Friday, May 17, 2013

The Long and Holy War: part 1

Iowa – In 476 Rome fell, and with it the last of the Western Roman Emperors. However, the Eastern Roman Emperors still sat in their gilded palaces at Constantinople, continuing the Roman traditions and still calling themselves Romans. After the fall of the Western Empire they began to expand themselves over the places that the other side of the empire had held. But in time the expansion was stopped by an army under the influence of a new religion. The Muslim hordes were exploding on the scene.
In 570 A.D a young boy named Muhammad was born. In 610, in a cave outside of the city of Mecca he began to have visions, which after being interpreted “properly” explained to him that he needed to begin a new religion. He ran around trying to convert everyone else in Mecca, but the people were unresponsive. So instead he went to a neighboring city called Medina and became its leader.
Muhammad soon began a war with Mecca and the rest of Arabia, and became the first leader to unite it under one man.
This new religion had 5 pillars:
·         The profession of faith
·         Daily prayers at specified times
·         Almsgiving
·         Fasting During the Month of Ramadan
·         A pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca1

He was and is a Muslim who was one outwardly. There was, to them, only one god, Allah, all who worshiped another were infidels. Two years after Muhammad’s death in 632, the new leaders began to invade lands the borders of Arabia where they lived.
Although they were often not very unified, they began to advance Westward. In 732 they marched on France, but were thrown back at the Battle of Tours by the two handed axemen of Charles Martel. Martel’s grandson Charlemagne became the first Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day 800 AD, in France, crowned by the Pope for services rendered him. The Holy Roman Empire, antithetical at its heart to Islam, was born. In the ensuing centuries the two states would battle long and hard.
And so the Holy War had started, between the people of God and the people of Allah. The wars continued, with the beginning of the crusades around 1,000.
There had been too much fighting among the Christians, and some church leaders gave the overly zealous knights and warlike kings a mission to retake Palestine, or the Holy Land, from the heretics.
Jerusalem was taken in the first crusade, and the land divided into four counties. However, once the Muslims unified after their defeat, they took inland the county, the county of Edessa, back from the crusading knights.
A second crusade was launched, but it was not successful.
The third crusade was launched by Richard the Lion Hearted, but he was so warlike he could not get along with the other kings, and so, although he could have ridden into Saladin’s camp alone, he could not take Jerusalem without help. The crusade fell apart, and Richard died not very long after, his brother John becoming king. While the Holy War continued, the Westerners were still advancing in social progress, through such things as the signing by John of the Magna Carta.
The fourth crusade did nothing, as the followers of Islam threw back several other halfhearted efforts of landless knights to win their way by capturing the Holy Sepulcher.
In 1453, the city of Constantinople, the bastion of Christianity, or so it was thought, still held back the Muslim hoards, despite many, many sieges and attacks over the centuries from people from many countries, including Muslims, Vikings, Mongols, and even fellow Christians in the fourth crusade when the people of Venice convinced the crusaders to attack Constantinople, who was their trading rival, rather than attack the Muslims.
To change that, an over 100,000 man army sat down before its walls. In this army there were Janissaries, children of Christians, taken when they were young, and brought up as Muslims. They were the most brutal fighters in the entire army.
They dug tunnels; the Christians turned the water course into them and drowned the diggers. The Muslims built a siege tower; the Christians put gun powder underneath it and blew it up. Finally, in desperation a massive frontal assault was begun. Somehow a door that was underground which was used to carry refuse out of the city was left open. The Janissaries found it, they poured in killing and burning. The emperor and the Patriarch of the eastern church were both killed.
Constantinople had fallen, and the Christians thought that, surely, the long, long Holy War was over. Cannons had been used to take down the walls of the city, the hordes were advancing and there seemed to be no stopping them.
However, growing up in Venice, at that time two years old when the news of the sack of Constantinople came was a little boy named Christopher Columbus. It was 1453, and a new phase in the Holy War was about to begin.


Through His Strength We Will Conquer,

Andrew C. Abbott


1: Ziomkowski 2006. pp. 74.

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