Post-classical history

Islam and the Crusades



Expectations of the Day

Details of how the world would end were so well known to medieval Muslims that the fourteenth-century Arab chronicler, Ibn Kathir, felt able to round off his chronicle of Islamic history, The Beginning and the End, with a circumstantial account of the expected sequence of events. Many Muslims in the crusading period believed that the Last Days would be inaugurated by a dark sun rising in the west, followed by the appearance of the barbarous hordes of Gog and Magog. Then the hordes of Gog and Magog would disappear (and, according to one account written in twelfth-century Syria, they would drink Lake Tiberias dry before heading off east). The appearance of Gog and Magog would be followed by that of the one-eyed Antichrist, Dajjal, who would ride through Palestine on an ass, followed by a retinue of 70,000 Jews. Dajjal would perform false miracles in parody of Jesus. But after forty days Jesus would descend from the heavens and slay the Antichrist, before destroying the cross and calling on all people to follow the religion of Islam. Finally the sun would set in the east, the first blast of the trumpet would sound and with it all living things would die. At the second blast every man and woman who had ever lived would be resurrected and brought to Jerusalem to be judged. Other accounts gave slightly differing chronologies and some stressed the role of the Mahdi, a divinely guided figure who would appear in the Last Days, prior to the appearance of the Antichrist, and who would bring victory and justice to the Muslims.

Speculations about the Last Days and the role of the Mahdi in them were frequently intertwined with prophecies about Islam’s triumph over Christianity and about the future fates of Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Rome. According to a hadith, or saying, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which was already circulating before the coming of the First Crusade, ‘The Hour will not come until God gives my community victory over Constantinople.’ Apart from hadiths, much apocalyptic material was spuriously attributed to Ka‘b ibn al-Akhbar, a seventh- century companion of the Prophet. A literary genre of malahim (literally ‘slaughterings’), writings dealing with the fierce wars of the Last Days, was spuriously attributed to the biblical prophet Daniel, or, later, the thirteenth-century Andalusian Sufi mystic, Ibn al-Arabi. Much of the early malahim literature was produced at a time when Muslims were struggling to defend their Syrian territory from Byzantine attempts to retake it. The prophecies tended to stress that the Muslims would face many hardships and setbacks—they might even lose Jerusalem to the Christians for a while—before ultimately triumphing. There were tales of a talismanic statue standing in the centre of Constantinople, which used to hold a sphere, on which were written the words ‘I will reign over the world as long as this sphere is in my hands’, but Arab sources reported that the sphere was no longer in the statue’s hand. According to some Muslim legends it was the Mahdi who would conquer Constantinople, after first having taken Rome. In the period just prior to the coming of the First Crusade, Muslim (and Jewish) expectations were particularly focused on the imminence of the Muslim year 500 ah(corresponding to ad 1106-7).

For Muslims, Christians, and Jews the late eleventh-century Near East was a time of acute insecurity. While some expected the revival of the Islamic faith at the end of the fifth Islamic century, others fearfully awaited the appearance of the Mahdi and the End of the World. At a more mundane level, many Muslims hoped for a decisive victory in the long-drawn-out struggle for control of Syria between the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt and the Seljuk sultans in the eastern Islamic lands. Whatever people were expecting it certainly was not a religiously inspired invasion of peoples from western Europe.

A Middle Eastern Mosaic

The success of the First Crusade and the establishment of Christian principalities in the Near East was one of the relatively minor consequences of the disintegration of the Seljuk sultanate after the death of the Sultan Malik-Shah in 1092. The tribal traditions of the Seljuk Turks favoured the sharing of rule amongst the family and, after Malik-Shah’s death, his kinsmen fought over his empire, in Iran, Transoxania, Caucasus, Iraq, and Syria. Turkish generals and client warlords in Syria and elsewhere supported rival princes and pursued increasingly independent local policies. At the same time, generals in the service of the Egyptian Fatimids took advantage of Seljuk disarray to make gains at their expense in Palestine and Syria. Barkayaruq, the eldest son of Malik-Shah, struggled to establish a precarious suzerainty over the heartlands of the empire, but he was still only the senior figure in a territorial confederation when he died in 1105.

From 1038 onwards, the Seljuk sultans had pretended to rule as the servants of the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad and as the defenders of the Sunni Islamic faith. In practice, the eleventh- century Abbasids had little effective political authority, even within the city of Baghdad, and the Caliph al-Mustazhir (1094-1118) had plenty of time to pursue his enthusiasm for poetry and calligraphy. Even so, the Abbasid caliph was, formally at least, recognized as the political and religious head of the Islamic world by most Sunni Muslims. Sunni Muslims took their name from the Sunna, or words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, a body of orally transmitted traditions which helped shape both Islamic law (the Sharia) and the conduct of individual Muslims. Sunni Muslims recognized the supreme political authority of the caliphs, even though this authority was by now a legalistic fiction.

In this they differed from Shi‘i Muslims who held that ultimate religious and political authority could only be held by ‘Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, and then by the imams who were his descendants and spiritual successors. Shi‘a ‘All meant the party of Ali. One major group of Shi‘is held that after the disappearance, or occultation, of the twelfth imam in 878, ultimate spiritual authority was in abeyance. Twelver Shi‘is waited for the return of the Hidden Imam and with his coming the imposition of Islamic justice on the whole world. However, another group of Shi‘is, the Isma‘ilis, held that it was after the disappearance in 760 of Isma‘il, whom they regarded as the rightful seventh imam, that the imamate had gone into occultation. In the course of the eleventh century there were further schisms, as first the Druze and then the Nizari Isma‘ilis, or Assassins, broke away from and opposed the pretensions of the Isma‘ili Fatimid caliphate in Cairo.

Although it is impossible to be dogmatic on such a matter, it seems probable that most Muslims in Greater Syria (that is Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries were Sunnis who professed allegiance to the Abbasid caliphs. However, the distinctions between Sunni and Shi‘i doctrines and rituals were not always very clear and many Sunnis had Shi‘i leanings, while there were many Shi‘is who had no compunctions about taking service with the Abbasid caliphs and the Seljuk sultans. Sunnis and Shi‘is lived cheek by jowl in the big Muslim cities. Although the Sunnis were in the majority, the Shi‘i minority was very large and in some parts of Syria the Shi‘is were in the majority. Most Syrian Shi‘is were probably Twelvers, but supporters of the Assassin version of Isma‘ilism made repeated attempts to take over in Aleppo and other big Syrian towns in the early twelfth century, before finally electing to create a small territorial principality centred around the fortress of Masyaf in the Syrian highlands.

Outside the territories of the Fatimid caliph, in most other regions of the Islamic world Shi‘is found themselves in an adversarial position. Although modern Iran is overwhelmingly Shi‘i, in the medieval period it was a bastion of Sunnism. However, Hasan-i Sabah, who was born in Iran, but of Arab descent, established an Isma‘ili Assassin enclave in the highlands south of the Caspian Sea. His followers seized the castle of Alamut in 1090 and subsequently other castles in the region fell under Isma‘ili control.

Evidently it would be a mistake to think of Greater Syria prior to the coming of the First Crusade as monolithically Muslim. Not only were there religious schisms among the Muslims, but, as has been described in Chapter 6, there were still significant communities of native Christians in both the cities and the countryside. One group of Christians, the Melkites (or Orthodox), looked to the Byzantine emperor for leadership and protection, but other Christian sects—among them the Jacobites, Nestorians, and Maronites—may well have preferred to practise their faith freely under Muslim overlords. Many found advancement under Muslim rulers, and native Christians were particularly prominent in the urban bureaucracies and in medicine. The prominence of Christians was even more marked in Egypt, where Copts (Egyptian Monophysites) dominated the fiscal bureaucracy, while some army officers were Armenian Christians.

The political situation of the Near East on the eve of the First Crusade was, if anything, more complex than the religious one; and indeed religious and political issues are often not easy to separate in an Islamic context. The most significant feature of Islamic history in the late eleventh and early twelfth century was the break-up of the empire of the greater Seljuks. After the death of Malik-Shah, the Caliph al-Mustazhir tried alternately to mediate between warring Seljuk siblings and to profit from their conflict by increasing his independent authority in Baghdad. Similarly, elsewhere in the disintegrating Seljuk empire, governors and soldiers appointed to rule over Seljuk towns and provinces took advantage of dynastic strife to establish themselves as independent rulers. Some of those who did so used their formal tenure of the office of atabak (literally ‘father- prince’) to conceal the fact of their usurpation of independent power. An atabak was a sort of military nanny who was deputed to protect and advise an under-age scion of the Seljuk dynasty who had been sent out as a provincial governor. However, as one might expect, in one province after another theatabaks set the princes aside and effectively took independent power for themselves. Thus, for example, Mosul in the 1090s had come under the control of Karbuqa, its atabak. Elsewhere in Iraq, western Iran, and Syria, independent Turkish warlords and ambitious mercenaries, as well as usurping atabaks, sought to increase their territories at each other’s expense.

In the late eleventh century Greater Syria was a vast war zone fought over by generals and former clients of the Seljuks on the one hand and armies in the service of the Fatimid caliphs in Egypt on the other. From 1064 onwards Turkomans, nomadic Turkish tribal forces, entered Syria. These Turkomans were not under the control of the Seljuk Sultan, but a few years later regular Seljuk troops occupied a large part of Syria, including the axis of large Muslim towns in the Syrian interior, running from Aleppo in the north, via Hama and Homs, to Damascus in the south. However the Seljuks and their allies were less successful in taking coastal towns and the Fatimids still retained a presence on the coast and in Palestine.

On the eve of the First Crusade, Aleppo and most of northern Syria was ruled, or if not ruled at least claimed, by Ridwan, a nephew of Malik-Shah. Ridwan was later to come under the influence of Assassin agents and was always unpopular in Aleppo. Not only was he unpopular in that city, but his ambitions in Syria were also opposed by his younger brother Duqaq, who was nominal ruler of Damascus. Moreover the city of Antioch to the west of Aleppo governed by the emir Yaghi Siyan was allied with Damascus against Aleppo. Antioch’s Muslim population was probably small, for until 1084 it had been a Byzantine city. Ridwan’s territory was also threatened from the east by the ambitions of Karbuqa, the atabak of Mosul.

Almost every town in Syria seemed to have its own ruler. Many of those rulers were Turks and soldiers. Thus Homs was under the control of Janah al-Dawla, another Turkish atabak. It is worth noting here that although most of Syria’s population was Arab, most of the military élite in the region was of Turkish and, to a lesser extent, Kurdish stock. However, from 1086 onwards, the town and fortress of Shayzar in northern Syria were ruled by the Banu Munqidh, an Arab clan of Twelver Shi‘ites. The city port of Tripoli had successfully rebelled against the Fatimids in 1070 and was governed by a dynasty of qadis (judges) until its capture by the crusaders in 1109. It had a predominantly Shi‘ite population. The port of Jabala was also an independent republic. The port of Beirut was governed by the Fatimids and supplied by their fleets. Tyre, Sidon, and Acre were also under Fatimid control, but only since 1089 and only precariously so and there were repeated revolts against Egyptian rule.

