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«The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh published by Dumbarton Oaks ...»

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This is an extract from:

The Crusades from the Perspective

of Byzantium and the Muslim World

edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh

published by

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection

Washington, D.C.

© 2001 Dumbarton Oaks

Trustees for Harvard University

Washington, D.C.

Printed in the United States of America


Defenders of the Christian People:

Holy War in Byzantium George T. Dennis For most civilized people the term holy war is a contradiction in terms. What religious motive could possibly transform the widespread destruction and the slaughter of thousands of human beings into a holy and meritorious act? But, as we know, religion has all too often served as a pretext for violence. Before going any further, however, we should agree upon a definition of holy war. Three criteria, I think, are essential. A holy war has to be declared by a competent religious authority, the obvious examples being a Christian pope or a Muslim caliph. The objective must be religious; again, two obvious examples are the protection or recovery of sacred shrines or the forced conversion or subjection of others to your religion. There could, of course, be other goals. Finally, those who participate in the holy war are to be promised a spiritual reward, such as remission of their sins or assurance of a place in paradise.1 In the world around the Mediterranean, two forms of holy war did emerge. First, the Muslim jihad. Much has been written about this, and I wish only to point out its salient ¯ features.2 Jihad is a religious duty for the Muslim community to propagate Islam, em¯ ploying coercion of various sorts as needed, until the whole world professes Islam or is subject to its laws. At times, especially when the caliph, or other religious authority, proclaims it, this obligation takes the form of armed conflict. Those who die in the struggle are acclaimed as martyrs and are believed to go straight to paradise. The doctrine of jihad may be traced to the earliest days of Islam, although maybe not directly to Mu¯ hammad himself. The jihad did not become one of the five “pillars” of Islam, but it was ¯ kept alive by preaching and the attractiveness of the ideal of martyrdom and paradise and the more tangible rewards of booty and plunder. In essence, it was aggressive and bent on conquest. Of course, not every war waged by Muslim powers, including those against ´

See M. Canard, “La guerre sainte dans le monde islamique et dans le monde chretien,” RAfr 79 (1936):

605–23, repr. in Byzance et les musulmans du Proche Orient (London, 1973), no. ; V. Laurent, “L’idee de ´ guerre sainte et la tradition byzantine,” RHSEE 23(1946): 71–98; N. Oikonomides, “The Concept of ‘Holy War’ and Two Tenth-Century Byzantine Ivories,” in Peace and War in Byzantium: Essays in Honor of George T.

Dennis, S.J., ed. T. Miller and J. Nesbitt (Washington, D.C., 1995), 62–86; T. P. Murphy, ed., The Holy War (Columbus, Ohio, 1976).

See Canard, “Guerre sainte”; E. Tyan, “Djihad,” EI 2 (Leiden, 1961), 2:551b–553a; J. Kelsay and J. T. John¯ son, Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions (New York, 1991).

[ 32 ] Defenders of the Christian People nonbelievers, was a holy war. Many were simply tribal, ethnic, or even national conflicts whose roots often went back to pre-Islamic times.

In Western Europe the idea of a holy war developed later and for different reasons.

So much has been written about this that there is no need to enter into detail.3 First, we must remember that what we call a crusade was, especially during the first century or so, a pilgrimage, and those who took part in it were pilgrims; it was a holy journey (iter, passagium), not a holy war. It was regarded primarily as defensive, that is, armed escorts were to protect pilgrims on their way to the sacred shrines of Christendom and were to recover or defend the holy sites in Palestine. This defensive character differentiated it from jihad, as did the fact that it did not advocate the forceful imposition of Christianity ¯ upon others. In subsequent centuries, admittedly, and for some participants it did take on a more belligerent character. One need only recall the so-called Albigensian crusades or the one that sacked Constantinople in 1204. Still, the notion of using force to convert the infidel was, with few exceptions, foreign to Christianity, East and West. But the Crusades were proclaimed by the highest religious authority in the West, the pope; they were directed toward a religious end, the protection of fellow Christians in the East and the recovery and defense of the holy places; and those who took part were promised religious rewards, particularly the remission of sin.

