Saturday, October 29, 2011

From Out of the West The Crusaders Came

Terrain analyses of land related to the Crusades in general, but for the Order as well, must include the seas in addition to the major water courses (rivers, lakes, etc) in order to understand the ways and means of war and peace in these places.

The major rivers systems that helped define, restrict or enhance the movement of goods, services, and the means of waging war.  Not in any order of importance, and moving from left to right (west to east) we look at the sum of a river from headwaters to mouth.   In the US, the Mississippi=Missouri rivers define the center of the US from Canada to the Gulf, and from the Rockies to the Alleghenies. 

In Europe, we often find a river system going in one directin  closely linked to one going in the opposite direction.  These include the Seine and Rhone Rivers, the Rhine-Danube, and the Volga and Don rivers in Russia.  These latter two rivers come close to each other at a place called Stalingrad. 

The Rhine and Danube Rivers defined the military and economic world from Amsterdan to the Black Sea including Vienna and Budapest.  It is interesting to note that it has only been a few years since a canal was built linking the two. 

In the time of the Crusades the Rhine-Danube route was one typically used to move troops and supplies to support the Crusades often taking a shortcut through Bulgaria to get to Constantinople.

For Crusaders who preferred to go by sea, then and now the cheapest way to move bulk, one had to get passed the Alps, a most formidable barrier which made the invasion of Italy by land a difficult proposition.  Hannibal did it by going across the Alps losing a major part of his forces.

The Alps form an arc covering the north of Italy from Monaco to Trieste.  The Po River defines the drainage off the Alps into the Adriatic.   This gives two major options to embark by sea either at Venice or from a number of rising maritime powers on the west coast of Italy..  These latter include Genoa and Pisa. 

Venice benefited by being built on pilings offshore making a direct assault on the city a rarity.  To protect its landward side, Venice developed a land army and maintained control of the Po Valley in sufficient depth to keep land armies away from trying ot attack.  The city’s greatest power was her fleet consisting of round sailing ships for commerce and war galleys called dromans.   Venice copied the basic naval system of Constantinople and was a naval and trade rival to Constantinople. When the Crusaders wanted to sail to Constantinople or the Holy Land,  Venice was well experienced in the logistic and military aspects, and of the cost of doing business.

On the other side of the Italian peninsula, Genoa and Pisa competed for maritime dominance.  Genoa had the advantage of steep mountains to her back, and was approachable on narrow and winding coastal roads. The Genoese martime empire eventually reached the Crimea, which served as a link to the Silk Road that avoided a lot of rugged terrain.

Shift one’s look a little to the east to see the world conquered by Alexander, a world that becomes part of the theater of war for the Crusades, largely for the Muslim side.  The most typical view of the Crusades doesn’t go much farther east than the Golan Heights.  Alexander’s view was the same as what it became for the Muslims and the Mongols.

There are places where movement by land or water becomes restricted by rugged terrain and narrow passages.  Some of these are legendary, I have added a few that are not as well-known such as the Iron Gates, the Cilician Gates, and Alexander’s barrier.   Alexande fought the Battle of Granicus right after he crossed the Hellespont, and the Battle of Issus right after he passed through the Cilician Gates.  The history of the Crusades is written largely in these small places.

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