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Chinese records of Europe's Crusades?


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#31 ghostexorcist

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Posted 21 January 2008 - 07:44 PM

Now turning to the issue of Chinese records of the Crusades, I do not believe that any exist. I would be thrilled however if they did. If we accept the account of William of Rubruck, it is nonetheless a Western account of meeting the Mongols, not a Chinese record of the events associated with the Crusades.


I am about to leave for work, so I don't have time to properly reply to all of your comments. But I do want to say that I did not mean to associate William's chronicle with the crusades. I was just giving an example of other westerners in Asia during the same time period.

#32 ghostexorcist

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Posted 10 February 2008 - 07:33 PM

The crusaders were aided by disunity in the Muslim world, but that should not be used to sideline the significance of their achievement. A careful reading of the history will reveal the crusaders had their own disunities, for example some of the army turning back before the completion of the Siege of Antioch, with the consequence they received no reinforcements from the Byzantine forces after that date.

There are many reasons for the success of the First Crusade. One of these was the control of the sea lanes by Christian navies, which meant that they could resupply, and advance south along the coast from Antioch with one flank shielded by the sea.

As regards the siege of Antioch, it is not surprising that the Crusaders should have had help from within. After all, Antioch had only been taken by the Muslims in 1084 (eighteen years before) and had prior to that been a Christian city for at least 800 years. What is surprising is that they did not enjoy more such support.

Above all of this, it is clear that the main reason for the success of the First Crusade was the abiding courage and faith of the Crusaders themselves in the face of opponents, illness, climate and the varying abilities of their leaders.

Now turning to the issue of Chinese records of the Crusades, I do not believe that any exist. I would be thrilled however if they did. If we accept the account of William of Rubruck, it is nonetheless a Western account of meeting the Mongols, not a Chinese record of the events associated with the Crusades.

We do know of letters sent from the Ilkhanate to the Pope in 1245 and 1287, and also the fact that Rabban Sauma was a Chinese bishop. These letters urged a unified force against the Muslims, but there do not seem to be any extant Chinese records of the crusades.

Having served in the US Army 82nd Airborne Division overseas, I can honestly say that courage and faith can only take you so far when you are occupying a foreign land. It helps having superior weaponry. In regards to the Crusaders, they had superior siege machines. The book Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000 – 1300 says the Crusaders’ main powers were sieging and raiding. If they came upon a fortified city/castle (or a combination of the two) and could not penetrate the heavily protected walls, they would resort to raiding the country side not only to sustain their troops, but to deny the besieged any chance of outside supplies. The author also explains how besiegers were sometimes thrown into chaos when the besieged would emerge from the fortress and mount a surprise sally against them. This brings Antioch to mind when the malnourished Crusaders scattered the much larger Muslim force. However, this can be explained.

The book The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives explains that the Crusaders began to trickle out of the fortress in small groups, instead of all at once. Kirbogha saw this and ordered his troops to wait to engage them until all the Franks had emerged. When the Crusaders came upon them, the subordinate officers under his command deserted him at the last minute (as revenge for his ill treatment of the troops according to a Muslim chronicler) and their forces fell into disarray. The author sums up the battle thusly:

The fact was that there was no real corporate will to make the union effective, even in a single offensive against a common foe, the Franks outside Antioch. Such a motley combination of Janah al-Dawla of Hims, Tughtegin of Damascas, the Artuqid Sulayman from Mardin, and others, had no hope of working together amicably, especially under the leadership of Kirbogha, the ruler of Distant Mosul, whose motives were no doubt question by the rest of the Muslim commanders. Disunity and infighting underlay this Muslim defeat, against all expectations and against distinctly under whelming odd outside Antioch (pg. 58)

This disunity is indicative of the Muslim world during this time. For more in-depth detail, please read pages 33-50 of the this book scan. It explains how the death of several Key Muslim leaders left a power vacuum that was fought over by their surviving sons. By the arrival of the Crusaders, these sons were too busy fighting with each other in distance provinces than to provide forces to combat the foreign enemy. Those who did face the Crusaders had their own loyalties not necessarily in-line with those they were supposed to be cooperating with.

