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Early Warfare on Postcards:
While most of us today know that crusading has involved conflict between Christian faiths and people of other beliefs, especially from the Levant, we tend to think of it primarily in military terms as if there were nothing unusual about them. The crusades did not just affect the people they touched, they represent a major reconciliation of two disparate viewpoints that Europe struggled with for centuries. The accommodation of violence into religious thinking changed the face of Western society and makes us who we are today. The philosophy carried within the crusades colors the attitudes than went into the production of most military postcards.
The Crusades of the Levant 1095-1270
The jihad that had expanded Islam well beyond the Arabian Peninsula had run its course by the 9th century. As Muslims grew to accept the limits of their empire, expansionism consumed the Turkish peoples from Central Asia, and they entered into both Muslim and Christian lands. After Seljuk Turks swept into Byzantine Anatolia they posed a serious challenge to the revived Empire. When the Byzantine army under Romanus suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle if Manzikert in 1070, The Turks devastated Anatolia destroying the heart of the Empire. The depopulation was so rampant that the Byzantines were no longer able to raise large armies, causing them to seek help from the West. Pope Urban II called a Council in 1095 where he pleaded for the peoples of Europe to stop fighting among themselves and exterminate this vile race from our lands. He also stated they should not stop there but go on to Jerusalem to remove the tomb of Christ from the hands of the infidel controlling the Levant. The response to the Pope’s plea and avenge the death of Christ was greater than expected.
None of this would have been possible without the clarification in the Pope’s proclamation regarding the inherent conflict of basic Christian principals with war. The long prohibition against taking another life was lifted for Crusaders as long as those killed were non-Christian. The extermination of infidels then became a Christian duty as God wills it. The Church had previously made proclamations in an attempt to control the nature of warfare. A prime example is the Peace of God from the late 10th century that forbid harming clerics and destroying Church property during a war. This was largely adhered to because it did not interfere with military operations. Where they could not control violent trends that went against Church teachings, they found ways to accommodate them into the religion. While the Eastern Church in the Byzantine empire did not go this far, they began to rely increasingly on mercenaries, not just because of a declining population, but to free them from moral compromise.
Within the next two hundred years of religious conflict, eight major crusades were launched against Muslim lands with varying intensity and success. Once Jerusalem was captured in 1099, most of the Crusaders returned to Europe but a number of knights remained to defend the newly created Kingdom of Jerusalem and other Crusader States. A series of castles were built along the coast to anchor their position but they were unable to press inland. The Turks did not immediately concern themselves over what they perceived to be a minor border clash as they were distracted by an internal power struggle, but when a Second Crusade was launched in 1146 to recapture the Byzantine province of Edessa from the Turks, both German and French armies were quickly defeated. Further attempts to take Damascus also failed, which ended this Crusade in 1148.
When Jerusalem was captured in 1099 its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were slain. The traditional courtesy shown to a respected enemy prisoners was ignored. This was something new, a holy war, and as such all unbelievers were now the enemy of God. This attitude also had a great effect on the Jews of Europe who suddenly found themselves embroiled in what some have termed the first Holocaust. Crusading was an arduous task and many could not understand why they were making such a difficult journey to a far off land to kill Muslims whom they had never seen when Jews whose race had murdered Christ were living among them. Every call for a crusade against the Muslims was accompanied by the idea of revenge, which lead to great pogroms against the Jews of Europe.
As the Empire of the Seljuk Turks disintegrated, the Kurdish leader Saladin began his rise to power. He launched a jihad against the Crusader States capturing Jerusalem in 1187. A Third Crusade was then launched in 1189 to retake the holy city. Although these crusaders were made up of regular troops under an experienced leader, Richard I the Lionhearted, they only managed to seize Acre. The Crusade ended in 1192 with a treaty that allowed Christian pilgrims into Jerusalem. Despite its limited success this is the Crusade that has been most romanticized in Western culture.
