history

II International Conference Confirmed for October 2020

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In a meeting in Almourol / Vila Nova da Barquinha this week, the local municipality confirmed the final dates for the II Conference “Order of the Temple – Spiritual Chivalry and Templarism”. Taking place at the Templar Interpretation Center (CITA) in Almourol , Portugal, the International Conference follows the groundbreaking event that joined together in Barquinha experts from all over the world and different branches of the Order in October 2019.

The current COVID19 pandemic has severely disrupted traveling plans and large events. Because of that, it was decided that the Conference will have an opening session on October 13 for a limited number of invited guests, when a new exhibition will be inaugurated in the Interpretation Center, followed the 17 and 18 of October by a mixed online and live event from the auditorium in Barquinha, Portugal.

The full Program will be available soon. If you are interested in attending online (free), please send us an email to conference@templarcorps.org or stay in touch with these pages.

Templar Corps Academy starts second module of online Course next saturday

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The TEMPLAR ORDER FOUNDATION COURSE 2020 is the most extensive and comprehensive study Course about the Templars available. It gives students an organized and thoroughly researched and documented vision of the subjects at hand. Divided in five Modules, it methodically addresses five fundamental pillars that organize the basic themes, allowing for a clear overview and understanding of the different aspects of the Order.

MODULE II – THEOLOGY AND RELIGION
4 Sessions, 8h

> Main liturgical feasts: Cycle of light – Easter, Pentecost, Saint-John
> Main liturgical feasts: Cycle of darkness – Epiphany, Saint-John Evangelist
> Devotions and Sanctoral: The Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, Saint John the Evangelist, Bethany (Mary Magdalene, Lazarus), others
> Templar Liturgy
> Beliefs and Influences: Old Testament References (Genesis, Psalms, Abraham, Solomon)
> Beliefs and Influences: Eastern Christianity, Copt Christianity, Early Christianity
> Beliefs and Influences: Focus on John’s Gospel
> The Primitive Rule and Religion
> Ecclesiastic organization and Privilege

More information here: Templar Corps International Academy

WANT TO ‘GET SWOLE’? TRY THE TEMPLAR KNIGHT WORKOUT, SUGGESTS KNIGHTFALL STAR TOM CULLEN

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If you’re looking to get fit, Tom Cullen, star of History’s Knightfall, has a suggestion for you: wear chain mail.

The actor stars as Landry, leader of the Knights Templar, in the newest scripted drama from the network home of Vikings — which meant wearing 50 pounds of armor nearly daily for the better part of a year.

“I didn’t want to weigh the costume early on, because otherwise it would just become a thing in my head. I have weighed it since and it has become a thing in my head,” Cullen, who played Lord Gillingham in Downton Abbey, told Rotten Tomatoes. “The costume weighed 50 pounds, which is a lot to be carrying for 14, 15 hours a day when you’re fighting and riding horses. My body changed shape. I went from fit and kind of slender to muscular and big, just from the fact that I was carrying this amount of weight, this heavy costume.

“I couldn’t even get on a horse when I first started,” he confessed. “I had to have a stepladder because I didn’t have the power in my legs to get over the horse. But by the end of the shoot, I was leaping and running and jumping on horses. It was intense.”

So if you want to “get swole,” try the Chain Mail Workout!

“It’s where you wear 50 pounds of chain mail for seven months, every day, 15 hours a day,” Cullen said. “That’s all you have to do. And you’ll end up [muscular]. I’ve had to go to my wardrobe and buy all new trousers because my ass is so big. Honestly, if you want an ass like Kim Kardashian, become a knight.”

Knightfall takes place in the 1300s and follows the Knights Templar as they hunt to recover the Holy Grail in the final days of their reign, ahead of their eventual downfall. The series was shot in Eastern Europe on a Prague backlot — “they built medieval Paris, they built a temple, a palace, streets, a market, a moat, castle walls, a church, shops, alleyways, a pub — it was extraordinary,” Cullen said. The show tackles the later days of the Knights Templar’s reign of power.

“They were such a fascinating, clandestine sect,” Cullen said. “That the myriad of lies and layers that they bathed themselves in — it’s very difficult to unpack all of that. It was fascinating to learn about them. It was a real educational process for me.”

While, like most people, Cullen had a working knowledge of the group, he learned a lot while simply researching for his role.

“One of the things that really stuck with me was that they invented to first bank,” he said. “They created the banking system, and they created the first checks. They became the wealthiest fighting force in the world. And they answered to no country, no king, no queen. They only answered to God and to the Pope. No borders. You could cash your money in France, and you could take it out in Jerusalem. They were kind of untouchable. Fascinating guys. The thing that really surprised me was the level of their power. You learn about how they were in the battlefield. They were extraordinary. They would never leave. Even if they were losing, they would never turn their back and run. They would basically only surrender when the last man had been killed. That level of bravery and intelligence is an extraordinary combination, I think.”

Cullen’s character, Landry, was taken in by the Knights Templar as a 10-year-old orphan.

“All he’s known is war, fighting, and God. When we first see him in episode 1, he’s a very brash young maverick knight who ultimately loses the Holy Grail and loses Acre, the last stronghold in the Holy Land, which is the one thing that he understands himself through. The series is set 15 years after that event, and we find him questioning everything about himself. He’s questioning his faith and his own identity. He’s a very contradictory, very complex character. He is lying to his brothers. He’s having an affair with a woman. But he is immensely loyal. He is maybe the most fearless, brave knight. Yet he is starting to discover his own humanity and his mortality. He is a very pious man and is still a very faithful man, yet he is starting to discover who he is outside of his brotherhood.”

Yes, that’s right — there’s still plenty of sex on this show about religious monks, and Landry’s dedication to the Knights Templar only wavers when his chastity vow is involved.

“He’s very faithful to her,” Cullen said. “He’s a one-woman kind of guy.”

Except he’s supposed to be a no-woman kind of guy.

Added Cullen, “He’s a very complex guy, which is the kind of guy I’m interested in watching.”

The season will include major developments about Landry’s love — in the first episode, even — but his relationship will take a back seat to his main quest: to recover the Holy Grail.

“Landry goes on a pathological hunt to try and find the Grail, because I think that he entwines a lot of his own identity into that piece of pottery,” Cullen said. “I think that he hopes to find it not only to garner enough power to go back to the Holy Land, which is what he thinks that he should be doing, but also to return himself back to who he was — search for his identity before he became this very complex guy. What’s great is that on the way, we see his life fall apart, and as he discovers more about himself, he discovers more about the people around him and the lies that are entwined around his whole life and his whole existence.”

in rottentomatoes.com by Jean Bentley

Researchers Discover Gothic Cathedrals Blended Iron and Stone

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By using radiocarbon dating on the metal found in Gothic cathedrals, a team made up of specialists in various disciplines has found that iron was used to strengthen stone during the construction process. Their study sheds a whole new light on the mechanical skill and intents of cathedral builders.

The study was the result of a collaboration between the Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération (CNRS/CEA), the Laboratoire de mesure du carbone 14 (CNRS/CEA/IRD/IRSN/French ministry of Culture and Communication) and “Histoire des pouvoirs, savoirs et sociétés” of Université Paris 8, according to Science Daily. The team of researchers had to collaborate and use their various skills in archaeology, history, chemistry and material science to determine exactly when iron and steel were incorporated into the construction process.

Gothic architecture thrived in the middle of the twelfth century near Paris, and included substantial amounts of steel2 or iron reinforcements, as shown by archaeological and historical investigation. However, it is often said that cathedrals are living buildings, because over the centuries they have undergone renovation projects for the purposes of modification, conservation, and reparation. This means it can be difficult to determine whether certain elements were a part of the original construction process, or later additions.

Previously, even if these metals had been found to be a part of the initial design, the date of their original assimilation would have remained open to debate. Scientists were often unsure if the iron was added later, or if it had been blended into the original construction materials. By combining their diverse abilities, the teams of scientists have proven that the mixed metal reinforcements were indeed a part of the initial design phase.

The researchers accomplished this by measuring the amount of trace quantities of 14C in the metal. Up until the Middle Ages in Europe, iron ore was smelt in furnaces using charcoal, some of whose carbon was released and entrapped in the metal in the form of carbide flakes. This carbon can now be extracted from the metal, and the tree that provided the charcoal can be dated, thus making it possible to estimate the age of the metal, according to Science Daily.

The method above seems reasonably simple, however, it had never been reliable enough to provide any sort of absolute dating. That’s where Laboratoire de mesure de carbone 14 came in, as well as Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l’altération, who in collaboration with archeologist and historian colleagues at the CNRS, confirmed the sequence of the construction process by cross-referencing radiocarbon dating with archeological evidence.

