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. SHORTSIGHTEDin the late twelfth century was a unique place. Although it had originally been a Byzantium port, it grew to be a world power through commerce and trade. In a time when feudalism was at its peak, this mercantile city ran much more like a modern business than a medieval city. Rather than being ruled over by a king, Venice had a ruling council of nine men, who behaved more like a board of directors than royal advisers. At the head of the council sat the CEO, the doge. Most of us have heard the title of Venice’s elected ruler, but few grasp the importance the doges played in the history of the Western world. One doge in particular, Enrico Dandolo, instigated an act that had resounding repercussions throughout the medieval world as well as our world today—the sacking of Constantinople.did the doge have against Constantinople? Quite a bit as it turns out. In addition to holding a monopoly on the markets in Germany and northern Italy, the Venetians also set up trade with eastern Europe and the Muslim world. They traded for silk and spices. In exchange, they manufactured ships and became the world’s leading exporter of glass and ironworks. Their focus on a maritime economy ensured Venice’s rise in status over Genoa and Pisa. The Achilles’ heel in their great enterprise was the Byzantine empire. To trade with the East, merchants in Venice had to pass through Constantinople. In 1183, Andronicus Comnenus seized power as emperor in Byzantium and revoked all permits for Venetian merchants. This put Venice’s status as the leader in world trade in jeopardy. Just when the city started to feel the pinch of economic pressure due to its limited commerce, an opportunity presented itself.1201, Pope Innocent asked for the doge’s help in transporting men and supplies for another expedition to the Holy Land. He intended to send his crusading armies into Alexandria in Egypt. The pope wanted to avoid asking for too much help from the European princes because it might call into question his authority. And, he did not wish to upset the Holy Roman empire. The doge was more than willing to help with the expedition… for a price. After all, business is business. He asked for half of everything captured in the expedition, and he wanted money up front. In exchange, he would provide transport and fifty Venetian galleys to escort the crusaders on their venture. The following year, 11,000 crusaders made their way to Venice under the leadership of Boniface de Montferrat. However, Montferrat put the expedition on hold because the crusaders could not pay the huge sum the doge asked for. The doge was first and last a businessman. He knew that having 11,000 men camped within the city would not be good for business. So, he offered an alternative.had recently captured the Venetian city of Zara off the Adriatic coast. Lacking the military strength to recapture it, the doge saw the chance to use the crusaders for his own interests. He offered to postpone the initial payment in exchange for the crusader’s help in taking back Zara. Many of the crusaders were outraged at the concept of fighting their fellow Christians, and the king of Hungary had fought in previous expeditions to the Holy Land. The doge took up the Cross, not because of a strong religious conviction, but because he saw a chance to manipulate the crusaders into thinking he was a man for their cause. In the end, they relented. Thousands of Venetians also joined the expedition. This was not a holy expedition led by the pope. It was a business venture led by the doge of Venice.October 1202, 200 Venetian ships made way for Zara. They arrived in November and laid siege to the city. After only two weeks, the people of Zara surrendered. This was not the expedition that Rome had in mind—Christian fighting against Christian. The pope excommunicated all involved. The crusaders did not wish to lose their souls in an endeavor to appease the doge, so they petitioned Rome, saying that they had no choice in the matter. The pope lifted the excommunication for all except Doge Dandolo and his men., a situation arose in Constantinople that would work in favor of the doge. The emperor, Isaac, had been blinded and imprisoned by his brother, Alexius, who took the throne as Alexius III. Isaac’s son, also called Alexius, went to Zara to solicit help from the Venetian and crusader forces. What he offered in return was too irresistible to refuse. The Byzantine Church would be placed under the authority in Rome, huge financial incentives were offered to all who helped, and 10,000 soldiers would accompany the crusaders to Alexandria in Egypt, which was the original destination, after all. The doge could not have been happier.Venetian and crusader forces arrived off the coast of Constantinople on June 24, 1203. They soon captured the suburb of Galata, which lies just north of the city across the Bosphorus. Then they launched a simultaneous