Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nicopolis Crusade

Composition of crusader forces
From France, it was said about 2,000 knights and squires joined, and were accompanied by 6,000 archers and foot soldiers drawn from the best volunteer and mercenary companies. Totaling some 10,000 men. Next in importance were the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes, who were the standard bearers of Christianity in the Levant since the decline of Constantinople and Cyprus. Venice supplied a naval fleet for supporting action, while Hungarian envoys encouraged German princes of the Rhineland, Bavaria, Saxony and other parts of the empire to join. French heralds had proclaimed the crusade in Poland, Bohemia, Navarre and Spain, from which individuals came to join.

The Italian city-states were too much engaged in their customary violent rivalries to participate, and the widely reported and acclaimed English participation never actually occurred. The report of 1000 English knights comes from contemporary Antonio Fiorentino, and was taken as fact by historian Aziz S. Atiya and others following him. A thousand knights would have actually amounted to "four to six thousand men and at least twice as many horses", counting foot-soldiers and other retainers. However, there are no records of financial arrangements being made in England to send a force abroad, nor of any royal preparation needed to organize and dispatch such a force. Reports of Henry of Bolingbroke or other "son of the Duke of Lancaster" leading an English contingent must be false since the presence of Henry and every other such son, as well as almost every other significant noble in the land, is recorded at the king's wedding five months after the crusade's departure. Atiya also thought that the invocation of St. George as a war cry at Nicopolis signified the presence of English soldiers, for whom George was a patron saint; but Froissart, who mentions this, claims that the cry was made by the French knight Philippe d'Eu. Furthermore, there was no collection of ransom money in England to pay for captives, as there was in every other country that had sent men to the battle. Sporadic mention in contemporary accounts of the presence of "English" may be attributed to Knights Hospitaller of the English tongue subgrouping, who joined their comrades for the crusade after leaving Rhodes (where the Hospitallers were based at the time) and sailing up the Danube. Possible reasons for the English absence include the increasing tension between the king and the Duke of Gloucester, which may have convinced the two that they had best keep their supporters close, and the antipathy caused by the long war between the English and French, resulting in the English refusing to consider putting themselves under a French-led crusade, regardless of the recently concluded peace.

Nevertheless, obviously inflated figures continue to be repeated. These include 6-8,000 Hungarians, ~ 10,000 French, English and Burgundian troops, ~ 10,000 Wallachians led by Mircea cel Batran (Mircea The elder) the prince of Wallachia, ~ 6,000 Germans and nearly 15,000 Dutch, Bohemian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Bulgarian, Scottish and Swiss troops on the land, with the naval support of Venice, Genoa and the Knights of St. John. These result in a figure of about 47,000 - 49,000 in total; possibly up to 120,000 or 130,000 according to numerous sources, including the 15th-century Ottoman historian Şükrullah who gives the figure of the Crusader army as 130,000 in his Behçetu't-Tevârih.

Composition of Ottoman forces
Also estimated at about 20-25,000; but inflated figures continue to be repeated of up to 60,000 according to numerous sources including the 15th-century Ottoman historian Şükrullah, who gives the figure of the Ottoman army as 60,000 in his Behçetu't-Tevârih; alternately described as roughly half of the Crusader army. The Ottoman force also included 1,500 Serbian heavy cavalry knights under the command of Prince Stefan Lazarević, who was Sultan Bayezid's vassal since the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, as well as his brother-in-law after the Sultan married Stefan's sister, Princess Olivera Despina, the daughter of Prince Lazar of Serbia (Stefan's father) who had perished at Kosovo.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Military Establishment of the Muslim States

On the whole, then, the military establishment of the Crusader States could field good soldiers, but it always struggled to field enough of them. Given the flaws of Latin armies, part of what allowed the Crusader States to survive for as long as they did was that Muslim armies were equally if not more flawed.

First, with the political fragmentation of the Muslim world during most of crusading history, especially after the breakup of the Great Seljuk Empire around 1090, any large counter-crusading army had to be a composite force, drawn from different areas under different emirs, the regional governors of the Islamic world. In the absence of a unified central authority, coalitions of emirs were highly unstable. Each was jealous of his independence, unwilling to see his rivals or the sultan profit overmuch from a campaign, and constantly concerned about threats to his control of his district in his absence. A strong ruler such as Saladin could overcome these divisions to some extent, but not completely. Part of the problem was that there was no equivalent in the Muslim world to the papal protection given to the lands and families of crusaders during their absence. As a result, the jihad against the infidel was rarely a top priority for regional Muslim rulers.

