Monday, February 21, 2011

Lucia Hilaire Belloc - The Battleground - XV The Last Rally (The Crusades)

The Battleground: Syria and Palestine 
by Hilaire Belloc

Chapter XV The Last Rally

OUR people, then, the West, Christendom, made a last rally of our race for the recovery of Syria from the men of the desert. It is called the "Crusades."

That forlorn hope stands vividly in the European mind as a glorious episode of its past: half legendary. All men see the chivalric story on a scale larger than reality, and suffer the illusion that the victory might have been won.

In truth under the conditions of that day the victory was impossible. Syria could not be recovered.

It could be half-grasped by a sudden onrush from the West; but there was not then among us the organisation which would have made so distant a conquest permanent; even had the first strategy been as well ordered as it was, in fact, imperfect. Even had Damascus, the key of Syria, been taken at once, we could not have maintained ourselves there. Our numbers, recruitment and communications were all three insufficient to the task.

The original ephemeral triumph of the Crusaders was due to one of those divisions in the Mohammedan world which are perpetually appearing, but as perpetually disappearing again under a united command. When that united command of Islam was achieved it was inevitable that the chivalry of the West should be driven back into the sea. For the weapons of Islam were then as good as ours. Its science equal or superior. It was on the spot, while we worked from thousands of miles away.

And it had ten men to our one.

The first strong blow was delivered just before the year 1100, by men who were filled with the recent victories of the Cross over the Mohammedans in Spain. Two hundred years later, in 1291, the last of the Crusading garrisons was driven out of St. John of Acre. For over 600 years onwards save for the momentary flash of Buonaparte, the men and the religion of the desert remained in full power. They remained in full power over the soil of that Syria which had been so mightily prepared for the Divine Event, and for the foundation of the Church; they remained in power over Antioch, where the Christian name was first heard, over the Christian colonies upon the sea-coast, over the Holy Places themselves: Nazareth, Bethlehem, and the Sepulchre of the Resurrection. After the surrender of St. John of Acre in 1291 we were exiled, as it would seem forever, from the place whence the inspiration of Christendom arose and the living principle of our civilisation: from the fields and the cities of the Lord. With the Crusades the story of the battleground ends.

What started this marching out of Christendom eastward was in the first place that coming of the Mongol just spoken of, with his desecration and ruin and drying up of things, into the very body of Islam. It was the story of barbaric attack on pilgrimage that inflamed the new Christian West to its attack for the recovery of the Sepulchre.

This indignation came just when all Western Europe was astir with new life. It was the beginning of the compact Norman order in the North as in the Mediterranean, of the new great architecture, of Parliaments arising in the Pyrenees, and of the new spring of philosophy.

These were the prime conditions. But there was more. This new Mongol thing, mastering the eastern Mohammedan world, already soaked in Islam but barbarising it, was threatening what was still the chief political capital of all Christendom, Constantinople; the Emperor's throne, twin to Rome. The old Arabian Empire with its centre in Baghdad, had not passed eastward of the Taurus. It had made forays up to the Bosphorus itself for centuries, but had not held Asia Minor. But when the Turks came in from the north-east through Armenia, they swamped the mass of Asia Minor and the peril of the Emperor in his capital was extreme. His appeal for succour to his fellow Christians of the West was the second force which launched the adventure.

That adventure was French. There marched out among the first confused hordes many from the German-speaking belt of the Rhine; there were contingents of Flemings; there were even here and there to be found, later in the business, a handful of princes and nobles from north of the Channel. But the French language was the main language of the host, and particularly of its mounted leaders, drawn from the chivalry of Gaul itself and from the Norman adventurers who had planted themselves in Sicily and South Italy.

The first swarming was shapeless: uncounted masses of excited populace marching eastward by the Danube road, so confused that they could reach no goal. But behind this effervescence advanced in regular organisation the great feudal forces under their high rulers and these converged upon the Imperial City, whence, beyond the Bosphorus, the main Roman road to Tarsus was still in full use, and the avenue for advance towards the Holy Land.

