07 May 2009

How to intimidate your enemies, circa 1097

The first major city that the armies of the First Crusade sieged on their way to Jerusalem was Nicaea (now Iznik) in northwest Asia Minor. Nicaea was then the capital of the Seljuk Turks who had captured it from the Byzantine in 1077.

Thomas Asbridge writes in The First Crusade (p. 126): “Any medieval army knew the profound significance of morale amid the slow grind of siege warfare, and exchanges of horrific acts of brutality and barbarism were commonplace.” Asbridge then relays the crusaders’ intimidation tactics after the first battle between the Christian knights and the Turks, which had ended with the retreat of the latter (p. 126):

‘the Christians cut off the heads of the dead and wounded and as a sign of victory they brought them back to their tents with them tied to the girths of their saddles’. Some were stuck on the ends of spears and paraded before the city walls [of Nicaea], others were actually catapulted into the city in order to cause more terror among the Turkish garrison’.
Asbridge notes that in retaliation, the Turks pulled up the bodies of the dead crusaders using hooks tied to ropes and then left the corpses to rot while suspended from the walls of the city.

Drawing from here.

Several months later during the siege of Antioch (later Antakya, now Hatay near the border of Turkey and Syria), more of the same methods were deployed. One day, some Turkish soldiers were captured during a skirmish outside the city. These “were led before the city gate and there beheaded, to grieve the Turks who were in the city.” In return, the Turks not only started killing the Christians in the city and throwing their heads outside the walls, but also resorted to a more spectacular retribution (p. 168):
The Muslims regularly dragged the Greek Christian patriarch of Antioch, who had until then lived peacefully in the city, up to battlements, hung him upside down from the walls and beat his feet with iron rods, in sight of the crusaders.
Lest certain folks out there now start with their usual rantings about “barbaric Turks”, let’s read what Asbridge wrote next:
In viewing such events, we must try to temper our instinctive judgement with an awareness that in the eleventh century war was governed by medieval, not modern, codes of practice. Within the context of a holy war, in which the Franks were conditioned to see their enemy as sub-human, Christian piety prompted not clemency but, rather, an atmosphere of extreme brutality and heightened savagery.
Once one manages to attain a detached and objective position, the whole Crusade history becomes almost as entertaining as a Monty Python movie with plenty of ridiculous violence interrupted with episodes of looting, pillaging and kidnappings of young women and good looking boys. Even the ordeal of the patriarch of Antioch appears comical, the poor man's sufferings notwithstanding.

Another post about the 1st Crusade is here.


Raag said...

Have you read The Source by James Michener? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Source_(novel)

In this book the author spends close to a 100 pages on crusaders and the gruesome atrocities committed in the name of God and religion.

The Selfish Gene by Dawkins and The Source by Michener convinced me me completely on atheism.

xoggoth said...

Next time you dissect some defenceless little slug Mr O, that barbaric Turks comment will come back to haunt you.