The First Crusade
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05-06-2013, 11:16 AM (This post was last modified: 06-06-2013 09:03 AM by ghostexorcist.)
The First Crusade
Is anyone here interested in the First Crusade? I first started reading about the subject around 2001 when I was doing research for a book (that has never materialized). I own several books on the subject. I would have to say my favorite is The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives (2008). Apart from the amazing detail and pictures, I guess I like it so much because it views the crusades from the Islamic perspective. This is a departure from the normally Euro-centric view of the field. The best article on the 1099 attack of Jerusalem is "The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades" by Benjamin Z. Kedar. He analyzes European, Islamic, and Jewish sources to expertly trace what exactly took place during the siege. Surprisingly, the Jewish sources antedate all other sources. For instance, one Jewish letter sent from Ascalon to Alexandria, Egypt in 1100, dates to only 9 months after the siege. I have transcribed it below (it's long) just in case anyone is interested in reading it.

The original translator broke the letter up into sections. Words containing brackets indicate a hole in the manuscript and their best guess as to what the complete word might have been. I threw in a couple of pictures to add some color. I included a small scan of the original letter.

The letter

[A. Introductory blessings]

[Of the certainly long Hebrew poem, only five lines have been preserved, ending with the expression of messianic hopes:]

“At that time I will bring you home, and when gathering you in, I will make you renowned and famed among the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes” [Zephaniah 3:20].

[b. Praise for the quick and efficient help]

We received the letter of your excellencies, our lords, the illustrious sheikhs—may God prolong your lives and make permanent your strong, high, and exalted position, and crush your enviers and enemies. The letter contained instructions concerning the suftaja [letter of credit] attached to it, which was destined for our brethren, the Jerusalemites. We have received the sum from the person charged with the payment, which our community much appreciated and highly valued. We regarded it as large, not as compared with your usual generosity but in consideration of your present troubles. We were particularly impressed by this donation because you acted immediately, without delay.

[C. How the funds sent before were used]

We thanked God, the exalted, for giving us the opportunity to induce you to fulfill this pious deed and for granting you to take a share in it with us.

We spent the money on ransom for some of the captives after duly considering the instructions contained in your letter, namely, to sent what was available to those who had [already been ransomed]. We have not failed to reply to what you have written us, may God keep you. We answered indeed, but were looking for a man who would carry our reply to you. Then it so happened that those illnesses came upon us: Plague, pestilence, and epidemics, which occupied us, either ourselves or one of our relatives being stricken by disease. Finally, a person traveled from here, and we trust that he explained to you the situation with respect to the sums you had sent: that they reached us safely and were spent in the manner indicated by you.

[D. The plight of the ransomed and of those still in captivity]

New still reaches us continuously that of those who were redeemed from the Franks and remained in Ascalon some are in danger of dying from want of food, clothing and from exhaustion. Others remained in captivity, of whom some were killed with all manner of torture out of sheer lust to murder before the eyes of others who were spared. We did not hear of a single man of Israel in such danger without exerting ourselves to do all that was in our power to save him.

[E. Captives redeemed by an Alexandrian notable]

God the exalted has granted opportunities for relief and deliverance to individual refugees, of which the first and most perfect instance—after the compassion of Heaven—was the presence in Ascalon of the honorable elder Abu ‘l-Fadl Sahl, son of Yusha’, son of Sha’ya—may God preserve him—who has dealings with the government—may God bestow upon it glorious victories—whose influence is great in Alexandria, where his word is very much heeded. He arranged matters wisely to overcome this emergency; but it would require a lengthy discourse to explain how he did it. He could not ransom some people and leave others.

[Image: adletters.png]

The front and back of the original 12th century letter.

(I would like to thank Cambridge University library for the full
size scans. I greatly reduced the size so no one can use them
for research purposes without their permission.)

