Imagining the Enemy

“Disturbing news has emerged from Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople and is now constantly at the forefront of our mind: namely that the race of Persians, a foreign people and a people rejected by God, indeed a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God [Psalm 78:8], has invaded the lands of those Christians, depopulated them by slaughter and plunder and arson, kidnapped some of the Christians and carried them off to their own lands and put others to a wretched death, and has either overthrown the churches of God or turned them over to the rituals of their own religion.  They throw down the altars after soiling them with their own faith, circumcise Christians, and pour the resulting blood either on the altars or into the baptismal vessels. When they feel like inflicting a truly painful death on some their pierce their navels, pull out the end of their intestines, tie them to a pole and whip them around it until, all their bowels pulled out, they fall lifeless to the ground.” Robert the Monk’s History of the First Crusade, trans. Carol Sweetenham (Ashgate: Burlington VT, 2005), p. 80.

The race of Persians were seemingly among the most brutal conquerors.  Certainly, the Seljuk Turks (the real identity of peoples to whom Urban II referred) could be vicious warriors and killers.  The Turks had also pushed further and further toward Constantinople in the 11th century after they had taken control of much of the Middle East.  However, Robert the Monk’s version of Urban II’s sermon at Clermont in 1095 demonstrates that monastic historians of the First Crusade wanted to create a Feindbild, an image of the Muslim enemy for their readers.  In this case, the image of a savage group with a demonic hatred of God, Christians, and the holy places.

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