Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part I

How do ideas change? The shift can be abrupt or gradual; it can affect one individual or a nation. Sometimes, an old idea is merely re-stated and presented in a new way, adapted to fit a new time. Sometimes, it is deliberately distorted and given meanings it was never intended to have. Deeply-held convictions, such as religious beliefs, are no exception. A change in religious outlook may begin with one individual and spread, slowly or rapidly to a larger group. Indeed, this is how most religions are born. Those religious ideas themselves will inevitably change in response to world events and outside influences; they may die out if they fail to do so. Sometimes the changes are so drastic as to seem totally at odds with the original intentions of the early days of a belief. The medieval Christian embrace of the preaching of war against unbelievers as a penitential and sanctified act is one of the more remarkable examples of this shift.

Western attitudes toward Islam began to change dramatically during the second half of the eleventh century and into the beginning of the twelfth. Prior to this time, there had been less consideration of Christendom’s rival, except at the frontiers where the two faiths met and interacted, particularly in Spain and Italy. Such events as the Spanish Martyrs’ Movement notwithstanding, the primary resistance to Islam by the West was military rather than theological, and in these cases there was seldom any attempt to justify such actions with religious reasons. Attempts at conversion and ideological debate were also minimal. It is even worth noting that the Carolingian kings had diplomatic relations with Islamic rulers in the East from the eighth century. Pippin the Short (d. 768) sent ambassadors to al-Mansur in 765, the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, and received them in return. His son Charlemagne was well known for massacring the pagan Saxons who refused to convert to Christianity, and yet was famed for his good relations with the fifth Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid (of Arabian Nights fame), who sent to Charlemagne, among many other fine gifts, and elephant named Abul-Abbas in 797. Charlemagne also discussed how to achieve peace with Moorish ambassadors from Spain, mindful of his grandfather’s military victory.

The common European name for Muslims used throughout the Middle Ages, “Saracen,” had an ancient history. Originally used by Greco-Roman writers to describe the peoples who lived in Arabia, it came to be synonymous in the medieval mind with those of the Islamic faith, and to have negative connotations. Its first western appearance was in the seventh century in the Merovingian Chronicle of Fredegar, which refers to the Saracens as being descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son via his wife’s maid Hagar; this is believed in Islamic tradition, as well, and shows that the Chronicle was taking some information from an accurate source. They are called both Agarenes (from Hagar), and Saracens. Medieval Christians, however, believed that the term was evidence of how the Arabs lied about themselves, desiring to be seen as children of Sarah, rather than as children of a slave, Hagar. As a label, it stuck, because it signified that they were people of a lie, and lived in deceit.

Initially, Islam was seen less as a unified religious threat to the West, and more as an impressive empire and potential military enemy. Even into the eleventh century, it was often ignored.8 However, when lands in Spain and Southern Italy began to be recovered from Islamic control through Christian military victories by the middle of that century, the idea gradually formulated that it could be possible to make similar gains of territories lost to Christianity in the Holy Land.

The concept coincided with the effects of the “Gregorian” Reform movement, a series of sweeping changes in Church structure and function which were to have repercussions for centuries. These reforms were officially begun under Pope Leo IX at the Council of Rheims in 1049, and ended during the papacy of Calixtus II at the First Lateran Council in 1123. The designation “Gregorian” derives from Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), its most enthusiastic supporter, and is now generally not used. Three of the main issues involved were the introduction of the concept of a “papal monarchy,” that is, Church unity through absolute adherence to the pope, even from the Holy Roman Emperor; the liberation of the Church from secular influence and control (a long-standing thorn in the side of Church officials); and the idea that the priesthood was separate from and superior to the laity in Christian society. All of these, of course, delivered tremendous political advantages and power to the Church.

The third issue led to the concept of the nature of Ecclesia, that is, “the Church,” being changed as well. It had first been developed by the Carolingians (eighth to tenth centuries) and was defined by the view that the emperor and the pope were the “supreme officials of two parallel hierarchies, one clerical and one lay.” The reformers altered this, assuming that Ecclesia would thereafter consist only of the clergy. The laity would have no leading role, but were still seen as a vital part of Christianitas, the Christian community. This was a clear sign of the developing new attitude; the Church and its officials wanted to remove themselves from the shackles of Imperial and secular power, while at the same time recognizing that theirs was in effect a symbiotic relationship. The Church needed the laity for many duties, even if it desired to assume more power over them. From this, new ideas developed that would allow for the papacy to achieve the powers it sought and yet not alienate the people.

The crusading movement that ended the eleventh century was one such means of achieving this aim. In fact, the notion of an armed pilgrimage was the perfect solution to the pressing social and spiritual needs of the age. It allowed for the goal of papal preeminence to be realized, united the whole of Europe against a common foe (thus ending many internal conflicts), and helped the laity feel that they were a part of the sweeping changes occurring at the time. It was not, however, a flawless or trouble-free transition. These reforming attitudes sparked off fierce debates about papal authority, absolution of oaths to secular rulers, and clerical positions being obtained through simony, among other issues. Gregory VII, in particular, was heavily criticized by some, and strongly supported by others for his many proposed changes.

The movement was tightly bound up with monasticism and the resurgence of monastic ideals that had begun in the tenth century. The Reform sought to promote monastic values, particularly celibacy, and to impose them on all of the clergy. At the same time, an identity crisis was developing in monastic communities. Many monasteries, most notably Cluny, had acquired vast amounts of wealth from generous benefactors, and in doing so had strayed away from their vows of poverty, a central feature of the monastic revival. New monastic movements began to arise, with the goal of returning to poverty and strict adherence to the Benedictine Rule.

It was from such a desire for reform that the Cistercian Order was created in the early twelfth century, its principal aim being to practice strict observance of the Rule. The Cistercians, under the spiritual leadership of Bernard of Clairvaux, were to have an enormous influence on papal policies in the twelfth century and beyond, especially in the area of crusading and the justification of violence by Christians, not only against non–Christians, but against other Christians as well. Indeed, this was arguably the most important shift in Church teaching that the Reform brought.

Another of the goals of the Reform movement went hand-in-hand with the concept of Christian unity within Europe. It sought to make friends of enemies in Europe by turning the attentions of warring factions to a common cause, namely the defense of the poor and oppressed, and of Christendom as a whole. Knights who had previously been engaged in factional and territorial disputes were now encouraged to set aside their differences and turn their swords against those who threatened Christians, first from within, and then more importantly, from without. Slowly, a theology of knighthood and war was developed and encouraged. For example, participation in the reconquest of Spain was justified on the grounds that it was in defense of Spanish Christians. However, the idea of the threat of Islam as a whole had not yet crystallized; the Moors were seen as a military and territorial threat rather than a spiritual one, a view that would soon change.

This new aggressive attitude necessarily posed a contradiction to traditional Christian thought. Indeed, well into the second half of the eleventh century, the Church viewed warfare (and the killing and maiming that came with it) as a severe sin, regardless of how legitimate it might be. It was a sin that required penance. William the Conqueror’s army, for instance, had to perform penance for the invasion of England in 1066, even though they had papal support. Despite this, Christian writings about warfare had already begun to change in the first decades of the eleventh century. Among the most important of the writers who expressed a new outlook was the Benedictine monk from Cluny, Rodulfus Glaber (ca. 980—ca. 1046), whose Historium Libri Quinque provides fascinating insight into the thought-world of the early eleventh century.

Glaber addresses the subject of war frequently, and more significantly, in the writing of Book I of his Historium, he becomes the first writer in Northern European history to discuss Islam. Glaber presents the contradiction that becomes evident in the writings of the later eleventh and twelfth centuries: the support of armed conflict in the cause of righteousness, namely the defense of Christendom, and scorn for the petty wars and rivalries that abounded among the secular knights, nobility and royalty. It is the same contradiction that Bernard of Clairvaux would employ over a century later as his prime justification for the Knights Templar.

In Book IV, for example, Glaber writes approvingly of the Peace of God movement of his time, begun at the Synod of Charroux (ca. 989), with a view to protecting pilgrims and calling a cessation to warfare at certain times of the year, entitling the opening of the section, De pace et habundantia anni millesimi a Passione Domini. In other sections, however, he gives tacit approval to the waging of war for the sake of restoring order.

Glaber’s discussion of Islam is of particular interest. Muslims are first mentioned in Book I, wherein he describes the capture of Mayol, abbot of Cluny (948–94) by the Saracens of La Garde-Freinet (near Saint-Tropez) in 971–2. In addition to the usual praises for Mayol’s sanctity and restraint that one would expect, Glaber relates a remarkable incident that is all the more unusual for its likely accuracy:

Another of the Saracens was smoothing down a piece of wood with a knife, when in his haste he placed his foot upon the man of God’s book; it was the Bible which he always carried with him. When he saw this the saintly man groaned aloud, and certain of the less ferocious Saracens who had seen the incident reprimanded their companion, saying that great prophets should not be so scorned that he should tread their words under his feet. For the Saracens read the Hebrew prophets (or rather, those of the Christians), claiming that what they foretold concerning Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is now fulfilled in the person of Muhammad, one of their people. To support them in their error, they have in their possession a genealogy of their own, similar to that found in the Gospel of St Matthew, […] But theirs says that “Ishmael beget Nebajoth,” and continues with an erroneous fiction, which in deviating from the holy catholic account, strays equally from the truth.

Glaber continues with an account of how the enraged Saracens cut off the foot of the transgressor, to teach him a lesson, and were thus inadvertently the agents of God’s vengeance. This story, while containing an understandable Christian bias and perspective, is notable for its efforts to mention the veneration of the Judeo-Christian prophets by Muslims. The account must therefore certainly be true, since it is of little use as Christian propaganda. The brutality of the punishment was effective in relaying the Saracens’ perceived savagery, but the religious context of the story shows Muslim belief to be much closer to that of Christianity than had been previously known by many. Glaber’s is a remarkably different account from those provided by his contemporaries, Odilo or Syrus, who recount the event with invective and religious propaganda in mind.

Glaber made the effort to relate other accurate and obscure facts concerning the Muslim world. For example, in his account of the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by the mad Fatimid caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996–1021), whom he refers to as the Ammirati Babilonis, the Emir of Cairo, Glaber correctly notes that his mother was a Christian woman, but incorrectly attributes the motivations that provoked the Caliph to a Jewish conspiracy. Glaber was also aware of the Aghlabid dynasty of Tunisia. The probable source for this interest and the accuracy of his accounts came from his encounter with a group of Spanish monks whom he met while he was living at Cluny in the early 1030s, dispatched by King Sancho the Great of Navarre. These monks came to the monastery of Cluny in 1032. Indeed, Glaber mentions Spain frequently in his work, such as the defeat of a certain “Motget,” most likely Mujahid ibn ‘Abdullah, king of Denia, whose loss resulted in booty being donated to Cluny.

Spain was to play a key role in the dissemination to Europe of knowledge about Islam, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. This knowledge, however, did not coincide with a desire to understand or tolerate the Muslim faith. Glaber, for example, felt that they must be fought and exterminated as enemies of the Roman Christian faith, and in this view he was no different from the later supporters of the crusade. He was also deeply anti–Jewish in tone, blaming the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher not on the Muslim caliph, but rather on a Jewish plot. According to Glaber, the Jews were the ones who prompted the caliph to persecute Eastern Christians. He said that they claimed that a large throng of Christian pilgrims were really an army coming to attack and take Jerusalem. Given the events of the First Crusade in the late eleventh century, this fiction proved to be astonishingly prophetic.

Glaber was not interested in objective history, and despite his even-handed account of the capture of Mayol, he wanted to promote views which were in support his Church. He was hostile to Islam, Judaism, and any foreign power or ideology which might threaten the Roman Catholic Church and Western Christendom. He equally disliked Byzantium (and by extension, Eastern Orthodoxy), which he blamed for bringing its woes upon itself.30 In his description of Christian armies liberating Jerusalem, he unknowingly became a predictor of future events; in his account, the army was a lie fabricated by Jews, but it would soon become very real.

Bearing that in mind, there has been considerable debate about the extent to which Glaber’s attitudes and writings “prepared” the latter part of his century for the idea of the crusade. Indeed, many theologians looked back to his writings and drew inspiration from the notion of war being acceptable in defense of the just, but not merely for its own sake. This seemed to be an adequate solution to the problem of how Christians should approach war, though it was not a new theology. St. Augustine had commented on the subject centuries before.