All the effort was by horse and foot; the sea played but an insignificant part, and the advance was to be one endless advance of dwindling cavalry and marching men, armed and unarmed, facing 2,000 miles of road until they should reach Jerusalem not a tenth of what they had been at starting. 
First Crusade Route

The Pope, who was a Frenchman from Champagne (under the title of Urban II), a type of that invigorated Papacy to which the monk Hildebrand had given so much life, and which, as Gregory VII he had set up in renewed greatness, launched the rallying cry in the mountains of Auvergne, at Clermont. There great crowds answered with the drawing of swords and "God wills it!" That was in November, 1095. No Kings could leave their governments, whether strong and but newly established like the Norman Crown in England, or more ancient but weak and jealous of powerful feudatories like the Capetian in Paris; but the higher Barons marched men who were in deed local Kings in power from Normandy, from Flanders and from Toulouse, from South Italy. They converged before Constantinople in the end of 1096, and the first weeks of 1097. In the March of that year the last arrivals had camped before the city, and some 200,000 were eager for the task but unfitted.

They were not an army; they were a feudal levy. The fighting unit was a noble and his followers it might be a great noble with a very large number of followers, or a small independent man with very few, but of united command there was none, save when one such was improvised for a crisis and thus dissolved again.

Leaders looked for personal gain, making themselves Lords of territory on the way, garrisoning a town or district and remaining there. Also, there could be no more than the most elementary tactical formations among units of all shapes and sizes, divided according to no plan, with no combined manoeuvres. The only tactic was a straightforward charge of heavily armed knights against the opposing line. If the charge knocked the enemy over the battle was won; no other kind of victory was attempted, save by siege. The Western knights, stronger in build and character, overset at first large bodies of Orientals. They won battle after battle against greatly superior numbers. But these very advantages were a disadvantage when the effort was spread over a long space of time, and had to be undertaken in a hot climate with successive burning summers, murderous to Western men.

On the main Roman road across Asia Minor the first obstacle  was the city of Nicea, garrisoned by the Turks. It was within a few days' marching of Constantinople and blocked the way. The Crusaders besieged it in the first week of May, 1097, and took it by the end of the next month; but the garrison surrendered to the Emperor, not to them. This was the difficulty which beset the Crusaders, the conflict between their interests
and Constantinople's. The Emperor and his subjects, at any rate in the capital, thought themselves civilised men superior to the half -barbaric Westerners. The Emperor demanded that what had been, within recent memory, his own land, should be handed back to him; and a feudal society, with chiefs independent of the central power, was not tolerable to the Byzantine mind.

From Nicea the Crusaders met their first opposition in the field about a week's march on, at Dorylseum, where the railway junction is today. It was the main shock between the two opponents, and the heavily armed Christian chivalry won a complete victory. After this dispersion of the Turks the Roman road lay open before them; they suffered fearful losses in the dried up, empty lands, which are the high tablelands of Asia Minor, but they carried through to Antioch, before whose walls the camp was pitched towards the end of October, 1097. It was nearly two years since the Crusade had been preached at Clermont, and nearly eighteen months since it had begun its first advance from Constantinople. They had covered some 1,000, some nearly 2,000 miles from their starting places, and their homes and their ultimate base of recruitment lay all that way behind them.

There were diversions of effort, the principal one of which was the adventure of Baldwin of Flanders, who took off his men eastward, after a quarrel with Tancred, the South Italian Norman, about the possession of Tarsus. Edessa, the Christian city lying right off beyond the Euphrates, threatened by the Turks, welcomed Baldwin, and the Senators of the place chose him for their Sovereign. The large indeterminate area of which Edessa was the centre counted as one of the Crusading divisions so long as it held (it was the first to go) and Edessa was the northernmost of the feudal principalities to be attached to the kingdom of Jerusalem.

It was only for a few years past that Antioch had had a Turkish garrison, and the vast Christian city for it was still of great size and remarkable for its wealth and architecture-was not only a prize of the first class, but an obstacle of the first class also. The general body of Crusaders were not only diminished by Baldwin's adventure off to the north-east, but still more by their very heavy losses in crossing the ill-watered plateau of Asia Minor.

Siege of Antioch
During the winter, famine fell upon the besiegers of Antioch, and it was not till the summer, 1098, that the Turkish garrison was reduced. Immediately afterwards a very large Turkish army, just too late to save their fellows, but not too late to destroy the diminished Crusading bodies, came upon them from the east. Bohemond, the Norman from South Italy, to whom the city of Antioch had fallen and who became its first Lord under the new feudal arrangement, won his battle against this greatly superior relieving force. It was a remarkable proof of the vitality of the Western blood, that after such months of wasting and famine and the moral effect of delay, an overwhelmingly larger Oriental army, well equipped and well fed, should have been thus broken in front of the city.

