The Legacy of Antiquity


Origins and Geography:  The name Europe derives from Europa, in Greek mythology the daughter of Agenor, king of Tyre. According to legend, Zeus, the king of the gods, seduced Europa when he saw her picking flowers, and disguised himself as a bull to win her confidence, swam off with her on his back to the Island of Crete, and there had three sons by her. Europa’s brother, Cadmus, went looking for her, and in the process brought writing to Greece.


Ancient Greek mariners divided the known world into three continents. Europe, the land to the South and East known as Asia, and Libya, which the Romans later renamed Africa. Europe and America are the only two continents named for people. This division of the world remained with the advent of Christianity, which reconciled the three divisions with the Biblical story of Noah and his three sons. According to this version, Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europa together with the middle portion of Asia to Japheth, Noah’s favorite son. Early Christian Geographers showed this division with Jerusalem as the exact center of the world.  These maps were known as “T-O maps: they showed the Don and Nile rivers separating Europe, Asia, and Africa, all formed in such a way as to form the crossbar of the letter “T.”  The perpendicular leg was formed by the Mediterranean Sea. (Note that even these early maps indicated the World was round.)


            Although Europe was comprised of numerous nationalities, cultures and languages, its primary distinguishing characteristic was its common religion: Christianity. Although Geographers and Poets still spoke of Europe, theologians and political thinkers denominated the continent Christianitas (“Christendom”). The latter became the popular name for several centuries, and lent itself to the subsequent attitude of religious (and consequently racial) superiority which became a defining characteristic of those of European descent.


            Europe itself is a peninsula comprising a substantial portion of the Western Eurasian landmass. It has an area of 3.6 million square miles, making it one quarter the size of Asia, one third the size of Africa, and one half the size of each of the American continents. Its geography has been largely determined by glacial movement during the Ice Ages, the remains of which created the largest indented coastline in the world: roughly the size of the Equator.



The Romans


            Notwithstanding the efforts of Alexander the Great and the generals who succeeded him, the Romans were the first civilization to unify Europe into a large political entity; in fact it was the unification of Western Europe by the Romans which created a common culture. The Empire extended from Hadrian's Wall in Great Britain to the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Eastern Europe. Roman adoption of Christianity was largely responsible for Christianity becoming the dominant religion of Europe. Expansion of the Roman Empire was not entirely military: large numbers of native peoples were absorbed into the empire, notably the Celtic Gauls. The end result was a mixed Roman-Gallic culture which survived the empire itself.


            The Romans borrowed many ideas from the Ancient Greeks, including characterizations of people based on ethnicity. The Greeks referred to all non-Greek people as barbaroi; the Romans called them barbari. Both terms are typically translated as “barbarian.” The word originated from “bar-bar,” the sound of sheep; as the Greeks considered the language of these people a series of incomprehensible sounds. Such people were considered incapable of civilization, and therefore could not live under law. They were by nature, suitable for slavery. They considered this the order of nature rather than the order of humanity. Among the other "deficiencies" of those the Romans considered barbarian was the lack of a written language.


            The immense size of the empire made it difficult to govern from a single location. To rule it more efficiently, the emperor Diocletian divided the empire into two halves, East and West. The Eastern capital was the small town of Byzantium, which was later renamed Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine, who became sole emperor of East and West after the Battle of Milvan Bridge in 312 C.E. Constantine claimed on his death bed to have seen the image of a cross in the sky just before the battle with the words In Hoc Signo Vinces (By this sign conquer) written beneath it. He said that he then vowed to become a Christian if he won the battle. He was indeed baptized as a Christian, but only on his deathbed. His behavior and lifestyle did not meet modern standards of Christian conduct.


            Christianity:  The Romans considered religion a component of good citizenship. The good Roman Citizen was a religious citizen. There was no official “state religion,” although at times the Emperors were considered divine. Because the Empire was comprised of a diversity of peoples, the Romans were quite tolerant of diverse religions. Only extreme practices such as human sacrifice, ceremonial mutilation, and ritual prostitution were forbidden.  A number of cult religions developed and were quite popular, including the Cult of Fortuna, Numerology, and the worship of the Egyptian God Isis. Many promised salvation and life after death, and also included blood sacrifices. Some called for its members to be bathed or at least sprinkled with the blood of a bull as a condition of salvation from sin.


            Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism when the followers of Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed that he was the Son of God, and that God was actually a Trinity, three in one. This latter concept was contrary to the Jewish doctrine of one God, and the precise nature of a Triune God subsequently proved to be a source of intense theological debate (as well as persecution) in later years. A large portion of Christian literature developed, often with diverse interpretations of the work and teachings of Jesus. These matters were reconciled no later than 200 C.E. and the books of the Christian Bible ultimately determined by the Council of Carthage in 397.


