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Authors: Susan Wise Bauer

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4.1 Central towers of Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Credit: © Kevin R. Morris / Corbis

Angkor Wat had taken an almost unimaginable outlay of money and men. It was designed and built with extraordinary precision: laid out so that, at the beginning of the year, the sun would fall on the bas-relief scenes of the earth’s creation, while closer to the year’s end, it would light up scenes of apocalypse. Observation points for future eclipses of the sun and moon were calculated and built into the temple. Over two million stones, some weighing as much as eight tons, were brought to the temple from a quarry more than twenty miles away. Yet the entire temple was completed in thirty-five years; the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, 420 feet long and 226 high, took over a century.

Khmer now boasted the most glorious temple complex in the world. But the country was drained by taxes, worn out by the demands of constant war and extravagant construction. Suryavarman’s successors gave up his hard-conquered lands in Champa and retreated, drawing back within Khmer’s old borders; the kingdom’s new and extravagant beginning had almost immediately led to an end.

4.2 Angkor Wat bas-relief sculpture.
Credit: © John R. Jones; Papilio/Corbis

See Bauer,
The History of the Medieval World
, pp. 568ff.

The Jin dynasty of the Jurchen (1115–1234) should not be confused with the earlier Jin dynasty that ruled China 265–420, or with the Later Jin Dynasty (936–947), which ruled during a period of division known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. See Bauer,
The History of the Medieval World
, pp. 13–20 and 413–418.

Chapter Five

Crusade Resurrected

Between 1128 and 1149,
the Muslims unify for successful jihad,
and in response the Christians declare a disastrous crusade

, the Turkish governor of Aleppo was working his way towards

Zengi inherited the rule of Aleppo in 1128. He was forty-three years old, ambitious and energetic; tyrannical and aggressive, writes the Muslim historian ‘Imad al-Din al-Isfahani; so short-tempered, says another Islamic source, that he would crucify his men for offenses as small as stepping into the crops at the side of the road; an “ever-restless worm,” says the Christian chronicler William of Tyre, “mightily puffed up by his successes.”

In theory, Zengi was the ally of the other Turkish kingdoms. The Turkish empire had been established by the great conqueror Malik Shah half a century earlier. At his death, it had fragmented almost at once. By the middle of the twelfth century, Turkish sultans ruled from Baghdad, Kirman, Syria, Khorasan, and Rum. A sixth Turkish kingdom, the Danishmends, had broken away from Rum. Independent governors, or
, controlled Damascus and Aleppo.

The senior member of the most prominent Turkish clan, direct descendants of Malik Shah himself, kept the title “Great Seljuk” and claimed authority over all the rest. But this power was an illusion, the loyalty of the other Turkish rulers no more than lip service. Once the dust of the First Crusade had settled, the Muslim soldiers of Damascus and Aleppo were as likely to fight on the side of the Crusader kingdoms, against the other sultans, as to join together against the Christians.

Zengi intended to expand his own power. At first, loyalty to his Muslim brethren did not figure in his plans. In 1130, he began to attack the outlying lands belonging to the Turkish-governed city of Damascus; in 1137, he launched a full-scale siege against the city itself.

Damascus, battered and weakened, nevertheless held out, and Zengi withdrew to reconsider his strategy. Then, in October of 1138, an earthquake centered near Aleppo struck. The walls of the Crusader castle of Harim cracked; the Muslim fortress of Athareb collapsed, killing everyone inside; the ramparts and walls of Aleppo buckled. Houses fell, stones rained down on panicked crowds in the streets, the ground opened. Ibn al-Athir records that aftershocks—perhaps as many as eighty—went on for two weeks. Contemporary chroniclers estimate the death toll at a staggering 230,000 souls.

Earthquakes near Aleppo, which sat on a fault, were not uncommon; in fact, the entire Muslim world was seismically active. Muhammad’s birth itself was said to have been accompanied by an earthquake that shook the entire world, and Sura 99 of the Qur’an is dedicated to their place in the divine order:

When the earth convulses in its shock

and the earth unloads its burdens

. . . that day, humanity will go out

separately, to be shown their works . . .

