The Third Crusade, Richard the "Lion Hearted" and the Infamous Incidence at Acre
Note: This is the final part of a 4-part article series.
Read Part 1: The Crusades as Medieval World War
Read Part 3: The Crusades as Medieval World War
The Third Crusade, Under the leadership of Phillip Augustus of France (Phillip II), Richard of England (the "Lion Hearted"/"Coeur de Lion") and Emperor Frederick ("Barbarossa") was intiated by the re-capture of Jerusalem by the Muslim Emperor Saladin. A general tax was levied on the populace (the "Saladin tenth") to finance the expedition and a large army of several tens of thousands was raised. The problem with the Third Crusade at its inception was that the three kings at its head were bitter rivals in Europe (particularly the French and English kings).
The Crusade met with early crisis when "Barbarossa" was accidentally drowned on the way to Palestine; and Phillip Augustus had a disagreement with Richard and returned home. Richard had to proceed with the Crusade alone, a situation which was suited to his disposition and reputation as a warrior king. His single-handed exploits in the Third Crusade would be enshrined in legend. He managed to win back a few minor cities along the coast from Saladin but he was unable to dislodge the Muslims from Jerusalem. However, he is considered to have scored the partial success of an agreement with Saladin which granted Christian pilgrims access to Jerusalem and exemption from taxation. At the special request of the Bishop of Salisbury, Christian priests were allowed to serve pilgrims at the Holy Sepulcher in Bethlehem and Nazareth.
An infamous incident occurred in siege of Acre, one of the cities Richard captured from Saladin; an incidence which serves a favorite reference point for comparison of the level of enlightenment of the Western European leaders of the Crusades to the Emperor Saladin. After the capture of Acre, Saladin entered into negotiation with Richard. He agreed to pay two hundred thousand pieces of gold as ransom for the Muslims Richard had captured. But after a minor delay or prevarication in the course of negotiations Richard, to show just how much a lion hearted warrior he was, and to warn Saladin not to trifle with him, displayed two thousand five hundred Saracen Muslim captives of the English on the Friday after Assumption, outside the city walls, and had them slaughtered while Saladin watched; and Richard's troops, after the slaughter, rushed on the corpses of the murdered Saracens to deprive them of any valuables they might have on them.
History records that Saladin disdained to compete with Richard in committing reprisal atrocities. In a show of dignity and humanity Saladin sent Christian captives in his hands back to the English without harming them in any way!
A bizarre incident occurred on Richard's way back to England. He was captured and imprisoned by the Duke of Austria and allowed to go free only after a large ransom was paid to redeem him!
The Fourth Crusade–the sack of Constantinople
The Fourth Crusade witnessed a most bizarre incident that has been the subject of volumes in learned historical treatises. The Crusade was called by Pope Innocent III and other French priests. It was, therefore, largely a french crusade under papal authority. The Crusaders needed boats for transportation and the Doge of Venice made an offer to supply them at a price. The Crusaders were unable to pay the price and agreed instead to help the Venetians recapture Zara, a town that had once been under Venetian control. After the capture of Zara, the Crusaders made a sudden unexplained about turn in objective. They abandoned the original plan to sail to and proceeded instead to lay siege on Alexandria in EgyptConstantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire,the city whose call on the Christian world to arms against the infidel Muslims had initiated the First Crusade. The city was captured in 1204 and what followed was an orgy of violence, wanton destruction and mayhem which continues to be a source of embarrassment to Church historians who strain and stretch their imaginations to explain the behavior of the Crusaders. Constantinople was assaulted and sacked with savagery that might have been questioned had it been directed at a city of "infidel" Muslims.
Even the Pope who had been compliant with the bloodshed and debaucheries of previous Crusades was shocked and remonstrated with the Crusaders on the deeds of evil perpetrated by the Christians on their fellows in broad daylight. Constantinople was plundered and its inhabitants slaughtered for several consecutive days before anyone bothered to try to call the soldiers to order. History records, also, the wanton destruction and loss of much of the art treasures and valuable cultural artifacts, documents, books, ancient and classical manuscripts in the sack of Constantinople. The Eastern Greek culture(the Byzantines liked to refer to themselves as Greeks) was far more advanced and sophisticated that the Western Latin culture and it is generally considered that the rude unlettered Crusaders were unable to appreciate the value of the cultural valuables they consigned to destruction during the sack of Constantinople. The only objects that the Crusaders valued and saved from destruction were holy relics, the collection of which, according to Mills,
seems to have been the favorite occupation of the Crusaders when they relaxed from the labors of extermination. Accordingly, the western world was deluged by corporeal fragments of departed saints, and every city had a warehouse of the dead.
Although Pope Innocent III had not been consulted in the decision by the Crusaders to change military objective from Egypt to Constantinople, he finally came to terms with the results. At the final analysis the results were to the advantage of the papacy. The Greek Church in the east was now under Papal authority. The power of the Pope came to a new height in Europe. Apart from this, the strategic military advantage gained was obvious to all. Constantinople could be used as secure base for subsequent Crusades against the Muslim infidels.
1. Elizabeth Hallam: Chronicles of the Crusades
2. Charles Mills. History of the Crusades for the recovery and possession of the Holy Land.
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus"