Episode Detail

Script


  • Hello and Welcome to the history of the Copts. Episode 84. True Crime.
  • First a correction - last time I slipped when I said Salah al Din would come 250 years later - my math was way off. I don’t know what numbers I was looking at. He would enter Egypt in 1171 - only 50 years or so when we last stopped - not 250 yeas!
  • And speaking where we last stopped - we briefly went over the various crisises that the regional powers had to endure post the field of blood where the crusader army of Antioch was destroyed in 1119 -
  • We had the Crusaders - significantly handicapped by the lack of manpower
  • The Suljuks and their troubles in the kingdom of Georgia
  • And Fatimid Egypt - where, the stable regime that Badr Al Jamali build was about to collapse
  • You see, in the last day of Ramadan 1121 - as part of the festivities of the month - Al Afdal and the Caliph - Al Amir were scheduled to meet to arrange for the logistics of a parade
  • By this point - Al Amir, appointed at the age of 5 by Al Afdal was a grown man - in his mid 20’s
  • But still - as far as anyone could notice, he was completely dominated by the vizier who did the sensible step of marrying his own daughter to the Caliph - essentially, becoming part of the family - his father in law
  • And also kept him in the loop and ran trivial things like parades and ceremonies by him as a diplomatic niceties
  • Al Afdal at this point, was at the tail end of a 20+ years as the ruler of Egypt
  • He had already endured several assassination attempts against him by the order of Assassins or ambitious men seeking his position. Where they ultimately failed but were coming closer every time
  • And despite the repeated military losses against the Crusades - internally he kept a firm hand with the economy humming along and the army in check
  • Although, one obvious weakness in the regime was succession
  • Like his father, Al Afdal relationship with his oldest son and presumed heir was complicated and the son may have been behind one of these assassination attempts
  • And so - after designating that son as heir in 1115 - he walked it back - depriving him from his inheritance in 1118 - and keeping the succession line after him murky
  • Anyway, on that fateful day in Ramadan, as Al Afdal was leaving from his meeting with the Caliph- two men attacked the vizier from two different direction in another assassination attempt
  • His bodyguards were right there though - pushing the vizier to the back while they took care of the assassins
  • And while they were busy cutting them down, a third man approached the vizier quietly and put a knife into his heart
  • The bodyguards eventually turned back and killed the third assassin, but it was too late. Al Afdal - was on the ground laying in a pool of blood
  • The vizier who ruled Egypt for the last 28 years have died - leaving a complicated legacy where he maintained order and rule of law but saw a significant decline of the Fatimid might and prestige by the arrival of the Crusades
  • Now - the burning question here, who did it!
  • The obvious first suspect would be the order of Assassins - and they of course claimed that it was their work
  • Not only they held a major grudge against al Afdal - the assassination style - where the assassins made no serious effort to get away is typical for the order of the assassins who saw their death as a martyrdom and generally had no get away plan
  • But, there is a few plot holes here that need to be filled before chucking in it to the assassins and moving on
  • First, unlike in Syria or further in the East, the Hashasheins never really managed to establish a solid network in Egypt and - as this was following a private meeting with the Caliph - a spy would need to be pretty well placed in the palace to time the assassination right
  • And if they are in that position – why not go for the Caliph himself?
