Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Holyland Terrain Analysis for Invaders

 Ordinarily, a quick terrain analysis can be done by tracing the rivers and ridges created first by tectonic which raise mountain ranges which are eroded away by water.  Rivers and Ridges favor movement parallel to their long axes, while movement across requires a gap such as a narrows, pass, or ford.  As a rule of thumb, where rivers and ridges cross, lines of communication come together and provide military and economic points of interest.  Fortunately, the Lord has provided us with a pair of hands by which the major tactical terrain features can be replicated.

Where movement with the grain crosses where movement across the long axes, towns and battles are found.  The general rule of battle is "take the high ground" and be mindful of where dead spots where the slope of the land favors grazing or plunging fields of fire.

In the case of the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel) a gigantic crack in the earth, the Great Rift, runs from north just inside Turkey, through the Levant and continuing to the south of Africa in Nyasaland. The Great Rift in the Levant such well known land features as the Golan Heights, the Sea of Gallilee, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea.

The high ground on either sides of a Rift are called a Horst. The Rift itelsf is called a Graben (grave in German). The river Jordan runs south down the Rift. The fact that the Rift is oriented from north to south and runs in a zig zag pattern widening as it approaches the Sinai.

The Syrian Desert creates a nearly impassible region that creates the “Fertile Crescent” joining the fertile and watered low ground of the Great Rift and the watershed of the Tigris and Euphrates.  By way of comparison the Syrian, Arabian (Hejaz), and Sinai Deserts create a complementary “Desert Crescent” that restricts large scale movments save by way of a narrow range of options.

As one steps back from the map to see the greater pattern of ridges and rivers, we can see the range of options for military movements going back to the Rameses III and his opponents. , 

Additonally, the conquests of Alexander the Great are an example of the military use of the terrain as defined by rivers and ridges.  In addition, the Hellenic world that followed his conquests formed the foundation for several empires that occupied the same land for a couple thousand years. One cannot understand what was to the east of the Holy Land without following the land as he used it.

Of particular interest to students of the Crusadess is that the Crusaders followed many of the same routes through Turkey, the Levant, and Egypt while many of the fiercest opponents of the Cruades including the Seljuk Turks, the Arabs, the Kurds, and the Mongols used the same routes, often in one direction or the other.  The players may change, but the ground remains relatively unchanged. 

And from the East successive waves of mounted archers streamed west from homelands between north of the great mountain ranges of the Himalayas in three major avenues of advance, one following the steppes of Eurasia and the others through various passes in the mountain rages to India through Afghanistan, or to the west through Kazakstan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and the Levant. Attila the Hun was the first of these who we are most familiar with.

The northern route was used just before the time of the Crusades by peoples including the Cumans,

Ghenghis Khan’s two sons invaded on all three axes, with the Golden Horde taking the northern route, and the White Horde  which became the Ilkhanate that took over Persia and ravaged Syria and the Levant.  That included the sack of Baghdad and parts west. 

The Mongol invasions of the Levant are an interesting period in Crusade history as it occurred towards the end of the period.  The losses of the Crusaders prior to that time encourage the Papacy to negotiate a treaty with the Mongols as a way of crushing Islam.  It didn’t work out all that well.  The Mongols were defeated by Mameluks at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260

This period of conflict marked the end of the Crusades, with the fall of the  island fortress of Ruad in 1303.

These maps show that the pattern of military operations follow the restrictions that the terrain in the Levant.  The political history of the Crusaades in the Middle East, including all the major players is far more complex than a mere novel by Tolstoy could contrive. 

Terrain analysis related to the military operations related to the Crusaders, even if only restricted to the Christian side includes the importance of the great rivers of Eutope including the Dneister, Don, Volga, Danuge, Rhine and the Ebro and the great mountain ranges that represent the high ground.  The story also includes the great sea routes and maritime powers including the Vikings both as Normans and as Varangians, and the Italian martime powera of Genoa, Venice in addition to the Byzantine Empire.

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