[F. On some captives still held by the Franks]

In the end, all those who could be bought from them [the Franks] were liberated, and only a few whom they kept remained in their hands, including a boy of about eight years of age, and a man known as Abu Sa'd, the son of the Tustari's wife. It is reported that the Franks urged the latter to embrace the Christian faith of his own free will and promised to treat him well, but he said to them, how could a Kohen [Jewish priest] become a Christian and be left in peace by those [the Jews] who had already disbursed a large sum on his behalf. Until this day, these captives remain in their [Franks] hand, as well as those who were taken to Antioch, but they are few; and not counting those who abjured their faith [converted to Christianity] because they lost patience, as it was not possible to ransom them, and because they despaired of being permitted to go free.

[G. No women violated]

We were not informed, praise be to God, the exalted, that the accursed ones who are called Ashkenaz [another name for the Franks] violated women, as others do.

[H. Details about the escape]

Now, among those who have reached safety are some who escaped on the second and third days following the battle and left with the governor who was granted safe conduct, and others who, after having been caught by the Franks, remained in their hands for some time and escaped in the end; these are but few. The majority consists of those who were bought free.

[I. Flight of individuals to Egypt]

To our sorrow, some of them ended their lives in all kinds of suffering and affliction. The privations that they had to endure caused some of them to leave for this country [Egypt] without provisions or protection against the cold, and they died on the way. Others perished at sea; and still others, after having arrived here safely, became exposed to a “change of air”; they came at the height of the plague, and a number of them died. We had at that time, reported the arrival of each group.

[J. The transport of the ransomed to Egypt]

But when the aforementioned honored elder arrived, he brought a group f of them, that is, most of those who had reached Ascalon; he passed the Sabbath and celebrated Passover with them on the way in the manner required by such circumstances. He contracted a private load for the sum needed to pay the camel drivers and for their maintenance on the way, as well as for the caravan guards and other expenses, after having already spent other sums of money, which he did not charge to the community.

[K. The books ransomed]

All this is in addition to the money that was borrowed and spent in order to buy back two hundred and thirty Bible codices, a hundred other volumes, and eight Torah Scrolls. All these are communal property and are now in Ascalon.

[L. Reduced prices for the captives]

The community, after having disbursed on different occasions about 500 dinars for the actual ransom of the individuals, for maintenance of some of them and for the ransom, as mentioned above, of the communal property, remained indebted for the sum of 200 and some odd dinars. This is in addition to what has been spend on behalf of those who have been arriving from the beginning until now, on medical potions and treatment, maintenance and, insofar as possible, clothing. If it could be calculated how much this has coast over such a long period, the sum would indeed be huge.

Had the accepted practice been followed, that is, of selling three Jewish captives for a hundred (dinars), the whole available sum would have been spent for the ransom of only a few. However, the grace of the Lord, may his name be glorified, has been bestowed upon these wretched people, who may, indeed cry out as it is written: “You let them devour us like sheep, and scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them” Indeed, all the money we have spent to meet this emergency, from the beginning until now, is but insignificant and negligible with respect to its magnitude and the intensity of the sorrow it has entailed.

[M. Need for further donations despite the dire state of the community]

Some may rightly adduce as an excuse the impoverishment of this class of the wealthy and well-to-do, as well as the troubles endured by your community during this winter, which harmed it and weakened its strength, [damaged] its fortunes and reduced it numbers, so that everything became disturbed. Finally, he who escaped from this was assaulted by painful illnesses which devoured his possessions so that he had to take loans for his current expenses. We cannot refrain from reporting what we know, however, and what we have done up till now. For we know that you, like ourselves, grieve and morn for those who have gone and are concerned to preserve those who are alive, especially since your determination to distinguish yourselves in this matter has become apparent, and the loftiness of your aspiration and generosity is now famous. You were the first and most consistent in seizing this opportunity to get precedence over all other communities and have attained great honor. You are now in the position of that tribe that was praised because it rushed to perform noble deeds and was in a hurry to accomplish all that is praise worthy, as it is said: “He was in the van of his people to fulfill the Lord’s design and his decision for Israel” [Deuteronomy 33:21]

We have already indicated that we remain in debt of more than 200 dinars, apart from the sums that are still required for the maintenance of the captives who remained in Ascalon—a little more than twenty persons—their transport and other needs until they will arrive here.

