New Year in Reverse

15:00 26.05.2011 • Armen Oganesyan , Editor-in-Chief, International Affairs



IN RESPONSE to my lamenting about how difficult it is to choose a topic for an article at New Year, a historian I know said with a shrewd wink: "Write about New Year 'in reverse.'" Anticipating my bewilderment, he went on to say that he has long used this kind of exercise; he chooses a recent date and, reading it in reverse, tries to reinstate what was happening in world history at that distant time.

I found the suggestion intriguing; indeed, why not picture what was going on at New Year "in reverse," in other words in 1102 A.D.

That year King Henry I became embroiled in a fierce confrontation with the barons in England. Henry did not have any chance of ascending to the throne. On his death bed, his father did not bequeath him any of his dominions, either in Normandy, or in England, but left him only a round sum of five thousand pounds. All the land went to his brothers. Nevertheless, Henry made advantageous use of the money he inherited by buying the Cotentin Peninsula and Avranches in northwestern France from his brothers. In this way, he became a duke and gained an immediate advantage in the political struggle.

Henry was forced to fight many battles, but, borrowing the words of Scipio Africanus, he liked to repeat: "My mother bore a general, not a soldier." The future king convincingly showed his particular acumen during the death of his brother, who became King William II after their father's death. Two years before the conflict with the barons, Henry took part in a hunt during which an allegedly stray arrow killed King William. Leaving his brother's still warm body on the ground, he rushed to Winchester to seize the royal treasury. The very next day he was elected king, despite the protests of the supporters of his older brother Robert, who was still alive.

Henry understood that what he was doing was illegal and was the first (oh, the irony of history!) to sign the Charter of Liberties, which laid the foundations of British constitutionality and paved the way to the appearance of the Great Magna Carta.

Henry's fiscal flair and his constant control over how tributes were collected and what his clerks were doing eventually manifested themselves in other European innovation. He established the first Accounts Chamber called the Exchequer. It was so called due to the checkered cloth that was used to cover the table on which the money was counted and the calculations performed. This practice instantly migrated from England to the continent.

And all the same, returning to the election of Henry I and the king's outburst of wrath against the barons who supported his brother Robert that followed in 1102, it should be noted that many events of the beginning of the 12th century were influenced by the ideas and consequences of the First Crusade. It was clearly to Henry's advantage that his brother had not returned from the crusade by the time the king succeeded to the throne. Enshrouded in legend and renowned as the "liberator" of the Holy Land, Robert might very well have changed the course of English history in his favor...

Thus the year 1102 duly provides us with a chance to take a look at Palestine, a country both far from and near to Europe of that time. That same year, on Sunday, July 13, Anglo-Saxon Saewulf set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from the shores of Italy. He was to face many trials and tribulations both on land and at sea. The death of his fellow travelers, ferocious winds, storms, and even a shipwreck - all of these deadly dangers were finally overcome. But at what price?!

"The very day on which we landed, someone said, at God's command it would seem, 'Master, go ashore now, otherwise the storm will prevent you from landing'." Saewulf followed the advice, and this is what he witnessed the following day from the safety of the harbor: "When we looked out, we saw waves that were higher than mountains; we noticed a multitude of bodies of drowned men and women lying wretchedly on the shore... Nothing but the roar of the sea and the cracking of boats could be heard... No more than seven of thirty very large ships that were loaded with pilgrims and merchandise remained intact..."

But the unfortunate pilgrims often had more horrific misfortunes to face than "escapades" at sea. In the summer of 1102, the road to Jerusalem was strewn "with countless human bodies that had been torn to pieces by wild animals." Saewulf was at first surprised that the bodies of the Christians had been abandoned without burial, but soon he realized why. "There was almost no soil there, and it is very difficult to dig the rock; and even if there had been soil, who would have been stupid enough to leave the company of his fellow travelers? For the Saracens set up ambushes for the Christians, lay in wait in the mountain passes and caves, staying awake both day and night."

Saewulf travelled around Palestine at the very peak of the crusade movement, one of the objectives of which, as Pope Urban II declared at the Council of Clermont (1095), was to ensure the safety of the pilgrims. The Pope's speech was interrupted by exclamations of "It is the will of God!" and, according to many, was "the most successful speech in the whole of European history." It not only inspired a huge number of people: from Italy to Scandinavia, from the pauper to the noble knight, including women and children (the notorious children's crusade of 1212), but also defined Europe's main ideological concept for four long centuries.

