Episode Detail

Script


  • Hello and welcome to the History of the Copts. Episode 83. The monk who had nothing
  • So last time, we stopped with the battle of Ramala – a campaign that saw the Fatimids so close to capturing the king of Jerusalem, but ultimately failed
  • Breaking any illusions of a Fatimid military superiority and giving a huge moral and psychological boost to the newly established kingdom of Jerusalem
  • What about the Suljuks in Syria you ask? Did they watch the Crusaders get comfortable and did nothing?
  • Well – yea, kinda off
  • Remember, the Suljuks never really had a great centralized structure.
  • So – you get a lot of independent chiefs – pursuing their own policy in different regions
  • In Jerusalem – it was peace – at least a pact of non-aggression
  • Around Antioch and Edessa – however – it was the complete opposite with lots of raiding and campaigns.
  • Bohemond, the ruler of Antioch ended up being captured in one of these battles and imprisoned very early on
  • He was eventually ransomed and freed – only to fight again. Lose, and give up and go to Europe. Giving Antioch to his nephew, a guy named Tancred, after taking as much of its treasury as he can with him
  • The warlord in charge of Edessa, another Baldwin – was also captured and eventually ransomed off
  • So lots of action there, but its mostly outside of our scope.
  • The point for us though is – as Baldwin in Jerusalem was racking victories against the inept Fatimids– the Suljuks were both crushing his neighboring crusading kingdoms – year after year
  • and in the same time, leaving the kingdom of Jerusalem more or less alone
  • The reason for that is, the nearest Turkish concentration of forces was in Damascus who for the record, Turkish is a gross oversimplification –
  • These guys were mostly independent and with a complicated ruling family dynamics– a city-state like ruling clan – but employed Turkish soldiers extensively
  • As such, it was a totally different calculation that pushed them to make peace
  • First, internally – a resound victory by any of the governor of Damascus’ soldiers – likely would have meant that the very same soldier would go on and seize power. Which happened anyway 1104 – and the governor was poisoned and power was seized by one of his generals
  • Unlike the Fatimids in Cairo, or the Suljuks in Iraq who were fighting on behalf of the Abbasid Caliph – at least theoretically and had mechanism to confer legitimacy on their rule.
  • The guys in Damascus had very little in terms of legitimacy that prevented one coup after another by whomever had the most troops in their disposal
  • Second, those huge Fatimids armies coming every year – would be going toward Damascus, if not for the Crusaders
  • So would be the raids that were going toward Edessa and Antioch
  • So – to keep Damascus independent – The Crusaders were actually very helpful
  • As such – Baldwin never really had to face both Damascus and Cairo in the same time
  • Sure - Damascus did some quick hit and run raids for easy loot – and one time even contributed a unit of Archers to one of Al Afdal’s yearly campaigns, but that was it
  • Eventually, they even managed to put down the peace in writing. Coming to a fascinating agreement regarding the Golan heights – a disputed territory
  • The agreement was to let Christian and Muslim farmers exploit the land in peace – and from their crops – they kept one third – and the Crusaders and the Suljuks split the other two thirds equally
  • And so – Al Afdal continued his campaigns alone without the involvement or coordination with the Suljuks in Iraq or the Turks in Damascus
  • The forces of Islam was split on multiple layers – different governments with different priorities was probably the most important – but there was also the overarching hostility between the Shia’s in Egypt and the Sunni’s in Damascus and Iraq
  • Fighting alone, Al Afdal had another close call in 1103 when Baldwin was seriously injured when a scouting Fatimid unit just happened to see him and a small entourage on the road
  • as well another big  and embarrassing failure in 1105, that capped his efforts at recapturing Jerusalem
  • Peace was elusive though, rather than come to terms with the Crusaders like Damascus, he continued occasional smaller raids and hostilities - Just enough to keep Baldwin always looking behind his back whenever he took his armies toward the north – where the fighting continued to be intense but no more
