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History Channel: The Crusades.
In recorded human history, no other man made invention has proved itself a more effective adhesive to bind together in unity colossal number of unrelated people than has the invention of religion, that if a comparison be drawn between humanity’s milestone achievements, it may yet win with a landslide of votes even in these modern times where it’s once domineering presence now serves the purpose of revealing a people’s cultural roots or one’s personal spiritual beliefs.
Argued by science to have sprouted from a natural inclination for worship, hardwired in the human psyche since the time of the prehistoric cavemen who dwelled in the paleolithic period some 5,00,000 years ago and left behind traces of ritualistic burial practices. Religion as we know it in its more recognizable forms gradually came to be after millennia of evolution. Changing, molding and transforming in thought, form and structure as the early human grass root societies that embraced it, themselves transformed at different stages of world history. A process that seems to have accelerated in refinements only in the last 200 years, and now continues with subtlety as we move towards the unseen future.
Perhaps, this may be the reason why, this intangible and abstract idea, whose power can be felt not seen unless in the intense fervor of its believer, nor touched or heard unless in the sound of a bell, the clash of cymbals or the words of a prophet, has often been judged to be a mirror of mankind’s progress. Not just when it comes to realizing the enormous developments that has taken place in humanity’s complex thinking as the centuries have elapsed, but also its journey.
Which begun from a nodal stage of hunting gathering nomadic bands fearful and curious of natural phenomenons. Coursed through tribes with bizarre rituals. Harboured for a while with civilizations where human sacrifices, particularly of infants, were shockingly an accepted part of life, before finally touching the shores of the modern world populated by people, far less superstitious and far more tolerant of other creeds than their ancestors ever had been with currently some 765 million of us today, putting our faith in either one or in some cases all 20 of the largest orders out of an aggregate sum that spills over 4,000 – existing peacefully or under an uneasy truce brought about by the supervision of the law.
Yet while religion in its purest form has been deemed a beneficial endorsement by scholars and historians during mankind’s early stages for the mentoring role it played. Endowing our ancestors with laws, moral codes and above all laying out a path fenced with rules to clearly differentiate between what was accepted and what wasn’t for a society of people to coexist in unity, in almost all cultures that cropped up around the world, and thus bring about a semblance of order out of the chaos that prevailed back then. It has also proved instrumental in revealing humanity’s darker side evident across the span of time, in suppression of independent beliefs, manipulated communal clashes, instigated religious wars, bouts of ethnic cleansing and recurring outbreaks of genocide, as one race of men used religion as a pretext to wipe out all traces of the other.
In the medieval era, this happened to be the Crusades: A religious war sanctioned by the Catholic church that led to the collision of the present day world’s two most dynamic faiths, Christianity and Islam – and a holy war that continues to be debated by modern day critics for its controversial nature.
First coined in the 12th century by French scribes describing a holy Christian warrior wearing the symbol of the cross as one does a badge (a rough strip of cloth styled in the fashion of a crucifix), well after the event had gained momentum roughly a hundred year earlier, the Crusades at its most elementary form was nothing more than an extension of the conflicts that had waged between the western and eastern powers from the time of Darius invasion of Greece in 492 B.C, followed by Alexander’s short but vicious conquest spree, then raged for almost four centuries as the Roman legions had battled the armored cataphracts of the Parthian and Sassanian empires in the eastern amphitheater of Mesopotamia in a ding dong series of contests with neither able to hold on to their conquests for long – and possibly would have ultimately occurred, had there been no religion at all, except in not an extensive a scale as history recalls.
What in essence made the crusades a world event was not its violent nature, for atrocities it left behind in its wake, had continuously erupted in one form or the other, way before its time, as civilizations had clashed, but the massive success it achieved in mobilizing not one but several nations to fight under the banner of a single religion. A movement, largely made possible by the Roman Empire which in the later half of its existence had promoted and turned Christianity into a state religion throughout its vast length and breadth, particularly in Europe. Just as the Arab expansion in the middle east had turned Islam into a dominant religion on the other side of the Mediterranean. Absorbing the nomadic Turks originating from Central Asia, as military commanders and soldiers, who at the onset, replacing the Parthians and Sassanians as Rome’s greatest foes, would be found hammering at the doors of what after the fall of Rome had survived in the east for a thousand years as Byzantine.