A further delay came from the dread of a summer campaign. It was already the end of June (the 28th) when the main Turkish Army marching to the relief of Antioch had been broken. The Crusaders should have marched south when the cold weather came, but quarrels between the feudal leaders and the necessity for supply halted them. At first they went on south by the Orontes valley, and had there been any definite strategical plan this was the opportunity for deciding their campaign.

They ought obviously to have marched along the fertile strip between the desert and the hills and taken Damascus; for when Damascus should have received a Crusading garrison all Syria would have been organised as a Christian thing. Damascus still partly Christian-would have cut the communications between the northern Mohammedan garrisons and the southern; supposing the barely sufficient numbers of the Crusaders had been concentrated for the effort.

But the prime error was made, Damascus was left aside, and those who still were willing to go forward a small fraction of what had gathered at Constantinople two years before- crossed Lebanon and made for the sea-coast. There was an other delay for the capture of Arkah just north of Tripoli, then hesitation as to whether they should wait for reinforcements from the Greeks, or take advantage of the early harvest (which ripens in Syria before May) and after provisioning themselves set out. They did at last turn out in the middle of May, 1099, following the coast-road with fairly regular marches, until they had come by Whitsuntide almost west of Jerusalem.

Here again there was hesitation, as to whether to strike at once for the Holy City, or to march across the Egyptian desert for the delta, and the strongest centre of the Mohammedan power, Cairo.

It was a second opportunity, not so good as Damascus, but one that would have been strategically sound if there had been men for it but there were not. All through the Crusading business this penury of numbers upon the Christian side decides the final issue. There were barely 30,000 left all told, and of these perhaps half were fighting men. Of that half, say 15,000 armed soldiers, only one-tenth were mounted and fully armed knights. Such was the little army now: the remnant of a thing more than ten times its size, which had begun the march across Asia Minor. It took the eastern road from the coast up the hills, towards Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre.

Jerusalem was not in Turkish hands; the dissident Mohammedan power of the Nile had got hold of it and garrisoned it. But it was strongly held, and the difficulties of the siege might prove too much for the remaining Christian forces. Certain of the main leaders were still there, Godfrey of Bouillon from Northern France, Raymond, the Lord of Southern France, Robert of Normandy, son of the conqueror, and Tancred, the Southern Norman. The day was famous on which the van guard of that small column what we should call today a division or less first saw Jerusalem with their eyes.

It was the first dawn of Tuesday, the 7th of June, 1099; the Army had assembled round Emmaus and was ordered for the march. The column breasted the lift beyond the depression, the vanguard had come to the height above, when suddenly (where the Sheik's tomb is today) they caught sight of domes and pinnacles against the morning light, the nearest not two miles away. Skirting these buildings was a dark line of city walls. It was Jerusalem.

All pressed forward, deploying to right and left, as they came up, and forming line to greet the goal and shrine of their array, and pressed to hear the name passed round the ranks: Jerusalem.

"When they had heard that name, Jerusalem, they began to cry aloud and to fall upon their knees, all, and to give thanks to Our Lord who had so loved them that He had granted them to see the crown of their long pilgrimage, the Holy City, where He had chosen to save the world. They lifted their hands to Heaven, and those on horseback dismounted and kissed the ground."

Behind those walls the Vizir of the Governor of Egypt had mustered a great garrison; it was a force of Arabian and of trained Saracen soldiers. Every Christian had been thrust out of the town. From the walls the sentinels saw the column of the Crusade, the newly risen sun catching the slung lances, and whatever was bright in the link-work of the mail: not much was bright after such an advance in the dust of a Syrian June.

It was after six weeks of effort under the intolerable heat that the end came. The Crusaders stormed Jerusalem on Friday, the 15th of July, 1099; after two days' violent assault the walls were carried, and a general massacre followed throughout the crowded streets, until the last keep, the enclosure of the Mosque upon the Temple Hill, was stormed.