Having said that, I think any further discussion not pertaining to Chinese records of the Crusades should be moved to the world history thread. However, it may take me a long while to post any response (like this one for instance) because my attentions are focused elsewhere at the moment.

Edited by ghostexorcist, 10 February 2008 - 08:08 PM.


#33 Jesse Torgerson

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 11:52 PM

Having said that, I think any further discussion not pertaining to Chinese records of the Crusades should be moved to the world history thread. However, it may take me a long while to post any response (like this one for instance) because my attentions are focused elsewhere at the moment.


Agreed -- the reasons for crusaders's success is beyond the original question.

I am a late-(and new)comer to this discussion (and this entire website -- absolutely fantastic!!), and find it very interesting from the perspective of a Byzantinist. A couple basic questions still jump out to me from the original issue --

The Seljuks would have identified their territory as "Rum" (Rome), but their leader was the Sultan -- would a Sultan have taken the same identification (I think it was transliterated in one of the first posts as "Gaisa") as a Caesar? Is there a possibility that it could be a Seljuk Embassy? The Seljuk state was set up in 1081 -- would this have been their self-proclamation embassy to get on the diplomatic map?

Pursuing the original trail of investigation, however, it does not make any sense to me for the ambassador in question to be Simon de Montefort -- it smacks of searching through an index for a name that can be transliterated similarly. The Byzantine Emperor hardly got the First Crusaders to give Nicaea back to them, let alone send them on far flung diplomatic missions; certainely not before the crusaders had even entered into their quasi-vassal relationship with him (Alexios I), which happened in 1095; the "franks" were horrible allies (almost universally) -- why trust them with this new, and touchy, diplomatic venture?

Though Emperor Alexios I's asking of the Pope for help is understood as symptomatic of a longstanding "Byzantine Crusade" against the Turks (or something like), it really was a particular request for a particular situation, not with the idea of a long standing offer of "come over and help us, all of you, sometime." For instance, from 1081-1095 the primary enemy for Alexios I were the Normans under Bohemond and his father Robert Guiscard who were constantly attempting invasion of the West Balkans through Dyrrachium. For instance in Anna Komnena(daughter of Alexios I)'s Alexiad, Book 5.4, Alexios asks Suleiman (cousin I think of Sultan Alp Arslan and founder of the Seljuk state of Rum) for help vs. the Normans (Franks). It was of course then this same group of friendly Normans who came over to "help" in the crusade, and who ended up setting up a kingdom around Antioch for the purpose of better defeating the Byzantines. In any case "help us against the turks" is very vague because there are a lot of turkish tribes who are at war with each other, some of whom the Byzantines are allies with and some not -- probably, because they were the most concerning "Turks" in the 1080s, it was the Patzinaks.

Melissenos himself seems to have been captured by the "Scyths" (who I take as the Turkish Patzinak tribe) roughly around 1090, Anna cites him as helping Alexios out from captivity by sending secret documents about the enemy.

In any case, what I really want to address is the problems around Melissenos sending an embassy to the Song in Kaifeng in 1081 as the Caesar under Alexios I. I don't know anything about dating issues in 11th century Chinese history, but I am going to assume 1081 is secure. Alexios took the capital (Constantinople) in April of 1081. In 1080 Nikephoros III Botaniates (1078-1081) is still Emperor. Alexios as a loyal general had been asked to stamp out the rebellion of Nikephoros Bryennios, which he did. Also in that year, Nikephoros Melissenos set himself up in Nicaea (Asia Minor, Turkey) and proclaimed himself to be Emperor ("clad himself in purple"); Alexios does nothing about this rebellion -- his sister Eudokia was married to Melissenos, and perhaps he realized it was the moment to make a move for the throne as well. In any case, Melissenos makes a proposal to Alexios in that same year of splitting the rulership of the Empire: Alexios in the West (meaning the Balkans) and Melissenos in the East (Asia Minor). Alexios says no, but that is because he is about to take the capital --he soon offers Melissenos the position of Caesar (second in the Empire), but then once Alexios is emperor he creates the position of "sebastokrator" to be higher than Caesar, which he awards to his brother, Isaac, thereby dropping Melissenos down to #3. Also in 1080 Suleiman had set himself up as Seljuk Sultan in Asia Minor; we also know that Melissenos appeals to him diplomatically in that same year, before Alexios takes over.