For the Byzantines, it must be said at the outset, both ideas and forms of holy war— jihad and crusade—were abhorrent.4 They absolutely rejected both. First, the jihad. They ¯ ¯ did not understand it. What motivated the armies of Islam, as the Byzantines saw it, was the hope of booty and a barbaric love of fighting. According to Leo VI, “The Saracens do not campaign out of a sense of military service and discipline, but rather out of a love of gain and license or, more exactly, in order to plunder on behalf of their faith.” 5 Leo dismisses them as “barbarians and infidels” concerned only with plunder.6 Immense multitudes of them come from Syria and Palestine, “oblivious to the dangers of war, intent only on looting.” 7 Byzantine authors, from the seventh to the fourteenth century, See J. Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (London, 1993), and, in general, S. Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1951–54); K. M. Setton, A History of the Crusades, 2d ed., 6 vols. (Madison, Wisc., 1969–89); A. S. Atiya, The Crusade: Historiography and Bibliography (Bloomington, 1962);

H. E. Mayer, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Kreuzzuge (Hannover, 1960); this comprises 5,362 titles, and the ¨ number of works on the Crusades has surely doubled since then. For continuing study of the Crusades, consult the annual Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East: Bulletin (1981–97).

´ Canard, “Guerre sainte”; Laurent, “L’idee de guerre sainte”; A. Laiou, “On Just War in Byzantium,” in To Hellenikon: Studies in Honor of Speros Vryonis Jr., ed. S. Reinert et al. (New Rochelle, N.Y., 1993), 1:156–77;

` `` G. Dagron, “Byzance et le modele islamique au Xe siecle a propos des ‘Constitutions tactiques’ de l’empereur ´ Leon VI,” CRAI (Paris, 1983): 219–43.

Byzantine rhetoric about holy war, though, has led some modern scholars to refer to the luckless campaign of Manuel I against the Turks in 1176 as a sort of crusade: R.-J. Lilie, Byzantium and the Crusader States, 1096– 1204, trans. J. C. Morris and J. E. Ridings (Oxford, 1993), 211–14; P. Magdalino, The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143–1180 (Cambridge, 1993), 95–98.

´ Leonis VI Tacticae constitutiones 18.24, PG 107:952 (hereafter Taktika). Book 18 is also edited by R. Vari, ´ ´ ´ “Bolcs Leo Hadi Taktikajanak XVIII Fejezete,” in G. Pauler and S. Szilagyi, A Magyar Honfoglalas Kutfoi (Buda¨ ¨ pest, 1900), 11–89.

Taktika 18.128; PG 107:976.

Taktika 18.132; PG 107:977.

George T. Dennis [ 33 ] repeat these accusations, as they profess their utter repugnance for the doctrine of jihad.

¯ In their polemics against Islam they vehemently criticize the jihad as little more than a ¯ license for unjustified murder and a pretext for pillaging.8 And, while the Byzantines, when the opportunity arose, may have indulged in their share of massacre and looting, they did not excuse it in the name of religion.

As far as the Crusades are concerned, it suffices to listen to Anna Komnene, who abhorred both the movement and many of its participants.9 Still, some Byzantines welcomed the Westerners at first. They were, after all, fellow Christians, although perhaps somewhat careless in their teachings and practices. Emperor Alexios treated them in a civil, almost cordial manner, although he was always nervous about what they might do, and he provided them with military assistance through Asia Minor. But, in general, the Byzantines never seemed to understand why all those Western knights and their followers were marching through their land. Restoring Jerusalem to Christian rule was perhaps a laudable objective, but was it worth such an immense effort, fraught with so many perils and uncertainties and carried out with such brutality? Constantinople, after all, was the New Jerusalem, the true holy city. The Byzantines, always practical, were far more interested in possessing Antioch because of its important strategic position than in holding Jerusalem with all its sentimental value. Pilgrimage they understood and warfare they understood, but the conjoining of the two they did not understand. They would have been utterly appalled at the preaching of St. Bernard and his call for the extermination of the infidel (delenda penitus), as well as his assertion that killing an enemy of Christ was not homicide, but malecide.10 And what would they have thought of the rule he drew up for the Templars, monks who wielded lethal weapons in battle?11 The Byzantines soon came to believe that the warriors from the West had nothing less in mind than the conquest of the empire, and the events of 1204 proved they were right. Ultimately, they came to hate the Latins as much or even more than the Muslims. If the Latins ever referred to their eastern expeditions as “holy war,” that term, it is clear, would not have been appreciated by the Byzantines.