Although the Fourth Crusade was originally aimed at the Levant, political ambitions sidetracked the Crusaders into attacking their fellow Christians. Unable to pay the Venetians for passage to the Levant, they struck a deal in which the Crusaders would attack the rival Hungarian port of Zara. Afterwards they got involved in a Byzantine power dispute when they restored the ex-emperor Isaac Angelus to the throne. When the compensation they were promised was not forthcoming, the Crusaders attacked Constantinople. Though both these actions were condemned by the Pope, they were fueled by a strong undercurrent of hostility between the cultured Byzantines and the more warlike Franks who were the foundation of the Crusader movement. This dichotomy of social values has generated continual conflict in Western society to this day.
When Constantinople fell in 1204, it was not at the hands of the Turks but that of the Crusaders. While the looting and murder that followed was bad enough, the sacking of this great city destroyed Byzantium as a remnant of high culture that had survived the Dark Ages. The Empire would continue to exist but only as a shadow of its former self. With its power diminished, it was eventually incorporated into the expanding Ottoman Empire providing Islam with a new gateway into Europe.
The Fifth Crusade of 1218 aimed at retaking Jerusalem by way of Egypt. After three years of fighting they never got further than their initial landing in the Nile Delta at Damietta. The Sixth Crusade of 1228 immediately ran into trouble when its leader Frederick II got into a dispute with the Pope and was excommunicated. With only a portion of his army now willing to obey orders, he decided not to fight and negotiated Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem away from his enemies. Peace lasted until a new threat entered the region; Persians who were fleeing from a Mongol invasion. As they migrated westward they became allies of the Egyptians. The Persians would go on to capture Jerusalem in 1244, while the crusaders were defeated by the Egyptians in Gaza.
Louis IX led the Seventh Crusade to retake Jerusalem, an attempted which was again made through Egypt. Just like before the crusaders were unable to move past Damietta after six years of hard fighting. An Eight Crusade would be launched by Louis IX in 1270 through Tunisia, but after most of the Crusaders succumbed to illness during the siege of Tunis the effort floundered. The Mongols continued to push westwards into Syria, but after attempts at forming an alliance with the Crusaders against the Egyptians failed, they withdrew from the region. The Egyptians continued their attacks against the remnants of the Crusader States until their last bastion at Acre fell in 1291. When the Knights of St. John captured Rhodes in 1310, it would become the frontier between Christendom and the Muslim Levant.
The earliest Christian monastic communities formed in Egypt around the 4th century were largely made up of hermits, but as the concept spread to Europe they began to be organized around a more regimented lifestyle. By the 9th century the Benedictine model was the most common. The monks in these monasteries saw themselves as the soldiers of Christ, fighting evil through prayer. Two new models would emerge out of monastical society during the crusades, each forming a military order in which the life of a soldier would be taken literally. Those gathering around Hugues de Payens in 1120 became known as Knights of the Temple of Solomon (Templars). These knights made the usual monastic vows but they also took up arms to protect pilgrims on route to Jerusalem. As their numbers grew dramatically, they came to control a number of castles in the Levant. In contrast the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem began around 1080 as a group of hospitallers taking care of crusaders and pilgrims in need. By 1123 they began accepting knights as brethren, and soon rivaled the Templars in their military activities and possessions. The power of ecclesiastical military orders began to decline with the failure of the Crusades.
Unlike other large wars in Europe that toppled dynasties and redrew borders, the Crusades ended with no concrete gains. Despite its failure it was perhaps the most influential conflict in that it created a new Western mindset, which we still largely live by. As Europe emerged from the Dark Ages there was a great need to consolidate national identities and the call to a crusade helped answer this hunger. It would also be the first cooperative endeavor undertaken by Christian Kingdoms. Essential to both was a formidable enemy which was defined by being everything a good Christian was not. Jews and Muslims were no longer just foreigners or enemies, they had become the personification of evil and as such could not be tolerated to any degree. The virtue of tolerance that had previously allowed those of different faiths to live peacefully together was now seen as unchristian. Facts no longer of consequence; no matter how weak Jews and Muslims might be, no matter how circumstances might change, they would continue to be perceived of as a perpetual threat to the West.