All of this together, it seems to me most probable that:
1) Once April 1081 had happened, why would Melissenos in his position of 3rd in the Empire be interested in, and be asked to, oversee and sponsor the resuming of official diplomatic relations with an Empire that the Byzantines had lost relations with for centuries? Wouldn't Alexios, trying to establish a new dynasty, be sure the embassy was proclaiming HIM as emperor, and not his so-recent rival?
2) If the Embassy arrives in Kaifeng in 1081 it does not necessarily need to have been sent in 1081.
3) Melissenos's position in 1080, and also his possible diplomatic options, make it much more likely that he would send towards China -- he makes an appeal to the Seljuks, why not try farther as well? He is effectively blocked from Balkan alliances by Alexios's position, so sending further afield in the East is perhaps the only option; and if he actually believes he can set up an Empire from Nicaea, it would be a typically intelligent Byzantine diplomatic move to get in touch with those who "have the back" of your nearest friend/enemy/ally/invader.

The figure of "the great official Nisiduling Simengpan" then, we should look for as an official in the circle of Melissenos and a part of the Byzantine elite in Asia Minor, but NOT part of the circle of Alexios Comnenos. Looking for a Western European answer is even further off the right track.

#34 William O'Chee

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Posted 17 April 2011 - 05:00 AM

There are only three Song-period records of embassies from the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire to the Song court in Kaifeng - once in 1081, supposedly the first official contact between Contantinople and China since 719, and two more in 1091. Details are given for the first embassy only:

元丰四年十月,其王灭力伊灵改撒始遣大首领儞廝都令廝孟判来献鞍马、刀、剑、真珠。

"In the 10th month of the 4th year of Yuanfeng (1081), [the Roman] king Mieliyiling Gaisa for the first time sent the great official Nisiduling Simengpan to present a tribute of horses with saddles, sabres, swords, and pearls."

The king has been identified as Melissenos Kaisar, i.e. Alexios Comnenos' brother-in-law Nikephoros Melissenos who rebelled against the emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates in early 1081. Nikephoros III ordered Alexios to lead his army to suppress Melissenos, but Alexios instead entered Constantinople and overthrew Nikephoros III. Alexios then became emperor but conciliated Melissenos by giving him the title Caesar. It was therefore in the status of a subordinate king, and not as emperor, that Melissenos sent the embassy to China. He may not even have been in Constantinople at the time.

The ambassador was identified as the French nobleman Simon I de Montfort (c. 1025-1087) by the Chinese scholar Yang Xianyi:

http://www.eurasianh...es/c01/916.html

However, there is no evidence that Simon ever left France, although his descendant Simon IV de Montfort briefly took part in the Fourth Crusade but left it before it sacked Constantinople.

Yang Xianyi also suggests that the sudden burst of diplomatic activity between Constantinople and Kaifeng was part of the same effort at finding allies against the Seljuk Turks that led to the First Crusade in 1095. However, this remains speculation since the objective of the two 1091 missions is unknown - the only details given are that the Song emperor gave the ambassador various gifts, including 200 bolts of silk, to bring back to 'Rome'.

Other than this, there are no other Chinese records relating to Europe in the period of the Crusades.

I am writing an article for the HLJ on Papal embassies to China, and desperately need a translation of the Chinese language article above. Can someone please translate this for me?




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