As for Jerusalem, it had been taken from the Fatimids by Atsisz, a Turkish general, in 1071, but in 1098 the Fatimids, taking advantage of Turkish preoccupation with the arrival of the First Crusade in northern Syria, had reoccupied the city. According to the Persian traveller, Nasr-i Khosraw, who visited Jerusalem in the 1050s, the place had a population of about 20,000 and was much visited by Muslim pilgrims, who for one reason or another were unable to perform the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and Medina. The city was ‘the third most holy place of God’ and many Muslim mystics chose to reside there. Jerusalem had a special status in the Muslim scenario of the Last Days. On the Day of Judgement when the Trumpet of the Resurrection would be blown for the second time and all creatures brought to life once more, mankind would find itself assembled in the Valley of Gehenna, just outside the eastern wall of Jerusalem. Many Muslims therefore chose to be buried at or close to this site. The Muslim shrine of the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem had been completed in 692. The reasons for its construction are mysterious, but by the eleventh century it was widely believed by Muslims that it was from the rock in the centre of the shrine that the winged steed Buraq sprang when he carried the Prophet Muhammad up to the heavens on the Night Journey.

Although the Fatimids did exert themselves to reoccupy Jerusalem in 1098, the place was not of vast importance to them. Ramla was their capital in Palestine and Ascalon their chief naval base. Outside the towns in Palestine their writ hardly ran at all and bedouin and Turkoman freebooters terrorized villagers, merchants, and pilgrims of all religions. A letter written in 1100 by a Jewish pilgrim stranded in Egypt reveals how he had vainly been trying to reach Jerusalem for five years, but bandits and bedouin had made the road to the city impassable.

However the danger faced by pilgrims in Palestine was not the immediate cause of the First Crusade. Rather the territorial gains made at the expense of the Greeks in Asia Minor by the Seljuk sultan of Rum, Kilij Arslan I, led the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, to ask for military help from the West. Kilij Arslan belonged to a separate branch of the Seljuk clan and it was one which was constantly at odds with the ‘Greater Seljuks’ of Iran and Iraq. Indeed it was Kilij Arslan’s attempt to profit from the Greater Seljuk’s disarray in Upper Iraq which was to lead to his death in 1107. In Asia Minor itself, the supremacy of the Seljuks of Rum was contested by a rival dynasty of Turkish frontier warriors, the Danishmendids, whose centre of power was in northern Anatolia. Both the Seljuks of Rum and the Danishmendids ruled over territories whose populations were overwhelmingly composed of Greek Christians.

The Christian Jihad and the Muslim Response

Given the divided state of the Islamic world, the successive triumphs of the armies of the First Crusade in Anatolia, northern Syria, and Palestine are hardly surprising. Although Turkish armies were dispatched from Aleppo, Damascus, and Mosul for the relief of Antioch in 1097-8, their movements were uncoordinated. The smaller coastal cities to the south were far too weak to resist the Christian advance, and when the Fatimids lost Jerusalem to the crusaders there may have been some among the Sunni Muslims who viewed the loss of that place by their Shi‘ite enemies with quiet satisfaction.

The letter written in 1100 by a Jewish pilgrim stranded in Egypt gives us a picture of how things appeared in the immediate aftermath of the Christian conquest of Jerusalem. It reveals that plague had ravaged and weakened Egypt but that nevertheless, al-Afdal, the Egyptian vizier and general, was confidently expected to retake Jerusalem later that year. Many Muslims also failed to appreciate at first the full significance of the crusading movement and of the Christian occupation of Jerusalem. The Franks were widely mistaken for Byzantine troops and they were not expected to hang on to Jerusalem for very long. Even so, despite all the political and religious divisions in the Muslim community and despite widespread Muslim ignorance about the origins and motives of the crusaders, there was immediate outrage over crusader atrocities at such places as Ma‘arrat al- Numan, where many inhabitants had been massacred, and their capture of the Holy City.

Towards the end of 1099 the chief qadi of Damascus, al- Harawi, led a delegation of refugees to Baghdad to seek the help of the Caliph al-Mustazhir. Al-Harawi’s address to the caliph, which brought tears to the eyes of his audience, was soon afterwards adapted and turned into verse by the Iraqi poet Ibn al- Abiwardi.

How can the eye sleep between the lids at a time of disasters that would waken any sleeper?

While your Syrian brothers can only sleep on the backs of their chargers or in vultures’ bellies?

The caliph, who had no soldiers of his own to speak of, wrote to Barkayaruq asking him to do something, but the Seljuk sultan, who at that time was engaged in a war in northern Iran with his brother, Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad, did nothing.

In 1110 a similar delegation, this time headed by the Shi‘te qadi of Aleppo, Ibn al-Khashshab, came to Baghdad determined to stir up opinion at the caliph’s court in favour of concerted action against the Franks. With the support of Sufis and merchants, Ibn al-Khashshab organized a demonstration in the caliph’s mosque in Baghdad during the Friday prayers and this action was repeated a week later. Then the processional entry of the caliph’s wife into Baghdad was similarly disrupted. The caliph was furious. It is true that Ghiyath al-Din Muhammad I, who on Barkayaruq’s death in 1105 had taken over the latter’s pretensions to rule over the Seljuk sultanate, promised that he would do something and went through the motions of preparing for a jihad. However, the victims of the crusaders in Syria were never to receive any substantial help from any of the claimants to the Seljuk sultanate.

Much early Muslim propaganda against the crusades was couched in poetry and conformed to the conventions which governed Arabic poetry’s various genres. Thus poetry about the destruction and exile brought about by the crusaders tended to be expressed in a form first developed by the pre-Islamic nomadic Arabs to lament vanished camp-sites, ‘places of lost bliss’: as for example in this poem which recycles traditional motifs in a lament for the crusaders’ sack of Ma‘arrat al-Numan in 1098.

This my friend is a town which God has doomed to its destruction. Stop [your] camel and bewail with me its former residents, old and young,

And remember, if you enter it one day, that it was the residence of the beloved!

The Idea of Jihad

Although initial Muslim responses to the coming of the crusades were inevitably confused and often couched in inappropriately archaic forms, some Muslim leaders swiftly came to grips with the full significance of the Christian invasion and set about trying to organize a counter-crusade. ‘Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami (1039-1106) was a Sunni Muslim religious scholar attached to the great mosque of Damascus. His Kitab al-jihad (1105) was the first treatise on the Holy War to be produced after the arrival of the Franks in the Near East. Unlike some of his contemporaries, al-Sulami did not confuse the crusaders with Byzantines. Rather, he regarded the expedition of the Franks as part of a Christian ‘jihad’ from the West, which had the aim of helping native Christians as well as conquering Jerusalem. He presented the triumph of the crusaders in Syria as a symptom of the moral and political decay of Islam and of the enfeebled state of the caliphate, but he also offered his readers the certainty of future victory, since the Prophet Muhammad had predicted that the Muslims would lose Jerusalem for a while, but then they would not only retake it, but they would go on to conquer Constantinople.

Al-Sulami was also aware of conflicts between Christianity and Islam which were going on in Spain, Sicily, and North Africa. His readiness to see the crusade within the broader context of a struggle between the two religions, extending all the way across the Mediterranean, was later to be closely echoed in a chronicle written by the thirteenth-century Mosuli historian Ibn al-Athir.

The first appearance of the empire of the Franks, the rise of their power their invasion of the lands of Islam and occupation of some of them occurred in the year 478 [1085-86], when they took the city of Toledo and others in the land of Andalus, as has already been set forth. Then in the year 484 [1091-92] they attacked the island of Sicily, and conquered it, and this too I have related before. Then they forced their way even to the shore of Africa, where they seized a few places, which were however recovered from them. Then they conquered other places, as you will now see. When the year 490 [1096-97] came, they invaded the land of Syria.

Another historian based in Aleppo in the early twelfth century, Hamdan ibn Abd al-Rahim, actually wrote a book devoted to The History of the Franks who Invaded the Islamic Lands. Ibn Abd al-Rahim’s book has not survived, except in quoted extracts in later histories. Its loss is particularly sad as Ibn Abd al-Rahim was well placed to have written such a work, having first held a village from the Frankish lord of al-Atharib and then later taken service with the first great leader of the jihad, Zangi.

Although al-Sulami’s was the first jihad treatise to be written in response to the crusade, it was not the first book to be written on the subject. The ultimate authority for jihad is to be found in the Qur‘an itself.

Prescribed for you is fighting, though it be hateful to you. (Qur‘an ii. 216)

Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden—such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book—until they pay tribute out of hand and have been humbled. (Qur‘an ix. 29)

And fight the unbelievers totally even as they fight you totally; and know that God is with the godfearing. (Qur‘an ix. 36)

Jihad, which is commonly translated as ‘holy war’, literally means ‘striving’: that is striving to advance Islam. According to traditional Sunni Muslim doctrine, leadership of the holy war to extend the territories of Islam was vested in the caliph. In the eighth and ninth centuries it had been one of the duties of the Abbasid caliph to direct the jihad. Harun al-Rashid, for example, led his troops against the Byzantines every other year; in the alternate years he led the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Jihads were also launched in the eastern lands against the pagan Turks in Transoxania and central Asia as well as against idolatrous Hindus in northern India. Volunteers for these and other holy wars were known as ghazis. They fought in the expectation of booty and, if they fell in the course of campaigning, they were assured of the status of martyrs.

The Bahr al-Fava‘id or ‘Sea of Precious Virtues’, is an encyclopaedic and rather preachy treatise in the mirrors-for-princes genre, written in the 1150s or 1160s by an anonymous Persian, probably resident in Nur al-Din’s Aleppo. Since the author was evidently intensely concerned with the struggle against the Franks in Syria, he sets out the doctrines and regulations concerning the jihad, as they were understood in the mid-twelfth century. There are two sorts of jihad: there is an interior jihad against one’s own moral flaws and an exterior jihad against the infidel. According to the Bahr—and here, as elsewhere, it reflected conventional thinking on the subject—there are then two sorts of exterior jihad. First, there is the offensive jihad. This is a collective duty imposed on the Muslim community to extend the Muslim territories (Dar al-Islam). Some Muslims will wish to take part in these aggressive campaigns against non-Muslim neighbours; all Muslims are obliged to support them with money and approbation. Secondly, there is the defensive jihad to drive out aggressors who have occupied territory held by the Muslims. This sort of defensive war is an obligation that falls on every able-bodied, adult Muslim.

The Bahr examines the rights and duties of those going on jihad in some detail. The warrior must seek his parents’ permission if he is under-age. If he is married he must make sure that his wife is properly provided for. He should not expect to be paid. (However, the Muslim treasury may pay Christians and Jews to fight alongside Muslims in the jihad.) A Muslim on the battlefield may only flee when he is confronted by more than two infidels. Women and children may not be killed.

The rules regarding booty are extremely complex. Here some of the Baht’s claims seem eccentric. It argues that even animals who participate in the jihad deserve presents, ‘and the gift for an elephant should be more than that for a camel or an ass’. Elsewhere in his treatise, the author, who is evidently an ‘alim, or religious scholar, insists that religious scholars also have a right to a share in the spoils of the war against the infidel: ‘Beware lest you think that a ghazi is only he who holds a sword in his hand and confronts the infidel; for indeed that scholar who in a mosque and mihrab [prayer niche] holds pen in hand and knows the proofs of Islam, is a warrior and his pen is sharper than the sword.’ Although the author of the Baht loathed and despised Christians, heretics within the fold of Islam were perceived by him as an even greater threat. ‘Shedding the blood of a heretic is the equal of seventy holy wars.’