In 1095 A.D. as this Turkish threat posed a serious problem for the Byzantine emperor, Alexios Komnenos, an appeal had been send from the Byzantine court to the head of the medieval Catholic church, Pope Urban II, requesting the lease of a small contingent of armored knights to aid in offsetting the tide of war or perhaps to buy valuable time to build up Byzantine forces to counter and reclaim back the territories the empire had lost after its defeat in the battle of Manzikert in 1071, a critical juncture in the war, that had made the Turks masters of Anatolia (present day Turkey), and brought them within striking distance of Byzantine’s capital city, Constantinople.
Urban II, an ecclesiastic dedicated to upholding the values of the Catholic institution and expanding its sphere, as was the common and accepted zeal of priests and heads of all religious orders in those days, was born in an Europe, that after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D., had declined into an abyss of turmoil in the following six hundred and twenty odd years, as the coalition of Germanic tribes the empire had once bled to stall at its borders, carved up large portions of its former territories into independent realms which by 1095 A.D., had grown, united as a regional empires, and again disintegrated into warring factions, leaving Christianity itself splintered with an Eastern orthodox Church presiding over affairs in the east and the Catholic institution overseeing the west – which in turn unable to resist the interference of powerful kings had found itself divided in political leadership with a pope and antipope vying for control.
For Urban II, Alexios appeal, though highly disputed, is generally believed to have presented the greater opportunity of uniting the two divided branches of Christianity and possibly the warring factions by directing their animosity towards a common enemy, in this case the Turks in Anatolia and the Moors in Sicily and Spain, already engaged in a war with Spain’s Christian rulers – and as surmised by a circle of historians, as a byproduct reducing interference in church policies and becoming the undisputed head of Christianity.
An opportunity that in 1095 A.D., at a gathering of people and clergy in present day Clermont Ferrand, France, Urban II was to definitely use for rallying kings, nobles and commoners to take up arms as pilgrims for claiming back the holy land of Jerusalem, a city sacred for Christianity, Islam and Judaism – drawing in their sympathies and participation with tales of persecuted Christians in the east and the promise of heaven.
CLIP FROM THE CRESCENT AND THE CROSS BY STUART ELLIOT AND MARK LEWIS.
Created by Stuart Elliott and Mark Lewis, a multiple award winning writer and director of factual drama and documentaries, The Crescent and the Cross is an Emmy award winning visual narrative that offers an academic look into the first 200 years of the holy war that stretched from the end of the 10th century to almost the 16th century. Witnessing the participation of the medieval kingdoms of England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy and the Byzantine Empire pitting their forces against the Seljuk Empire of the Turks and later the Saracens for control of the holy city of Jerusalem (modern day Israel).
Delicately balancing the views of modern day scholars with stunningly recreated settings of the age, the two part documentary strives to present the Crusades as seen and experienced by both Christians and Muslims of the period. Revealing the fervor, despair, sufferings and the inner most feelings of the combatants. The truth behind the legendary battles of Hattin and Dorylaeum. The siege of Acre, Antioch and Jerusalem. Of the man made miracles that inspired armies to victory. Of starvation that forced cannibalism, and the brutal nature of the conflict that over a span of time saw the massacre of innocent men and women, Jews, Muslims and eastern Christians – including the involvement of noted historical characters such as the holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa, Godfrey of Bouillon, Philip I, Richard the Lionheart, and the Saracen king Saladin who was to ultimately reclaim back Jerusalem from Christian hands, rallying the east to counter the Crusades.
Although in the end, for Europe, the Crusades plagued from the start with internal politics that sprouted between nobles, kings and the Byzantine empire failed to achieve its primary objective of either uniting the two branches of Christianity as Urban II had hoped for, or winning back the empire’s former territories as most of it after conquest was to become independent Christian states for short durations (and far from it resulted in the sack and conquest of Constantinople itself leading to the formation of the Latin Empire), the armed adventure proved instrumental in bringing western Europe back in contact with the east, open up avenues of possibilities and trade, sow in the seeds of later romantic medieval literature inspiring the notions of chivalry and gallantry, and ultimately gave her a first hand experience in colonization, which she was to use later in expanding her reach across the known world.
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