  • And speaking of the north, we are not really go into it, but between 1105 where Antioch and Edessa were on the brink of collapse and Tancred taking charge AND the Fatimids ceasing their yearly campaigns to 1113 AD – there was a ferocious back and forth between the Suljuks based in Iraq and the Crusaders
  • This flurry of activity ended when the order of Assassins – remember them? Assassinated the very capable Suljuk commander while he was in Damascus negotiating a grand alliance between the two centers of power
  • After that, any hope of alliance was killed and after another grand campaign in 1115 AD by the Iraqi Suljuks that ended up in an embarrassing defeat – the Suljuks, like the Fatimids, gave up on completely destroying the new arrivals
  • It wasn’t really peace – but it wasn’t war either
  • Now – Whenever Baldwin was free from campaigning north in those campaigns, he raided and conquered Fatimids territory – mostly across the Jordan river – I.E – modern Jordan
  • Like I said last episode, the Fatimids had no answer for the Crusaders, and Baldwin knew it
  • those smaller campaigns, mostly led to the annexation of sparsely populated desert, yet were extremely critical to the trading infrastructure of the Fatimids
  • You see, the Transjordan territory, i.E, the area beyond the Jordan river connected Cairo and Mecca overland, and so was an important trade artery that caravans and Muslim pilgrims passed through regularly
  • It essentially cut-off Egypt from the rest of the Muslim world by land which led to a couple of interesting development
  • The first, was the flourishing of the Red Sea trade routes which took goods and people to Upper Egypt, then a Red Sea port – then either to the Arabian Peninsula or India  
  • As a result, upper Egypt enjoyed a period of prosperity and cultural flourishing – especially the city of Qus
  • The second, land caravans still tried to go through and the capture of these caravans, would be a constant tension point in the future – that will ultimately be the causes belli of the war that finally ended the presence of the Crusaders – 250 years later by one Salah al Din
  • But that’s a few episodes ahead – for now, these advances by Baldwin finally reached its natural conclusion.
  • By 1118 AD – with the situation somewhat stable in Antioch and Edessa, Baldwin set out to conquer Cairo itself, in the most audacious of campaigns
  • Before jumping into this – “last dance” - if you will. I would like catch us up with internal affairs of the Copts
  • Where we last left in 1102 AD - as Michael, a strong-willed Patriarch died after excommunicating the bishop of Cairo – in his effort to abolish the diocese altogether
  • Following him, we get the complete opposite of Michael – an absentee Patriarch who rather than tame Cairo and its elite. He was pushed out to the sidelines.  
  • After a logistical delay, where the bishops wanted to wait until the harvest season is done to meet
  • A general consensus brought two candidates – one Macarious – a middle aged monk who was known for his paintings, and John – a layman/deacon whose father was none other than Sanhut – the previously excommunicated bishop
  • Now – it is not explicitly mentioned, but we can safely assume that Sanhut was influential in these discussion by the inclusion of his son – who is described as quote “ a young man”
  • Nonetheless, his influence had a limit, and so both the names of Macarious and John was forwarded to the elite government official in Cairo – and again – in an unprecedented step, it was entirely left for them to decide
  • They, despite their affinity for Sanhut as their bishop, ended up choosing Macarius
  • As Ibn Al Quluzemi put it- he was part of those elite and probably wrote the letter to the bishops himself, quote “All of them wished for Macarius on account of his old age and his experience”
  • And so, Macarious was picked as the sixty-ninth patriarch of our journey
  • His official ordination took place in November 1103 AD – a full year after the death of Michael
  • As luck would have it, this was right in the peak of Al Afdal campaigns against the Crusaders and so, the vizier was careful to maintain good relations with the Copts and waived the customeray fees that the Patriarch normally had to pay
  • What stands out here though, is that this whole process wasn’t initiated or led by the Patriarchy – Nope – it was led by the head-secretary of Al Afdal, a Copt – a certain Abu al Fadl.
  • An immensely powerful individual who essentially sponsored the Pope and dictated what to him what to say and where and how to show up
  • And this, more or less became the pattern for the rest of Macarious’ reign.