First Crusade enters Jerusalem

No peace followed, of course, but some organisation of that narrow ribbon which could call itself now "The Kingdom of  Jerusalem."  There was in the north a certain extent of territory from beyond the Euphrates to the Gulf of Alexandretta, extending occasionally into the Cilician plain. This northern patch was broad enough to give, while it lasted, a solid basis for further effort. But south of Antioch the Crusaders held only a thin chain of fortified posts, which they rapidly increased in strength, but never wholly joined up into one solid territory.

The whole thing was arranged upon the feudal model, with semi-independent Lords having vassals under them. There was the Count of Edessa in the north, next to him the Prince of Antioch, claiming the strip of coast down to below the castle at Markab, which stands out so grandly upon its spur of hills overlooking the waters of the sea. Next came the Count of Tripoli, claiming about a hundred miles of the narrow coastal plains, to the river north of Beyrout; and south of that point the kingdom of Jerusalem proper. Within each such limit stood behind their walls the lesser Barons, such as the Lord of Sidon and the rest, holding under tenure from their overlords.

But the whole thing was a broken hotch-potch; the Saracen could and did raid continually to the sea-coast itself, and on that coast he could hold some places permanently. The French south of Antioch held no castle more than fifty miles from the sea; In many places they went far less. The castle of Banks In Csesarea Philippi, where St. Peter had confessed the Divinity of Our Lord, was but an outpost and yet it was not thirty miles from the direct road on the coast.

In the Lebanon, the strip was far narrower; behind Beyrout, into the mountains, there was no effective occupation beyond twenty miles. In the south, the last castle south of the Dead Sea was much further inland, but here desert not subject to effective occupation.

The nearest thing to a real occupation of territory was on the hills of Palestine themselves, in Galilee and over the plain of Esdraelon. Northward all the way along the coast from Carmel to Latakia the Crusaders stood behind castle walls, gathering their tribute and exercising their rule over restricted districts between the spurs of the hills.

However, a constitution was formed, and a moral unity maintained: a first King was elected, though from humility he would not take the titleGodfrey of Bouillon, in the Ardennes below Sedan; and his successor was that same Baldwin of Flanders who had occupied Edessa.

So long as the Mohammedan world (surrounding them upon every side like a sea, interpenetrating their very narrow strip of intermittent occupation) was divided among many local rulers, the experiment might appear successful. The military Orders, Templars and Hospitallers, helped the defence, and there was now established a fairly constant communication with Europe, ships arriving from the Mediterranean and even from northern ports, and pilgrimage and recruitment. There were craft from the North Sea at the taking of Sidon, from Genoa at the taking of Tripoli, from Venice at the taking of Tyre and so on through fifty examples. But it was certain doubly certain since Damascus had been left alone that whenever a strong and united rule should appear over the Mohammedan world with out, the Crusaders, in spite of their castles, were doomed.

The aim of the prodigious thrust had been accomplished; there was a King in Jerusalem, a feudal organisation of the French-speaking Western Christian nobles under him, each in his own principality with his vassals ready to his summons: and there was a moral unity confirmed by the function which all these commanders exercised of holding the Sepulchre and its approaches against the Infidel. But what was the true strength of all that? What was its real situation?

Eighty-eight years separate the storming of Jerusalem, in 1099, and the decisive defeat of Hattin, 1187, from which the precarious hold of Western chivalry upon the hills never recovered. But it only so held even during that short space by standing continually upon the defensive.

Half-way through the business it had already lost its principal outlying post, Edessa; and the remainder, a very narrow chain of posts, was preserved at the expense of constant struggle against the much greater Mohammedan forces inland.

This perilous defence of the Westerners against the desert and its creed, against the Lords of the towns that fringed the desert, the Lords of Aleppo, Hama, Horns and Damascus, could only continue with the aid of immense defensive works those castles which still stand as marvels to the eye today. The Crusading Lords were not unsupported by the native population; there was remaining in the twelfth century a very considerable body of native Christians even far inland; they were probably then a majority in the towns of the sea-plains and on the western slopes of Lebanon, where they are still a large factor in the population today. But the experiment remained an experiment, tied to a desperate defensive, dependent for its life upon strongholds.

Those strongholds were developed under the necessity of the struggle, the whole art of castle-building advancing rapidly in complexity and value in the first years of the occupation. We are astonished today at the magnitude of these fortresses; the labour expended in their establishment and the hardly credible results, not only in design and scale but in numbers. It is some consolation for the failure of the Crusades to see their relics still standing thus gigantic and ubiquitous over the 400-mile line from the Gulf of Alexandretta to Monreal.

