Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why was Jerusalem So Important 1,000 Years Ago?

Why Jerusalem?

What is it about Jerusalem that makes is central to the three Abrahamic religions? The short answer is that it (and the Levant) is at the center of gravity of global trade until the silk and spices trade shifted more to the sea to be carried in ship rigged ships (three masts carrying square rigs).  The construction of competitive Chinese Junks with the same tonnage and sail was banned by the Chinese Ming and Machu dynasties to cut down on smuggling.  The opening of China in the Opium wars spelled the doom of the long overland Silk Road and the string of powerful dynasties between Korea and Turkey sink into oblivion. 

The recent development of oil exploration and production (E&P) between the Caspian, Persian Gulf, and Libya resurrected much of the dynamics of the movement of bulk in that old ancient world.  Unlike in ancient times, the polarity of the movement of trade is from the Middle East outwards instead of silks and spices moving into the area for sale or transshipment.
A closer look at the Levant shows the effect of the Great Rift (graben) with its parallel ridges (horst) giving the trench like appearance of the Levant.  The Great Rift, you may recall goes all the way to Tanzania in a string of large lakes.  The Sea of Galilee, Dead Sea, Red Sea and the lakes of Tanganyika and Victoria are all part of this giant rip in the earth’s crust.
The North-South routes within the Levant dominate and are channeled by this horst-graben effect until the rift ends at the Taurus Mountains of Turkey and the extension of that mountain complex into Persia as the Zagros.  The routes used in ancient trade on the Via Marus (in purple) which linked the port cities of the Eastern Mediterranean together which route was heavily used by  the Romans as well as the Crusaders. 
Paralleling the Via Marus is the King’s Highway (in Red) provides a north south highway extending from Aqaba at the end of the Red Sea all the way to Damascus and to swing east around the Arabian desert.   The King’s Highway provided a parallel line of communication for the Muslims to use when the Via Marus was taken by the Crusaders.  It linked Cairo to Baghdad, allowing the movement of troops and supplies.  Most of the time in question, the opposite ends of this route were controlled by Muslims hostile to the other.

Once again to review, the gates, rocks and hot spots that channeled the movement of goods and fire power from the Far East, to the Middle East to the West:
Review also the Gates, Passes, and avenues of approach between them.

Yet even further east, there were powerful pressures and had been for millennia all the way to Korea and Vietnam.  The results of wars fought over the control of China spilled over into the great routes from China to the West creating successive waves of armed fugitives the first of which was Attila the Hun followed in time by more successive invaders such as the Mongol invasions of Central Asia, the Middle East, and big parts of Eastern Europe. The Mongol raids into the Levant became of particular interest to the Crusaders and their enemies, all of whom feared the Mongols.  Terrified is a better world, for the Mongols normally killed everyone they couldn’t sell. 

As Genghis Khan’s forces destroyed the Kwarezmian Empire, the fleeing Kwarezmian clans worked as mercenaries to the highest bidders.  They took Jerusalem and flattened it in 1244 killing or selling all but two thousand survivors.  The dynasty in Egypt and the Levant created by Saladin was hard pressed by the Kwarezmian who in turn had the Mongols hot on their trail, had a change in management (behind the veil) and destroyed the remaining Kwarezmian in 1247.   The new management was handled by the commander of the “slave” army of Mameluks, Aybeg in 1250.
There was a lot of interesting deal making done between the Crusaders and the Mameluks in part joined by King Louis of France to make an arrangement about the joint use of Jerusalem (not for the first time).

As the Mongol terror continued in 1258 by the sack and destruction of Bagdad, and the seizure of the major cities of Syria and the Levant, including Damascus, many in the way sought to ally themselves with the Mongols or stay neutral.  Some Crusaders in the northern part of the Levant accepted Mongol sovereignty (the Mongols usually moved away shortly) and some fought with the Mongols.  The King of Cilician Armenia supported the Mongols in the sack of Bagdad, and in their invasion into the Levant.  There was a furtive Franco –Mongol alliance that the Crusaders wanted, including the Templars, but the Pope forbad it.  They watched.   
A more detailed history of this slice of history involves the Order, down to the last battle.
The “slave” Mameluk army defeated the Mongols at Ain-Jalut int 1260 and the Mongols slowly withdrew from the Levant but morphed into occupying forces east of Turkey as the Ilkhanate, and north of the Caucasus at the Golden Horde.  It would take centuries of warfare by the Ottomans and the Russians to push the descendants of the Mongols back towards Mongolia save for some hot spots in Pentastan. 
The enduring question about the pressures from the East during the entire time of the Crusades plus and minus five hundred years, goes to what was causing all these massive migrations of extremely well- armed and well-disciplined forces that rode down everyone in their way. 
They all preferred the mounted archer, some more heavily armored and some light.  They were all adept at high speed maneuvering en masse and with complicated maneuvers that the West rarely matched.  Each successive wave was faster and meaner than the ones before. Or maybe, the mean got less meaner the more west they went.  
Topography dictates strategy and tactics, to which forces and firepower must accede.
So next we look at China and Central Asia.

1 comment:

  1. Good post, I am writing some alternate history right now and this is giving me a lot to think about.