Episode Detail

Script


  • Hello and Welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 86. Convergence.
  • So – we last stopped at the passing away of Pope Gabriel in 1045 AD
  • Which was right on the heels of the fall of Edessa in the East where we stopped two episodes ago
  • The only thing left to explore before moving on to a new chapter of our story where everything comes together – is the situation in Egypt between 1037 AD – when Ridwan took power – to 1049 AD when the Caliph died
  • Where – not only a wave of persecution took place as we discussed last week – but also a significant milestone in the history of the Fatimids
  • Ridwan - a Sunni was now ruling a Shia’ empire – a first in our long journey with the Fatimid
  • A momentous step that paved the way for Salah el din to eventually throw the whole dynasty in the dust pin of history
  • But more on that later on
  • For now – the noose on the Fatimid necks tightened – as not only Ridwan took power, but a powerful king of Sicily – Roger – landed in North Africa and started acquiring territory – that symbolically at least – belonged to the Fatimids
  • Further, Ridwan was not content with mere secular power – nope
  • He started taking steps to erode the Fatimid legitimacy as chosen rulers by God – building a Sunni Madrasa – a school in Alexandria and going as far as recruiting a group of highly regarded scholars to render a theological opinion to remove al Hafiz as Caliph
  • This – however - backfired – as the scholars were from different schools and sects and in essence, gave all kinds of esoteric answers that were no use to Ridwan and only made his long-term ambitions clear to the Caliph
  • Who – to protect himself from those plans, brought the only man who could be trusted to be loyal as a counter check to Ridwan growing power
  • That man was no other than Bahram – the Armenian!! Remember him? yea, he was still around
  • Apparently – once he went to the monastery – the Caliph went out of his way to make sure that he is not killed by Ridwan
  • Who – whether out of naivety or patience went through with it and let Bahram be – after all, as a monk with no army, he posed no danger
  • Well – now, two years later – in 1139. The Caliph sent for Bahram and lodged him in the palace. In the face of Ridwan
  • In response – Ridwan gathered his troops and surrounded the Palace. He tried finesse first to remove the Caliph when he brought the scholars but now – only a naked power grab was on the table
  • But here is the thing. Ridwan was really unpopular in Cairo. A cosmopolitan city where – the Sunni elements were the weakest
  • Also – this was in the height of a famine – and the mob – who initially supported Ridwan in his holy war against the infidels – were not too happy about the inability of their champion to feed them
  • So – the coup to depose the Caliph turned into a revolution that deposed Ridwan
  • As to be expected with these things – a perfectly timed religious announcement proclaiming the right of the Caliph to rule, coupled with hunger leading to anger from the mob, coupled with a small army unit defecting in the right time – sealed the deal
  • Ridwan had to flee the city – landing in Ashakalon. Weakened – but still, with a lot of support outside Cairo as well as a loyal following in the army
  • And so, after regrouping in Ashakalon and adding a few Turkish mercenaries to his army, he returned to Cairo – to finish the job he started
  • But, again he failed. The walls of Cairo plus whatever troops were loyal to Caliph managed to repulse him
  • Which meant, we were in an impasse – with famine and civil war spreading plenty of misery
  • Ridwan wasn’t strong enough to take Cairo and depose the Caliph – and the Caliph, well – he too didn’t have enough troops to completely get rid of Ridwan or propose a viable alternative
  • With Bahram, in the palace at this point as an honored guest– essentially refusing to get involved in anyway. Sticking to the line about being a monk and only offering prayers to the Caliph
  • He truly had lost all interests in the world – zero ambitions regarding accumulating power
  • And even if he wanted too, he wouldn’t have done much as he died peacefully shortly after arriving in 1040 AD still sticking to his monastic life and the path of least violence
  • Nonetheless, his legacy sort of lived on. As to manage the civil administration in Cairo, the Caliph appointed a Copt who Bahram had sponsored and mentored. A certain Abu Zakari
  • Not as vizier – to avoid the bad optics that gave rise to Ridwan in the first place – nope, just as the head of Diwans. Same job, different title.