For the Muslims who suffered through them, earthquakes were not random geological events; a tremor was a signal, or a judgment, or a promise.

And after the Aleppo earthquake, the rhetoric of holy war began to cloud around Zengi, transforming his personal ambitions into an advance for the faith. “God did not see . . . anyone more capable of command . . . stronger of purpose or more penetrating . . . ,” wrote Ibn al-Athir. “The morale of the Infidels was weakened, and they realized that something they had not reckoned on had come to their lands.”

When Zengi’s campaigns resumed, he turned his energies against the Christians. By 1144, he was powerful enough to lay siege to the Crusader city of Edessa. No Christian army came to Edessa’s aid. The king of Jerusalem (Fulk, the former count of Anjou) had been killed in a fall from his horse the year before, leaving Jerusalem in the hands of a powerless child. The Byzantine emperor John Comnenus had just died of a lingering hunting wound, and his son and heir, Manuel, was occupied with putting down the usual plots and revolts that accompanied the passing of the Byzantine crown. And Raymond, the Prince of Antioch (a Frankish nobleman who had claimed the title by marrying, at the age of twenty-two, the ten-year-old daughter of Bohemund II), refused to send help to his brother Crusader simply because he and Edessa’s king were on terms of “insatiable hatred.”

In just four short weeks, Edessa fell. The attackers “put to the sword all whom they encountered,” man, woman, and child; many who escaped the sword were crushed as they attempted to flee into the last safe citadel.

With the fall of Edessa, the language of
—of right and just struggle against an unrighteous enemy—ramped sharply upwards. Zengi, who now took for the first time a royal title, became known by a whole series of honorifics:
the ornament of Islam, the help of the believer, God-helped king
. “He will turn tomorrow towards Jerusalem!” wrote the poet Ibn Munir, summing up the hopes of the faithful.

5.1 Aleppo and the Crusader Kingdoms

In the west, the news of Edessa’s fall inspired a new crusade.

The call itself came from Pope Eugenius III, in the papal decree (or “bull”)
Quantum praedecessores
, and it was designed to recall past glories. “How much our predecessors, the Roman pontiffs, did labour for the liberation of the Eastern Church!” it began, and continued on to repeat the same promises as the first call to crusade. Those who went east to get Edessa back would receive remission of sins, forgiveness of earthly debts, and eternal glory.

By now, the First Crusade had become legendary. As the historian Thomas Madden puts it, “an entire generation of Europeans had been born and raised on the epic stories of the First Crusade. . . . There was scarcely a Christian knight who did not . . . long for the opportunity to imitate them.” At long last, imitation was possible; the knights who had grown up on tales of Christian heroism could rise above the squabbles and political maneuverings of the last forty years and join their heroes.

Eugenius III, unable to leave Rome (which was in one of its semiregular states of ferment and chaos), handed over the preaching of the Crusade to one Bernard, abbot of the monastery at Clairvaux: a senior churchman, “venerable in life and character,” the contemporary historian Otto of Freising tells us, “conspicuous in his religious order, endowed with wisdom and a knowledge of letters, renowned for signs and wonders.” Bernard, himself a Frank, traveled through Western Francia, recruiting knights to the cause.

He also recruited the French king. Louis VII, of the Capetian dynasty, had inherited the throne in Paris at the age of seventeen. Now only twenty-five, he already suffered from a heavy conscience. Four years earlier, fighting against the rebellious Count of Champagne, Louis had attacked the town of Vitry. The townspeople had fled into Vitry’s wooden church, and without waiting for the king’s orders, Louis’s officers had set it on fire. Everyone inside—hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children—died. Louis, barely out of his teens, stood helplessly by and listened to the screams from inside. Now, he welcomed the chance to do penance.

5.2 Kingdom of Louis VII

In March of 1146, he announced that he intended to go on crusade and that his wife Eleanor, daughter of the powerful Duke of Aquitaine, would accompany him to the Holy Land. Eleanor, only thirteen when she had been married to Louis, was now in her early twenties. Despite seven years of marriage, she had conceived just twice, and her sole living child was a daughter; probably she hoped that the pilgrimage would put her in better standing with God, who might then grant her a male heir to the French throne.

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