The Syria of the Crusades became especially a land of castles. There are more than a score of the first rank, and any number of lesser ones, down to the smallest square keep or peel. By an historical accident they remain today the chief mark of the whole region. If a wanderer who knew nothing of the past were turned loose to range the sea-plain and the inner hollow of the Orontes and Litani, the upper Jordan and the Holy Land down to the mighty ruins above the Red Sea road, the strong image that would remain in his mind would be the image of these huge and elaborate buildings. The beauty of the old high civilisation, the temples and palaces of Greece and Rome, are in the dust. But the Crusading castles are everywhere against the sky, still standing proudly, even where their material has been quarried and they are struck by decay.

The holding of that land-even with such great works-would have been impossible from the beginning had not the Arabian fighting tradition been bad at siege-work. The Mohammedan did, later, build fine castles of his own-though simple; witness Aleppo. But it was not native to him to rely on walls or to carry on long sieges. With the Crusaders it was the other way. The military talents which are native to the Gallic blood are best seen in defence: the defensive as a preparation for counter-offensive. Most Gallic wars begin with defeats: a retreat after an initial advance. Most of those which are successful are only so through a rally. The most soldierly of qualities is endurance, and of military talents the most useful is an eye for a defensive position. That quality and those talents are demanded by and expressed in ability for fortification.

But there is another character in societies of a military sort, which also made for this Crusading castle-building political division.

Krak des Chevaliers, a Crusader Castle in Syria
The castles were not only established as bases for resistance to the Mohammedan, and as posts built to support each other in the holding of the sea-plain and the hills immediately be hind it; they were also built for the particular advantage of their particular Lords, to confirm the position of the Prince of Antioch, or the Order of the Templars, or of the Count of Tripoli, or of the King of Jerusalem himself. The men who built these castles came from that feudal society of which the French had given the model to all the West of Europe, and wherein the local magnate was, within his radius of action, a sovereign commanding a small army of his own, and always ready to fight his neighbour. That tradition of division continued in Crusading Palestine. It continually reappears through out French history, a centrifugal force often developing so far as almost to wreck the unity of the society in which it works. That society had been saved more than once by reaction towards the strengthening of the central power, but normally "the political vice of the Gauls is civil war."

Yet another condition which favoured the creation of these huge monuments, the Crusading Castles, was the isolation of the separate territories in Syria, that same geographical condition which, from the beginning of recorded time down to our own day has split up that limited belt into so many separate units.

The spurs running down from the ranges to the sea, the small enclosed valleys between them, the more extended but still limited little plains walled in by hills, each with its landing-place, had created a multiplicity of political centres which not even Rome could unify, and which more than 3,000 years of recorded action by great Empires, Egyptian, Assyrian, Macedonian and Roman, have never obliterated.

The thing goes on to this day, it is not only the rivalry of French and British, it is the very structure of the country which thus cracks it up into a mosaic. You have the railway, and a good motor road, and flying, and one modern first-rate port (Haifa), to be followed presumably by many more and yet Beyrout remains something quite different from Tripoli, and Tripoli from Latakia. Antioch is a personality. The guardian towns on the edge of the desert, Aleppo, Horns, Hama and Damascus, are individual and apart: Palestine has been from the beginning and is now again more than ever an inter-mixture of opposing elements. The great trading ports each become (as Tyre and Sidon were in their time) capitals.

Now this division of a district by nature into isolated groups, directed and confirmed the castle-building. And beyond that there was a special demand for the castles to command the few roads and that essential thing, on which the story of all the Near Orient depends, all that is on the edge of the desert: water.

The castles then arose everywhere, but even behind such walls the effort of our forefathers could not endure.

The first symptom of what was to come was the loss of Edessa. It might have seemed the most secure of all the new possessions, there was a population almost wholly Christian, there was a city to support the keep, and ample provision. The way to it lay through difficult mountains; it had not like Syria already been held permanently by the Infidel Therefore when it fell, the warning was grave indeed: and fall it did before the young men who had marched in with Bohemond were grown old. It was as early as 1128 that a vigorous Seljukian Turkish Governor of Mosul made himself master of Aleppo.By the next year he was on the middle Orontes, and confirming his power over the string of towns that are the ports of the desert. Zenghi was his name. As yet he had not crossed Lebanon, nor attempted to reduce the invaders who had now for forty years precariously held the sea-coast and Jerusalem. He struck at Edessa, and captured it in 1144.