            Hostile attitudes toward Christianity developed quickly. Those who practiced the pagan religions (From the Latin paganus, meaning “country dweller) considered it a maverick faction of Judaism. The Roman Philosopher Plotinus called it a “barbarian philosophy.” The perceived factionalism of Christianity concerned Roman officials, as factionalism often led to political dissent. By the third century C.E., Roman Emperors began persecuting Christians. Ironically, Christians saw dying for their faith as a powerful way to spread the message. (The word martyrdom literally means “bearing witness” in Greek.).  Although Roman authorities employed inventive methods of executing Christians, there is no evidence that they were fed to lions or other wild beasts. Ironically, this practice was reserved for captured Barbarian prisoners who were routinely placed in the arena with lions, bears, or other animals for the entertainment of the masses. There is substantial belief that it is from this practice that Gladiatorial battles originated.


            The last formal persecution of Christians occurred during the reign of Diocletian (298-312). Constantine, victorious at the Battle of Milvan Bridge, proclaimed that he had been helped by the God of the Christians. In 313, he issued the Edict of Milan which made Christianity a legal religion, but not the official state religion. Constantine adjusted the Roman Calendar to coincide with Christianity. He proclaimed that the Lord’s Day should be observed by the suspension of business, both public and private, and called it Sunday.  The Julian Calendar adopted by Constantine became the accepted method of marking time in most of Western Europe. As noted above, Constantine proclaimed himself a Christian on his deathbed, and asked to be baptized. All of his successors but one were Christian. As Christians, the Emperors no longer called themselves gods, but did consider themselves God’s representatives on earth. They conferred considerable wealth and privilege on the Church, which substantially augmented the success of Christianity. Roman political subdivisions later were adopted as subdivisions of the Church. Each "diocese" was supervised by a "Vicar." Originally Roman titles, they became church titles.


            The authority of the Church vis-à-vis the power of the Emperor was first tested in 390, when the Christian emperor Theodosius ordered the massacre of the Christian population of Thessalonica because they had disobeyed his command. The Christian Bishop, Ambrose of Milan, forbade Theodosius from taking part in Christian rituals and insisted that he must perform penance for his act. This is one of the first indications of the church asserting spiritual superiority over temporal rulers. Church Bishops (the successors to the original twelve apostles of Christ) over time claimed authority over all spiritual affairs in Western Europe by reason of their position as the successors to St. Peter and by reason of the authority of Rome itself. The Bishop Siricius first used the title papa (from the Greek papas, a term of reverence for a religious leader); hence the title “Pope.” All Popes used their given names until the elevation of Mercurius, who considered it improper to use the name of a pagan deity, and thus changed his name to John. Every Pope since John has also adopted a new name. According to Church teaching, St. Peter was in fact the first Pope; for that reason, no Pope since that time has taken the name of Peter.


            Invasion and Decline: The Roman Empire was infiltrated from time to time by Germanic tribes from the East. Among these were the Franks, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals. Most did not come as invading forces, but rather were fleeing the wrath of the Huns, a fierce nomadic tribe from the central Asian steppes. They were led by their king, Attila. The first incursion of the Germanic tribes occurred in 375 A.D., one hundred years before the abdication of the last Emperor. The Vandals, who farmed and lived on the far side of the Danube River (and had traded freely with the Romans, and even furnished soldiers for the Roman Army) asked to cross over ahead of the Huns. The Germanic tribes occupied lands within the Empire which were then no longer sources of tax revenue. Many of these so-called “barbarian” tribes became Christian and were incorporated into Roman society. When the Romans proved uncooperative, the city of Rome itself was sacked. Rome was saved from the Huns only by the intervention of the Pope, who went outside the city gates to meet with Attila. The exact details of the meeting are not known. Although early church historians would have one believe that the Pope persuaded Attila to withdraw, there is compelling evidence that a substantial bribe was paid. The invasion of the Huns was actually stopped by the untimely death of Attila. He married a much younger woman, (his sixth wife) and a boisterous wedding feast was held during which he became quite drunk. He passed out, and apparently suffered a nosebleed, and choked on his own blood.. Upon his death, he was buried with seven of his best horses. The men who dug his grave were all ritually killed, and the killers of those men themselves killed, to ensure that his gravesite remained secret.


POINT OF VIEW is an issue with which many AP European History students struggle. A classic example of POV is illustrated by the typical image one forms of the barbarians who infiltrated the Empire. They are typically pictured as rough, savage characters, hairy, bearded, often with painted faces. BUT: the Germanic people had no written language, so our only description of them is from Roman sources. Since the Romans considered anyone who did not speak (and write) their language as "barbarian," one might question the accuracy of the depictions often seen. There is evidence that when a Roman delegation met Attila, there was the customary exchange of gifts and a ceremonial banquet.

