World History – Chapter Seventeen
Rome’s Final Defeat in the East and Europe is poised to conquer of the world
We didn’t have time in our last session but I want to give you some names worthy of note with regard to New Testament Christians living in the Medieval period or Dark Ages and a few more Jewish names of note so that, in the event you pursue your education further, you will have at least have heard of these people.
Moses Ben Nachman, also know as Nachmonides, and RaMaBaN, was a Spanish rabbi, philosopher, and biblical commentator born in Catalonia (the area around modern day Barcelona) in 1194. He argued that the central issue separating Christianity from Judaism was not the issue of Jesus as the messiah but whether or not Jesus was God. This is the dividing line between the two religions as per Nachman.
Isaac Abrabanel was called the last Jewish Aristotelian, in that he followed the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s lines of thinking, as did the Roman Catholic Church later. He was also very influenced by Christian Biblical interpretation. He was born in 1437 and believed the Messiah would arrive in 1503. He died in 1508 having seen his prophecy fail.
The Jewish mystic, Isaac Luria, was expelled along with the rest of Jewry from Spain in 1492. He was most famous as a believer in and follower of the Kabbala, studying the book of Jewish mysticism called the Zohar. It is from Kabbala that we find the origins of the Big Bang theory of the 20th century, as I explained in Class One. The similarity is too vivid to be dismissed as mere coincidence.
Among the Christians of note in the period were Arnold of Brescia who lived from 1110 to 1155 and came from Northern Italy, the heart of the many Anabaptist groups. Another word for groups or divisions is sects. He was condemned as a schismatic, someone who causes a schism, or a divide resulting from controversy, at the Synod of Lateran in 1139 and again at a Council of Sens in 1140. He was expelled from Italy and then from France and from there he went to Bohemia to preach, returned to Rome inciting a riot and was banished again as a heretic. He was hanged, his body burned, and his ashes thrown into the Tiber River. His great crime was that he was against infant baptism. He also did not believe in a church, any church, aligned with a state government. Separation of church and state, a hallmark of our Constitution, was a heresy to the Medieval Church (Roman Catholic).
Girolamo Savonarola who was born in 1452 and died in 1498 was an Italian reformer from Ferrara, Italy. He entered a Dominican monastery in 1474 studying the Bible and the writings of Augustine and could not deal with the contradictions between the two. He became a preacher in Florence and a harsh critic of the Church. Pope Alexander VI offered him a cardinal’s red hat but Savonarola said the only red hat he would accept was one made out of blood. He stayed a devout Roman Catholic, however, until his death by burning at the stake after being tortured for two months.
Henry of Lausanne and Peter of Bruys, living in the late 11th century to early 12th , condemned baptism as a saving sacrament, the mass, and the use of images. Henry died in prison while Peter died at the burning stake.
There were many others during this time period of note that can be found in the works of Schaff and Foxe, as well as Latourette and Newman.
Now, on to the Black Death. In 1338 a horrible disease flared up in the Italian port city of Genoa with symptoms of hard, black boils which appeared under the arms and in the groin. Sufferers began to vomit blood. In three days or thereabouts they were dead. It was the beginning of something called the Black Death. It was the worst epidemic of many plague epidemics and even worse than the Plague of Justinian hundreds of years previous. Within the next fifty years, the Black Death or Bubonic Plague, which was its real name, killed more than 1/3rd of the population of Europe with outbreaks recorded in all the major countries of Europe over the next 500 years. At its height, more than 200,000 towns and villages in Europe were completely without one living human inhabitant.
Dried toads and goat urine were among the “cures” suggested, prescribed by quacks, well meaning and otherwise. Doctors often refused to treat the plague victims, knowing how infectious it was. Those groups who did not suffer as heavily from it, such as Jews, who followed the Old Testament cleanliness practices, were massacred as being the cause of it. No one knew anything about germs at the time but if they had followed the admonitions given in the Old Testament the outbreaks would have been less severe. Modern antibiotics and improved standards of public hygiene have virtually eliminated it from the world scene. The plague had a profound impact on politics, religion, folklore, economics, music, and art.
One of the most interesting sourcebooks on the plague is The Black Death, A Chronicle of the Plague, by Johannes Nohl. He reports that at Venice alone, a half million people died within two years. It has been estimated that this plague that spread through Europe killed 43,000,000. Other cities were depopulated by the plague such as Bristol, England, which had all communications with it severed during the outbreak to try and prevent its spread. It was often thought to be a punishment for sin, personal and national. It is believed that it was brought to Europe by ships containing rats which had infected plague carrying fleas on them.
Speaking of politics, William I of England consolidated his conquest between 1067 and 1071. He successfully stopped many Anglo-Saxon uprisings and even defeated a Danish backed force that had captured the city of York. In 1072 he invaded Scotland. In 1073 he reconquered the French province of Maine which he claimed. He then invaded Brittany but was forced to back off due to pressure from Philip I of France against whom he warred in 1087, accidentally being killed in the effort. His son, William II, took over and reigned until 1100 almost constantly fighting with his brother, Robert, who wanted
the throne. The fourth son of William I, the Conqueror, was Henry I, who reigned from 1100 to 1135. He continued fighting with Robert until capturing him at the Battle of Tinchebrai. Henry declared himself Duke of Normandy and King of England, fighting a war with Louis VI of France.
Stephen, Henry’s nephew reigned from 1135 to 1154, fighting a constant battle with his cousin Matilda, Henry’s daughter. A truce was finally concluded at the Battle of Wallingford in 1154. Henry II began to rule in 1154. He was Matilda’s son and founded the important Plantagenet dynasty of Kings of England. Remember, all of these people spoke the French of the time and had roots in France. Although French speakers made up only 2% of the English population at any given time, they ruled until in the 1400’s the aristocracy began to act more like English than Anglo-Norman Kings. It took losing their territory in France to cut their ties with French soil.