While some theorists in the Middle Ages argued that the jihad was a defensive war only, this was the view of a minority and most authorities held that the obligation of jihad did not lapse until all the world was brought under the sway of Islam. The Baht insists that the first duty of a Muslim ruler is to prosecute the jihad and bring about the victory of Islam, and if he does not do so and he makes peace with the infidel, that ruler would be better dead than alive, for he would be corrupting the world. However, the author of the treatise recognized that, whatever pious theorizing might hope for, the Franks in Syria continued to prosper, while Muslim made war upon Muslim.

In Shi‘i theology only the imam may call for an offensive jihad, and, since the imam is in occultation, this particular duty is in abeyance until the Last Days approach. Thus, for example, although the Isma‘ili Fatimids and the Twelver Shi‘ite Banu Munqidh lords of Shayzar repeatedly engaged in battles with the crusaders, jihad played no part in their ideology. Also, many Muslims, particularly Shi‘is and Sufis, stressed that the external jihad took second place to the jihad against the evil in one’s own soul.

Propagandists for the jihad stressed the special status of Jerusalem in Islam and in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries treatises were produced which were devoted to the special excellences (fada‘il) of Jerusalem, or of Palestine, or of Syria as a whole. Such treatises drew on similar works which had been produced during the Arab wars with the Byzantines. A related genre dealt with the lesser pilgrimages, or ziyarat, to the tombs of prophets, martyrs, and Sufi holy men, many of which happened to lie in territory then occupied by the infidel Franks.

Jihad in Practice

The history of the Near East as a whole in the period from the 1090s to the 1290s was dominated politically by the fall of Seljuks, the rise and fall of the Khorezmians, and the coming of the Mongols. The same period saw the fairly widespread political triumph of the partisans of Sunnism over the Shi‘is. In particular, the territorial power of the Assassins was destroyed first in Iran and then in Syria. Although it would be seriously misleading to label this period of Near Eastern history ‘the Age of the Crusades’, it still remains true that the history of Syria and Egypt in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is primarily the story of the growing unity of those Islamic lands in response to the challenge posed by the existence of the Latin settlements.

There were no Muslims left in Jerusalem after crusaders had slaughtered or taken captive the entire Muslim population in 1099; Christian Arabs from the Transjordan were later invited to settle in Jerusalem to help repopulate the city. In some places, such as Ramla, the population fled in advance of the crusaders. In other towns and villages they chose to stay. Frankish settlement brought better policing to the coastal areas and a degree of protection for the agriculturalists from marauding bedouin and Turkomans. The Muslims who remained in crusader territory had to pay a special poll tax, reversing the situation in Muslim lands where it was the Christians and Jews who had to pay the poll tax, or jizya. On the other hand, unlike Latin Christians, they did not pay the tithe. Ibn Jubayr, a Spanish Muslim pilgrim to Mecca who, on his way home, passed through the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1184, claimed that the Muslim peasantry were well treated by their Frankish masters and paid fewer taxes than peasants under neighbouring Muslim rulers. He even thought that there might be a long-term danger of them converting to Christianity.

Nevertheless, the evidence does not all run one way and, even in some of those areas where the Muslims had elected to stay, there were subsequent revolts and mass exoduses. There were Muslim rebellions in 1113 in the Nablus region, in the 1130s and 1180s in the Jabal Bahra region, in 1144 in the southern Transjordan, and later on in the century there were sporadic peasant uprisings in Palestine which coincided with Saladin’s invasions. In the 1150s, after several protests against the exactions and injustice of the lord of Mirabel, the inhabitants of eight villages in the Nablus region decamped en masse and fled across the Jordan to Damascus. These and earlier refugees from the kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Latin principalities settled in the cities of the interior, especially in certain quarters of Aleppo and Damascus, where they constituted a vociferous lobby for the prosecution of a jihad which would restore their homes to them. They looked for a leader.

Ilghazi, the first plausible candidate to present himself, was a member of the clan of Artuq, one of the many Turkish tribal groups who had taken advantage of the break-up of the Seljuk empire to carve out small territorial principalities for themselves. He was governing Mardin when, in 1118, he was asked by the citizens of Aleppo to take over in their city and defend it against Roger of Antioch. Ilghazi took oaths from his Turkoman following that they would fight in the jihad and he went on to win the first victory in the Muslim counter-crusade at the Field of Blood. However, in various respects Ilghazi failed to conform to the ideal image of a leader of the jihad. Not only was he a hard drinker, but he was really more interested in consolidating his own power around Mardin than he was in destroying the principality of Antioch. Ilghazi died in 1122 without having lived up to the hopes the Aleppans had invested in him.

Imad al-Din Zangi, the atabak of Mosul (1127-46), was more successful at presenting himself as the leader of the jihad. The thirteenth-century Mosuli historian Ibn al-Athir was to write that if ‘God in his mercy had not granted that the atabak [Zangi] should conquer Syria, the Franks would have completely overrun it.’ Zangi moved to occupy Aleppo in 1128. Its citizens, fearful both of threats by the Assassin sect within the city and of the external threat from the Franks, did not resist him. Like so many atabaks nominated by the Seljuks, Zangi made use of his position to establish what was effectively an independent principality in northern Iraq and Syria. In this principality, Zangi imitated the protocol and institutions of the Seljuk sultans of Iran. Like the Seljuks, he and his officers sponsored the foundation of madrasas and khanqas.

The madrasa, which had its origins in the eastern lands of the Seljuk sultans, was a teaching college whose professors specialized in the teaching of Quranic studies and religious law. It was an entirely Sunni Muslim institution and indeed one of the most important aims of such colleges was to counteract Shi‘i preaching. Khanqas (also known as zawiyas) were hospices where Sufis lodged, studied, and performed their rituals. Sufi preachers and volunteers were to play an important part in the wars against the crusaders. The proliferation of madrasas and khan- qas in Syria under Zangi and his successors was part of a broader movement of moral rearmament, in which both rulers and the religious élite devoted themselves to stamping out corruption and heterodoxy in the Muslim community, as part of a grand jihad which had much wider aims than merely the removal of the Franks from the coastline of Palestine. The Bahr al-Fava‘id, discussed above, faithfully reflects the ideology of the time. Besides preaching holy war against the Franks, it counsels its readers against reading frivolous books, sitting on swings, wearing satin robes, drinking from gold cups, telling improper jokes, and so on.

Although Muslim pietists, particularly in Aleppo, looked to Zangi as the man of destiny and the new leader of the jihad, for the greater part of his career he did little to meet their expectations and in fact he spent most of his time warring with Muslim rivals. He particularly hoped to add Muslim Damascus to his lands in Syria, but Damascus’s governor, Mu‘in al-Din Unur, was able to block Zangi’s ambitions by making an alliance with the kingdom of Jerusalem. However, in 1144, thanks to a fortunate though unplanned concatenation of circumstances, Zangi did succeed in capturing the Latin city of Edessa. The historian Michael the Syrian lamented the capture of the city: ‘Edessa remained a desert: a moving sight covered with a black garment, drunk with blood, infested by the very corpses of its sons and daughters! Vampires and other savage beasts ran and entered the city at night in order to feast on the flesh of the massacred, and it became the abode of jackals; for none entered there except those who dug to discover treasures.’

But according to Ibn al-Athir: ‘when Zangi inspected the city he liked it and realized that it would not be sound policy to reduce such a place to ruins. He therefore gave the order that his men should return every man, woman and child to his home together with all the chattels looted from them . . . The city was restored to its former state, and Zangi installed a garrison to defend it.’

Zangi, who was assassinated by a slave in 1146, was succeeded in Aleppo by his son Nur al-Din, and it was Nur al-Din who, with the assistance of an eager pro-jihad faction within the walls of Damascus, made a triumphal entry into that city in 1154. There Nur al-Din commissioned a minbar, or pulpit, to be installed in the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, in expectation of that city’s imminent reconquest by his armies. However, the conquest of Egypt proved to be a more urgent priority. Ascalon had fallen to the Franks in 1153, giving crusader fleets a port within striking distance of the Nile Delta. The Fatimid caliphs of Egypt had become the impotent pawns of feuding military viziers and ethnically divided regiments. There were some in Egypt in the 1150s and 1160s who favoured coming to terms with the kingdom of Jerusalem in order to secure its assistance in propping up the Fatimid regime, while others rather looked to Nur al-Din in Damascus for help in repelling the infidel.

The Rise of Saladin

In the end it was a Muslim army sent by Nur al-Din which succeeded in taking power in Egypt and in thwarting Christian ambitions in the region. But Nur al-Din himself gained very little from the success of his expeditionary force. The largely Turkish army he sent to Egypt was officered by a mixed group of Turks and Kurds, and it was one of the Kurdish officers, Saladin (or Salah al-Din) from the Kurdish clan of Ayyub, who took effective control as vizier of Egypt in 1169. In 1171 Saladin took advantage of the death of the incumbent caliph of Egypt to suppress the Fatimid caliphate and from then on the symbolically significant Friday sermons in the congregational mosques were preached in the names of the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad and of Nur al-Din, the sultan of Damascus. In Egypt, Sevener Shi‘ism had been the affair of an élite and, even then, there had been many powerful Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Although there was little resistance to the enforced return to Sunnism, Saladin and his successors in Egypt were careful to foster orthodoxy by founding madrasas and by patronizing Sufis.

Saladin was ever ready to offer declarations of loyalty to Nur al-Din, but he was less forthcoming about actually providing his master with the money and military assistance which he was repeatedly asked for. When Nur al-Din died in 1174, Saladin advanced into Syria and occupied Damascus, displacing Nur al- Din’s son. The greater part of Saladin’s career as ruler of Egypt and Damascus is best understood first in terms of his unsuccessful attempts to take Mosul from its Zangid prince and secondly in terms of his drive to create an empire to be ruled by his clan. He had to satisfy his Ayyubid kinsmen’s expectations by carving out appanages for them. This clan empire was largely created at the expense of Saladin’s Muslim neighbours in northern Syria, Iraq, and the Yemen. Throughout his whole career, an enormous part of Saladin’s resources were devoted to fulfilling the expectations of kinsmen and followers. Generosity was an essential attribute of a medieval Muslim ruler.

PLATE 1 A knight in a twelfth-century relief. Most of the principal elements of the knight’s equipment arc depicted, but not the lance. The spurs indicate that the favoured method of fighting was on horseback; but it was also possible to operate on foot, as most of the knights on the First Crusade were forced to do when their mounts died.

PLATE 2 Moissac, an abbey in south-western France which Urban II visited during his tour of France and which possessed a famous collection of relics from Jerusalem.

Monasteries such as Moissac, which were often the largest and most renowned religious establishments in their localities and which could draw on well-established pools of lay respect and support, played an important part in propagating the crusade appeal.

PLATE 3 Among the marginal drawings in the Luttrell Psalter is this visualization of a combat between a suitably villainous Saracen and a knight. The English royal arms on the knight’s shield suggest that the drawing depicts the legendary duel between Richard I and Saladin on the Third Crusade.

PLATE 4 A twelfth-century ground plan of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, showing Christ’s tomb in the centre of the lower, aerial view. The circular plan of the site was widely imitated elsewhere in Latin Christendom during the medieval period the Temple Church in London being one surviving example.

PLATE 5 Divine assistance. The turning point in the First Crusade was the victory at Antioch on 28 June 1098, which to many of the crusaders was accomplished with the assistance of an army of angels, saints, and the ghosts of their dead, led by St George. Not long after the battle it was depicted over the door of the church of St George at Fordington in Dorset.

