November 22, 1307 Friday the 13th

On Friday the 13th of October, 1307, King Philip IV of France sent out his arrest warrant, against the knights Templar.  Under pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” on November 22, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets. Within a couple of years, the order had ceased to exist.

From the dawn of Christianity, faithful believers have traveled from the length and breadth of Europe to the Holy City of Jerusalem, to renew and affirm a lifelong faith in scripture.

The Rashidun Caliphate captured the Holy City in 637, following a long siege.  Except for an 88-year period following the first crusade in 1099, the Temple Mount in the old city has been under Islamic administration, from that day to this.

Nevertheless, the number of these pilgrims increased over time.  Many suffered robbery and even murder at the hands of Muslim fanatics, who considered it their Islamic duty to kill the “Infidel”.

47e7896055de65697d83aba928ae90ca--knights-templar-symbols-the-knightThe French knight Hugues de Payens approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1119, with a proposal.  He would create a monastic order of warrior knights to protect these pilgrims, to be headquartered in a wing of the recaptured Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the ruins of the Temple of Solomon.

They were monks and they were warriors, “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon”.   For 200 years, these “Knights Templar” provided for the safe passage of Christian pilgrims.

The original nine knights of the order lived up to the “poor knights” part of their name, relying on financial donations for their survival.  So destitute were they that their emblem showed two knights riding a single horse.

That would change.

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In time, the Templars gained favored charity status, their new-found wealth helping them to found an early banking system. Pilgrims to the holy land could deposit gold coins in Paris and take them out in Jerusalem, or vice-versa.  The knights Templar achieved vast wealth in this manner, at their height running over 800 castles, every one of which ran as a full service banking institution, financing military campaigns and shoring up the treasuries of Kings.

Following what must have seemed a never ending series of wars with the English King, Philip IV of France found himself deeply in debt to the Templars.  In 1307, he needed to wriggle out of it.

It was Friday the 13th of October that year, when Philip sent out his arrest warrant.  Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars were simultaneously arrested. Charges included everything from obscene secret rituals to financial fraud. “Confessions” were extracted by torture.

Quema herejes Edad MediaUnder pressure from the French King, Pope Clement issued the bull “Pastoralis praeeminentiae” on November 22, instructing Christian monarchs throughout Europe to arrest Templar officials and seize their assets.

Thousands of knights fled to areas outside Papal control.  Some were burned at the stake, or absorbed into the rival Knights Hospitaller. Within a couple of years, the order had ceased to exist.

Some will tell you that’s where the Friday 13th superstition began.  Others say it goes back to the Friday when Eve offered Adam that forbidden apple, or the Friday crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Ancient Egyptians and Chinese believed the number 13 brought good luck, but some actually fear Friday the 13th.  It’s called “Friggatriskaidekaphobia”.

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People in Spanish-speaking countries will tell you it’s the 13-part that brings bad luck, but for most, it’s Friday.  At least one psychotherapist asserts that 21 million Americans are afraid of Friday the 13th.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that fear of the number 13 costs the United States a Billion dollars a year in absenteeism, train and plane cancellations and related commerce on the 13th of the month.

FDR avoided dinner parties with 13 guests.  In France, there are professional 14th party guests called “quatorzieme“.  I wonder how you get that job.

Who knows, maybe thirteen really is bad luck.  There are 13 steps leading to the gallows, where the condemned meets the 13 knots of the hangman’s noose.  The guillotine’s blade falls 13 feet.  Diana hit the 13th pillar at Place d’Alma.  Tupac was shot on Friday the 13th, and Fidel Castro was born on one.

So knock on wood, and cross your fingers.  Watch out for black cats.  Don’t look at the full moon through a pane of glass, and be sure throw salt over your shoulder.  You’ll be fine.

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
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June 17, 1462 Son of the Dragon

In a time and place remembered for near-cartoonish levels of violence, Vlad Țepeș stands out for extraordinary cruelty.

Count Dracula, favorite of Halloween costume shoppers from time immemorial, has been with us since the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, of the same name.  Stoker’s working titles for the manuscript were “The Un-dead”, and “Count Wampyr”. He nearly kept one of them too, until stumbling into the real-life story of Vlad Țepeș (TSE·pesh), a Wallachian Prince and front-line warrior, against the Jihad of his day.