[Image: picturefroma13thcentury.png]

[i]Picture from a 13th century manuscript depicting
the 1099 siege of Jerusalem.

[N. A special case]

Among those who are in Ascalon is the honored elder Abi ‘l-Khayr Mubarak, the son of the teacher Hiba b. Nisan—may God always protect him. It is well known how noble, wise, God-fearing, and endowed with high virtues he is; he is bound by an old vow not to benefit by anything from charity together with the whole of the community, but only from what is explicitly destined for him by name. [He should be enabled] to come here, after you, our lords, have graciously provided what is needed for the payment of the debt incurred for the ransom of our and your brethren.

[O. Suggestions for a successful appeal]

Gird now your loins together with us in this matter, and it will be accounted for you as a mark of merit in the future, as it has been in the past …for we have no one in these parts to whom we could write as we are writing to you. It is proper that we should turn to you and take the liberty of causing you some inconvenience.

The main sections of this letter should be read out to your community, after you have announced that everyone was obliged to attend. The benefit will thus be complete and general, both to those who pay and to those who receive payment. For it is unlikely that there should not be among the people persons who had made a vow; there may be others who owe a sum to the communal chest, the use of which has not been defined; such should, then, be invited to earmark their contribution; others might volunteer a gift without strings. Or there may be those who intend to make a contribution to one cause rather than to another. In this manner, you will achieve your purpose, extricate strength from the weak, and deal with us in your accustomed generosity and excellent manner… and you will deserve, through this charitable act, to acquire both worlds…

[P. How to transfer the funds collected]

We dispatched a messenger to you, who will tell you the details of this emergency, thus exempting us from discoursing on it at greater length. We beg of you—may God prolong your life—to take care of him until he returns, as well as of the sums which God may grant from your side. If you could make out a letter of credit for what will be collected, this would make things easier for him, since he is but a messenger, and speed up his return. If this cannot be done, arrange that an exact statement of how much has been collected be made, and have your letter sent through him [the messenger] and mention the sum in it.

[Q. Conclusion]

[Nine lines of blessings in Hebrew and biblical quotations expressing hopes for retaliation and restitution (Isaiah 14:2, Jeremiah 50:33-34a, Isaiah 61:9).]

[R. Postscript and details about the messenger]

The bearer of this letter, our esteemed m[aster] and t[eacher] Sedaqa, son of the learned and pious Saadya, known as sheikh Abu ‘Amr, the Miller, [may] G[od have] m[ercy upon him], is a respectable and reliable person, helpful and devout, eager to earn praise for the pursuit of good deeds, a man of true liberality. He is not blessed with riches, and has little in hand. However, his noble soul demands from him more than his circumstances permit. He busies himself with the affairs of the […], makes rounds for the needy, and seeks to gain all kinds of religious merits. Now he has ventured to have his own affairs and to undertake his mission.

We reiterate our request that you take good care of him, carry through his mission as quickly as possible, and support him in every way. The good you do with him will be widely known, the little you donate will be appreciated, let alone the much. Whatever you decide—may God make your welfare permanent—with regard to what we have written concerning this man and expediting his mission, will be right, if God will.

[S. Six signatures]

[1] Samuel b. Halfon, the physician, sends your excellencies the most special greetings.

[2] Musallam b. Barakat (“Blessings”) b. Ishaq (Isaac) sends your excellencies the most special and respectful greetings.

[3] May the entire holy and chosen congregation—may their Rock keep, and their Savior help them, above all, their learned and saintly men—accept my greetings of peace, I, Shelah, the Kohen, b. Zadok b. Masliah b. Z…m[ay their] s[ouls be] p[reserved in the] b[undle of] l[life]. Take notice that my soul is yearning after you. May our God in his grace bring us together soon. [A]m[en]. [In Hebrew. Shelah, as Kohen, pronounced the priestly blessing over the entire congregation.]