PLATE 6 Taking the cross. A crusader receives his cross from a bishop; he has already been given the scrip (purse) and staff of a pilgrim. The separate ceremonies of taking the cross and receiving the symbols of pilgrimage were merged in the later twelfth century.

PLATE 7 The cathedral of Jubayl (Gibelet), as rebuilt following an earthquake in 1170, with an open-air baptistery attached to the north side.

PLATE 8 The castle of Segura de la Sierra in Andalusia was given to the order of Santiago in 1242, during a period of rapid Christian advances in Spain. In 1245 it became the seat of the order’s comendador mayor of Castile, who had earlier been based at Ucles.

PLATE 9 The temple church in London. Military orders depended on the favour of patrons, many of whom entered an order shortly before death or chose burial there. These effigies arc of William Marshal, first earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219, and his son William, the second earl, both of whom received burial in the Templars’ London church.

PLATE 10 In this illustration from the treatise on chess by Alfonso X of Castile, a Christian and a Muslim face one another, an image perhaps of the convivencia, or coexistence between Christians and Muslims, that was sometimes achieved in medieval Spain. Even so, many Arabic treatises on chess stressed the value of the game as training in military strategy for warriors in the jihad.

PLATE 11 A contemporary pen drawing of a Hussite wagon fortress. These improvised defensive structures proved ideal for the rapid deployment of crossbows and field guns. Note the depiction on the tent of the chalice, access to which at the eucharist was a principal demand of the utraquists (= in utraque specie, ‘[communion) in both kinds’).

PLATE 12. The battle of Lepanto, 1571. The last great crusading victory, Lcpanto did not, as was once thought, turn the tide of war in the Mediterranean against the Ottoman Turks; but it did raise morale amongst the Catholic powers.

PLATE 13 Elevation and plan of the Teutonic Order’s great fourteenth-century water mill at Danzig; an example of the efficient technical and commercial organization which underlay the order’s economy.

PLATE 14 Ruins of the Teutonic Order’s castle and octagonal tower at Weissenstein in Estonia in the northern part of the Livonian orderstate; the brethren continued to defend this distant area until 1561.

PLATE 15 Crusader’s vigil. A romanticized image of a lone crusader by the German artist Carl Friedrich Lessing.

PLATE 16 The only surviving Teutonic knights. Members of the Protestant Bailiwick of Utrecht of the Teutonic Order in chapter.

The portraits on the wall behind them are of their chief commanders who, until recently, were painted in armour.

However, Saladin was also under pressure of a different kind from pious idealists and refugees from Palestine to prosecute the jihad against the Latin settlements. Leading civilian intellectuals, like al-Qadi al-Fadil and Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, both of whom worked in Saladin’s chancery, incessantly nagged their master, exhorting him to cease fighting against neighbouring Muslims and to turn his armies against the infidel. Al-Qadi al- Fadil and his subordinates were to turn the chancery into a major instrument of propaganda for Saladin, and, in letters dispatched all over the Muslim world, they presented Saladin’s activities as having one ultimate goal, the destruction of the Latin principalities. When partisans of the house of Zangi and other enemies of Saladin attacked him as a usurper and as a nepotist bent on feathering his family’s nest, Saladin’s supporters were able to point to his prosecution of the jihad as something which legitimized his assumption of power. Even so, Saladin was not really very active in the field against the Christians until 1183, after Zangid Aleppo had recognized his supremacy.

The Armies of Saladin

Although the armies that Saladin led against the Latin principalities were formally dedicated to the jihad, they were not composed of ghazis. Instead, Saladin’s army, like those of Zangi and Nur al-Din, was primarily composed of Turkish and Kurdish professional soldiers. Most of the officers, or emirs, received an iqta, an allocation of tax revenue fixed upon a designated village, estate, or industrial enterprise, which they collected for themselves and in return for which they performed military service. Despite being the recipients of iqta, they also expected handouts on campaign. In addition Mamluks, or slave soldiers, formed an important part of Saladin’s élite force, as they did of almost every medieval Muslim army. Saladin and his contemporaries also recruited mercenaries, and the Seljuks in Anatolia even made use of Frankish mercenaries. Finally, the numbers of Saladin’s armies on campaign were swelled out by tribal contingents of bedouins and Turkomans who fought as light cavalry auxiliaries in expectation of booty.

The élite Turkish troops were experts in the use of the composite recurved bow made of layers of horn and sinew and commonly about a metre in length when unstrung. Like the English longbow, the Turkish bow could only be handled by someone who had been trained and who had developed the necessary muscles. Unlike the English longbow, it was an offensive cavalry weapon and it had more penetrating power and an even longer target range than the longbow. However, the mass of bedouin and Turkoman auxiliaries used simpler bows, whose arrows had much less force, and hence those accounts of the English crusaders marching towards Arsuf in 1191, so covered with arrows that they looked like hedgehogs, even though they were more or less unscathed. Muslim troops in close combat generally made use of a light lance, javelin, or sword. Although most men were protected only by leather armour—if that—the emirs and Mamluks in lamellar armour or mail were as heavily protected as their knightly opponents. With the exception of the introduction of the counterweight mangonel as a launcher of projectiles for siege purposes, there were no significant innovations in Muslim military technology in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

An Arab-Syrian Intriguer in the Age of Saladin

Kitab al-It‘ibar (‘The Book of Learning by Example’) sheds an interesting light on encounters between Muslims and Christians on and off the battlefield. Its aristocratic author, Usamah ibn Munqidh, was born in Shayzar in northern Syria in 1095 and died in 1188. He was almost 90 when he wrote his treatise on how divinely ordained fate determines everything, especially the length of a man’s life. Since most of the examples (‘ibrat) are taken from Usamah’s own life, the book has the appearance of an autobiography. Viewed as autobiography it is however an extremely gappy and evasive piece of work and it presents a wilfully fragmentary account of his numerous dealings with the Franks. In fact, during the early 1140s Usamah and his patron, Mu‘in al-Din Unur, the general who controlled Damascus, were in regular communication with King Fulk and both visited thekingdom of Jerusalem on diplomatic business. But business was often mixed with pleasure and, for all his ritual cursing of the Franks, Usamah went hunting with them and he had plenty of opportunities to get to know them socially.

According to Usamah the ‘Franks (may Allah render them helpless!) possess none of the virtues of men except courage’. But this was the virtue that Usamah himself valued above all others, and, in his remarkably balanced account of the customs of the Franks, he is at pains to point to both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, some Frankish medical procedures are stupid and dangerous; on the other hand, some of their cures work remarkably well. On the one hand, the Frankish judicial procedure of trial by combat is grotesque and absurd; on the other hand, Usamah himself received justice from a Frankish court. On the one hand, some Franks who have newly arrived in the Holy Land behave like barbarous bullies; on the other hand, there are Franks who are Usamah’s friends and who have a real understanding of Islam.

While Usamah chose to stress the many times he had encountered the Franks in hand-to-hand combat, his book is singularly free of any reference to jihad. In part this may reflect retrospective embarassment about his diplomatic dealings with the Franks, but it is also the case that Usamah was, like the rest of the Banu Munqidh, a Shi‘ite Muslim and therefore he had no belief in the special religious validity of a jihad waged under the leadership of a usurping warlord like Saladin.

Incidentally, quite a number of Usamah’s contemporaries, eyewitnesses of the crusades, also wrote autobiographies, which we only know about from quotations in the works of others. ‘Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1161/2-1231/2), an Iraqi physician, wrote one such book. Had it survived, it might have been even more interesting than Usamah’s autobiography, for ‘Abd al-Latif, an exceptionally intelligent man who led an interesting life, visited Saladin during the siege at Acre and then later at Jerusalem after the peace with the Richard. ‘Abd al-Latif also wrote a refutation of alchemy, in which he discusses the alchemists’ belief that the Elixir was to be found in the eyeballs of young men. ‘Abd al-Latif remembered being present at the aftermath of one of the battles between the crusaders and the Muslims and seeing scavenging alchemists moving from corpse to corpse on the bloody field and gouging out the eyeballs of the dead infidel.

The War Poets

In his own times Usamah was famous not as an autobiographer, but as a poet. Although he had studied the Qur‘an with care, his moral values were only drawn in part from the Qur‘an and both the code of conduct he subscribed to and the language in which he described his battles with the Franks and others owed at least as much to the traditions of the pre-Islamic poetry of the nomadic Arabs of the Hijaz. In this respect, Usamah was no different from many of the leading protagonists in the Muslim counter-crusade. The council of advisers around Saladin in the 1170s and 1180s included some of the most distinguished writers of the twelfth century. Imad al-Din al-Isfahani, who worked in Saladin’s chancery, was not only a panegyric historian, but also one of the most famous poets of his age. Al-Qadi al-Fadil, who headed Saladin’s chancery, was similarly a poet. He was also a crucially influential innovator in Arabic prose style and his metaphor-laden, ornate, and bombastic prose style was to be imitated by Arabic writers for centuries to come.

Usamah was said to know by heart over 20,000 verses of pre-Islamic poetry. Usamah’s mnemonic powers were exceptional. But even Saladin, a Kurdish military adventurer, was nevertheless steeped in Arabic literature. Not only did Saladin carry an anthology of Usamah’s poetry about with him, he had also memorized the whole of Abu Tammam’s Hamasa, and he delighted in reciting from it. In the Hamasa (‘Courage’), Abu Tammam (806?-845/6) had collected bedouin poems from the pre-Islamic period and presented them to his readers as a guide to good conduct. In the Ayyubid period ‘people used to learn it by heart and not bother to have it on their shelves’. According to Abu Tammam, ‘The sword is truer than what is told in books: In its edge is the separation between truth and falsehood.’ The poems he had selected celebrated traditional Arab values, especially courage, manliness, and generosity.

More generally the genres, images, metaphors, and emotional postures pioneered by the pre-Islamic poets helped to dictate the forms of the poetry commemorating defeat and victory in the war against the crusaders and indeed to form the self-image of the élite of the Muslim warriors. Thus tropes developed for boasting about hand-to-hand combat and petty successes in camel raiding in seventh-century Arabia were revived and reapplied to a Holy War fought by ethnically mixed, semi-professional warriors in Syria and Egypt. Saladin’s kinsmen and successors shared his tastes and quite a few of them wrote poetry themselves. Al-Salih Ayyub, the last great Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt (1240-9) employed and was advised by two of the greatest poets of the late Middle Ages, Baha al-Din Zuhayr and Ibn Matruh.

Cultural Interchange

Muslim and Frankish military aristocrats were capable of enjoying each other’s company and might go hunting together. There was also a lot of trade between Muslim and Christian and, in particular, merchants passed backwards and forwards between Damascus and the Christian port of Acre. The traveller Ibn Jubayr observed that ‘the soldiers occupied themselves in their war, while the people remained at peace’. However, though there were numerous contacts between Muslims and Christians, there was little cultural interchange. Proximity did not necessarily encourage understanding. According to the Bahr al- Fava‘id, the books of foreigners were not worth reading. Also, according to the Bahr, ‘anyone who believes that his God came out of a woman’s privates is quite mad; he should not be spoken to, and he has neither intelligence nor faith.’