In time, internal corruption, a series of weak Emperors largely controlled by the Army, and the failure of a large Armada sent to oust the Vandals from the African port of Carthage (Africa had been the source of most of the wheat used to feed the people of the Empire) spelled doom. The end of the Western Roman Empire was ignominious at best. In 476, an Ostrogothic King, Odoacher, forced the last remaining emperor, Romulus II Augustulus (a feeble minded teenage boy and the son of one of two feuding Roman Generals) to resign; whereupon he forwarded the royal crown, scepter, and purple robe to Constantinople, and notified the sitting Eastern Emperor that he was now the sole Roman Emperor. The Eastern (Byzantine) Empire remained another one thousand years, until 1452. The fall of Constantinople to the Turks in that year marks the end of the Middle Ages.




The name “Islam” means “submission to God.” Its followers are called Muslim, meaning, “one who submits." The religion was founded by Mohammad, born in the city of Mecca, who claimed to receive messages from the Angel Gabriel (“Jibreel”) while suffering from seizures. The message delivered to him was that humanity had rejected all the previous messengers of God (including Jesus Christ) and Mohammad was to be the last messenger. Mohammad’s preaching caused considerable stir, and he was forced to flee from Mecca in the year 622. His flight to Medina, the city in which he died several years later, is called the Hegira, and is the year One on the Islamic calendar. Mohammad’s sayings are preserved in the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an.


Among the obligations imposed by Islam is that of “jihad,” meaning “struggle.” One is to struggle against sin and personal misconduct. Strict Muslims neither smoke nor drink, and sexual relations outside of marriage is a serious offense, often punished by death.


The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful law abiding people who abhor violence. Sadly, any religion is subject to misinterpretation by fanatics, and Islam has been no exception. Although the Qu’ran strictly forbids the killing of innocents, some fanatics have interpreted the call to Jihad to mean holy war against those outside the faith, Infidels. (A term first used by Christians in the middle Ages). Their reasoning is based on ancient Islamic teaching that the world was divided into two parts: dar-al-Islam (the House of Islam) and dar al Harb (the House of War) The House of War were areas which must be submitted to Islam. In that regard, Islam, like Christianity, is a missionary religion. These idiots have misinterpreted the teachings of Islam and also have literally interpreted the promises in the Qur'an to those fighting for the faith: that they will be instantly transported to paradise, where they will have wine and seventy two beautiful virgins at their disposal—ironically two pleasures forbidden to them in life. This is why they are so willing to blow themselves up and why so many of the suicide idiots are sexually frustrated young men


Muslim rulers invaded significant areas in Southern and Eastern Europe, including a substantial portion of the Turkish peninsula. Only the great walls of Constantinople protected the city for many years. Islamic influence also extended into Northern Africa and into Spain, where they remained until expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella in the Reconquista of 1492. Western historians once believed that Islam was spread by the sword; conquered people were forced to accept the religion or die. In fact, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians were considered dhimmis, (“people of the book”) and were protected even if they were conquered by Islamic armies. Protection did not extend to taxation, however, and they were frequently taxed heavily for their religion.


One of the most significant battles in European history was the Battle of Tours in 732. A Frankish army under Charles Martel (meaning "the Hammer") defeated an Islamic army under the command of the Islamic Governor of Spain. The Frankish victory stopped the Islamic advance into Western Europe, and thus assured that Europe would remain Christian. There is substantial evidence that the intent of the Islamic Governor was to wipe out Christianity altogether as he considered it a threat to Islam.


A division in Islam occurred in the late seventh century which remains to this day. The predominant group believed that Muhammad’s nephew, Ali, was his spiritual successor. They believe(d) that only biological descendants of Muhammad could be the true Imam, or religious leader. They called themselves the “party of Ali,” or shiat Ali; hence the term Shiite. Others called themselves “the people of the community and the tradition” or abl-al-kitab w l-sunna, hence “Sunni.”  They based their practices on the development of the teachings of Islam into a full fledged jurisprudence by scholars into a collection known as the Sharia.


The language of the Qur’an was considered the word of God, and therefore absolutely authoritative. No one should read it in any language other than the original Arabic, and the text may not be revised or altered in any way. As Islam spread throughout the Middle East, so too did the Arabic language. As a result, many non-Arabic people have adopted the Arabic language even though they are not ethnic Arabs. Classic examples are the people of Iraq and Iran, who are ethnic Aryans. The Arabic language became the cultural as well as religious language from India to the Iberian Peninsula. As a consequence, a large number of earlier languages disappeared. Arabic differed from earlier languages in that it provided for preciseness in description. It also readily absorbed words from other languages and learned works from other languages which could be readily transcribed. As early as the ninth century, a “House of Wisdom” was established which contained a vast library of classical, medicinal and scientific literature. By the eleventh century, there was far more literature originally written in Greek available in Arabic than had ever been available in Latin. The translation from Greek into Arabic was the greatest translation yet undertaken in human history.