  • Al Afdal was no slouch either - building a massive intelligence infrastructure and keeping a very close eye on specifically the assassins as a serious threat
  • So, some historians point to the Caliph himself as the one behind the hit- with possible coordination from someone in Al Afdal’s circle, specifically a certain general named ‘abd allah and given the title Al Ma’mun
  • He was akin to Al Afdal chief of staff and definitely in the know
  • Now, both of these guys are prime suspects because as soon as Al Afdal died – they seemed to be ready to take advantage
  • The Caliph - personally went to Al Afdal’s residence and confiscated all the wealth he could find - something on the tune of 4 million denars -
  • And Al Mam’mun immediately rounded up all of Al Afdal sons and imprisoned them
  • Shortly after, Al Mam’mun was appointed the vizier to replace the dead Al Afdal
  • so it sure looked like a plan coming together perfectly
  • It could have been the assassins, and Al Amir was just quick on his feet but we can’t really rule out an inside job
  • Maybe a true crime podcast can help us out here -
  • Anyway, for a second - despite the assassination it seemed like this was going to be an orderly transition with only a little bit of blood
  • Al Mam’mun was an experienced administrator and everyone were falling in line quickly
  • Unfortunately, it was only for a second. Al Afdal was truly barely keeping things together
  • And the transition quickly spiraled into a full-blown crisis - one that the Fatimids never really got over
  • The problem was - while Abd’ Allah al Ma’mun thought he was getting Al Afdal job - where the Caliph is only there for ceremonies and diplomatic niceties
  • Al Amir - had no interest in being a puppet - and expected al Ma’mun to be just one of his many servants
  • And so, to make a long story short - both men started to plot against each other - and the Caliph eventually arrested and executed the general
  • Naturally, this time, he elected not to pick a vizier - ruling directly and handling the day to day issues
  • This - was a problem though. By this point, the army of Egypt was too big and unwieldly for the palace to manage
  • Al Amir, despite his best intention, probably couldn’t tell the sharp end of a spear. He had never went on campaigns, and in all likelihood - never even left Cairo - being sheltered and contained by Al Afdal
  • As was the typical pattern - first - economic problems surfaced where the treasury couldn’t continue to pay the soldiers
  • And so - as a work around - lands were granted to generals as tax-free payments for them and their decedents and they paid their own soldiers from the lands
  • Quickly, these lands became their own little fiefdoms and the soldiers lost all interest in maintain a general defense of Egypt beyond that little plot of land that they owned
  • And so, with no soldiers to protect the Nile valley, Bedouin tribes became active and started raiding regularly
  • Which worsened the economic situation -
  • Which meant, there is even less money now to pay the soldiers and the vicious cycle continued
  • In essence, a decade of misery took hold. And the regime was collapsing under its own weight
  • Internally with unrest – and externally with more losses to the Crusaders – most significant of which, the city of Tyre – which, for the record fell while al mam’mun was in charge and may have been the reason the Caliph pulled the trigger on getting rid of the vizier
  • Even inside the Coptic Church - Macarious died somewhere around 1128, if not earlier - and no one really bothered for a replacement
  • The Cairo elite, were happy as they were with John, the son of Sanhut
  • And it was neither safe or practical for a group of bishops to get together and ordain someone
  • To do what? Sit in a monastery locked away like Macarious was? Clearly - it was better for them to manage on their own for now until things get better
  • Also - to keep an eye out for the big picture - the Suljuks were emerging out of their crisis right about now - 1128 - We will get back to them in the end of this episode, but just to keep all the dots connected
  • The Crusader situation was also stabilizing with a couple of strategic marriages that brought nobles, knights, and money from Europe
  • The Fatimids on the other hand - continued to plunge deeper into chaos
  • We are told by Muslims sources how Al Amir, appointed a former monk, a certain Ibn Qusa to head the treasury –
  • Ibn Qusa, either out of the desperate economic situation or because he was corrupt – or both
  • Went on a campaign of wealth confiscation from the civil elite that made him extremely unpopular – at least among those elite
  • A Thirteenth Apostle, Lord over the heads of government and the Church – as his enemies liked to smear him
