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Muslim and Christian Interaction During the Crusades and its Lasting Effects (Part 2)

January 15th, 2011

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Capture of Jerusalem by the Franks went on for five weeks and resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 of the inhabitants of the city, including innocent women and children. While the Frankish telling of this siege is one of glamour and glory, the Muslim and Byzantine perspectives of the Franks were not quite as complimentary. Fulcher of Chartres, who was present at the address by Pope Urban II in Clermont, followed the crusade to Jerusalem to document his people’s activities. His description of the Frankish soldiers was plainly sympathetic- as one would expect, while his opinion of the people of Jerusalem, the Saracens, was that they were the heathen, godless creatures whose final end was deserved, and even willed, by God himself. “Then the Franks entered the city magnificently at the noon-day hour on Friday, the day of the week when Christ redeemed the whole world on the cross. With trumpets sounding and with everything in an uproar, exclaiming: ‘Help, God!’ they vigorously pushed into the city and straight-way raised the banner on the top of the wall. All the heathen, completely terrified, changed their boldness to swift flight through the narrow streets of the quarters.”

Anna Comnena, the daughter of emperor Alexius, had an alternate opinion of the Frankish crusaders. When they arrived at Constantinople on their way to the Holy Land to be received as friends by the emperor, she had grave doubts as to whether they should be trusted. She understood them as uncivilized barbarians who had neither honor nor integrity. That only one year before the very same people had made war with her people, and won, certainly didn’t help matters. In this instance, the Byzantine Empire had been under the threat and attack of the Turks, and had asked the western nations to send mercenaries to aid in their fight. They sent the Frankish crusaders instead. In addition to the aforementioned, she describes them as cowardly: “Propontis put off the decision day to day; the crossing was deferred with a series of excuses. In fact, of course, he was waiting for Bohemond and the rest of the counts to arrive.” Later in the text she describes them as conceited and foolish: “Although for the day’s sake, he refrained from shooting straight at the Latins, yet whenever one of them in his foolhardiness and arrogance not only fired at the defenders … poured forth a volley of insults in his own language as well, the Caesar did bend his bow.” Comnena’s impression of these brutish crusaders is obviously not parallel to Chartres’ brave, noble knights who so deservingly took Jerusalem.

Ousama Ibn Mounkidh, an Arab author during the 12th century, had yet another opinion on the crusader’s demeanors and abilities. Even more importantly, however, he showed in his writings the contrasting religious and social views of the Muslim and Christian people. In one of his writings he sums up his overall feelings about the new Frankish transplants in Jerusalem: “It is always those who have recently come to live in Frankish territory who show themselves more inhuman than their predecessors who have been established among us and become familiarized with the Mohammedans” He goes on to describe an incident which occurred while he was praying in the mosque, which the Franks had converted into a church. A Christian Frank who had not yet been exposed to Muslim custom grabbed him by the face and turned him east, yelling at him to pray in the proper direction. He says “I went out and was astounded to see how put out this demon was, how he trembled and how deeply he had been affected by seeing anyone pray in the direction of the Kibla.”

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