Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Today In History: ...and don't come back!

On this date in 1095, Pope Urban II convened the Council of Clermont in France. An embassy had just arrived from Alexius I Comnenus of Byzantium asking for help from his fellow Christians against the heathen Turks, who were almost at the very gates of Constantinople.

The topic of the conference offered a splendid way to remove a burr under the Pope's saddle; the ambitious dukes and barons who were jostling for crowns, landless younger sons, and unemployed mercenaries from the great Norman adventuring armies of the time, all of which were making life in Western Europe in those days look like the set of an Errol Flynn movie, complete with spilled drinks, beaten peasants, and much swinging from chandeliers...


Ahab said...

"I say, what should we do with all these professional mercenaries running around here?"

"Well, we could start a war with some indigenous brown folk on the grounds that their holy lands are impeding our holy lands; that way we can play the God card and get people really fired up."

"Excellent plan."

Anonymous said...

Pope Urban II? Oh yeah. He's the guy who produced a better world with the world's first recorded assault-weapons ban. Shortly after the Camp Clermont Accords he Bulled: "No crossbows, with or without bayonet lug."

Only the cynical would suspect his main bitch was that a peasant could stay out of range of the noble's cruciform broadsword while carefully lining up his bolt.


Robert said...

I thought that's what we had already DONE with the surplus mercenary corps we least the brown and black folks think that's what is going on.

Urban...Urban....what is it about these Urban types that make them so despotic?

Anonymous said...

"Well, we could start a war with some indigenous brown folk "

What indigenous "brown folk" would those be?

Seeing as the Muslims were, er INVADERS into Christian heartlands of the near east, and well neither the inhabitants of Asia Minor nor of the near east, nor that the Muslim invaders were "differently pigmented" to any really noticeable degree. I'm really wondering what your point is?

Ed Foster said...

I lean towards Madden on the Crusades. The wars would have been fought with or without religious justification, simply because Turkish expansionism wasn't going to be stopped with words.
A large reason the number of soldiers rattling around Europe was so great in relation the resources was the threat of Arab and particularly Berber corsairs raiding for slaves all around the coasts of western Europe, a condition that maintained until the 17th century in Ireland, western Scotland, and Norway, anyplace that was disorganized and beyond the scope of an organized national military .
The German expansion into eastern Europe was fueled primarily by the massacre of millions of Slavic men, and the sale into slavery of millions of Slavic women and children, from the mid fifth century to the fifteenth.
Only the Lithuanian/Polish victory at Grunewald (Tannenburg) brought the German trade in European slaves (from the word slav) to an end.
Interestingly enough, the discovery of 80,000 sets of shackles in the captured baggage train was what drove the Lithuanian light cavalry back into the fight, turning a near disaster into a vitually total destruction of the Teutonic Knights and the horde of mercenaries they'd hired for back-up.
Even before Tannenburg, the increasing cost of purchased European slaves, combined with the local knowledge of European renegades, made the taking of slaves by raid competitive with the purchase of same through a long chain of intermediaries.
Just as Viking raids were tapering off, the Corsairs began picking up. Oddly, the presence of the Vikings and the nascent European navies formed to fight them acted as a buffer to slavers.
If the maintenance of large numbers of soldiers in western Europe was a drag on the economy, the loss of so many fighting men and ships to the slave raiding business, essentially a mirror of the earlier viking era, sped the day of Turkish conquest in North Africa.
This was big business. A blond, blue eyed six year old boy delivered to a bordello in Egypt was worth a trained warhorse, perhaps $150,000 in today's money.
Another consideration was the flexability of the European, particularly Norman, war host. The soldiers weren't always under arms, and were paid off in land. Most of them became essentially National Guardsmen and part time police, on average 30 days per year, laying the groundwork for our Second Amendment.
A Norman army was composed of it's knights, sworn to their liege lord, and their lances. A lance was a variable number of men-at-arms, ranging from five or six to hundreds or, in the case of Earls and whatnot, even thousands.
A Barony of five thousand might support a full time military establishment of fifteen or twenty professionals, fleshed out when needed by seventy or eighty reservists.
The presence of an armed middle class, who also carried the primary load of law enforcement (look up "Hue and Cry")is something the rather socialist screenwriters in Hollywood and elswhere conveniently ignore.
The Turks were the world's consumate horse archers, but the down and dirty infantry work was usually detailed to subject peoples until the establishment of their Janissary Corp, itself peopled by the stolen sons of Serb and Albanian peasants.
As yet another aside, most Albanians converted to Islam to keep their babies. The Serbs became all the more ferociously Christian, rising in one failed rebellion after another for the next fifteen generations. The only thing that kept the Turks from eliminating them completely was their value as Janissary makers.
The cavalry superiority of the Turks gave them a tremendous advantage in cutting off and starving out eastern cities, surrounded by plains, steppes, and deserts. Ideal terrain for the hit and run tactics of horse archers.
The cities provided wealth and subject infantry for close assault and operations in rough terrain.
But the entire process was predicated on continual expansion. There were amiliorating factors, most especially the deliberate use of Islam as a lever of state control, but the Turkish empire was a completely militarised enterprise that could only survive through constant expansion.
After the defeat at the gates of Vienna and the loss of sea power at Lepanto, the eventual collapse of the Ottoman empire was assured.
The Janissary Corp, always brutally expensive to raise and train, shrank to an insignificant part of the Turkish military, and the loss of the Wallachian provinces in Europe cost the Turks a large part of their industrial base, including all their best cannon foundries.
It took another two centuries to finish off the Turkish empire, but the end was inevitable.
A fact I find interesting is the almost complete absence of Arabs in the "Islamic" armies after the first Crusade.
Virtually the only Arabs involved in the fighting were the Syrian and Lebanese Christians who made up the bulk of the Christian men-at-arms holding back the Turks between major wars.
Islam's fighting was done by the Indo-European Kurds, the Egyptian Mamelukes, many of whom were castrated European POW's, and, predominantly as the years passed, by the Turkish National army.
Whatever collection of enablers helped start the European resistance, the Chrusades, for the most part, should be be more properly called the Turkish Wars.
The economic cost of them to Europe far dwarfed any value recieved from the few desperate toeholds maintained at brutal cost in Palestine for two blood soaked centuries.
I should be working. Shame on you Tam, for getting my knickers in a knot over Richard, Salal-Ad-Din and all those other colorful characters. You knew you were going to get me all worked up over this, weren't you?
And I had to wait for the next batch of you- know-whats to come back from hardcoat. They're due tonight.