  • Either way, whether he acted properly in the interest of the state and was a simple monk – or a corrupt oligarch, his unpopularity among the elite, combined with the fact that he was a Christian placed over Muslims – a no- no from the mob, meant he couldn’t survive for long -
  • al-Āmir was threatened with a popular rebellion because of Ibn Qusa and in 1129 – the former monk and his two assistants were arrested. The latter were imprisoned, but Ibn Qusā was beaten to death with shoes; beheaded, with his corpse nailed to a plank, to float down the Nile to the sea
  • And it gets worse
  • Less than a year later, the order of Assassins perhaps - in its greatest hit - finally got to the Caliph himself. Killing Al Amir in 1130 AD
  • We are told how the Caliph was on an island, offshore from Fustat, crossing over a narrow bridge to witness a celebration – the day that the Nile reaches its highest point in late Early September – coincidentally – the Coptic new year
  • There, on the bridge - unprotected by his escort, spread out ahead and behind, he was jumped by nine assassins and stabbed to death
  • No true crime investigation needed for this one – It was definitely the assassins
  • As you would expect, this cascaded into a succession crisis - as Al Amir only had an infant son as his heir and no viziers to take charge
  • First, a cousin was declared a regent over the infant son by a minority faction of the army
  • But then, the youngest son of Al-Afdal, popular with the Armenian cohort of the army managed to execute a coup - overthrow the government and imprison the cousin –
  • The cousin jailor was one Ridwan Ibn Walakhshi (رضوان بن ولخشي) remember that name. He would show up again
  • As for Al Afdal son, well – he abolished the Shia’ dynasty altogether with a little theological trickery of proclaiming that he will be waiting for the coming of imam of the twelve Shi’as - basically the end of the world to serve as Caliph
  • In the meantime, until the coming of that imam - al mahdi. He is in charge
  • Unfortunately for him, that was a little too much for the sensible Shia’s in the palace and he was murdered in less than a year
  • Which - brought the cousin out of prison - where he declared himself Caliph - with the infant son of Al Amir vanishing somewhere in this convoluted journey
  • And so, by 1131 - we have a new branch of the family taking power - with the first Caliph taking the title Al Hafiz
  • Now - this was a significant development - the whole Fatimid theory of divine right to rule rests on succession from father to eldest son
  • Last time, a younger son took power - the order of Assassins and a whole new sect was born
  • Similarly, this time - Yemen broke off from Cairo - and a new sect of Shi’a islam emerged.
  • Now we have the Nizari’s Shia - spread in various locales between Iraq and the Silk road
  • The Yemeni Shia’a - who refused to acknowledge the cousin, and at least for the moment - held out for the infant son of Al Amir to re-emerge
  • And the Shi’as in Cairo - sometimes called the Hafiziyya sect - isolated and in a few years from now - would completely go instinct while the other two sects would survive to this day
  • Now - the first thing that Al Hafiz did when taking power - was to appoint an army man to try and put the genie back in the box and tame the unwieldy army
  • But he had a problem - pick the wrong soldier and he may find himself deposed and killed with that soldier taking the throne
  • Remember - The Fatimids since they came over from North Africa, built their entire legitimacy on being Imams - Father passing to son - all the way to Ali, the son of law and cousin the prophet
  • Al Hafiz - wasn’t part of that line - and so, his legitimacy was contested
  • To solve this problem, he picked a certain Abu Fath Yanis - a Christian Armenian to be his vizier who was a personal assistant, possibly a freed slave to Al Afdal
  • As Such, Yanis was in the very heart of the army and Al Afdal administration- so, he was able to contain its factions - and as a Christian, Yanis would be seriously handicapped if he tried to depose al Hafiz and take the throne
  • Yanis for his part - did his job well. Executing and eliminating independent generals and - decreasing the army size
  • Essentially – beginning a process of transforming it into his private army, that is loyal and under control
  • Unfortunately, loyal in that context meant loyal to Yanis - not to the Caliph
  • And so, sensing a threat of being completely shoved to the sidelines, and honestly pushed by his sons, who didn’t want a powerful vizier in their way to ascend the throne - Al Hafiz poisoned Yanis in 1131 or 1132 depending on the source
  • And so - the crisis continued with a new thread of tension that the Christian Vizier death introduced
  • Where Christians in Egypt - Armenian or Copts would be specifically targeted with suspicious