Second, Muslim armies were also composite forces in terms of the support systems used to raise soldiers. So, too, it could be said, were crusader armies. But the lines separating one sort of Latin soldier from another were not firm: A landholding, settler knight could serve as a mercenary in some circumstances or could join a Military Order; pilgrims and crusaders could become settlers. In other words, all Latin soldiers were products of a single social system, even if from different strata within that system. Furthermore, all the Latin sources of manpower produced soldiers from the same tactical tradition, so that melding them into a unified force on campaign was not overly difficult. Neither condition was true of Muslim armies. The social origins of Muslim armies were not just diverse; two of the three main sources of manpower were essentially outside the mainstream of Muslim society, each in a different way. And the breadth and social diversity of the Muslim world encompassed a number of distinct tactical traditions, not to mention that Muslim military systems evolved over time. Creating a unified fighting force out of such material and keeping it in the field was a frequent challenge for Muslim leaders.

To take manpower first, Muslim armies were drawn from three main sources. At their core were the ‘askar forces, or professional soldiers (including some slaves), of the major political leaders, the sultans and regional emirs. As standing units of full-time, well-trained warriors, ‘askar could conduct small-scale raids on their own. But their numbers were too limited even at the top of the political ladder for independent campaigning aimed at conquest. They could provide infantry or cavalry forces and were supplemented at times by mercenaries (especially infantrymen) from among the poorer and more troublesome elements of the cities.

For greater numbers, leaders called on the holders of iqta’ to bring themselves and a contingent of followers based on the size of the iqta’ to the leader’s army. Iqta’ were granted to individuals in exchange for service of many sorts (including ‘askar forces) and could consist of revenue from a particular area, administrative control of a district, outright land grants, or some combination thereof. The service originally was mostly administrative, but, by the twelfth century, the Seljuks had made military service the major form of this institution. The extent of Muslim lands meant that considerable numbers could be raised this way, but the problem with iqta’ holders was the problem of emirs writ small. As they became attached to the district of their grant, they became more reluctant to leave it for extended campaigning, as personal supervision, especially at harvest time, could increase their income and protect the land from potential rivals. Most of the soldiers produced by this system, therefore, were part- timers who were hard to keep in the field beyond the end of the campaigning season. Large parts of Muslim armies regularly melted away as winter approached, a fact the Byzantines had regularly taken advantage of in their defensive operations.

The third source of manpower for Muslim armies was tribal auxiliaries, drawn from the warlike peoples who lived on the margins of the Islamic world. These included many of the Arab descendants of the founders of this world, but above all the seminomadic Turkmen who moved with their flocks between the summer hills and winter valley pastures throughout the Muslim world, maintaining the lifestyle of their Central Asian ancestors. While fierce fighters, as semi-independent groups they were usually hard to discipline and control. Plunder was their motivation for fighting: They often failed to pursue a beaten foe if booty beckoned, at times even took to plundering the baggage of their allies, and tended to abandon a campaign when plunder became scarce. Thus, they were of little use in sieges and, like iqta' forces, were nearly impossible to hold together past the end of the regular campaigning season.

Tactically, two main traditions competed. The Seljuk Turks were classic Central Asian horse-archers who depended on maneuvers and firepower to wear down their foes before coming to grips at close quarters. Ambushes, envelopments, and feigned retreats were standard elements of the Turkish tactical repertoire. There were infantry (probably in substantial numbers) in Turkish armies, but their tactics and weaponry is virtually ignored by the sources, so their role is difficult to assess. The armor of infantry and cavalry were relatively light. This facilitated mobility, but more heavily armored European soldiers created some problems for Turkish armies. Fatimid Egypt, however, relied on spear-and bow-bearing Ethiopian infantry and on Arab cavalry for whom the lance was the main weapon. Fatimid armies thus relied on infantry firepower and cavalry charges much as Latin armies did, but with lighter weapons, less armor, and smaller horses than the Latins deployed. The superiority of the Turkish tradition is reflected not just in contemporary crusader opinions of their two main foes (they respected the Turks but not the Egyptians), but also in the dominance in thirteenth-century Egypt of the Mamluks, slave soldiers in the Turkish tactical tradition (though with some more heavily armed lancers) who revolted in 1250 and came to rule Egypt themselves.