[4] Hananiah b. Mansur [Victorious] b. Ezra sends etc. and asks you to pay attention to the content of this letter. And Peace!

[5] The writer of this letter, the suffering, mourning, and grieved Isaiah, the Kohen, son of Masli’ah, the Pre[captor], singles out all your lords for the choicest greetings and asks you to be indulgent with him; for it has not been hidden from you what he has endured and suffered from the moment he parted with you up till this very moment. And [may your] w[elfare] [wax]. A[men].

[6] David b. Solomon b. David b. Isaac b. Eli the [Preceptor] extends to your illustrious excellencies the most respectful greetings and asks you to take care of the messenger and to attend to him quickly. May I never be robbed of your generosity.

What's neat about the letter is that it mentions how the Crusaders held people and holy books for ransom. It even mentions one of these people by name. I've written a brief article that explores this man's background.

A Brief Study on a Jewish Survivor of the 1099 Siege of Jerusalem

by Jim R. McClanahan

The First Crusade was a religio-political war that culminated with the siege of the holy city of Jerusalem in 1099. Most European accounts of this "pilgrimage" (as it was contemporarily called) were written years after the fact, leading to much exaggeration in regard to individual fighting prowess and the number of lives claimed. For instance, one chronicle mentions men wading through blood up to their horse bridles. [1] However, the Arabist S.D. Goitein discovered a letter from the Cairo Geniza in 1952 that dated to only a few months after the siege. [2] The letter reveals the Crusaders had captured many of the city's inhabitants and held them for ransom. Much of the money was raised by the Jewish community of Alexandria, Egypt and forwarded onto the Crusaders via the Jewish community of Ascalon near the Gaza strip. The captives were sold for less than the going price of 100 dinars for three people (33.3 per person) because the Crusaders could not afford to care for all of them. The letter goes on to say:

Quote:"In the end, all those who could be bought from them [the Franks] were liberated, and only a few whom they kept remained in their hands, including a boy of about eight years of age, and a man known as Abu Sa'd, the son of the Tustari's wife. It is reported that the Franks urged the latter to embrace the Christian faith of his own free will and promised to treat him well, but he said to them, how could a Kohen [Jewish priest] become a Christian and be left in peace by those [the Jews] who had already disbursed a large sum on his behalf. Until this day, these captives remain in their [Franks] hand, as well as those who were taken to Antioch, but they are few; and not counting those who abjured their faith [converted to Christianity] because they lost patience, as it was not possible to ransom them, and because they despaired of being permitted to go free." [3]

Now, the first time I read Goitein's complete translation of the letter I was amazed that history had preserved the name of one of the faceless victims of the First Crusade. Crusader chronicles are always told from the viewpoint of the conquerors and never the conquered. Who was this Abu S'ad? I had to find out more.

From his analysis of the letter, Goitein was able to come up with the following back story:

Quote:"The man was a Kohen and a stepson of a renowned Karaite [Jew] from the Tustari family (who were not Kohens). [Moshe] Gil (The Tustaris, pp. 65-66) quotes a Muslim traveler from Spain who visited Jerusalem in the 1090's and attended a religious disputation in which the Jewish side was represented by "the Tustari," most likely the one referred to here." [4]

So Abu Sa'd was a Jewish priest and step-son of a noted Kariate scholar. But there seems to be some confusion in other works that translate the letter differently, which combines Abu Sa'd and the young boy mentioned into one person. The Arabist Moshe Gil states:

Quote:"Among the captives still in the hands of the Crusaders is a child of eight to ten years of age, named Abu Sa'd, 'son of the wife of the Tustari'. this 'wife of the Tustari' was evidently the wife of the Karite writer Sahl b. Fadl (Yashar b. Hesed) al-Tustari, the great-grandson of [the merchant prince] Hesed al-Tustari. We have seen that this Sahl lived in Jerusalem in the [ten] nineties, and we do not know the circumstances of his death; perhaps he was killed during the Crusader's conquest. Nor do we know why the child is called 'the son of the wife of all Tustari' and not ' the son of al-Tustari', and naturall there may be many explanations for this. His captors, the Crusaders, are trying to persuade him to convert to Christianity but he refuses ... It appears that they are hoping to receive a particularly large sum in ransom money for him, as they are aware of his lineage." [5]