In modern Romanian, “Dracul” means “the Devil”. In the old language, it meant “the Dragon”, the word “Dracula” (Drăculea) translating as “Son of the Dragon”.

166-vlad-tepes_246_9379154c5086651cL.jpgStoker wrote in his notes, “in Wallachian language means DEVIL”. In a time and place remembered for near-cartoonish levels of violence, Vlad Țepeș stands out for his extraordinary cruelty. There are tales of Țepeș disemboweling his own mistress. That he collected the noses of vanquished adversaries.  Some 24,000 of them. That he dined among forests of victims, spitted on poles. That he even impaled the donkeys they rode in on.

In 1436, Vlad II became voivode (prince) of Wallachia, a region in modern-day Romania situated between the Lower Danube river and the Carpathian Mountains.  The sobriquet “Dracul” came from membership in the “Order of the Dragon” (literally “Society of the Dragonists”), a monarchical chivalric order founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1408, and dedicated to stopping the Ottoman advance into Europe.

A crossroads between East and West, the region was scene to frequent bloodshed, as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe, and Christian forces pushed back..

A weakened political position left Vlad II no choice but to pay homage to Ottoman Sultan Murad II, in the form of an annual Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and a contribution of 500 Wallachian boys to serve as Janissaries in the elite slave army of the Ottoman Empire.

Vlad was taken hostage by the Sultan in 1442, along with his two younger sons, Vlad III and Radu.  The terms of the boys’ captivity were relatively mild by the standards of the time and both became skilled horsemen and warriors. Radu went over to the Turkish side, but Vlad hated captivity, developing an incandescent hate for his captors which would last all his life.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II set his sights on the invasion of all Europe.

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Fall of Constantinople

The younger Vlad gained the Wallachian throne three years later and immediately stopped all tribute to Sultan Mehmed II, by now risen to 10,000 ducats per year, and 1,000 boys.  When a group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, the Prince ordered the turbans nailed to their skulls.

Vlad now consolidated power as his reputation for savagery, grew.  According to stories circulated after his death, hundreds of disloyal boyars (nobles) and their allies met their end, impaled on spikes.

Mehmed II, conqueror of Constantinople, now amassed power of his own, setting his sights on campaigns against Anatolia, the Greek Empire of Trebizond and the White Sheep Turkomans of Uzun Hasan.   Throughout this period, Romanian control of the Danube remained a thorn in his side.

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Danube River

Pope Pius II declared a new Crusade against the Ottoman in 1460, but Vlad Țepeș was the only European leader to show any enthusiasm.  The Hungarian General and Ţepeş’ only ally Mihály Szilágyi was captured by the Turks, his men tortured to death and Szilágyi himself sawed in half.

Țepeș invaded the Ottoman Empire the following year.  In a letter to Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus dated February 11, 1462, Țepeș wrote:  I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers…Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him (Sultan Mehmed II).

The Sultan invaded Wallachia at the head of a massive army, only to find a “forest of the impaled”.  The Byzantine Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes: “The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen long and seven stades wide”.

To give a sense of scale to such a horror, a “stade” derives from the Greek “stadeon” – the dimensions of an ancient sports arena.

Vlad DraculaOutnumbered five-to-one, Ţepeş employed a scorched earth policy, poisoning the waters, diverting small rivers to create marshes and digging traps covered with timber and leaves. He would send sick people among the Turks, suffering lethal diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and bubonic plague.

From his years in captivity, Ţepeş understood Ottoman language and customs as well as the Turks themselves.  Fearless, he would disguise himself as a Turk and freely walk about their encampments, gaining valuable intelligence on the Sultan’s organization.

On this day in 1462, the Son of the Dragon launched a night attack on the Ottoman camp near the capital city of Târgoviște, in an effort to assassinate Mehmed himself.  Knowing that the Sultan forbade his men from leaving their tents at night, a force of some 7,000 to 10,000 horsemen fell on Mehmed’s camp three hours after sunset.  The skirmish lasted all that night until 4 the next morning, killing untold numbers of Turks, their horses and camels.  Ţepeş himself aimed for the Sultan’s tent, but mistook it for that of two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha.