We are still subject to the myths that grew around the Crusades when confronting Middle-Eastern conflicts today. These myths have been reinforced over the centuries by countless works of art, literature, song, and by the 20th century, postcards. Though the Crusades have had a great influence on western thought, there direct effect on postcard production has been fairly minimal. Most take the form of art reproductions depicting works produced at a much earlier date. Even in the years when there were new conflicts between Europe and the Ottomans, the Muslim world had been reduced to a faceless generic. They were still the other but only as an exotic, backward outlier that was still dangerous but only as an inferior. Though largely absent from military cards, this perception would solidify into Orientalism by the 19th century, which in turn found expression on many nonmilitary postcards. The Turk has ever since become the perpetual counterweight to Western culture. His society can always be used to stir up notions of the foreign and exotic, while his presence is that of the eternal other, the enemy of the Occident.
The Northern Crusades 1204-1410
When most think of the Crusades, thoughts revolve around the wars aimed at freeing Jerusalem from Muslim control, but there were others waged against pagans or what were considered heretical sects by Roman Catholicism. These were an outcome of a general growth of intolerance, first against Muslims, then Jews, pagans, and small Christian sects. Many of these conflicts have been forgotten on postcards because they no longer fit into the definition of who we are. The 12th century Crusade against the Albijensians of southern France is well known to history but little of it is represented on postcards because its brutality has made it an inconvenient truth. The Crusades carried out against the Baltic and Finnic tribes of Northeastern Europe by German religious orders was no less brutal, but as they took on mythic form they were able to remain relevant to modern nationalist concerns.
As Danish and Polish influence on the Baltic Sea began to decrease, there was a general thrust to the East (Drang nach Osten) among the German people. Early missionary activity eventually gave way to the ideology of the crusade, and sporadic violence turned to genocide as permanent settlers moved in. In 1204 the Brothers of the Sword, an ecclesiastical order of Catholic monk-knights, began seizing territory that would become Livonia, and in 1230 the Teutonic Knights invaded Old Prussia exterminating the native population and establishing their own State. Aggression continued particularly against the Lithuanian tribes that sat between the two Orders but this forced them to unify into a kingdom for their own defense. The Lithuanians ended the threat from the north by defeating the Brothers of the Sword at the Battle of Saule in 1236. The Knighthood of Christ of Livonia then united with the Teutonic Order, which began to press into Lithuanian lands in earnest after the Crusades in the Levant ended freeing many knights.
Though the pagan Grand Duchy of Lithuania had accepted Christianity in the later half of the 14th century, this did not put a stop to the warfare which continued as a secular land grab. After Grand Duke Jogaila united his Lithuanian lands into a Federation with Poland through a royal marriage, the united armies of both met the Teutonic Order at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. There the German knights were decisively defeated in the largest battle of the Middle-Ages. While the Polish-Lithuanian army did not destroy the Teutonic Order, they devastated Prussia eliminating it as a threat. The balance of power in Eastern Europe would now shift toward the Polish Lithuanian alliance.
The story of the Battle of Grunwald assumed mythic proportions over the centuries, becoming a large part of Lithuanian identity and it was often used to symbolize the folly of German aggression in the East. Depictions of the battle appears on numerous art reproductions and those specifically made for its 500th year commemoration in 1910. The spirit of this battle was also incorporated into anti-German Propaganda issued during both World Wars.
The statue of King Jogaila that was placed in front of the Polish Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 was not a random choice but one that reflected the geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe at that time. He is presented as a warrior rather than a statesman, mounted on horseback with a sword in each hand. The message is clear; we soundly defeated German aggression in the past, and it will be defeated now if attempted again. The many postcards reproducing this statue reinforced this message. (This statue has since been relocated to New York’s Central Park.)
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth continued to battle the Knights of the Teutonic Order for more than a century after their great victory at Grunwald. King Sigismund I would send one last army into Prussia under the command of Jan Tarnowski, who finally defeated the Order in 1521. The crusade against the Baltics came to a occlusion when the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Albert of Brandenburg, converted to Lutheranism and dissolved the military branch of the Order in 1525. In exchange for pledging his submission to King Sigismund, Albert was recognized as the first duke of Prussia, and the lands of the old Order were turned into a secular state under Polish suzerainty. Tarnowski would also defeat invading armies from Moldavia in 1531 and Muscovy in 1535, securing Poland’s eastern borders.