Under these circumstances, it has been proven in absolute terms (with a few years as a margin of error), that the integration of metal elements occurred in the initial design and construction phase of cathedrals in Bourges and Beauvais.

This new method of dating will help researchers understand a little better how medieval architecture worked. The team will soon apply it to samples from the Sainte-Chapelle, as well as using it to date temples and the iron trade in the Khmer Empire.

Photo Credit: wikimedia commons user: Vammpi

By: Sarah Carrasco in newhistorian.com

Sicilian Vespers

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On the morning of the 31st March, 1282, the Sicilian Vespers came to an end. The night of rioting and massacre which had started on Easter Monday proved crucial in the history of Sicily and also had a significant impact on the broader history of the Mediterranean in this period.

The revolt, which gets it name from the Hour of Vespers ceremony where it supposedly began, started on the 30th March and is believed to have been triggered by an Angevin soldier stopping a Palermitan woman outside the church of Santo Spirito di Palermo, to search her for weapons. Although details of the event of course vary depending on the source, it seems the soldier somehow offended the woman, triggering a riot against the Angevin-French among the local community.

Reflecting the deeply ingrained tensions in Sicily’s multicultural society, the rioting spread through Palermo and then the whole of the island. The local Sicilian population attacked and killed Angevin people wherever they could be found, going as far as murdering monks and nuns. The rioters supposedly used a simple test to determine the Sicilian population from Angevin. Anyone believed to have originated from Anjou was asked to say the word “ciciri”, something native French speakers could not do in a convincingly Sicilian accent.

In the annals of Medieval history, the revolt was a unique event. A spontaneous, popular uprising which affected political change. Following the night of the 30th to the 31st March the Angevin-French fled Sicily, and the people of the island eventually secured the support of the King of Aragon who sent troops there in August 1282. Although the revolt seemed to have occurred without any pre-planning, it is important to acknowledge that the uprising against the Angevin-French rulers was not completely without premeditation.

Since 1266 Charles of Anjou, with the support of the papacy, had ruled Sicily from Naples. Deeply unpopular in Sicily, Charles’ strict rule incurred the wrath of normal Sicilians, but his unpopularity in a broader context was just as significant. A group of Italian nobles, known as the Ghibellines, supported the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor rather than that of Charles and the papacy. Peter III of Aragon, a rival of Charles for the Neapolitan throne and one of the main beneficiaries of the uprising, also had a clear interest in altering the status quo on Sicily. The Night of the Sicilian Vespers may have been a demonstration of popular dissatisfaction at Charles’ tyranny, but there were a diverse range of groups with an interest in ending the Angevin presence on Sicily.

The revolt was followed by series of sea skirmishes and land battles between Angevin and Aragonese forces, sometimes referred to as the War of the Vespers. The fighting finally came to a close in 1302, with the Peace of Caltabellotta. The treaty saw Charles II, the son of Charles of Anjou, concede Sicily to King Frederick, a relative of Peter of Aragon. Sicily was now firmly under the sphere of Spanish influence, a situation which would persist for another five centuries.

Historians have since argued that the Sicilian Vespers, and the subsequent war, proved crucial in the failure of the crusades in the Eastern Mediterranean. Charles of Anjou and the Vatican had been planning to send troops to take Constantinople when the uprising started. The need to divert resources to Sicily put this campaign on hold. Although one of many factors which ultimately led to the failure of the crusades, it is not a coincidence that the fall of Acre in 1291, a pivotal defeat for Christians in the Middle East, took place during the War of the Vespers.

Indeed, the significance of events in Sicily in the broader context of Mediterranean history in this period can be seen in the theory that the Aragonese and Sicilian forces received financial support from Byzantine. Although the scope and nature of this support cannot be confirmed, it hints at the complex political workings of the period.

The Sicilian Vespers revolt was an expression of popular dissatisfaction at the harsh rule of Charles of Anjou over Sicily. This moment of rebellion by Sicilians however, can only be truly understood in the broader context of Medieval history.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Enzian44

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Why the 25th December?

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Most Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on the 25th December. In the modern western world the date has taken on a significance far beyond its Christian origins. It is celebrated by people outside the religion as much as Christians themselves, and, depending on one’s outlook, is a time of year associated with the giving of gifts, spending time with loved ones, charity, goodwill, or rampant consumerism. But why is it celebrated on the 25th December, when the date of Jesus’ birthday is never mentioned in the Bible?

A combination of historical research and study of the Bible has led many historians and theologians to suggest that Jesus was probably born in either the Spring or Autumn. In the nativity story, Mary and Joseph are traveling to Bethlehem for a Roman census. The Jewish festival of Passover takes place in Spring, sometime around March or April. The festival celebrates Moses leading the Jews from Slavery in Egypt. Two millennia ago, thousands of Jews would descend on Jerusalem each year to celebrate the festival. It would have been an ideal time for the Romans to perform a census of the population, and could explain Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem (a short distance from Jerusalem).

In the autumn, around September or October, is the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It is a time when Jewish people remember their dependence on God during the forty years in the desert and coincides with the end of the harvest season. Again, the festival involved the Jewish population descending on Jerusalem, making it an ideal time for a Roman census, and explaining there being “no room at the inn” in the nativity story.

How the holiday came to be celebrated on the 25th December remains shrouded in mystery. The first two centuries of Christianity made no reference to when Christ was born, or a winter Christian holiday. Most researchers believe that the 25th December was chosen because it was around the time of a host of pagan festivals associated with the Winter Solstice.

The Romans paid tribute to the pagan God Saturn (the god of agriculture, among other things) each winter with a festival that started on December 17th and ended around the 25th. It included a celebration of the Solstice, as well as partying and the exchange of gifts among friends and family. Worship of the ancient Persian God of Light (Mithraism) was also popular at this time, especially among Roman soldiers. Like the worship of Saturn, the cult of Mithraism included a host of festivities in late December, around the Winter Solstice.

Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 312 CE and the official sanctioning of the religion signaled the formation of many of the traditions it still holds to this day. One possible explanation for the decision to hold Christmas festivities on the 25th December is that the date was already celebrated by pagans. Selecting this date would have eased the transition from the pagan traditions and calendar to the Christian. There was also some logic for this decision in scripture. Early Christian tradition stated that the Annunciation (when Mary was told she would have a special child) happened on the 25th March. The 25th December is thus nine months after the Annunciation.

Christmas was first recorded as being celebrated on the 25th December in 336 CE, and a few years later Pope Julius I declared the date to be the official celebration of Jesus’ birth. After its adoption by Roman culture, the celebration of Christmas quickly spread east and west, and started to be observed by other Christian denominations.

Over the centuries other traditions have been added – the lighting of the Yule Log comes from pagan Scandinavia, while the story of ‘Santa Claus’ comes from the popular medieval feast of St. Nicholas Myra, a saint who visited children and left them presents just before Christmas. Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is a mixture of different cultures. For Christians it is the day put aside to acknowledge Christ’s birthday, however, it is also a continuation of long held traditions from history, intended to provide light in the darkest part of the year through the exchange of presents and good will.

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Early Medieval States’ Origins: An Overview

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The fall of the Roman Empire is often seen as one of the major turning points in world history. An organised, well-administered empire collapsing to be replaced by smaller states.

In studying this period of history, there has been a large amount of heated debate. A new study by Paul Fouracre, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Manchester, has sought to expand on this historical quandary.

“What historians had traditionally disagreed about was whether these changes were for the better or for the worse”, Fouracre stated, in an article published in the most recent edition of History Today. “Had Roman rule been so oppressive that its end was a ‘good thing’? Were the barbarians thus liberators or were they oppressors who destroyed the protection of Roman law and made themselves into a privileged elite?”

This topic has always been discussed in relatively simplistic terms, Fouracre notes. Rome fell, barbarian groups rose to prominence, and new states formed in the wake of the Roman Empire. These new political entities took their name from the conquering peoples, England from the Angles, France from the Franks, and Lombardy from the Lombards.

Fouracre explains that the historical reality was much more complicated. Principally, he argues that barbarian groups were not the reason for the collapse of Roman administration. Many of the sources which we rely on for our understanding of this period are rooted in nationalistic movements.

Bede’s history of the English, for example, went to great pains to establish the progress of the British people. They were transformed from heathen savagery to good, peaceful Christians; as such, it served Bede’s purpose to portray post-Roman Britain as dominated by brutal barbarians.

“Quite simply, [Bede and other writers] were not reliable witnesses when it came to post-Roman states based on barbarian groups, for each historian had his own agenda in writing and each actually knew very little about the peoples they were supposedly championing,” Fouracre wrote.