With respect to the First Crusade, Russian historian Alexander Vasiliev writes that during these fifty years, economic, religious, and all the cultural aspects of European life radically changed. A new world opened up for Western Europe.

Pope Urban's speech can be called a manifesto that resonated in the very depths of the heart of Western civilization. And this manifesto was, of course, much more sweeping than the slogan of "fight against the infidels" with which everyone was already fed up. So it deserves special attention.

"This land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves. That land which, as the Scripture says, 'floweth with milk and honey' was given by God into the possession of the children of Israel.

Jerusalem is the navel of the world; the land is fruitful above others, like another paradise of delights. She seeks therefore and desires to be liberated, and does not cease to implore you to come to her aid." When blessing the Crusade, he exclaimed, "Behold! on this side will be the sorrowful and poor, on that, the rich!" According to contemporaries, the people listened with bated breath.

The most amazing thing in the Pope's speech was the definitive, and fatal for the Roman Catholic world, intertwining of the mystic with the material and the exalted with the down-to-earth, which was "Christian" on the surface, but did not correspond either in spirit or in letter to evangelical preaching. "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them," was how Christ rebuked his disciples who wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy the "infidel" Samaritans who humiliated and expelled Christ.

At the end of the crusade movement, which took hundreds of thousands of lives, impoverished many European lands and did not cause them to flow with either "milk" or "honey," a certain fool-for-Christ would meet Charles VII during the crusade and tell him that would have been better if the king had concerned himself with building the land entrusted to him and curing its illnesses rather than protecting another land, something which God could have done without him. But this would be much later than 1102...

Often those who read the Russian chronicles are puzzled by the fact that they hardly mention the crusades, which were such colossal events for Europe. And this is keeping in mind that Russia was quite well informed about European events. Not to mention that the people of Novgorod even accompanied the crusaders on their campaigns. In 1102, well-known crusader Hugh I the Great, the son of King Henry I of France and Anna Yaroslavna (Anne of Kiev), died of wounds he received in battle with the Turks. Vladimir Monomakh was married to English princess Gytha of Wessex, the daughter of King Harold of England.

The fact that the chroniclers chose to "ignore" such significant events becomes even less understandable if we agree with Vassily Klyuchevsky's assessment: "The almost two-century fight of Rus against the Cumans is significant in European history. While Western Europe advanced on the Asian East by means of crusades... Rus covered the left flank of the European onslaught in its steppe battles, but Rus had to pay a high price for this historical contribution: the fighting displaced it fromthe areas along Dnieper it had long inhabited and dramatically changed the direction of its further destiny."

So why do the Russian chronicles remain silent about the Crusades that shook the Christian and Islamic worlds and caused so many changes in the life of Europe, the East, and Rus itself?

On January 29, 1102, Rus witnessed a "radiant sunset" on all four sides and the night was bright "as if from the full Moon." On February 7, "there was a sign and the Sun was encircled with three arcs ..." As the chronicles witness, the people asked God to make them "good signs." And indeed, soon Rus sustained victory over the steppe nomads. Rus launched a crusade against the "unclean" with banners and crosses, just like the Western crusaders of that time. This gave several historians, including Klyuchevsky, reason to believe that the fight of Kievan Rus against the Cumans was part of the European movement against the East. B. Leib wrote that if the Russians had considered accepting the cross, they could have been told that their first duty to serve Christianity was to protect their own country, as the Pope wrote to the Spaniards.

Why then was no spiritual upswing felt in Russia with respect to the crusade movement, why did no one, like the Spaniards, write messages to the Pope of Rome asking him to define their place and role in the Great Crusade? And finally, why do the Russian chronicles, after briefly mentioning the crusaders' seizure of Jerusalem, keep quiet about the rest of this event of world importance?

As we know, the chronicles were written in monasteries by monks who had particular religious feelings. On July 16, 1054, the Pope's legates placed a bull of anathema on the altar of Hagia Sophia, excommunicating the Patriarch of Constantinople, who was considered the head of the Universal Church. A Bull of Excommunication against them was soon issued in response, whereby it was supported by the other Patriarchates apart, of course, from Rome itself. In the eyes of the Old Rus chronicler, the Papal throne was the initiator of the Great Schism and, with its actions, placed itself outside the Universal Christian Church.