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The Battle With Torches by Romanian painter Theodor Aman. It depicts the The Night Attack of Târgovişte,

Mehmed II “The Conqueror” survived the Night Attack at Târgovişte.  In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III Țepeș would twice be deposed only to regain the throne but never able to defeat his vastly more powerful adversary.

“Vlad the Impaler” was exiled to Hungary where he spent much of his time, in prison.  He died fighting against the Ottomans in December 1476 or January 1477, his body cut into pieces and his head delivered to the Sultan.  Drăculea is buried in an unknown grave, stories of his cruelty told and retold in Russian, German and a hundred other languages.  Five hundred years later, the Son of the Dragon is remembered as the un-dead vampire, Count Dracula.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

September 2, 1192 Sultan and Crusader

In time, the Crusader and the Sultan came to hold a degree of respect for one another.   Legend has it that, at one point in the fighting around Jaffa, Saladin even sent Richard a fresh horse, after one was killed beneath him.

The Islamic Conquests began in the 7th century on the Arabian Peninsula.  In the first 100 years of its existence, Islam established the largest pre-modern empire up to that time, stretching from the borders of China in the east, through India and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, Sicily to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), in the west.

The Sasanid Empire in what is now Iran ceased to exist under the Muslim conquest, as did much of Byzantium, seat of the Roman Empire in the east. Europe itself narrowly escaped subjugation when Charles “The Hammer” Martel defeated the army of Abdul Rahman al Qafiqi at Poitiers (Tours) in October, 732.

Estimates suggest that the Caliphate was over 5 million square miles, larger than any modern-day state with the sole exception of the Russian Federation.

Muslim Conquests, 632-750
Muslim Conquests, 632-750

The First of the Christian Crusades was launched by Pope Urban II on November 27, 1095, in response to an appeal from Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who was requesting help in Constantinople against the invading Seljuq Turks.

Such a request wasn’t new, the Reconquista in Spain had not yet reached the mid-point of its 781-year effort to overthrow Muslim rule, and European knights traveled to Spain on a regular basis to assist in the effort.

Once in Anatolia (modern day Turkey), the ancillary goal of freeing Jerusalem itself and the Holy Land soon became the principal objective, as Jerusalem had by then been under Islamic rule for 461 years.  Jerusalem was recaptured on July 15, 1099, following a siege of six weeks.

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Route Map of the First Crusade

The County of Edessa was the first Crusader state to be created, and the first to go, falling in 1144 and leading to the second crusade. Mostly notable for its failures, the one major success of the second crusade was when it stopped on the way to the Holy Land, helping a much smaller Portuguese army overthrow Muslim rule in Lisbon. Two kings then marched two separate armies across Europe into Anatolia, only to be soundly defeated by the Turks.

Saladin
Saladin

A Kurdish leader arose to become Sultan at this time, founding a dynasty which would last for eighty-nine years. His name was Salāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, better known as Saladin, a Sunni Muslim who rose to greatness in a Shi’ite world.

No less a figure than Dante Alighieri counted Saladin a “virtuous pagan,” in the ranks of Hector, Aeneas, and Caesar.

While Christian leaders in the Middle East fell to squabbling among themselves, Saladin united Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Yemen and parts of North Africa. Saladin’s annihilation of a crusader army at Hattin on July 4, 1187 opened the way to the recapture of every Crusader state but one.  Jerusalem itself fell on October 2.

Pope Urban III is said to have collapsed and died, on hearing the news.

King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France were at war at the time, but ended that and began preparations for a third crusade with the exhortations of Pope Henry VIII. An extremely unpopular tax of 10% on all revenues and movable goods was imposed by the Church, and enforced under pains of imprisonment or excommunication. This “Saladin Tithe” raised 100,000 marks of silver, about 800,000 ounces.

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Route Map of the Third Crusade

The aging Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I “Barbarossa” (Red Beard), was the first to go, taking up the cross at Mainz Cathedral in March, 1188.  Emperor Frederick drowned crossing the Saleph River in Asia Minor in June 1190, after which most of his army of 100,000 returned to Germany.

Henry II of England died in the meantime, leaving his son Richard I “Coeur de Lion”(Lion-heart) to lead the crusade with Philip in the summer of 1190.