Further, it has been questioned whether early medieval people were capable of forming cohesive, independent states. Particularly in Germany, never part of the Roman Empire, no single barbarian group ever formed a state.

Fouracre does not propose any answers to these important historical debates. Importantly, however, he does summarise the scholarship very effectively. He frames the debate in an accessible manner, meaning that the period is opened up to those with little previous knowledge.

By exploring the early medieval period, we can learn a huge amount about our present. “Most West Europeans do live in states that had their origins in what grew out of the Roman Empire and do want to know how this came about,” Fouracre concludes. “The task [for historians] is to write about this in a clear and accessible way that comprehends the complications and avoids the crusty value judgements of old.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: File Upload Bot (Eloquence)

By: Adam Steedman Thake in newhistorian.com

Medieval European Perceptions of Islam

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In 1087, a joint Pisan and Genoese force attacked the North African town of Mahdia, located in modern-day Tunisia. Christian forces returned to Italy triumphantly and used their spoils of war to construct commemorative churches.

A number of Arabic and Latin sources from the time testify to the events surrounding the raid of Mahdia.

One of the most important Latin sources is the poem Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum, ‘Song for the Triumph of the Pisans’. The Carmen, written by a Pisan cleric only months after the raid, commemorates the expedition.

It has often been argued that the raid on Mahdia – conducted under the banner of St. Peter against a Muslim ruler – was a direct precursor to the First Crusade which followed eight years later. The Carmen is often viewed as providing context for the development of a crusading ideology in the eleventh century.

A pioneering new study has taken a fresh look at the Carmen. Matt King, a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, has been studying the Carmen as a means of understanding Christian perceptions of Islam.

“An examination of this text will allow historians to consider Latin Christian perspectives on Islam and its adherents during the period immediately preceding the First Crusade,” King writes in his article, published in Hortulus, a graduate journal on medieval studies.

It is usually suggested that Pisan interests in North Africa were primarily commercial, with military activities receiving less attention. King argues that there was a certain level of coexistence and cooperation between Pisa and Islamic states, while the Carmen reveals a different side of the story where religiously-charged rhetoric could be applied to justify violent ends.

The Mahdia raid can be located in a wider context of Pisan military activities in North Africa. Pisa had been involved in military actions against Muslims throughout the eleventh century; briefly seizing the city of Bone in 1034 and helping the Norman Robert Guiscard in his conquest of Sicily in 1063.

“The author of the Carmen was thus writing in the midst of conflicts between burgeoning Italian commercial powers and Muslim states in the Mediterranean,” King notes.

Importantly, the Carmen makes frequent Old Testament references in an effort to locate Pisan activity in a Biblical tradition. Within this framework, the inhabitants of Mahdia take the form of Old Testament villains who feel the wrath of God. In contrast, King argues, the Pisans are a Gideon/David/Moses combination who, through the favour of God, are able to defeat their adversary.

“Such a description makes clear the deep religious roots that run throughout this story,” King notes. “In this narrative, it is impossible to separate the sacking of Mahdia or the author’s perception of Islam from this ancient narrative.”

The portrayal of Islam in the Carmen is a multi-faceted one. Pisan attacks are understood as an epic confrontation, similar to the Old Testament and classical tales. Further, the doctrine of the Muslim inhabitants of Mahdia is portrayed as a form of heretical Christianity. Taken together, these depictions of Muslim Africa reveal a medieval Latin understanding of the area as a place and people of the utmost evil.

King notes that the Carmen is, however, a triumphant poem. The author is consciously contextualising the Pisan-Genoese raid in a tradition of God-willed triumph. Simply taking the Carmen’s portrayal of Islam at face value, therefore, may misrepresent the Latin understanding of Islam.

“If we cautiously take the Carmen as indicative of general trends in Pisan perceptions of Islam and Africa,” King concludes, “we thus can see an image of Pisa as a city with some knowledge of medieval Ifriqiya and as one that used this knowledge to nurture some image of righteous war against Muslims.”

For more information: www.hortulus-journal.com

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: DrFO.Jr.Tn

By: Adam Steedman Thake in newhistorian.com

Renovation Works Reveal Medieval Hospital Remains in York

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Renovations at the York Theatre Royal have brought to life remains from what is considered to have been the largest hospital in northern England in the Middle Ages. Researchers from the York Archaeology Trust were surprised by the well preserved state of the remains, as it was believed that whatever remained from St Leonard’s Hospital had been crushed beneath the floor of the theatre, which underwent a replacement at the beginning of the twentieth century, soon after the discovery of several column plinths and the foundations for the rib-vaulted ground floor of a building.

The discovery of the plinths and foundations was made by George Benson, a historian and archaeologist, Culture 24 details, but were believed to have been destroyed, until in 1989 a research team unearthed two bays of a rib-vaulted roof at the site. However, it remained uncertain whether anything else had survived over the centuries, especially since the erection of the York Theatre Royal in 1744.

The latest remains found in what are called occupation deposits beneath the building consist of six column plinths and the base of the northern wall of a building right beneath the theatre’s stalls. There is a lot of documentary evidence about St. Leonard’s Hospital, and the researchers are hopeful that they will be able to uncover more parts of one of the busiest hospitals in Medieval England and identify what they were used for. Parts of the hospital’s undercroft remain above the surface and can be visited from the Museum Gardens.

St. Leonard’s Hospital was built over the remains of another hospital, St Peter’s, in 1137, after the initial building suffered a fire. It went on to become a completely self-sufficient (and profitable) complex for more than four centuries. Ben Reeves, from the York Archaeology Trust, told Culture 24 that documents from the time describe the hospital as a complex of separate buildings, including a leper house, an infirmary, a chapel, and a children’s ward, as well as a residential area for the monks and nuns who ran the hospital. The complex must have also included other structures such as kitchens and outbuildings. Examination of the occupation deposits in which this latest discovery was made could reveal which of the buildings used to be on the site of the York Theatre Royal. Reeves cautioned that such an examination would have to be combined with a dose of luck but added that having samples to examine at all was in itself valuable.

Reeves went on to say that what makes the discovery extraordinary is the very fact of the remains’ survival. Occupation deposits are as a rule very fragile and seldom “survive modern groundworks,” he explained. St Leonard’s Hospital was almost entirely destroyed in 1539, during the Reformation, and the city of York had no hospital until 1740, according to the “History of York” website. Excavation works will now continue at the site of the York Theatre Royal with the researchers hoping to uncover more parts of the building that could provide some insight as to its function.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: W. Monkhouse/ Wellcome Trust

By: Irina Slav in newhistorian.com

Hunt for the Knights Templar’s Wealth in the New World

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For nearly two centuries, the Knights Templar plundered the vast riches of the Near East while marching under the banner of Christ in the Crusades. In addition to the silks, bullion, spices and other valuables the Templars claimed as spoils of war, the wealth of countless dukes, barons, viscounts and other lords flowed into the Order’s coffers as the flower of European nobility rushed to join the ranks of the holy warriors. The massive fortune collected by the Templars generated awe, jealousy and—in the centuries after their disbandment—hope for a payout.

“It’s fantastic treasure,” says Marty Lagina, who along with brother Rick stars in History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. The show follows the brothers’ quest to uncover a vast store of riches long rumored to be hidden on its titular Nova Scotian island. What exactly that treasure is (and who hid it) eludes clear-cut definition. Theorists and treasure hunters speculate it is anything from lost manuscripts of Shakespearean plays to Marie Antoinette’s jewels to a sunken Viking ship. But the Laginas have seen enough evidence to convince them the treasure could be part of the lost Templar riches. “The connection with the Templars has always been there, since the original discovery of the Money Pit, which supposedly happened in 1795,” says Rick. “There’s always been four or five credible theories about the treasure’s origins—one of which has been that it’s from the Templars.”

How did the wealth of a medieval order of knights, who were destroyed more than a century before Christopher Columbus’s historic voyage, find a home in the New World? The prevailing theory among true believers is that during the Templar’s final days, a fleet of the Order’s ships sailed from La Rochelle, France to the safety of Scotland. The treasure then rested at Kilwinning Abbey until Sir Henry Sinclair and a group of Scottish knights spirited the wealth away to Oak Island, hiding the riches on the island for their progeny to eventually recover.