Glaber’s ideas do not seem to be completely representative of the general outlook of Cluny, however. Cluny was still primarily focused on the next life, that is, on the salvation of the soul, and the retreat from the concerns of this world. It was not involved in developing theologies of war and the duty to fight infidels, though it certainly gave its support to various Spanish efforts. It would be better to say that Glaber described several movements and attitudes of his time which later churchmen drew upon to justify their policies, rather than being the impetus for those policies himself. The critical link between war and pilgrimage had not yet been made in Glaber’s time, though things were changing.

A close contemporary of Glaber’s, was Adémar of Chabannes (ca. 989–1034), a monk associated with both St. Martial and Angoulême in central and south-west France. He was an early writer to connect Islam with heresy, believing like Glaber that Hakim’s destruction of the Holy Sepulcher had been part of a Jewish-Muslim conspiracy to destroy Christendom, but adding that this was a prelude to the last days (when in reality, it may have been due to his mental state, and a desire to “prove” his Muslim faith since his mother was a Christian). Adémar was aware of Islamic monotheism, but that made him spurn the faith all the more, because it rejected Trinitarian doctrine, and thus Church teaching. While he was obsessed with this potent mixture of heresy and apocalypse, and all of the dangers they represented, Adémar was also implicated in a rather elaborate forgery. He embraced and embellished popular stories of how the historical Martial had been one of Christ’s original apostles, forging a Life of the man, purportedly written by his successor. This may have been done in the hopes of increasing pilgrimage to St. Martial abbey, and the income it would bring. Eventually, his fraud was discovered, but he persisted, going so far as to invent a Church council proclaiming the truth of Martial’s apostolic identity. Amazingly, he seems to have escaped from all of this with little punishment; the polemicist and the forger existed side-by-side. He does stand as a remarkable early example of a Christian writer who understood Islam to be different than a pagan religion, but his concern was combating this heresy, not war or pilgrimage.

A few decades later, in 1053, Pope Leo IX made an unusual offer to German soldiers fighting under his command. If they would do battle against the Normans of southern Italy, he would grant them absolution for their sins. This was not a pilgrimage, but the experiences of actual pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land were beginning to foreshadow later events.

Indeed, an important episode in the history of eleventh-century pilgrimage can be found in an incident in 1065 involving a bishop named Gunther of Bamberg, who was traveling with a very large group of German pilgrims to the Holy Land. The group had faced harassment from the Turks at various points, at least according to the chronicler Lambert, of the abbey of Hersfeld near Thuringia, who wrote of the pilgrimage sometime after 1077. The affair shows an open hostility towards Muslims on the part of the pilgrims, and in this particular case, a willingness to depart from the normal pilgrim practice of non-violence. Despite its confrontational nature, it almost borders on the comic. There are different versions of events, of course, no doubt embellished like any good story. Lambert records a skirmish wherein the pilgrims were attacked by a group of Turkish marauders (probably Seljuks looking for a fight with the Egyptian Fatimids, testing their weaknesses, and such), and took refuge behind the walls of an old town near Rama in Palestine on Good Friday. For three days they held out against assault, and managed to take some prisoners, but they were low on supplies and were fast losing strength. They decided to buy their way out of it, and invited some of the Turkish soldiers in to discuss the matter, but the Turks had no intention of letting the pilgrims escape with their lives. Once inside, a skirmish broke out, and in the midst of it, an unusual event occurred:

During the fighting, one of the Saracen leaders seized the piece of cloth which he wore around his head after the custom of his race, and made it into a lasso which he threw around Bishop Gunther’s neck. The bishop was not prepared to put up with such a disgrace and gave his assailant a hefty blow in the face which sent him sprawling to the ground. As the man fell, the bishop shouted at him that he would pay him back for his impiety in having the audacity to raise his unclean, idolatrous hands against a priest of Christ.

This unexpected action inspired the rest of the Christians, who immediately seized the attacker and bound him tightly, and then fell upon the others and did the same. They threatened to kill them if the Turkish forces did not retreat, which they were now obliged to do, following the intervention of a small Egyptian Fatimid army (the enemies of the besiegers), who set to fighting them. After this, the pilgrims were able to continue their journey to Jerusalem.

This remarkable episode shows the readiness with which Christians were willing to use force to defend themselves, an action which by the strict Christian teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount, was forbidden. Yet the monk Lambert extols them for their heroism, and at Jerusalem he records that they gave thanks to God for the victory and safe journey. There is no hint of repentance for the use of force here, or that their actions violated Christian teachings about non-violence. Furthermore, Lambert noted that Gunther “was a man of high moral and spiritual standing and well-endowed with worldly goods.”

This is an astonishing change of thought regarding the idea of pilgrimage. It was obvious that pilgrims anywhere, whether to Santiago, Rome, or Jerusalem, faced dangers from bandits, highwaymen, and other foes. The Church had sought to minimize this when it declared times of peace within Europe, but obviously that would have no bearing on the lands in the East, or on the criminally-minded. Indeed, the need to protect pilgrims would be offered as the chief reason for the creation of the Knights Templar in the early twelfth century.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part II

However, such an institution did not exist at this time, and there were no strict guidelines for the protection of pilgrims. The way to the holy city had become easier at the beginning of the eleventh century. With victories over pagans in Hungary, Stephen I had set himself up as that land’s first Christian king, and had opened the way for Western Europeans to attempt the long and arduous journey; it was not necessarily easier, but it was at least somewhat safer. The fact that this had occurred at the time of the first millennium was not lost on those who undertook the pilgrimage. Regardless of the hazards of travel, pilgrims were not expected to engage in armed resistance themselves, and this was especially true for the clergy. If this story is to be believed, Gunther’s act of desperation, the response of anyone in a life-threatening situation, served to inspire his fellow pilgrims to an unexpected level of aggression and violence. Lambert records that they bound their captives so tightly that blood burst from their fingernails, and that they threatened them all with decapitation, swords being held over their heads. If true, this episode shows how quickly those weakened by thirst, hunger, and fear can resort to violent acts in the name of self-preservation. Later aggressions were often preceded by just such a “miracle,” which would rouse the sagging morale of a group of pilgrims or crusaders, and inspire them to use their remaining strength to inflict a terrible retribution on their assailants. The violence would then be justified as the will of God. It was a situation that was to be repeated time and time again over the long history of the crusades.

The spontaneous quality of the whole affair is not completely convincing. One can note with suspicion that the effect of Gunther’s bravery was a bit too inspiring. Given how quickly the party of pilgrims was roused and carried out his orders for a counter-attack, it has the air of something planned in advance, and not just an act of faith in desperation. Was this move conceived beforehand by the desperate bishop to look like a moment of divine inspiration, needing only the proper provocation from his captors? If so, it succeeded remarkably well. We cannot know for sure, but such a scenario makes sense in view of the dangerous circumstances. Despite claims of divine support, it may just have been a daring gamble that paid off.

Regardless of the truth, this little episode showed that relations between the two faiths were becoming increasingly hostile, the Fatimid rescue notwithstanding. Indeed, the pilgrims were not grateful to them, viewing it merely as Satan defeating Satan. Christians were growing far less tolerant of Islam and the Islamic presence in the Holy Land. This may even have sprung from the Reform’s new ideas about Christian unity. It is easy to see from such actions how an aggressive, military attitude toward Islam was developing.

The most dramatic changes in this attitude came during the papacy of Gregory VII. He made use of Christ’s words, compelle intrare (“compel them to enter,” found in the Augustinian theology of just war and acceptable killing, and developed later by Pope Gregory I) to justify conversion to Christianity by force, if necessary, in order to secure the peace. Gregory stated that the militia Christi, previously defined as the community of monks engaged in spiritual battle with the devil (and which would always take priority, regardless of changes), could also include the militia secularis, the knights who fought with weapons, a concept previously unthinkable.

Nevertheless, prominent theologians such as the Italian Peter Damian (1007–72) rejected all war, allowing for no justification, regardless of the circumstances. Though an associate of Gregory VII, a Benedictine monk, a cardinal, and otherwise a supporter of the Reform, Damian denounced the use of force in relation to the conversion of non–Christians.

If such opposition existed, what then was the official Church policy? It is important here to discuss briefly the issue of canon law and the precedents for just war as set forth by the early Church writers such as Augustine. One standard view on the Church’s perceived change in policy was argued by Carl Erdmann in 1935, in his classic Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens. This work, though dated, is a key reference. Erdmann saw a fundamental shift in Church thought, one that involved the modifying of canon law to suit the new ideas being discussed. Essentially, Augustinian theology was reworked and interpreted in the eleventh century to suit the concept of the holy war against the infidel.

Decades later, however, this notion was challenged.There were many objections, and various scholarly efforts have dispelled some popular notions about the changes that took place in theological thought in the eleventh century. Augustinian influence in the formulation of the crusading idea was not a given; in actuality, Augustine’s doctrine of conversion denounced the use of violence and was thus in opposition to the attitude being developed by crusading advocates. Nowhere in canonical literature is there mention of the Augustinian doctrine in support of crusading. In fact, canon law collections remain curiously silent about the crusades until the thirteenth century, and say nothing about the usual components of the crusade.54 So, there was a conflict between what the Church was beginning to preach, and what it held to in its own law books. Canon law still adhered to the older teachings regarding just war, and did not incorporate the newer ideas. And yet despite all of this, Augustinian concepts of just war certainly had a popular influence on crusading thought, even if the law did not specifically mention them.

Gilchrist argues that Augustine’s original intentions regarding conversion tended to be followed and this had little, if anything, to do with the crusading movement. His doctrine allowed for the use of violence, but it was still grounded in a notion of love, something that we might find curious and contradictory today. Indeed, his writings were the most important of those studied on the subject of war during the time of the First Crusade, so naturally, his ideas would appear in later commentary. However, Augustine was primarily concerned with heresies and schisms, and applied his notion of loving violence to them. For him, keeping the Church unified was of prime importance, in a time when breakaway sects were common.

The fact is that Gregory VII did employ the phrase compelle intrare, which was first commented on at length by Augustine, and reappeared many times throughout Christian history in different situations. Gregory was surely aware of the context within which Augustine had used the phrase, namely the forceful conversion of heretics (the Donatists in this case, who denied the validity of sacraments administered by priests who had renounced their faith under persecution, and later recanted and were reinstated). The fact that compulsion was to be undertaken with “love” for the misguided soul, and by avoiding violence if possible, did not prevent Gregory from using it. There was not only one method of interpretation of canonical texts. That the official interpretation of the phrase remained did not preclude other interpretations from being made, particularly in view of such radical ideas as an armed expedition to the East, one led by the pope. This was surely a concept never envisioned by Augustine, and while Gregory’s plans were not the same as those of the crusade preached twenty years later, they did have an influence and effect on the theological thought of the 1090s. Thus, while Augustine could not be invoked as a direct advocate of a military expedition for the purpose of conversion (which in the reality of the crusades rarely occurred anyway), the spirit of the just war must surely have been in the minds of those who formulated the plans for the First Crusade. Put simply, some supported the new ideas and others opposed them.

In addition, one can question Gilchrist’s argument, since it refers to the formative years of the crusading idea, specifically the latter part of the eleventh century, though he frequently brings in other accounts and writers from the first part of the twelfth century. Even if the focus is mainly on events prior to and including Clermont, it neglects to mention a point about Christian/Islamic relations, in the years before and after the First Crusade: certain western Christians increasingly regarded Islam as a Christian heresy (or at least a mixture of heresy and paganism), as faint understandings about Muslim belief filtered into European circles. Indeed, as we have seen, this perception began well before the later 1090s, among a small group of learned theologians and writers, including Gregory VII. Alberto Ferreiro notes, “whereas in earlier Middle Ages heresiologists defined Islam as pagan, in the high Middle Ages the prevailing opinion emerged that it was instead a heresy […] medieval writers were intent on demonstrating the heretical nature of Islamic doctrines and the perversity of Islamic morality.”