Arab thinkers studied Aristotle and surpassed the Greeks in mathematics and astronomy. In the ninth century, one scholar interested in mathematics adopted the Hindu numerical system, perfected it by developing place notation and the use of zero. (Greek and Latin numerology had been letters.) This “Arabic” system of numbering is still used today. In 825, an Arab scholar named Al-Khwarizmi  wrote a Treatise on Calculations with the Hindu Numerals, and The Compendious Book on Calculation by completion and Balancing. His term for “completion” was al-jabr, the root of the modern term “algebra.” His name, when Latinized, was “Algorismus,” and became the root of the modern term “algorithm. (Now you know the rest of the story.)


There were two translations of Euclid’s Geometry, and Arab scholars also discovered trigonometry. Arabic numerals and mathematics became the basis for modern mathematical computation. They discussed the possibility of the earth rotating on an axis, and mapped the skies, giving many constellations the names they bear today. They were the first to perfect the process of distillation and sublimation.


Europe enters the Middle Ages


With the deterioration of the Roman Empire, new kingdoms emerged in Europe, the most powerful of which was that of the Franks, called Francia. The leader of the Franks, one Pepin the Short, received a visit from the Pope, who crossed the Alps to seek his aid in defeating the Lombards, who had invaded Italy. Pepin defeated the Lombards, and awarded large portions of Italy to the Pope as his personal possession; areas which became known as the “papal states,” and made the Pope a political as well as spiritual leader.” Pepin was succeeded by his son, Charles the Great, (Charlemagne) who on Christmas Day, 800 A.D. was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo III. This action created a new European entity, the Holy Roman Empire. It also created a source of controversy for several hundred years thereafter. Did the Pope merely acknowledge that Charlemagne was the rightful heir to the old Roman Empire and bow before him after placing the crown on his head? (the position argued by the Holy Roman Emperors) or did Charlemagne bow before the Pope and receive the Crown? If so, then the Church, acting through the Pope, had made him Emperor, and could just as easily remove the title. (the position often argued by the Popes.)


Once more, Point of View is illustrated. Church sources indicate that Charlemagne bowed before the Pope after which the crown was placed on his head and a Te Deum sung. Frankish sources claim that the Pope bowed before Charlemagne and then placed the crown on his head. The Church version of events would indicate that the Pope made Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans, and, accordingly could remove that power if need be (an argument a number of Popes used later in disputes with Holy Roman Emperors.) The Frankish version would indicate that the Pope simply acknowledged Charlemagne as Emperor, whose authority was already in place; thereby the Church had no right to intervene in purely temporal matters in which the Emperor was supreme. It is not difficult to see why each side would support it's own peculiar version of events.


Over several hundred years, Popes and Emperors sparred with one another over the extent of power. The dispute often centered on the power of taxation of church property by the emperor, and/or imposition of church taxes on royal lands. The dispute was often bitter and acrimonious. The Popes often would excommunicate Emperors by Papal Bulls, and absolve subjects from obeying him. If wars broke out in Europe, Popes often took sides. Emperors would often interfere with the election of a new Pope, or claim that the existing Pope had usurped his position and therefore had no authority. 


In one particularly bitter dispute, Pope Formosus was accused of misconduct after his death. His body was disinterred, dressed in his Papal robes and placed on the Papal throne where he was “tried” for misconduct. Needless to say, he said nothing in his own defense. Formosus was found guilty on all charges, stripped of his robes, the three fingers of his right hand used to bless the faithful were cut off, and his body thrown into the Tiber River.


A more lethal problem presented itself in the invasions of the Northmen, (Vikings) and Magyars. The Vikings came to raid and also to trade, often establishing settlements in northern Europe. A large portion of France became territory of these Northmen, hence the area became known as “Normandy.” The area from which they came, “Norway.” Many settled in the area of present day Kiev. They were called “Rus,” meaning “red,” the color of their hair; hence the term, “Russian.” Vikings are the predecessor of many modern Russians.” The Vikings are discussed in more detail in another lesson. In the British Isles, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, (871-899) conquered the Danes, and consolidated his power over other British kingdoms. (The Isles had been called Britannia by the Romans, who conquered large portions of England, and established the cities of London and Bath. Rulers referred to the area as Englaland, literally the land of the Angles. (from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who had previously conquered the Isles). In 1066, as a result of an inheritance dispute, an army under William the Bastard from Normandy landed and defeated the Saxon army of King Harold Godwinson. The battle ended when Harold was struck by an arrow in the eye, and killed. William became William the Conqueror, and King of England. The date of 1066, the last successful invasion of the British Isles, is considered the pivotal date in English History, the equivalent of America’s July 4, 1776.