Henry II was a capable ruler and married the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII of France, had been annulled. This made Henry II of England the largest landholder in France due to Eleanor’s family connections, thereby creating the cause for the Hundred Year’s War. Henry was usually at war with Louis, who was technically his lord, as being a landholder in France made the King of England a subject of the King of France. He invaded Wales and attempted to invade Ireland. He did suppress the last Anglo-Saxon revolt in 1174 which may have been inspired by his possible order of the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a’ Becket, by Norman knights. He constantly warred against his own sons; Henry, Richard, Geoffrey, and John who were always shifting alliances between brothers and their father and Philip II Augustus of France.
In 1199 Richard, who is said to have been the very epitome’ of the chivalrous knight, took over England as Richard I. He was known as Richard the Lionhearted, the hero of the Third Crusade, who spent more time away from England than actually ruling it. He also fought a war with Philip of France, winning his greatest battle at Gisors. He was succeeded by his brother, John, who ruled from 1199 to 1216. This is the era of the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It may have been based on a true story but it also might have been an accumulation of various legends.
John’s most famous contribution to real history was his compromise with the feudal barons of England in a document called the Magna Carta or Great Charter, which is a forerunner of our Constitution. This is one of the many documents that paved the way for Anglo-Saxon freedom and English inspired Republican government, a process of hundreds of years, which explains why no other culture, such as Russia, Arab, or Spanish has been able to duplicate it so successfully as America. The process of true freedom took nearly a thousand years and does not come overnight. The document was written in Latin and is rather vague but outlines concessions made by John to acknowledge freedoms that had already been granted by previous kings to the nobility. Like our Declaration of
Independence, it was not drawn up to create new rights but to demand the sovereign’s acknowledgement and respect of already existing freedoms that he had stolen or ignored.
In Scotland, the Danes invaded in 1009 and 1010 with King Malcolm defeated by Swen Forkbeard at Nairn but the Danes withdrew. The next summer, Malcolm defeated Swen at the battle of Mortlack. Malcolm then invaded Northumbria and annexed some of its territory after the Battle of Carham in 1018. Macbeth, made famous by Shakespeare, seized the throne between 1040 and 1057 after killing King Duncan but was defeated by Duncan’s son, Malcolm, at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1054 which led to his death three years later.
Malcolm III reigned from 1057 to 1093 and fought with the English but was forced by William the Conqueror to submit to his authority. Rebelling, Malcolm was killed at the First Battle of Ainwick. David I ruled from 1124 to 1153 and helped Matilda in England with her efforts mentioned above. Malcolm IV had to surrender conquered English land to Henry II. William the Lion, Malcolm IV’s brother, ruled from 1165 to 1214 but was captured at the Second Battle of Ainwick and forced to pay ransom to the English King.
In Ireland, the tenth century opened up with Brian Boru High King defeating Mael Sechnaill II, former High King and the 12th century ended with a Norman Conquest with lots of internal squabbling and fighting in between.
Before England fell to the Normans, Harold of England had defeated and killed Harald III Hardraade, who had failed to conquer Denmark for his native Norway. A Dynastic Civil War ensued after the reign of the Danish king who fought him, Sweyn II Estridsen and his five sons had passed away. Valdemar I won the struggle and became known as the Great, ruling from 1157 to 1182. He was assisted by a famous statesman and religious leader named Absalon.
Valdemar expanded Danish influence in the Baltic Sea at the expense of the Swedes and Germans. His advisor, Absalon extended Danish control all the way to Estonia. From 1182 to 1202 Denmark was in full glory with Knud (Canute) IV ruling, still with Absalon as the principal advisor and strategist. He repulsed a German invasion and smashed an enemy fleet at the Battle of Strela.
In 1157 there was a Catholic Swedish invasion of pagan Finland by King Erik III who was accompanied by a Catholic Bishop from England named Henry who died in the effort and became Finland’s patron saint. Pope Alexander III issued a Papal Bull in 1172 encouraging the Swedes to force the Finns to submit to the Church.
France’s history at this time was entwined with the Norman-English Dynastic struggles and the land claims of the Norman-English kings in France. Louis VII inspired and participated in the Second Crusade to the Holy Land. He reigned between 1137 and 1180.
Germany saw a gradual rise in imperial power under three able Holy Roman Emperors in the 11th century. There was Henry II, Conrad II, and Henry III. Then a struggle between Henry IV and Pope Hildebrand which the Pope won was followed by civil war, weakening the power of the emperors and strengthening the power of the Popes. Henry V continued the struggle with the Popes reigning from 1106 to 1125. The constant fighting between the empire left by Charlemagne which was supposed to serve the Church and the Pope and his loyal allies in France and Italy caused a weakening of German power and perhaps set the tone for the later willingness of Germany to embrace Protestantism during Luther’s time.
In 1138, Conrad III started the Hohenstaufen dynasty. He, along with his nephew, Frederick, participated in the Second Crusade. Frederick became Frederick I “Barbarossa” (Redbeard), the greatest of the Hohenstaufen kings. He had numerous successful military campaigns in Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary, as well as six expeditions to Italy. He was defeated at the Battle of Legnano in 1176. Later, he participated in the Third Crusade and was drowned in Cilicia in 1190.