land and sea attack on Constantinople, which failed. Despite the failure, Alexius III became frightened and fled the city. Advocates for Isaac freed him and returned him to the throne. Isaac and his son ruled together. They recognized immediately that they had a serious problem. They would have to abide by the terms agreed to in the treaty. Alexius went throughout the city raising funds to pay the crusaders. In the meantime, anticrusader sentiment raged throughout the city. The citizens revolted. Isaac and Alexius were killed and the anti-Western figurehead Ducus Murzuphlus took over as Alexius V. He immediately made it clear that he had no intention of paying the crusading forces anything.Dandolo took full advantage of the situation to persuade the crusaders to attack the city. On April 12, 1204, the Venetians penetrated the walls of the city. What they and the crusaders did to their fellow Christians was unconscionable. They looted homes and churches, murdered and raped the citizens, and held a thanksgiving service after all was said and done. The clerics who were involved in the expedition justified the action by saying it was done to reunite the Church. Although Pope Innocent did not authorize the action, he did not condemn it either. No doubt he saw the act as beneficial to the Western Church.act would not be beneficial to the Church in the long run. The Byzantine empire disintegrated and was replaced by small, autonomous Greek and Latin provinces. Without the strong presence of the Byzantines, the Turks were able to easily take Constantinople, giving them a gateway into Europe.

. PRIDEmistake involves two great rulers whose lands and ways were very different. It is a story of how one insulting mistake changed the lives of every person in Europe and Asia. It begins with a cruel show of power and ends in millions of deaths.first of these rulers was Ala’ ad-Din Muhammad, the emperor of the Khwarezm empire. In the thirteenth century the Khwarezm empire controlled all of central Asia, including today’s Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. This was a rich kingdom for it controlled the Silk Road on which all of the trade from China flowed. The taxes paid by the merchants supported palaces and gardens that were the wonders of their time. Khwarezm was also a powerful empire with as many as half a million men, mostly well-equipped and thickly armored horsemen, in a full-time army. Its capital at Samarkand was a center of learning and wealth, featuring many acres of magnificent gardens. It was unquestionably the wealthiest and likely best-armed nation in the world. But having the best-armored and largest army does not always mean you will win every battle.second leader was a very different man, though he too commanded a magnificent army. At this time, his highly organized and mobile army was in the process of conquering northern China. This was the man known to his people as “the Perfect War Leader,” or Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan had spent most of his life uniting the Mongols and other steppe tribes into a single force. At this point in history, the Mongols also controlled a stretch of the incredibly profitable Silk Road. This was the section that ran between China and Khwarezm across the Mongolian steppes. With his armies busy in wealthy and populous China, Genghis went to great efforts to ensure all of the caravans that ran on this route traveled safely—and paid substantial taxes for the privilege. For some time, this courtesy was returned by the Khwarezm as it seemed to be in everyone’s self-interest. Genghis Khan showed how pleased he was with the arrangement by sending gifts and messages of friendship to Ala’ ad-Din Muhammad.the Khwarezm got nervous. The Mongols were being too successful in conquering areas of China. They feared they would be next. A friendly barbarian was one thing, but one who was successful in battle could be a threat. Suddenly, and likely accurately, it was decided that the growing number of Mongols who accompanied the caravans from China were spies. The result was a series of attacks on suspected caravans not by bandits, but Khwarezm soldiers.Khan was not happy. He had gone to great lengths to protect the Khwarezm merchants and their caravans in his lands, but suddenly Khwarezm was slaughtering his merchants. He sent a caravan with an ambassador and other important Mongol nobles to Samarkand to protest. When it arrived, the Mongol ambassador demanded not only that the attacks stop but that Ala’ ad-Din pay restitution for the goods and lives already lost.weeks, the Khwarezm emperor did not formally respond. The details of this time have been lost, but we can surmise. Perhaps the Mongol ambassador became strident or maybe the Khwarezm just felt secure with a half-million-man army, a border protected by high mountains, and the bulk of the Mongol army still busy in China. Or maybe Ala’ ad-Din just had a sadistic sense of