Muslim Interaction European crusades to the eastern Mediterranean from 1095-1291 CE were a series of violent encounters between Christians and Muslims over control of certain lands. These crusades had a number of consequences, but perhaps more than anything else they brought many more Europeans than ever before into close contact with Muslims. Through this, Europeans learn more than ever before about these Muslims they were in contact with: both positively and negatively. Through Joinville’s account of the sixth and seventh crusades in The Life of Saint Louis, we are informed about a few of the things that the crusaders learned from their direct contact with these Muslims, or ‘ Saracens’ as Joinville calls them.
In the beginning of Joinville’s account, it seems intriguing how he knows so much about the Muslims, even down to the intimate details. One of the stories Joinville tells is about how the Saracen army stays in good shape and condition. He tells that the leading men in their armies were mostly foreigners whom merchants had bought from other lands. This happened because one ruler would conquer another and sold the men to merchants who in turn sold them to the Egyptians. This worked only because the Saracens were willing to pay the very high prices for these men.
He also goes into detail about how the sultan would bring the children into his own house and raise them as warriors and as his personal bodyguards, known as Halca (Joinville, 234-5). You later go on to read that Joinville learns this information because he was taken captive, at the battle at Mensourah, by these Muslim Saracens. While in captivity, Joinville not only sees their conditioning for the military, he is shown tolerance, hospitality and kindness from these people. During this time, the Saracens never mistreated Joinville or the other men in captivity. During the time he was being captured, the Saracens were going to kill him but one of them says that he is the cousin of the king and spares his life.
Shortly after this, they give him clothes and water. They even go as far as to cure Joinville of a tumour he had in his throat (Joinville, 244). The hospitality of the Muslims is shown again in the release of King Luis IX and his people from captivity. It is significant that the Saracens are even willing to negotiate for the release of the enemy people and their king. The sultan and the Queen of France negotiate the release of these people for 500, 000 livres and the surrender of the city of Damietta.
The sultan is so pleased that the king did not haggle over so much money, that he gave back 100, 000 livres (Joinville, 250). Conversely, the Saracens were not quite as tolerant on the battlefield. They were actually quite barbaric. During this battle at the city of Mensourah, the Saracens blockaded the river and let no ships go through in order to starve the Europeans out. This caused a great famine among them. They did this after days of fighting in which neither of them could gain an advantage.
It eventually worked and caused the capture of this European army, including King Louis IX (Joinville, 237). Another way in which this is shown is by their method of torture, the barnacle. Joinville states that the barnacle was the most cruel for of torture any man can suffer. He goes on to describe it, “ made of two pliable pieces of wood, notched at the edges with interlocking teeth, and fastened together at both ends with stout strips of ox-hide.
” The Saracens would lay the subject on their side in it with their legs between the teeth. They would then get a man to sit on the barnacle, crushing the subject’s legs with not even half a foot of bone not broken. Then, if needed, they would wait three days until the legs are inflamed and do it again, breaking the bones yet again (Joinville, 249). These people not only had a brutal military, they also had harsh rulers.
One way in which the sultan extinguished possible insurrections was when he noticed that a certain ruler was gaining power and fame, to the point that no one would challenge him, the sultan would have him arrested and put to death. He would also have their wives deprived of everything they possess. The sultan would do this so that he would not have to fear they might kill him or usurp his authority (Joinville, 236). Because of this, the Europeans learned to respect their foes, the Saracens. Joinville recounts a story about John the Armenian and his trip to Damascus for supplies.
While there, he sees an old man seated at the bazaar, or marketplace. The old man asks John if he is a Christian and begins to tell of the sins of the Christians. John tells him to stop speaking on this matter because those of the Saracens were far greater. The elderly man then asks him which would be more displeasing, if his son hit him or a Saracen did to which he replies his son (Joinville, 275). This shows that even though these European crusaders hated the Muslim Saracens, they respected them to an extent.
The final thing that was learned by not only the European crusaders, but by the European armies and culture as a whole were things such as art, literature, religion, and military techniques. These were learned through hundreds of years of direct contact with the Muslims in battle and in captivity. These things had a lasting effect on the culture for centuries to come. The crusades were the way by which Europe went from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance period.
Although the crusades were a series of very violent, mostly unsuccessful wars between Europeans and Muslims, they did lead to some positive things. Through the direct contact of these two cultures for hundreds of years, subsequently knowledge and some beliefs were transferred between them. Through Joinville’s account of these times in The Life of Saint Louis, we are informed of just a few of the many things that were learned during these times.