  • Al Hafiz needed something to prop his legitimacy after Yanis died and to keep the army loyal. So, he briefly tried to hype up a campaign of jihad against the crusaders that we will get into in a second
  • But the point here for us is, getting rid of Yanis - a capable general was dangerous since many in the army were loyal to him
  • And so, casting him as a potential traitor since he was a Christian was extremely helpful to the Palace
  • As a Christian, he couldn’t be trusted to fight the Crusaders
  • Which worked, at least in the short term, as - there was still a large cohort of Nubians slave soldiers who were mostly pious Muslims
  • And so - post Yanis and the aborted short campaign against the Crusaders we end up with a serious factional divisions between Christian Armenians and Muslims Nubians in the Egyptian army
  • Accompanied with a general feeling of hostility toward Christians in Egypt – where several long-serving Christian officials were dismissed
  • And instead of them – Rich, Sunni Muslims were appointed – given the name Al Asharaf – who claimed to be decedents from the prophet himself and historically, have been hostile to Fatimid rule
  • Ridwan – the jailor – could count himself from those Asharaf
  • Again – important details for what is to come
  • A full blown civil war would erupt between the Armenians and the Nubians – and then, the Armenians and those Asharaf – where religious overtones would play a major role and the Coptic Patriarch would be imprisoned in the process
  • But for now, the tension in the air against the Christians combined with John, the Bishop of Misr advancing age - and probable disability pushed the elite in Cairo to consecrate a patriarch
  • Breaking completely with the traditions of gathering bishops and soliciting candidates from monasteries
  • Rather - Just picking one of their own, a laymen from the class of Coptic administrators that ran the government
  • One - who would be a significant departure from his predecessors with a streak of significant reforms and a flurry of significant achievements
  • His life and story are written by several sources given his impact - All of them were generally kind and reverent - a significant departure from the narrative of Ibn Quluzmi, which stops at the ordination of John, son of Sanhut
  • Our new Patriarch - Gabriel Ibn Turyk , or  Abu ‘Ala before his ordination started his career working in the ministry of correspondence and then eventually as part of the staff of the treasury
  • As such, he was both an experienced administrator and highly educated - possibly fluent in multiple languages, at least Arabic and Coptic given his work in the ministry of correspondence
  • And top of that, he had a good reputation in Cairo as a pious man, as the history of the Patriarchs puts it, he was - quote “a man of middle age, wise, good, learned, experienced, of excellent manner of life, of much alms-giving and piety, known for his love of the Prayers and the Liturgies, and for his ministration to the churches, to strangers and to the sick, a visitor of widows and orphans and those in prison and in affliction”
  • As alluded to before, his ordination was basically an agreement between the civil elite of Cairo and the priests of Alexandria
  • None of the bishops or the monks knew about the ordination, let alone consulted in it
  • Which, as you would expect - didn’t go over too well. Especially, in the beginning of his reign
  • In his first visit as a Patriarch to the Monastery of St. Macarious - the biggest monastery of the time, he had to deal with hostile and skeptical monks
  • Presumably, when praying the liturgy - in the end before communion, he added a tiny part alluding to the body of Christ becoming - quote “one with his Divinity” - I.E - as the miaphysite Christology - with the whole one or two nature debates going all the way back to Chalcedon
  • The monks were up in arms about this addition - and basically told him to stop saying this part or they won’t acknowledge him
  • Gabriel didn’t back down though - he knew his stuff and were quite capable of going toe to toe with the monks in deep theological waters
  • And eventually, he got his way - getting the monks to agree to say the phrase “it became one of his divinity” but also adding “without confusion and without mingling'” to guard against another heresy where the divinity swallowed the humanity - which is the standard practice to this day
  • Unfortunately - the state of Christian education in Egypt was non-existent and many in upper Egypt refused the “without confusion and without mingling” part as an innovation
  • Gabriel - despite his energy and knowledge was battling in a lot of fronts - this was by far, the least practical
  • So, he let the folks in upper Egypt be and they - quote “continued in their custom which was known (to them), and he did not thwart them in this and he did not constrain them to it.”