Latin Armies

Latin armies drew on four main sources of soldiers, all of which had serious limitations. At the beginning, all Latin soldiers were essentially armed pilgrims from Europe. Each major crusade directed a substantial army at the Holy Land. Between crusades, a small but steady flow of pilgrims to the holy sites visited the Crusader States. Many were knights along with their retainers. They were available for a campaigning season, as pilgrim ships arrived in the Holy Land in April and left in October, but they were available only sporadically and temporarily. In contrast, once the Crusader States were established, their defense needs were permanent and on-going. Further, not all pilgrims were military personnel, and those who were, not being subjects of the local rulers, were only voluntarily obedient to their command.

Crusaders and pilgrims who did settle in the Holy Land became the backbone of the States’ systems of defense as well as the core of their ruling class. The settlers imported the socio-military structure of their homelands to their new possessions. Thus, the ruler of each state granted lands to his followers to administer and draw income from, in return for which they owed military service roughly proportional to the land’s value. Some grants were not of land, which was somewhat scarce, but of an annual fee in money derived from the active urban and maritime economy. The great nobles, in turn, granted parts of their estates to their followers to be used to maintain soldiers in their service. There were no limits on the service the ruler could demand, and the several Crusader States tended to support each other with their forces, but, as a system of property holding and administration, granting estates did limit the judicial powers of the ruler. Two problems plagued settler military forces. First, the districts most in need of defense forces were also those most liable to have their productivity damaged by Muslim raids. Maintaining forces at the frontiers without bankrupting the landholders was therefore a constant problem. Second, there were never enough landed settlers to provide an adequate defense.

The Latin rulers met some of the need for more troops by hiring mercenaries both from unlanded settlers and from Europe. Locals, especially the Turcopoles, who were the offspring of mixed unions, were often recruited in this way. But hiring a significant number of paid soldiers for any length of time always threatened the limited treasuries of the Latin states with bankruptcy, so while mercenaries were important on major campaigns, they could not be used to garrison castles on a permanent basis.

The problems of a standing defense force, especially in frontier regions, was alleviated in part by the rise of the Military Orders of the Knights of the Temple and of the Hospital. The Templars and the Hospitallers were, in effect, soldier-monks—knights who took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The Orders developed sophisticated administrative structures with locations throughout Europe that directed recruits and funds to the Holy Land. Donating lands and money to the Orders was popular in Europe as an indirect contribution to the cause of crusading, and it became popular in the Holy Land as well because the Orders could garrison exposed frontier castles. They were not dependent on the local estates of a castle for income, and their knights were full-time soldiers. Their standards of discipline and training made them an elite among Latin forces, and they earned the special enmity of their Muslim foes. But the numbers of the Orders’ knights, while significant in the context of Latin armies as a whole, were never huge. More problematically, the Orders, as direct dependents of the pope, obeyed no secular ruler. They cooperated with the Latin rulers, especially in the Kingdom of Jerusalem where their lands were most numerous, but as independent allies, which complicated, and at times compromised, the Latin chain of command.

The sorts of soldiers, in terms of infantry and cavalry, raised from these four sources of manpower reflected the mix that had become typical in Europe in the eleventh century. The spearhead of Latin armies was the heavy cavalry of knights and sergeants, the latter (including the Turcopoles) armed like the knights but lower in social and legal rank. The cavalry wore chain-mail hauberks, often covered by a cloth surcoat, and iron helmets that became more complete and elaborate as the twelfth century progressed. They carried kite-shaped shields and fought with lance and sword. Horsemen formed a minority of the numbers in Latin armies—perhaps a fifth to a quarter at most. They were expensive to equip and maintain, and, at times, it was difficult to maintain an adequate supply of horses. But cavalry was the elite of armies both socially, as the legal status and privileges of knighthood became more defined in the twelfth century (though not all cavalry were knights or even landholders), and militarily, due to their greater economic resources, which gave them superior equipment and leisure for training in arms. The knights of the orders added religious prestige to their status as elite warriors.

The infantry consisted of landless adventurers, professional mercenary companies, the attendants of mounted men, and foot sergeants (men granted land for their service like knights and cavalry sergeants, but expected to serve only on foot)—in other words, a broad range of social types. On campaign, cavalry whose horses became unserviceable or died (not an unusual circumstance) became part of the infantry as well. Crossbowmen predominated, though spearmen were also common, and cavalry who fought on foot used their lances as infantry spears. Much of infantry must have been more transient from campaign to campaign than the cavalry of the landholders and Military Orders (yearly pilgrims were probably more likely to fight on foot, for instance). But regular campaigning would have produced an experienced core of foot soldiers in the Crusader States, and the infantry in crusader armies generally showed decent discipline and cohesion. Though less prestigious than the cavalry, the infantry were invaluable in defending and besieging fortifications and in providing a strong defensive base for the cavalry on the battlefield.

