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The Crusades
September 21, 2005 6:23 AM   Subscribe

"In histories of the crusading movement the Second Crusade generally figures briefly as a fiasco..." From the stupendous six volume A History of the Crusades online at the University of Wisconsin.
At Fordham's Internet Medieval Sourcebook, one can see maps of all the early Crusades (as well as taking a Medieval Geography Quiz). Here is a "clickable" map of The First Crusade. Also at Fordham is a fabulous account of the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. At the Hanover Historical Texts Project read primary sources, mostly letters, about the Crusades, including this nice letter from Count Stephen to his wife Adele: "Next we conquered for the Lord all Romania." Manchester University has an extensive portal for information about the Crusades; and the Xenophon Group at the Military History Database has a great site giving overviews of all nine Crusades.
Finally, since everyone loves a picture, from the Bibliotheque nationale de France, here are some pictures from illuminated manuscripts. These ones of the sieges of Acre and Tunis are quite nice. Check out the archers!
posted by OmieWise (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Cool. And only one day after the 918th anniversary of the Siege's start!. Thanks!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:41 AM on September 21, 2005


Your post brings a tear to my eye for its quality. It makes my stodgy inner academic wish I was wearing tweed and smoking a pipe on some grey English campus. Thank you!
posted by Floach at 6:56 AM on September 21, 2005


What has always amazed me is the perceptions of the crusades in today's world. We in the west have these visions of gallant knights in glimmering armor raiding these barbarous arab palaces where white women were forced into harem servitude.

In the Middle East, when they do actually think about the crusades, which made very little mark on their history, their image is of these unwashed barbarians pushing their way into their centers of learning and knowledge imparting nothing but fleas and vd and then eventually assimilating or dying just as countless other invaders have done over the millennia.

The reality is somewhere in between. True, the Franks were filthy barbarians, but they were capable of learning and it was the crusades that brought to Europe both the plague that would give it a chance to start over from the ruins of the classical era and the learning that would allow it to spark this rebirth. it wasn't just silks and soap that the crusaders took back to their wives. The crusades created the modern west, and because of that the crusades have had a far greater impact on the Middle East than the residents there may think.

Oh, and great post!
posted by Pollomacho at 7:01 AM on September 21, 2005


Fantastic post. Really.
posted by peacay at 7:27 AM on September 21, 2005


Nice post.
posted by unreason at 7:28 AM on September 21, 2005


To illustrate Pollomacho's point, see The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades, which, when not decrying Islam as a religion of violence and war, defines the Crusades as "defensive actions."
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:38 AM on September 21, 2005


Lovely post, to which I'd like to add a resource I was looking at about the Children's Crusade. I believe this was the inspiration for Gian Carlo Menotti's The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi.
posted by alumshubby at 7:39 AM on September 21, 2005


OmieWise, thanks, entertaining post, particularly in view of current events in Iraq.

It seems not much has changed in the fundamental relations between the Christians and the Moslems over the last thousand years.

Nowadays, the Christians use armoured cars, rather than suits of armour. And of course they have the Zionists to use as shock troops (and very good shock troops, too). But otherwise, same same....

Pollomacho:
True, the Franks were filthy barbarians, but

Now that's the kind of precision I like to see in a historian!

it was the crusades that brought to Europe both the plague that would give it a chance to start over from the ruins of the classical era and the learning that would allow it to spark this rebirth

Well, no. The link between the crusades and the plague is extremely tenuous, at best. Regular trading carries far greater risks of disease transmission (especially via rats) than occasional invasions. Your claim that the plague was somehow a good thing is bizarre.

As for the learning, I think you must be referring to the Moorish culture in Spain, which introduced Arab architecture, mathematics, and literature to Europeans. The Crusaders were generally rather too busy killing, looting, and raping to do much in-depth study of Islamic literature.

The crusades created the modern west

Well, no. If those guys hadn't been so busy slaughtering Arabs for Jesus, they might have had more time and money for building roads and bridges back home, or sponsoring the Arts and Sciences, or otherwise doing something useful.

As it was, they didn't. Like Bush, they chose to spend their surplus on killing and destruction, rather than building things back home... a choice which possibly delayed the cultural and scientific developments of the Renaissance by several hundred years.

Recalling just how bad those developments were to be for the Church, it is legitimate to question whether this may have been entirely deliberate.
posted by cleardawn at 7:51 AM on September 21, 2005


Thanks for this omniewise. This is great.
posted by Verdant at 7:53 AM on September 21, 2005


great post, good links - thanks. Not all of these battles and sieges were knee deep blood baths, as we often think these days.

When Omar (or Umar), the Second Caliph, entered Jerusalem in 638, he treated the Christians and Jews with utmost respect. No one was harmed. When he met the Greek Orthodox patriarch, Sophronius, he assured him that the life and property of the city's inhabitants would be respected.

Umar was given the key to the city by Sophronius and invited to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Umar chose to pray some distance from the Church, so as not to endanger its status as a Christian temple.
posted by DrDoberman at 7:57 AM on September 21, 2005


I am just re-reading (for about the 20th time) "Knight Crusader" by Ronald Welch. It is a simply excellent novel about the crusades. So thanks for the timely post!
posted by Elpoca at 8:00 AM on September 21, 2005


Great, great post... And very interesting comments. Please keep talking, you historian types - I'm all ears!
posted by taz at 8:03 AM on September 21, 2005


A great post! Lots of resources of which I was unaware. There goes my day...