The perception of heresy as a grave danger in the Western Church seemed for many centuries to be of little concern following the demise of Arianism, a heretical movement from the fourth century which held that Christ had not always existed, but had been created by God. It had a wide-spread following, but died out by the seventh century. Later, Islam would be likened not only to Simon Magus’ trickery (discussed below), but also to Arian beliefs, for its rejection of the divinity of Christ. Certainly religious texts between the fifth and tenth centuries have little to say on the matter, being more focused on disagreements of doctrine. Glaber brought the issue to light again in the eleventh century, and from that time, it continued to grow, even coinciding with the Reform movement, and becoming an integral part of its objective to purify the Church.

It is very interesting to note that Church concern about the spread of heresy among the common people seems to have taken on new force in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but before that, it was less worrying, and this is not just due to a paucity of surviving sources. Indeed, in 1002, Burchard of Worms put together a collection of ecclesiastical law, the most comprehensive yet assembled to that date. He included no provisions for dealing with heresy, and did not even discuss how to address it in the popular sense; there is no mention of it even being a problem. The reasons that concern about the spread of heretical ideas seem to become more prominent from this point onward are not completely clear.

Heresies in the eleventh century were often popular movements among the illiterate, who sought a life of complete simplicity, adhering to the Gospels without attaching importance to Church teachings or sacraments. Indeed, the sacraments were often denounced and considered unnecessary for true salvation. Other beliefs might include denial of the virgin birth of Christ, or his divinity, or the veneration of the cross. In these more particular aspects, one sees how Christian perceptions of Islam began to focus on accusations of heresy as well, since certain Islamic tenets seemed to have much in common with the beliefs of heretical movements.

Around the year 1100, a writer named Embrico of Mainz (about whom nothing is known) wrote the Vita Mahumeti, based on earlier Byzantine accounts. It is one of the earliest lives of Muhammad in Latin, and goes to great lengths to link Muhammad with the Antichrist, via the hated figure of Simon Magus, the arch-heretic of classical Christian lore. An apocryphal account (though widely believed) told that Simon Magus, after performing many false miracles with demonic help, challenged St. Peter and failed, falling to his death when the invisible demons carrying him (allowing him to falsely proclaim he could fly) were overcome by Peter’s prayer. Embrico embellished the story to have “the Magus” act as a mentor to Muhammad, who fell under his spell and never recovered (the mingling of conflicting timelines was common feature of medieval writing). Indeed, the legend of Muhammad’s nighttime flight to Jerusalem was seen as proof of the diabolical, since flight was long associated with demonic help (and would later be invoked in the condemnation of witches’ supposed aerial activities). Magus and Muhammad thus conspired to deceive the masses. By associating them, Embrico put Muhammad in the same company as all past heretics. While both heretics and pagans were approached by missionaries, views about the two were different; heretics could be seen as having had the truth but having fallen into error, while pagans had never known the truth.

Gregory VII probably embodied an early example of this shifting attitude. He, along with abbot Hugh of Cluny, was known to be eager to convert the Muslim ruler of Saragossa, Ahmad al-Muqtadir (1046–81), and the Spanish Muslims of the region. It seems that the word used for these attempts at conversion was “repentance,” which certainly implies a falling away from the truth, in the manner of a heretic. There may also have been a fear that if al-Muqtadir were to accept Christianity, he might adopt the Mozarabic rite (a form of liturgy used by Spanish Christians, many under Muslim rule; their first language was often Arabic), rather than the Gregorian, and so there was a desire to persuade him into joining the latter.

A remarkable letter from Gregory VII was addressed in 1076 to “Anzir,” or An-Nasir ibn Alnas, the Hammadid ruler of Maghreb (Western North Africa) from 1062–88 or 89. This conciliatory missive is among the earliest surviving missionary-style communications between a pope and a Muslim ruler. It is a response to actions of friendship on the part of ibn Alnas, along with a promise to send papal messengers to his court. Gregory acknowledges that they both serve the same God:

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, “He is our peace who hath made both one.”

[…] For God knows our true regard for you […] and how earnestly we pray both with our lips and with our heart that God himself, after the long journey of this life, may lead you into the bosom of the most holy patriarch Abraham.

Regardless of the intention behind the letter, this is not the language that would be used to address a polytheistic pagan. Though knowledge of Islam was still limited at this time, there is nevertheless clear evidence in these statements that, at least in the immediate papal sphere of influence, the knowledge existed that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same deity, and that there was a desire to show Muslims their error. This exact sentiment would be reflected, at least in words, in the translation project of Peter the Venerable more than sixty years later.

Another notable letter from Gregory is his address “to all the faithful,” dated 1084. This work is concerned about the threats to Christianity, from other nations, who do not let Christians practice freely. This could refer to the Turkish situation in the Holy Land, though he does not say so specifically. He specifically notes, however, that the rulers of these lands practice heresy, and seek to spread it.

He then makes an important distinction. Having addressed the issue of heretics, he laments that the Christian faith has fallen, that the Church fathers are no longer honored, and are now a laughing-stock, not only to the devil, but also to Jews, Saracens, and pagans, who at least observe their own laws. Jews and Muslims are classified as something different from pagans here, though he does not indicate that one group is better than another, but rather that none of their laws can save their souls. Again, these are views that would be shared by Peter the Venerable, and the anti–Islamic polemicists of the thirteenth century.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part III

Saint Augustine (354-430) is one of the most influential thinkers of the Western World. His answers to life’s profound questions shaped Western civilization to an unparalleled degree.

Though the popular imagination continued to associate Islam with polytheism, we have seen that some writers and theologians were aware that this was not the case. Indeed, Glaber’s account proves that in at least some monastic circles in the early eleventh century, Muslim veneration of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus was already known to be a fact. That some writers continued to distinguish between the heretics within Christendom and Muslims, whom they branded as pagans, does not detract from this.

In the 1140s, the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, made a detailed study of Islam, and implored Bernard of Clairvaux to write against the Muslims. His principal concern was that Islam was a heresy that was threatening the unity of the Church. In view of Peter’s concerns, one cannot then suppose that Augustinian ideas simply had no influence on crusading thought, officially or otherwise. If Islam could be regarded as a Christian heresy, then the forced conversion doctrine could be applied to it as well. Whether Peter intended this has been the subject of much debate.

The arguments for and against the use of armed force in the conversion of non-believers, whether “heretics” or “pagans” might have remained forever in the realm of theological speculation, had not a momentous event occurred in 1071. In that year, Jerusalem was wrested from Arab control by the aggressive Turks, specifically by an adventurer named Atsiz ibn-Abaq, a vassal to the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan. They adhered to a more strict and orthodox form of Sunni Islam, and so the political climate of the Middle East took a drastic change. There were power struggles for several years after this incident; at one point the Egyptian Fatimids (members of the rival Shi’a sect) succeeded in retaking the city from Atsiz for a short time in 1075. It would be wrong to focus on this incident as the major turning point in Christian relations with the East. Hostilities abounded previously (the incident with Bishop Gunther, for example). However, this Turkish invasion served as a new focal point for Christian indignation and retaliation.

The route for Christian pilgrims now became even more dangerous than before, owing to increased Turkish hostility towards the Christians. The previous Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem had often allowed Christian pilgrims to come and go without much hindrance (the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher notwithstanding), but the new Turkish rulers were not always so favorably inclined, though this may have been due as much to Christian perceptions and prejudices as to any real threat.74 Nevertheless, with so many political and military power struggles between rival Muslim factions, there was bound to be danger to travelers. With the rising threat of Turkish power, Anatolia was now a very dangerous route for a pilgrim to traverse, but it was the only overland route by which they could realistically travel. Indeed, it could only be undertaken by armed escort, owing to the frequent hostile flare-ups in the area. Once in the Middle East proper, Syria was no better. Both regions were plagued with bandits and petty local lords who imposed high levies and tolls. Pilgrims that did manage to make it safely to the Holy Land and back returned with many a harsh tale about their miseries.

With a major pilgrimage route believed to be in danger, a new form of remissio peccatorum began to take shape. Options for the remission of sin included becoming a monk, endowing a monastery, or going on a pilgrimage. The choice of a pilgrimage had traditionally involved the abandonment of all other activities until the pilgrimage was complete, for some a virtually impossible task. The notion of liberating Jerusalem from hostile Muslim hands presented what must have been seen as the perfect solution. It was an option particularly attractive to the knight. He had the opportunity to receive penance for his violent behavior through the exercising of his very reason for being, his martial skills.

It would not be until the 1090s, however, that this connection was fully made, for while Gregory VII was an enthusiastic supporter of an armed venture to liberate the Holy Land from Turkish/Muslim control, he does not seem to have conceived of the combination of a military campaign and a pilgrimage. Nevertheless, much of his correspondence addresses the issue of an armed expedition, and he implores his audiences to be receptive to his ideas. In his letter to “all Christians,” dated March 1, 1074, he states:

[…] we have learned that a people of the pagans have been pressing hard upon the Christian empire, have cruelly laid waste the country almost to the walls of Constantinople and slaughtered like sheep many thousand Christians.

[…] Be it known, therefore, that we […] are preparing in every possible way to carry aid to the Christian empire as soon as may be, with God’s help. We adjure you […] willingly to offer your powerful aid to your brethren in the name of Christ.

Note here that he refers to the enemies as “pagans” when he would soon praise a Muslim ruler in North Africa for being devoted to the same God, but in a different manner. This was the start of a series of missives regarding his conviction to do something about the Turkish situation. Passing reference is made to the venture in a letter addressed to King Philip I of France concerning the church of Beauvais, and at the conclusion of a letter to William, Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine, concerning the annulment of his marriage to Hildegard, daughter of King Robert of Burgundy. He praises William for his willingness to offer military support for Gregory’s venture, but then informs him that at that time, good news had arrived and the Christians had succeeded in driving the Turks back:

Your assurance of readiness to act in the service of St. Peter was very welcome to us, but it has not seemed best to write you anything definite at present concerning an expedition, because the report is that the Christians beyond the seas have, by God’s help, driven back the fierce assault of the pagans, and we are waiting for the counsel of divine Providence as to our future course.

This temporary cessation did not last long, however, and by December, Gregory was once again making plans for a full-scale expedition to the east. He wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, putting forth his plans in greater detail:

Further, I call to your attention that the Christians beyond the seas, a great part of whom are being destroyed by the heathen with unheard-of slaughter and are daily being slain like so many sheep, have humbly sent to beg me to succor these our brethren in whatever ways I can, that the religion of Christ may not utterly perish in our time […]

I […] have succeeded in arousing certain Christian men so that they are eager to risk their lives for their brethren in defense of the law of Christ and to show forth more clearly than the day the nobility of the sons of God. This summons has been readily accepted by Italians and northerners, by divine inspiration as I believe—nay as I can absolutely assure you—and already fifty thousand men are preparing, if they can have me for their leader and prelate, to take up arms against the enemies of God and push forward even to the sepulcher of the Lord under his supreme leadership.

There follows a section wherein Gregory discusses the rift between the Eastern and the Western Churches, the recent filioque controversy in the Nicene Creed no doubt still in his mind. The two churches were clearly at odds, and Gregory appears here to be hinting at the chance to reclaim some of the East for the Catholic faith. Indeed, his predecessor, Leo IX, had expressed a desire for a renewal of good ties between West and East, even if he preferred to refer to Rome and Constantinople as “mother” and “daughter” respectively, a designation of which the Greeks would hardly have approved.

He wrote a letter to Countess Matilda of Tuscany on 16 December of 1074 with a similar theme:

There are some whom I blush to tell, lest I should seem to be led by a mere fancy, how firmly my mind and heart are set upon crossing the sea in order that, by Christ’s favor, I may bring help to the Christians who are being slaughtered by the heathen like cattle.

[…] Now, I believe that many knights support us in such a task, also that our empress herself [Agnes of Poitou, widow of Henry III, mother of Henry IV] desires to come with us to distant parts and to bring you with her […]

We can see that Gregory was the first to propose an armed religious expedition, and he actually offered to lead it himself. This was remarkable; the idea that a pope could command an army had until this time been unthinkable. Regardless, even with Gregory’s plans to travel as far as Jerusalem, the idea of mixing a pilgrimage with war was probably not something that he envisioned. In fact, despite the reported 50,000 men waiting to make the journey (certainly an exaggeration), nothing came of these bold plans.