Although Usamah could not speak French, it is clear from his memoirs that several Franks could speak Arabic. They learned the language for utilitarian purposes. Rainald of Châtillon, the Lord of Kerak of Moab, spoke Arabic and worked closely with the local bedouin in the Transjordan. Rainald of Sidon not only knew Arabic, but he employed an Arab scholar to comment on books in that language. However, no Arab books were translated into Latin or French in the Latin East, and the Arabs for their part did not interest themselves in western literature. King Amalric employed an Arab doctor, Abu Sulayman Dawud, whom he had brought back from Egypt some time in the 1160s, and this doctor was to treat his leper son, Baldwin. Far more common though was the Muslim use of native Christian doctors. Speculations about the transmission from East to West, via the Latin East, of such things as the pointed arch, heraldic blazons, sexual techniques, cookery recipes, and so forth remain just speculations. Muslim and Christian élites in the Near East admired each other’s religious fanaticism and warrior-like qualities. They had no interest in each other’s scholarship or art. The important cultural interchanges had taken place earlier and elsewhere. Arabic learning was mostly transmitted to Christendom via Spain, Sicily, and Byzantium.

Hattin and After

Saladin occupied Aleppo in 1183 and Mayyafariqin in 1185 and he received the nominal overlordship of Mosul in 1186. Only then did he embark on his greatest offensive against the kingdom of Jerusalem. In June 1187 he crossed the Jordan with an army of perhaps 30,000, of which 12,000 were regular cavalry. Some of the remainder were mutawwiun, civilian volunteers for the jihad, and Muslim chroniclers noted the role that these volunteers had, performing such tasks as setting light to the grass in advance of the Christian army. Saladin may have been hoping to capture the castle of Tiberias. He was probably not expecting to encounter King Guy of Jerusalem’s army in battle and he does not seem to have made advance preparations to take advantage of the sensational victory he did win at Hattin. Most of the distinguished Christians taken in the battle were eventually ransomed, but Sufi mystics in Saladin’s entourage were granted the privilege of beheading the captured Templars and Hospitallers.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Saladin moved swiftly to occupy a series of weakly defended places on the coast and elsewhere, before turning against Jerusalem, the surrender of which he received on 2 October. Saladin had failed to take the great port of Tyre and this would later serve as an important base for the Third Crusade. In a conversation a couple of years after Hattin, as they were riding towards Acre, Saladin told his admiring biographer, Baha al-Din ibn Shaddad, of his dream for the future: ‘When by God’s help not a Frank is left on this coast, I mean to divide my territories, and to charge [my successors] with my last commands; then, having taken leave of them, I will sail on this sea to its islands in pursuit of them, until there shall not remain on the face of this earth one unbeliever in God, or I will die in the attempt.’ However Saladin and his advisers failed to anticipate that the fall of Jerusalem to the Muslims would result in the preaching of yet another great crusade in the West. In the meantime, Saladin’s chancery officials wrote to the caliph and other Muslim rulers. Their letters boasted of the capture of ‘the brother shrine of Mecca from captivity’ and insinuated that Saladin’s earlier wars against his Muslim neighbours could now be seen to be justified in that they had enforced unity in service of the jihad.

Then, as the contingents of the Third Crusade arrived from the West, a war of march and countermarch began. It was effectively a war of attrition, which strained Muslim resources to the limit. In the words of al-Qadi al-Fadil, Saladin ‘spent the revenues of Egypt to gain Syria, the revenues of Syria to gain Mesopotamia, those of Mesopotamia to conquer Palestine’. Constantly short of money, Saladin had great difficulties in keeping large armies in the field. Holders of iqtas wished to supervise the harvests in the villages from which they collected their income, while Saladin’s kinsmen were sometimes more interested in pursuing ventures of their own on the edges of Ayyubid empire than they were in helping him maintain a stand-off against the armies of the Third Crusade. There are hints in Arabic literature of the period that there were some who regarded Saladin as an eschatological figure, a warrior of the Last Days, but shortly after the return of the crusader contingents to Europe, Saladin, worn out by the years of campaigning against the crusaders, died of a fever in 1193.

Saladin’s successes had been achieved at a considerable cost and his successors were chary of pursuing an unduly aggressive policy which might bring them territorial gains in Syria or Palestine, but at the cost of provoking yet another crusade. After Saladin’s death, his empire was divided among mutually hostile kinsmen, most of whom stressed their attachment to the prosecution of jihad as practised by Zangi, Nur al-Din, and Saladin, but these princes, some of whom were hardly more than figureheads for aggressive factions composed of Turkish officers and Mamluks, were usually more interested in contesting supremacy within the Ayyubid empire. At times indeed one or other of the Ayyubid princes allied with the Franks in the Latin states against others of their kinsmen. Usually, though not always, the ruler of Egypt was recognized by the rest of the clan as the senior and the sultan, while the others, governors in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and elsewhere, were only maliks (princes). Saladin’s brother, Sayf al-Din al-Adil, was sultan of Egypt from 1200 to 1218 and thus it was he who was nominally in charge when the first contingents of the Fifth Crusade landed on the Nile Delta some way to the west of Damietta in May 1218. However, it was his son, al-Kamil, who from the first directed defensive operations and then, when al-Adil died in August, succeeded him as sultan. The crusaders did eventually succeed in taking Damietta in November 1219. But in the longer run they were doomed by their failure to advance swiftly on Cairo, as al-KamII’s kinsmen in Syria and Mesopotamia, with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm, sent contingents of troops to the assistance of Egypt. In the end the crusaders surrendered Damietta to al-Kamil in 1221.

The poet Ibn Unayn made use of the traditional form of the qasida (ode) to celebrate the victory:

Ask the backs of the horses on the day of battle concerning us, if our signs are unknown, and the limber lances On the morning we met before Damietta a mighty host of Byzantines [sic], not to be numbered either for certain or even by guesswork.

They agreed as to opinion and resolution and ambition and religion, even if they differed in language.

They called upon their fellow-crusaders [Ansar al-Salib, lit. ‘helpers of the Cross’] and troops of them advanced as though the waves were ships for them.

Upon them every manner of mailcoat of armour, glittering like the horns of the sun, firmly woven together.

And so on for another twenty verses or so. According to the poet, the crusaders fought well and the Muslims treated those who surrendered with compassion. And of course (and this is really the point of the poem) all praise goes to the house of Ayyub and its noble prince al-Kamil.

Another fawning poet wrote

If there is a Mahdi it is you,

You who made the religion of the Elect and the Book to live.

However, despite the heroic legacy of Saladin and the Ayyubid triumph at Damietta, the Ayyubid dealings with the crusaders in the early thirteenth century are better understood in terms of a need for coexistence than a desire to prosecute the jihad. Although the Muslim religious law could not countenance the formal conclusion of any sort of permanent peace with the infidel, nevertheless the demands of commerce and agriculture led to the negotiating of (usually) ten-year truces and the setting up in some areas of rural condominiums in which Christians and Muslims co-operated in the administration and the collection of the harvest. Thus an intermediate Dar al-Sulh (Territory of Truce) was permitted to exist between the otherwise starkly opposed Dar al-Islam (Territory of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (Territory of War). Saladin’s austere dedication to warfare and politics was not followed by all his heirs. The early thirteenth century was a great age for literature in Arabic, celebrating the pleasures of life: parties, picnics, love, and wine-drinking. The famous poet Baha al- Din Zuhayr (d. 1258) produced a diwan (anthology), the poems of which provide evidence for a dolce vita for some under the Ayyubids; as in the poem in which he describes himself visiting the taverns and monasteries of Egypt with his beloved and getting drunk and fancying ‘the moon-faced, slender-waisted monks’.

When in 1229 al-Kamil, threatened by a coalition of hostile kinsmen, surrendered Jerusalem to Frederick II, his action aroused widespread criticism throughout the Muslim world. However, his most vociferous critics were other Ayyubid princes, who when it suited them, were just as ready to come to tactical alliances with the Christians. Al-Kamil died in 1238. Primogeniture counted for little or nothing in the Ayyubid confederacy and it was al-KamII’s second son, al-Salih Ayyub, who took over in Egypt in 1240. Al-Salih Ayyub had already occupied Jerusalem temporarily in 1239 and in 1245 he was to add Damascus to his territories. In his struggles with rival Ayyubid princes and with the Christians who con-tinued to hang on to the coastline of Palestine, al-Salih Ayyub relied heavily on his Mamluk regiment, the Bahris. As has been noted above, almost all Muslim leaders made use of slave troops, but al-Salih Ayyub bought unprecedented numbers of Kipchak Turkish slaves from the south Russian steppe. He trained them thoroughly in the arts of war and he indoctrinated them in a cult of loyalty to himself.

When Louis IX’s crusade landed in Egypt in 1249 and al- Salih Ayyub died while directing defences at al-Mansura on the Delta, it was largely the Mamluk officers who took over the conduct of the war. The Bahri Mamluks who defeated the French at al-Mansura in 1250 were described by the contemporary chronicler Ibn Wasil as the ‘the Templars of Islam’. A few months later these élite troops murdered Turanshah, al-Salih’s son and presumptive heir. Their action precipitated a decade of acute political turbulence in both Egypt and Syria, in which Ayyubid princes, Turkish and Kurdish generals, and rival factions of Mamluks fought over the provinces of the Ayyubid empire.

This sort of internecine conflict, which gave the Latin settlements a breathing space, was in a sense a luxury, something which had to be abandoned when the Mongols entered Syria. Although Mongol armies had penetrated the Near East as early as the 1220s and occupied a large part of Anatolia in the 1240s, a more systematic programme of conquest began in the 1250s under the leadership of Hulegu, a grandson of Chinggis Khan.

In 1256 the Assassin stronghold of Alamut was taken; in 1258, Baghdad, seat of the Abbasid caliphate, was sacked; and in January 1260 the Mongols crossed the Euphrates and entered Syria. Al-Nasir Yusuf, the Ayyubid ruler of Aleppo and Damascus, abandoned both cities to the Mongols and fled into the desert. He was later captured and executed by the Mongols.

It was left to Qutuz, a Mamluk officer who had usurped the sultanate, to muster an army of Egyptian and Syrian last-ditchers and advance out of Egypt to confront the Mongols at the battle of Ayn Jalut on 3 September. The fruits of Qutuz’s victory, however, were reaped by another Mamluk, Baybars, who murdered Qutuz and proclaimed himself sultan of Egypt and Syria. Al-Zahir Baybars (1260-77) had become sultan by wielding an assassin’s knife and he stayed sultan by proving himself to be an effective war leader. Civilian propagandists did not linger over the facts of his usurpation; they stressed instead his effectiveness as leader of the jihad. Throughout his reign Baybars showed ferocious energy in defending Syria on the Euphrates frontier against the pagan Mongols. He also took Caesarea, Arsuf, Antioch, and Crac des Chevaliers from the Christians. Finally, he and his officials were careful to present this military jihad as part of a wider programme of moral reform and regeneration. The Abbasid caliphate was re-established under Mamluk protection in Cairo. The sultan declared himself the protector of the holy cities of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Measures were taken against the consumption of alcohol and drugs, and heretics were investigated. In the course of a series of campaigns in the 1260s and 1270s the Assassin castles in Syria were occupied.

