Cathars – the crushing of a medieval heresy

Cathars being expelled from Carcassonne in 1209.

Cathars being expelled from Carcassonne in 1209. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I promised more on the Cathars – so here goes!

The crusades had got off to a ripping start in the Middle East with Jerusalem taken by the crusaders and several Christian kingdoms established along the eastern Mediterranean coast (roughly equivalent to Israel, western Syria and Lebanon today).  All this religious zeal and the success of the endeavour gave the papacy the idea to turn this energy – a combination of the sword and the bible – on to a heresy in France that had annoyed the pope greatly.

Rome had fought to establish its primacy as the centre of the church – with the pope, as the successor of Saint Peter, as its leader. This was not a given in the early days of Christianity and there were still some who baulked at the idea of Rome telling them what they should be thinking and how to pray. One such group were the Cathars and their beliefs were complete anathema to Rome.

They didn’t believe in a formal clergy for a start and took a very dim view of the wealth and riches of the Catholic church.  In the Languedoc region of France, they had powerful supporters among the feudal nobility and the general population. This all posed a dire threat to the papacy – it needed to stamp out this affront to clerical authority.  The weapon that would be chosen would be crusade – a bloody confrontation with the Cathars every bit as violent as what had been meted out to the Saracens in the east.

The Cathars were in many ways a survival of beliefs the Catholic church of the 12th century would have hoped had died out.  These were beliefs like Manichaeism – the teaching of the third century AD Persian prophet Mani as well as the Paulicians, a sect dating back to the seventh century that had thousands of followers in the Byzantine Empire but was regularly persecuted and eventually suppressed.  Mixed in with all of this was that most feared of heresies: Gnosticism.

So what does a sect with the influence of Mani, the Paulicians and the Gnostics believe – essentially it was a dualist view of the universe.  A universe of light in a clash with a universe of darkness.  An evil deity that rules the physical world of corruption and sin and a good deity that rules a pure and spiritual world that we must strive towards.  There is a heavy influence of Plato in all this but I don’t want to go off the theological/philosophical deep end here.

Suffice it to say – the Cathars looked at the Catholic church and saw the work of the evil deity with its prelates and bishops decked in jewels and fine robes.  What made this situation so dangerous for Rome was that the Cathars included much of the southern French nobility in the Languedoc.  If the secular power could not be trusted to deliver the people’s souls to the church – and their contributions – then rocky times lay ahead for the Pope.

The Cathars had to be crushed.  No heresy could be allowed to thrive and undermine the Catholic church.   I’ll talk more about how the crusade against the Cathars developed in the next few blog posts.


Maps of the Templar world

I have always loved historical maps – they never give a wholly accurate view of what the reality was on the ground but they’re fascinating to pore over. And here are some images of Europe and the Middle East at the time of the Knights Templar. What a different world they present!

Going from left to right across Europe, these maps reveal the tempestuous political climate of the period.  The Norman aristocracy of England had begun its slow invasion of Ireland as you can see by a smattering of pink on the east coast, Wales and Scotland were still independent and the English crown still claimed vast swathes of what is now France.

The Iberian peninsula is even more striking. Half of it was still under Islamic control – having been completely invaded in the year 711CE.  Christian kingdoms like Leon, Castille, Portugal as well as Aragon and Navarre had begun the ‘Reconquest‘ aided by crusaders and Templars from all over Europe.

Central Europe was dominated by the Germanic Holy Roman Empire that stretched down into northern Italy meeting the Norman controlled southern half of the boot.  Venice was independent and increasingly challenged the fading power of the Byzantine Empire – which it would eventually deal a huge blow against in the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

Beyond the Byzantines – the Greek speaking inheritor of the eastern Roman empire centred on Constantinople – was the encroaching realms of the Seljuk Turks.  The Seljuks had become the dominant force in the Islamic Middle East and would crush crusader controlled Edessa in 1144.

Enjoy the maps!

Map of medieval Europe map of medieval europe map of medieval europe

Castle built by Saladin – a picture gallery

I have just returned from a ten day visit to Jordan – a country with an amazing history sandwiched between Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to share the incredible places I visited.

Here is Ajlun castle built in 1184 by a nephew of Saladin to see of the crusaders and protect local iron mines from the crusaders. A jewel in Ayyubid history – that’s the dynasty founded by Saladin. As you know, Saladin would go on to retake Jerusalem from the crusaders and put many Templar knights to the sword.