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Richard I, “Lion-heart”

Richard took time to conquer Sicily on the way to the Holy Lands, where King Tancred I was holding Richard’s sister Queen Joan, prisoner.  He reached Cyprus that May, there pausing long enough to marry Berengaria of Navarre, thus alienating his alliance with the French King, who considered Richard to be betrothed to his own half-sister, Alys.

Richard landed near Acre in June 1191 to find the city under Muslim occupation, and under siege by the forces of Guy de Lusignan, himself held under siege by the armies of Saladin.

Richard became ill at one point during the battle for Acre, it’s said that he picked off guards on the city walls with a crossbow, as he was being carried off on a stretcher.

The fall of Acre led to a number of meetings between Richard and Saladin’s brother Al-Adil, from which nothing resulted.  The Crusaders lost all patience by August, believing Saladin to be dragging his feet, and decapitated 2,700 Muslim prisoners in view of Saladin’s army.  This number included women and children.  Saladin responded by murdering every Christian captive, under his control.

Dominique-Louis-FeÌ-reÌ-ol Papety - The Siege of Acre ca_ 1840
The Siege of Acre, by Dominique-Louis-FeÌ-reÌ-ol Papety – ca 1840

Richard took the strategically important city of Jaffa, control over which was necessary if the Crusaders were to hold the coast and retake Jerusalem. The Crusader victory at Arsuf would prove Richard’s personal courage and skill as a commander, at the same time putting a dent in Saladin’s reputation as the invincible warrior King.

Two times Crusader armies came within sight of Jerusalem, never suspecting that, within the city, “Saracen” morale was so low that the city may have been theirs for the taking.  Meanwhile, the Crusader side fell to bickering, with half wanting to push on to Jerusalem, the other wanting to attack Saladin’s base of power, in Egypt.

In time, the Crusader and the Sultan came to hold a degree of respect for one another.   Legend has it that, at one point in the fighting around Jaffa, Saladin even sent Richard a fresh horse, after one was killed beneath him. The pair even discussed marrying Joan off to Saladin’s brother, Al-Adil, with themselves becoming co-rulers in Jerusalem. The plan might’ve worked, too, until the Roman Church got wind and threatened excommunication if Richard carried it out.

I have not been able to learn what Joan herself thought of the match.

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Time finally ran out for Richard and Saladin, both. The Christian army was decimated by disease.  Fierce quarrels between German, English and French contingents threatened to break up the Crusader army.   Richard himself was gravely ill, near despair of ever regaining his health.  On top of that, his own little brother John was plotting against him, with the connivance of the French King Philip. Richard Lion-heart no longer had the strength to challenge Saladin for Jerusalem.

Saladin, for his part, had serious morale problems, after repeated defeats at the hands of the Crusaders.

With Saladin’s brother Saif adDin acting as intermediary, the King and the Sultan concluded the Treaty of Jaffa on this day in 1192.  The fortifications at Ascalon were to be dismantled, in exchange for which Christians would continue to hold the coast from Jaffa to Tyre. Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands, while unarmed Christian pilgrims and traders would be guaranteed free passage to visit the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord in peace, without the exaction of any tribute or tax.  Further, Christian traders were permitted the possession objects for sale throughout the land, thus permitting such traders right of free commerce.

Crusades

Sultan Salāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb died of a fever the following March, and was buried in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.  Saladin’s kingdom and the Crusader states would remain at peace, for a period of three years.

Seven centuries later, German Emperor Wilhelm II donated a new marble sarcophagus, to the tomb of the Sultan who had reclaimed Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Foul weather drove King Richard I ashore near Venice, where he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria and handed over to German Emperor Henry VI and held for ransom. This time, the tithe would be 25%, raising about 1.2 million ounces of silver, and forever answering any questions as to what might constitute a “King’s Ransom”.

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King John signing the Magna Carta, June 15, 1215

A bolt from a crossbow left Richard Coeur de Lion mortally wounded on April 6, 1199, while besieging the castle of Châlus, in central France. He was 41.

Richard was destined to be succeeded by his brother John, after all.  John became such an unpopular King that his Nobles and their French and Scots allies forced him to sign the “Great Charter of the Liberties”, the Magna Carta, at a place called Runnymede.

Nearly 600 years later, the document would influence early government in the thirteen American colonies, and the formation of our own Constitutional Republic.  But that must be a story for another day.