By the end of Baybars’s reign the map of the Near East presented a very different appearance from that of the 1090s. The Ayyubids’ failure to take a stand against the Mongols had discredited that dynasty, and Baybars had taken over their principalities, leaving only Hama under a tributary Ayyubid princeling. Egypt and Syria were now part of a single empire. The sultan’s territory extended from the frontiers of Nubia to those of Cilician Armenia. Somewhat similarly, to the east of the Euphrates the patchwork of post-Seljuk principalities had been replaced by the Mongol Ilkhanate.

Slaves on Horseback

The Seljuks had made use of Mamluks and, according to one source, Alp Arslan had had 4,000 Mamluks in his army at the battle of Manzikert in 1071. Although Saladin’s emirs seem mostly to have been free-born Turks and Kurds, his shock troops were Mamluks. What was exceptional about the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt and Syria (1260-1517) was the degree to which the key military and administrative offices were monopolized by Mamluks. The Mamluk sultans commonly fielded larger and better-trained armies than their Ayyubid predecessors. At first, most of the Mamluks imported into Egypt and Syria were Kipchak Turks from the steppes of southern Russia, but from the 1360s onwards there was a partial shift in purchasing policy and increasing numbers of Circassians from the Caucasus were recruited. Although Turks and Circassians predominated, there were also significant numbers of Europeans—Hungarians, Germans, Italians, and others—in the Mamluk ranks. Most of these Europeans had been captured as youths in wars in the Holy Land and the Balkans or in pirate raids and then forcibly converted to Islam.

The young Mamluks in the Cairo citadel embarked on a punishing schedule of military training. They were made to slice at lumps of clay with their swords as many as 1,000 times a day so as to build up their arm muscles. They were taught bareback riding and horse archery, with special emphasis on how to fire backwards from the saddle. An important exercise was shooting up and back at a gourd raised on a high pole. The horse archer had to drop his reins to fire and guide the horse with his knees as he fired his arrow, and it was not unknown for tyro Mamluks to die as they crashed into the pole. Fatalities were also common in polo, an aristocratic sport which doubled as training for warfare. Large-scale organized hunting expeditions had a similar function in both the Mamluk and Mongol territories.

Mamluks were also instructed in Arabic and Islam and quite a few learned to read and write. The formation of an educated military élite in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries explains the proliferation of treatises on furusiyya. Furusiyya literally means horsemanship, but works in this genre dealt not only with the management of horses, but with all the skills related to warfare, including the use of the sword, bow, lance, and later cannon, as well as the deployment of siege engines and the conduct of armies. Authors commonly provided such treatises with prefatory doxologies stressing the importance of these skills for the conduct of the jihad in the service of Allah. Thus, for example, al-Tarsusi claimed that his manual on archery was composed for Saladin to help him in his struggle against the infidels. In a later treatise, The Book of Knowledge about Horsemanship, its author Badr al-Din Baktut al-Rammah advocated a sort of self-investiture in knighthood in the jihad, and he wrote that if one wished to be a holy warrior (mujahid), one should go to the seashore and wash one’s clothes, perform the ablutions, invoke God, and plunge oneself in the sea three times before performing the prayer.

Despite the increased professionalism and dedication of the Mamluk army, their campaign against the Latin settlements was a drawn-out war of attrition, in which siege campaigns were interspersed with periods of truce. The truce documents, many of which have survived, tell us a lot about Syrian society in the thirteenth century, as their various clauses make provision for the establishment of customs posts, the return of escaping slaves, joint taxation of boundary areas, the restitution of shipwrecked goods, and the safe passage of merchants across the frontiers.

Baybars’s long-drawn-out offensive against the Latin strongholds, which began in 1263, was resumed by the sultan al-Mansur Qalawun (1280-90). He took Margat and Mara- clea in 1285 and Tripoli in 1289. The Mamluks were by now fielding such large armies that the Christians dared not meet them in open battle. In the course of those decades they also seem to have become skilled at the digging of siege mines and they made increased use of mangonels for hurling projectiles. When finally Qalawun’s son and successor, al-Ashraf Khalil (1290-3), moved against Acre in 1291, he brought with him a train of seventy-two siege engines. The fall of Acre to the Mamluk sultan precipitated the Christian evacuation of the remaining towns and strongholds. Al-Ashraf Khalil, taking a lesson from Saladin’s experience, and fearing that his capture of Acre might provoke a new crusade, had all the Latin towns and ports on the coast of Palestine and Syria systematically ruined so as to prevent them being used as bases by future Christian expeditions.

Latin churches and palaces were looted and in the decades to come Gothic columns and other spoils from Syria were frequently used to adorn the mosques of Cairo. Al-Ashraf Khalil had his victory commemorated in a fresco in the Cairo citadel showing all the fallen Latin strongholds. In the years which immediately followed the fall of Acre, Mamluk armies turned their attentions against heretical and Christian groups in the highlands of Syria and Lebanon who obstinately resisted the imposition of Mamluk authority. The Maronites in particular suffered from campaigns against them in 1292, 1300, and 1305. More generally, Christians living under Muslim rule suffered during the crusading period. They were suspected as acting as spies or fifth columnists for the Franks and later for the Mongols also. In an anti-Christian treatise written towards the end of the thirteenth century by Ibn al-Wasiti, it was alleged that during the reign of Baybars the people of Acre had employed Christian arsonists to burn parts of Cairo. After the overthrow of the Fatimids, Christians were no longer entrusted with senior positions in the army and, though Christians continued to work in the tax bureaux in Damascus and Syria, there were repeated campaigns against their continuing in such work and they were sometimes accused of abusing their positions to oppress Muslims. In the Mamluk period there were sporadic instances of Christian officials being forced to convert—even though the forcible conversion of Christians and Jews is forbidden by Islamic law—and mobs, sometimes led by Sufi preachers, demolished Christian churches on the flimsiest of pretexts. Thus the crusades, one of whose declared aims was to bring aid and succour to the native Christians of the East, had the long-term effect of irretrievably weakening their protected status within Muslim society.


While in Syria, Palestine, and Asia Minor Muslim armies in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries made steady gains at the expense of the Christians, Muslims at the other end of the Mediterranean had been losing ground in Spain from the late eleventh century onwards. The collapse of the Umayyad caliphate in Spain and the sack of Cordoba by Berber troops in 1031 had been followed by the fragmentation of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) into a number of principalities, ruled by the taifa, or party, kings. These kings lacked the resources to resist a Christian advance from the north and they usually preferred to pay tribute rather than fight. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Leon captured Toledo, then the largest city in Spain. The taifa kings were panicked into requesting assistance from Ibn Tashfin in North Africa, even though some of them feared the Almoravids as much as they did the Christians. Al-Mutamid, the ruler of Seville and the prime mover in the decision, remarked: ‘I would rather be a camelherd [in North Africa], than a swineherd [under the Christians].’

The Almoravid leader, Ibn Tashfin, had come to power as head of a militant movement of Sunni religious revival. The Almoravids, or more correctly al-Murabitun, were not a family, but a group of men who, having dedicated themselves to the jihad, went to live in ribats, fortified retreats exclusively inhabited by pious volunteers for the holy struggle (see also p. 177). Almoravid preaching stressed the primacy of a strict interpretation of the religious law. Their supporters were notably intolerant towards Christians and Jews and they also persecuted Sufis. Most of the early recruits to the movement came from the Berber tribal confederacy of the Sanhaja. Although the Spanish Arabs desperately needed the military assistance of these wild and woolly tribesmen, still there was a considerable cultural gap between the two groups and the Almoravid occupation of al- Andalus was not universally popular among their co-religionists. The Almoravids won a swift victory at Sagrajas in 1086, but they could not retake Toledo and in the longer run they were unable to reverse the tide of Christian advance in the peninsula. They were however successful in annexing the territories of the taifa kings to their empire.

Although the Almoravids had succeeded in occupying all of al-Andalus by 1110, from 1125 onwards the seat of their power in North Africa was under attack from a new movement of religious revival, which was supported by a different group of Berber tribes. The Almohads, or more correctly the al- Muwahhidun (the professors of the Name of God), as their name suggests, placed great stress on the unity of God. By contrast with the Almoravids, they persecuted adherents of the literalistic Maliki school of religious law and they espoused Sufi doctrines. The Almohad movement found its supporters in the Masmuda confederacy of Berber tribes. The founder, Ibn Tumart, declared himself to be the infallible Mahdi. His followers believed that he performed miracles, including conversing with the dead. Ibn Jubayr, the Spanish Muslim pilgrim to the holy places of the Hijaz, was an enthusiastic supporter and he prayed that the Almohads might one day occupy Mecca and Medina and purify them: ‘May God soon remedy this in a cleansing which will remove these ruinous heresies from the Muslims with the sword of the Almohads, who are the Followers of the Faith, the Party of God, the People of Truth and Sincerity, Defenders of the Sanctuary of God Almighty, solicitous for his taboos, making every effort to exalt His name, manifest His mission and support His religion.’

During the reign of Abd al-Mumin (1130-63) the Almohads occupied all the Almoravid lands in North Africa and crossed over into Spain. The Christian kings there took advantage of the crumbling of Almoravid power to make further gains. Meanwhile, the Almohad occupation of what was left of al- Andalus was, if anything, more unpopular than had been that of the Almoravids. The Almohads did win a victory at Alarcos over Alfonso VIII of Castile in 1195 and for a while their successful prosecution of the jihad in the West challenged comparison with that of Saladin in the East. But Alarcos was the last major victory for the Muslims in Spain and thereafter the Christian Reconquista continued more or less unabated. In 1212 Alfonso of Castile heavily defeated the Almohads at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa and the way was open for further Christian gains. Cordoba fell in 1236, Valencia in 1238, and Seville in 1248. After the fall of Seville, only the mountainous southern region of Granada remained under Muslim rule. The Nasirid Arab princes, who had seized power there, pursued a precarious policy of balancing the Christians in the north against the Marinid sultans in Morocco. At times they paid tribute to the Christians; at other times they urged the Marinids to come and lead a new jihad in al-Andalus. From the early thirteenth century onwards, Almohad rule of Morocco had been contested by the Marinids, a clan which had put itself at the head of the Zanata Berbers. By 1275 all of Morocco was Marinid and from time to time thereafter Marinid rulers took part in a holy war for the defence of Granada.

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) was the greatest and most original of medieval Muslim historical thinkers. Although he was born in Tunis, his ancestors had fled to North Africa from Seville in advance of that city’s conquest by the Christians. Ibn Khaldun elaborated a cyclical philosophy of history in which sedentary civilizations decay and inevitably fall victim to marginal nomads who possess ‘asabiyya (natural solidarity) and who are also often inspired by religion. The triumphant nomads set up their own dynasty but within a few generations at most their vigour and ‘asabiyya is eroded by the settled manner of existence they have adopted. This vision of history was crucially shaped by Ibn Khaldun’s contemplation of the successive fortunes and misfortunes of the Almoravids, Almohads, and Marinids in Spain and North Africa. Ibn Khaldun was inclined to see the early triumphs of the crusaders as merely a particular aspect of growing Christian naval ascendancy in the Mediterranean from the eleventh century onwards. As far as his own times were concerned, he theorized that the centres of power might be moving northwards—perhaps to the lands of the Franks and the Ottomans. He also noted how North African rulers were having to resort to employing European mercenaries, because only Europeans had enough discipline to hold line formations.