Typical descriptions of the Vikings is yet another example where Point of View must be considered. Unquestionably, the Vikings were fierce warriors who slaughtered with abandon. Among their other hideous practices was to carve the "blood eagle" in the backs of victims; whereby the poor guy's back was split open, his ribs separated, and his lungs placed outside his body in an eagle-like formation. However, their primary aim was to gain silver (gold if they could get it; but silver was more easy to obtain) which they used for trade. They quickly learned that the most likely place to find silver was in the local churches where silver candelabra, communion cups, etc. were common. Churches therefore became their primary target. Since churchmen were by and large the only people who could read and write (there were some few exceptions) all surviving accounts of Viking attacks were written by Churchmen, who were horrified at seeing their churches raided. The following is an account written in 793 after one of the earlier Viking raids on Britain:

"And they came to the church of Lindisfarne, laid everything waste with grievous plundering, trampled the holy places with polluted feet, dug up the altars and seized all the treasures of the holy church. They killed some of the brothers; some they took away with them in fetters; many they drove out, naked and loaded with insults; and some they drowned in the sea. It is some 350 years that we and our forefathers have inhabited this lovely land, and never before in Britain has such a terror appeared as this we have now suffered at the hands of the heathen. Nor was it thought possible that such an inroad from the sea could be made

So frightening to the Churchmen were Viking attacks that the phrase, Summa pia gratia nostra conservando corpora et cutodita, de gente fera Normannica nos libera, quae nostra vastat, Deus, regna ("Our supreme and holy Grace, protecting us and ours, deliver us, God, from the savage race of Northmen which lays waste our realms.") Since the most famous accounts were written by Churchmen, one might infer that they embellished the horror of the Vikings somewhat.

Division in the Church: In the East, the old Roman Empire, now known as Byzantium, and ruled from Constantinople survived. The predominant language of the area was Greek. A dispute first arose  over the use of religious statuary, icons, in churches. The Eastern Church considered these “graven images” and a violation of the Second Commandment. This “iconoclastic controversy” divided the church along eastern and western lines. Later, the insistence on the Popes of authority over the Eastern Church deepened the separation. The Byzantines considered westerners uncouth and ignorant, incapable of understanding the Greek language in which all serious theologians worked. Western Europeans considered the Byzantines arrogant, effeminate, and at times heretical. During the Fourth Crusade (discussed below). The Pope and Patriarch of the Eastern Church excommunicated each other, and a schism, or separation between the two churches developed which remains to this day. The Western Church became the Roman Catholic, the Eastern church became the Eastern Orthodox. The latter has several variations, including Greek, Bulgarian, and Russian.


The Crusades


The Crusades were various attempts by Western Armies to reclaim Muslim areas for Christianity. Crusades were mounted against the Muslims in Spain as well as against heretical groups in Western Europe; however the most significant were those intended to reclaim the Holy Land of Palestine from the Muslims. The term originated from the Roman Crux, meaning “cross.” European knights going on Crusade “took up the cross.” Most had a red cross sewed to their uniforms, and adopted the crusader’s cry, “Dieu le Veut”.(God wills it.)  Crusades were a form of holy pilgrimage, as they entailed the risk of death. Most traveled with the assurance of absolution from sin, and entrance into heaven if they died fighting for the church. Rather than missionary efforts, the crusades were more often brutal treatment of non-Christians, including Jews. The abuses of the Crusaders in the name of religion are largely responsible for the suspicion and distrust of people of the Middle East for Christian society. Osama bin Laden has often referred to the United States as “crusader America.”


The First Crusade:    The seeds of the First Crusade were sown by Pope Urban II at a Church Council at Clermont, France, primarily in a sermon he preached on November, 1095. He suggested that this innate violence of the time (knights frequently fighting each other for no other reason than they had nothing better to do) might be directed against the enemies of God:  Before the main army of crusaders embarked, a rag-tag group comprised primarily of peasants led by the eccentric Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless began their own campaign, known as the Peasant’s Crusade. Their primary effect was to slaughter a large number of Jews in Germany. Many were lost along the way, and the survivors were quickly dispatched by the Turks.


The appeal of Peter the Hermit was not unusual. Many self-styled “holy men” attracted followers who considered them God’s messengers. Oftentimes these messengers were children, who because of their innocence were believed to have special spiritual gifts. One of these itinerant preachers even convinced his followers that his bathwater was a holy elixir, and they could receive a blessing by drinking it. Inasmuch as people of the Medieval Period seldom bathed, his bathwater must have been a powerful elixir indeed.


In 1097, the Crusaders conquered many areas in the Middle East, but kept much of the conquered territory for themselves. On July 15, 1099, Jerusalem was captured, and its inhabitants slaughtered indiscriminately. Horses were said to be up to their chests in the bodies of the slain, and often lost their footing in the bloody streets. It became the Kingdom of Jerusalem,  and Godfrey of Boullion was proclaimed the Defender of the Holy Sepulcher. Urban II died on July 20, 1099 before receiving word of the capture of Jerusalem.


The Second Crusade: In 1144, the Saracen chief Zenglhi, led a force against the Crusader city of Edessa in retaliation for raids on Muslim caravans by Christians. .In December, 1145, Louis VII of France vowed to assemble a crusader army by the following Easter to retake Edessa and make sure that the Saracens would respect Christianity once and for all. The crusade was approved by Pope Eugenius III.  St. Bernard began preaching the crusade in Vézelay.  Bernard also persuaded the German king, Conrad III to join.