One special plea to the Jordanian authorities – please remove the rubbish piling up near the castle. It’s such a beautiful monument and I’m sure those large bins can be put elsewhere! Don’t let that put you off a visit.

Ajlun castle

Looking out over the countryside

Ajlun castle

On top of the fort

Ajlun castle

Boiling oil was poured down here on to invaders

An atmospheric stairway

An atmospheric stairway

The main entrance

The main entrance

The imposing walls

The imposing walls

Please get rid of that rubbish!!

Please get rid of that rubbish!!

100,000 hits for this blog!

English: Knight Templar

English: Knight Templar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I should really signal this landmark and thank those of you who follow The Templar Knight – even more so, the 769 of you who have posted comments and I hope I’ve engaged constructively in return.

The most popular blog post remains: Top Ten Movies about the Middle Ages with 12,523 hits. It just shows that you can’t go far wrong with interesting lists. People love them.

Going forward, I’m keen to invite guests bloggers on here and historical fiction writers – so if you are interested in sharing on this page – just send me a request through the comments.

I’m toying with the idea of more video content including, possibly, doing some Google+ hangouts with medievalists out there. Tell me what you think.

Facebook has been very successful over the last 12 months and as you can see down the side of the page, I have over 6,000 followers for my Quest For The True Cross page. Many of those followers are in Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia – both Muslims and Christians. There seems to be a very keen interest in the Middle Ages in those countries.

Next week, I shall be in the Middle East and I’m going to be sharing some amazing photos of Templar landmarks. You may recall that last year I was in Israel and went to Acre where there is a huge medieval castle. I took some photos of the latrines (toilet if you prefer) and was contacted last month by a magazine called Current World Archaeology asking to feature the photo. It’s in this months’ issue! It seems I’ve become an expert on medieval “facilities”.


The Knights Templar and money lending

English: Knights Templar Česky: Dva templáři

English: Knights Templar Česky: Dva templáři (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Knights Templar were warriors, monks, farmers, royal advisers and bankers all rolled into one. Whether they sat on fabled mountains of gold – it was certainly widely believed (particularly by certain monarchs) that they did – they certainly lent vast sums to popes and princes. The Paris Temple in particular was a heavily fortified bank in the eyes of the French kings.

As today’s banking system sees its reputation torn to shreds, it’s worth recalling that our banks owe a debt to the Templars for creating an early system of lending and credit. So how did it work?

Well, in a pre-capitalist age without modern banking, you might have to haul large amounts of bullion around with you when you went off on crusade or even dig a hole in the ground to hide it. Not exactly sophisticated. Your wealth would largely be based on land and that was at risk of being seized by somebody unscrupulous while you were away. So step forward the Knights Templar with an easier way to access your money while on crusade without having to heave great sacks of it with you.

They issued letters of credit – a promise to pay the bearer the designated amount. These could be cashed in – bit like old fashioned travellers’ cheques – at Templar houses or preceptories. The order would charge a kind of administration fee to avoid the charge of usury. It was sin to charge interest on loans – a religious rule still followed today by Islamic financial institutions where ‘enhanced capital’ is OK but not outright earning of interest.  Jewish lenders were permitted to charge interest, which contributed to anti-Jewish feeling in times of economic crisis or political upheaval.

Templar enthusiasm for the world of high finance may have originated at the Champagne Fairs – a massive market held in Troyes and other towns in the Champagne district of France.  This was where the first Templars originated from so the order had strong links to this part of the world. Merchants would come from all over Europe bringing goods from further afield including the Middle East. To ease the flow of transactions, the Templars developed their credit note system. The knights themselves would have been selling their wool and other produce from their manors to fund their crusading activities in outremer.

2012 – excellent year for The Templar Knight blog

A quick report back to all of you who follow this blog. What a year it has been! A record number of visitors have come to view these pages and the number of daily unique visitors more than doubled compared to 2011. You can see the current figure for views on the right hand side of this page and the number of people following the blog. It just keeps going up and up!

Most incredible was the sharp increase in the number of people following the Facebook page for my Templar book – Quest For The True Cross.  Again you can see details on the right hand column on this page. In the space of about two months, the number of page fans went from about seventy to around four and a half thousand as of today. Really noteworthy was the number of young people in the Middle East who wanted to know more about the Crusades and the medieval era.

For reasons I can’t explain – my other Facebook page related to this blog – William de Mandeville (main character in the book Quest For The True Cross) also rose but the visitors tended to be from the Portuguese and Spanish speaking world. The fact that the action in the book does transfer to medieval Portugal will no doubt have been a factor.