Marinid and Nasirid co-operation against the Christian powers was fitful, for the Nasirids were suspicious of Marinid ambitions in Spain, while the Marinids, for their part, were inclined to treat Granada as if it were merely a forward line of defence for their possessions in North Africa. The decline of the Marinids from the 1340s onwards left Granada without any useful allies. Algeciras, a bridgehead between Spain and Africa captured by the Christians in 1344, was retaken by the Nasirid ruler, Muhammad V, in 1369 and this relatively trivial triumph was elaborately commemorated in bombastic inscriptions throughout his part of the Alhambra palace, outside Granada. Algeciras was, however, one of the very rare victories of Muslims over Christians in the fourteenth century.

The unification of Castile and Aragon in 1469 sealed the long-term fate of Granada. A ten-year campaign from 1482 to 1492, making heavy use of artillery, reduced the Muslim fortresses one by one. The last ruler, Muhammad XI, also known as Boabdil (1482, 1487-92), vainly sought for Mamluk or Ottoman assistance, but in the end he was forced to negotiate the surrender of the city of Granada itself in 1492. The Egyptian chronicler, Ibn Iyas, described its fall as one of the most terrible catastrophes ever to befall Islam, but by the 1490s the Mamluk sultans, preoccupied as they were by the threats posed by the Ottoman Turks on their northern frontier as well as by the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean, were hardly likely to be able to provide assistance to distant Granada.

The Mamluk Empire

During the fourteenth and and for most of the fifteenth century the Mamluk sultanate was the greatest power in the eastern Mediterranean. Although the Mongols had made repeated attempts to conquer Mamluk Syria, all these attempts were unsuccessful. In 1322 peace was agreed between representatives of the Mamluk sultan, al-Nasir Muhammad, and those of the ilkhan of Iran, Abu Said. In 1335 the Ilkhanate, plagued by succession disputes after the death of Abu Said, fell apart.

Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328), one of the most important religious thinkers of the late Middle Ages, did more than anyone else to try to keep jihad at the forefront of the political agenda of the Mamluk sultanate. Ibn Taymiyya agitated for a return to the simplicity of the precepts and practices of early Islam and for the sweeping away of all unacceptable innovations. He taught that Christians and open heretics were not the only targets for jihad, for the pious also had a duty to resist those rulers who professed themselves to be Muslims, but who failed to apply the religious law in all its rigour. For a ruler or a soldier to abandon the jihad was the greatest sin a Muslim could possibly commit: ‘If some of those, in whom trust has been reposed, are extravagant and wasteful, therefore, the damage to the Muslims is enormous, for they cause great detriment to both the religious and worldly interests of Muslims by neglecting their duty to fight for them.’

In the first half of the fourteenth century, however, Mamluk sultans mostly interested themselves in lavish building programmes and equally lavish court ceremonial, and their armies did little to extend Dar al-Islam, confining their military activities to profitable raiding expeditions against the Christian kingdom of Cilician Armenia and Christian Nubia. Far from wishing to take the jihad to Europe, the Mamluk authorities were chiefly preoccupied with trade with Venice and Genoa. In 1347 the Black Death reached Egypt and Syria from the south Russian steppes. Thereafter plague epidemics ravaged the Mamluk lands at intervals of five to eight years. Not only did huge numbers die within the frontiers of the sultanate, but plague also devastated the steppe lands from which the young Kipchak slaves had been acquired. Consequently, it became more expensive to purchase Mamluks in the late fourteenth century. Many of the Mamluks who were purchased died of plague before their training had been completed, and the sultans, desperate to keep up the army’s numbers, were inclined to rush the training of their new recruits. Depopulation also reduced the agricultural revenues that the sultan and his emirs collected. Mamluk pay-strikes became common.

The crusade of King Peter I of Cyprus and its sacking of Alexandria in 1365 (see pp. 272, 298-300) administered a severe blow to Mamluk prestige. After the crusade, European merchants in the Mamluk lands were arrested, native Christians were punitively taxed and a revenge fleet was built on the orders of the emir Yalbugha al-Khassaki. But Yalbugha, who ran affairs in Egypt and Syria, using the child-sultan al-Ashraf Shaban to rubber-stamp his decisions, was murdered in the following year. A new wave of treatises on furusiyya was produced by warmongers, but in fact there was no longer a politically significant lobby for the jihad and a peace was agreed with Cyprus in 1370. The sack of Alexandria was merely the most spectacular of a long series of raids on the Nile Delta from the eleventh century onwards. Alexandria recovered and is still one of the great ports of the Mediterranean, but Rosetta, Damietta, and Tinnis, the prosperity of which had to a large extent depended on industry, were less fortunate.

From the 1360s onwards the Mamluk sultans were buying fewer Kipchak and more Circassian Mamluks; not only had many Kipchaks on the steppe died of plague, but others had converted to Islam and hence, according to Islamic law, were unenslavable. Barquq, a Mamluk of Circassian origin, usurped the sultanate. His reign (1382-99) ushered in a period of severe turbulence and conflict between factions of Circassian and Kipchak Mamluks, which continued under his son, al-Nasir Faraj (1399-1412). It was during the precarious sultanate of al- Nasir Faraj that the Turco-Mongol warlord and would-be world-conqueror, Tamerlane (Timur), invaded Syria and sacked Damascus (1400-1). The subsequent Mamluk military recovery, which seems to have begun under the sultan al-Muayyad Shaykh (1412-21), bore its most obvious fruits during the reign of al-Ashraf Barsbay (1422-37).

One of the most striking features of the Mamluk recovery in the fifteenth century is the creation under Barsbay and his successors of a successful war-fleet. Muslim war-fleets now made their strongest showing in the Mediterranean since the heyday of the Fatimids. Maritime warfare between Muslim and Christian was more a matter of piracy than piety. Cyprus, since its capture by Richard I of England in 1191, had served as a base for Christian crusaders and pirates, and especially in the early fifteenth century for Catalan pirates. But Mamluk possession of ports on the Syrian littoral had put them in striking distance of the island and, after an Egyptian fleet had raided Cyprus in 1425, a Mamluk army ravaged the island and captured King Janus in the following year. Thereafter Cyprus became a tributary of the sultanate and its kings engaged themselves not to harbour pirates.

In the 1440s the Mamluks turned their forces against Rhodes. The sultan al-Zahir Jaqmaq (1438-53) was determined to put an end to Christian piracy in the eastern Mediterranean. He also wished indirectly to assist the Ottomans. An early attack against Rhodes in 1440 was hardly more than a desultory raid. A second expedition in 1443 frittered away its resources attacking Christian possessions on the south coast of Asia Minor. Although the third and last expedition in 1444 did actually attempt to invest the fortress of Rhodes, its troops were soon beaten off. According to a contemporary Muslim chronicler, ‘the aims of the troops were not realized, nor did they come back with any result; and for that reason their former zeal for the holy war in that quarter was dampened for a long time to come. And to God alone is the ultimate end of all things.’ In 1446 the French merchant Jacques Coeur negotiated peace between the Mamluks and the Knights Hospitallers on Rhodes.

The Mamluk and Ottoman sultans had a common interest in combating Christian crusades and piracy in the eastern Mediterranean, but elsewhere they found themselves intermittently in conflict, particularly in southern and eastern Turkey where they sponsored rival Turkoman principalities. Although their struggle for supremacy in this region was for the most part fought out by proxy clients, the Mamluks did drift into direct warfare with the Ottomans in 1486-91. It was a war which the Mamluks won, in part due to their successful deployment of artillery, but such a long-sustained conflict strained the Mamluk treasury. Mamluk economic problems were aggravated by the appearance of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and Portuguese attempts to blockade the Red Sea and deprive Egypt of the revenues of the spice trade. In 1516 the Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim (1512-20), fearing that the Mamluks might make common cause with the new Safavid Shi‘ite regime in Iran, launched a pre-emptive invasion of the Mamluk sultanate. Selim’s tame jurists declared that this war was a jihad, since the Mamluks were obstructing Selim’s fight against the Christians and Shi‘ite schismatics. The Ottoman victories at Marj Dabiq in northern Syria in 1516 and at Raydaniyya in Egypt in 1517 were largely due to Ottoman superiority in numbers and logistics, though treachery and desertions from the Mamluk ranks also played a part. The last Mamluk sultan, Tumanbay, was hung from the Zuweyla Gate in Cairo, and Selim, having annexed Syria and Egypt, went on to declare himself the protector of the holy places of Mecca and Medina. In the decades which followed the Ottomans were able to extend their territory to include a great deal of the North African coast.

The Rise of the Ottomans

The Ottoman Turks are first recorded as holding territory in the region of Bursa at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The Ottoman beylicate (principality) was one among many beyli- cates which were established in Asia Minor in the wake of the break-up of the Seljuk sultanate of Rum and the withdrawal of Mongol power from the region. However, there is much that is legendary in the early story of the Ottomans and it is unclear whether the first Ottoman beys were leaders of a natural tribe, or whether the mass of their supporters were ghazis who had joined the Ottomans on the edge of Byzantine territory in order to take part in the jihad and find booty or martyrdom. It is nevertheless plain that the ghazi ethic played a crucial role in some of the other beylicates, particularly the coastal beylicates of Aydin and Menteshe, from whose ports sea-ghazis set out to ravage Christian shipping. In Anatolia, as elsewhere, Sufis played a key part in preaching the jihad, and a later Ottoman source describes one of the emirs of Aydin being initiated into the status of ghazi by a shaykh of the Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes; the shaykh presented the emir with a war-club which the latter placed on his head, before declaring: ‘With this club will I first subdue my passions and then kill all the enemies of the faith.’

Bursa fell to Orkhan, the Ottoman bey, in 1326, but for a long time after that the Ottoman capital was wherever the bey’s tent was pitched. Whether they were tribesmen or ghazis, the men who fought for the early Ottoman beys fought in the confidence that God smiled on their struggles. According to Gregory Palamas, an Orthodox metropolitan who was a captive of the Turks in 1354, ‘these infamous people, hated by God and infamous, boast of having got the better of the Romans [i.e. Byzantines] by their love of God . . . They live by the bow, the sword, and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil . . . and not only do they commit these crimes, but even—what an aberration—they believe that God approves of them.’

Ottoman expansion in north-west Anatolia was rapid under Orkhan (c.1324-60) and Orkhan was the first Ottoman to style himself sultan. His territorial expansion was at the expense of both the Byzantines and the rival beylicates. The maritime beyli- cate of Aydin was at first perceived in the West as posing a greater danger than the Ottomans, and consequently in 1344 a crusader naval league chose as its target Umur of Aydin’s port of Smyrna. Meanwhile Turkish raiders, only some of whom were in the service of the Ottomans, had crossed the Dardanelles and were operating in the Plain of Adrianople as early as the 1340s. An earthquake at Gallipoli in 1354 or 1355 allowed the Ottomans to occupy that harbour and gave them their first base west of the Dardanelles. Gallipoli was subsequently lost to a crusade led by Amadeus of Savoy, but the Ottoman occupation of Adrianople in 1369 restored their position in Europe and during the reign of Murad I (1362-89) Thrace and Macedonia were conquered.