The crusade was finished before it ever got started. Among the problems, many non-combatants joined the army; the Pope had pardoned a number of criminals on condition that they join; and too many of the leaders considered something of a jaunt; and took woman and servants with them. The sheer number of hangers on slowed progress significantly. Additionally, Louis was an experienced campaigner and often maimed his soldiers for disobedience in an effort to maintain order.  When those leading the crusade refused to pay homage to the Greek Emperor in Byzantium he drove them away, calling their crusade an act of pillage. Louis army was defeated at Antioch. The two armies then moved to Damascus, but did not have the forces or morale to take the city and were forced to withdraw. Conrad went back to Germany in disgust, while Louis was recalled to France because of urgent problems there. He died while trying to raise another crusader army. In the meantime, without the crusaders to support it, the Kingdom of Jerusalem seemed doomed; however Zenghi, who had taken Edessa, was stabbed by his own servant whom he had caught stealing wine from his tent.


The Third Crusade:   The Third Crusade began largely as a result of efforts of Salah-ed-din Yusef ibn Ayyub, known to the Crusaders as Saladin  He was born in Tikrit, (birthplace of Saddam Hussein)  but became sole ruler of Egypt in 1171.  He was a man of great courage, character, and integrity who was characterized by Christian Europe as the personification of the anti-Christ; but was in fact a modest and cultured man who at times was quite gracious to his enemies. Soldiers on both sides of the Crusade respected him; in fact many Europeans said if he were not Muslim, he would be the greatest Prince in the world.  In October, 1187, Saladin captured the City of Jerusalem. The fall of Jerusalem caused shock in Europe and was greeted with disbelief. Pope Clement III preached a new crusade, claiming that the very existence of Christianity was at stake. The new Crusade was led by Philip Augustus of France, Richard Lion Heart of England, and Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor.  It was decided that Barbarossa would proceed by land and Philip and Richard by sea. The crusade was better organized than the previous crusades; Barbarossa insisted that anyone participating must be able to support himself and a family for a year; thereby preventing the use of released prisoners to participate as had been the case in the second crusade.  Richard imposed discipline on his own troops that has been described as brutal. 


Despite plans to keep the crusade from falling apart in disunity; problems arose quickly. Barbarossa pillaged a number of Greek villages to impress them with his importance, and was on the verge of attacking Constantinople. Constantinople had offered no assistance in the Crusade, which apparently was a source of some resentment. Although his army consisted of 100.000 men, over half died or retreated. Barbarossa himself died en route, either by drowning or bathing too soon after eating in hot weather. Most of his army went home after his death; those who did not reached Antioch where they contracted Bubonic Plague. Frederick’s son carried his father's body preserved in vinegar before the remains of the German army as a source of inspiration; however they were easily cut down by Saracen troops. To further complicate matters, vinegar was a poor preservative in hot weather, and the body began to putrefy. The remains were hastily buried at Antioch Cathedral but some bones were sent on to Jerusalem so that at least a portion of Frederick would be in that city on Judgment Day.


Philip and Richard fared little better. They quarreled on the way over loot. Richard proved his true colors by capturing Cyprus (which was Greek Christian) and offering it for sale to the King of Jerusalem, solely because he believed the Island had some market value. Although Richard has been described as a handsome man, he was also a bully. Once a preacher, Foulques de Neully, reproached him publicly by saying that he had three daughters: Pride, Avarice, and Lechery. Richard replied, “I bequeath them to those who best deserve them: my pride to the Templars, my avarice to the Cistercians, and my lechery to the prelates.”


Richard was able to recapture the city of Acre, primarily because Saladin was exhausted after a siege of two years. Acre was an example of the disunity which plagued the entire crusading effort: while people in the city were starving, Italian ships loaded with supplies were anchored offshore, and refused to land supplies until they were paid exorbitant prices. Immediately after the recapture of Acre, Philip Augustus left for home. The English accused him of cowardice, but in fact he was sick, a fact well known to Richard, who had visited him on his sickbed and told him that his son Louis was dying; a complete falsehood. This remark had totally alienated Philip.


Frederick had been replaced by Leopold of Austria, who, aside from any redeeming qualities he possessed was a notorious drunkard nicknamed “the Sponge.” When the Crusading armies had reached Acre, Philip had torn down a banner of Leopold’s from a tower in the town and Leopold had sworn vengeance.


Richard’s treatment of the Saracens of Acre was particularly brutal; so much so that for many years afterwards, Muslim mothers would frighten their children into obedience by telling them that Richard would get them if they didn’t behave. Saladin offered Richard a truce, the return of the True Cross (which he had captured in Jerusalem) and a large sum of money in exchange for the ransom of 2,700 Saracens. When the money did not arrive within forty days as had been agreed upon, (it was actually en route, but had been unavoidably delayed) Richard slaughtered all the Saracen prisoners. Saladin then refused to negotiate the return of Jerusalem, and had the True Cross dragged behind the tail end of a horse. Saladin had purportedly asked the Templars to safeguard the terms of the Truce of Acre, but they had refused, as they did not trust Richard to keep his word.