I think Pollomacho is pretty much right on in his comments. The link between the Black Plague and the rise of the new Europe is by no means bizzare, it is conventional wisdom among historians of the early modern era. The argument is that the reduction of population shook up the Medieval system and opened the way new labor and economic systems and new ways of thinking. It is one of the sweeping arguments that is hard to prove--I'll bet there is a big literature pro and con here, but it isn't really my field. But Pollomacho is not coming out of left field or something.

And I agree that the Crusdaes are pivotal in the creation of the modern world. Not because of the campaigns themselves so much, but in how they shaped European perceptions of the outside world. I am teaching a course on the conquest of Mexico this semester and I began with the Spanish reconquest of Spain, which was very much a part of the Crusades. The reconquista formed a lot of the early modern Spanish national character, and created a lot of the institutions and attitudes that Spain used in the conquest of the New World. Hell, Columbus sought a new passage to India so he could raise a fortune and finance a new crusade to "free" the Holy Land.
posted by LarryC at 8:09 AM on September 21, 2005


LarryC, killing 30% of a population through disease is not, in general, a great way to speed development. Au contraire, development tends to be faster in greater populations - hence cities tend to have faster development than villages.

The Renaissance began at around the same time as the Black Death, but that doesn't mean that they were cause and effect. The rejection of Christian omnipotence which was the core of the Renaissance philosophy was a result of cultural processes, particularly the rediscovery of non-Biblical literature and education (which had previously been banned by the Church), not a result of population decrease.

The argument that mass death is "good for" cultural development comes from the far right branch of certain University History departments. It belongs with the Bell Curve, Aryan archeology, and similar "science", in my opinion. The idea has also been used to claim that AIDS could have been deliberately developed as a means to speed development in Africa, for example. To me, as I said, that whole line of thinking is bizarre. David Icke stuff.

If you'd like to persuade me otherwise, you could always provide some concrete examples of positive cultural developments which accelerated as a result of massive population die-off.
posted by cleardawn at 8:31 AM on September 21, 2005


Cleardawn, you are given to the second wave of Western imagery of the crusades, the view that it was all slaughter and barbarism. The reality is that kingdoms were set up that lasted for decades. As crusader leaders passed years in the comforts of perfumed silks they learned that life like that wasn't so bad. Spiced foods tasted better than boiled salted mush. Thus, even after the crusaders had been vanquished, the trade routes remained, through the trade routes came the plague. Trade only comes from a demand.

Eventually as LarryC noted, Columbus set out to find new trade routes to fuel those desires that the West had acquired in the crusades. By the time of Columbus the land route was controlled by the Ottomans and they were proving to be truly difficult to do business with (plus they had exclusive contracts with Venetian trade houses with their open hulled mediterranean short haul fleets, something the rival Genoese houses such as the Columbus family, with their closed hull long haul fleets, wanted to break). Incidentally, by 1492 the Renaissance was in full swing, that is also the year that the Spanish finally booted the last of the A-rabs from Iberia, so the contention that the root of European learning was Spain is a bit of a twist. Spain does have some of the most obvious examples of Arab influence, many of which are not

The roots were in Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, Damascus and Baghdad where the learning of the classical era of Europe had never died, but rather just gone into a state of slow decay.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:49 AM on September 21, 2005


If you'd like to persuade me otherwise, you could always provide some concrete examples of positive cultural developments which accelerated as a result of massive population die-off.

I assumed pollomacho was referring to the idea that the drop in population relating to plague enabled workers who were previously tied to one baron within the feudal system to be able to seek work elsewhere on the basis that their skills were rarer and thus in greater demand than had previously been the case. This contributed to the end of feudalism.
posted by biffa at 8:57 AM on September 21, 2005


The rejection of Christian omnipotence

I'm way out of my depth here (which is not unusual) but anyway: Christianity is still with us and Kings are not. The plague helped upset the notion of the omnipotence of kings and the feudal system in much the same way that the development of things such as thalidomide and nuclear weapons have more recently called into question the omnipotence of science? On a much smaller scale and no derail intended, has Katrina called into question the omnipotence of the U.S. federal government or perhaps more rationally: the Republicans claim to superior security / disaster management skills?

Is there a general principle here: big bad things sometimes happen, and when they do people start questioning the system's ability to control and contain outcomes and events? They start looking for other answers, other ways of thinking?
posted by scheptech at 9:02 AM on September 21, 2005


cleardawn writes "LarryC, killing 30% of a population through disease is not, in general, a great way to speed development. Au contraire, development tends to be faster in greater populations - hence cities tend to have faster development than villages."

LarryC said nothing about innovation, which is what you seem to mean by "speed development," he talked about a shakeup in stultifying social structures.

Since you've asked for citations, but provided none for your own theory, I thought I'd give you a few:

David Herlihy wrote a series of well-received lectures on the Black Death, titled The Black Death and the Transformation of the West. Here is the page from Harvard University Press, hardly a bastion of the kind of "far right" history you seem to think responsible for this kind of theory, promoting the book. Note in particular the positive blurbs from other leftist social historians. Herlihy, not incidentaly, taught at Brown University, which is not at all known for a conservative approach to history. Note too that Herlihy's other book, Medieval Households (Studies in Cultural History), is precisely the kind of book that hitorians on the right tend to decry, since "cultural history" as a rule pays far too much attention to women, children and the lower classes.

