Post-classical history

§ Two Old Women Race

Let this go and bring the conversation back to Harim.247

And let us stop discussing their medical practices and move on to something else.248

I was present in Tiberias during one of their feast-days. The knights had gone out to practise fighting with spears, and two decrepit old women went out with them. They positioned the two women at one end of the practice-field and at the other end they left a pig, which they had roasted and laid on a rock. They then made the two old women race one another, each one accompanied by a detachment of horsemen who cheered her on. At every step, the old women would fall down but then get up again as the audience laughed, until one of them overtook the other and took away the pig as her prize.

§ Examples of Frankish Jurisprudence

I was an eyewitness one day in Nablus when two men came forward to fight a duel. The reason behind it was that some Muslim bandits took one of the villages of Nablus by surprise, and one of the peasants there was accused of complicity. They said, ‘He guided the bandits to the village!’ So he fled.

But the king sent men to arrest the peasant’s sons, so the man came back before the king and said, ‘Grant me justice. I challenge to a duel the man who said that I guided the bandits to the village.’

The king said to the lord of the village, its fief-holder, ‘Bring before me the man whom he has challenged.’

So the lord went off to his village, where a blacksmith lived, and took him, telling him, ‘You will fight in a duel.’ This was the fief-holder’s way of making sure that none of his peasants [139] would be killed and his farming ruined as a result.

I saw that blacksmith. He was a strong young man, but lacking resolve: he would walk a bit, then sit down and order something to drink. Whereas the other man, who had demanded the duel, was an old man but strong-willed: he would shout taunts as if he had no fears about the duel. Then the vicomte249 came – he is the governor of the town – and gave each one of the duellists a staff and a shield and arranged the people around them in a circle.

The two men met. The old man would press the blacksmith back until he pushed him away as far as the circle of people, then he would return to the centre. They continued exchanging blows until the two of them stood there looking like pillars spattered with blood. The whole affair was going on too long and the vicomte began to urge them to hurry, saying, ‘Be quick about it!’

The blacksmith benefited from the fact that he was used to swinging a hammer, but the old man was worn out. The blacksmith hit him and he collapsed, his staff falling underneath his back. The blacksmith then crouched on top of him and tried to stick his fingers in the old man’s eyes, but couldn’t do it because of all the blood. So he stood up and beat the man’s head in with his staff until he had killed him. In a flash, they tied a rope round the old man’s neck, dragged him off and strung him up. The blacksmith’s lord now came and bestowed his own mantle upon him, let him mount behind him on his horse and rode away with him.

And that was but a taste of their jurisprudence and their legal procedure, may God curse them!

On one occasion, I went with the amir Mu’in al-Din (may God have mercy upon him) to Jerusalem, and we stopped at Nablus. While there, a blind man – a young man wearing fine clothes, a Muslim – came out to the amir with some fruit and asked him for permission to be admitted into his service in Damascus. The amir did so. I asked about him and I was told that his mother had been married to a Frank, whom she had killed. Her son used to attempt various ruses on their pilgrims, and he and his mother used to work together to kill them. They finally brought charges against him for that and made him subject to the legal procedure of the Franks, to wit:

They set up a huge cask and filled it with water and stretched a plank of wood across it. Then they bound the arms of the accused, tied a rope around his shoulders and threw him into the cask. If he were innocent, then he would sink in the water and they would then pull him up by that rope so he wouldn’t die in the water; if he were guilty, then he would not sink in the water. That man tried [140] eagerly to sink into the water when they threw him in, but he couldn’t do it. So he had to submit to their judgment – may God curse them – and they did some work on his eyes.250

The man later arrived in Damascus, so the amir Mu’in al-Din (may God have mercy upon him) assigned him a stipend to meet all his needs and said to one of his attendants, ‘Take him to Burhan al-Din ibn al-Balkhi251 (may God have mercy upon him) and tell him to order someone to teach the Qur’an and some jurisprudence to this man.’

At this the blind man said, ‘Victory and mastery be yours! This wasn’t what I was thinking!’

‘Then what were you thinking I would do?’ asked the amir.

‘That you would give me a horse, a mule and weapons, and make a horseman out of me!’ the man answered.

The amir then said, ‘I never thought that a blind man would join the ranks of our cavalry.’

§ Franks that are Acclimatized are Better

Among the Franks there are some who have become acclimatized and frequent the company of Muslims. They are much better than those recently arrived from their lands, but they are the exception and should not be considered representative.

Here is an example. I sent one of my men to Antioch on an errand. At the time, Chief Tadrus ibn al-Saffi252 was there, and his word had great influence in Antioch; there was a mutual bond of friendship between us. One day he said to my man, ‘A Frankish friend of mine has invited me to his home. You should come along so you can observe their ways.’ My man told me:

I went along with him and we came to the home of one of the old knights who came out in one of the first expeditions of the Franks. He was since removed from the stipend-registry and dismissed from service, but he had some property in Antioch off which he lived. He presented a very fine table, with food that was extremely clean and delicious. But seeing me holding back from eating, he said, ‘Eat and be of good cheer! For I don’t eat Frankish food: I have Egyptian cooking-women and never eat anything except what they cook. And pork never enters my house.’ So I ate, though guardedly, and we left.

After passing through the market, a Frankish woman suddenly hung onto me while babbling at me in their language – I didn’t understand what she was saying. Then a group of Franks began to gather around me and I was certain that I was going to perish. But suddenly, who should turn up but that knight, who saw me and approached. He came and said to that woman, [141] ‘What’s the matter with you and this Muslim?’

‘This man killed my brother ‘Urs.’253 This ‘Urs was a knight in Apamea whom someone from the army of Hama had killed.

The knight shouted at her and said, ‘This man is a bourgeois254 (i.e., a merchant), who neither fights nor attends battle.’ And he yelled at the assembled crowd and they dispersed. He then took me by the hand and went away. Thus, the effect of that meal was my deliverance from death.

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