  • And with him a North African general – who would be in charge of the army
  • Unfortunately, the imams and mob on the street saw through the unusual arrangement – and after a very rocky and difficult 5 years. Ibn Zakari was executed in 1145 AD in a trumped up charges
  • As for Ridwan – well – he eventually came to an arrangement with the Caliph. To basically, live in the Palace as king – to do what he wished. So long as, he stayed away from the government and inside the palace
  • A glorified house arrest if you will
  • But even then, he was just biding his time. by 1148 AD – he arranged for a tunnel to be dug under the palace to free him
  • As soon as he get out – he rebelled again, plunging the country into civil war for the 3rd time – just in the last 10 years
  • This time – he managed to make it all the way inside Cairo and surround the palace itself
  • But ultimately failed again – getting assassinated by a unit of his soldiers who switched side after the Caliph bribed them
  • It was last act of al Hafiz reign – dying less than a year later after a very turbulent reign that all but ensured the death of the Fatimids
  • Now – it was only a matter of when and who will do it
  • and just to close the loop inside the Coptic church – when Gabriel died, people were kind of tired of all the reforms and changes
  • An elderly monk named Michael was picked who couldn’t even read or write – who struggled even praying the liturgy
  • He lasted less than a year dying in 1146 AD
  • In his short reign, a lot of the reforms that Gabriel took were reversed. Simony being the most significant – as well as a few problematic traditions like dipping the body of the saints into the Nile so it floods
  • The reform and counter-reforms made his 8 month reign very turbulent – and he may or may not have been poisoned
  • As his biographer put it – who happened to be a future Patriarch himself – quote
  • “the monks from the cell of Kadran administered to him poison until it became the cause of his death, and God knows if it was, as was said, concerning them or not; and He recompenses every one according to his deeds”
  • For context – Kadran was another monk who was a contender for the office before Michael was ordained and was pushed out of process for his ambitious scheming to get the office
  • Anyway, poisoned or not – the point is, like I said in the last episode- Gabriel despite all of his struggles didn’t move the needle much given all the systemic problems that Coptic Church had going on
  • And whatever small changes he managed to get through – Michael reversed them pretty quickly
  • And that’s where we would leave the Patriarchy for now – as the next Patriarch would be deeply in the middle of the politics of what is to come – I.E– the second and third Crusades and the rise of Salah el din
  • There we lost stopped when Edessa fell to Suljuks under the warlord Zangi in 1145
  • Which kicked a major recruitment campaign in Europe – culminating in 1147 AD with the Emperor of Germany – Conrad, and the French King Louis VII – massing a 60,000 + army to come to the holy lands
  • But the question was – come to do exactly what?
  • Unlike the first Crusade – where the goal was clear to everybody – take Jerusalem
  • The second Crusader goal was more of a general kick the infidel Muslims around
  • Which – doesn’t really translate easily to battle field strategy or a plan
  • For some – like English sailors coming along – kicking infidels butt meant jumping in a local fight in Lisbon in modern Portugal assisting the Christians there against the Muslims occupants of the city – I.E far away and has nothing to do with Jerusalem
  • For a few, it meant taking Edessa back
  • And for another few, it meant kicking the Suljuks out of Anatolia on behalf of the Byzantines
  • But really – for most, they just wanted to avenge the massacre of Edessa – it didn’t matter where and how
  • So this was problem number one
  • Problem number 2 – was with the direct involvement of kings and emperors - usually with big egos, the ship had waaay too many captains
  • Even if King Louis and Emperor Conrad agreed to see themselves equally – It was doubtful that they would treat the lowly prince of Antioch or the king of Jerusalem on an equal basis – Not to mention, the Byzantine emperor considered all of these guys as filthy barbarians who needed to supplicate themselves before him
  • This was no time for calculation and scenario planning – nope – it was time to take the cross
  • And so, in mid 1147 – the armies of Conrad and Louis started their overland journey toward Constantinople – following on the steps of the first Crusade
  • Separately – as to not overtax the farmers on the way
  • Unfortunately, unlike the First Crusades which was kicked into motion by Alexios – the byzantine emperor
  • The Second crusades was absolutely dreaded by Emperor Manuel – the current occupant of the palace in Constantinople and the grand-son of Alexios