Here is a review from The Washington Post, by their lead reviewer Jonathan Yardley (who I don't much care for, but still, he's no Charles Murray) of Herlihy's book. Note where Yardley mentions that Herlihy rejects the kind of Malthusian argument that might be considered rightist, but also where he fully supports LarryC's and Pollomacho's notion that the plague was so destablizing that it opened up opportunities for liberal change:
Suffice it to say that after careful scrutiny, Herlihy persuasively rejects the Malthusian argument that the Black Death arose in response to a human population expanding beyond the capacity of the food supply to feed it. He contends that what existed was "not a Malthusian crisis but a stalemate, in the sense that the community was maintaining at stable levels very large numbers over a lengthy period" and that the Black Death occurred entirely on its own[...]Herlihy argues that, catastrophic though the plague may have been, it had crucial liberating effects. By reducing the population so significantly, it shook Europe out of its Malthusian deadlock and brought about monumental change:
"A more diversified economy, a more intensive use of capital, a more powerful technology, and a higher standard of living for the people - these seem the salient characteristics of the late medieval economy, after it recovered from the plague's initial shock and learned to cope with the problems raised by diminshed numbers. . . . Depopulation gave access to farms and remunerative jobs to a larger percentage of the population. High wages and low rents also raised the standard of living for substantial numbers. They became acquainted with a style of life that they or their children would not want easily to abandon."
Its population reduced, Europe invented devices - technologies, as we now call them - to do the work of people. "Entirely new tools and machines" were devised and put to productive use. Out of unimaginable crisis, humankind found the raw materials and inner resources for rebirth. In the long view, the black Death was not annihilation but liberation. That is David Herlihy's view, and to the lay reader it is entirely compelling.
Since you like to cite the Wikipedia, I thought you'd like to see that it has very similar things to say in its entry on the Black Death:
The plague did more than just devastate the medieval population; it caused a substantial change in economy and society in all areas of the world. Economic historians like Fernand Braudel have concluded that Black Death began during a recession in the European economy that had been under way since the beginning of the century, and only served to worsen it. As a consequence, it greatly accelerated social and economic change during the 14th and 15th centuries. First, the church's power was weakened, and in some cases, the social roles it had played were replaced by secular ones. It also led to peasant uprisings in many parts of Europe, such as France (the Jacquerie rebellion), Italy (the Ciompi rebellion, which swept the city of Florence), and in England (the English Peasant Revolt).
You like to argue by assertion while accusing others of doing the same. In the future when you want to argue against mainstream historical theories (theories may be contested but still mainstream) by suggesting that they're marginal you provide your own citations.
posted by OmieWise at 9:06 AM on September 21, 2005


A 30% population loss is not great for economic development. It does however, precipitate changes in economic structures by necessity. For example, the medieval guild system which monopolized skilled labor training was forced to change, to speed up and it dispense those skills among a much smaller body of workers. This increased the value of their labor, and provided them with a greater degree of mobility in a heretofore very static society.

Mass death isn't "good" for anything. It does force significant changes on a society, however. We get to call it "progress" from our safe vantage point some thousand years hence.
posted by Verdant at 9:07 AM on September 21, 2005


D'Oh. Missed omniewise's excellent follow up on preview. Mea Culpa.
posted by Verdant at 9:10 AM on September 21, 2005


The end of Feudalism was one silver lining. The role of women went from pure chattel to functional member of the work force.

The monasteries where centuries of preaching against the vanities of bathing had seen a rather devastating effect of the plagues and were understaffed. Because of the great shortage of monks to copy books a new technology was invented to meet demand, the printing press.

Schools were founded because there were not enough teachers to go around and learning had to be collectivized. The Genoese, previously mentioned, invented a rigging system for ships that enabled them to be operated with fewer men, but capable of carrying more cargo, because they could not find the sailors.

There was, for once, enough food to go around in the urban centers, and therefore many more people could work in occupations that supplied no food benefit to the general population, such as painters and tinkerers.

Am I suggesting that we should eliminate 30% of our population, hell no. Am I saying that there were some good side effects to that particular event in history, like any event in history, yes.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:16 AM on September 21, 2005


We in the west have these visions of gallant knights in glimmering armor raiding these barbarous arab palaces where white women were forced into harem servitude.

Thus the Saga of Jessica Lynch.
posted by three blind mice at 9:22 AM on September 21, 2005


See also the Wikipedia First Crusade and Second Crusade articles, which Adam Bishop a PhD medievalists in Canada is mostly responsible for, both are Wikipedia featured articles. See also Children's Crusade.
posted by stbalbach at 9:23 AM on September 21, 2005


Great Post, thanks.
posted by safetyfork at 9:38 AM on September 21, 2005


Great post, Omiewise.
posted by maryh at 9:41 AM on September 21, 2005


The argument is that the reduction of population shook up the Medieval system and opened [...] new ways of thinking.

I'm not so sure that the plague was totally responsible for this Western technological epiphany. The West has been stealing adopting Eastern (read Muslim) teachings and innovations for centuries.

For example, look for the original beginnings of:
Philosophy (including Greek philosophy - Plato, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists, Empirical and Experimental Method), university systems (lock, stock and barrel), how to count (zero, Arabic numerals), algebra, trigonometry and spherical geometry, laboratory tools (like; test tubes, flasks, etc), optics (basic laws of light), hospitals and surgical tools, bibliographical tools (like; catalogues, bibliographies, dictionaries, bibliographical dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopaedias), organisation and administration of libraries with classification schemes, manufacture of paper, publishing (as a mass industry), bookshops, hydrology (encompassing various irrigation tools), navigation, compasses and calculation of direction, cartography, a basic set of astronomical facts and laws (most of which were plagiarised in their totality), a basic understanding of the human body, canons of medicine (ibn Sina's and al-Razi's), universal history (including the bad bits), sociology, how to be a mystic without freaking out and of course musical harmony (guitar and other stringed instruments and the technique of playing them).