My trip to Israel this year was very popular with you and I must admit that it was an amazing experience. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Acre, Masada, etc. Who wouldn’t want to visit these places? And then in August, I did four festivals in Portugal, which were huge fun.

2013 promises to be even better. I will be publishing a new book in e-format only. Why? Well, I have been published in print before and did have a book agent for several years. But the maths didn’t add up, the marketing of print books is pretty woeful and e-publishing is flexible and the future. Some of you have pointed out that you do not possess a Kindle or Nook. I will be publishing across as many services as possible including Barnes & Noble, Sony, iTunes and Kobo as well as Amazon. Hopefully, you will be able to buy and enjoy the book.

It will be priced at a level that I think anybody can take and it’s going to be an action packed sequel to Quest For The True Cross.  It will take you to the crusades in Egypt and feature some very larger than life characters. So look out for that!

Happy New Year!

Turcopoles – a Crusader’s best friend?

Illustration of the Battle of the Horns of Hat...

Illustration of the Battle of the Horns of Hattin in a medieval manuscript (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: One reported version of the flag of t...

English: One reported version of the flag of the Knights Templar, but not the most famous or widely accepted one. That honour is given to the standard red cross on plain white background, which symbolized purity and innocence. Crusades (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the Roman empire onwards, armies have always vexed over how to get hold of the necessary manpower. This is particularly an acute problem when an empire is expanding far from home. Supply lines have always needed to be maintained and recruits found to replace the dead and wounded. It’s also been a trick of every conqueror to absorb the fighting tactics of their enemies and the closest available manpower. The Romans never let a good enemy tactic go unnoticed and adopted – and they would cheerfully enlist the sons of the conquered.

Equally with the crusader states that sprang up in the Middle East after the taking of Jerusalem in 1099, there was a need to soak up some of the local fighting talent. The Christian invaders were never going to hold on to the kingdoms and principalities they had created without some of the locals coming on side. There were, of course, plenty of Christians living all around them. The religion had, after all, begun in the Middle East. Every shade of Christianity could be found in the crusader states and to the north was the ancient and still very active eastern orthodox Christian empire of Byzantium.

It couldn’t be automatically assumed that any of these Christians would wield a sword for their new masters – who often regarded them as heretical.  In appearance, they looked a little too much like their Jewish and Muslim neighbours and their church services were distinctly lacking in any Latin. But some were prepared to take up arms with the crusaders – and especially the Knights Templar. These obliging eastern warriors were known as  ‘Turcopoles‘.

I’m told this word derives from old Greek meaning ‘sons of Turks’ – but as my Greek is non-existent, one of you can put me right. It’s certain that these lightly armed auxiliaries weren’t necessary Turkish by ethnicity, though many may have been. They were easterners for sure and in the Templar order, they formed a useful fighting force. However, any hope they might have had of rising to be a full blown knight – let alone a brother serjeant – they could forget.  Not that racism as we understand it was prevalent – but they were never to be admitted to the Frankish noble inner circles of the crusader states.

In my book Quest For The True Cross (click on title to go to Amazon) – I have a turcopole main character called Pathros. I made him a man from Aleppo whose family had fallen on hard times due to political changes in Syrian society – not least the arrival of the Seljuk Turks.  A removal of Christians from the bureaucracy of the Islamic caliphate reduces his father to poverty and Pathros goes to find his fortune in the nearby enemy kingdom of Jerusalem. He meets my main Templar hero, Sir William de Mandeville, and becomes his trusty servant. What I show is that Pathros is an educated, literate easterner who, nevertheless, cannot rise up in the Templar order – a fact that frustrates and embitters him. He is lost between two cultures – the Frankish Christian world of the crusaders and the Muslim caliphate. Pathros belongs to neither.

Interestingly – and bringing things to the modern day – I chanced upon THIS blog post from an Islamic blogger arguing for the existence of what he called “Neo-Turcopoles” – Muslims who, as he put it, co-operate with American Neo-Cons and even the Tea Party. I must hasten to point out that this blogger is ultimately arguing for inter-faith unity between Jews, Christians and Muslims. He claims these Neo-Turcopoles are Muslims allying themselves with the most right wing commentators in the US – part of what he calls the Islamophobia “industry”.

I’ve no doubt that in the twelfth century, plenty of easterners living under crusader rule probably took an equally dim view of those who fought alongside the Templars. Plus ca change!