humor. Whatever the reason, his response was clear not only in its meaning but also in the total disdain it demonstrated.emperor gathered up everyone from the Mongol party, and in front of his court lit their beards on fire. Since the men had full beards, it seems likely every face was horribly scarred and many of the Mongols were blinded. Then, to make sure the message was clear, the Khwarezm emperor also beheaded the ambassador before sending the survivors back to Genghis Khan. It was an insult, a direct and unequivocal insult. It was also one of the ways you declared war. This was also perhaps the greatest mistake any ruler has made in history.Khan moved as quickly as possible, avoiding the normal passes between the two lands and taking a different route. In 1219, almost 100,000 horsemen were suddenly within Khwarezm while that empire’s army was still waiting to stop Genghis in the wrong place. Within a matter of months, those 100,000 Mongols had completely obliterated five times their number of Khwarezm soldiers. In retaliation, every city in the empire was not just conquered but destroyed, and its population killed or enslaved. Mostly the people were mercilessly slaughtered. Glorious, rich, sophisticated Samarkand was turned into rubble, and every man, woman, and child inside the city slain. By the end of Genghis Khan’s attack, there simply was no more Khwarezm. As much as three-quarters of the population were dead. Not a single city remained in the heart of the empire; there was no army, and its ruler had fled. Ala’ ad-Din Muhammad is said to have died of fright 2,000 miles from Samarkand, still hounded by 20,000 Mongol riders led by their most brilliant commander, Subotai.great was the destruction caused by this burning of the beards that even today lands that were fertile centers of civilization 700 years ago are still impoverished tribal areas. If Ala’ ad-Din had instead placated Genghis Khan, the Mongols might well have not felt the need to turn west. Poland and Hungary would have been spared a crippling invasion, Russia would not have suffered from centuries of debilitating occupation, and NATO would not now be fighting in the wastes of Afghanistan.

. SUPERSTITIONBlack Death was one of the worst pandemics in human history. It led to one of the most self-defeating slaughters in history. Cats were rumored to be the source of the plague. In those panicky times, no more than a rumor was needed. All over Europe the house cats were slain. Cat lovers today can take consolation in the slaughter along with the ghosts of murdered cats. They had their revenge in the form of millions of additional Europeans succumbing to a horrific death.killing of tens of thousands of cats during this time, encouraged primarily by the Catholic Church, caused the flea-infested rodent population in Europe to soar. Those rats most likely carried the bubonic plague, passing it on to humans through fleas that had been on the host rat, become infected, and then bitten humans. There were no insect sprays and no protection. Fleas and other pests were everywhere in the newly growing cities all over the continent. It is estimated that perhaps half of the population in Europe succumbed to this horrendous death from 1348 to 1352.bubonic plague was the most common type of infection seen during the Black Death. It was characterized by black spots on the chest and black swelling under the armpits and at the tops of the legs. The buboes, or swollen lymph nodes, turned black, oozed pus, and bled. Of those contracting the disease, four out of five died within eight days. The second most common type of infection seen at this time was the pneumonic plague, which affected the lungs, causing the victims to choke to death on their own blood. This type of plague had about a 95 percent mortality rate. The plague struck and then killed so quickly that the Italian writer Boccaccio said its victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” It is no wonder that even the hint of the plague caused a panic. Not only did cats suffer, but often Jews and other minorities were blamed and murdered., cats were not always considered the “diabolical creatures” that Pope Gregory IX declared them to be in a papal letter in 1232. The ancient Egyptians had developed elaborate ways to store large amounts of grain and other food. Rats and mice were attracted and could damage much of the crop. The Egyptians found that cats were natural predators of the rats and could be used to protect the stores of food. Cats eventually moved into Egyptian households, and they became thought of as godlike and were revered and worshiped. Eventually in Egypt killing a cat was considered an extremely serious offense, punishable by death. The Romans were introduced to cats by the Egyptians, and they were the first European group to keep cats primarily as pets. But the animals were still valued for their ability to keep rodent populations down.Black Plague first