Many historic events, though significant at the time, did not always remain in the public consciousness as centuries past. Sometimes their remembrances were caught up in larger events that were remembered because they were intertwined with myth. While the card above commemorates an event that occurred in 1525, it was issued as part of an anniversary celebration of Grunwald, which was fought in 1410.
As the secular Prussian Confederation rose in the 16th century, the Teutonic Knights were reduced to a solely religious order. Despite their defeats, they came to symbolize the noble crusade against the inferior peoples to the East, and as protectors of the new German Empire. The image of the German knight was largely exploited on propaganda cards issued during both World Wars. His mythic value was not lost on the Nazis who used it to their advantage while at the same time outlawing the actual Teutonic Order in 1938.
After the Roman Empire fell, various tribes filled the power vacuum on the Iberian Peninsula, but these would all eventually become united within the Kingdom of the Visigoths. In 711 CE, this region was invaded by North African Berbers (Moors) serving under the Arab Musa ibn Nusair. The Visigoths were quickly driven out except for a few enclaves in the Pyrenees. The new Muslim State of Al-Andalus was then formed with its capital set up in Cordoba. The Muslims tried to extend their control into Aquitaine in 732 CE but their army was defeated by the Franks under Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours. This put an end to Muslim expansion in Western Europe, and allowed Charles to create a foundation for the Holy Roman Empire.
Rule of Andalus extended all the way back to Damascus; and as rivalries grew among the Arabs, their tenuous control of the region fractured. These smaller Muslim states would often fight among each other forming alliances of convenience with Christians whenever necessary. Political unity was not reestablished until the 1080’s when Andalus was invaded by the Almoravids who incorporated Iberia into their Berber Empire. While many of the original inhabitants of Iberia had been happy to see the rule of the Germanic Visigoths replaced by the more tolerant Muslims, the Almoravid Moors were religious extremists who began a jihad against the Christian population. This caused resistance to Muslim occupation to grow stronger but early attempts by Alphonso VI of Castile to rid the peninsula of the Moors did not succeed. Even the reconquest of Valencia in 1094 by Rodrigo Díaz, better known as el Cid, was eventually lost to the Moors.
Rodrigo Daz de Vivar was a Castilian noble who originally served Sancho II, who earned a reputation as a military commander by his victories over Muslims as well as Sancho’s Brothers. When Sancho was murdered in 1072, Díaz found himself reluctantly serving his brother Alphonso who he had been fighting against. After leading an unauthorized raid against Toledo, Alphonso sent into exile as punishment. Díaz then secured a position fighting for the Muslim rulers of Saragossa. He served them for ten years achieving a number of significant victories against Christian forces. When Alfonso was defeated by the Almoravid Berbers in 1086, he put his suspicions aside and recalled Díaz from exile. Díaz then began his campaign to recapture Valencia. He finally secured the region in 1094 and ruled in Alfonso’s name. Diaz continued to fight the Almoravids securing the first major victory against them at Caurte, but by 1099 he found himself besieged in Valencia where he probably starved to death. His title of el Cid means sir in sidi, a Spanish dialect of Arabic. He was the subject of many legends and poems, most notably the 12th century epic The song of the Cid (El cantar de mío Cid). While these romances distorted history, it gave el Cid mythical status that secured his place on postcards.
An important Battle of the Reconquista took place at Ourque where the prince of Portugal, Alphonso Henriques defeated the Moors in 1139. After crowning himself Alphonso I King of Portugal, he went to war with his overlord in the Kingdom of Leon. His victory in 1140 at the Battle of Valdevez led to an armistice, which was followed by the Treaty of Zamora that secured Portugal as an independent Kingdom. King Alphonse went on to capture more territory including the port of Lisbon after a long siege. The 800th anniversary of these events were widely celebrated in Portugal, which was accompanied by the publication of commemorative postcards.
The old Portuguese town of Cintra was caught up in these struggles after the completion of the castle of the Moors in the 9th century. When the Caliphate of Cordoba fell, Cintra was seized by Alfonso VI in 1093, but it was soon retaken by the Almoravids. After half a century more fighting, it was taken back again by Afonso I in 1147 who added it to his Christian dominion. Such sites as the castle eventually became tourist attractions that were represented on view-cards. The Moorish connection to this place that so many fought to eradicate could now be reinstated, at least in name, as a selling point. Once an old foe no longer poses a danger, the historical connection to them is often romanticized.
