October 7, 1571 Lepanto

Cross met Crescent this day in 1571 near the Greek island of Lepanto.  It’s been called “The battle that saved the Christian west”.

Following the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire was massively expanded under Sultan Selim I, “Selim the Grim”. 1516 – ’17 saw a 70% expansion of Ottoman landmass, with the subjugation of large swaths of the Arabian peninsula, historic Syria, the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt.

Suleiman_featuredSelim’s son and successor would become the tenth and longest-ruling Ottoman Sultan in 1520, until his death in 1566. He was “Süleiman the Magnificent”, a man who, at his height, ruled over some fifteen to twenty million, at a time when the entire world contained fewer than 500 million

By 1522, Süleiman had managed to expand his rule to Serbia, placing the Ottoman Empire in direct conflict with the Habsburg monarchy, early predecessor to what we remember from WW1, as the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Catholic states of Europe were plunged into a morass of their own at this time, wracked by the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, and by a series of wars for hegemony, over the formerly-independent city-states of the Italian peninsula. The “Italian wars” of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries pitted no fewer than eight separate Christian alliances against one another, between forces of the Valois and Habsburg monarchies, the Holy Roman Empire and various Italian republics. In time, republican Venice was alone in retaining her independence, aside from minor city-states such as Lucca and San Marino.

Venice attempted to check Ottoman expansion into the eastern Mediterranean until 1540 when, exhausted and despairing of support, signed a humiliating capitulation to the Sultan.

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Roxelana, the harem slave who rose to be “Queen” of the Ottoman Empire

This, the second such conflict between Venice and the Ottomans, left the republic without her former buffer territories in Greece and the Serbo-Croatian possessions of Dalmatia.

Hurrem Sultan, better known as “Roxelana”, was probably kidnapped from the Polish principality of Ruthenia, and sold into the slave markets of Istanbul, given by the Valide Sultan (legal mother of the Sultan and chief consort to Selim I), to her son Süleiman.  Roxelana is unique in Ottoman history, rising from Harem slave and Sultan’s concubine, to Süleiman’s legal wife and “Queen of the Ottoman Empire.” It was she who began a 130-year period of female influence over the male line known as the “Sultanate of Women” when, though born to slavery, the wives and mothers of the Sultan wielded extraordinary political power over affairs of Empire.

She was instrumental in driving the unlikely ascension of her son Selim II to the Sultanate, following the death of her son Mehmed from smallpox, and the murders of his half-brother Mustafa and his brother Bayezid, engineered between himself and his father.

The eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus was a major overseas possession of the Venetian republic and, surrounded by Ottoman territory, had long been “in the wolf’s mouth”. The Turkish invasion force of 350-400 ships arrived on July 1, 1570, carrying between 80,000 – 150,000 men. First capturing the coastal cities of Paphos, Limassol and Larnaca, the Ottoman force marched inland to lay siege to Nicosia, the largest city on the island. The siege would last forty days, resulting in the death of some 20,000 residents and the looting of every church, public building and palace, in the city.

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By Mid-September, the Ottoman cavalry arrived outside the last Venetian stronghold on Cyprus, the east coast port city of Famagusta.

At this point, Famagusta’s defenders numbered fewer than 9,000 men with 90 guns, pitted against an invading force swelled by this time to over 250,000 with 1,500 cannon. The defense of Famagusta would hold out for eleven months, led by the Venetian lawyer and military commander, Marcantonio Bragadin. By the following August, five major assaults had cost the lives of some 52,000 invaders, including the first-born son of the Turkish commander, Lala Kara Mustafa Pasha. Bragadin’s command was reduced to 900 sick, starving and injured defenders who, like local civilians, begged him to surrender.

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Walled citadel of Famagusta, in North Cypress

According to the customs of the time, negotiation before a city’s defenses were successfully breached allowed for terms of surrender, whereas all lives and property were forfeit, in a city taken by storm. Terms of safe passage were agreed upon, yet, on presentation of the city, Bragadin was seized by Lala Mustafa Pasha, his ears and nose cut off, and thrown into a cell. A massacre followed in which every Christian left alive in the city, was killed.  Bragadin was skinned alive in the public square and the stuffed with straw, reinvested with his military insignia, and sent with the heads of his officers to Istanbul, as a gift to Sultan Selim II.

Pope Pius had tried since 1566, to put together a “Holy League” to oppose the Ottoman invasion.   Marcantonio Bragadin was betrayed in the end and put to death.  Yet, the heroic defense against impossible odds of September 17, 1570 to August 5, 1571, bought a coalition of Catholic maritime states, time in which to defend themselves.

Cross met Crescent this day in 1571 near the Greek island of Lepanto.  It’s been called “The battle that saved the Christian west”.  The Europeans were outnumbered, with 212 ships and as many as 40,000 soldiers and oarsmen, compared with a Muslim force numbering 278 vessels, and as many as 50,000 soldiers and oarsmen.