On September 2, 1192, Richard agreed to a Treaty, under the terms of which the Christians were allowed to keep a remnant of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but not the city itself. At the conclusion of the Treaty, Richard wrote to Saladin, “I will return in three years to conquer the Holy Land.” Saladin wrote back, “If I must lose the Holy Land, there is no one I would rather lose it to than the English King. The Crusaders left Palestine in November, 1192, and Saladin died the following March after an illness. The city of Jerusalem remained in Saracen hands.


The Fourth Crusade:  On October 29, 1187, Pope Gregory VIII had issued a Bull, Audita Tremendi, (Papal Bulls, written in Latin, are often known by their opening words.) following the fall of Jerusalem. He blamed the loss on the “sinful lapse of Christians.” European informants spread rumors of an alliance between Saladin and Isaac II, Emperor of Byzantium, whereby Isaac was to assist in the siege of Antioch, and promised to slow the progress of any crusading Army. In return, Saladin was to hand the Holy Land over to Byzantium and turn all churches there over to the Greeks. Saladin had also presumably sent to Constantinople a supply of poisoned wine so potent that its odor alone was lethal, the potency of which had presumably been proven upon a Frankish prisoner. He also had supposedly sent an Idol to Constantinople which Isaac had erected to be publicly worshipped. There is no evidence that Isaac was anti-Latin, although he apparently did have some contact with Saladin. It is hard to determine the motives for his relationship with Saladin, as Byzantine sources don’t mention it; the most accurate sources are Arabic. However, the Europeans took this bit of information and blew it all out of proportion.


Many in Constantinople believed that they were the targets of the Third Crusade, as Frederick Barbarossa had been an old enemy of the Greeks. Isaac had offered to assist the German crusaders, but had hindered them instead. He had not furnished them with supplies he had promised, and had imprisoned a German ambassador. The German’s deeply resented Isaac’s reference to himself as “Emperor of the Romans,” and interpreted his use of his surname (Angelus) to mean that he considered himself an angel of God. Frederick Barbarossa had been furious at Isaac’s lack of cooperation and on November 22, 1189, captured Adrianople. He wrote to his son to contact the Italians and have them raise ships for an attack on Constantinople. He also was to contact the Pope to plan a crusade against the Greeks who were “the true enemies of the Cross.” Isaac relented and released the Ambassador, and further promised not to interfere with the crusade; but at the same time wrote to Saladin warning him of the approaching German army and that Byzantium had already substantially slowed them. He was actually attempting to play Saladin and the Germans off against each other; but Saladin was ahead of him. He had his own intelligence, and was aware of Isaac’s plot.


Anti-Byzantine sentiment had been Richard Lion Heart’s justification for seizing Cyprus. The ruler of Cyprus, Isaac Comnenus, had taken refuge in a castle, and surrendered only when Richard promised not to put him in irons. Upon his surrender, Richard was as good as his word. Rather than putting Isaac in irons, he had special chains made of silver and had him bound with them.  Isaac wrote to the Pope attempting to patch things up, but was too late. In April, 1195, while hunting at Kupsella, his brother Alexios and companions seized the royal regalia which Isaac had left behind in a tent. When Isaac returned, he discovered that his brother had been declared Emperor.  Isaac tried to flee but was captured, taken to a monastery, and blinded, which would presumably blind him from holding office.  Alexios was crowned Alexios III and also tried to patch things up with the West. He wrote to Innocent III, and expressed concern about the Holy Land, although he carefully did not commit himself to help. He complained about the actions of Frederick Barbarossa, and even hinted at a reunion of the Roman and Greek churches. By so doing, he opened a potential Pandora’s box. The Crusades had been expensive enterprises. Quite often financial hardship had resulted form the undertaking. It was a short step to conclude that Byzantium should pay for its past sins by making its resources available for a fourth crusade.


Henry VI, son of Frederick Barbarossa, took up the Cross on Good Friday, 1195. He then sent an ultimatum to Constantinople to make its ports ready to receive his fleet and prepare ships to assist. He also demanded payment of 5,000 pound of gold, otherwise he said he would “come and pay you a visit in your empire.” The demanded tribute was later reduced to 1,000 pounds, and the Greeks raided family treasures and tombs to collect the gold; only the tomb of Constantine the Great was not raided. Even so, the tribute was not paid. Henry VI died September 28, 1197. However, his action and the responses of the Greeks had set the precedent that Byzantium should fund the crusade, and that force was a proper threat to ensure its compliance.