The story strikes most historians as more than a little fanciful, and the Laginas certainly approach it with a healthy sense of skepticism. “The theory gets a little more tenuous after you have the knights leaving Scotland,” says Marty. However, the brothers quickly point to what they believe is evidence that other Europeans reached the shores of America before Columbus. “There’s the Newport Tower in Rhode Island, which, according to the carbon-14 dating, was constructed between 1440 and 1480,” says Rick (though most researchers believe the tower was built well after Columbus’s discovery). He also references the Narragansett Rune Stone in Rhode Island, which, according to geologist Scott Wolter, contains a mark that links the slab of rock to the same sect of monks that helped construct Kilwinning Abbey—the same place that supposedly housed the Templar treasure before its journey to the New World. “There are these connections—spider web connections—but no dots that say it went from here to here to Oak Island,” says Rick.

Despite the lack of a smoking gun proving Sinclair and the Scottish knights made the voyage to Oak Island, the brothers maintain certain discoveries they’ve made on Oak Island make the Templar theory intriguing, if not convincing. “Has there been a find on Oak Island that we can say is a definitive tie-in to the Templars? No,” says Rick. “But, are there curious facts and bits of discovery that indicate the possibility? Yes.” One of those bits of evidence is the fact that the flag of the island’s native peoples, the Mi’kmaq, bears a striking resemblance to the Templar’s battle flag: a red cross on white with a red crescent and red star.

For Marty, the engravings of what appear to him to be corn and trillium flowers in Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel—a chapel built by Henry Sinclair’s grandson William in 1446—lend credence to the Templar theory. “To me, being from upper Michigan, there does really appear to be trilliums in the chapel,” says Marty. Both corn and trillium flowers are native to the Americas, indicating to Marty that Henry Sinclair had visited the New World and passed on what he saw to his family, who later incorporated it into the chapel decorations.

After pouring so much of their time and energy into navigating the pitfalls and perils of Oak Island in their effort to uncover the island’s secrets, the Laginas have high hopes their story will end with some sort of payoff. “We all want our money back,” says Rick. But while the brothers would love to discover a pile of gold and riches straight out of an Indiana Jones adventure, the rewards of the hunt extend beyond material goods. “I believe there’s a story on Oak Island of historic significance, and I want to be part of the team that figures it out,” says Rick. “If that story involves the Templars—one of the most powerful entities on the face of continental Europe during their time—then all the better.”

His brother agrees that finding solid proof of a Templar presence at Oak Island would constitute a huge win, but also embraces the mindset of what his sibling calls “hopeful skepticism.” “There are certain people who believe almost every lost treasure in existence has a connection to Oak Island. So we’ve got to take it all with a little dose of reality,” Marty says. In an adventure filled with half-truths and cryptic clues, keeping that level head may be the most valuable asset of all.

This article appears in the Newsweek’s special edition, Secret Socities: Infiltrating the Inner Circle, by Issue Editor James Ellis of Topix Media Lab.

History of the Kurds

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This week a group of Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State militants in Northern Syria successfully captured a key district in Kobane. They have now gained control of 80% of the town, including key locations such as the police headquarters, according to BBC News. The Kurdish fighters have been playing an important role in the battle against IS since September 2014. A look at the fascinating and at times tragic history of the Kurdish people can give some insight into how they have become increasingly important to events in the Middle East.

Kurds belong to the Iranian section of the broad family of Indo-European peoples, but details of their exact origins are hard to confirm. Links can be found to the Medes, a tribe from the sixth century BCE who conquered Assyria and founded an empire that included what is now Iran and central Anatolia. The Medes political influence came to an end with the arrival of Alexander the Great in the region. From then until the rise of Islam, there were references to mountain tribes with names similar to Kurd, although it is debated among scholars whether these can be definitively linked to modern Kurds.

The tribe’s conversion to Islam in the seventh century provides the first explicit references to the name Kurd. Although never establishing a permanent nation state, the Kurds have frequently played a key role in the history of the Middle East. Since the Crusades, they have held a reputation as fierce fighters, often recruited into the armies of other states, tribes and civilisations. This reputation was most clearly embodied in Saladin, a key Muslim military leader during the Crusades, who was of Kurdish decent.

Historically the Kurds led nomadic lives in the plains and highlands around south-western Armenia, north-western Iran, northern Iraq, north-east Syria and south-east Turkey. Their society was built around sheep and goat herding. Despite the lack of a permanent state, a strong Kurd cultural identity exists, one fostered through centuries of tradition and shared history.

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century the Kurd’s traditional nomadic existence came under threat as borders of neighbouring states became more rigidly established in traditional Kurdish mountain territories, putting pressure on the Kurds to integrate into other societies.

At the start of the twentieth century Kurdish nationalists became more determined, and began agitating for a state of their own. Since the 1890s Kurdish newspapers and political clubs existed in what is now Turkey, highlighting a growing cultural autonomy. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One presented a great opportunity for the establishment of Kurdistan, and the Treaty of Sevres of 1920 made provision for the Kurdish state. Three years later however, the borders of Turkey were drawn in the Treaty of Lausanne and Kurdistan was not included. The Kurds were thus left with minority status in the states of the Middle East.

In the 1920s and 1930s Kurdish uprisings in eastern Turkey were met with brutal government suppression. Over the following decades attempts were made to outlaw the Kurdish language and prevent Kurds wearing their traditional clothes in the country’s major cities. In 1978 Abdullah Ocalan founded the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an organisation dedicated to the creation of an independent Kurdistan. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the PKK engaged in acts of guerrilla warfare and terrorism against the Turkish government in the Eastern provinces, until Ocalan was captured in 1999. In 2002 the Turkish government legalised broadcasts in the Kurdish language, as part of the attempt to gain membership to the European Union, but tensions and skirmishes have continued.

The conflict with IS has further complicated the situation between Turkey and its Kurd population. 160,000 Kurd refugees have been allowed across the Turkish border, to escape the fighting in Iraq and Syria. However, Turkey remains reluctant to further involve itself in the war with IS, fearing that former PPK fighters will cross the border and launch attacks on Turkey.

Iraqi and Syrian Kurds have been pulled into the fighting by IS advances into their territories in the respective countries. In January 2014 several Kurdish political parties in Syria took advantage of the disorder caused by the Syrian Civil War to declare the creation of a Kurdish regional government. The Syrian Kurd’s fight against the IS militants can be seen as another part of this campaign for independence, securing their territory from the rapid jihadist advance that has shocked the Middle East.

The 30 million Kurds in the Middle East make up the fourth largest ethnic group living in the region. As their contribution to the fighting against IS proves, they still play a vital role in the outcome of events and the path of history in the Middle East.

By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com

Forget The Da Vinci Code: this is the real mystery of the Knights Templar

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Not so long ago, casually throwing the Knights Templar into polite conversation was a litmus test of mental health. One of Umberto Eco’s characters in Foucault’s Pendulum summed it up perfectly. He declared that you could recognise a lunatic “by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars”.

But all good things come to an end. The enigmatic medieval monk-knights are no longer a fringe interest for obsessives. They are now squarely mainstream. And as 18 March 2014 draws closer, Templarmania is going to be ratcheted up several more notches.

Everyone loves an anniversary, and this is going to be a big one. It will be exactly 700 years since the legendary Jacques de Molay, last Grand Master of the Templars, was strapped to a stake in Paris and bonfired alive. For centuries after de Molay’s execution in 1314, everyone wanted to sweep the ashes of the whole dreadful affair under the carpet. The official line was that the Templars, the former darlings of Christendom, had fallen from grace. Power had gone to their heads, and they had degenerated into something unspeakable (for a medieval order of monks, at any rate): spitting and urinating on crucifixes, worshiping idols, and finding sexual release with each other.

King Philip IV “the Fair” of France had personally overseen seven years of inquiry into the order’s suspicious practices. Based on the information it unearthed, he was convinced that he had exposed something rotten in society. The world, he was sure, would be better off without their sort — so he moved to have the Order stamped out. In the end, faced with Philip’s sustained pious outrage, the yellow-bellied pope of the day (a stooge who owed everything to Philip) had little alternative except to close the Templars down on the basis their reputation was irreparably shot. Philip then spent the next few years getting his hands on the Templars’ vast wealth, which he justified as compensation for having financed the enquiry to expose their dreadful sins.

For the following centuries, no one really spoke of the Templars. They were an embarrassment, and the less said about them the better. It was as if they had never been.

An attempt to rehabilitate them came first from a Scottish Freemason in the early 1700s, but his views did not spread wider than the royal Jacobite court where he presented them. A century later, the Order’s traditional reputation as depraved deviants re-emerged, but this time as the arch-villains in books – most famously in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. But fast-forward to 2013, and for some reason the Templars are everywhere. Promotional stands in bookshops buckle under the weight of credulity-busting Templar plots. Bug-eyed computer gamers, cloaked in the Templars’ iconic white robes and blood red crosses, slash and parry through historical adventures of derring-do. Cruise-ships of sightseers descend on original Templar buildings. And in central London, you can now even unwind with a pint in The Knights Templar pub.