Ships were integral to the Crusades

Crusader vessel - medieval cog

Ships were integral to the Crusades. Most Crusaders gathered on the coast of southern France and embarked at Marseilles. Since their warfare was dependent on horses and they could not easily buy or train them on the other side of the journey, they had to get ships with stables built below the deck. Travel was uncomfortable; knights traveled with retinues of servants and squires, and the ship was too crowded to afford sleeping quarters for all of them. Although this 15th-century painting imagines the voyages in a cheerful way, the actual conditions must have been squalid. Horses needed some rest periods on islands in order to regain their health.

The Romans had used two basic kinds of ship. Galleys were their warships, and they used cargo ships known as round ships. During the Middle Ages, both types were adopted and improved on century by century. Early Byzantine dominance was challenged by new Muslim navies in the seventh century. Although the Arabs had been sailing the Indian Ocean in Indian-style ships, their Mediterranean fleets were in the same style as the Roman and Byzantine ships, since they bought surplus ships and hired local crews.

Roman warships were galleys that moved by means of both sail power and the muscle power of dozens of men at the oars. The basic Roman galley had been developed into larger versions—the bireme and the trireme— that used two or three levels of oarsmen, with several men on each oar. An even-larger galley had used five levels of oarsmen. Throughout the Middle Ages and even into the 18th century, Mediterranean warships continued to be galleys, most of them using both oars and sails.
One important development formed the principal warship of the Byzantine Empire—a dromon. There were three variations of the dromon. The smallest, the ousiakon, carried a company of 100 men (an ousia ). It was a two-banked galley. The men on the lower bank only rowed; the men on the upper bank rowed but were also the fighters in battles with other ships. The pamphylos was a little larger; it carried a crew of more nearly 150. The true dromon carried a crew of about 200, with 150 oarsmen on two banks of oars and 50 marines (fighting men). These larger dromons had a raised tower near the mast, where the marines could stand to shoot arrows or throw spears or other projectiles. Most dromons also carried either a powerful catapult, which could throw a 20- or 25-pound object more than 250 feet, or a pressurized siphon flamethrower that propelled liquid Greek fire onto the enemy ship’s deck. Greek fire was an incendiary substance that continued to burn even when it hit water.
Venice created its own version of the dromon while it was under Byzantine rule. It was called the galeagrossa, and it was put to both commercial and military use. In the Mediterranean, the two purposes ran together. Merchant ships needed defense, and navies had to carry cargo. Sailors learned to fight. Venice’s Arsenal built galleys that eventually challenged the cogs’ dominance in bringing Flanders wool to the Mediterranean.

Mediterranean ships, beginning with Greek fishing boats and including the massive dromon, developed a new type of sail during the Byzantine era. Roman sails had been square, but square sails moved a ship only in the direction the wind was blowing; adjustments allowed some variation but not much. Lateen sails were triangular, not square. They were hung from a yard (crossbar) that was fixed partway up the mast at a slant. A long, narrow triangle of sailcloth hung down almost to the deck. This shape creates a baggy lower part of the sail that traps the wind and funnels it up to the narrow top, creating a substantial amount of lift when a ship is sailing with the wind. It could be angled to let a ship steer a course that was not directly with the wind or almost against the wind. By the ninth century, the ships of the Mediterranean were generally lateen rigged and capable of working their way windward. The triangular sails were huge, and the yards they were fastened to were made of large tree trunks. The square sail eventually made a comeback around the 1300s, partly because of the amount of manpower needed to swing lateen rigging around. The square sail caught more wind and enabled the ship to move faster. 

Mediterranean ships were not only different in having galleys of oars and lateen sails; they were constructed in a completely different manner from Baltic and North Atlantic ships. Viking ships and the cogs of northern waters were clinker-built: outer shell first, with overlapped strakes, and then construction of the inner framework. The method of construction in southern waters was just the opposite. They built the framework first, with beams and ribs, and then covered the framework with planking. Boats built this way are called carvel-built. Three medieval shipwrecks show advances in construction methods over several centuries.

