27 July 2007

Of castles, bones and good-looking boys

Clive Foss's book Survey of Medieval Castles of Anatolia II Nicomedia* is about the remains of the castles around the present day Turkish city of Izmit (ancient Nicomedia). There is a rich history there involving the Byzantines, the Ottomans and best of all the Crusaders. The latter were really a crazy bunch of guys who didn't quite know what they were after.

One trick I've learned is to read ancient histories from a detached view point without taking sides and at the same time keeping in mind that one can not judge the events of thousands of years ago from our present day perspectives and cultural boundaries.

So, here are some entertaining tidbits from Foss's book.

In 1329, the Byzantine emperor Andronicus III was fighting the fledgling Ottomans commanded by the sultan Orhan. After one somewhat indecisive battle, both sides withdrew. One section of the Byzantine forces went to the castle of Philokrene (present day Bayramoğlu not too far from Istanbul). But they couldn't get in, because-this is really good-they didn't have the key. Can you imagine these tough guys in armor with all sort of weapons in their hands standing outside the castle gate all confused and frustrated and arguing with each other in a scene you would expect to see in a Monty Python movie: "Come on guys, who's got the key to this bloody castle? Don't look at me, I gave it to John. Where is he? He was decapitated? So, we don't have the bloody key?" In the meantime, the Ottomans showed up and another round of mutual slaughtering followed.

Much earlier, in 1096, a Turkish army attacked and took Nicaea (present day Iznik) from the soldiers of the First Crusade. Foss says that the Crusaders who accepted Islam were spared while the rest were killed or sold into slavery. I wonder how easy it was for the Crusaders to convince themselves that under the circumstances the smart thing to do was to forget Jesus and to accept Allah. I suppose the descendants of some of those Crusaders who became Moslems may still be living in Turkey. But how could you trace a family history that far back?

Later, the Crusaders, determined to avenge their loss, attacked the Turks, but lost again. This time the Turks went to the Crusaders' camp and killed everyone "except the girls and good-looking boys".

Foss, relying on the Byzantine historian Anna Comnena's account, states that the piles of the bones of the killed Crusaders formed "not a hill but a mountain". Now that's something I would like to have seen, not immediately afterwards when it would have been rather revolting, but maybe a year later when they were really bones.

Anna Comnena also adds that those bones were later used to build a fort.

*Published by the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. 1996.


umit said...

I dont what you think but in those times some corresponding terminology referred to teenage boys, eg the ones couldnt be dubbed as warriors.Text tells that it wasnt a massacre but a sudden attack, not targetting the females and underage males.

nemo said...

Mr. Örstan, I have new pictures of some mollusks from my garden on my blog, including a giant slug with polka-dot spots. Can you identify what they are? If you want, you can also borrow those pictures to display on your own weblog.