There are several reasons for this, most of which are due to the complex political situations involving the Normans and Byzantine claims to western lands. In 1074, Gregory had found himself embroiled in a battle of wills with the Norman Robert Guiscard, an adventurer-turned-noble, and Gregory had sought to raise forces against him, which would then proceed to the east in the quest to liberate it from Turkish control. This plan fell apart, and Gregory temporarily abandoned his hopes, though they were rekindled later in the year and into 1075, only to be dashed again, the second time mainly by a lack of interest. His disappointment and disgust are evident in a letter written to Abbot Hugh of Cluny on 22 January 1075, wherein he decries the lack of faith in God, and that men seek only their own glory, while even the Italians proved themselves to be worse than the pagans and heretics, and the devil has his way.

Within a year of his proclamations of armed expedition, Gregory was burdened with a problem much closer to home, the Investiture Contest, one of the principal side effects of the Reform movement, the great struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. In short, the debate raged about whether the Holy Roman Emperor could appoint his own loyal bishops, and even influence the selection of popes. The emperor thought yes, the Church maintained that this duty was relegated to it alone by God. It would not be fully resolved (in the Church’s favor) until 1122.

Gregory’s plans had been important, however. It was the first time that the notion of a Christian holy war to the East, with papal sanction, had been seriously considered. Further, although it was initially conceived to give support to Byzantium (an idea with mixed support at best), Gregory clearly entertained the idea of sending the mission all the way to Jerusalem, thus planting the seed of the idea of a war and pilgrimage combined together. As for the effect this was about to have on Christian/Islamic relations, a pilgrimage with a military element would be the instigation of a new holy war.

Gregory never abandoned the idea, however, and in the early 1080s, he summoned Anselm of Baggio, Bishop of Lucca, to Rome to write on the Church’s right to wage war. In Book XIII of his collection of canonical texts (written at Gregory’s request), he included many ideas which justified the use of violence when willed by God, stressing that it was the intention of the warrior that mattered, and that fighting could be just if engaged in with “goodwill.” Indeed, many of these statements would be found again in Bernard of Clairvaux’s justification for the Knights Templar forty years later.91 In another work, De caritate, Anselm went so far as to proclaim that the use of violence for holy ends could be seen as an act of charity.

Significantly, he was also a supporter of the idea of the Church itself having the authority to use force, without the need to rely on secular permission or enforcement. Such thinking was very near that which was to be espoused by the supporters of the crusade.

The issue of Christian violence as an act of love and charity may seem very odd to the modern reader, but it formed a significant part of what was to become the theology of crusading, and it deserves to be discussed in more detail here. Actions taken to correct a wrong were legitimate in Christian teaching. St. Augustine had commented at length on the use of corrective force for a greater good. While he was not specifically referring to war, his comments were adapted to suit the situations of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Further, since he also discussed the forced conversion of the Manichaeans in this context (a gnostic dualist faith that Augustine himself had been a member of, until his conversion in 387), it was only logical to transfer the same line of thinking to the Muslims. In his extended commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he states:

A punishment that is designed for the purpose of correction is not hereby forbidden; for that very punishment is an exercise of mercy, and is not incompatible with the firm resolve by which we are ready to suffer even further injuries from a man whose amendment we desire. But no one is fit for the task of inflicting such punishment unless—by the greatness of his love—he has overcome the hate by which those who seek to avenge themselves are usually enraged.

In the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux would echo these words in describing the virtues of the Knights Templar. Essentially, the Christian soldier who divorced himself from hateful intent potentially had the moral authority to inflict punishment and commit violence for the greater good. Augustine continues with the view that the right to commit such acts must come from God:

Nevertheless, noble and saintly men inflicted death as a punishment for many sins, although they knew well that no one ought to fear the death which separates soul and body. But they were acting in conformity with the sentiment of those who do fear it, so that the living would be struck with salutary fear. Those who were put to death did not suffer injury from death itself; rather, they were suffering injury from sin, and it might have become worse if they had continued to live. This authority was not exercised rashly by those to whom God had committed it.

The influence that such a passage would have had in the formulation of the new martial ethic of the Church can clearly be seen. Perhaps the most significant statement was to be found in Augustine’s City of God, chapter 21:

The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.

While such teachings had been a part of the Church since the time of the fathers, it took the innovations of the eleventh century to adapt them to the situations that Christians faced about the status of Jerusalem and the perceived threat of Islam. Islam, of course, did not exist in Augustine’s time, but this was not an obstacle to the theologians seeking support for crusading.

An important French canonist who continued the thought of Anselm of Lucca was Ivo of Chartres (ca. 1040–1115), who in 1094, shortly before the Council of Clermont (wherein Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade), wrote his Decretum and Panormia. These works contained considerable speculation on the nature of Christian violence and justifiable war, and their relationship to love. In commenting on Augustine, he declared that a war fought by Christians was for the purpose of creating peace, and thus was an acceptable act; it had as its aim a higher good. Those who would punish evil were not persecuting their foes, but in fact loving them, and he distinguished, as Bernard of Clairvaux would, between war for its own sake and for a just cause. Indeed, Christopher Tyerman notes that by his writings, “Augustine had moved the justification of violence from lawbooks to liturgies, from the secular to the religious. His lack of definition in merging holy and just war […] produced a convenient conceptual plasticity that characterized subsequent Christian attitudes to war.”

The concept of Church-sanctioned, holy violence found its full flowering in the First Crusade, preached by Pope Urban II in 1095. In March of 1095, at the Council of Piacenza, ambassadors from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos arrived with an appeal for aid against continuing incursions by the Seljuk Turks. The emperor hoped for some military reinforcements, but what he received was beyond his imagination. Urban’s response at the Council of Clermont in November of that year was to call for a full-scale armed assault on the East. He presented the crusade as a pilgrimage to worship at Jerusalem. However, it was an armed pilgrimage; remission of sins was gained because one was armed, which, for a pilgrim, had been forbidden. This was a ground-breaking move; there was no precedent for such an attitude, regardless of previous Church support for armed campaigns against Muslims in Spain. There, the Church had given its endorsement to the continuing efforts of the reconquista, even offering remission of sins for those who perished fighting Islam on Spain’s soil. The difference was that there was not yet the link with pilgrimage that characterized the whole of the crusading movement for the next 200 years and beyond. The reconquest of Spain was principally a military exercise, not an opportunity for pilgrimage.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part IV

Indeed, medieval writers referred to crusaders and pilgrims with exactly the same word, peregrinus. As a result, it is not always clear whether the individual described in a given manuscript account is on crusade, or whether he is a traditional, non-armed pilgrim.

The reason for the novelty lay in its unique fusion, because, “its whole point seems to be rather that pilgrimage and war are fused together with the deliberate emphasis that remission of penance is not the automatic reward for waging this war, but that only he qualifies who ‘pro sola devotione, non pro honoris vel pecuniae adeptione, ad liberandam ecclesiam Dei Hierusalem profectus fuerit.’ The moral discipline associated with pilgrimage is written into the qualification […].” In other words, devotion to the crusade as its own reward, and not to gain riches or honor, was the method by which salvation was attained. There is a clear distinction between war for its own sake and the necessity to complete the pilgrimage. The remission is gained for completing the pilgrimage; the fighting necessary to this end is not the means by which salvation is gained, but rather a useful tool. The intention must not be for personal glory, but rather only to glorify God and Christ. Once again, this was a theme which was to be invoked by Bernard of Clairvaux in his support of the Knights Templar.

Therefore, the crusade was a new idea, and perhaps Urban felt the need to keep the concept out of the traditional boundaries of Church law. He was in uncharted territory with his proposals, and could have been unsure of how they would be received. It is not surprising therefore, that no attempt was made immediately to fit the idea of armed pilgrimage into existing Church statutes. However, at about the same time, an encyclical was circulating, purporting to be from Pope Sergius IV (d. 1012), calling for the expulsion of the Muslims from Jerusalem for Caliph Hakim’s crime of the Holy Sepulcher’s destruction. The general consensus is that this document is a forgery, and was probably created for the purpose of giving Urban some historical precedent for his proposal. It provides a prime example of how history was being manipulated to bring the new theology in line with existing beliefs.

Was the Holy Sepulcher the main goal? Erdmann put forth the argument that Pope Urban II’s principal concern was aid to Byzantium and Alexios I, with the hope that such a venture would allow for the possibility of reuniting the Church (i.e., extending Latin rule in the East). E. O. Blake has asked if Urban’s intention was “not to convert the military venture into a pilgrimage, but merely to divert the benefits of pilgrimage to reward an act of war?”

This is a possibility, and may have some truth, but it is also reliant on Erdmann’s thesis of the crusade just being the logical extension of just war theology. Erdmann adheres to the idea that the crusade was primarily about the practice of “legitimate” war, whereas later writers have argued that canon law was not invoked in crusading literature, and therefore the pilgrimage theme must be given more attention. Most likely, however, Urban held Jerusalem to be an important component of the expedition, and probably the primary reason. Baldric of Bourgueil recorded that Urban made use of Psalm 78:1–4 as part of his justification for the taking up of arms, since it proclaims that the heathen had defiled the holy places. Indeed, with Jerusalem as the main goal, the whole idea could be more related to such areas as theology and apocalypticism, rather than simply just war.

While the general assumption is that Alexios’ letter was the principal spur to the crusade, Andrew Jotischky has recently suggested that pleas from the Jerusalem church may have played a role. Indeed, stories about the popular preacher Peter the Hermit (whom we shall meet presently) said that he was in possession of just such a plea, and that this was what gave rise to the whole crusade. This is an exaggeration, but contacts between Jerusalem and the West had been ongoing, and reports of turmoil and difficulties between Eastern Christians and various Muslim rulers (not just Hakim) had existed for centuries.

Regardless of the ultimate aim, the idea became very popular. Part of the appeal of Urban’s new proposition was because it was in the form of a sermon. Odd as this may sound, the growing popularity of sermons outside of the monastic community was certainly a factor in Urban’s favor. Prior to the eleventh century, preaching was largely a monastic practice, and the focus of such sermons was on the patristic texts and scriptural exegesis. There was a good amount of theological contemplation, aimed at directing the minds of the monks toward heaven and spiritual concerns. Before the twelfth century, there was no real effort to bring such elevated spiritual ideas to the common people; indeed, it may have been only periodic. For example, the Council of Clovesho in 747 recommended preaching on Sundays, but did not require it as a part of the mass. In any case, it was assumed that the laity was not educated and intelligent enough to understand the complex ideas that monastic thinkers pondered. Instead, sermons were to concentrate on such topics as instruction in the faith, the meaning of the Creed, and how to be a good Christian.

However, by the time of the Reform, there had appeared a new phenomenon, or at least a surge in popularity of an old one: the itinerant preacher. As the Reform movement took hold, there began to appear a large number of itinerant and lay preachers (particularly in France), who had no formal training or Church affiliation. These individuals most often called on the laity to adopt a life of poverty and humility, imitating Christ, and were wanderers who were often rough in appearance and hygiene, but their messages resonated with lay audiences far and wide. They had an immediate appeal, being commoners like those they preached to, far different from the distant, upper-class Church officials.

The chicken-and-egg question is, of course, whether they generated the popular spiritual movements, or were responding to them. This cannot be answered with certainty, but there is no doubt that their words were well-received by many. Such a situation could not help but pose serious challenges for those officials within the Church, especially as many of these preachers did not extoll the formal Church structures as the way to salvation. Given this popular yearning for spiritual meaning, Urban’s Clermont sermon must have had tremendous power, being addressed not only to clergy, nobles, and knights, but to the common people, as well.

The Clermont sermon was an inspired work, for it answered the spiritual needs of the laity by including them in its preaching. Here was a sermon from the pope himself, and one that spoke to all Christians, not just the privileged few. Urban must have been aware of the effect that his words would have; indeed, he meant to reach the people in just the way that he did. It may have even been a kind of official response to the popular preachers, one which gave the people hope in the same manner that the words of the wanderers did, but one with papal authority.

