Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Story from the Crusades

Apparently, some people are very upset that President Obama suggested that some Christians did bad things during the Crusades. Where does he get off saying something like that? Let me tell you a little story from the Third Crusade.

in 1191, King Richard the Lionhearted (or rather, Richard Coeur de Lion, Roi de l'Angleterre; Richard didn't speak any English) was besieging the city of Acre. The siege had been going on since before Richard had arrived in the Holy Land, and capturing Acre would be his most important victory during the Crusade. And eventually the defenders of Acre offered to surrender. 

Richard accepted their surrender and promised to spare their lives. He gave them his promise as a king that they would be spared.

And then, naturally, Richard began negotiating a ransom deal with the Muslim Sultan, Saladin (Salah ad-Din). They made a deal that Richard would turn over his 2700 Muslim prisoners in exchange for 1500 Christian prisoners, a ransom payment in cash, and a piece of the True Cross (an object everyone involved considered a fragment of the actual cross on which Jesus had been crucified). Richard set a one-month deadline for payment. So far, so good.

When the deadline rolled around, however, Saladin was caught short and didn't have the full ransom together. When Richard and Saladin tried to work out an alternate payment plan, things got testy. Richard's idea, for what it's worth, was that Saladin hand over the money and captives he had, Richard hold onto all the Muslim prisoners, and Saladin take Richard's promise as a king that Richard would turn the hostages loose when he got the final payment. Richard figured his promise as a king should be good enough. Actually, the implication that it wasn't was fairly insulting.

Then, with negotiations stalled, Richard got angry about waiting. So he took out all 2700 prisoners and had them killed.

He did it on a hilltop outside Acre where Saladin and his army could see the executions happening. That would teach them. The fairly small Muslim army on the scene tried to rescue the prisoners, but the larger Christian army held them at bay until all the hostages were dead.

A few follow-up questions: hadn't Richard given those prisoners his promise that he would spare their lives? Why yes. Yes, he did.

And wasn't the original plan part of a prisoner exchange? What about the 1500 Christian prisoners that were supposed to be swapped for the 2700 Muslims who got killed?

I think you know what happened. Those 1500 people got executed as a reprisal. Saladin didn't really have a choice. His troops had been made to watch their fellow-Muslims executed in cold blood, and after that they weren't ready to deal with Richard, or any of the other Crusaders, at all. The whole war got bloodier and more ruthless.Once you kill your prisoners, the new rule of war becomes No prisoners.

Is there an upside to this story? Why yes. The good news is that in the Fourth Crusade, Christians did not commit any atrocities like this against Muslims.

You see, the Fourth Crusade never got to the Near East at all. It only got as far as Constantinople, the capital of Orthodox Christianity, which the Crusaders promptly sacked. Then they went back to Western Europe. The Fourth Crusade didn't do anything despicable to Muslims because the Crusaders decided to do despicable things to other Christians instead. Happy ending, right? Deus vult and all that.

This has been a brief message from History Everyone Has Known for a Long Time. Thanks.

cross-posted from Dagblog

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