  • From the onset, it became clear that he would have trouble navigating the tricky waters of the Patriarchy with the presence of too many powerful interests who preferred an absent, compliant Patriarch to an active, involved one
  • So - When the Alexandrians requested their usual yearly stipend, Macarious initially refused - promising only to do his best
  • As the history of the Patriarchs puts it – in his words – quote “I am a man, a monk, (and) I have nothing, and I shall not write my signature for anything. Whatsoever I am able, I shall pay it to them every year. If you agree to this proposition, (it is well), otherwise, allow me to return to where I was”
  • But then, he was pressured by the civil elite and capitulated – promising them a reduced 200 denars yearly stipend
  • In another curious incidence, as soon as he started the monks of biggest monastery insisted that the Patriarch leave Cairo and celebrate the liturgy in their monastery before celebrating any liturgies in Cairo
  • A trivial request on surface, but given the dynamic between the diocese of Misr and the Patriarchy – leaving Cairo had a lot of issues attached to it
  • And –  they quote “made a commotion and became hostile” as such, Macarious capitulated again and left Cairo
  • Now – Ibn Quluzmi doesn’t really mention why the monks were so hostile, but if I may – reading between the lines, I would venture and guess, that this was the work of Sanhut
  • Who wished to communicate to Macarious that there was no room for him in Cairo and it would be better if he stayed in Alexandria or a monastery in the desert
  • and that’s how it happened – while not explicitly stated, it looks like Macarious never really stayed in Cairo
  • The Patriarch of the Armenian – Gregory was there
  • Sanhut – was also there
  • but Macarious, well, he was nowhere to be seen  
  • Even after Sanhut died – in 1117 AD, Macarius was still not around
  • He tried to not ordain a bishop for the diocese and it leave empty for his eventual return, or at least give his successor a realistic shot at establishing himself, but he ultimately failed
  • In a lengthy exchange of letters in beautiful, almost poetic arabic between the Patriarch and the Cairo elite – represented by Ibn Al Quluzumi
  • He diplomatically tried to deflect and delay the issue, avoiding a direct conformation
  • And they kept pushing him to ordain someone
  • Finally as a last ditch effort, he told them to pick their own bishop, and he will ordain him if he is suitable
  • Fearing another delay tactic, where they propose someone and the Patriarch would reject them for some technical reason –
  • they employed a multi-step process of fielding candidates, 12 in total, then narrowed them down to 4 by consensus among the elite and finally – via a lottery pick following a divine liturgy, they picked their choice
  • And what you know, it was none other than John, the son of Sanhut – who was 10 years older by this point – old enough to pass the eye test at least
  • Now – there are a couple of thorny issues here that we need to address,
  • the first, is what “son of Sanhut” really means!
  • I scoured every source I can get my hand on. None addresses the issue of whether John was a spiritual son or a biological son
  • The Coptic encyclopedia – mentions that he was a spiritual son. But entirely based on the history of the Patriarchs account – which never calls disciples of bishops sons, but disciples
  • So – I am going to go out in a limb here and say that he was a biological son. Not typical for bishops to have sons, but Sanhut was not your typical bishop
  • the second, is the reliability of Ibn Al Quluzmi account
  • He was in the very heart of the Cairo elite and clearly a partisan of Sanhut and a protector of his legacy
  • In a matter of fact, you get the feeling that he wrote his entire account to preserve that legacy
  • I don’t know if truly John was picked from a random lottery or if the process was truly transparent as he described
  • From the 12 candidates that he listed – John was the only one who was neither a monk nor a priest. Also, he was the only one that actually was part of the Cairo elite – an insider as opposed to a monk or a priest coming from a place faraway
  • So – it is highly suspect that he just happened to be randomly picked from a lottery
  • The last issue here, is the involvement of Gregory, the Patriarch of the Armenians as well as the Abu al Fadl – the secretary of Al Afdal
  • Gregory, who was staying in Cairo surprisingly, had to give his blessing before John was to be ordained, and he eventually did. Although, it is not clear if was pressured to do so or not
  • And that’s because, again – Abu Al Fadl seemed to have been comfortably in charge of the whole thing
  • bring John to stay in his house, then taking him to Gregory and then ultimately deciding on when and how he is to be ordained
  • Which was apparently a sensitive matter as care had to be taken because quote
    “they were afraid of the common people, lest there might happen to them some insolence from them on the way”
  • And when it was all done and finished – Abu Al Fadl made sure that John and the diocese of Cairo not forward any of its revenue to the Patriarchy as was expected from the other diocese
  • Even the ordination itself, wasn’t done by Macarious, but by 3 bishops brought by Al Fadl
  • So basically, Macarious was completely shut out from Cairo
  • Abu Al Fadl was in charge there and more or less appointed John with the support of Ibn Quluzmi and the rest of his colleagues
  • And it seems, in opposition to the common people and to the displeasure of Macarious who never managed to assert himself as the leader of the Coptic church