There were unexpected and unfortunate events concerning one of those wanderers, Peter of Amiens, a priest known as the Hermit, who preached his own brand of the crusade. Peter was one of those “eccentric, unkempt” individuals, who exerted a strong charisma despite (or perhaps because of) his unwashed state, and he obtained many followers on his disastrous journey to the East in 1096. Whether or not he carried a plea for help from Jerusalem’s patriarch, his was the dark side of popular religious fervor. It led to some of his followers slaughtering groups of Jews living in the Rhineland, under the assumption that it was just as easy to kill the “enemies of God” near to home as to journey all the way to far-off Jerusalem. His vision of crusading differed dramatically from that of Urban’s, “as unlike as reasonably clean water and a muddy pool covered with weeds.” Thousands followed Peter as far as Constantinople, where the Emperor Alexios, eager to be rid of them, arranged for their transport into Turkish territory. He told them to wait for him to send guards as an escort, but they set off, thus sealing their fate. Shortly afterward, they were massacred by the Turks. Peter had escaped and returned to Constantinople with few followers left, but he remained a part of the crusade, and was given much credit for his later involvement by contemporary chroniclers.

In spite of such a tragic and even embarrassing setback, preparations for the true crusade continued, and the idea spread very quickly throughout Europe. The notion of holy and just war gained popularity rapidly, and seemed to answer some great spiritual need of the common people, with its promise of liberation of the sacred sites, and remission of all sins.

Indeed, the idea of the crusaders engaged in the imitatio Christi, imitating the life of Christ, seems to have taken hold and been popular. William Purkis focuses on the imitation of Christ’s life and passion as a major motivating force for those first crusaders. The idea of “taking the cross,” that is, the sewing of a cloth cross onto one’s clothing as a symbol of one’s crusading vow, could be compared to the act of Christ shouldering his own cross on his final walk to Calvary: a heavy burden that led to an eternal reward. This was seen as a living embodiment of Christ’s admonition in Matthew 16:24 that all who would come after him must take up their crosses and follow him. The crusaders were abandoning their homes and families, as Christ had commanded, to answer a higher calling. Upon reaching Jerusalem, they would literally be walking in the footsteps of Christ. Those that did so and died in this holy endeavor could be seen as martyrs. Even the ranks of the crusaders were seen in terms of the followers of Christ, with accounts that some contingents were numbered at 12 (the number of the apostles), that those who abandoned the crusade were akin to Judas, among other comparisons.

The adversary that they would face was the quintessential enemy. Though the people knew little or nothing about Islam, Urban and his successors had succeeded in defining it as the greatest of all threats. Over time, the term Saracen would designate all of the enemies of Christendom, and their supposed practices would be assigned to all such enemies. In a ridiculous example, a twelfth-century English monk mentioned that the pagan Saxons worshipped “maumets,” a reference to Muhammad and the belief that Muslims worshipped him. Islam was thus antithetical to Christianity; it was everything that Christians were not, or perhaps that they feared they might be. The excessive hatred and violence that could grow out of such a belief is obvious. Muslims were seen as a lost cause, inconvertible and fit only to be driven out or killed.

The result of this change in attitude toward war was a completely new outlook for the Church, one which was to have dramatic repercussions for hundreds of years. By the end of the eleventh century, the idea of a Church-sanctioned holy war had fully taken shape, a new and important belief in Western history. It went far beyond Augustinian notions of what constituted a just war. War of a certain kind was now pleasing to God, whereas previously, it required penance, no matter how just its cause. Fighting in a war was not only permitted, it was divinely-sanctioned, and it earned the remittance of all sins, guaranteed by a papal proclamation.

An important question that naturally arises from all of this activity is how sincere these various writers and theologians were in their beliefs. This is not always answerable, but it deserves some attention. As we have seen, there existed a curious double attitude toward Byzantium, which on the one hand condemned the Greeks for supposed treachery (a theme that would recur throughout the crusading period; indeed it was invoked by Peter the Venerable as a principal reason for the failure of the Second Crusade), and on the other considered it important to render assistance to the Byzantine army in repelling the Turks (though it must be pointed out that in no surviving account of Urban’s Clermont sermon is Byzantium mentioned). For the Church writers, perhaps it was a belief in the lesser of two evils, that it was better to have a schismatic Christian empire in the East than one controlled by the Turks. Or, the Byzantine appeal for help simply could have provided a timely and ideal opportunity to put the papacy’s hopes and plans into action, with little regard for the safety of the Eastern Empire at all. It is clear that Alexios certainly did not anticipate the unruly mobs that descended on his lands a few years after his appeal.

Were these crusading sentiments merely shrewd political manipulations from a Church desperate to obtain complete power over the secular rulers of Europe? Sources cannot confirm this, and there were undoubtedly many (if not most) among the laity who felt a genuine sense of religious duty to engage in the perceived defense of Christendom. The possibility of undertaking a true imitatio Christi must have been irresistible to those who had no idea what was ahead of them. Still, human nature has shown throughout history that the prospect of attaining such total power must have held great appeal for those in charge. The Church, of course, did achieve a great victory through all of these new movements, both in the spiritual and political sense. The misery, brutality, and death wrought by the crusades and their earlier models in Spain had little impact on those in Europe who did not participate in the fighting, and the troubles experienced by the crusaders were completely overshadowed by the retaking of Jerusalem, which more than redressed the suffering. A more perfect example of divine reward for Christian humility, obedience and suffering could not have been envisioned.

Though Gregory VII offered to lead the first such expedition, his sincerity in this proposal will never be known. The rapidity with which the whole plan was dropped indicates either a lack of conviction or, just as likely, a preoccupation with events closer to home. Indeed, the Investiture Contest allowed the opportunity for the pope to exert the Church’s worldly and spiritual authority without having to journey all the way to Jerusalem. The West probably was simply not yet ready for Gregory’s call to arms. The knights and fighting men of Europe were not initially interested in Gregory’s plan; in fact, it may have seemed quite odd to them. Long-standing conflicts and general mistrust among warring factions were enough to resist a call to fight under a papal banner in a militia Christi. In fact, the papacy could well have been seen by them as desiring the military expedition for its own ends, and so there was little appeal to a secular warrior, who had more to gain by waging war closer to his own home in Europe. So, unlike Urban’s crusade of 1095, Gregory probably alienated secular knights to some extent, by adopting an approach that was too hierarchical. Gregory said that he wanted to command the army in his time, but Urban had a far better idea; letting the greatest of the French knights and nobility themselves lead the expedition. It was this strategy that ensured the strong popular response to Urban’s call, where Gregory’s had failed. It is worth noting that before he became pope, Urban, as Odo of Lagery, was cardinal bishop of Ostia and was known as the pedisequus (valet) to Gregory VII, given their close friendship. So there can be no doubt that Gregory’s ideas of holy war lived on in Urban.

The crusaders themselves were certainly an enormously diverse group, and the reasons why so many took the cross and traveled such a perilous road to the east have been long questioned and debated. In addition to the imitatio Christi, many felt other religious inspirations, while some may well have desired material gain. Urban was aware of this, and stressed that it was only those who undertook the burden without wanting honor or wealth would gain the full remission of sins.

Susanna Throop has argued that a specific form of vengeance was also invoked as an encouragement to take the cross. Drawing from Old Testament influences, it was known in the sources as vindicta, ultio, and venjance. This was not the petty vengeance of mortals (and thus forbidden to Christians), but rather the divine vengeance of righting wrongs, of punishing and committing violence with moral authority against those who had transgressed divine law. Indeed the First Crusade itself might be seen more as an exercise in punishment than an actual war. While the Jews had killed Christ, a great affront to God, the Muslims were equally villainous, since they had willingly rejected Christ as God. They were the successors to the crime of deicide by their occupation of the holy places, and the crusaders saw it as a duty to take revenge on Islam for the perceived guilt of Judaism. Jews, heretics, and Saracens were equally enemies of God, and all were deserving of the same divine punishment. God had been injured by the Muslims. Their rebellion against Christian law was likened to a kind of ongoing crucifixion. The Jews had crucified Christ once because of their lack of belief; the Muslims, by also not believing, did so every day.

Looking at another possibility, Jay Rubenstein makes the case for apocalyptic hopes and fears playing a key role in the lives and motivations of the first crusaders.

All of these can be put forward as being among the reasons for the success of the venture, and the ability to inspire thousands to take up arms. Within that success, however, we must remember that there was a clearer line of demarcation between the duties of the clergy and the laity within Ecclesia, enhanced as a result of the increased gulf between the two groups, which the Reform created.

The absolute prohibition on monks joining the crusade, and the stipulation that other clergy needed to demonstrate justifiable reasons for doing so, are further examples of the difference between clerical and lay duties in this new vision of the Church. Indeed, Urban was faced with the problem of enthusiastic monks desiring to join the crusade, and had to expressly forbid it, reminding them that they had already devoted themselves to spiritual warfare. They were warned that they would face excommunication if they failed to heed his command. Priests had never been permitted to shed blood, but they were, of course, expected to minister to soldiers and whole armies. The Church was defining its own role in crusading as something different from the laity. Penitential killing of the infidel was held to be meritorious for the secular man, who was by nature sinful and prone to violence and killing, but not for the priest or monk, who had sworn his life to peace and service to God. And yet, certain chroniclers favorably compared the crusaders to monks, saying that they were more like monks than knights.

Was this a means of allowing the masses of common people to perform the tasks that the Church desired, without it having to take undue risks itself? It is possible, though remember that in the structured organization brought about by the Reform, all classes of society were seen as having different duties to perform and different expressions of piety. By presenting a “secular” means of salvation, one that made use of both the imitation of Christ‘s sufferings and the use of “holy” violence, the laity would be active participants in the spreading of the Gospel in their own way. God’s enemies could be defeated, and Catholic rule brought to the East (thus enhancing papal power and influence even further) without the pope having to exert great amounts of effort beyond preaching and encouraging feelings of support for the idea. The lay crusader was thus helping all of Christendom by undertaking the dangerous journey to the East, with the spiritual support of the clergy. The mere fact that the Reform sought to establish the Church as the supreme earthly authority and to elevate itself over the laity suggests that such measures of encouragement may have been employed, for both political and religious reasons. Helping the common people feel valued by encouraging their participation in the crusading venture was a most effective means of encouraging the spirit of cooperation in the formation of the new Ecclesia. Quite simply and obviously, the crusade would not have succeeded without lay support. How much of this was manipulative and how much sincere continues to be debated, though there may have in the end been little difference in motivation between the Church and lay society in general.

It is clear from the correspondence and writings cited that Christian writers of the eleventh century felt a genuine sense of outrage at Turkish and Muslim military activities directed against pilgrims, or at least catching them up in the “crossfire” of sectarian disputes. The situation in the East provided a coincidental and most effective means of helping the Church to secure power, and in their determination to counter the perceived Muslim threat, the papacy realized this. The solution to the problem of Islam could be found in the attitudes of the Reform movement itself, and was no doubt held by many to be God-given. The First Crusade was the result of this combination.

The papacy did not conceive of its ideas in a vacuum; it relied on the support of certain key institutions and thinkers to make the whole process of the new Christian war machine operate effectively. It was one matter to have the support of the laity, but that support had to be reinforced by many others within the Church itself. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it was in the monastic houses that this support often came with such strength.

The Burgundian monasteries of Cîteaux and Cluny were to prove vital in maintaining support and engendering enthusiasm for future holy military ventures. The Cistercians, under Bernard of Clairvaux, were particularly important in this regard, for it was Bernard who so strongly advocated the Second Crusade, and who gave his support to the new Order of the Knights Templar of Jerusalem. This monastic order was created to deal with the Muslim presence and other dangers to pilgrims in the new Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, as well as to defend the lands won by the Christian conquest. The Benedictine Cluniacs, while supporting the crusade, also played a role, for their abbot, Peter the Venerable, acquired a keen interest in Islam and its teachings.

Russia’s Nuclear-Powered Icebreaker Lider

By TASS Russian news agency

The icebreaker has to become operational in 2027 when the economic crisis is likely to end and the competition of the global players for Polar resources and the shortest Northern Sea Route from the Pacific to the Atlantic would resume.

Historically, Russia enjoys a priority in the Arctic development, but other countries may ignore it if there is nothing to back the claim. The Russian Defense Ministry copes with the task and is rebuilding military infrastructure in the Arctic. Another argument is a powerful icebreaker fleet to ensure full-scale activities in the Arctic in conditions of global warming.

An unequalled group of icebreakers has ensured Russian economic interests in Arctic latitudes until recently. The United States and China announced the construction of icebreakers and ice-class vessels, including warships for Arctic operations.

Iceberg Design Bureau produced the project of a new Russian nuclear icebreaker. It will be powered by RITM-400 reactor created by OKBM Africantov bureau in Nizhny Novgorod. It is a leading enterprise of Rosatom nuclear corporation.