In a couple of footnotes, Gil mentions:

Quote:"See Goiteins assumption...that his [Zadok b. Josiah] son-in-law was 'the son of the wife of the Tustari' mentioned..., which does not seem to be based on sufficient evidence, for this was a child of eight to ten." [6]

"Goitein...already stated his opinion that this boy was the son of Yashar b. Hesed..., and deduced from this that Yashar, the Karaite writer, lived in Jerusalem until the Crusaders' conquest." [7]

This last quote refers to a much earlier paper written by Goitein that says:

Quote:"Thus we see that Karaites remained in Jerusalem up till the very end, and "the son of the Tustari's wife" most probably was the son of the wife, by a previous marriage, of the noteworthy Karaite scholar Yashar b. Hesed b. Yashar at-Tustari, who, as we have seen, was, according to Poznanski, a son of Abfi Nasr." [8]

In a paper on the Karaite Jewish community of Jerusalem, the Arabist Haggai Ben-Shammai mentions Abu Sa'd was one of those held captive by the Crusaders and then states:

Quote:"As far as can be judged from the facsimile of the [original 12th century] document, the letter is apparently torn beyond repair at this particular line. However, the space between the allusion to the boy and his age, on the one hand, and the name of Abu Sa'd, on the other hand, seems more than sufficient for two to three words introducing Abu Sa'd as a separate person. Thus, Goiteins interpretation appears preferable. Nonetheless, "the Tustari" may have been the Prisoner's step father, while the boy's mother may not have been a Karaite in the first place." [9]

So even Ben-Shammai seems to think that Abu Sa'd was perhaps a Rabbanite step-son from his mother's previous marriage. The idea of there being a tear in between the reference to the boy and Abu Sa'd is very convincing. I am surprised that Moshe Gil (the foremost expert on the Tustaris) would overlook something as important as that.

I must note that Rabbanites and Karaites were two competing sects of Judaism. The Rabbanites followed the "Oral Law" of the Torah and Mishnah, while the Karaite's only followed the "Written Law" of the Hebrew Bible. Because of these differences, both sects were constantly at odds with each other. They even had separate sections within the main Jewish community of Jerusalem where they lived. [10] Karaite Jews were by far the wealthiest entrepreneurs in contemporary Egypt. In fact, the Tustaris had family ties with the Muslim Caliphs of Egypt and served as their suppliers of court refinement, such as diamonds and silk. [11]

Notes

[1] Benjamin Z. Kedar, “The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades,” In Crusades (vol. 3), Benjamin Z. Kedar, ed. (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004), 18.
[2] Ibid, 59.
[3] S.D.Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza – Volume V: The Individual (University of California Press, 1999), 375.
[4] Ibid, 612 n. 81.
[5] Moshe Gil, A History of Palestine, 634-1099 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 833.
[6] Ibid, 832 n. 5.
[7] Ibid, 834 n. 6.
[8] S.D. Goitein, “Petitions to Fatimid Caliphs from the Cairo Geniza,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 45, no. 1 (jul., 1954): 37-38.
[9] Haggai Ben-Shammai, “The Karaites,” In The History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period, 638-1099. Joshua Prawer and Haggai Ben-Shammai, ed. (New York University Press, 1996), 221-222.
[10] See Gointein, A Mediterranean Society 5, 358-372.
[11] Walter Joseph Fischel, Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Mediaeval Islam (New York: Ktav Pub. House, 1969), 68-89.

Bibliography

Ben-Shammai, Haggai. “The Karaites.” In The History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period, 638-1099. Joshua Prawer and Haggai Ben-Shammai, ed. New York University Press, 1996.

Fischel, Walter Joseph. Jews in the Economic and Political Life of Mediaeval Islam. New York: Ktav Pub. House, 1969.