The contemporary view of Catholics and Protestants as branches of a single Christian tree came to life in the senior common rooms of historians of religion and, of course, has nothing to do with the ideas of the Russian medieval monk-chronicler of Kievan Rus. Arbitrary secession through violation of the principle of conciliarity and the Pope's claims that he was "the vicar of God on Earth" were in the chronicler's view clear heresy, while Catholicism, as a teaching, was not an ailing branch,but a branch that had broken clean away from the tree of Christianity. Even the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Urban IPs call to carry out a crusade was a response to the request of the Byzantine emperor for help against the infidels was not sufficient argument for the Russian chronicler in favor of sympathetic commentary.

When arguing with Vassily Klyuchevsky, a later historian would write, "There cannot be anything in common, even from a token standpoint, between the crusades of the West European knights to the Middle East aimed at far from only liberating the Holy Land from the hands of the infidels and Russia's fight against the Cumans, who did not seize any relics of Christianity. These two very different historical phenomena have only one thing in common - the struggle of the Christians against the infidels."

In Europe, people, as they prepared for this fight and sewed crosses on their clothes, became extremely excited. "The most ordinary laymen, as they donned robes for the first time, believed in their right to murder in the name of the Gospels," and there was "inconceivable militarization" of the Catholic Church. For the first time, the matter concerned not protection of the Homeland, but a widespread expedition to punish the "infidels" beyond Europe. However, the situation escalated out of control and the excitement flowed over into searching for enemies long before the sword of the crusader knocked the first spark from the saber of the distant Saracen.

"The insanity," wrote Le Figaro, "went much further that simple excesses: systematic pogroms, extermination of the Jews who lived along the Rhine and Danube, plundering in Hungary and the Balkans. When official powerful armies set out on the road for Jerusalem, memories of murder and blood will pursue them." The Pope's attempts to prevent violence and even punish the guilty did not change the situation. The subsequent routing and plundering of Constantinople shows that over the years cruelty and violence became an integral part of the crusade movement that enveloped all strata of society. The desire of certain commentators to separate the "noble" behavior of the official armies from the rapturous crowds does not hold water, for these crowds frequently joined the ranks of the army and comprised an integral part of the regular troops. It was the uprooted crusade brotherhood (which was not even loath to cannibalism) that played a significant role in the most important victories of the crusaders, for example, in the capture of Antioch.

Historian Raoul of Caen wrote, "Our people boiled adult infidels in

cauldrons. They skewered children on spikes and roasted them." In July 1099, Jerusalem was captured. As a witness writes, "The town was such a horrifying sight and the enemies so tormented that the victors themselves were full of horror and revulsion" (William of Tyre). And another witness wrote, "Our people walked into the Al-Aqsa Mosque ankle-deep in blood." Mountains of corpses burned outside the walls of the Holy City.

There was enough time for news about the first Crusade to reach the most remote corners of Europe by 1102. With all the cruelty of the internecine wars in Kievan Rus, it is unlikely that anyone would want to consider themselves part of such a movement. The moral sense of the chronicler who condemned the cruelty of the princely wars could not help but recoil from Europe's bloody ghosts that brashly contradicted the outwardly noble idea of liberating the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy City.

The practice of forced baptism was also off-putting, which was applied first to the Jews in Europe and then to ordinary "infidels." It is no accident that later Russian Orthodox missionary work would greatly differ from Catholic. This difference was most clearly seen during the "Christianization" of the Baltic nations when the sermon of the Roman bishop, if it was rejected, was always followed by the retributive and merciless sword. When converting the people to Catholicism, Rome subjected them to forced Latinization, prohibiting translation of the Holy Scriptures and the holding of church services in their native language. For centuries, forced Evangelism remained an inalienable part of Roman missionary work. On the other hand, Russian Orthodox missionaries, from the time of Stephen of Perm until Nicholas of Japan, adhered to an enlightening and peaceful way of preaching. And in addition to personal courage and testimony of faith, it was accompanied by solicitous attention to the national language and culture of the converted people. Stephen of Perm created the Old Permian script for the Komi people, and Nicholas of Japan translated the Holy Scriptures for the Japanese.

The Russian chronicler's intuition did not betray him. After Alexander Nevsky's stubborn refusal to accept the Roman faith not much time would pass before the Pope declared a crusade against Rus. It is worth noting that Novgorod with its extensive trade ties and numerous overseas visitors was informed, like no other Russian city, about the history of the crusades. "God is not in strength, but in truth," these words should not be seen as the battle cry of a warrior prince in the face of amenacing enemy, but as a civilizational response to that inconceivable militarization and distortion of Christianity to which Alexander Nevsky, who is not called the Blessed for nothing, was witness.


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