Moving ahead in time we look at the first phase of the Hundred Years War. This war was actually a series of eight major conflicts between the royal houses of England and France lasting nearly 120 years, from 1337 to 1453. Four of these periods took place in the 14th century and four in the 15th. Although this series of wars started out as a typical feudal dispute, it had nationalistic importance that resulted in an English (Anglo) French rivalry that lasted for more than 5 ½ centuries. There were three main causes of the war;
1. The feudal relationship of the kings of France and England. As dukes of Aquitaine and barons of other French lands, the kings of England were vassals; as rulers of England, they were sovereign kings. The French kings rightly feared that the English rulers would try to consolidate their French lands with their English. The English kings hated being subordinate to the French.
2. The French and English kings were fighting over the commercial promise of the wealthy and industrial County of Flanders.
3. The French were helping by way of Scotland to stir up the almost constant wars in England.
An important battle was the Battle of Sluys on June 24, 1340, when an English fleet of 150 vessels fought a French fleet of 190 ships at the entrance of Sluys harbor and captured or sunk 166 of them. In 1338, Edward, King of England, proclaimed himself King of France also. This claim was accepted by Louis IV of Germany. In 1345 Edward raised a large expeditionary force to invade France and support his allies in that country. In his army were a great many archers, archery having become a significant English battlefield tactic. The English longbow was famous for its power and accuracy. King John had long ago ordered the English to practice archery at least twice a week by law.
During his campaign in France he fought the French army which vastly outnumbered him at the Battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346 and making use of the English longbow his army slaughtered 1542 French knights including King John of Bohemia, between 10 and 20,000 soldiers, and thousands of horses. The English lost about 200 dead and wounded. Only 2 English knights died.
An interlude stopped the war for a time as the Black Death devastated both countries from 1347 to 1354 and a truce was called. But, mankind isn’t about to let a little thing like a plague killing millions of people to stop him from killing as many as he can so the war resumed in 1355. This time, Edward’s son, Edward, the Black Prince conducted a devastating raid into France with a relatively small force. A superior French force responded and the English retreated. Exhausted from retreating the English chose to stand and fight at Poitiers on September 19, 1356.
Once again, a hail of English arrows met the French knights. However, it is believed that if the French knights had continued forward they would have broken the English line. With arrows spent, the English and French engaged in hand to hand combat. Finally, an English force attacked the rear of the French line and they began to flee. The French lost over 5,000 killed or taken prisoner, the English 1,000.
The Black Prince died in 1376 and in 1396 the Peace of Paris was signed between Richard II of England and Charles VI.
Later, in 1415, an English king named Henry V invaded France. The most memorable battle there was the Battle of Agincourt where, on October 25, 1415, 5,000 heavily armored French knights fell under the English bowmen on a muddy field, encumbered by their heavy plate armor. The English reported only 13 soldiers or men-at-arms and 100 footmen had been killed.
In all of these wars the French had been bested by the English. But, in 1429 a 17 year old peasant girl named Joan of Arc convinced the Dauphin or Prince that she had a divinely inspired mission to drive the English out of France once and for all. Surprisingly, he put her at the head of an army whose function it was to try to relieve the city of Orleans. Even more surprisingly she did it, ending the myth of English invincibility by winning many more battles. Finally, she was captured and turned over to the English and was burned at the stake for religious reasons. Her Dauphin had betrayed her by not coming to her aid. Within 5 years of her death the French had recaptured Paris and a 5 year truce was signed. Two excellent books on Joan of Arc are Joan of Arc, Her Story by Regine Pernoud and Marie-Veronique Clin and Joan of Arc, A Military Leader by Kelly DeVries.
Back in England, after King John had been forced to sign the Magna Carta by his barons, a faction of English barons actually invited Louis, Dauphin of France in 1215 to be king of England. John proved to have more determination and skill than Robin Hood
movies and books will grant him and he defeated an invasion by King Alexander of Scotland and rallying the English people to his side he cornered Louis and the barons who supported him in southeastern England , defeating them on land at Lincoln and on the sea at Sandwich.
Henry III’s reign saw the loss of a great much of the territory the English had in France and a civil war ensued led by Simon de Montfort between 1263 and 1265. There was almost constant civil war of some type until the abdication of Richard II in 1399.
So, now, keep in mind; Magna Carta, Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, William the Conqueror, Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Plantagenet Dynasty.
The conflict between the Church and the Holy Roman Empire reached a compromise at the Concordat of Worms in 1122 between Pope Calixtus II and the Emperor Henry V. Henry, who had forced his unfortunate father Henry IV, who had spent three days standing shoeless in the snow begging a Pope to reverse his excommunication from the Church back in 1076, to abdicate in 1105. Henry V gave up the right to invest or create bishops and abbots and recognized that only the Church had that right. Of course, most of the kings of Europe still continued to pick who would be a bishop in their territory.
Kings and Churchmen often collided on the subject of who would be Pope and there were those who backed one and then the other in bitter disputes over power. At times a Holy Roman Emperor like Frederick Barbarossa would make a Pope and at other times he would be forced to kiss a Pope’s feet, which Frederick did after the Battle of Legnano humbling himself as Henry II of England was forced to do when he walked barefoot to the tomb of Becket to receive discipline from the canons of Canterbury. The same Pope, Alexander III, caused both monarchs to humiliate themselves in these situations.
The Papacy was a constant swirl of plotters and diabolic intrigue and some of the worst of it was from the 11th to the 13th century. Dr. Ludwig Pastor’s 1906 work, The History of the Popes, Volume I, says it this way, “The disastrous struggle between the highest powers of Christendom, which began in the eleventh century and reached its climax in the thirteenth, was decided, apparently to the advantage of the Papacy, by the tragical downfall of the House of Hohenstaufen.” Please note how all historians equate the Christian in history before the Reformation as being synonymous with the Catholic in history. The Holy Roman Empire started by Charlemagne and the Papacy were constantly at odds and with the weakness of the empire the Popes had to look more to France for support. So began the 14th century or the 1300’s.