Gil, Moshe. A History of Palestine, 634-1099. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Goitein, S.D. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza – Volume V: The Individual. University of California Press, 1999.

---------- “Petitions to Fatimid Caliphs from the Cairo Geniza.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 45, no. 1 (jul., 1954): 30-38.

Kedar, Benjamin Z. “The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades.” In Crusades (vol. 3). Benjamin Z. Kedar, ed. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004.
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05-06-2013, 09:46 PM
RE: The First Crusade
The crusades were a reaction to the conquest of europe by islamic armies hence places like spain having the some of the most beautiful mosques. What is not known that much by people today is that the islamic armies and jewish people came into europe. This is how jewish people got to europe in large numbers in the first place. Islamic rulers viewed jewish people in a different light than they did christians, and the two were basically allies against christians for some time.
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06-06-2013, 08:58 AM (This post was last modified: 06-06-2013 09:31 AM by ghostexorcist.)
RE: The First Crusade
(05-06-2013 09:46 PM)I and I Wrote:  The crusades were a reaction to the conquest of europe by islamic armies hence places like spain having the some of the most beautiful mosques. What is not known that much by people today is that the islamic armies and jewish people came into europe. This is how jewish people got to europe in large numbers in the first place. Islamic rulers viewed jewish people in a different light than they did christians, and the two were basically allies against christians for some time.

The First Crusade started when the Christian ruler of Byzantium asked Pope Urban II to send a few forces to help him deal with the Seljuk Turks. These recent Muslim converts had taken control of Turkey and Assyria, as well as wrestled Jerusalem away from the Fatimids (more tolerant Muslims). Instead, Pope Urban II called up a huge force in 1095 with the intent of taking those lands in the name of the Papacy. In 1096, some of this army massacred Rhineland Jews that were already living in Europe at the time. The Fatmids took back control of Jerusalem in 1098, allowing Christians back into the holy city. Therefore, when the crusaders erupted into the city in the summer of 1099, they killed not only Muslims who were friendly to Christians, they killed their coreligionist brothers and Jews. The people who managed to survive were held for ransom (as I stated above).
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07-06-2013, 06:17 PM
RE: The First Crusade
Very interesting indeed. Thanks for posting this.

I find it ironic that "the accursed ones who are called Ashkenaz" wound up lending their name to the largest and most influential segment of modern Jewry!

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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07-06-2013, 06:25 PM
RE: The First Crusade
(07-06-2013 06:17 PM)cufflink Wrote:  Very interesting indeed. Thanks for posting this.

I find it ironic that "the accursed ones who are called Ashkenaz" wound up lending their name to the largest and most influential segment of modern Jewry!

I thought that as well.
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10-07-2013, 12:21 AM
RE: The First Crusade
(06-06-2013 08:58 AM)ghostexorcist Wrote:  The First Crusade started when the Christian ruler of Byzantium asked Pope Urban II to send a few forces to help him deal with the Seljuk Turks. These recent Muslim converts had taken control of Turkey and Assyria, as well as wrestled Jerusalem away from the Fatimids (more tolerant Muslims). Instead, Pope Urban II called up a huge force in 1095 with the intent of taking those lands in the name of the Papacy. In 1096, some of this army massacred Rhineland Jews that were already living in Europe at the time. The Fatmids took back control of Jerusalem in 1098, allowing Christians back into the holy city. Therefore, when the crusaders erupted into the city in the summer of 1099, they killed not only Muslims who were friendly to Christians, they killed their coreligionist brothers and Jews. The people who managed to survive were held for ransom (as I stated above).

Good post. Yes if the Byzantines had not lost the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 (which they didn't even need to fight), it's unlikely the Turks would have overrun Anatolia and created the need for help in the first place. Reading the history of them in this period, like others it was just one poor decision after another.

Even then Alexius wanted some trained military assistance, not the People's Army turning up on his doorstep. Not for the first time the Papacy used the occasion as a pretext for their own aims.
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