Project 10510 icebreaker will lead big-displacement vessels with a deadweight of over 100000 tons and a width of over 50 meters along the Northern Sea Route year-round. The propulsion is provided by four four-blade fixed-pitch propellers. The Leader can break 4.3-meter thick ice at the minimal stable speed of 1.5-2 knots. The speed in 2-meter thick ice is 12 knots. The food stocks allow the icebreaker to sail for eight months. The crew comprises 127 men. The life cycle is 40 years, the displacement is close to 71380 tons.

The Leader is the first icebreaker in the world capable of operating in the Northern Sea Route year-round. Rosatom plans to build three icebreakers by 2033. The Industry and Trade Ministry estimated the first Leader to cost 127.5 billion rubles. The construction of two other icebreakers is to be jointly financed by the federal budget and Rosatom. Concession is another option, as all Arctic developers, including private enterprise, are interested in the protection of their Arctic interests, expert Vasily Dandykin said.

The lead nuclear icebreaker “Arktika”, project 22220 (LK-60Ya), built at Baltic Shipyard JSC (part of United Shipbuilding Corporation JSC) for Atomflot FSUE, is entering the first stage of sea trials. St. Petersburg, 12.12.2019 (c) JSC United Shipbuilding Corporation

The Leader is to be the most powerful vessel of the class in the world. Besides, three icebreakers of project 22220 are being built in St. Petersburg and the lead one is undergoing trials. They belong to the third generation. The fourth-generation Leader does not fear 4-meter thick ice along the whole Northern Sea Route which will be in demand after the crisis. It is the shortest and cheapest way from Asia to Europe.

“It is clear that the Leader and other icebreakers will lead not only tankers and container carriers along the Northern Sea Route. The year-round navigation gives the Defense Ministry an opportunity to redeploy forces from the west to the east and back in a period of threat. It is important on the background of growing military ambitions of the United States and NATO. The Leader icebreaker is thus a major argument for Arctic claims,” Dandykin said.

Much depends on the shipbuilding industry which lost a lot after the Soviet collapse and is experiencing hard times. However, the revival trend has shaped out. The Arktika icebreaker has to begin operations shortly followed by the Sibir and the Ural icebreakers which have been floated. The Yamal and the 50 Years of Victory icebreakers operate in Arctic latitudes. The Ilya Muromets diesel-electric icebreaker of project 21180 and the Ivan Papanin ice-class escort ship of project 23550 were built for the Navy.

The construction of the Leader icebreaker by Zvezda Shipyard means the enterprise is capable of building supertankers and aircraft carriers, the Zvezda said.

Class overview
Builders:Zvezda shipyard (planned)
Operators:FSUE Atomflot (planned)
Preceded by:Project 22220
Cost:RUB 125.57 billion
Built:2020– (planned)
In service:2027– (planned)
General characteristics
Displacement:69,700 tonnes (68,600 long tons)
Length:209 m (686 ft)
Beam:47.7 m (156 ft)
Draft:13 m (43 ft)
Depth:20.3 m (67 ft)
Installed power:Two RITM-400 nuclear reactors (2 × 315 MWt) Four turbogenerators (4 × 37 MWe)
Propulsion:Nuclear-turbo-electric Four shafts (4 × 30 MW)
Speed:24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph)
Endurance:8 months



Italian members of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie which assisted Franco’s forces throughout the war. They wear mounted troops’ bandoliers, and most are armed with the M1891 Carcano carbine with a permanently attached folding bayonet.

The first foreign armour to enter service with the Nationalists were five Italian CV 3/35 tankettes, which arrived at the port of Vigo on 26 August 1936 accompanied by ten Italian crewmen to serve as instructors. This would be the most numerous type of AFV employed by the Italian corps in Spain, but – armed with two 8mm machine guns, and with a maximum armour thickness of 15mm – it proved quite inadequate when faced by the Republic’s Soviet-supplied T-26 tanks with 45mm guns.

The most important Nationalist Air Corps fighter type was the Italian Fiat CR. 32, of which seven squadrons were in service by August 1938. These two machines are `3-60′ and `3-62′ (type number – individual aircraft number), which served with Escuadrilla 2-E-3 during the Brunete campaign in summer 1937. By the end of hostilities 20 Nationalist pilots had been credited with five or more aerial victories; the topscoring three were Joaquin Garcia Morato (40 kills), Julio Salvador Diaz Benzumea (25), and Manuel Vazquez Sagistazabal (21½), all of whom won the great majority of their victories while flying the CR. 32.

By far the most important foreign support received by the Nationalists came from Fascist Italy; this would total some 78,000 men, about 750 aircraft and 150 armoured vehicles. Unlike the German armed forces, the Italians had recent combat experience from their invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in October 1935-May 1936. On 12 December 1936, after the failure of Franco’s attempts to capture Madrid, Mussolini decided to send complete Italian ground units to Spain, and the first 3,000 men of the Missione Militare in Spagna arrived on 23 December. By the end of January 1937 some 44,000 Italians were in Spain, mostly members of the militarized Fascist Party `Blackshirt’ militia (Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nationale, MVSN). On 17 February the expeditionary force was renamed the Corpo Truppe Volontarie, CTV; commanded by Gen Mario Roatta, in March it numbered more than 50,000 men.

The CTV initially consisted of four small divisions. The 4th `Voluntarii Littorio’ (`Lictor Volunteers’) Infantry Division was composed of Army volunteers organized as in a regular Royal Army formation, which had two infantry regiments each of three battalions, an artillery battalion with three batteries, plus a mortar and an engineer battalion. The other three divisions and an independent infantry brigade group were from the MVSN: infantry divisions designated 1st `Dio lo Vuole’ (`God Wills It’), 2nd `Fiamme Nere’ (`Black Flames’) and 3rd `Penne Nere’ (`Black Feathers’), plus the independent Grupo `XXIII de Marzo’ (`23rd of March’). An MVSN regiment (legion) had only two battalions (cohortes) each 670 strong. The CTV also had a battalion of armoured cars and light tankettes, and a corps artillery of ten field regiments and four AA batteries. It was motorized throughout, but the artillery was obsolete. In February 1937 the light armour was amalgamated with some motorized infantry and artillery into a Raggruppamento Reparti Specializzati (`Group of Specialist Units’, RRS).

In early February 1937 the 1st MVSN Div took part in the successful Nationalist attack on Malaga. In March, at Mussolini’s complacent insistence, the CTV was committed to another offensive near Madrid, at Guadalajara; this failed, however, with heavy losses among the MVSN divisions. The 3rd `Black Feathers’ Div was absorbed by the 2nd `Black Flames’ Div in April; Gen Roatta was replaced by Gen Ettore Bastico, and thereafter the CTV would not carry out operations independent of the Nationalist high command.

Many Italians served thereafter in mixed Italo-Spanish `Flechas’ (`Arrows’) formations, providing the officers and technical personnel while the majority of the rank-and-file were Spanish. From April to August 1937 the first of these mixed brigades, named `Flechas Azules’ (`Blue Arrows’), took the field in Extremadura. The second, `Flechas Negras’ (`Black Arrows’), fought in the Basque country on the Biscay front, supported by the `23rd of March’ and 11th Artillery groups. There, in August, the CTV played a successful part in the offensive against Santander; they were then transferred to the Aragon front.

In September 1937 the `23rd of March’ Group was redesignated as a division, and in October this was amalgamated, with the 1st `God Wills It’ and 2nd `Black Flames’ divisions, into a new consolidated `XIII di Marzo – Fiamme Nere’ MVSN division. In October 1938, with the repatriation of many time-expired personnel, this formation would in turn amalgamate with the `Littorio’ Div, leaving the CTV with a single consolidated Army/Blackshirt formation designated Assault Div `Littorio’, of two infantry regiments with support units. This fought in Catalonia from 23 December 1938 to 8 February 1939.

In March 1938 the Italo-Spanish `Black Arrows’ brigade had been committed to the Aragon offensive towards the Mediterranean coast, and by November it had been enlarged to divisional status. The `Blue Arrows’ mixed brigade provided the nucleus for two other mixed Italo-Spanish divisions named `Blue Arrows’ and `Green Arrows’, which in 1939 also took part in the final offensive in Catalonia, alongside the all-Italian `Littorio’ Assault Division.

In all, some 78,500 Italian volunteers served in Spain, at a cost of 3,819 killed and about 12,000 wounded.


In the summer of 1936, many Spanish generals revolted against the country’s Republican government. They asked Italy and Germany for military support. Mussolini did not like the idea very much, but he saw it as an opportunity to outmaneuver France. From the Italian point of view, France appeared to have a peculiar ability to act in a way that drew the ire of other countries. In those years, not only did Italians view French attitudes as hostile toward Italy, but also premier Leon Blum made two policy errors, which further alienated Italy. The first was a FrancoSpanish pact. Spain allowed French troops transit through Spanish territory to reach North Africa in case of war against Italy. The second was his announcement of sending weapons, ordnance, and men to support the Spanish Republic.

Mussolini did not care about Spanish affairs, but if French intervention rendered Spain a sort of French protectorate, or strategic ally, Italy could find both the exits from Mediterranean closed to Italian shipping. Suez was owned by a French-British company. The Straits of Gibraltar were passable because Spain owned the African side, despite British possession of Gibraltar. What if France indirectly controlled that side as Britain controlled the European one? This could pose a threat to Mussolini’s strategic interests. Italian foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano convinced Mussolini to commit the Regio Esercito for the OMS-Oltre Mare Spagna (Overseas Spain)-operation.

The Italian Military Mission arrived first in Spain to coordinate with General Francisco Franco. Then the Regia Aeronautica sent him a squadron of twelve bombers. On August 4, 1936, Italian aircraft attacked and swept the loyal Republican Spanish fleet out of the Straits of Gibraltar. Then Italian and recently arrived German aircraft transported Spanish colonial troops from Africa to Spain. Italian military support gradually increased. Technicians, tanks, and specialists were sent to Franco as volunteers. He lacked modern weapons and used them not for training his troops, but directly in combat. Italian light tanks played a basic role in smashing the enemy front at Navalcarnero, on October 21. Three days later, Italian military advisers had to fight in Borox. Italian light tanks met Russian-made tanks for the first time and won. Just as the Spanish nationalists and Falange (the Spanish conservative-right party) received support from Italy and Germany, the Republic, which was dominated by Socialists, Communists, and anarchists, received substantial aid from the Soviet Union.

Italian armored forces acted as the Spanish Nationalists’ vanguard and reached Madrid University during the tenacious battle for the capital. The Italian General Staff realized this was no more matter of training the Spanish and, with Mussolini’s direction, increased its military involvement by committing forty thousand more men. “Who asked for it?” Franco curtly asked Lieutenant Colonel Emilio Faldella, chief of the Italian Military Mission, although he did not refuse them.

The CTV-Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Corps of Voluntary Troops)-arrived in Spain. It was composed of four light divisions supported by a large heavy artillery contingent-the Artiglieria Legionaria (Legionnaire Artillery)-and an air component, the Aviazione Legionaria.

Thousands of pages have been written to demonstrate that the CTV were anything but volunteers and that Italy’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War was unpopular; they are largely wrong. Although it is true that the first three thousand men sent to Spain in December originally applied to go to Ethiopia as civil laborers, it is also true that, according to archival documents, a lot of people asked to volunteer for Spain. The Army Archive contains many reports about it. For instance, L’Aquila Military District received hundreds and hundreds of applications. Campobasso Military District suddenly received more than one thousands volunteers.  

Why such large participation in this civil war? There were two central reasons. The first was propaganda. News from Spain, more or less enhanced by state propaganda, depicted a terrible situation in Spain. The horror of the war being waged against the clergy, with monks and priests being tortured and shot, nuns raped, churches destroyed, and sacrilege committed, all played upon the Italian public. For a Catholic country such as Italy, these horrors were enough to encourage a sort of “crusade,” as the Nationalists called the war. The second reason was money. Each volunteer received a 300-lira enlistment bonus, 20 liras daily pay, and an additional 3 pesetas daily pay from the Spanish Nationalist government. It was a lot of money for the lower classes, especially in a period of high unemployment, even if the Fascist government did not admit it.  