Yet the increasing popularity of the Templars is something of a mystery, because it is hard to see how or why the modern world identifies with the Order at all. The Templars were medieval monk-knights, the crack troops of the Crusades – so effective and feared on the battlefield that Saladin once famously executed all captured Templars for fear of ever having to face them again. As a sideline to fund their wars, the knights experimented with international finance. They proved so talented at it that they were soon richer than Europe’s leading kings, whom they dutifully bankrolled.

They were, by anybody’s standards, then or now, a startling bunch: one only the medieval world could have conceived of. It is difficult to imagine what a modern equivalent would be. Perhaps a massive international army of chaste militant Christian zealots who also happened to own most of the world’s investment banks? It is hard to see how such a modern group would be remotely popular with the public. So what do people see in the Templars?

Darker interests focus on the Templars as the rallying point of a network of violent European white supremacism – a lodestar of racial hatred around which extremism can gravitate. The appeal of the Templars to extremists is probably inevitable. The Templars were founded during the Crusades, which can hardly be described as a time of religious and cultural tolerance. But the Templars are always full of surprises, and the historical record shows that even in that climate, the Templars’ sworn mission was in fact to protect pilgrims and the vulnerable. Nowhere in the over 600 provisions of their medieval Rule does it ever refer to anything approaching a mandate for ideological murder of people holding a different faith.

The extremists’ vision of the Templars as a kind of proto-SS ethnic extermination squad is simply ahistorical. The evidence does not bear it out. For instance, take Usamah ibn Munqidh, an adventurous 12th-century Syrian nobleman, diplomat, and poet. He recorded that when he used to visit Jerusalem, the Templars, who were his friends, would let him into their headquarters in the Temple of Solomon (the al-Aqsa mosque), where they would clear a space for him to pray. On one occasion, a nameless European knight repeatedly seized him, and spun him so he was facing East, ordering him to pray as a Christian. The Templars quickly intervened and ejected the knight, before explaining apologetically to Usamah that the knight was fresh off the boat from Europe and new to the ways of the Orient.

Accounts like this have spawned a growing camp of people who look to the Templars’ spiritual side, and see in the Order a fascinating enigma. The idea that the Templars had an alternate spirituality, perhaps even a slightly mystical one, is, interestingly, not a New Age invention. People were saying it before the Templars were closed down. The poet-knight Wolfram von Eschenbach, writing sometime between 1200 and 1225, gave the German people their first Holy Grail epic: Parzival. In it, he described how the Grail was kept at the castle of Munsalvaesche, guarded by a company of chaste knights called Templeise. This is the earliest association between the Templars and the magical supernatural, and predates The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail crowd by at least seven-and-a-half centuries.

The other ancient association of the Templars with the supernatural is perhaps better known, but sadly more garbled. It was reported by medieval chroniclers that as the flames of the funeral pyre began to lick at Jacques de Molay, he prophesied that within a year the king and pope (who had together effectively destroyed the Templars and condemned him to a heretic’s death) would meet him before God’s celestial tribunal, where they would be judged for their corruption. Although both men died within the year, the story of Jacques de Molay’s “curse” seems to have been embellished from his actual words, which may have been a simpler threat that God would avenge his unjust death.

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Nevertheless, versions of this legend are widespread, and have long added to the Templars’ mystique. Although all King Philip’s public statements on the Templars were steeped in a viscous piety and an endlessly-repeated desire to act as the Church’s protector, the reality was the magnetic opposite. His “inquiry” was, in fact, a brutal persecution, which involved seven years of barbarous incarcerations, horrific tortures, and multiple burnings at the stake. Philip was not remotely motivated by religion, despite his sanctimonious flannel. His coffers were filled with nothing but dust and air, and he urgently needed eye-watering sums of money to fuel his appetite for European wars. At the same time, pope-baiting was high on his list of hobbies, and he clearly felt that destroying the Vatican’s invincible army would be a distinct milestone in his effort to position France as the dominant power in Europe.

Unsurprisingly, it was fashionable for many years to see the Templars as the wholly innocent victims of Philip’s squalid politics. Philip was indeed shameless in the way he hurled as many charges at the Templars as he thought were necessary to whip up public outrage and disgust. He was an experienced master at the all-important game of spin, having garnered support against the previous pope using the identical charges of heresy and homosexuality. It had worked magnificently on that occasion – his men even kidnapped the elderly pope, and when the old cleric died of shock, Philip insisted on a posthumous trial to prove the trumped-up charges against the dead pope. So there is no doubt that Philip was a gifted bully – a spectacularly unscrupulous manipulator with no concern at how much blood needed spilling for him to get his way.

However, there are always twists in the tail when it comes to the Templars, and it seems Philip may have found a tiny ember of genuine Templar heresy, which he deftly fanned into a fire big enough to consume the Order. A detailed reading of the complicated sequence of confessions and retractions made by both the rank-and-file knights and the leaders of the Order leaves little doubt that the Templars were up to something. King Philip’s allegations of them worshipping a head that could make trees flower and the land germinate were plainly fabricated, and no evidence of anything remotely related was ever unearthed. Likewise, his accusations of institutionalised homosexuality proved to be invented. But many knights, including Jacques de Molay and some of his most senior lieutenants, did openly admit, at times with no torture, that new members of the Order were pulled aside in private after their monastic reception ceremonies and asked to deny Christ and spit on a crucifix. None of the knights could give an explanation why this was done. They said it had simply always been a tradition, and that the new brother usually complied ore sed non corde, with words but not the heart.

After so many centuries, we can only guess at the bizarre ritual’s significance. It may originally have been a character test to get some idea of how the new recruit might react if captured and subjected to religious pressure. But no one can say for sure. Nevertheless, it does clearly demonstrate that the Templars were subversive when they wanted. In fact, the clearest evidence that the Templars were not all they seemed is largely unknown, even among Templar experts. But it is potentially extraordinarily important. It takes the form of an original Templar building, still standing, nestled in a quiet corner of green countryside. Inside, it contains an enigma that may yet cause experts to revisit the entire question of the Templars’ religious beliefs.

It is not Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, which has no Templar connections at all, having been built a century and a half after the Order was suppressed. Instead, it is a small mid-12th-century chapel in the village of Montsaunès, set in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, on one of the principal medieval highways leading from France into Spain. It was in a critical location. The fight to wrest Spain back from Islam was in full flow, and Montsaunès was on a strategic defensive line. Surviving medieval charters prove beyond doubt that the chapel was unquestionably built by the Templars, then occupied and maintained by the Order for 150 years. It was the heart of one the Order’s great European commanderies (fortified monasteries), although nothing else of it survives.

The reason for its importance to the question of Templar spirituality is immediately apparent the moment you enter the ancient building. The whole interior is painted, as most medieval churches and cathedrals were. But the Templars’ chosen decorations for this particular chapel were not saints, bible scenes, and the usual range of religious imagery. The surviving frescoes are a bizarre collection of stars and wheels, rolling around the walls and ceiling in some mysterious, unfathomable pattern. Interspersed among them are also grids and chequer-boards, painted with equal precision – but also with no apparent sense or meaning. There is nothing remotely Christian about it. The overall effect is calendrical and astrological, with a whiff of the Qabbalistic. It is like some strange hermetic temple, whose meaning is obscured to all except initiates.

The conclusion of the few experts in medieval art who have looked at the frescoes is that they are unlike anything else they have ever seen. They are “unknown esoteric decoration”. Anyone studying the startling paintings quickly realises that they transcend the small French commune where they remain unnoticed, 850 years on. They demand answers. What did they mean to the Knights Templar? Why did they paint them so meticulously? And what prompted them to put them in their chapel, the building at the heart of their spiritual life, which they entered to pray in nine times a day?

We simply do not know the answers. But the chapel at Montsaunès is proof, in its own enigmatic way that the religious life of the Templars was not as straightforward as we have perhaps come to believe. As Umberto Eco’s lunatics, and a growing swathe of more ordinary people, prepare to mark the anniversary of Jacques de Molay’s death, there will be discussions about individual freedom and the abuse of power, about political show trials and miscarriages of justice, and about Europe’s transition from theocracy to autocracy. But there will also be time to think again about what knowledge went up in flames with Jacques de Molay, and to the grave with the other knights.

The little-known chapel at Montsaunès reminds us that there is much we still do not know about the Templars, who increasingly baffle us the more we discover about them.