No wonder the Western leaders were keen to head East with their swords drawn. It may have been in the name of Christ - but how prized was all the new technology of the 'savages'?
posted by DrDoberman at 9:50 AM on September 21, 2005


OmieWise, that's a fine post, and thankyou for the citations.

David Herlihy's Black Death and the Transformation of the West was indeed the book I had in mind (I'd forgotten the title) when I drew analogies with the very popular Bell Curve.

You'll note that even Herliye's publisher's page, to which you provided a link, has a review that states that Herliye's ideas are "Bold, novel theories, sure to be controversial..." and that the supposed parallel with AIDS in Africa is also prominently highlighted by the publisher.

Certainly, many mainstream media publications including the Washington Post had favorable things to say about the Bell Curve, too.

I don't find either book particularly helpful. But perhaps it's just a matter of taste.

To my mind, there is an obvious danger in asserting that mass population die-off somehow encourages social development. I feel that such an assertion is inherently reckless, and smacks of eugenics.

It's also entirely counter-intuitive, and, as Pollomacho demonstrated above, the "evidence" supporting the claim is laughable, but that's only a minor quibble. (Frequent bathing does not prevent plague. The plague did not improve food supply to urban centres. The printing press was not invented due to a "shortage of monks". What citations would you like to counter such drivel?)

You're quite right: I don't have references to a well-funded body of scientific literature to support my claim that population die-off tends to impede development.

It's just a hunch.
posted by cleardawn at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2005


Because of the great shortage of monks to copy books a new technology was invented to meet demand, the printing press.

Br. Spondulac: Hey Brother Bifidus, have you got a copy of Against Heresies? I'm going out to the pit and I need something to read.

Br. Bifidus: Sorry, no. Brother Palsify died of the plague just as he was about to apply the gilding to the capital headings.

Br. Spondulac: Curses!

Br. Bifidus: 'Swounds!

Br. Spondulac: 'Sblood.

Br. Bifidus: You said it.

(pause)

Br. Bifidus: Time to go invent the printing press then.
posted by palinode at 10:43 AM on September 21, 2005


Because of the great shortage of monks to copy books a new technology was invented to meet demand, the printing press.

Br. Spondulac: Hey Brother Bifidus, have you got a copy of Against Heresies? I'm going out to the pit and I need something to read.

Br. Bifidus: Sorry, no. Brother Palsify died of the plague just as he was about to apply the gilding to the capital headings.

Br. Spondulac: Curses!

Br. Bifidus: 'Swounds!

Br. Spondulac: 'Sblood.

Br. Bifidus: You said it.

(pause)

Br. Bifidus: Time to go invent the printing press then.
posted by palinode at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2005


cleardawn, the idea isn't that the survivors were smarter and more fit than their plague-stricken peers. [Indeed modern genetcis suggests that the survivors may have been more likely to have a single cystic fibrosis allele, making them a little more resistant to the plague. That has nothing to do with generally being smarter/fitter/more likely to reform society.] Rather, with a huge mortality rate like that of the Black Death, society is going to _have_ to change to deal with the consequences. That's way different from eugenics. The printing press wasn't "invented because of a shortage of monks" - but without huge monasteries full of book-copying monks, an invention like the printing press might be quicker to propagate, and there may have been more of a reason for people to look for a quicker means of making books. The plague caused a great deal of social disarray, and in periods like that, social mobility tends to increase - and increasing social mobility [along with the growth of a middle class] was one of the characteristics of the Rennaissance. To argue that these are "pro-eugenics" arguments is to totally and utterly misunderstand what eugenics is. Sure, anyone arguing that the Black Death alone caused the Rennaissance is ignoring all kinds of other social and technological trends. However, although some of Pollomacho's suggestions seem pretty contrived, the general argument makes rather more sense [mass death disrupts society, and societal disruption [as in/after war] often results in change], and additionally has nothing whatsoever to do with eugenics.
posted by ubersturm at 10:49 AM on September 21, 2005


DrDoberman: The West has been stealing adopting Eastern (read Muslim) teachings and innovations for centuries.

Well, the ancient Greeks weren't borrowing from Muslims, "Arabic" numerals are Hindu, and certainly the Middle East got some ideas back in a more advanced form from Europe than they were borrowed in. What is the origin of Islam, after all? But yeah, you have a great point, especially true after the crusades. Everyone's a thief adopter and an adapter and innovator, and it helps to be at the crossroads of the world. And maybe we can understand how the Christian West would not want to be shut off from the crossroads.

I wonder what the Byzantine Empire was thinking during this whole time. Historically it just seems like they just blew it century after century.
posted by fleacircus at 11:00 AM on September 21, 2005


cleardawn writes "You'll note that even Herliye's publisher's page, to which you provided a link, has a review that states that Herliye's ideas are 'Bold, novel theories, sure to be controversial...' and that the supposed parallel with AIDS in Africa is also prominently highlighted by the publisher."