General Mario Roatta commanded the CTV-under the name Mancini, because officially Italy was not involved. They fought successfully at Malaga and Motril in February 1937.

On the Republican side, a lot of volunteers were coming from everywhere to fight Fascism. George Orwell from England, Ernest Hemingway from the United States, and, incidentally many Italians, too, who composed a battalion. Italians were present on both sides, but Franco did not like it. When he thought that strategic suggestions from Rome were becoming too intrusive, he sought to reduce their presence, yet events convinced him otherwise. On February 15, 1937, he asked the CTV to launch an offensive on Guadalajara within a month. Three days later, however, after a victorious Republican counterattack, Franco asked Roatta for immediate intervention. It was the turning point.

On March 8, 1937, Italian troops attacked along the Carretera de Francia, the route from the south to Madrid, Saragossa, and France. Snow and ice pelted the advancing troops, and bad weather over Nationalist airfields prevented any air support for the Italian offensive. On the Republican side, good weather did not restrict Republican aircraft from providing air cover. Moreover, when the Republicans counterattacked, the Nationalists gave no support to the Italians. Despite these circumstances the CTV initially advanced 22 miles, lost 12, and then held the remaining 10 miles. But they failed to reach their objectives, and the battle had to be considered a loss. After this, Franco did not accept Italian strategic advice.

Republican propaganda exploited this victory: No pasara`n-They will not pass! Mussolini was so angered by this propaganda that he determined to commit greater forces to the war. Italian troops increased in quality and quantity and Mussolini finally admitted official involvement on October 20, 1937. His admission also ended the grotesque “piracy” in the Mediterranean. Since the early days of the civil war, merchant ships en route to Spain had been sunk by “mysterious” submarines. The Regia Marina, did not admit responsibility, but it was well known. After a League of Nations initiative, the Regia Marina together with German Kriegsmarine, the British Royal Navy, and French Marine Nationale participated in antipiracy control in the Mediterranean and along Spanish coasts.

The Italian and German secret services in the Black Sea and Dardanelles observed Soviet ships carrying supplies and ordnance to Spain. Italian submarines acted accordingly and “pirates” sank the ships. But it was thanks to the operations against piracy that the Royal Navy was able to decipher the Regia Marina’s secret codes. This would become a problem for the Italian navy in a few years.

On land, Italian forces fought on all Spanish fronts. The Legionnaire Air Force, as the Regia Aeronautica was called in Spain, lost 175 pilots in combat. Troops were used in the north; and Legionnaire Artillery support played a fundamental role in the campaign in the north. Italian troops took part in seizing Bilbao, and the following battle of Brunete was won with the decisive role of the Aviazione Legionaria: It destroyed 100 enemy aircraft, and its close air support halted enemy counterattacks. Italian troops later attacked and, on August 26, seized Santander. When Italian tanks reached the center of the city, Nationalist supporters acclaimed them, crying, “Han pasado! Han pasado!”-they passed! After that battle, General Ettore Bastico was recalled to Rome. In fact, Franco protested because Bastico allowed many military and local civilian Republican officers to seek refuge on British ships. It was not the first time Italians acted differently from Spaniards. Italian troops considered Republicans as prisoners of war. The Nationalists did not. In the early days of the war their military courts sentenced prisoners to death. A first Italian formal protest made little impact. When Italian headquarters protested again, the Nationalists replied that they were being more careful about who was sentenced to death: they acquitted up to 30 percent of the total!

Further operations proved decisive for the war in northern Spain. Franco’s troops were hard-pressed near Huesca in December and were saved by the Legionnaire Artillery and Air Force. In March, Italian troops fought in Catalonia. They took Huesca and marched to the mouth of the Ebro. By the time they reached the sea they had lost 3,000 men, taken 10,000 prisoners, and captured three cities and fifty towns. The Spanish Republic was now cut in two.

The war ended on April 1, 1939. Italian support had clearly been decisive. Mussolini presented Franco with all the vehicles and heavy weapons used by the CTV. He did so because it was cheaper to leave them instead of shipping them back to Italy, but as it was the spring 1939, it was the worst possible time to give such a present to anyone. Italy would sorely miss the heavy equipment

Flying Rats I

Struggle is the origin of all things, for life is filled with opposites: love and hate, white and black, day and night, good and evil. And as long as these opposites do not maintain a balance, struggle will determine human nature as the final power of fate.


With victory over Abyssinia, Italy erupted in jubilation. Adowa had been avenged. The Italian tricolor waving over Addis Ababa was a glorious sight to the Duce’s fellow countrymen. But henceforward, with only two brief intervals, they would be at war for the next nine years.

The smoke of battle had hardly cleared over East Africa when Mussolini received an urgent appeal for help from Francisco Franco, leader of the Nationalist cause in Spain. In February 1936, a liberal-leftist coalition calling itself a ‘Popular Front’ won the country’s national elections by a slim margin. Immediately thereafter, radical socialists in the coalition pushed loudly for revolution. All political organizations and newspapers outside the far Left were criminalized, churches vandalized, nuns raped and priests beaten to death by incensed mobs raging through the streets of Madrid and Barcelona. Strikes spread everywhere, as military uprisings reduced the country to anarchy. On 26 July, the watchful Soviet leader, Josef Stalin, took advantage of Spanish internal distress, which he saw as an opportunity for establishing his long-dreamt-of foothold in Western Europe.

He dispatched more than 2,000 ‘military advisors’ to the new government leaders, who liquidated their liberal predecessors in the best Stalinist tradition, then set up an openly Marxist regime in Madrid, calling themselves, ‘Republicans’. Soon, 240 warplanes, 1,200 artillery pieces, and 700 tanks poured into Spain from the USSR. Soviet aid did not come cheap though, and Stalin had no qualms about bilking fellow Communists for more than $315 million, which represented Madrid’s entire gold reserve.

To counter the influx of men and arms from Russia, the Nationalists needed to transfer their army, stranded by these chaotic events in Morocco, to Iberian battlefields at once. But they lacked the means to do so. “Could we Fascists leave without answer that cry,” the Duce asked, “and remain indifferent in the face of the perpetuation of such bloody crimes committed by the so-called ‘Popular Fronts’? No. Thus our first squadron of warplanes left on 27 July 1936, and that same day we had our first dead.”

For his part, Hitler ordered an air fleet of transport planes to North Africa, from which they ferried the Nationalist army to Spain. He thus envisioned and enacted the first military airlift in history. As the Führer remarked later, “Franco ought to build a monument to the Ju-52”. The Junkers Ju-52, affectionately known as Tante Ju, or ‘Aunty Ju’, by its crews, was the aircraft that flew in Nationalist troops from North Africa. In fact, aviation was to play a more pivotal role in the Spanish Civil War than any previous conflict, and proved to be its decisive factor.

Most mainstream historians, discounting another influential component–ideological rivalry–have long insisted that Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were only interested in the conflict as an opportunity to test their weapons for a future, more serious confrontation. But larger considerations were actually at stake. Hitler eventually regretted his aid to the Nationalists, because Franco later declined to reciprocate when Germany wanted Andalusian bases for the capture of Gibraltar. Mussolini was genuinely alarmed at the prospect of a Red presence in the Mediterranean, however. The venerable Continent seemed about to be surrounded, especially in view of Stalin’s oft-repeated promise to transform the world into “a dictatorship of the proletariat” (i.e., the Soviet state) during his lifetime.

Franco’s appeal for help coincided with important, not unrelated events inside Italy itself. Beginning three years earlier, Mussolini had been faced with the most serious challenge to his power since he became Prime Minister. Giustiziae e Liberta was a well-financed, competently led underground of dedicated anti-Fascists formed in Turin. Although propaganda activities took place mostly in the city’s working class districts, specifically targeting the important Fiat manufacturing plant there, its leadership was made up mostly of upper middle class intellectuals, many of them with influential university positions.

They did not confine themselves to surreptitiously distributing handbills critical of the regime, but sought recruitment for its violent overthrow. Assassination of Fascist leaders, not excepting the Duce himself, was advocated and planned, and activists were busy infiltrating several important institutions, especially newspapers and schools. Although Giustiziae e Liberta organizers seemed to steer an indefinite political middle-road, the movement’s Marxist sympathies were not easily disguised, and their appeal to former leftists was beginning to attract followers among academics at some major northern universities.

Giustiziae e Liberta was a child of its time. With Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in January 1933, Stalin was concerned that Fascism, no longer confined to Italy, was spreading, and needed to be stopped. Similar movements during the 1930s were active in virtually every European country, where supporters, like those of Britain’s Sir Oswald Moseley or Holland’s Anton Mussert, ran, collectively, into the hundreds of thousands. Soviet operatives were watched with growing concern by agents of OVRA, the Organizazione Vigilanza Repressione Antifascismo, or Fascist secret police. When moderate Fascists expressed misgivings about the implications of such a clandestine arm of government, Mussolini reminded them that even the benevolent Emperor Hadrian found need for a similar organization, the frumentarii. “Whenever respect for the State declines,” he said, “and the disintegrating and centrifugal tendencies of individuals and groups prevail, nations are headed for decay.”

After three months of investigation, the authorities were alarmed to discover that Giustiziae e Liberta was a hybrid underground of native Italian Communists and professionally-trained propagandists (some of them expert saboteurs) who had covertly entered the country from the Soviet Union. And the anti-Fascist underground found particularly fertile ground among the country’s numerically insignificant Jewish communities, mostly in Turin. One of its members later immigrated to England, where Massimo Coen’s Parla Londra! (‘London Calling!’) was a series of radio broadcasts blasting Mussolini in the Italian language and which were heard around the world. In fact, the founder of Giustiziae e Liberta, Tancredi Duccio Galimberti, was himself a Jew.

From its inception, however, Fascism was not inherently anti-Semitic, with minimal Jewish participation in its revolution, although some Jews held key positions in government, like the Grand Rabbi of Rome, who was likewise the capital’s political leader. During an interview in 1932 with the famous German-Jewish author and journalist, Emil Ludwig (patronym Cohn), Mussolini condemned anti-Semitism as divisive and “not part of the new Italy. Race: it is a feeling, not a reality. Ninety-five per cent a feeling”. Yet, he spoke out against the Jews in no uncertain terms for the first time just a year later, in August, when he felt his regime was seriously jeopardized by Giustiziae e Liberta. The following month, as some indication of his change of sentiment, he sent a personal delegation to the Nazis’ national congress in Nuremberg. It was headed by Professor Arturo Marpicati, Vice Secretary of the Fascist Party, who was allowed to address the delegates in Italian, and, for the first time, publicly broached the subject of cooperation between the two ideologically kindred movements.

In standard biographies of Mussolini he is portrayed as initially indifferent to the Jews, and only assumed the guise of anti-Semite in 1938 to curry Hitler’s favor. Actually, it was his fear of Giustiziae e Liberta with its Communist activists that elicited his first hostile statements about the ‘Jewish Question’ in 1933. The Race Law he passed five years later was exceptionally mild in comparison with Germany’s Nuremberg Laws, and did little more than forbid marriages between Italians and Jews.

The armed forces, police and all Fascist organizations were henceforward closed to Jews, but the royal House of Savoy, which effectively controlled the Army and Navy, prevented all Jews already enlisted from being removed. Even in the Fascist Party and government, their few Jewish members mostly continued to serve unmolested. During the war, Adolf Eichmann complained to his SS superiors that the French, Yugoslav and Greek zones occupied by Italians had become ‘Jewish refuges’. Italy’s Race Law mostly impacted Italian education, where schools of every level were required to teach students about ‘Jewish perfidy’.

Years before the passage of this anti-Semitic legislation, Mussolini was an ardent Zionist, going so far as to initiate important contacts with leading figures in the movement, including Bernard Baruch. The Duce heartily agreed that the only solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ was the creation of a Jewish state, where the world’s Jews could be resettled. At one time, he even proposed setting aside territory in conquered Abyssinia as ideally suited for the creation of a 20th Century Israel, if only because large numbers of Falasha Ethiopians already regarded themselves as Jewish. Baruch declined the offer on the grounds that urbanized Jews in the United States or Europe would never consent to living in East Africa. The Duce was somewhat put off by his rejection.

“If Ethiopia is good enough for my Italians,” he sniffed, “why isn’t it good enough for your Jews? You tell me they have been horribly persecuted in many parts of the world. If so, I imagine they would be happy to find refuge anywhere they can live in peace. Well, no one can say I didn’t try. It will take a more adept statesman than myself to solve this age-old problem to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Henceforward, Mussolini’s ardor for Zionist solutions noticeably cooled.