Dominic Selwood’s new thriller The Sword of Moses features the Templars, Montsaunès and a number of the themes discussed in this article.

in The Telegraph

by: Dominic Selwood
Dr Dominic Selwood is a former criminal barrister, novelist and historian with a passion for the less visited corners of the archives. He is the author of the crypto-thriller, The Sword of Moses (2013), and the textbook on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Cloister (1999). He tweets as @DominicSelwood

This is the man who turned Christianity into a global religion. Do you even know his name?

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Who founded Christianity?

It is an age-old debate.

Christ? Well, yes. Of course. Obviously.

St Peter? Also yes. Christ built his church upon the rock — so the faithful believe, following the Gospel of St Matthew.

St Paul? Yes again. In first century Galilee, there were no schools for those who farmed, fished, or worked with their hands. St Peter was a simple workers from an agrarian community, and there is no reason to suppose he could read, write, or speak any language other than his native Aramaic.  By contrast, St Paul was a highly educated and literate intellectual. He was a Roman citizen of Cilicia (south-eastern Turkey), and his native language was Greek — which enabled his letters and public speaking to be understood across the vast reaches of the empire. His indefatigable thinking, preaching, and writing unquestionably defined great swathes of Christianity.

Yet in some senses, asking who founded Christianity is a fatuous question. The Greek honorific title Christos (meaning the Annointed One) and the word Christianos (Christian) would have meant nothing to Yeshu’a, which was the Aramaic name Jesus would have answered to. The words were never used in his life time. The first recorded occasion was years later, miles to the north-west in Antioch.

Beyond the words, how many of Christianity’s reported 41,000 denominations would they recognise today? Would any of the buildings, activities, liturgies, theologies, vestments, ecstatic glossolalia, and all the rest be familiar?

Whatever the answer, there is, in fact, one more person to add to this list — and he definitely would recognise the 1.5 billion Catholics and Orthodox Christians alive today. He was not a founder of Christianity. But he was definitely one of its most important figures. Ever.

Flavius Theodosius was born in Spain in AD 347, and one of his two most memorable achievements was to be the last man to rule over both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

But his truly lasting achievement was perhaps one of the ten decisions that have most shaped the post-Roman world.

Today, the 27th of February, in AD 380, Theodosius proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

It is our desire that all the various nations which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue in the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus … . We authorise the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians. (Theodosius I, Cunctos populos)

At the time, the empire heaved with colourful temples to everything you can think of. Cicero called the Romans “the most religious people” (religiosissima gens), and the sheer variety of popular cults proves it. Worshippers could find everything from traditional Graeco-Roman deities, the Egyptian cults of Isis, Osiris, and Serapis, the ubiquitous near-eastern mystery religions of Mithras, Cybele, and Attis, and hundreds of others — all spiced up with the usual sacrificial fare and traditional temple prostitutes.

But enough was enough. To reinforce the status of Christianity as the sole imperial religion, Theodosius outlawed all pagan practices.

It was a highly controversial move, and he must have been aware of its enormity.

Even the Serb, Emperor Constantine I (AD 305 to 337), had not gone that far.

It is true that Constantine is reported to have fought and won the decisive battle of the Milvian Bridge with the Chi Rho daubed onto his men’s shields. He had apparently seen a vision of the Christian symbol in the sky, along with the Greek words ἐν τούτῳ νίκα (en touto nika, “In this, conquer”), and it had inspired him. Once emperor, in AD 313 he promptly enacted the Edict of Milan to guarantee freedom of religion throughout the empire.

Of the things that are of profit to all mankind, the worship of God ought rightly to be our first and chiefest care. Christians and all others should have freedom to follow the kind of religion they favour. We therefore announce that all who choose Christianity are to be permitted to continue therein, without any let or hindrance, and are not to be in any way troubled or molested. At the same time, all others are to be allowed the free and unrestricted practice of their religions; for it accords with the good order of the realm and the peacefulness of our times that each should have freedom to worship God after his own choice. (Constantine,The Edict of Milan)

Perhaps the drafters of the First Amendment to the American Constitution had this edict in mind, although they expressed their version significantly less eloquently:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Constantine did not stop with freeing everyone from religious persecution. In AD 325 he convened, presided over, and paid for the first ecumenical Church council. He held it at Nicaea (modern-day Iznik in Turkey), where it oversaw the resolution of numerous key decisions regarding the early Church and its structure. Yet Constantine did it all while still a pagan and pontifex maximus, or head of Rome’s pagan priesthood — a role he officially retained until his death, even after his personal conversion to Christianity late in life. Theodosius was, unsurprisingly, the first emperor to abandon the priestly title, which in time migrated across to the pope.

Today, Christianity has 2.2 billion followers (32 per cent of the world’s population), making it by far the largest, and most evenly spread, religion on the planet. Islam is next at 1.6 billion (23 per cent), followed by Hinduism at 1 billion (15 per cent).

Theodosius is perhaps more responsible for the massive spread of Christianity than either St Peter or St Paul, for the simple reason that religions and their denominations benefit from political backing to light the afterburners and tear free from the pack. This should come as no real surprise — it is how human society generally works.

We have even seen it in England. In the late middle ages, Lollards and the occasional disgruntled theologian grumbled on and off. But it took almost a century of the sheer absolutist power and political resolve of the Tudor monarchs to carve a new church into the ages-old landscape of England.

The same union of religion and politics can be seen elsewhere, too.

Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–92) was an Islamic preacher and reformer who wished for a simpler form of Islam that better reflected early practice. In many ways, he was the equivalent in Islam of those medieval Catholics who sought the apostolic life of the early desert fathers, or the later Protestant reformers of Europe who strove to take the Church to a perceived former simplicity. Abd al-Wahhab’s ideas were powerful, but they truly became globally significant after they were endorsed and promulgated by Muhammad ibn Saud, whose legacy has shaped the modern state of Saudi Arabia, and whose influence can be felt throughout the Arab world.

Therefore, when Theodosius adopted Nicene Christianity as the imperial religion in AD 380, he set a precedent whose impact is now felt globally. For as the Roman Empire in the West fell, the monarchs who were to fill the void in Europe for the next millennium and a half largely kept Christianity as their state religion. And when they conquered and colonised, they took their religion with them.

Unlike ancient Rome, we no longer exterminate those who profess other religions.

So as Prince Charles ponders becoming Defender of the Faith (a title first given to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X, but then revoked and now conferred by Parliament instead), he has a few questions to consider.

What does it mean, historically, to defend the faith? Henry VIII was given the title in recognition of his most Catholic written refutation and execration of what he saw as Luther’s pernicious heresies. Henry wrote up his passionate arguments in a book he nattily entitled Defence of the Seven Sacraments, which he dedicated to the pope.

That is what it meant to defend the faith in the early 1500s. But what does it require now? In the 21st century, is Defender of the Faith an honorific title, or does it mean something more?

And equally as important. should the Defender of the Faith choose to be a Constantine or a Theodosius? Should he rule over a realm in which he protects his subjects’ freedom to practise a religion of their choice, or should he defend only the state religion?

Prince Charles has made his position clear. He will be the Defender of Faith. Happily the Latin, fidei defensor, does not change with the loss of the definite article.

He has history on his side. For it is interesting to note that everyone has heard of Constantine the Great’s religious toleration — but, for all his seismic historical importance, how many remember Theodosius I?

in The Telegraph

by: Dominic Selwood
Dr Dominic Selwood is a former criminal barrister, novelist and historian with a passion for the less visited corners of the archives. He is the author of the crypto-thriller, The Sword of Moses (2013), and the textbook on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Cloister (1999). He tweets as @DominicSelwood

A Jug of Wine, A Loaf of Bread – and Thou; Isis, Iraq and the real Islamic caliphates

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A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness —
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

As a bunch of gun-toting religious maniacs tear apart the Middle East, I’ve been thinking about this verse. It’s from Edward FitzGerald’s 19th-century translation of the 12th-century Persian poet-philosopher-mathematician Omar Khayyam’s quatrain. There have been a few rather different translations, but they seem largely to address the same thing: being with the person you love, singing songs and drinking wine.

That’s the image I tend to associate with an Islamic caliphate, although there is some argument over whether or not Khayyam was a religious Muslim: he is described as a Sufi, a member of a spiritual branch of Islam, but also as a hedonist and agnostic. But according to Remi Hauman, a Khayyam scholar, a version of that verse goes even further back, to an actual Umayyad caliph, Walîd Ibn Yazîd, who ruled briefly in AD 743 to 744:

Leave me, Sulaymâ, wine, a singing girl, and a cup. I don’t need any more possessions.
When life is pleasant in Ramlat ‘Alij, and I hold Salmâ in my arms, I would not change places with anyone.