  • Now - Gabriel’s reign would be full of reforms, too many to get to this week - and will probably take the whole episode next week
  • Gabriel is an important figure - perhaps the most important in Patriarchs of that period with Abraham Ibn Zur’ia - so, he needs his own episode
  • Instead, to end this week, we would go through the events in the east and the Crusader states that will eventually lead to the 2nd Crusade
  • Six month or so after the ordination of Gabriel - King Baldwin the second of Jerusalem died - after a solid run where he constantly battled one crisis after another - and even managed to expand his territory a bit and - through strategic marriages to his daughters - he established a quasi-aristocracy to rule the holy lands
  • His wife was an Armenian Christian - and so, the quasi-aristocracy was slowly mixing and assimilating Europeans and Middle Eastern norms and culture - in a way, becoming more and more foreign to the European knights and merchants landing the holy lands
  • King Baldwin oldest daughter - Melisende - was matched to a rich noble from France - a certain Fulk who brought money and knights to Jerusalem -
  • Badly needed - given the constant raids and battles in Baldwin’s reign
  • During that transition - which was not as smooth as you would expect - as Melisende was popular and strong-headed and as such, insisted to rule jointly with her husband
  • Which he found completely ridiculous. A woman ruling jointly with her husband wasn’t your typical arrangement and he - a nobleman with plenty of ego, couldn’t tolerate
  • Eventually though, he came around when he realized that he wouldn’t survive for long without her
  • Anyway - in this transition. Al Hafiz initiated his brief campaign against the crusaders that was more a propaganda mobilization to cast him as the legitimate caliph than an actual war effort
  • It went nowhere - but it was the beginning of a renewed campaign to remove the Crusaders
  • The Fatimids posed no danger since they went from one crisis to another, but the Suljuks. Well, that was a different matter
  • In 1128 - A Turkish warlord known for his excessive violence and ruthlessness have taken control of both Mosul and Aleppo
  • Zangi -that warlord - excesses was legendary. Even by the standards of the time. An excessively violent and cruel time.
  • Anyway - as was the pattern with Turkish warlords. Zangi had no interest in the Crusades. A tough opponent with a string of fortified castles and cities
  • The effort was simply not worth the rewards
  • His primary objectives were to cow the other warlords into line and collect tribute or taxes depending on your perspective from the rich Iraqi and Syrian cities
  • The only thing that even brought him into the Crusaders circle was that he wanted Damascus - and the Crusaders states stood between Aleppo and Damascus
  • In one of his campaigns against Damascus - where he crucified the entire garrison of a town that didn’t surrender immediately. He appointed an obscure Kurdish soldier to govern the town - Ayyub Ibn Shadi. Remember that name Ayyub
  • Eventually though, he got to Damascus itself and the city was about to fall
  • But - in a fascinating move - the Turkish military governor of Damascus, rather than give the city to Zangi - he asked for the assistance of the Crusaders, in return for a monthly tribute of 20,000 denars and some territories
  • King Fulk - jumped on the opportunity and moved an army toward Damascus
  • Yeb - The Crusaders, despite its popular mythology had more Christian-Muslim alliances fighting together than one would expect
  • Anyway, Zangi - not wanting to fight a dangerous battle on somewhat equal terms with both the Crusaders and Damascus - retreated. Now, with an eye on weakening the Crusaders, if he spotted an opportunity
  • Three years later that opportunity came
  • Zangi led a campaign north of Edessa against Kurdish warlords who were becoming too independent
  • They - learning from Damascus. Asking the lord of Edessa to help with a promise to pay him tribute and cede some territories
  • And the lord - was happy to oblige - gathering the garrison of Edessa and moving to Kurdish territories
  • And that was Zangi’s opportunity - learning from his spy network that the garrison of Edessa was stripped. He switched targets and forced marched his troops to Edessa in record time
  • He then - put the city under a relentless attack. Racing to take the city before a relief army from Jerusalem shows up
  • A day before Christmas 1144 AD - Edessa fell to Zangi
  • Like Jerusalem when it fell. Zangi’s soldiers spared not a single soul of the city. Massacring its entire population
  • A crusader state had fallen - and the second Crusade is about to begin
  • 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 Fatimid Empire by" Michael Brett
  • The Fatimid vizierate, 969-1172 by" Leila S. al-Imad
  • The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land by" Thomas Asbridge
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