The publisher doesn't highlight anything aside from reviews. Look again, and also, you might tell me why a "sure to be controversial" theory devolves into eugenics and "an obvious danger." I understand why you think that this is a political issue, I just don't think that you've got your facts or understanding straight, as seems to be usual with you.

By the way, you might want to read the FAIR site again, while there is one quote from the Post, from a conservative columnist, he doesn't say favorable things about the book, he asserts (incorrectly) that the findings are accepted and then says "it would be wrong--both intellectually and politically--to suppress them." Surely you agree with that. I don't find censorship particularly helpful. But perhaps it's just a matter of taste.

Also, although aspects of Pollomacho's argument may not ring true, the larger assertion, that great liberal social change occurred when European society and politics were destablized by the plague, is anything but "counter-intuitive." Herlihy's argument is actually quite progressive, and can be understood as: "Once people got a little taste of freedom because of the plague they were unwilling to go back to the previous model of feudalism." Only the most dogmatic Marxist would suggest that such an argument is conservative simply because it fails to credit the liberal changes in European culture to the liberating effects of mass movements.
posted by OmieWise at 11:09 AM on September 21, 2005


To make it "smack of eugenics" there would have to be some sort of insistence that the world was somehow made better by the cull. This is not the case with the plague. The world was changed, how could you argue otherwise? Social structures changed, thus, things are different because of it. Better? Maybe, maybe not, that is pure speculation, but to argue that we can't tread on discussing the social changes that came from an epidemic is because we might be treading into nazism is just moronic.

No, plague is not prevented directly from bathing, however general sanitation does. Monks also tended to do things like whip themselves until they bled and I'm pretty sure there was not a protocol for cleaning the gore off your flagella after you flailed yourself to hamburger before you handed it to the next guy. Also bathing gets rid of parasites, you know the major carriers of septicemic and bubonic plagues. Though, if the plague was indeed an ebola like virus as is now speculated, I'm sure that monastic life, what with it's tight living conditions and contact with the poor offered plenty of chances to pick up some spores.

I don't have references in front of me, no, I'm in my office, however, I'll go with it anyway. In 1000, Europe was a fairly rural agrarian culture. Towns were small and spread out. From 1000 to about 1300 the population began to boom, due to crop rotation and other technologies as well as a warm trend in the climate. The population grew steadily and became more centered on urban life. It reached a peak in 1315, the year the Great Famine began (remember that some areas of Europe have never reached the population levels they had in those times). Millions of people died in the famine from 1315 to 1317. People began turning to cannibalism or infanticide to prevent another mouth to feed (see Fairy Tales like Hansel and Gretel for the oral tradition from this period's horrors and Dante's Inferno for the literary). Now I'm not saying that these practices were caused by an immoral society and that we should prevent such horrors by culling the poor, just bear with me here, I'm just stating how things went.

Famines continued to strike again and again. Life expectancy in 1000 was closer to 40, by 1300 it was 30. In 1350, before the plague swept through a town, life expectancy was about 18 years. What caused the famines? Over stripped farmland, compounded rental increases merged with wage decreases forcing even more production increases to make up the difference. To keep up with population land was being stripped. Today a farmer can expect on average about 65 bushels of wheat per acre in the USA, in 1315 Europe the yield was down to around 1.

It got so bad that even Edward II reported not being able to find any food whatsoever for himself on a trip and that was during the harvest time. That was just the Great Famine. Only 10% of the population died in that one. Then came the plagues. Waves of them. The poor, too broke to eat were no match for the effects. Some places, like Provence lost more than half their people. They are still rural areas to this day. It wasn't just plague either, there was also typhus and typhoid, the wonderful urban diseases. Anthrax hit British sheep too at this time, eliminating a remaining food source as well as a major part of their economy.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:32 AM on September 21, 2005


a conservative columnist, he doesn't say favorable things about the book, he asserts (incorrectly) that the findings are accepted and then says "it would be wrong--both intellectually and politically--to suppress them." Surely you agree with that. I don't find censorship particularly helpful.

No, I don't find censorship helpful. But when people like you, and institutions like the Washington Post, use dishonest claims of academic consensus to promote books like the Bell Curve, I find it distasteful.

You, apparently, don't, and that's fine. Enjoy your meal.
posted by cleardawn at 12:26 PM on September 21, 2005


You, sir, are either intellectually dishonest or unintelligent, although I suppose you could also be both. You can take your pick.

I've never supported the Murray book in this thread or in any other forum, and I'm offended that you assert that I do support his work. (I also question whether you can read, since I clearly state that the Post columnist's assertion is incorrect.)

Your evocation of the Murray book is itself dishonest since the discussion is about an entirely different theory which you simply asserted to be of a similar caliber. Your continued attempt to tie the two together amounts to both an argumentum ad hominem (because you try to dismiss Herlihy's argument and those who claim it has merit by associating them with Charles Murray) and an argumentum ad nauseum because you seem to think that simply stating it over and over will make it true. Your failure to address any of the substantive critiques of your position makes me suspect that you don't know what you're talking about, and so rely on logical fallacies in order to have a reponse at all.

I know from other threads how you like to play around with logical fallacies; but even aside from that, your consistent refusal to address those issues about which people disagree with you (except by assertion) indicates that your arguments and positions are nothing more than dearly held folderol. I have yet to read an honest and informative argument that you've made on this site, although I love your continued calls for consensus (a word I'm not convinced you know the meaning of).
posted by OmieWise at 12:54 PM on September 21, 2005


Pollomacho, thanks for that post. I haven't laughed so much for hours. I look forward to your peer-reviewed research supporting your claims. My favourite bits:

plague is not prevented directly from bathing, however general sanitation does.