It was the first great defeat with lasting consequences that the Christian adventure had suffered; it awoke Christendom, it compelled Europe to further action, and there followed the grave failure called the Second Crusade.

This time the Kings themselves were so moved to action that they ran the risk of absence, leaving regents in their place and facing eastward for this supreme attempt.

The society of Europe had far advanced in the generation between the first adventure and the fall of Edessa; armies were better organised and on the whole better equipped, governments (especially in France) were stronger. The King of France, Louis VII, and the Emperor Conrad III of Germany brought their large combined forces to bear; but meanwhile the Emperor of Byzantium had had experience of how little he could expect from the Westerners save the pushing back of the Turks. His whole action was hostile to the Crusaders, and the result thereof was that the Germans were beaten back at the beginning of their march, and the French only reached the Holy Land after losing the greater part of their Army and suffering a disastrous defeat on the coast of Asia Minor.

The remnant made its effort where the first blow should have been achieved fifty years before, against Damascus. It was too late. The town was not taken, and it was certain after the Easter of 1149 (after which the King of France sailed back home) the next Mohammedan coalition would make an end. That coalition was to come through the energy of a man who was a boy in his fourteenth yeas when the second Crusade before Damascus failed.

He was the son of the man who had been Zenghi's Governor of Baalbec and was later Governor of Damascus; a Kurd from the mountains beyond Mesopotamia, and one who had been a leading general in the Turkish armies, by name Ayoub that is, Job. This man had brought up his heir in the fullest traditions of the Mohammedan culture (during the years after the failure of the Christian siege) in this same town of Damascus,  which was the very centre of that culture. The boy was called Salah-ed-Din, "The glory of the Faith," of which we have made "Saladin."

He had gone as attendant upon the General, sent by the orthodox Mohammedans into Egypt to re-take it from the dissidents. Nureddin was the man who was now thus collecting the orthodox Mohammedan world into one and encircling the Crusaders. These made an effort to break the encirclement by themselves occupying the "Neck," the bridge of land between Asia and Africa, the holding of which would cut the Mohammedan world in two. But they could not hold it.

Saladin, who had succeeded to the local command when his superior officer died, imposed orthodoxy upon Egypt. He succeeded in this not so much by force as by skill in negotiation, which was perhaps his chief talent, though he was a great soldier as well Rather less than thirty years after the failure of the Second Crusade in front of Damascus, Nureddin died, and Saladin, now a man of forty, determined on uniting all the East under himself. He had the capacity for the task, on the civilian as on the military side, and his power rose steadily in
the next twelve years. By 1186 he had gathered into his own hand the armed force of the Mohammedan world in the Orient and against such unity of strength under one command the Christian defence could not but break down.

Saladin, in uniting the Mohammedan world of Egypt and Syria under his control, had been compelled as much to continued negotiation as to scattered fighting; it was necessary for his success to keep the Christians from attacking him while he was concentrating; and it is characteristic of the situation that the Crusaders were glad to accept relief in the form of a truce. This did but put off the evil hour. Apart from inferior forces the stock of the Crusaders, of those at least who were descended from the original Lords of nearly a century before, had deteriorated. They were still individually the superiors of the Orientals, but they had no longer lived with the full vigour of the earlier invaders from over Western Europe.

Saladin, having made himself master of all the anti-Christian forces, took the first opportunity he could of breaking the truce. Such opportunities in the loose conditions of the time were not lacking, and one came ready to his hand in the capture of a caravan by Reginald of Chatillon. The pretext was the better because, with that caravan, was captured the sister of Saladin himself.

Reginald of Chatillon was the bravest, the most energetic, and at the time the greatest of the Crusaders in Palestine; he had shown extraordinary vigour in the past, equipping a fleet in the Red Sea and making an attempt upon the Holy Places of the Mohammedan world, Mecca and Medina. To break the truce with such a man would appeal to all Moslems, so the truce was broken. But any occasion would have sufficed for Saladin, now that the time was ripe.

