Historic Tomar to host its first Templar festival

Tomar is a beautiful Templar town in Portugal where the order held out after being crushed throughout Europe. On top of a hill overlooking the winding streets of the medieval town is a Templar ‘charola’ or octagonal church built like a fortress. Attached to it is a semi-ruined convent constructed in the 16th century Manueline style.

Down in the valley is another church called Santa Maria Olival where the Portuguese Templar masters were buried including the legendary Gualdim Pais – vanquisher of the Moors!

Tomar was recently chosen to be the global HQ of The International Order of the Knights Templar – OSMTH – and this has led to the first ever Templar festival being held in the town. Quite why it hasn’t happened before I can’t imagine. Having visited Tomar every year since 2009, I can assure you that this is a must see for any Templar.

I wish I could have given you more notice but I only found out about the event yesterday, which is happening between the 23rd and 26th of this month. Full details in Portuguese can be found HERE.  If you can’t make it – then please browse the images below from my last visit in August, 2012.

Top ten medieval battles – in the movies

Films are a great way to pick up historical knowledge tempered with your own research of course. So let’s look at ten movies that captured great medieval battles. The first would have to be the Battle of Montgisard in 1177 where the leper king of Jerusalem Baldwin IV managed to defeat a numerically superior Saracen force. Here’s how the movie Arn portrayed it.

Ten years later and Saladin turned the tables on the crusaders defeating them at the Horns of Hattin – depicted in the movie Kingdom of Heaven.

Here’s a battle you may not know much about – I didn’t – but is a key date in the emergence of Islam. In the year 636CE, the Byzantine (or eastern Roman) army was defeated by an Arab army. This ended seven centuries of Roman rule in Syria and brought the region in to the Arab/Islamic caliphate.

When you’re heavily outnumbered, you need a leader to make a rousing speech – and who better than Henry V courtesy of Shakespeare played by Kenneth Branagh (or you could watch the Lawrence Olivier movie made in the 1940s).

Within the Templar era –  a new enemy emerged that nobody in Europe could have forseen: The Mongols. This movie – called ‘Mongol’ – was co-funded by Germany, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.  And here’s taste of what the Mongol hordes brought into the Middle East and Europe, terrifying all in their path.

It’s often assumed that crusades were all against Islam. In fact, the medieval popes had other enemies in their sights. One was the Hussite heresy in eastern Europe, which proved very attractive to many people. In 1420, the Holy Roman Emperor fought for the Catholic church against the Hussite leader, Jan Zizka, at the Battle of Vitkov Hill captured in this movie.

Another thorn in the papal backside were the schismatic orthodox Christians and the Teutonic Knights were sent off to bring the Poles and Lithuanians into line. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned as the this communist era film of the Battle of Grunwald shows.

Here is a movie on the life of Saladin – with lots of battles – made in 1963 by the Egyptian film industry. Note the reference to refugees fleeing the crusaders. This was a time when a very nationalist government had taken over in Egypt and was engaged in hostile rhetoric with neighboring Israel.

And I suppose I’d better include Mel Gibson’s take on the wars between Scotland and England in the Middle Ages.

And finally – let’s have a mythical battle from Lord of the Rings

Cannibals on crusade – eating flesh in the Middle Ages

Say the word ‘cannibal’ and most people in the west have been brought up to think of some tribe of man eating savages located in the deepest jungle, maybe in a place like Borneo. But in a recent book on the Second World War by Max Hastings – called Inferno (nothing to do with Dan Brown) – he alleges that the people of Leningrad in Russia were so hungry during the Nazi onslaught that they ate their own. The Imperial Japanese Army has also been accused of cannibalism of prisoners in the same war – again in recent books on the subject.

CannibalismSo what about our favorite time period – the Middle Ages? I was asked by a regular visitor to this blog whether allegations of crusaders indulging in cannibalism were really true. Well, the chronicles suggest it happened – even if we have to treat all written accounts with a pinch of salt. But we should give some credence to the stories because those writing about crusaders eating their Saracen enemies weren’t Muslims – they were Christians.

Astonishingly, one person accused of cannibalism is none other than Richard the Lionheart.  It’s said that he requested pork to eat while camped outside the Hospitaller fortress of Acre in modern Israel. His attendants cook him up some Saracens on the basis that they taste of pork (even though they’re not allowed to eat pork – go figure!). Richard bolts down his food and asks to see the pig’s head. Needless to say the attendants produce a Saracen’s head and Richard, far from being appalled, gets stuck into some more “pork” pointing out to his men that they shall never starve as this meat is so plentiful.

This story might have been intended as a sick joke or a boastful means of scaring the Saracens – conversely, the incident may have happened. You have to recall that Richard the Lionheart presided at a mass execution of prisoners so there was a very mean streak to the man.

In an earlier incident in 1098 during the First Crusade – a year before Jerusalem was taken by Prince Tancred – the crusaders overran a Syrian town called Ma’arra. Christian chroniclers, three of them, felt constrained to both record and try to excuse acts of cannibalism by the crusader. In his History of the Expedition to Jerusalem Fulcher of Chartres wrote the following about what happened at Ma’arra.

I shudder to tell that many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked, but when it was not yet roasted enough by the fire, they devoured it with savage mouth

The Assasins

Tony McMahon:

An interesting blog post on the Assassins – an Islamic heretical sect that plagued both the Saracens and the Crusaders during the medieval period. I will be blogging about the Assassins in more depth in future posts. But enjoy this primer for now!

Originally posted on The Past Tense:

“The Old Man kept at his court such boys of twelve years old as seemed to him destined to become courageous men. When the Old Man sent them into the garden in groups of four, ten or twenty, he game them hashish to drink. They slept for three days, then they were carried sleeping into the garden where he had them awakened.

“When these young men woke, and found themselves in the garden with all these marvelous things, they truly believed themselves to be in paradise. And these damsels were always with them in songs and great entertainments; they; received everything they asked for, so that they would never have left that garden of their own will.”

And when the Old Man wished to kill someone, he would take him and say: ‘Go and do this thing. I do this because I want to make you return to paradise’. And…

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Watch Assassin’s Creed Black Flag Gameplay Release Trailer

Tony McMahon:

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag is on the way, set in the eighteenth century Caribbean – so definitely not a lot to do with the Middle Ages. But I know it has many fans here so here’s the latest update!

Originally posted on OmLogdom:

So we finally have some pretty pretty gameplay to look at for Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. Yummy!! :) Let us know what you think in the comments!!

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