The Ottoman empire had not lost a major naval battle, since the 14th century.

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What the Holy League lacked in numbers however, was made up in equipment, and experience.  The Christians possessed 1,815 guns, to fewer than half than number for the Ottoman fleet.

Ten thousand would be lost to the Christian side, compared with four times that number, for the adversary.  the Ottoman fleet was crushed over five hours of combat, losing 200 ships burned, sunk or captured, compared with 17 for the Europeans.

The Spanish novel Don Quixote has been translated into more languages than any book in western history, save for the holy bible.  Author Miguel de Cervantes participated in the battle at the age of 23, receiving three gunshot wounds and losing his left hand.

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Cervantes

While the European victory at Lepanto put a halt to Muslim expansion in the western Mediterranean, zero lost territory was regained while the Sultan solidified his control, over the east. The Ottoman fleet was rebuilt within six months, including some of the largest capital ships, then in existence.

Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokullu, Chief Minister to Sultan Selim II went so far as to taunt the Venetian emissary Marcantonio Barbaro, that the Christian triumph amounted to little:

“You come to see how we bear our misfortune. But I would have you know the difference between your loss and ours. In wresting Cyprus from you, we deprived you of an arm; in defeating our fleet, you have only shaved our beard. An arm when cut off cannot grow again; but a shorn beard will grow all the better for the razor”.

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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September 7, 1191 Crusade

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.

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.

islam-territoryEstimates suggest that the second of four major Caliphates, that of the Umayyad based in Damascus, Syria, was over 5 million square miles, larger than any modern state with the sole exception of the Russian Federation.

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 defending Constantinople against the invading Seljuq Turks.

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Such a request was nothing 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 the holy city of 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.

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.

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A Kurdish leader arose at this time to become Sultan, 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.

Saladin.jpgNo less a figure than Dante Alighieri counted Saladin a “virtuous pagan,” ranking among the likes 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 under the Ayyūbid dynasty.

A crusader army some 20,000 strong was caught out in the open in the desert heat of Summer, near a pair of extinct volcanoes called the “Horns of Hattin”.  Parched with thirst, exhausted and demoralized, Muslim armies under Saladin captured or killed the vast majority of these Crusader forces on July 4, 1187, putting an end to Christian military power in the Middle East and opening the way to the recapture of every Crusader state, save one. Jerusalem itself fell on October 2.

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

Within days of his election, Pope Henry VIII called for a third Crusade.  King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France were at war at this time, but that was set aside and the pair began preparations to reconquer the Holy Land.  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.

third-crusade-1189-91The 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.

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 betrothed to his half-sister, Alys.

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Richard “Lion-Heart”

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.

The fall of Acre that July 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 full view of his army.  Saladin retaliated by murdering every Christian captive under his control.

If the Crusaders were to retake the holy city of Jerusalem, they first had to take and hold the strategically important port city of Jaffa, some 75 distant.

Richard’s personal courage and skill as a commander was on full display on the march south.  Ever mindful of the disaster at Hattin, Richard understood the need for water and the danger of heat exhaustion. The 10,000 infantry and 1,200 heavy cavalry of the Crusader army moved only in the cool hours of the early morning, the crossbowmen of the infantry corps on the landward side, with the allied fleet to their right providing resupply and succor for the wounded.

The hit & run tactics of Muslim archers were near-constant, the rearguard of the Knights Hospitaller forced to walk backward, to engage the adversary.  Any spaces in the line were quickly filled by Arab horsemen, who finished the stragglers with sword or with mace.  The Kurdish historian and eyewitness Baha al-Din ibn Shaddad described heavily armored knights on the march to Jaffa, seemingly unhurt despite multiple arrows, sticking out of their backs. The power of the Christian crossbow was another matter, striking down Arab horses and riders, with ease

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Richard Coeur de Lion on his way to Jerusalem

Harassing attacks gave way to pitched battle this day in 1191 near the ancient fortified city of Arsuf, proving Richard’s personal courage and skill as a commander, while putting a dent in Saladin’s reputation as the invincible warrior King.

The Latin history of the third crusade Itinerarium Regis Ricardi “There the king, the fierce, the extraordinary king, cut down the Turks in every direction, and none could escape the force of his arm, for wherever he turned, brandishing his sword, he carved a wide path for himself: and as he advanced and gave repeated strokes with his sword, cutting them down like a reaper with his sickle, the rest, warned by the sight of the dying, gave him more ample space, for the corpses of the dead Turks which lay on the face of the earth extended over half a mile.”

Two times Crusader armies came within sight of Jerusalem, never suspecting that, within the city, “Saracen” morale was so low that the city could have been theirs for the taking. Meanwhile, factions within the Crusader armies fell to bickering, with half wanting to push on to Jerusalem, the other wanting to attack Saladin’s base of power, in Mamluk 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 (Angevin) 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 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 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 tribute or tax. Further, Christian traders were permitted the possession objects for sale throughout the land, thus permitting such traders right of free commerce.