I’ve been thinking about this because the Sunni fanatics of Isis have now called the little territory they’ve carved for themselves on the Iraq-Syria border a new Islamic State, and in fact a “caliphate”. Isis believe that Shias are heretics who should be killed, demand that all Muslims worldwide pledge allegiance to their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who they call the Caliph, and wish to impose an especially brutal form of Sharia.

“They want to build a caliphate,” says Tom Holland, the author of In the Shadow of the Sword, “and that raises the question of what they mean by that.” The original caliphate was the Islamic Arab empire that arose in the years after Mohammed’s death. And, like the Roman empire and the British empire, says Holland, it evolved over centuries – and then “invented its own backstory”, created a tale in which it was set up in the way that Mohammed was instructed by God to set up an empire. “Caliph” means “successor”: the caliphs were supposed to be the successors of the Prophet.

The Sunni/Shia divide, incidentally, stems from a disagreement over whether the caliph should be chosen by the Muslim people, as the Sunnis believe, or appointed by God.

Anyway. As the Khayyam poem suggests, the caliphates were not always what Isis would think of as Islamic. The Caliph al-Mutawakkil, we are told, was murdered by his guard after a night of heavy drinking. As well as the wine, at least one caliph, Al-Hakam II, the Caliph of Cordoba, was openly homosexual, and had a harem of boys; he only bore an heir by having a female concubine dress up in male clothes and take a male name, Jafar. According to the Encyclopedia of Medieval Iberia, in the final centuries of Islamic Spain:

…because of Christian opposition to it and because of immigration and conversion of those who were sympathetic, homosexuality took on a greater ideological role. It had an important place in Islamic mysticism and monasticism; the contemplation of the beardless youth was “an act of worship”, the contemplation of God in human form.

And the harems, the world of Scheherazade and the 1,001 Arabian Nights:

The girls sat around me, and when night came, five of them rose and set up a banquet with plenty of nuts and fragrant herbs. Then they brought the wine vessels and we sat to drink.

With the girls sitting all around me, some singing, some playing the flute, the psalter, the lute, and all other musical instruments, while the bowls and cups went round. I was so happy that I forgot every sorrow in the world, saying to myself, ‘This is the life; alas, that it is fleeting’. Then they said to me, ‘O our lord, choose from among us whomever you wish to spend this night with you’.

Of course this wouldn’t have been the whole story of an Islamic caliphate. But this is part of the story; the caliphates were not, always, harsh puritanical places, but places of learning, places of sybaritic pleasure, places of wine and song.

But, says Tom Holland, Isis aren’t interested in the historical realities as they try to make their own “Caliphate”. “They’re not interested in Omar Khayyam, they’re not interested in the real caliphates: they want to bring to light God’s plan, to restore the civilisation they believe Mohammed built in Medina.” Their image of that civilisation has no basis in historical reality, and they wouldn’t care if it did. But the real story of the caliphates is both more interesting and more complex than their simplistic, brutal vision.

No doubt it would do no good at all. But I wish someone would read Omar Khayyam to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

in The Telegraph

by: Tom Chivers
Tom Chivers is the Telegraph’s assistant comment editor. He writes mainly on science.

What the Crusades tell us about shifting borders in the Middle East

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The Levant, the region running inland from the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean, has been fought over for millennia. Its vital trade and military roads linking Anatolia to north Africa and Arabia have been guarded and coveted since time immemorial. Control is everything, as Moses found out to his cost when he wanted to move north up the ancient King’s Highway out of the Sinai and into Edom (modern day southern Israel):

“Now let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from any well; we will go along the King’s Highway, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, or we will come out with the sword against you.” The Israelites said to him, “We will stay on the highway; and if we drink of your water, we and our livestock, then we will pay for it. It is only a small matter; just let us pass through on foot.” But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large force, heavily armed. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through their territory; so Israel turned away from them.
(Numbers 20:17–21)

Countless cultures have fought for dominance in the region — Canaanite, Philistine, Hebrew, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljuk, crusader, Ayyubid, Khwarazmian, Mamluk, Ottoman, British, French, Jewish, the list goes on. Most of the conquests have been bloody. All have caused regional upheavals. Some have spread even further, sending international shockwaves east and west.

This week marks two major anniversaries of crusader history, both of which had a profound impact on the whole of Europe. On 4 July 1187, Saladin crushed the crusaders at the battle of the Horns of Hattin — one of the most important military encounters of the medieval world. Ninety years later, on 1 July 1277, Sultan al-Malik Baybars died. Although less well known in the West than Saladin, Baybars was a far more brutal and effective warlord. It was his devastating campaigns that finally ripped the heart out of the crusades, propelling the whole project into its darkening, twilight years.

When the crusaders had first conquered Jerusalem in 1099, waves of elation crashed across Latin Christendom. Jerusalem was the umbilicus mundi, the centre of Europe’s conception of the world as depicted in medieval maps like Hereford’s glorious Mappa Mundi. God clearly favoured the Christian settlers, and had given their armies Jerusalem to prove it.

The crusades were not the first time Jerusalem was under Christian rule. The Holy Land had been Christian in the days of the Byzantine Empire (c. AD 325–637). Emperor Constantine the Great and Empress Helena had Christianised the city, renaming it “Jerusalem” and wiping out the pagan remains of Aelia Capitolina built by Hadrian in AD 130 on the rubble of Jerusalem. At the heart of his new Jerusalem, Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and made it the pre-eminent Christian pilgrimage destination. However, since the Rashidun Caliphate under Umar the Great had conquered the Near East in AD 637, Jerusalem had been under Islamic rule.

Hand in hand with the crusaders’ initial elation in 1099 came the practical problem of controlling vast swathes of conquered territory far from home in their new land of “Outremer”, the place “beyond the sea”. The result was countless famous battles in which the pendulum swung one way then the other during the 192 years of crusader presence in the Levant. Although many of the engagements are still famous  — like Jacob’s Ford and the Field of Blood — the Horns of Hattin stands head and shoulders above them as one of the turning points of world history.

Map of the crusader states before Saladin’s conquests

Today, as the politically unrelated and separate conflicts in Syria and Iraq coalesce and evolve into an all-consuming regional power struggle, it is worth looking at the battle of the Horns of Hattin as a reminder of the region’s merciless ability to keep redrawing its borders and reinventing itself in blood.

First, put Ridley Scott’s epic 2005 film, Kingdom of Heaven, out of mind. It excels in evoking the existential crisis of the crusader kingdom at the tail end of the reign of the leper king, Baldwin IV. And it is a seductive and visually sumptuous world, where faith, honour, ideals, and love vie alongside ambition, bloodlust, venality, and the ugly side of unchecked militarism. But it is not a faithful account of the events leading up to the cataclysmic battle of Hattin and Balian of Ibelin’s doomed defence of Jerusalem. For a start, the real Balian was 44 years old at Hattin, did not know one end of an anvil from the other, was married to a member of the Byzantine royal family, and was born and lived his whole life as a powerful, wealthy noble in the crusader states.

The true story of Hattin is nevertheless every bit as soaked in romance and ambition as Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

Some years earlier, Lucia of Botrun, a beautiful and wealthy Levantine heiress, was ignominiously placed onto a huge set of scales and publicly weighed. A merchant from Pisa piled up the pan on the other side with gold bezants until he had measured out her weight in gold, which he then gave to her overlord as payment for her hand in marriage. In the wings, a headstrong Flemish crusader, Gerard de Ridefort, vowed revenge. He had previously asked Lucia’s overlord, Count Raymond III of Tripoli (of Toulouse) for her hand, but his request was refused. Despite the fact Raymond was one of the kingdom’s wisest and coolest heads, Gerard immediately left Raymond’s service, nursing a grievance that would lead to the downfall of a kingdom.

After recovering from a serious illness, or perhaps sensing faster promotion as a professional crusader, Gerard soon took the dramatic step of professing solemn monastic vows as a Knight Templar, devoting himself to a celibate community life of praying and fighting. His exceptional abilities were quickly recognised, and he rose swiftly through the Order’s ranks to become their tenth Grand Master. This unique position gave him privileged access to Christendom’s royalty — especially in Jerusalem — an influence he used, among other things, to oppose and thwart Raymond whenever he could.

In 1185, on the death of the leper King Baldwin IV, his seven-year-old nephew took the throne under the regency of Raymond. But when the young king died within a year, the crown passed to his mother and step-father: Sibylla of Jerusalem and Guy of Lusignan. The kingdom promptly tore itself into two poisonously opposed factions — those like Gerard de Ridefort and the Templars who supported Queen Sibylla and King Guy, and those like Count Raymond who backed Isabella, Sibylla’s half-sister.