surfaced in Mongolia, spread to China, and was brought over to Europe on merchant ships. During the early thirteenth century, cats began to be looked at with suspicion. The pagan Egyptians had venerated them and the pagan Romans valued cats. The Catholic Church was determined to root out heretics and eliminate paganism in Europe. In medieval society, cats were already somewhat misunderstood for their aloofness and independent nature. If you do not handle kittens, they become quite feral as adults. That makes them good hunters, but wary of humans. Pope Gregory IX first made an association between cats and the devil. The Church focused on the Albigensians, a group the Church leadership suspected of worshiping the devil. During Satanic masses, it was alleged that the devil took the form of a black cat. It was said that the Albigensians were required by Satan to kiss the back side of the black cat during the mass. The concept of “a familiar” also coincided with the persecution of the Albigensians and other heretical groups during this time. A familiar was a supernatural being who could take many shapes, and it was believed to be something Satan gave to witches and other devil worshipers to facilitate evil acts. Cats were thought of as a common familiar. In fact, manuals that were developed to help authorities hunt witches often cited that ownership of a cat was compelling evidence that the cat’s owner was actually a witch.this time, if a person was declared a witch, he or she was condemned to burn at the stake. If this happened, the cat was burned along with its owner. Many commoners became afraid of being accused of witchcraft, so they killed or got rid of their own cats. Cats were slaughtered by the tens of thousands in cities and villages across Europe, and the domestic cat population came close to being eliminated.in the aristocratic class were less vulnerable to the superstitions wracking Christianity. They kept their cats exactly because of the animals’ ability to reduce or eliminate the rat population in and around their homes. Of course, they had no idea that the rats actually carried disease, but having some of those cats in the homes of the aristocracy certainly helped keep the plague from wiping out many in the upper classes. The mass killing of cats preceded the arrival of the infected rodents, greatly compromising the barrier between humans and the rats.people during that time believed that the devil granted to witches the power to exact revenge for any slight or threat. This made them, and their familiars, a source of fear. It was thought that a witch’s revenge could devastate large portions of a country. So when things went wrong, the witches and their cats took the blame. Between 1300 and 1700, persecution of witches was at its peak in Europe. It is not surprising that this persecution coincided with successive waves of plague, which wracked the continent.Black Death was certainly the most devastating of all of these plagues. Not only did it decimate the population, but it also was the catalyst for profound social and economic changes. In western Europe, landlords had to compete for peasant labor, providing increased wages or even freedom for the peasants. When peasants demanded higher wages, and the landlords refused, revolts broke out in England, Italy, Belgium, and France. Many historians have suggested that the roots of capitalism took hold at that time. The disease also had a profound effect on the Catholic Church. So many believers had prayed for deliverance from the plague and killed their cats. When those prayers weren’t answered, the power of the Church and its numbers declined, and a new period of philosophical questioning emerged. The resulting social upheaval started an era of contemplation and concentration on the arts, music, and literature. The Renaissance had begun.it weren’t for the domestic cat’s existence in Europe and the sheltering of those cats by the aristocracy there, even more than half of the population could have been wiped out when the Black Death peaked between 1348 and 1350. The disease had enormous social, economic, and religious consequences, including the end of feudalism and the rise of the Renaissance. It took Europe’s population several hundred years to recover from the devastating impact of the disease. And the severity of this loss could have been dramatically reduced had it not been for the fear-mongering of religious leadership at the time.superstitions about cats, which started in the panic seven centuries ago, still remain. These include such baseless notions as crossing the path of a black cat bringing you bad luck, cats being a threat to newborns, and cats being familiars to devil worshipers. It is no coincidence that the more cats were demonized and the more their owners were viewed as possible witches and heretics, the more widespread the Black Death became. Cats were the first line of defense against the real carrier of the plague.