Although it pleased the Janissaries to describe themselves as ‘the heaven-chosen soldiers of Islam’, the importance of the medieval Janissaries should not be exaggerated. Originally the Janissary (more correctly Yeni Cheri, or New Troops) regiment was recruited from Christian youths captured in the Balkan wars, but, as this source proved inadequate, there was a switch to devshirme from the late fourteenth century onwards. Under the devshirme system, boys aged between 8 and 15 years from

Christian villages within the Ottoman empire were forcibly conscripted and taken away to be trained as military slaves. The best of the young men recruited in this manner went into the service of the palace, where they would be trained for high office. The Janissaries were in a sense the rejects in the devshirme system. Throughout the fifteenth century they were primarily a regiment of infantry archers and, although some troops were provided with handguns as early as the 1440s, it was not until the late sixteenth century that most Janissaries were equipped with muskets. There was also a parallel and larger, though less well-disciplined, body of free-born infantry, known as the yaya. The élite of the Ottoman army, however, was furnished by sipahis, freeborn cavalry who did military service in return for assignments of timar: that is estates on which they had the right to collect revenue. Akinjis, or light cavalry raiders who fought for a share of the booty, helped to swell Ottoman ranks.

Murad I’s campaigning in Europe and the advance of his armies to the Danube provoked the formation of a coalition of Christian principalities in the Balkans. However, their combined armies went down to defeat at the battle of Kosovo (1389). Although Murad was killed in the battle, his son, Bayezid I (1389-1402) also known as Yilderim or the Thunderbolt, smoothly took command and reaped the fruits of victory. Victory at Kosovo confirmed the Turkish conquest of Bulgaria, and in the long run sealed the fate of Serbia. In the immediate aftermath, however, Bayezid offered the Serbs easy terms, so that he could deal with a revolt of the Qaraman Turkomans in Anatolia. The Ottomans claimed that the Qaramans, in waging war against them, were impeding the jihad and assisting the infidels. In the years that followed, Bayezid made use of dubiously loyal European vassals to campaign in Asia and vice versa, and seven beylicates in Asia Minor were precariously annexed.

Communications between the sultanate’s eastern and western fronts would always be vulnerable as long as the Christians continued to hold Constantinople. In 1394 Bayazid gave orders that the city should be blockaded. Although the joint French and Hungarian crusade of 1396 aimed among other things to bring relief to Constantinople, it ended in disaster on the battlefield of Nicopolis, as will be seen, and the city’s salvation was to come from a quite different source. Bayezid’s aggressive policy of annexation in Anatolia had brought him up against clients of Tamerlane and provoked the Turco-Mongol warlord to intervene. Much of the army that Bayezid brought to face Tamerlane outside Ankara in 1402 consisted of reluctant tributaries and they lost little time in going over to Tamerlane. Bayezid was taken in the battle and was soon to die in captivity. In the aftermath of the battle, Tamerlane re-established the Turkoman beylicates and the Ottoman empire was further weakened as Bayezid’s sons, Suleyman, Isa, Mehmed, and Musa, fought amongst themselves for the succession. This war ended with the victory of Mehmed I (1413-21).

Under Mehmed and his son Murad II (1421-51) the Ottoman recovery proceeded apace. Although a renewed attempt to take Constantinople in 1422 failed, the Turks had regained all and more than they had lost in 1402. As early as 1432 the Burgundian spy Bertrandon de la Brocquiere noted that if the Ottoman sultan ‘wished to exercise the power and revenue that he had, given the slight amount of resistance he would encounter from Christendom, he could conquer a large part of it’. The Hungarian general John Hunyadi won some striking victories against the Turks in 1441 and 1442, but the Varna Crusade of 1444, a Hungarian attempt at joint operations with a western fleet in Black Sea, was unsuccessful and proved to be the last offensive crusade aimed at stemming the Ottoman advance in the Balkans.

In 1451 Mehmed II, who succeeded Murad II, put in hand preparations for the siege of Constantinople. Artillery played a crucial role in that siege. The Ottomans may have been using cannons as early as the 1380s. From the 1420s onwards cannons were regularly used in siege warfare. Guns were captured from Christians in the European wars and more guns were cast by Christian renegades who entered the service of the Turks. Urbanus, a Christian renegade from Transylvania and an expert gun founder, was one of the main architects of the Muslim triumph at Constantinople in 1453.

‘Sultan Mehmed conquered Constantinople with the help of God. It was an abode of idols . . . He converted its churches of beautiful decoration into Islamic colleges and mosques.’ Mehmed’s conquest of the city had confirmed traditional Islamic prophecies about its fall to the Muslims. But the conquest of the ancient capital of the eastern Roman empire allowed Mehmed to present himself as heir not only to the heroes of the Islamic past but also to Alexander and Caesar. A contemporary Italian observer recorded that Mehmed ‘declares that he will advance from East to West as in former times the westerners advanced into the Orient. There must, he says, be only one empire, one faith, and one sovereignty in the world.’

The conquest of Constantinople had given the sultan possession of a major dockyard and arsenal. The behaviour of the Ottoman fleet during the siege of Constantinople had been cautious and inglorious. After 1453 Ottoman fleets were more aggressive and successful. The Black Sea was turned into a Turkish lake and Mehmed’s army and fleet conducted combined operations in the Aegean and elsewhere. By 1460 the Ottoman conquest of the last outpost of the Byzantine empire in the Peloponnese had been completed. In 1480 the Ottoman fleet set out against Rhodes. In the words of Lionel Butler, Mehmed II ‘was eager to add Rhodes to his collection of famous Greek cities of the Ancient World which he had conquered: Constantinople, Athens, Thebes, Corinth, Trebizond’. Its conquest would also have given Mehmed a key strategic point in the eastern Mediterranean, but the Turkish onslaught was beaten off. Mehmed planned to try again in 1481 and doubtless he also planned to reinforce a Turkish expeditionary force which had landed in Otranto in southern Italy in 1480, but he died in 1481. The Turkish troops stranded in Italy surrendered in September of that year.

Bayezid II (1481-1512) pursued a less aggressive policy with regard to the West. This was in large part due to the fact that he had to defend his throne against his brother, Jem. Defeated in 1481, Jem fled to Rhodes in 1482 and from there he went to France. Under surveillance in Europe, Jem remained a powerful pawn in the hands of Christendom until his death in 1495.

Bayazid made some gains in the Balkans, but he faced greater problems on the eastern front, first with the Mamluk sultanate and then, from 1501 onwards, with the rise in Iran of Shah Isma‘il, the first of the Safavid shahs.

Shah Isma‘II’s Twelver Shi‘ite following seem to have regarded him as the Mahdi and they believed that he was infallible and invincible. The legend of Isma‘II’s invincibility was destroyed in 1514 at the Battle of Chaldiran, when an army under the command of Selim the Grim defeated Isma‘II’s undisciplined following of Turkoman tribal warriors. Even after Chaldiran, Shi‘ism was still seen as threatening the Sunni Ottoman regime, but it was dangerous for Selim to conduct further campaigns against Isma‘il as long as the Mamluk sultanate was a potential threat to his southern flank. The Ottoman occupation of Mamluk lands in 1516-17 unified the lands of the eastern Mediterranean under a single Muslim ruler, and thereafter Constantinople annually collected vast amounts of revenue from Egypt in particular.

Even before Selim had entered Cairo in 1517, he had been presented with the suzerainty of Algiers by Aruj Barbarossa, who had taken the city in the previous year. The exploits of the brothers Aruj and Khayr al-Din Barbarossa inaugurated the great age of the Barbary corsairs. In 1533 Khayr al-Din was put in charge of organizing the Ottoman fleet and in 1534 he took Tunis. Although a force sent by the Emperor Charles V took it back again in the following year, Khayr al-Din won a great naval victory in 1538 at Preveza against a Christian naval league sponsored by the emperor and the pope, and in the long run Tripoli, held by the Spaniards since 1510, was retaken by the Muslims (1551) and the whole of North Africa except for Morocco was annexed to the sultanate.

The Ottoman Empire under Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66) can be seen as the Muslim equivalent of the universal Christian empire of Charles V. Suleyman’s war in the Mediterranean and the Balkans was really an imperial war fought against the Habsburgs, rather than a holy war against Christendom. Suleyman’s propagandists preferred to stress the necessity of jihad against the heterodox Safavids in Iran and Iraq. At first, fortune consistently favoured Suleyman’s armies: the capture of Belgrade (1521), the capture of Rhodes (1522), victory over the Hungarians at the battle of Mohacs (1526) and the consequent destruction of the Hungarian kingdom. Suleyman did fail to take Vienna in 1529, but this reverse did not seem so significant at the time, as the attempt to take it had only been the result of an afterthought towards the end of a season of campaigning. Even so, as Suleyman’s successors would discover, Vienna was situated at the extreme limit of Ottoman logistical capability. In the course of the sixteenth century Muslim expectations of ever-continuing conquest declined and the ghazi ethic fell into abeyance. The Turkish failure at Malta in 1565 delivered a further check to Ottoman ambitions and in the following year Suleyman died.

However, the Ottomans continued to make conquests, and in 1570 their occupation of most of Venetian Cyprus provoked the formation of yet another Christian naval league. The Christians hailed their victory at the Battle of Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth in 1571 as a mighty triumph over the infidel. Although Turkish losses in that battle were heavy, and thousands of skilled mariners and archers were lost, Ottoman resources were vast and the battle changed nothing. Allegedly, when Selim II (1566-74) asked his vizier how much it would cost to replace the lost fleet, the vizier replied: ‘The might of the empire is such that if it were desired to equip the entire fleet with silver anchors, silken rigging, and satin sails, we could do it.’ Indeed the Ottomans did swiftly build a new fleet, their occupation of Cyprus was not seriously challenged, and they raided at will in the western Mediterranean, sometimes making use of friendly French ports to do so.

In a renewed round of fighting in the Balkans (1593-60) Ottoman troops performed poorly. Ottoman armies copied the military technology of the Europeans, but not their tactics. Turkish observers might admire the discipline of western armies, as well as their skilful deployment of cannons and muskets, but Turkish armies could not emulate the Christians in these areas, and Turkish generals still placed their faith in sword-wielding sipahi cavalry. The sultanate was also weakened by fiscal problems and rebellions in Anatolia.

Philosophically-minded Ottoman officials analysed the problems and some of them resorted to the theories of Ibn Khaldun in order to do so. What is striking about their memoranda is that the sultan’s chief duty was no longer seen as being the leadership of the jihad. Instead, they tended to argue that the sultan’s chief duties were to maintain justice and assure the prosperity of his subjects. In 1625 a certain Omer Talib wrote: ‘Now the Europeans have learnt to know the whole world; they send their ships everywhere and seize important ports. Formerly the goods of India, Sind, and China used to come to Suez and were distributed by Muslims to all the world. But now these goods are carried on Portuguese, Dutch, and English ships to Frangistan (Europe) and are spread all over the world from there.’ Others shared Omer Talib’s feeling that the sultanate was threatened by its lack of access to the vast resources of the Americas.

Not only was a final Ottoman attempt to take Vienna in 1683 a failure, but it provoked the War of the Holy League (1684-97) and led to loss of Buda and Belgrade. By the Peace of Karlowitz (1699) the Ottomans were obliged to cede Hungary and Transylvania to Austria, while Venice and Poland secured other territories. The Ottoman tide of advance had been clearly stemmed. Moreover it was, for the first time, unambiguously the defeated power and actually yielding territory to the Christians. The Age of Jihad had passed and the long process of dismembering the Ottoman empire had begun. Even if Gibbon was correct in calling the struggle between Christianity and Islam in the eastern Mediterranean the ‘world’s debate’, it had been a debate between the deaf and it was not until the midnineteenth century that Arabs even coined the term Hurub al- Salibiyya to refer to the Wars of the Crusades.

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