Clement V was a native of France. After being crowned Pope, afraid of the constant turmoil and warfare in Italy and influenced by the French King, Philip the Fair, he stayed in France and never set foot in Rome. He reigned as Pope from 1305 to 1314. His successor, John XXII, also from France, was elected after much controversy in 1316 with
the Papacy or Holy See being vacant for two years. He took up permanent abode in Avignon, France just across the Rhone river from the French king like his predecessor.
When Clement V moved the Papacy to Avignon, Durant tells us there began the sixty eight years of “Babylonian Captivity” of the Popes. The papacy had freed itself from Germany but surrendered to France. Clement, according to Durant, was a weak tool of the French king, implying that the Avignon popes were tools of the French King. Dr. Pastor disagrees in his book if that is applied to all of the Avignon Popes, saying that the statements about the weakness of the Popes at Avignon are “unjust” although he does admit that Clement wasn’t a strong Pope. It was under Clement V that the Papal Bull calling on the King of France to destroy the Knights Templars was made.
Pastor tells us, though, that the move from the natural home of the Popes of Rome to France was a disaster for the Papacy. Obviously, he is a good Catholic as he laments how the Popes lost prestige while in France. It is true that it was strange for the Popes, who had so been used to rebuking kings and princes, were now almost subject to one.
The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, with the excuse of freeing the Popes from the constant struggles between France and England, worked hard to bring the Papacy back to Rome. Urban V, Pope from 1362 to 1370 almost did just that. This emperor made a pilgrimage to Rome and unlike previous German leaders he formed a good relationship with the Papacy. Rome was in decay without the Popes and the Papal Palaces were in ruins. Urban went back to Avignon and died before any permanent move back to Rome could be accomplished. Gregory XI did move the Papacy back to Rome after much difficulty with those opposing the move and with much fanfare.
The next “great” event in Roman Catholic Church history is known as the Papal Schism of 1378 to 1417 when the plans for reforming the Church by Urban VI made Charles V of France angry and hoping to drag the Papacy kicking and screaming back to Avignon he supported some renegade cardinals in electing Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII. Once again, the Papacy was in a turmoil. The kings of various countries at war would align with the Pope that most suited their cause, of course.
One of the less endearing efforts of the Church in this period was the Inquisition which began as a way of dealing with heretics like you and I who viewed the scripture as their final authority and that man was not saved by the sacraments of any Church but by the grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. After 1227, Gregory IX set up several special inquisitores to pursue heresy. He favored the Dominican order of monks so heavily for this task that they became known as the “hunting dogs of the Lord”. The Dominicans were founded by Catholic Saint Dominic, a Spaniard born in 1170. The Inquisition is purely and uniquely a Catholic institution. The office of the Inquisition was changed to Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1965 after having been renamed
Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office in 1908. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, was in charge of that office from 1981.
The Medieval Inquisition, one of four, did its job. It stamped out Catharism in France and drove the Waldensians to the remotest hills, postponing the Reformation by three centuries. In Spain, the Inquisition played a minor role before 1300, according to Durant and Northern Italy contained many Bible believing Christians in spite of its efforts right up to the Reformation.
Durant says that Western Europe reached a pinnacle of art comparable with the Golden Ages of Athens and Rome in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Viking and Muslim raids had been defeated and the Crusades created a burst of creative energy bringing back many art forms from the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world. Economies were booming from trade and artists and artisans were hired from the Greek and Muslim world to teach how and to adorn monasteries and churches with art and sculpture. A school of monastic art developed at the abbey of Monte Cassino, the protection of which cost so many American lives in World War II. When we get that far in history I’ll explain. Painting; mosaics, miniatures, and murals were beautiful and richly done and stained glass was a high art form. Sculpture came into its own as well with angels, devils, gargoyles adorning cathedrals, and depictions of Biblical figures being created.
The Catholic Cathedral’s creation was a special kind of art often taking generations to complete. The Gothic Cathedrals, as one style was called, with pointed arches and vertical construction meant to give an impression of height, are some of the most beautiful buildings ever constructed. There are several styles of cathedrals named by students of architectural history and many impressive examples of the Cathedral still existing throughout Europe.
Monks preserved Classic Greek and Roman Literature as well. Great universities arose in England and France providing a nesting place for Medieval thinkers like Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and Albertus Magnus. Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotle’s, was a powerful force within the thought world of Roman Catholic Europe. The mixing of philosophy with religion so focused on by Philo and Origen found its ultimate expression in the Medieval Roman Church. Skeptics, pantheists, and atheists contended with the Church for possession of the European mind. Contact with Islam further increased the Europeans interest in other ways of thinking besides the one approved by their priests.
Two of the great literary talents of the Middle Ages were Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame and Dante Alighieri of The Divine Comedy.
It is time now to briefly discuss a topic of history that I have neglected; gold. Gold has played such a huge part in history that it can be taken for granted that the student of history understands how great an effect it has had on nations, kings, and popes. It is important to note that whether in the Crusades or in the Dynastic or Territorial struggles in Europe it was common to capture and ransom enemy knights for gold. Ransoming
captives was a great way to raise money and the value of a captured knight in gold was far greater than his death. Saladin ransomed Christian captives when he retook Jerusalem. Richard the Lionhearted himself was taken for ransom in Europe, costing his people a fortune.
