Article of the month: December

Renaud de Châtillon and pirates of the Red Sea

Article of the month

Black galley from 15th century. Renaud de Châtillon had similar.

In December of 1182, during a truce between Salah ad-Din and the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, pirate ships manned by an estimated 3,000 cut-throats suddenly started terrorizing trade and pilgrims in the Red Sea. It soon became clear that, to the astonishment of all, they were manned by "Franks" – that is Latin Christians. As such, they became the first Christian ships – lawful or otherwise – to be seen in the Red Sea in over 500 years.

Because there had been no hostile ships in the Red Sea for five centuries, the Muslim rulers of Egypt and Arabia had no warships in the Red Sea to deal with the pirate threat. As a result, within a very short space of time these ships had completely disrupted the rich and vital trade between Egypt and India. Politically more dangerous: they had also disrupted the pilgrim traffic that converged on Jedda from all over North Africa for the final leg of the haj to Mecca.

The Frankish pirates first seized the town of Aidhab on the Egyptian coast, a major embarkation port for pilgrims from North Africa. Here they sacked the unwalled town, captured large stores intended to provision pilgrims, and sent raiders inland to seize a caravan. The fleet next crossed the Red Sea and sent a raiding party ashore between Medina and Mecca, apparently looking for rich and undefended caravans, before for heading for al-Haura, north of Jedda. During a sojourn in the Red Sea lasting about three months, they succeeded in capturing roughly 20 merchant or pilgrim ships. They plundered their prizes, then burned the slower ones, while converting the faster vessels into auxiliaries for their own raiding activities. The number of unarmed merchants and pilgrims, men, women and children, abused, slaughtered or enslaved in the process went unrecorded but was undoubtedly significant. By early February 1183, however, their luck had run out.



Latest articles:

German in the Pacific area

Published: December 1, 2018

German influence in the Pacific dates from the early 1860s when the Samoan-based form Godeffroy & Sons established trading posts in many parts of Polynesia and Micronesia. Contacts were intensified and extended to parts of Melanesia (mainly the Solomons and the Bismarck Archipelago) in the 1870s. Following the German unification in 1871, a number of areas were subsequently annexed as protectorates and colonies, including the Marshall Islands (1878), North East New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago (1884), the Marianas and the Carolines (1898), Kiautschou (1898) and Samoa (1899).


Templar reign on Cyprus

Published: May 5, 2018

In 1191 King Richard the Lioheart seized the Island of Cyprus from Greek governor, de facto independent ruler, Isaac Comnenus. Richard soon realized his inability to govern the island as part of his kingdom in England and France and made the strategic decision to sell the island to the Knights Templar for 100,000 gold bezants. It was a wise decision which financially helped Richard a great deal, enabled him to fully focus on struggle to regain the Holy Land and ensured that the island was left in hands of loyal Christians always prepared to help defending the Holy Land. It seemed like a perfect solution.


The mystery of Roanoke, the first English colony in America

Published: May 1, 2018

When a relief party sent from England arrived at the Roanoke Colony on the East coast of the United States in 1590, they found the settlement neatly dismantled, and not a soul to be found. Some 115 men, women, and children had simply disappeared. The only clue was the name of a nearby island, Croatoan, carved into the trunk of a tree. And thus was launched one of history's great mysteries: The Lost Colony of Roanoke.


Romans in West Africa

Published: April 21, 2018

At its fullest extent, the Roman Empire stretched from around modern-day Aswan, Egypt at its southernmost point to Great Britain in the north but the influence of the Roman Empire went far beyond even the borders of its provinces as a result of commerce and population movements. Contrary to popular belief which holds that the Sahara Desert was an impossible obstacle to trade prior to the Middle Ages, the Romans had a robust and dynamic network of connections to Sudanic and Sub-Saharan Africa. Slaves, gold, foodstuffs, and spices were transported from complex urban settlements on the Niger river, onwards to oasis cities in the Sahara, before finally reaching Rome’s bustling ports on the coast of North Africa. Going in the opposite direction, gemstones, textiles, and coins reached cities along the fertile banks of the Middle Niger.


A brief history of the Knights Templar

Published: April 20, 2018

After the establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem following the First Crusade, pilgrims flooded to the Holy Land, but the situation was far from stable; many coast cities were under the kontrol of Arab emirs and the hinterland was full of bedouins. the secular authorities were unable to guarantee the safety of pilgrims who ventured out upon the dangerous roads from Jerusalem to other pilgrimage sites such as Jericho and Nazareth. In 1115 Hugues de Payens, a Burgundian knight, and Sir Godfrey de St. Adhemar, a Flemish knight, decided to join forces and form a band of sworn brothers dedicated to protecting pilgrims. They soon recruited seven other knights.