  • This internal struggle happened between 1117 to 1118 AD – I.E – just about the same time Baldwin of Jerusalem was on way to conquer Egypt
  • And so, we are back where we first started
  • As soon as Spring started, Baldwin marched with his army toward Egypt
  • Skipping the heavily fortified Ashkalon, he cut across Sinai with no resistance, hoping to surprise the al Afdal
  • It worked, and he reached the gate of the Egyptian Delta – Pelusium or al farama – the same city that kicked off Amr Ibn Al A’as campaign, 500 years earlier – finding it unguarded
  • The population fled – and Baldwin then burned the city, to keep his supply lines to Jerusalem open
  • Riding out of the city though, Baldwin’s old wound that he got in 1103 fighting the Fatimids opened
  • Then – it was infected and within 3 days, the infection spread and Baldwin could no longer ride
  • He was carried back to the border town Al Ar’ish – separating Gaza from Egypt. Where he died – only in his 40’s after 18 years of ruling and building the kingdom of Jerusalem
  • It’s hard to overstate how much Baldwin changed the course of the Crusades
  • He was, its principal architect – a superb leader of men who built a kingdom out of nothing
  • His death – at this critical juncture – would also change the face of the Crusades forever
  • First – Egypt became a goal. Baldwin have proven that the Fatimids are broken and the rich and prosperous land is up for grabs
  • It will be a while when someone rises to his level of ambition and try again, but he had opened the door
  • Second – internally, his death was a severe blow to the internal cohesion of the Crusader states
  • By the end, he was the undisputed leader among lesser rulers
  • When he died – things more or less returned to equal lords in the various territories conquered where the king of Jerusalem was only the first among equals
  • As a side effect of that dynamic – a group of knights decided to take a monastic oath and dedicate their lives to fighting the infidels – Christian Jihad if you will
  • They took residence in the Temple mount aka the Aq’asa mosque aka the temple of Solomon as the Crusaders called it – thus, were known as the order of the Temple of Solomon or shortened to. The Knights Templars
  • Similarly, the folks taking care of a hospital pivoted into monastic knighthood also – and the formed the Hospitallers
  • These two institutions were really born to fill a gap of leadership left by Baldwin
  • Don’t get me wrong. His successor, Baldwin the second – the guy who was left to rule Edessa was a good soldier but no where close to Baldwin the first in boldness and ambition
  • And so, the military orders were born. For those, like the 1st king of Jerusalem whose ambition required infinite holy war
  • they will continue to grow in power and resources – eventually rivaling the secular rulers of the Crusading kingdoms themselves
  • As dedicated soldiers with a monastic like routine – the templars and hospitallers would be by far – the best fighting force in the region. If not, the whole world.
  • A professional army in all but name
  • Unfortunately, the fractured politics of the Crusader states meant that they pursued their own agenda – independent of what the king of Jerusalem or anyone else for that matter wanted
  • As Thomas Asbridge puts it, in his authoritative history of the Crusades – “As rogue powers, they might question or even countermand crown authority, or ignore patriarchal edicts and episcopal instruction. For now, though, this danger was more than balanced by the transformative benefits of their involvement in Outremer’s defence.”
  • Outremer here refers to the Crusader states.
  • After the untimely death of Baldwin, Al Afdal organized an army and embarked on his own campaign – although, it seems like his goals was just to make sure that the Crusaders don’t return rather than anything significant
  • Likewise – either by coincidence or upon hearing the news, the warlord governor of Aleppo set out to attack Antioch in the following year
  • Without Baldwin leadership, it was a disaster for Antioch – and the city’s lord and army was wiped out – in a battle known as the field of blood
  • Thus – it was like starting allover again
  • For two decades after the death of Baldwin and the field of blood – the Crusader states were highly unstable with frequent crisis that was supposed to kill them off
  • But they survived – mostly due to even bigger crisis that were rocking their neighbors
  • We will get to the details of the crisis in Egypt next week
  • But to wrap up this week – the Crusaders other neighbor, the Suljuks were facing a much bigger threat than the Crusaders from the North
  • A certain David – known as the builder have ascended the throne of Georgia and was winning victory after another against the Suljuks – and so, formal Jihad was directed against him
  • And the Suljuks raised a massive army to put David down, but they ultimately failed – going into their own crisis
  • Which leaves only the smaller city states of Aleppo and Damascus as potential threats
  • And they – while could execute raids and do a lot of damage. On their own, would never be able to capture fortified cities and endure long expensive campaigns
  •    And so, the Crusaders survived another day
  • Al Afdal however –
  • We will leave that for next week.
  • Thank you for listening, farewell, and until then

References


  • The History of the Patriarchs by" multiple
  • The Coptic Encyclopedia by" Aziz S. Atiya (editor)
  • The Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol. 1: Islamic Egypt, 640-1517 by" Carl F. Petry (Editor)
  • 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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