Great! General sanitation prevents plague!

Monks also tended to do things like whip themselves until they bled and I'm pretty sure there was not a protocol for cleaning the gore off your flagella after you flailed yourself to hamburger before you handed it to the next guy.


Yay, that must have been a major cause of plague transmission. Note: Sterilize whip before flogging self.

if the plague was indeed an ebola like virus as is now speculated

I must have missed that speculation. Silly me!

the famine from 1315 to 1317. People began turning to cannibalism


Wow, this gets better and better!

I'm not saying that these practices were caused by an immoral society and that we should prevent such horrors by culling the poor,

Thank God you made that clear! Otherwise I might have thought you were just completely full of shit.
posted by cleardawn at 1:02 PM on September 21, 2005


I think we're about to see a liberal get called out. Pay attention, you conservative whiners.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:04 PM on September 21, 2005


OmieWise, you defended the Bell Curve, and the Washington Post's review of it. Here's what you said:

while there is one quote from the Post, from a conservative columnist, he doesn't say favorable things about the book, he asserts (incorrectly) that the findings are accepted and then says "it would be wrong--both intellectually and politically--to suppress them."


And here's the full quote from the article:
"Both Murray and Herrnstein have been called racists," wrote Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (10/18/94). "Their findings, though, have been accepted by most others in their field, and it would be wrong--both intellectually and politically--to suppress them."


Do you see how you modified the quote to make it less offensive? Do you see why I'm unwilling to accept your idea of the world on face value, when you keep coming up with tricks like this?

As to whether either of us understand the word "consensus", perhaps you'd like to point to which "others in their field" support claims like Pollomacho's. I don't think you'll find an overwhelming number, in quantity or quality.
posted by cleardawn at 1:09 PM on September 21, 2005


cleardawn writes "if the plague was indeed an ebola like virus as is now speculated

"I must have missed that speculation. Silly me!"


"Professor Duncan and Dr Scott, authors of The Return of the Black Death, published last year, are adamant that these plagues were not bubonic but epidemics of viral haemorrhagic fever that used the CCR5 receptor as the “entry port” into the immune system. These lethal haemorrhagic fevers — whose modern version is Ebola fever — are believed to have occurred as far back as antiquity.They were recorded in the Nile Valley from 1500 BC and in Mesopotamia (700-450BC), Athens (430BC), the plague of Justinian (AD 541-700) and the plagues of the early Islamic empire (AD 627-744)."

"As a way to begin to understand the issue, the contested issue, of this modern diagnosis, let me talk about three recent attempts to discuss this thesis to come up with an answer to what really caused these deaths. The first is by two epidemologists, Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan, from Liverpool who wrote a book called The Biology of Plagues. Now, as I say, they’re epidemologists and they argue that medieval and renaissance plagues were not bubonic plague. Rather using modern modeling techniques to analyze the data, they constructed a pattern that they say is very much at odds. What they have done is began with an index patient which a primary patient, noted what they assumed to be the infectious period, and then checked the contacts to look for secondary and eventually tertiary victims. They used post-modern reports from the village of Penrith. This is in England in 1597 and '98 to construct what’s called a read frost model of the disease transmission basically by trying to count the number of contacts. The model will predict the expected duration of an outbreak for any given population. Now, they conclude that the model fits, that the model will hold for plague in Penrith. The issue is that the model depends on a person-to-person transmission and so otherwise it doesn’t work in the case of modern bubonic plague where in fact it’s rat to flea to human, so that the epidemiological model should be different they argue, so they say this can’t be bubonic plague. It just doesn’t work. So they say, in fact, that they believe it’s a viral disease, something they call hemorrhagic plague and it seems that what they mean by this is an ebola-like disease and, as I say, ebola-like because it’s easily passed from human to human and it doesn’t need a vector like a rat.

A second critic of this thesis, a historian from Glasgow, Sam Cohn, after examining mortality patterns in Italy and the low country has basically agreed. He doesn’t agree about pneumonic plague, but he notes that chronicles didn’t describe just bubos, these swellings, but they also talked about rashes, purpura, they talked about carbuncles. Further, he says, “by looking at the obit books --these are books that monasteries kept of the names of people that they should do prayers for the dead for, they’re handy in a lot of ways, but one of the things you can do is you can figure out sort of when the various patrons of the monastery died.” He shows that the mortality rate seems to be in months when you wouldn’t expect that bubonic plague would be at its worst, so as I say, he discounts the hemorrhagic thesis but he argues that it doesn’t seem to him at least that the pattern would fit Yersinia pestis. It doesn’t seem like it would be bubonic plague."



"There had to be some other means of transmisson than the rat/flea/human pathway. It made much more sense if transmission was from person to person - by an airborne particle - probably a virus, argue Duncan and Scott.

Medieval descriptions of the Black Death - where dark spots appear in the skin - sound more like viral hemorrhagic fever, similar to modern day Ebola, than bubonic plague, they say."


And of course Wikipedia. At least fucking Google before being so dismissive. Your ignorance shows otherwise.
posted by OmieWise at 1:21 PM on September 21, 2005


cleardawn writes "Do you see how you modified the quote to make it less offensive? Do you see why I'm unwilling to accept your idea of the world on face value, when you keep coming up with tricks like this?"