Almoravid rule came to an end around 1150 when a rival dynasty, the Almohads, took control over the Empire, and moved the capital of Andalus to Seville. The new Almohad rulers failed to exert effective control over Andalus and it broke down again into small Muslim states. These became more vulnerable to the increasing resistance to occupation, and in 1212 Castile took control over central Iberia after their victory at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. By the mid-13th century the only Moorish State that remained was Grenada while the surrounding Christian states had grown in size and in strength. The two most consequential of these were the Kingdom of Aragon and the Kingdom of Castile. In 1469 their monarchs, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I were married; and while they continued to rule their Kingdoms independently, their military alliance allowed them to conquer Grenada by 1492. As power became more centralized, all the Kingdoms of Iberia except for Portugal would slowly unite into the Kingdom of Spain.
The fighting that took place on the Iberian Peninsula was usually based more on local disputes and ambitions than religious differences or a single grand purpose. This caused the unification of these rivals into a single unified kingdom to be a long drawn out process. Despite this these wars have largely come down to us through a single myth. They are presented as the great Christian Crusade to drive Muslims out of Europe in the Reconquista. cumulating in the creation of Spain under the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Little else outside this narrative is to be found on Spanish postcards and even these are rare. Spain’s economy had seriously declined after the Spanish-American War, and it was in poor condition to participate in the golden age of postcards. While postcards were produced in Spain and Portugal, they pale in number when compared to production in neighboring countries. Most of these are view-cards, and perhaps the single most popular subject was the Alhambra in Grenada. This castle built across two centuries was a complex structure consisting of both battlements and decorative palace gardens. Having suffered little damage during its siege, it subsequently became the setting for much romanticized literature that enhanced its role as a tourist attraction.
The end of the Reconquista in 1492 may have brought unity to Spain but not peace. The once vibrant tolerant society was now obsessed with racial and religious purity. After the fall of Grenada, a great stream of Muslim refugees left Iberia, though all Muslims would not be expelled until the 17th century. Jews on the other hand were forced to convert or leave. Those that did convert (Marranos and Moriscos) were constantly harassed by the Spanish Inquisition who were worried they were forming an underground threat. These fears did not have to be rational, they were a new myth born of the Crusades that now defined the West in opposition to this archetypal other. The killing of Jews and Muslims had become entwined, and through their destruction Christians could show their love of God. Despite the great effort that went into cleansing the society, little of that history appears on postcards. Instead the legacy of the Moors is treated just like another tourist attraction that can be exploited for profit. One an enemy ceases to be a threat, they can be romanticized.
The year 1492 did not just mark the end of the Reconquista in Spain, it was also the year that Christopher Columbus first set foot in America. While this voyage on behalf of Queen Isabella of Castile is often related as one to open new trade routes to the East, Columbus was obsessed with capturing Jerusalem and hoped that a new Crusade against Muslims could be launched from India. While this never happened, the Crusading tradition remained alive and well and would be extended against the native populations of Central and South America in the 16th century. Countless natives were killed in the process and great civilizations were destroyed. While the religious nature of this enterprise would soon be cooped by personal greed and the quest for empire, the crusader outlook would continue to be used to rationalize further oppression throughout the world.
Wars of conquest seem to have a week hold on national consciousness for they raise conflicted moral issues no matter how much they are rationalized. Their memories are often shunted aside by the new dominant culture least they be held accountable for their misdeeds. Little is to be seen of the conquistadors on postcards until after the Mexican Revolution when the power structure of that nation was turned upside down. The most notable images to be found on cards depicting this epic struggle in the Americas come from those reproducing the narrative murals of Diego Rivera. As a communist he wasn’t afraid to depict the European conquest as an exploitative brutal affair. While these cards are technically art reproductions, they must also be seen as propaganda considering the political standing of the artist, the revolutionary times they were created in, and the great numbers in which they were produced.