  • Looking at Antioch – a former Byzantine territory – but now a Crusader state. He understood the threat that these armies presented
  • At best, they would replace the Suljuks as new hostile neighbors
  • At worst, they would take Constantinople itself of they could
  • And so, he wasn’t very helpful
  • Locked in a long running war against the Suljuks – Manuel, when he heard about the Crusaders arranged a truce with the Turks – to make as many troops as possible available to deal with the Crusaders if need be
  • Which almost happened. As during the journey, itself – the Byzantines and the Germans skirmished several times – coming very closely to a full blown war
  • And the French – well – standing on the walls of Constantinople – one of their bishops gave a fiery sermons inciting the soldiers to attack the city and take it
  • Before King Louis intervened and put an end to the affair
  • the point is – the Byzantines were not helpful at all and if you believe some of the sources – were even plotting with the Turks against the Crusaders. Although, this is likely not true
  • To make matters worse – the Germans and the French, marching separately as mentioned before were not so big on communication
  • So – when the Germans crossed the bosphorus first – rather than wait for the French, Conrad just decided that he can do it on his own and went to conquer the capital of the Suljuks in Anatolia
  • A very naïve mistake as the Suljuks were fully prepared for the Crusaders this time – and through their march, constantly harassed them with hit and run attacks
  • And whenever the Germans line up for the heavy charge – well – the Suljuks would feign a long retreat until the charge line is broken – and then attack
  • There wasn’t a single decisive battles, but Conrad’s army was losing more men every day- and he himself was wounded
  • And so – he gave up and retreated to Greek territories to wait for the French
  • When the French showed – The combined armies tried again
  • But for the second times, the Suljuks kept harassing the armies – never allowing themselves to be locked in battle
  • The combined armies did okay initially – but in early January 1148 while crossing a mountain in Anatolia – in the middle of a harsh winter – mind you –
  • they were caught in a trap and the Suljuks inflicted heavy losses – almost capturing Louis himself
  • And so, recovering from that raid – the Second Crusade had to pivot to try a different approach
  • They gave up on defeating the Suljuks in Anatolia
  • Now - they could either call it a day and go back to Europe
  • Or find a way to sail to the holy lands and fight someone else there, declare victory and go home as heroes
  • The latter option was chosen – but naturally, the whole army couldn’t take ships as it was too expensive and their wouldn’t be even enough ships available for everybody at this point
  • And so – only a tiny group from the original army made it to the holy lands by ship
  • The rest, were instructed to try and make it by land – where they died either by being picked one by one by the Turks or simply from exposure and starvation
  • Eventually though, the king and those who were important/rich enough to take ships made it
  • Louis arriving in Antioch in March 1148 and Conrad making it to Acre later on
  • At this point – most of the Germans had either died in Anatolia or abandoned the campaign and returned home rather than go with Conrad by ships
  • So, it was mostly a French operation with symbolic German participation
  • In Antioch – Louis arrived to somewhat awkward situation
  • The count of Antioch was his wife uncle and was naturally concerned about expanding his own territory, maybe even get back Edessa
  • But Louis – kind of had enough of fighting and didn’t want to take part in any real battles
  • He just wanted to go to Jerusalem – maybe raid a defenseless city or something on the way and call it a day
  • Especially as Zangi – the stated enemy of the 2nd Crusade have been assassinated a year earlier
  • His domains were now split – His older son, got Mosul
  • While the younger – Nur El Din – get Aleppo and the Syrian territory
  • The Antiochan wanted to attack Aleppo and Nur El Din before he is able to consolidate his power
  • King Louis – wanted no part of Aleppo or Nur El Din
  • Not to mention – he had unwisely brought his wife to the campaign – Eleanor of Aquitane – future mother to Richard the Lionheart and a couple of other kings
  • At this point though, she was a 20 something queen with a mind of her own – and she refused to leave Antioch – supporting her uncle over her husband
  • Which was spilled into a rumor of an affair between them and caused all kind of headache for the French king – arresting and then eventually divorcing Eleanor when they made it back to Europe
  • The point is – Nur El Din was left alone and Edessa were abandoned to its fate
  • Which included a second massacre for those who survived the first one – following a half-hearted Crusader raid unrelated to the second Crusade.