Um, no. There was no trick. I take that fact the Murray's a racist to be a given. That's why I see your assertions of my support for him as an ad hominem attack and why I think you're intellectually dishonest, since Murray has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Well, except insofar as the issue at hand now seems to be your intellectual incompetence.

Do you see how your insistence that I support Murray (or Cohen, for that matter) is undone by my dismissal of Cohen's assertion about Murray's science? Being against censorship is not being for Murray. I would have thought that that was also self-evident.
posted by OmieWise at 1:26 PM on September 21, 2005


I'm bored with this thread. I'm going to find some physics forums and tell 'em what I think. I really don't know much math or science, but so what? I will mock their arguments, judge them my own current political agenda, and question their motives for believing what they do. It should be entertaining, right up until they ban me for being a jerk. Wish me luck!
posted by LarryC at 2:02 PM on September 21, 2005


Geez, LarryC, you're such a racist!
(this is fun!)
posted by Floydd at 2:05 PM on September 21, 2005


Good luck, LarryC!

Don't forget to talk about self-flagellation a lot, too. That always helps. And remember to call people jerks, and incompetent, and intellectually dishonest, at every opportunity - it all adds up to a great discussion!
posted by cleardawn at 2:20 PM on September 21, 2005


OmieWise, fair enough, there is some legitimate speculation about ebola-like diseases as a cause of the Black Death, and I was unaware of it. I haven't studied mediaeval history for quite a while. Thanks for the information.

In my defence, however, from the Wikipedia article you quoted:

There is still a thriving majority of historians that support the bubonic plague as cause...

Incidentally, this does nothing to support your various claims about my alleged (by you) dishonesty, stupidy, incompetence, and so on. These are "ad hominem" attacks, just to inform you on that, since you seem a little confused about what the term means. If you like, you can go back through this thread and try to find similar claims made by me about you. Their absence might be informative for you.

Nor does any of this change the fact that your basic argument is deeply flawed. Whatever caused the Black Death, you have still presented no reputable evidence to support the claim that a huge die-off of population is likely to lead to rapid cultural advances, and, in the absence of such evidence, I continue to assert the intuitively obvious contrary position.
posted by cleardawn at 2:34 PM on September 21, 2005


cleardawn writes "Incidentally, this does nothing to support your various claims about my alleged (by you) dishonesty, stupidy, incompetence, and so on. These are 'ad hominem' attacks, just to inform you on that, since you seem a little confused about what the term means."

No, no, no, those aren't ad hominem attacks, go back and read the link I gave you. I refute your arguments, and I think you're either unintelligent, intellectually dishonest, or both. An ad hominem argument would be if I said that I didn't have to care about your arguments because you were one of those three things.

You make two different ad hominem attacks in this thread, one against Herlihy, and one against those people who at least suggest that Herlihy's thesis cannot be dismissed out of hand (of which I am one).

In the attack against Herlihy, you dismiss his theory because you assert, without evidence, that it belongs in the same camp as the Bell Curve and Aryan Archaeology. In other words, Murray's ideas=crackpot and eugenicist, Herlihy's ideas=like Murray's, Herlihy's ideas=crackpot and eugenicist. Now, to be fair to you, this is not strictly an argumentum ad hominem because it's supposedly directed to the ideas that Herlihy has advanced (even though you did not know they were his at the time), but in context, and since there is no evidence presented to the contrary, you seem to be suggesting that Herlihy's ideas should be dismissed because of the company people who hold such ideas keep. What's interesting is that you still have not said why you object so strongly to this idea about the plague, other than to say, now, that you just don't think that it's intuitive. I would think you could find some other way to refute a "deeply flawed" argument. And, you started out from a position that was much more strongly dismissive; I thought that you wanted to make an argument against Malthusian ideas, but you don't seem to know what those are.

The argumentum ad hominem against those who either agree with Herlihy's ideas, or who choose to think that the ideas of a professor of Medieval history shouldn't just be dismissed out of hand by someone who doesn't intuitively understand them, is a bit different and more straightforward. In that case, you suggest that Murray=crackpot and eugenicist, supporting Herlihy's ideas=supporting Murray's, therefore people who don't dismiss Herlihy's ideas are crackpot and eugenicist. (I'm sure we're adult enough to read through the contingent language.) In my case, you simply come right out and say that I'm a supporter of Murray and his defenders, despite the evidence to the contrary. The key to this being an argumentem ad hominem is that you present no other reason why people should reject Herlihy's ideas; in fact, when pressed, as in my case, you simply retreat into another logical fallacy, by suggesting, in a classic non sequitur that a review of Herlihy's work in The Washington Post was not worth considering because Charles Murray and his work had been defended in one line of one column (which you didn't even quote the whole of) in that paper.

Now, I did call you incompetent, and let me tell you why. You're incompetent because you don't do your homework, you argue from assertion and logical fallacy, and you don't seem to care enough about your opinions to either support them when you assert them or defend them when they are questioned. This thread has been almost a textbook example of these characteristics of your arguing style. Despite the fact that you and I have previously disagreed about logical fallacies to such an extent that I directed you to a website that clearly explains them all, you've used no less than three in this thread. Despite the fact that you disagree with Herlihy's ideas about change in the Middle Ages, you haven't presented one contradictory idea that wasn't grounded in your own "hunch." Despite the fact that I pointed you to the extensive Wikipedia article on the plague, which included a section on some of the newer theories for why the plague may not have been bubonic, you did not read it and so treated Pollomacho's citation of those theories with contempt.

