk of manipulation, and so on. Writing provided us with a way to use information like never before, and formed the basis for all of history’s most influential civilizations.

1. The Agricultural Revolution

While many historians and archaeologists take the view that the decision to settle down into farming societies – as opposed to hunter gatherer bands – was an obvious next step in human evolution. The early farmers would have had to undergo many massive changes in their everyday lives – like in diet, housing, societal structure, etc. – to stick to their new lifestyle. It wasn’t a clearly beneficial deal, and more and more experts are starting to question why we did it at all.

Its evolutionary benefits notwithstanding, the agricultural revolution was still a pivotal moment in human history. Because of farming, we could finally live longer, grow our population, and – most importantly – free a large part of the population from food production.

Experts in other fields – like artists, bureaucrats, philosophers, military generals – made a way to even bigger, more successful civilizations, directly influencing how societies are structured even today.


We’re Only Human

WIF Anthropology