Tuesday, 24 February 2015

cowboys and indians: home-stretch

After the long, violent delay in Antioch, the Crusader army found itself on the last short leg through the Levant and onto Jerusalem. Though diminished in numbers and supplies, they met little local resistance in blazing a trail across the wilderness towards the heart of the Holy Land.
While the intervening populations, Tripoli, Haifa, did not exactly roll over, the Crusaders’ dread reputation for ruthlessness proceeded them and communities decided prudently that it was easier to aid and abet the advancing army and send them on their merry way rather than suffer their wrath and wind up slaughtered and cooked for supper. That act of cannibalism during the siege of Ma’arrat al-Numan grew in people’s imaginations and echoed, along with a lot of other misdeeds, through the decades and contributed to the so-called Great Schism, when the Eastern Church asserted independence from Rome. Another rumour—or rather a realisation began to circulate regarding the Crusaders’ ultimate goal, conquest of Jerusalem. Byzantium and Fatimid Egypt, while not exactly fast-friends, did maintain diplomatic-relations, since after all they had a shared enemy and shared national-interests in the Seljuk Turks, who’d captured many Byzantine lands and until only a decade or so prior, held Palestine and Jerusalem. The Shia Egyptians had expelled the Sunni Turks at a great cost, but now were wise to the Crusaders designs and did not want their hard-earned gains to fall to Christian occupiers. Egyptian leaders appealed to Emperor Alexios, offering terms that all parties could live with—safe passage for pilgrimage, protection of the churches and freedom of worship. Alexios had to concede, however, that the army had gone rogue, after failing to restore Antioch to the Empire and founding their own Crusade States (Egypt was probably also smarting for having spilled so much blood and treasure expelling the Seljuk Turks, while if they had been patient, this army would have been sent down from Europe to do the dirty-work and Egypt would only have light-duties), and he would be powerless to stop them.
The Crusaders too had gotten a taste of the Holy Land not as pilgrims but as conquerers and were far from sated. Egypt resigned itself to raising an army to dispatch with this nuisance, but the Crusaders’ pace was too quick and they ended up taking Jerusalem and unleashed a terrible and unconstrained massacre of Muslim residents before falling to that familiar routine of deciding ownership of the prize. Out of humility, no one in the end claimed kingship over Jerusalem but rather Advocate-in-Chief. And scene—well, not quite. The noble families of Europe who’d sat out the first Crusade, dismissing it as a fool’s errand, hearing reports of the glory and plunder of these instigators were kicking themselves for not having gotten in on the ground-floor, launching successive waves of sloppy-seconds raising more ire and polarisation hoping to maintain that tenuous hold on the Holy Land and secure greater conquests.