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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.  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 amount to 25%, raising about 1.2 million ounces of silver, and forever answering any questions as to what might constitute a “King’s Ransom”.

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.

Magna-Carta-signing

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.

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.

 

June 9, AD721 Odo

The story is familiar.  Despite all odds, the Frankish force emerged victorious.  Charles “The Hammer” Martel had saved western civilization.  Forgotten in this narrative, is the story of the man who made it all possible.

In AD732, a Frankish military force led by Charles Martel, the illegitimate son of Pippin II of Herstal, met a vastly superior invading army of the Umayyad Caliphate, led by Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi.

The Umayyad Caliphate had recently defeated two of the most powerful militaries of the era.  The Sassanid empire in modern day Iran had been destroyed altogether, as was the greater part of the Byzantine Empire, including Armenia, North Africa and Syria.

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As the Caliphate grew in strength, European civilization faced a period of reduced trade, declining population and political disintegration, characterized by a constellation of new and small kingdoms, evolving and squabbling for suzerainty over the common people.

The “Banu Umayya”, the second of four major dynasties established following the death of Muhammad 100 years earlier, was already one of the largest, most powerful empires in history. Should it fail, no force stood behind the Frankish host, sufficient to prevent a united Islamic caliphate stretching from the Atlantic coast of Spain to the Indian sub-continent, from Sub-Saharan Africa to the North Sea.

 

Carolingian Empire Map

With no cavalry of his own, Charles faced a two-to-one disadvantage in the face of a combined Islamic force of infantry and horse soldiers.  History offers few instances of medieval armies withstanding the charge of cavalry, yet Charles had anticipated this moment. He had trained his men, they were ready.

The story is familiar.   Charles “The Hammer” Martel met the invader, at a spot between the villages of Tours, and Poitiers.  Despite all odds, the Frankish force emerged victorious, from the Battle of Tours (Poitiers). Western civilization, was saved.

Battle of Tours, 732

Forgotten in this narrative, is the story of the man who made it all possible.

Twenty years earlier, a combined force of 1,700 Arab and North African horsemen, the Berbers, landed on the Iberian Peninsula led by Tariq Ibn Ziyad.  Within ten years, the Emir of Córdoba ruled over most of what we now call Portugal and Spain, save for the fringes of the Pyrenean mountains, and the highlands along the northwest coastline.

In AD721, Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani, wali (governor) of Muslim Spain, built a strong army from the Umayyad territories of Al-Andalus, and invaded the semi-independent duchy of Aquitaine, a principality ostensibly part of the Frankish kingdom, but for all intents and purposes ruled as an independent territory.

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Duke Odo, I

Duke Odo of Aquitaine left his home in Toulouse in search of help, from the Frankish statesman and military leader, Charles Martel.  This was a time (718 – 732) of warring kingdoms and duchys, a consolidation of power in which Martel preferred not to step up on behalf of his southern rival, but to wait, and see what happened. Odo, Duke of Aquitaine, was on his own.

At this time, Toulouse was the largest and most important city in Aquitaine.  Believing Odo to have fled before their advance, the forces of al-Andalus laid siege to the city, secure in the belief that their only threat lay before them.  For three months, Odo gathered Aquitanian, Gascon and Frankish troops about him, as his city held on.

Overconfident, the besieging army had failed to fortify its outer perimeter, or to scout the surrounding countryside.  On June 9 with Toulouse on the verge of collapse, the armies of Duke Odo fell on the Muslim rear, as defenders poured from the city gates, an avenging army.    Sources report Duke Odo’s forces numbered some 300,000, though the number is almost certainly exaggerated.

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Caught at rest without weapons or amour, the surprise was complete.  Some 350,000 Umayyad troops are said to have been cut down as they fled, but again, the number is probably inflated.  Al-Samh himself was mortally wounded, and later died in Narbonne.

Be that as it may, the battle of Toulouse was an unmitigated disaster for the Arab side.  Some historians believe that this day in 721 did more to check the Muslim advance into western Europe, than did the later battle at Tours.  For 450 years,  Muslim chroniclers at Al-Andalus described the battle as Balat al Shuhada (‘the path of the martyrs’), while Tours was remembered as a relatively minor skirmish.

Ch-MartelOne of those to escape with his life, was a young Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi.  Eleven years later in 732, the now – governor of Al-Andalus would once again cross the Pyrenees, this time at the head of a massive army of his own.  Al Ghafiqi’s legions laid waste to Navarre and Gascony, first destroying Auch, and then Bordeaux.  Duke Odo “The Great” would be destroyed at the River Garonne and the table set for the all-important decision of Tours.

In history as in life, time and place is everything.  Today, Duke Odo of Aquitaine is all but forgotten. We remember Charles “The Hammer” Martel as the savior of western civilization, as well we should. Yet, we need not forget the man who made it possible, who gave Martel time to gather the strength, to forge the fighting force which gave life to such an unlikely outcome.

 

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.