  • Finally though, after this long and convoluted journey
  • In June 1148. Conrad, Louise and most of the nobility of the Jerusalem were able to meet in the same place - close to Jerusalem
  • There – a council was assembled to decide which place they should attack before declaring victory and going home
  • It wasn’t the lost Edessa, or the strategically located Ashakalon
  • Or capital of Nur al Din – Aleppo
  • Nope – out of all the possible targets. The Crusaders have picked Damascus
  • Who – if you have forgotten – have paid the Crusaders a few years earlier to defend them from Zangi’s – and were on and off a client state
  • Why Damascus?
  • Well – it was simply the easiest and closest target. At least on paper.
  • Some historians take the view that somehow – a game of 3d chess was being played here – where by attacking the weakest link in the Muslims states surrounding the Jerusalem – the Crusaders were actually preventing a future unification
  • But I don’t know really know if that level was analysis was performed from the same folks who brought a 60,000 + army across 2000 thousand mile of land with no stated military target let alone a plan
  • If you ask me – Damascus was chosen because it was the most convenient and was perceived as easy target
  • It didn’t have an imposing impregnable castle as Aleppo did
  • Nor it was a coastal city – able to endure a lengthy siege like Ashakalon
  • And so – the combined army of Jerusalem plus the Europeans arrivals went to conquer Damascus in June/July 1148
  • As holy wars go, it was neither convenient or easy – and The Damascus populace put up a very stiff resistance – fearing the fate of the populace of Jerusalem
  • Further – the ruler of Damascus, played the tensions among the crusaders like a fiddle – sending a letter to the king of Jerusalem warning him that – it wouldn’t be him that will rule Damascus when it falls, rather, it would be one of the lords from Europe
  • As well as – spreading rumors that Nur el Din is coming from Damascus with a huge army among the Crusaders
  • Eventually – covered with confusion and fear as one European source put it. The second crusaders retreated having achieved nothing but push Damascus toward Nur el Din and Aleppo and paving the way for a unified Syrian state
  • Not to mention – sealing the fate of Edessa as part of the domain of Nur el Din
  • It took 5 years and some diplomatic effort on Nur El din part, but he finally took Damascus on 1154
  • The axis of Edessa – Aleppo – Damascus was the nucleus of a large and a powerful unified Syrian state that could challenge the existence of Crusades altogether
  • Not to mention –shortly after the failed siege of Damascus. Nur el Din used the demoralizing defeat to attack Antioch – hoping to capture a small strategic town – a very modest goal
  • Not only he was successful in taking the town, but ended up trapping the Aniochean army and killing the city ruler – in a battle where a Kurdish general named Shirkuh – the brother of Shadi Al Ayobi –first brought to prominence under Zengi played a prominent role
  • Nur el din – never truly pursued Antioch itself – rather, preferring a more indirect subjection with a humiliating treaty and a tribute
  • As this victory was before acquiring Damascus and he had always operated with a healthy respect for the Byzantines and preferred leaving Antioch as buffer between their domains
  • But after 1154, with Syria unified – it was time to – as one of his court poets put it – “bath in the waters of the Mediterranean”
  • It would take a little bit of a time though – with both Egypt and the Crusaders weakened and threatened by the emerging Syrian state
  • Maybe they can come an agreement
  • Maybe – an unthinkable alliance between Shia’ Cairo and Christian Jerusalem can stop the ambition of Nur el Din
  • Or maybe – to take Jerusalem – Nur el din would realize that he must first take Cairo
  • Thank you for listening, farewell and until next time!

References


  • The History of the Patriarchs by" multiple
  • The Coptic Papacy in Islamic Egypt, 641–1517: The Popes of Egypt by" Mark Swanson
  • The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by" Thomas Asbridge
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