The economic consequences of the Black Death, according to Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold, was the exchange of gold and other wealth from the ownership of the massive amount of the dead to the hands of the few, living survivors. Barbara Tuchman, in her brilliant work on the 14th century, A Distant Mirror, wrote of this century of the Black Death, the Hundred Years War, and constant conflict as “a violent, tormented, bewildered, suffering, and disintegrating age, a time, as many thought, of Satan triumphant”.
With those brief comments on gold for now, let’s move on to the great conflict between the rising power of the Ottoman Turks and the Byzantine Empire, the results of which would send a flood of precious Bible manuscripts into Europe in preparation for the next great age to come; the Reformation.
In the middle of the 13th century the Seljuk Turks, who had been known by the Crusaders as simply the Turks, were overwhelmed by the Mongols, who we have previously discussed. Their core base in Anatolia, what is today the eastern part of Turkey, was destroyed. A new Turkish leader, Osman I (Othman), emerged into prominence in Anatolia. After establishing their supremacy over neighboring Turkish tribes, the Ottomans steadily whittled away at the declining Byzantine power and territory, taking advantage of the constant infighting and struggles within the empire. Near the middle of the 14th century the Ottomans gained a foothold in Europe and overran Thrace, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and much of Serbia. One thing they were unable to do was to take Constantinople where the last remaining power of Byzantium stood. Just as Constantinople was about to fall the Turks were smashed by the conqueror, Tamerlane, seemingly beyond hope but they rebuilt and came back.
The Turks had defeated Serbia at the Battle of Kosovo on June 20, 1389. This defeat by Muslim forces was a rallying cry 600 years later as the Serbs and Kosovars fought again, only this time the Serbs’ defeat came at the hands of a military alliance of the United States and the United Nations.
I want to give a review of what had been happening in the Byzantine Empire since the Constantinople was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204. I had told you in the last class that there were three important Crusades. Five more, at least, succeeded them and they also ended in disaster with the with the 4th Crusade being even more of a disaster for the declining Byzantine Empire. In 1204, after the capital’s fall to the Crusaders Count Baldwin of Flanders in France became Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople for a year.
Theodore Lascaris became Emperor of Nicea, the largest remnant left of the Byzantine Empire, and Alexis Comnenus established the Empire of Trebizond. In 1205 Baldwin
was captured and died in captivity after the Bulgarians defeated his army at the Battle of Adrianopole. Then, Alexius Comnenus and his brother, David, were defeated by Lascaris in a Civil War which saw the Seljuk Turks choose first one and then the other to support. Eventually, there was a three way war between Crusaders, Nicea, and Trebizond. This seesaw conflict continued until the Niceans seized Constantinople from the Latins (as European Crusaders were called) in 1261.
Another Civil War devastated the Byzantines between 1341 and 1347. The Ottoman Turks had become players now with the Seljuks destroyed and the Mongol menace withdrawing and got involved in this Civil War. The Mongols had crushed the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Kosedagh in 1243. It is a testimony to how powerful the Byzantine Empire was that they did not fall permanently to so many adversaries at the time. There was a confused dynastic struggle until 1392 and the Turks took advantage of that.
Ottoman Turkish Emperor, Murad I, had captured Adrianople in 1365 and made it his capital and, after defeating a European crusader force the next year felt secure. He then conquered Bulgaria and created the Janissary corps. This elite body of almost all archers was composed of former Christians captured as children and raised to be fanatical Muslims. For more than 500 years the Janissaries would play a major role in Ottoman history. By comparison, the Mamelukes of Egypt were also Turkish slave soldiers and horse archers who first rose to prominence as warriors for the great Kurdish general Saladin, who retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders and then signed a treaty with Richard the Lion Hearted. They, too, eventually played an important role in Egypt’s history.
Then, for eight years from 1391 to 1399, the Ottoman Turks besieged Constantinople. The Byzantines were helped by a small force of volunteers under French marshal (general) Jean Bouciquaut, repulsing attacks on land and sea by Ottoman Emperor Bayazid I. The Byzantine emperor at the time, Manuel II, was capable enough but he only ruled over Constantinople, Thessalonika, and the Morean Peninsula (the Medieval name for the Peloponnesian Peninsula).
In 1422, Manuel repulsed another Turkish attack on his capital. His son, John VIII, conquered what part of the Morean that Byzantium didn’t have, from the Franks (French). John’s younger brother, Constantine Palaeologus or Constantine XI, succeeded him and invaded central Greece which was ruled by the Turks but was repulsed by Sultan Murad II.
Finally, one of the important moments of history takes place, one that you must remember. Between February and May of 1453, Mohammed II, called “The Conqueror”, laid siege to Constantinople with an army of more than 80,000 men and a siege train of over 70 heavy cannon, commanded by Urban, a Hungarian renegade. Constantine XI had less than 10,000 men at his disposal. The Turkish navy sealed off all hope of help from the sea. The great siege batteries consisting of 12 super-cannons known as
superbombards which hammered at the many walls of the ancient city caused great destruction. A Venetian fleet tried to help but were driven off by the superior Turkish navy. Assault after assault hit the city. The last Roman emperor, the Byzantine emperor, Constantine, namesake of the founder of the city for Rome, fought on the walls until he, too, was killed. The city became property of the Turks and is now called Istanbul.
The Turks went on to conquer Greece and the entire Aegean Sea, also fighting a war with Venice from which Shakespeare derived the basis for his play, Othello. They even attacked Italy. The Turks won a great and decisive victory over the Venetians at the Battle of Lepanto in 1499. A flood of Greek monks and churchmen, along with thousands of Christian refugees flooded Western Europe bringing with them manuscripts that had been copied and used in the Greek and Syrian churches from the time that the Old Latin Bible was first penned in Antioch in the middle of the second century and even before; copies of copies of copies of the Greek original manuscripts of the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament. The Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Jews, having reached its apogee in the 10th century was already known in Europe.