Now, to the main point. I have already indicated that the Byzantines did not have any concept of a true holy war, although this will be qualified below. Byzantine writers did use the term holy war (hieros polemos), but only in reference to one of the three “sacred wars” waged over the possession of the oracle of Apollo at Delphi; these occurred in 590, 449, 355–347, all .. Most Byzantine references, such as the Souda (I.191), allude ´ A. T. Khoury, Polemique byzantine contre l’Islam, VIII–XIII s. (Leiden, 1972), 243–59; W. Eichner, “Die Nachrichten uber den Islam bei den Byzantinern,” Der Islam 2 (1936): 131–62, 197–244.

¨ ` Anne Comnene, Alexiade, ed. and trans. B. Leib, 3 vols. (Paris, 1937–43), book 10, 5–11: vol. 2:205–36.

De laude novae militiae, in S. Bernardi opera, vol. 3, ed. J. Leclercq and H. M. Rochais (Rome, 1963), 204– 39, esp. chap. 3, p. 217; epistola 457, opera, vol. 8 (Rome, 1977), p. 433; et al.

See De laude, passim; Alexiade 10.8.8; vol. 2:218. Constantine Stilbes strongly criticized the Latin clergy for engaging in combat and killing the enemy, including other Christians, and for teaching that those who died ` ´ ` in war went directly to heaven: J. Darrouzes, “Le memoire de Constantin Stilbes contre les Latins,” REB 21 (1963): 50–100, esp. 69–77. In 1250 Emperor John Vatatzes told Frederick II that it was scandalous for priests to carry weapons and fight in battle: F. Miklosich and J. Muller, Acta et Diplomata graeca medii aevi sacra et profana, ¨ 6 vols. (Vienna, 1860–90), 3:72–73, no. 18.

[ 34 ] Defenders of the Christian People to the second one, apparently following Thucydides (1.112) and Aristophanes (Aves 556). The term holy war is used, as far as I can determine, by ancient and Byzantine writers only in connection with those wars.

In one sense, however, all Byzantine wars were holy because the emperor was holy, and it was by his authority and sometimes under his leadership that wars were waged.

They were declared by the emperor and fought on behalf of the empire. They were imperial wars, fully in the Roman tradition. Their essential character did not change because the legions now entered battle under the sign of the cross. Their prayers for God’s blessing and other religious practices did not make their wars specifically holy or religious, as has sometimes been maintained.12 From time immemorial, religion has played a role in warfare. One people offers sacrice to its gods before going into battle and, upon emerging victorious, will topple the statues of the other people’s gods and set up its own. Are these religious wars, or are they simply tribal conflicts motivated by revenge, plunder, or the acquisition of land or slaves?

The invocation of deities is basically an additional means of assuring victory, of enlisting the aid of powerful allies and shifting the balance in your favor. Consider the Trojan War. Not only were gods and goddesses called upon with prayer and sacrifice, but they participated directly in the fighting. Yet nobody calls the Trojan War a holy war. Consider, too, those conflicts that have often been cited as precedents and inspirational models for Christian holy wars, I mean those waged by the people of Israel, as related in the books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, and elsewhere. Do they really qualify as religious wars?

Were they not primarily armed conflicts between seminomadic tribes struggling to acquire land? Their god may grant them victory or deny it, but, in the final analysis, the fundamental motivation and objective of most of those wars were not primarily religious, those of the Maccabees perhaps being an exception. How many wars, then, waged later by Christians and Muslims were truly religious wars, not to mention holy wars? Were they not, to a large extent, tribal or feudal conflicts with a lot of religious trappings?

In trying to categorize a conflict as religious or holy, we might ask: Are they fighting this war primarily for religious reasons? If little or no religious motivation were present, would they still be fighting? The Crusaders provide a good example. Nobody in his right mind, even in the Middle Ages, would leave the comforts of home, pack up all his belongings, and march off for two thousand kilometers, endure incredible hardships, and face the very real threat of death unless he were religiously motivated. While there were some, like Bohemond, who may have had less lofty motives, the majority of the Crusaders gained no strategic, economic, or political advantage, especially during the first hundred years. They marched off to the East for what they regarded as a religious act, if not a duty. For them, this was surely a holy war.

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