With the kingdom hopelessly divided, the scene was set for a catastrophe. It just needed someone to light the touchpaper.

King Guy counted among his camp a maverick one-man army: Raynald of Châtillon, “the Elephant of Christ”. Raynald had been in the crusader states since the second crusade, and had spent 15 years in a Muslim jail before leading the crusader forces to a spectacular victory against Saladin at the fêted battle of Montgisard, Saladin’s most crushing defeat. Raynald was therefore a seasoned operator in the region, and had been rewarded with the lordship of Oultrejourdain (the lands beyond the River Jordan). However, he is usually most often remembered for his cruelty, endless piracy and plundering, unwillingness to obey kings, and repeated breaking of delicate truces to the annoyance of all sides.

In 1187, when Raynald again broke a truce and attacked yet another Muslim caravan travelling the King’s Highway near his Red Sea outpost at Kerak, Saladin could stand by no longer. He declared the truce to be a sham, and led an invasion army across the Jordan. Raynald’s lawlessness had finally provoked the largest united Muslim force the crusaders had ever seen.

The end began quickly. On 1 May 1187, at the Springs of Cresson near Nazareth, a small group of around 140 Templars and Hospitallers found themselves confronting a 7.000-strong detachment of the Muslim army under al-Afdal, Saladin’s son. The master of the Hospitallers and several senior Templars counselled retreat, but Gerard de Ridefort accused them of cowardice and ordered an attack. The result was a charnel house. Gerard de Ridefort and two other Templars were the only known survivors.

Back in Jerusalem. King Guy and the royal court knew that a full-scale onslaught from Saladin’s 30,000 men was now imminent. All they could do was wait to see where it would come.

Saladin made the first move. He advanced to Tiberias on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee. The castle belonged to Count Raymond III of Tripoli, who was away with the royal court, leaving it garrisoned by Eschiva, his wife.

On 2 July, King Guy held a war council to decide on a response. And it was here, at this critical moment in the history of the crusader kingdom, that the memory of Lucia of Botrun on the gold scales filled the room. Count Raymond calmly advised King Guy that Saladin was setting a trap, trying to get the crusaders to leave the safety and water of Sepphoris. He was, Raymond explained, hoping to lure the crusaders onto arid open ground where the Muslims’ numerical advantage could be best used. But whatever Raymond said was always wrong in the eyes of Gerard de Ridefort and Raynald of Châtillon, who shouted him down, accusing him of cowardice. They argued long into the night that King Guy should immediately lead the crusaders to march on Tiberias. In undoubtedly the worst decision of his life, Guy allowed himself to be persuaded by Gerard and Raynald, and ordered the army to ready itself. He was a politician not a soldier, and his lack of experience was about to cost the crusaders dearly.

The following day, 3 July, the pride of the crusading army thundered out of the springs of Sepphoris heading east for Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee. From the moment they left, the outcome was sealed. Saladin had to do very little. The summer heat was unbearable, and the mail-clad crusaders lacked water. To make them even thirstier, Saladin lit brushwood fires around them, engulfing the advancing columns in clouds of billowing smoke. Panicked, choking, and dehydrated, the crusader army broke apart, allowing Saladin to encircle them. The crusaders were finally corralled on the two hills known as the Horns of Hattin, just six miles short of Tiberias, where the massacre began.

Map of the battle of the Horns of Hattin (from arsbellica)

King Guy, Gerard de Ridefort, and Raynald of Châtillon were all taken prisoner. The crusaders’ most sacred relic, the True Cross discovered by the Empress Helena in the AD 320s, was also captured, taken in triumph to Damascus, and never seen again.

As depicted in Kingdom of Heaven, Saladin invited King Guy and Raynald of Châtillon into his tent, where he offered a groggy Guy a cup of iced water to slake his thirst. When Guy then passed the cup to Raynald, Saladin responded that he had not personally offered refreshment to Raynald, and was therefore not bound by any rules of hospitality towards him. He asked Raynald why he had broken so many oaths over the years. Raynald replied that kings had always acted thus, and he had done no more. Saladin then personally beheaded Raynald, before dragging his decapitated body over to a terrified Guy. “Kings do not kill kings”, he reassured Guy, but explained that Raynald was an oath-breaker whose repeated “maleficence and perfidy” had warranted immediate death.

Guy and the other captured nobles were all eventually ransomed, apart from the 230 Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller whom Saladin judged too militarily dangerous to be allowed freedom. He ordered them beheaded on the spot:

With him was a whole band of scholars and sufis and a certain number of devout men and ascetics, each begged to be allowed to kill one of them, and drew his sword and rolled back his sleeve. Saladin, his face joyful, was sitting on his dais, the unbelievers showed black despair.
(Imad ad-Din, On the Conquest of the Holy City)

With their army decimated, the crusaders could only watch as one by one their cities then fell. Queen Sibylla and Patriarch Heraclius mounted a last-ditch defence of Jerusalem, before roping in Balian of Ibelin, who had dropped by to collect his family. Balian’s involvement was in strict defiance of an oath of non-belligerence he had given Saladin in order to be allowed to travel to Jerusalem, but he wrote to Saladin to explain his predicament, and Saladin seemed happy for Balian to try to organise Jerusalem’s defences. In any event, they both knew Jerusalem could not withstand a siege. Balian had only a handful of knights, so spontaneously knighted the city’s squires to help in the effort. But it was largely symbolic. On 2 October, Balian went to Saladin’s tent. Saladin confirmed that he had sworn to kill all Jerusalem’s men and to enslave the women and children. In response, Balian threatened to execute the 5,000 Muslim prisoners in Jerusalem, kill the crusaders’ families and livestock, destroy all treasures, and raze the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock to the ground before he and the men marched out to meet their glorious deaths at Saladin’s hands. Unnerved, Saladin suggested a peaceful surrender, which Balian accepted. Saladin then granted safe passage to all inhabitants who could pay their way, and sold the remaining men, women, and children into slavery.

The reaction across Christendom was utter disbelief. It was unthinkable that Jerusalem was no longer a Christian city. Four generations of Western children had grown up knowing that Jerusalem was part of Christendom. The grief at losing it tore deep into the soul of the West. On hearing the news, Pope Urban III died of shock. Within two years, Europe’s leading warrior, Richard the Lionheart, was personally in Outremer to set things right. But the tide had turned, and he failed ever to set eyes on Jerusalem.

Although the crusader states would limp on for another 105 years from their new headquarters at Tyre and then at Acre, medieval Christendom never again owned Jerusalem outright, and life became immeasurably harsher for the remaining crusaders and settlers — notably as a result of the campaigns of Sultan al-Malik Baybars, who died on 1 July 1277, providing the other major Levantine anniversary this week.

Unlike any of the crusaders’ previous opponents, Baybars was a military machine. On some levels, Saladin was not an especially talented general — over the course of 17 years of campaigning against the crusaders, he was regularly not successful on the battlefield. Baybars, on the other hand, was a highly effective general. He rose to power by murdering two Sultans of Egypt (including the last Ayyubid of Saladin’s dynasty), before finally taking personal control as Sultan, leading a hardened army of Mamluks from Egypt and Syria. He was a warlord who had built Egypt’s military caste of slave soldiers (mamluk means slave) into a juggernaut that dominated without opposition, steamrollering both the crusaders and the Mongols invading from the east. To put that into perspective, the Mongols had recently blitzkrieged their way from China to Poland, slaughtering entire populations. No terror like it had ever been seen. In many cities, there was no one left to clear away the mountains of rotting bodies. When Baybars and his Mamluks defeated them in AD 1260 at Ain Jalut (in the Jezreel Valley, Galilee), it was the first time the massed Mongol forces had ever been convincingly beaten. It is little wonder that the Islamic world has always told stories of Baybars, whereas Saladin fell into relative obscurity until resuscitated by Western interest.

Saladin may have broken the crusaders’ hearts, but it was Baybars who effectively snuffed out the crusade movement. As the news from Syria and Iraq in the last few weeks now makes clear, the complexion of the Levant region is changing again. The vacuum in Iraq and the disintegration of society in Syria have created new groups, alliances, and interests. We do well to remember that the region is one where nothing has ever stood still for long.

in The Telegraph

by: Dominic Selwood
Dr Dominic Selwood is a former criminal barrister, novelist and historian with a passion for the less visited corners of the archives. He is the author of the crypto-thriller, The Sword of Moses (2013), and the textbook on the Knights Templar, Knights of the Cloister (1999). He tweets as @DominicSelwood