An interesting character of this time is a person that has come down to us as Dracula, or Vlad Tepes, called the Impaler by the Turks. Vlad ruled Wallachia, in what is now southern Romania on three separate occasions in the mid to late 1400’s. He is best known for his defeat of a Turkish invasion by destroying everything in the invaders path, pursuing a guerilla war against them, and then finally, according to legendary accounts, impaling thousands of Turkish soldiers. He is a great folk hero in present day Romania and is certainly worthy of further study but was hardly a huge player in the entire scope of history.
The niece of the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire who went down fighting with it was named Sophia. She married Ivan III, Grand Duke of Moscow, and Ivan claimed to be the heir of the Roman Empire and called Moscow, the Third Rome. Constantinople had often been called the New Rome and as I have noted before, the Muslims referred to this Greek empire as Rome, during the Crusades. The Byzantines were mainly Greek speaking and the dependence of the Roman Catholic Church on Latin led the Crusaders to be called Latins or Franks for the predominant French influence among them. This idea of Moscow being the Third Rome is of great interest to students of Bible Prophecy although most would consider the European Union as being the revived Roman Empire which many believe will dominate the end times, and even others refer to the United States of America as Rome revived. It is interesting that in the turmoil in Palestine recently and in the Middle East the diplomatic coalition of Russia, the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations is called the Quartet and all of them individually have been referred to as the revived Roman Empire by some Bible teacher at some time. Just file it away for future study.
Now, we need to bring Western Europe up to this point in history before we move on to the Renaissance and Reformation. There is also much to report in Eastern Europe at this time. The desperate attempts to hold off the Mongol invasion of 1241 with Prince Henry of Silesia’s army smashed at the Battle of Liegnitz by Kaidu of the Mongols was not followed up by pursuit. Kadan, another Mongol general, attacked Hungary. King Bela of Hungary with 100,000 men fought the Mongols at the Battle of Sajo River and was smashed. The Mongols had all of Eastern Europe at their feet. They had defeated armies five times their strength. But, the death of the Emperor, Ogotai, forced, by Mongol law, all leaders to return home to elect a new khan, so Europe was spared.
Scotland’s history is fascinating at this time as there was a Scottish king named Alexander II who ruled from 1214 to 1249 who tried to take advantage of the barons’ revolt against King John that gave us the Magna Carta. He invaded England but was defeated near London by John. Alexander III, ruling from 1249 to 1286 drove Norwegians from the islands of western Scotland in the Battle of Largs in 1263. In 1290 a total of 12 different nobles claimed the crown. Foolishly, Edward I of England was asked to mediate and he gained recognition of English overlordship of Scotland, choosing John Baliol to be king.
John got into a dispute with Edward I and allied with France, resulting in Edward I declaring John’s right to the throne forfeited and claiming the throne of Scotland for himself. In 1296 England invaded Scotland and annexed it, defeating John at the Battle of Dunbar. It is then that William Wallace led an uprising that defeated the Earl of Warenne in the Battle of Cambuskenneth Bridge, raiding northern England afterwards in 1297.
In 1298, Edward I invaded Scotland and in spite of Wallace’s efforts to avoid a pitched battle with this superior force of up to 7,000 heavily armored cavalry, 3,000 light cavalry, and 15,000 infantry, Edward did manage to force him to fight. At the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, Wallace’s army was annihilated and he was later captured and executed in 1305.
In 1306 Robert Bruce, who was the grandson of one of an earlier claimant to the throne and had fought under Edward at Falkirk against Wallace, led a revolt from 1307 to 1314. At first, using guerrilla tactics he pushed the English back to where they only controlled Stirling, Dunbar, and Berwick. In order to rescue Stirling which Robert Bruce had put under siege, Edward took the field against him in 1314. Leading an army of nearly 60,000 men he met Robert Bruce and his much, much smaller army at a stream called Bannockburn. There, one of the most amazing battles in the British Isles took place in which The Battle Book by Byran Perrett tells us the Scots won a decisive victory which secured Scottish independence. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Military History claims losses for the English of at least 15,000 which Perrett disputes but both agree that it was a disaster for England. Sir Charles Oman in his The Art of War in the Middle Ages says that it was the worst loss every suffered by the English army in the Middle Ages.
When Edward attempted another invasion Robert defeated him at the Battle of Byland in 1322. Scottish independence was formally recognized at Peace of Northampton in 1328. Robert died the year after that
The era of 1400 to 1455 in England was called the Lancastrian era as Henry IV seized the throne from Richard II. His son, Henry V, brought England to its height of power and prestige in the Middle Ages and inspired Shakespeare’s play of the same name but by 1450 there was growing disorder and unrest. Henry VI had intermittent periods of insanity which led to the rise of Richard, Duke of York elected as Protector by Parliament. Henry VI subsequently dismissed him from the government which led to a civil war called the War or Wars of the Roses for the color of the roses that represented Lancaster and rival York. The dismissal of Richard from the King’s Council, and the assumption of dictatorial powers by Henry’s queen Margaret and the Duke of Somerset started a revolt which included several powerful men lined up against the crown. When one of those powerful men, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, was killed in battle his son named himself King Edward IV and then proceeded to crush the Lancastrians at the bloody, Battle of Towton. Edward realigned himself with Queen Margaret and was succeeded by his 12 year old son as Edward V. As if this wasn’t confusing enough another Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Edward IV’s younger brother then usurped the throne. The House of York which had defeated the House of Lancaster was now threatened by a series of uprisings including an invasion led by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, leader of the now revived Lancastrians. Richard III, whose army deserted him, was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry Tudor ascended the throne as Henry VII. At least Richard III had a Shakespeare play named after him.