The Moslem was besieging the castle of Tiberias upon the Lake of Galilee. The Crusaders gathered every unit they could of their depleted and insufficient strength, leaving only skeleton garrisons in the fortified places, and concentrated upon the relief of Tiberias. This brought them into the open field where they could be overwhelmed by numbers. Against their concentration as it approached Tiberias the hosts of Saladin marched, and the shock came on the greensward that rises in one even slope, traversed by the road to Nazareth, as it winds up the hills from the lake, half a day's march above Tiberias. At the summit of the slope stand two lumps of rock, known, from the name of the village on the far side, as "The Horns of Hattin." These give their name to the action.

There, on a burning July day (Saturday, the 4th of July, 1187), the Christians had drawn up their line. They had been contained in the night by the Immensely larger forces of the Moslem under their great leader. They were cut off from supplies, and during all the hours of that day they got no water. As they attempted to cut their way through to the lake, charging down the slope of the greensward, the dry grass was set on fire by the enemy so that the smoke should further confuse them. Somehow or other they managed, sinking under the heat and the torture of thirst, to carry on the struggle till the late afternoon, but long before the sun was low the end had come.

The first prisoners were brought to Saladin's tent, Reginald of Chatillon among them. He was offered his life if he would renounce his religion. He refused and Saladin murdered the disarmed man with his own hands. That day of Hattin was the mortal stroke from which the Crusading effort could never recover.

Garrison after garrison fell; and at last, in the first days of October, 1187, Jerusalem itself was in Saladin's hands. The only town of consequence which still held out was the seaport of Tyre.

Had Saladin been able to rush Tyre there might have been a complete collapse: as it was, a door was left open for reinforcement.

Reinforcement came, though it came to no final effect. The whole of Europe moved, shaken to its depths by the loss of the Holy Places. The French came under their young King, Philip Augustus, with the forces of Eastern France; the Plantagenet western half, under Richard, Angevin King of England and still Lord not only of his heritage, An] on, but of Normandy, Poitiers, Touraine and all Aquitaine as well The greatest of the German Emperors, Barbarossa, came forward also with his host all these arose; the last of the efforts coming too late the Third Crusade, gathered for the recovery of the Holy City.

In such numbers something of an equal fight could be maintainedfor a time at least but even this Third Crusade was not a true offensive; it was a defence, and it broke down. For the moment most of the sea-coast was recaptured. Special attack was concentrated against the port of St. John of Acre,which was carried, and Richard, King of England, marched down south along the sea towards Jerusalem: but the situation was hopeless. The King of France had sailed home; Barbarossa was dead; Richard, a man of fierce courage but continually ill,now quite broke down in health; his small remaining command turned back within the neighbourhood of its goal and Jerusalem was abandoned.

For a whole century isolated posts were held, but without hope of further advance. A Fourth Crusade, which should have made yet another effort, was wasted in the temporary capture of Constantinople, whither Venice had deflected its transports for gain. Half-way through the century, Frederic II, the chief figure of Europe, in the midst of his struggle with the Church (which might well have ended in the destruction of our religion), negotiated a strange peace: it enabled him to be nominally crowned King of Jerusalem but on condition of openly compromising with the Infidel. He went back to the coast and sailed away, having certainly betrayed what was left of the Christian cause, and denounced as its worst enemy. A few years after his death, St. Louis of France came over, refortified certain of the coastal towns and struck unsuccessfully at Egypt; sixteen years later he again unsuccessfully attacked the Mohammedan power for the last time in North Africa. There, upon the hill of Carthage, he died.

In another twenty years the end of the drooping business came. Acre was stormed, and the last shred of the kingdom of Jerusalem disappeared.

"Farewell, Syria."

5 comment(s):

Ciaron said...

Reginald of Chatillon was the bravest, the most energetic, and at the time the greatest of the Crusaders in Palestine;

I don't have time to read the whole thing now but is this the same man, a templar, portrayed as a corrupt murderer in Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven"?

Lucia Maria said...


May have been, I'll have to check.

The Kingdom of Heaven was a horrendous movie. Truly destructive to our image of the Crusades.

KG said...

What a superb piece of writing!

Ciaron said...

Indeed, in simplistic terms, the Templars are corrupt bloodthirsty & savage, And the Moslems cultured, restrained & regal. Visually impressive But the story was....

Lucia Maria said...
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