. STUBBORN PRIDEa show of British understatement, when asked to describe his victory at Waterloo over Napoleon, the duke of Wellington said, “He came at me the same old way and I beat him the same old way.” That description only somewhat fits the Battle of Waterloo, but it completely summarized the identical mistake made by two French kings in fighting against the English sixty years apart.first time the French made the mistake was at the Battle of Crecy. If being in the right always meant victory, then Edward III, the king of England, should have lost at Crecy—badly. A few years before, in 1327, the last of the Capetian line of French kings died. Edward III had perhaps the best claim to that throne. But the claim was sure to be contested by some of the most powerful French lords, and his success was far from assured. Since he was already king of England and could lose his control of the rich French duchy of Aquitaine, trying for the throne seemed like a bad idea. Edward instead supported Philip Blois, who became Philip VI. A few years later, Edward changed his mind and started what is now known as the Hundred Years’ War. (Which actually lasted 116 years.)1346, Edward III landed in northern France. A city he owned in the south of France was under siege, and he hoped to draw most of the attackers away. The way he chose to attract their attention was to lead a chevauchée across France. The chevauchée involves leading your army across an area while burning, pillaging, raping, and torturing as much as possible. Edward’s army left devastation from the coast to near the walls of Paris. Another incentive for a chevauchée was that you also pillage anything of value, and the king got a large cut of the loot.and the rest of France were outraged at Edward’s raid. Thousands of knights, and every peasant they could arm, rallied to the king. Edward, with at most 11,000 men left, and fewer than 2,000 knights, found himself in the middle of a hostile France, pursued by perhaps 20,000 knights and 40,000 men-at-arms and armed peasants. He turned and ran for the Channel and safety.English backtracked as fast as they could; the French were often only a few miles behind them. Edward and his raiders almost got trapped against the Loire River but slipped over a ford Edward bribed a local peasant to show him. This gave his tired soldiers a short rest near the village of Crecy-en-Ponthieu. It was there, late in the day, that the French army of 60,000 caught up with his 7,000 archers, 2,000 knights, 1,500 skirmishers, and 500 lightly armored horsemen.formed up his outnumbered army into an arc, with one flank protected by a deep stream and the other by the thick trees of the Crecy Forest. It was only a few hours before sunset when the bulk of the almost formless mass of French knights and soldiers had gathered across a wide field from the English. In their front were about 6,000 Genoese crossbowmen the French king had hired to counter the English archers. Just as the French knights began to form up for an attack, there was a heavy thunderstorm. It drenched both sides and the ground in between them., the crossbowmen moved toward the waiting English. It is surprising that, though they outnumbered the English six to one, the French made no effort to go around the position prepared by the English with pointed stakes; the entire French army just waited to charge in and slaughter the men who had done such terrible things to their land. The Genoese marched slowly toward the English until they stopped to fire their crossbows. But they stopped too far away for their bolts to do any damage to the English.range of the longbow was much farther and the rain of arrows that answered the Genoese’s single volley was deadly. Hundreds died, and the remainder turned and fled. After seeing the crossbowmen break through the first line of French knights, the horsemen could be restrained no longer. They charged forward, some riding down the retreating Genoese. But as they churned through the mud, the longbowmen began to fire.English archers could fire from six to eight arrows per minute. At that rate of fire, an archer could have another arrow in the air before his first one landed. Firing high, their first arrows fell from the sky almost vertically and easily penetrated the quilted padding protecting the knight’s horses. As the riders got closer, the arrows came in at a lower trajectory. Even at more than 200 yards away, a shaft fired from a longbow could penetrate the thickest armor worn by a knight. Several thousand French knights, many having already lost their mounts, were met by thousands of deadly arrows. Hundreds died, and the rest were forced to retreat. The men who were still on horseback joined thousands of fresh knights, just minutes later, in another charge across the muddy, body-strewn field. After they were driven back another charge formed, and then another.French made no fewer than a dozen charges. A few reached the barricaded archers, but they were driven back by the dismounted English knights. Charge after charge continued, until the bodies in the mud were so thick they slowed down the later attacks. By the time it was too dark for further fighting, 1,500 French knights were dead along with more than 10,000 of their less well-armored footmen. Fewer than 100 Englishmen were lost.English stayed in their position all night, and sure enough, there was another charge the next morning by knights who had arrived after dark. It too failed