One of the most interesting aspects of this civil war was the Battle of Towton on a snowy Palm Sunday in 1461. Contemporary chroniclers estimated the size of the armies at hundreds of thousands with the dead, mostly Lancastrians, being in the tens of thousands. Modern historians scoffed at this number much as they do at the number of dead at Aphek in 1 Kings 20:30 (AV) as if to say that people who had to be able to count chickens, pigs, and cows could not count corpses. Subsequent excavations at Towton since 1996, as revealed in the book Blood Red Roses, The Archaeology of a Mass Grave at Towton AD 1461, have uncovered the remains of the tens of thousands of men who were slaughtered at that battle. Modern, presumptuous, and arrogant historians strike out again in their impression of ancient and medieval historians as being simply stupid or worse, liars.
1485 and the crowning of the first Tudor king laid the foundations for four centuries of English glory as that nation proceeded to conquer much of the world.
I want to move on to a country that holds some importance as a nest for independent thought during the Reformation and the safe haven for John Calvin and his followers. During the early part of the 1400’s Switzerland had so perfected their infantry organization of pikemen, halberders, and crossbowmen that they became the leading
military power in Europe. As infantry tactics came to take successes away from cavalry, first underscored by Edward III of England’s defeat of the French at Crecy, the Swiss became masters at defeating seemingly militarily superior forces. The Swiss did not attempt, however, foreign conquest, but used their invincibility against all comers to secure their own independence from foreign tyranny. They were ruthless on the battlefield and often slaughtered their enemies, so much so that battles were often over before they were fought. They saved themselves by being a nation of fierce warriors who weren’t interested in taking anyone else’s land but only in defending their own. Switzerland has become a byword for neutrality in many European wars and the Popes have traditionally been “protected” by a Swiss Guard at the Vatican, which is today more of a ceremonial force than anything else.
In 1454 a German printer named Johannes Gutenberg founded the modern publishing industry when he set the Latin Vulgate in lead alloy movable type and printed it on a wood printing press. Gutenberg was not the first to invent printing or movable type, however. The first experimenters with the printing process were the Sumerians, who cut into cylindrical stones, symbols representing a signature, and pressed the image into clay that was then baked. The technique of reversed characters being inked onto paper was first developed by the Chinese, who engraved images onto wood blocks as early as the eighth century. The first such book, The Diamond Sutra, was printed in 868. By the 11th century, both Chinese and Korean printers were using clay, word, bronze, and iron to develop movable type. The Chinese printer Pi Sheng was a leader in the field of setting individual ideograms in clay type.
The development of the printing press in Europe, though, had a huge significance. The Roman Catholic Church’s dominance over religious works with all unapproved manuscripts having to be copied laboriously by hand was ended. The printing press heralded a new age in freedom of thought and freedom of religion.
Some of the most significant inventions in the medieval period in Europe were the crossbow, introduced in France around 1050 and so effective its use was banned at various times as giving one side an unfair advantage over the other, as if war was a sport. Forks as eating implements were introduced to Europe through Venice in Italy from the Byzantine Empire around 1071 but were slow to gain acceptance as fingers were still the preferred utensil for many years.
The use of latitude and longitude measurements, in degrees, was introduced by an Anglo-Saxon scientist named Welcher of Malvern around 1120. In 1137 the abbey of St. Denis near Paris became the first major building to use flying buttresses which allowed the building of huge cathedrals. Coal is first mined in Newcastle, England in 1220, although it had been used as fuel in China since 1000BC. In 1250 returning Crusaders helped Europe convert to Arabic numerals and use the decimal system. In 1240 Roger Bacon introduced the use of lense to improve vision with eyeglasses appearing in Europe and China about the same time.
In 1249, gunpowder is first mentioned in Europe in writings by scientist Roger Bacon while the first known gun, a small cannon, was built in China in about 1288. Edward III of England used cannon at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 although they didn’t have much bearing on the battle but by 1439 the French king Charles VII is using gunpowder artillery in a planned, systematic way. In 1450 the Dutch created the Harquebus which was the first firearm small enough to be carried and fired by a single person.
Around 1160 the French poet, Chretien de Troyes begins writing his romances based on the Arthurian legend after Geoffrey of Monmouth’s publication of his History of the Kings of Britain in 1135.
Around 1250 Albertus Magnus began applying Aristotle’s ideas on botany and biology to Europe. He classified plants and identified function in various parts. In 1269 William of Moerbeke translates Archimedes’ work into Latin. In 1452, Italian scientist, theoretician, and artist, Leonardo Da Vinci begins to believe in the marine origin of fossils. Why it would be thought as heretical is a mystery as anyone believing in a literal interpretation of Genesis and the Great Flood of the Bible would expect many fossils to have come from the see but he did not reveal his work publicly through 1519 due to that concern.
In 1250 Albertus Magnus discovers arsenic while sulfuric acid is discovered by an anonymous alchemist or someone who wanted to make gold by mixing of other elements in 1300.
As Europe began to discover scientific information both that it created and that it gleaned from other cultures’ previous work it began to develop particularly its military technology to a high degree. Constant warfare moved Europe ahead of almost every other culture group on earth in regard to military technology. However, two events we have already discussed prepared the way for the Reformation of mainstream Christianity; the invention of the printing press and the fall of Constantinople. Just as it took 425 years to complete Winchester Cathedral in England (finished in 1474) it took Europe awhile to get on its feet scientifically and catch up with the rest of the world.