A carvel-built hull from the seventh century found in the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Turkey, shows the basic construction method. The builders laid the keel first, then added high, curved endposts. They fastened planks alongside the keel, joined by mortise and tenon and pinned by trenails (wooden pegs that swell when wet to tighten the construction). They added planking up to the waterline, nailed to a framework, and set crossbeams from side to side to bind the hull together. These crossbeams protruded through the hull. At the stern, the crossbeams were a good place to hang a steering rudder on each side of the hull. In the middle of the ship, crossbeams helped support the mast. This particular ship was about 67 feet long and could carry more than 65 tons of cargo. When it sank, it was carrying 900 containers (amphorae) of wine. It also carried 11 anchors.

Another wreck along Turkey was dated by coins to the 11th century. The cargo was mostly glassware, and this ship also carried a large number of anchors. The carvel construction was more advanced by the 11th century. The framework was laid out, then curved timber ribs were added and planking was nailed on with iron spikes. The alternating of the scarphed joints contributed to the strength of the hull, as there was no continuous line of joints across the ship. A third wreck from the estuary of the Po River was dated to about 1300 and was 65 feet long. A new method made the ship strong enough to hold two masts. They used frames attached to floors that crossed the keel and were then secured to a timber bolted to the keel for extra strength.

In the years after 1000, the role of the ship changed dramatically. Commerce was increasing, merchants were becoming wealthy, and ships were increased in size to hold more cargo. After Crusaders set up a Christian kingdom in Jerusalem, there was a great surge of Christian pilgrims wanting to visit Jerusalem. All these factors created demand for larger ships.

The Crusades spurred a great deal of shipbuilding to transport knights and horses from Marseille or Venice to the Holy Land. At first, Crusaders rented any ships they could find, but by the Third Crusade of the 13th century, more were required. King Louis IX of France contracted with merchants in Genoa, Venice, and Marseille to provide custom-built ships for his two Crusades, in 1248 to 1254. These were substantial vessels, several with three decks. The horses were led into the ship through a door that was then caulked shut to keep water out when the ship went out to sea.

In the 15th century, the Baltic and Mediterranean traditions began to mix. The Hanseatic League had extended its reach into ports in the Mediterranean, and Venetian galleys were trading directly in Flanders. One early hybrid was the buss, a wide, carvel-built cargo fishing ship built in the Netherlands. Using the buss, Dutch sailors could stay out at sea longer. The buss sailed with the fishing boat; it was a floating fish-processing plant. The pair of vessels could stay out for several weeks and return with its catch salted while fresh.

The ultimate round ship of the late Middle Ages was the three-masted, full-rigged, ocean-going carrack. The carrack’s precursor was the cog, the clinker-built cargo carrier of the Hanseatic League. In Mediterranean shipyards, the cog had been modified and refined; it was no longer clinkerbuilt but was now carvel-built. Its sails also blended the best of north and south.

The carrack was large and heavy. Huge ribs formed the hull and supported multiple decks, a high sterncastle, and an even higher (though smaller) forecastle. The ship’s tiller passed through a port to move the sternpost rudder. The edge-to-edge planking of the ship was caulked with oakum and tar or pitch to help keep seawater out. For the same reason, the ship was constructed with few hatches and no companionway (a stairway leading from the deck to the cabins below). Its three masts were the main mast and foremast, both square rigged, and the lateen-rigged mizzenmast, which rose from the sterncastle. Later versions of the carrack included another small sail—the spritsail on the bowsprit. Improvement in managing the ropes made the huge sails easier to handle, and multiple sails gave versatility to managing the course of the ship.

A large merchant carrack could carry 1,000 tons of cargo in its hold as it moved around the whole length of the Mediterranean and to and from the Baltic. Its great size made it an expensive ship, and it was expensive too in that it required a large crew. There were smaller carracks, too, such as the 100-ton Santa Maria, the ship that carried Christopher Columbus to the islands of Central America.
Columbus’s other ships, the Niña and the Pinta, were caravels, not carracks. The caravel was a fast sailing ship developed in Portugal around 1440. It carried two or three masts, with either lateen sails or a mixture of square and lateen. The caravel had excellent sailing characteristics and did not need the large crew that was necessary on a carrack. It could move at a relatively fast pace; records show that on the return trip from America in 1493, the Niña and Pinta had at least one day when they covered nearly 200 miles of ocean. Caravels were generally the ships of choice for the voyages of exploration that marked the end of the 15th century and continued into the 16th century.