For nearly three years, an intense, underground war was waged between determined OVRA operatives and elusive Giustiziae e Liberta subversives. whose influence in northern Italy appears to have peaked by mid-1935. War in Ethiopia that year generated a national wave of patriotic fervor that mostly extinguished anti-Fascist activism, succeeding where OVRA’s counter-subversive measures failed. Even Vittorio Emanuelle Orlando, the prominent and outspokenly anti-Fascist liberal politician ousted from office by Mussolini after the March on Rome, arose from the obscurity of his legal practice to loudly praise the Ethiopian Campaign.6 Thanks to majority public support for the invasion, the fires of resistance were effectively dampened, although they were not entirely extinguished, and smoldered unseen until, eight years later, the changing winds of Mussolini’s fortune fanned them to life once again.

As some measure of Giustiziae e Liberta’s impact on the regime, of the 4,000 persons in Italy arrested for anti-government activities between 1927 and 1940, more than half took place from 1933 to 1936, the underground movement’s brief years of florescence. So too, eight of the ten men and women executed by the Fascists in that same thirteen-year period belonged to Giustiziae e Liberta.

Despite accusations of political oppression, Mussolini showed an early clemency toward his opponents he later came to regret. His most public enemy prior to achieving power in 1922 was Palmiro Togliatti, founder of the Italian Communist Party. After the March on Rome, Togliatti was unmolested until 1926, when, frustrated by Fascism’s spreading popularity, he began working underground for a Socialist revival. When that also failed, he fled to Moscow, but, courtesy of the Anglo-American invasion of Italy, returned during March 1944 to reestablish the Communist movement there.

Flying Rats II

Many government officials particularly criticized Mussolini for his mild treatment of Amedeo Adriano Bordiga. It was deemed too extreme even for his fellow Marxists, who expelled Bordiga from the Italian Communst Party; he was briefly interned in 1925, later freed under police surveillance.

The last arrests of Giustiziae e Liberta adherents had just been made when Mussolini received Franco’s request for help to defend his country from the same internal forces that bedeviled Italy. The Duce was hardly alone in his concern for events in Spain. They deeply touched most Italians, who regarded the Spaniards as not only fellow Latins, but Catholics suffering a wave of church desecrations and bloody atrocities at the hands of a militantly atheist government. People worried that the Russian calamity of 1917 was about to repeat itself, and this time not that far away. They clamored for a modern crusade to extirpate the Communist infidel from Western European soil.

But Italy’s military had been worn out by the Abyssinian experience. The Army and Air Force were in need of refitting. Mussolini was at first able to spare Franco only nineteen warplanes, which would be up against far more enemy aircraft. These included sixty French Breguet XIX reconnaissance bombers, forty Nieuport-Delage Ni.52 fighters, fourteen Dewoitine D. 371 and ten D.373 pursuit planes, plus 65 Potez Po.540 medium bombers, together with twenty British Vickers Wildebeest torpedo-bombers. Aiding the Italians were nine, wheezing biplane fighters which comprised the entire Nationalist Air Force, and ten German tri-motor transports.

On 29 July, the Morandi sailed from La Spezia for Melilla, a port in Spanish Morocco. The large freighter carried abundant supplies of ammunition, bombs, aviation fuel and aircraft for Franco’s forces. The next day, a flight of nine Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 bombers landed at Nador outside Melilla, the first of some 720 aircraft and 6,000 aircrews Mussolini dispatched to the Nationalist cause. They were intended to support the more than 70,000 Italian soldiers that would eventually serve in Spain.

Throughout most of the Spanish Civil War, the Republicans continued to enjoy a numerical edge over their opponents, thanks to help from Russia and covert armaments smuggled across the Pyrenees by a sympathetic French Premiere, Leon Blum. At the behest of the League of Nations, along with most other world leaders, he had signed a non-intervention agreement that excluded outside involvement in the Civil War for the expressed purpose of containing hostilities in Iberia, thereby preventing them from widening into a general conflict. Although publicly avowing non-participation in the sharply drawn ideological struggle, Blum covertly slipped French arms and supplies to the Republicans, and allowed his border patrols to look the other way when leftist volunteers wanted to cross the mountains into Spain.

But other heads of foreign governments likewise paid little more than lip-service to official non-participation. U.S. President, Franklin Roosevelt, who vigorously condemned the Nationalists, did not prevent thousands of Americans from joining something called the ‘Abraham Lincoln Brigade’. This was an armed assortment of socialist intellectuals, fire-breathing Communists, bored dilettantes, desperately unemployed men, one-world idealists, and Jews alarmed at the rise of European anti-Semitism who fought on the Republican side.

With its Wagnerian name, Operation Feuerzauber (‘Magic Fire’) was supposed to have been nothing more than a training exercise provided to Franco’s mechanics by a handful of German aeronautical ‘advisors’ at the Tablada airfield, near Seville. From these humble, thinly disguised beginnings, however, a Kondor Legion of Messerschmitt fighters and Stuka dive-bombers swiftly evolved. League of Nations deputies entrusted with international enforcement of the non-intervention agreement had no control over Mussolini after he stomped out of their Geneva headquarters over the Ethiopian affair, and the Soviet Union was not a member, never having been asked to join, so neither Italy nor Russia were constrained from sending men and equipment to Spanish battlefields and airfields.

Republican warplanes unquestionably dominated the skies from the beginning of the conflict. But they were challenged during August by the arrival in Seville of Savoia Marchetti and Caproni Ca.135 aircraft in two bomber squadrons. Together with the original dozen Fiat fighters dispatched by Mussolini, they comprised an early nucleus for the Italians’ Aviazione Legonaria, which eventually fielded 250 aircraft of various types. And their pilots would achieve distinction as the world’s best during the mid-1930s.

Some, like Maresciallo Baschirotto, became aces, shooting down at least five enemy a piece. His experience in Spain prepared him for duty in World War Two, when he destroyed six more Curtiss P-40s, Beaufighters, and Hawker Hurricanes during the North African Campaign. Baschirotto’s last victory was over a Spitfire near the island-fortress of Pantelleria, on 20 April 1942. “It was a happy birthday present to the German Führer,” he told a reporter for one of Italy’s oldest, most widely read newspaper, the Corriere della Sera.7 Hitler had on that day celebrated his 53rd birthday.

His comrade in Spain was Group Commander Ernesto Botto, who received the Gold Medal for downing four Republican aircraft. Although he lost a leg during their destruction, he volunteered for frontline flying two years later, when Italy went to war against Britain. Botto went on to claim another three ‘kills’ in the skies over the Libyan Desert, earning him the nickname, Gamba di Ferro, or ‘Iron Leg’.

The aircraft men like Maresciallo Baschirotto and Ernesto Botto were supposed to fly for Franco were not always as physically fit as themselves. The SM.81, for example, had already seen service during the Abyssinian Campaign in transport and reconnaissance duties. Its three 700-hp Piaggio P.X RC.35 nine-cylinder radial engines gave the Pipistrello, or ‘Bat’, as the rugged aircraft was affectionately known by its crews, 340 km/hr at 9,800 meters, with a range of 2,000 kilometers carrying a bomb payload of 1,000 kilograms–not bad for 1936. The Caproni was a more modern, twin-engine medium-bomber with a sleek fuselage and twin-boom tail. Faster by 60 km/hr than the Pipistrello, and able to deliver an additional 1,000 kilos of bombs, its three 12.7mm machine-guns in nose, dorsal and ventral turrets foreshadowed future developments.

For escort, the bombers were protected by the Fiat CR.32, generally considered the best pursuit model at the beginning of the war, “soon gaining a reputation as one of the outstanding fighter biplanes of all time,” according to British aviation historian, David Mondey.8 Agile, quick and tough, the Fiat’s extraordinary aerobatic characteristics and top speed of 375 km/hr at 3,000 meters enabled its pilots to take on maneuverable ‘double-deckers’ like itself, such as the Soviets’ Super Chata, or more modern monoplanes, including the formidable Mosca. Eventually, 380 CR.32s participated in the Spanish Civil War. But during the conflict’s first months, just a handful of Italian bombers and fighters were General Franco’s first and, for some time, only support aircraft. Terribly outnumbered as they were in 1936, their technological superiority over the Republicans’ French and British machines, together with the Ethiopian experience of their aggressive crews, made the Aviazione Legonaria a force to be reckoned with from the start.

During late August 1936, the Italian airmen launched their first sorties against enemy strongholds in the north, where the Fiats swatted Nieuports and Dewoitines, while the Pipistrellos and Capronis were dead-on target with their destructive payloads. To combat these intruders, a famous French Communist author, Alfred Malraux, helped raise twelve million francs for the purchase of new warplanes as needed additions to his Escuadrilla Espaía. Based in occupied Madrid, his fiery oratory attracted foreign volunteer pilots from France, Britain and Czechoslovakia. Not to be outdone, Mussolini rushed additional squadrons of CR.32s to Seville.

They arrived just in time to confront a major enemy offensive during September, and contributed decisively to the battle. Malraux’s elite squadron was badly mauled, as the Popular Front offensive folded under the bombs of SM.81s and CA.135s. By December, with half its aircraft destroyed, the Escuadrilla Espaía disbanded; survivors melted into the regular Republican Air Force. Replacements came in the form of fifty Russian SB-2 Katuska bombers and I-15 Chata fighters. Later, after the New Year, Leon Blum quietly slipped another twenty state-of-the-art Loire 46 pursuit planes across the Pyrenees. More troublesome for the Italians was the appearance of a remarkably advanced Soviet bomber, the Tupelev SB-2, over Cordoba. It was faster than the quick Fiats, and could even out-climb them after dropping its bombs.

For weeks, the unassailable Tupelevs ranged over Nationalist territory, wrecking havoc on troop concentrations and supply depots. All attempts to intercept them met with failure. In January 1937, a Spanish pilot, Garcia Morato, noticed that the bombers were in Cordoba skies every morning at precisely the same time and altitude. Jumping into his CR.32 before they arrived, he climbed to 5,030 meters, well above the lower-flying enemy. They appeared like clock-work, and Morato pounced on them, his 7.7mm Breda machine-guns blazing. Two of the swift Russian aircraft fell flaming to earth, and the rest frantically jettisoned their payloads to beat a hasty retreat. Nationalist fighter pilots learned from his experience. If they were given sufficient advance warning, their Fiat fighter-planes, with remarkable service ceilings of nearly 8,840 meters and a swift rate of climb, could dive on the redoubtable Tupelevs from above.

But the speedy bombers were not the only quality aircraft sent from the USSR. Squadrons of nimble biplane fighters, the Polikarpov I-15, arrived in Madrid, together with numbers of an altogether different design, the I-16. The stubby monoplane more physically resembled a trophy-racer of the era than a military machine. It was the product of a prison experience endured by Dmitri Gregorovich and Nikolai Nikolayevich Polikarpov.

By late 1932, their new I-15 was despised by Red Air Force test-pilots unhappy with its instability at high speeds, and its gull-wings which prevented the airmen from seeing the horizon while in flight and obscuring the ground on approach, making landings hazardous. Enraged by the negative reports of his test-pilots, Stalin threw Russia’s leading aeronautical inventors into prison, together with every member of their design teams, until they came up with a fighter for the Soviet Union at least as good as contemporary examples from other nations. With their freedom and, ultimately, their lives at stake, the hapless engineers, still behind bars, put their heads together for the creation of an aircraft ahead of its time.

The I-16’s successful debut on New Year’s Eve 1933 coincided with the designers’ release from behind bars. An innovative, retractable landing-gear made it the first monoplane of its kind to enter service. The cantilever, or internally braced, low metal wing, plus all-wood monocoupe fuselage, resulted in a solid form easy to maintain in frontline conditions, able to take terrific punishment, and strong enough to survive the high-speed maneuvers that broke apart lesser aircraft. As one commentator observed, “its rolls and loops could be quite startling.” Powered by a 1,000-hp M-62 radial engine, Polikarpov’s best effort flew higher by 670 meters and faster by 115 km/hr than Italy’s finest fighter, and totally outclassed the Heinkel 51, Germany’s early rival for Spanish skies.