A third factor was exploration and colonization of lands around the world which allowed for the spread of Christianity to distant lands. In 1402 Emperor Yung-Lo of China’s Ming Dynasty encouraged overseas exploration and conquest and his admiral, Cheng-ho’s fleet sailed as far west as the Red Sea, visiting Mecca and Egypt as well as Indonesia, Malaya, and Sri Lanka but this exploration was not capitalized on or exploited. At about the same time, in 1418, Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal opened an observatory and school for navigation at Sagres on Cape St. Vincent, Portugal. His goal was to find a way around Africa in order to touch base with the rich trade of China. The same year, Portuguese navigators rediscovered Madeira, 360 miles directly west of Morocco and 540 miles southwest of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. They had been discovered by the Romans and called the Purple Islands.
In 1427, Portuguese navigator, Diogo de Sevilha discovered the Azores, an island chain 700 miles west of Portugal. By Prince Henry’s death in 1460, Portuguese explorers have sailed down the coast of Africa all the way to present day Gamba. In 1487 Bartholomeu Dias discovers the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost tip of Africa, for Portugal. At the same time, King John II of Portugal, Prince Henry’s grand-nephew, organizes an expedition through the Mediterranean and the Red Sea under the leadership of Pero de Covilhao.
On October 12, 1492, Italian mariner Christopher Columbus, leading a fleet of three ships from Spain becomes the first European since the Vikings to reach the Americas, which we know of. Unlike the Vikings he will open the Americas up to exploration and colonization. Basque fishermen had been fishing off the Grand Banks off Newfoundland for a long time but no effort had been made to explore inland except possibly for a mention of a land called Bacalao, or the Land of Codfish, in some writings. Columbus’ second voyage left Cadiz, Spain in 1493 with 17 ships to explore Dominica, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica. On a side note, as this was happening a great syphilis epidemic began to sweep Europe with those infected ordered to leave the city of Paris or be thrown into the Seine River.
In 1497, Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci, exploring some of the coast of land touched by Columbus declares that this land is not Asia but a “new world”. America is named after him. In the same year, Italian mariner Giovanni Cabot (John Cabot) sailing for the English, reaches Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. He becomes the first European since the Vikings to reach the mainland of North America. Also in the same year, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama becomes the first European to round the Cape of Good Hope and goes on to India. Columbus’ third voyage takes place the next year. The genie is now out of the bottle, so to speak, and events are racing forward to Europe’s conquest of the world.
Portugal was obviously a pioneer in the early days of world exploration by the countries of Europe. The country of Portugal came into existence on the north bank of the Douro River in the 10th century as the Kingdom of Leon pressed the Moslems southward on the west coast of the Iberian peninsula. Separatist tendencies appeared early in the 12th century during the stormy reign of Queen Urraca of Castile and Leon. The strong Count Alfonso Henriques (1112-1185) won many victories over the Muslims, culminating in the 1139 Battle of Ourique. Alfonso then declared independence from his cousin, Alfonso VII of Castile and Leon, who reluctantly recognized him as King of Portugal in 1140. Alfonso continued to push the Muslims southward, capturing Lisbon and establishing Tagus as the southern boundary of Portugal in 1147. He was assisted in his efforts by Crusaders from England and the areas that would one day be called the Netherlands on their way to Palestine. Throughout the Middle Ages Portugal maintained incessant warfare with the North African Muslims who had conquered Spain called the Moors, sometimes in coordination with the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Wars against these Christian kingdoms were also frequent. It appeared for a brief time at the
end of the 14th century that Portugal might fall to Castile but with English support at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 and the following Treaty of Windsor an alliance was made between England and Portugal that has continued to this day. With Castile’s eventual success at driving out the Muslims, the era called the Reconquista was complete. Spain and Portugal were now wholly Catholic countries. The warlike culture of both countries pushed them to foreign conquest. Both countries were better poised to conquer the world from the sea than any other with powerful, experienced armies and skilled leadership.
The violent internal struggles that characterized the Iberian Peninsula were as brutal as the efforts to take the land back from the Muslims. A number of independent principalities and petty kingdoms arose in what is now called Spain. Castile rose to prominence and then declined as Aragon became powerful. In the early part of the 15th century Castile was wracked by virtual anarchy, while Aragon was the powerhouse of the Mediterranean world. The marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile helped lead Spain to the preeminent global position of power. Jointly they conquered Granada, the last Muslim holdout in Spain. Then, they turned their sight to overseas expansion.
Next, we will begin the periods known as the Reformation and the Renaissance, two powerful events that still have a hold on the mind of the world.
It is now the late 1400’s on the 15th century. The Jews have been kicked out of Spain. The Inquisition is slaughtering Bible believers and New Testament Christian groups everywhere. The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant cultural and religious force in the European World. Islam is under the domination of the Ottoman Turks who have ended the long standing political empire of Rome that began with Rome’s founding in 753BC and ended with the eastern part of that empire, now called Byzantium, being killed along with its last emperor in 1453 at Constantinople. The Catholic Popes have claimed the mantle of emperor, a spiritual ruler ruling a temporal political world. But something is about to break, a force that sweeps Europe and the world, and changes all of the rules. Still, the concept of the state-church continues to dominate human political practice as it has done since before Babylon. In fact, in a way, Babylon is still a ghost that stands over all of these events as the modern nation states of Europe began to form from the Medieval, Feudal associations that swirled and boiled for a thousand years since the fall of the political Roman Empire in the west in 476AD.