Innocent III preached a new crusade on August 15, 1198. He was more involved in the details of planning the crusade than had been his predecessors, as he wanted to keep the Crusade under his personal command. He wrote to Alexios and warned him that the Byzantine church must be returned to Rome “Like a limb to the head and a daughter to the mother.” His letter implied that he expected financial assistance as well. In June, 1202, Innocent issued instructions to the Crusaders and wrote again to Alexios that he would need to furnish food for the troops. He added that should Alexios refuse, “necessity, especially when one is occupied in necessary work, excuses much in many situations.” Even so, he instructed the Crusaders that their task was to liberate Jerusalem, and that they should not deviate. He warned them that neither the schism nor Alexios usurpation of the throne would justify their intervention.


The battle plan of the crusade was to sail to the Nile River valley, conquer Egypt, and use it as a base of operations. To do so, a large fleet was needed which would be expensive. The only place to find such a fleet was in Venice. In April, 1201, Geoffrey of Villehardouin had negotiated a deal with Enrico Dandolu, the Doge of Venice: The Crusaders would pay 85,000 marks for transport of 4,500 knights and horses, 9,000 squires, and 20,000 foot soldiers.  However, when the army assembled, only one third of the anticipated force showed up. Since each soldier was to pay his own way, the Crusaders were 35,000 marks short of the amount needed. The Venetians agreed to postpone payment if the Crusaders would help them capture the town of Zara which had defected in 1186. Zara was taken on November 22, 1202, but there were still financial difficulties. When the crusaders waited at Zara in the winter of 1202-03, their supplies ran dangerously low.


In January of 1203, envoys from Philip of Swabia arrived with a message from the son of Isaac II: If the crusaders would restore Isaac II they would be paid 200,000 marks; ample supplies would be furnished, and the schism would be ended by the submission of the Greek church to the authority of Rome. There was some dissention among the troops, as many had taken up the cross on the promise of remission of sin. This diversion would divert them from their true purpose. A few silver tongued speeches and emotional blackmail brought many around, but some few still refused to cooperate.


On June 23, 1203, the Crusader’s fleet dropped anchor at St. Stephen’s abbey seven miles southwest of Constantinople. Alexios the younger (Isaac II’s son) had traveled to Zara and thence to Dyrrachion (in Byzantine territory) where the local people welcomed him as the lawful emperor. Alexios III sent messengers to the Crusaders, and said he had no idea why they were there. Alexios sent gifts to the Crusaders, but they were refused; instead word was sent that he must surrender the throne to his nephew. He took no action, and the Crusaders tried to get the people of Constantinople to open the city gates in the name of Prince Alexios. This did not work, so the fleet sailed into the harbor to lay siege to the city.


The attack on Constantinople began in earnest  on July 17, 1203. Alexios waited several days to resist. Even though he had numerical superiority, he failed to press the attack. The night of July 17-18, 1203, he fled the city, and took with him as much of the city treasure as he could carry. Palace forces then chose to return Isaac II who was brought back. He called for his son to rule as co-emperor, Alexios IV.  The Crusaders reminded Isaac of the promises made at Zara by his son of which he had no idea, but he also had no choice, so he accepted their terms. He raised as much money as possible, resorting to melting Church plate and precious metals from icons, but still couldn’t raise enough. He asked the Crusaders to stay a year and help him regain portions of the empire which had attempted to separate from Constantinople and indicated he could then collect the taxes to pay. An uneasy relationship then existed between the crusaders and the people of Byzantium. Alexios IV had already said that he couldn’t pay, and the Crusaders felt they had been double crossed. They issued an ultimatum, and Alexios acted insulted that they dared address him in that fashion. Alexios IV offered no more resistance than his uncle. An assembly gathered at the Hagia Sophia, (the “Church of Holy Wisdom,” which still stands, and is the most famous landmark in Istanbul)  and after a contentious debate, elected a young man, Nicholas Kannavos as emperor. Alexios response was to contact the Crusaders and ask them for help against the usurper.  In February, 1204, Alexios Doukas Mourtzouphlos led a palace coup after which both Alexios IV and Kannavos were thrown in prison. Alexios evaded two attempts to poison him by taking antidotes, so he was strangled. The shock of events also killed Isaac II.



The attack began on April 9, 1203. Alexios IV followed the example of his namesake and fled. There was very little resistance; and only one Crusader casualty, a knight chasing a fleeing enemy soldier charged his horse into a pit. Inside the city, the soldiers ran riot. Houses and palaces of the wealthy were ransacked. An estimated 900,000 in silver marks was looted. About one tenth of the city was burned down as a result of three separate fires. Constantinople never recovered from the attack of the Crusaders. In its weakened condition, it was unable to resist the invading Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, and fell on May 29, 1453. The fall of Constantinople is considered the end of the Middle Ages.


For those of you who are sticklers for detail, one can conclude that the Middle Ages officially ended at two o’clock in the afternoon on May 29, 1453. It was at that hour of the afternoon that the Turkish cannon breached the walls of Constantinople.


The Turks had heard the city referred to by its inhabitants as eis tin Poli, meaning literally, “in the city,” of “to the city.”  The Arabic corruption of this phrase became the city’s name: Istanbul. The official name of the City remained Constantinople until the Republic of Turkey changed it to Istanbul in 1930.