miserably. Edward was able to retreat with the loot from his chevauchée. It could be said that the tactics used by the French army were deeply flawed and a deadly mistake, but they weren’t organized enough to characterize the mistake as a tactical one. French chivalry was out of control. When they saw an enemy, they attacked; no tactical decisions were involved. It was such a colossal mistake that after Crecy the days of the mounted nobility were numbered. But at least it was a new mistake…five years later, in 1415, another English king, Henry V, was being pursued across France. He had landed months earlier with more than 10,000 men, but after a tough siege and after a large number of men decided to return to England, he had begun his own chevauchée across France with just under 6,000 soldiers of all types. In Paris, the French king John and his constable had appealed to the chivalry of the French. The army they gathered totaled more than 40,000: a quarter of these were mounted knights. This time, the English were brought to bay near the village of Agincourt.more an English king formed his men into a crescent. Again there were woods on the English right, and this time the town of Agincourt was anchored to their left. The two armies formed up, thousands of French knights anxious to attack, but this time the French king managed to restrain his men. Maybe he had learned enough from history to not make the same mistake that had been made at Crecy.could not wait for the French. They could easily send a column around to the rear of his position that was larger than his whole army. He had to force a battle then and there. To do this, Henry advanced all 6,000 men toward the 40,000 angry French-men. The French knights must have watched in amazement as the audacious British approached. The English army stopped a mere 200 yards from the unformed mass of French horsemen. They were standing less than a minute’s ride away. There was no hope of retreat or escape.needs to be mentioned at this point. There was another deterrent to attacking any set position with cavalry that day. The English on foot recorded sinking up to their boots in the sucking soil even before the battle began. Mud churns, and in the later French charges some of the survivors mention their horses sinking up to bellies and being barely able to move at all: unable to move as arrows rained death upon them.small English army then stopped and planted pointed stakes in front of the new position. The French, possibly still wondering what the English were doing, just waited. The stakes were ready very quickly when Henry V signaled for the longbowmen to begin firing. Each of the thousands of arrows fired in the next minutes could hardly avoid hitting someone in the ranks of the closely packed French position. Just sitting and taking the casualties was too much for the proud horsemen. The knight’s reaction was to ignore their king and charge the English. The chivalry of France surged forward just as they did at Crecy. Hundreds died as they were met with a cloud of arrows just as the earlier French chivalry had. Again, there was nothing lacking in the courage of the French. They charged and pressed forward under the archer’s hail of death. It must have seemed to the French that this time they were winning. Several times groups of armored men actually reached the English position and had to be driven off in hand-to-hand combat. The battle was so undecided that the English at one point had to slaughter noble prisoners worth many fortunes in ransom. This was almost unheard of at the time. After all, you might be the one captured next week.French dead were said to be stacked taller than a man stood. In front of some of the stakes and during the lulls in fighting, the English bowmen ran out between the lines to recover arrows as their supplies ran low. Finally, the French could stand no more, and their army retreated. On the ground in front of the 6,000 English lay more than 5,000 knights and nobles. Many of the greatest names in France had been slain. So many knights had died that French chivalry never again was able to dominate that nation’s neighbors with their massed, armored charges. At least as many common soldiers died with them.John of France likely never ordered that initial charge at Agincourt. Every military man in France was familiar with Crecy. The impetuous knights most likely acted on their own, repeating the disaster from two generations before. That makes the suicidal charge by the French at Agincourt a mistake that they had no excuse for. Many knights and nobles did know better and charged anyhow.effectively ended the Age of Chivalry. Had the French crushed the English and 10,000 mounted men survived it, history might be very different. How it would be different is another question. There was a good chance that King John would have returned the favor with a reprise of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England. Certainly, the French had enough to avenge. A French-dominated England would mean a history so different it can only be speculated on. Without the English tradition of the rights of man, would the revolutions of 1776 and 1789, which changed how nations were ruled forever, have even happened? If King John and his knights had not made the same mistake again, would we all be toasting each night to “the king” and perhaps speaking in French?

Date: 2015-02-16; view: 1087

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