I'm glad that you read the stuff I linked to, but I'm sure I don't have to explain to you why the sentence you quoted in your defense does not actually defend you at all. The question was never whether the Black Death did or did not cause bubonic plague, it was whether or not there was a theory of ebola-like origins. Another non sequitur.
posted by OmieWise at 4:25 PM on September 21, 2005


Richard Cohen is a conservative columnist? That must come as some surprise to him.

And remember to call people jerks, and incompetent, and intellectually dishonest, at every opportunity - it all adds up to a great discussion!

Aren't you the same person who said this?
OmieWise: You got me. That was indeed a Straw Man argument. They can be quite effective sometimes, if the Straw Man actually does correspond to what the person really does believe. It can sometimes make them reconsider. At least, one can hope.
Your statement implies that you're more concerned with rhetorical effectiveness than with, say, truth. That smacks of intellectual dishonesty to me.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:47 PM on September 21, 2005


Wow, I'm sorry this thread devolved into yet another tiresome shouting match, and I wish cleardawn ("Actually I don't have any evidence and I wasn't aware of the relevant facts you bring up, but I'll go with my gut feelings anyway, you fascist racist") would go back where he came from. I just dropped in to say this kind of post keeps me from abandoning MeFi entirely (as exposure to people like cleardawn tempts me to do) and to recommend the book The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. But while I'm here:

I wonder what the Byzantine Empire was thinking during this whole time. Historically it just seems like they just blew it century after century.


Excuse me? "Blew it" by surviving for over a millennium (considerably longer than I give the US of A) and producing stupendous art, great historians, and a model of literacy and civilization for every nation of Eastern Europe to emulate? I think you have another think coming. And may I remind you that it was the Crusaders (version 4.0) that sacked Constantinople and weakened the empire so that it eventually fell prey to Turkish invaders.

Congratulations for fighting the good fight, OmieWise, and try to ignore the maniacs.
posted by languagehat at 6:17 PM on September 21, 2005


Well, I'll skip the back and forth and name calling in the comments, but the original posting was outstanding. Thanks.
posted by etaoin at 5:18 AM on September 22, 2005


Just to point out once again: I haven't indulged in any "name calling" or personal attacks, here or elsewhere. I merely commented on the posts.

My opinions are not always correct. I'm here to learn, and I'm happy to change my views, given some contrary evidence - as I demonstrated here, when you presented some evidence about the ebola-Black Death theory.

But your personal attacks on my "intellectual honesty" and the rest of it don't do anything other than waste bandwidth. They won't make me go away, and nor will they make any arguments I make any less (or more) compelling.

It's still ridiculous to claim, as you did, that mass die-off leads to cultural advances. And yes, such a claim is typical of eugenicist thinking: they argue that the weak die out, leaving the strong to develop faster.

Such claims go hand in hand with theories about master races and Chosen Peoples, which personally, I find abhorrent.

How you feel about such opinions is your affair, but since you are evidently unwilling for some reason to explicitly distance yourself from them, then you can expect people like me to point that out - and I don't expect you to thank me for it.
posted by cleardawn at 8:20 AM on September 22, 2005


cleardawn : "It's still ridiculous to claim, as you did, that mass die-off leads to cultural advances. And yes, such a claim is typical of eugenicist thinking: they argue that the weak die out, leaving the strong to develop faster. "

Whether or not it is ridiculous to claim that mass die-offs lead to cultural advances, saying that "such a claim is typical of X" is a "guilt by association" logical fallacy. "Wagner was a great composer" is a claim typical of Nazi tastes, but that doesn't mean that people who like Wagner are Nazis. Especially, in this case, because the reasoning is different: folks here are claiming that mass die-offs create the space for social upheaval, eugenicists claim that the weak die out, leaving the strong to develop faster.

Using this style of argument, I'm apparently a xenophobe for thinking Hitler was a bad guy (after all, I dislike him because he killed lots of people, and xenophobes dislike him because he's German), a racist (I dislike Mike Tyson because he raped someone, racists dislike him because he's black), ageist (I dislike Albert Fish because he was a serial killer, and ageists dislike(d) him because he was old), etc. etc. etc.
posted by Bugbread at 10:29 PM on September 26, 2005


Hush, bugbread.

Yes, yes, you are right cleardawn. Everyone here secretly promotes eugenics, believes in master races, etc. I see that now, and I think everyone else does, too, thank goodness. (Ignore bugbread, he's obviously a raving loony.)

So, consider this job finished! Your super powers for fighting evil have triumphed once again, cleardawn, and are probably needed more sorely elsewhere.

Now, if the rest of you wicked people could please continue the conversation along former lines, I would be gratified. I know it's wrong, but I was really enjoying the delciiously evil discussion.
posted by taz at 10:53 PM on September 26, 2005


(No, taz, if we were to continue the delicious evil discussion, cleardawn would have to step in to abuse us of our evil beliefs)

I think what taz was trying to say is that we are actually vociferous anti-eugenicists, and this discussion is an attempt to understand the enemy in order to better combat it. Role-playing, as it were. So no-one here believes what they are saying, it's all a "what-if" case to better understand the enemy, and we're just saying "I think..." because it's shorter than "I, in my assigned acting role as a eugenicist, would think..." Just a shortcut so that we can more efficiently work through this distasteful exercise.
posted by Bugbread at 11:27 PM on September 26, 2005


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