Cimmeria: Land of Mist and Myth

mistSun then set, and shade
All ways obscuring, on the bounds we fell
Of deep Oceanus, where people dwell
Whom a perpetual cloud obscures outright,
To whom the cheerful sun lends never light,
Nor when he mounts the star-sustaining heaven,
Nor when he stoops earth, and sets up the even,
But night holds fix’d wings, feather’d all with banes,
Above those most unblest Cimmerians.

– from Homer’s Odyssey, trans. George Chapman (Book XI)

Immediately after, Odysseus arrives at the dusky entrance to the Underworld.

The real people of Cimmeria (pronounced and sometimes spelt Kimmeria) are almost as cloaked in mystery as their land is in Homer. It is hard to find decent, non-racially motivated or Conan-related material on the internet about the Cimmerians. I use ‘Who were the Cimmerians?’ by Tim Bridgman for much of my information.

The first mentions of these ancient people (who existed largely from the 8th to 7th centuries BC) are in Assyrian texts. They are depicted as a powerful and mobile military threat to the Assyrians and to the proto-Armenian empire of Urartu. Durnig the 7th century, the great Assyrian king Ashurbanipal writes of a Cimmerian enemy. Ashurbanipal is known for collecting a vast library at Nineveh (which includes the Epic of Gilgamesh), for his popularity and for his cruelty to enemies (including putting a dog-chain through an enemy king’s jaw and forcing him to live in a kennel).

Ashurbanipal_by_Damnans

Ashurbanipal by Damnans

Ashurbanipal has some stern things to say about his Cimmerian enemy, a leader called Tugdamme. Ashurbanipal’s inscription is found in Babylon and addressed to the god Marduk:

Tugdamme…disregarded the oath of the gods…not to sin against the border of my land, and he was not in awe of thy honoured name. I overthrew him, according to your divine message which you did send, saying: ‘I will destroy his power’.

Being a mighty Assyrian, I’m sure he probably destroyed Tugdamme. The Cimmerians didn’t have all that much luck, historically.

marduk

Marduk; teaching a lesson some fool like a Cimmerian who doesn’t keep his promises

No one is quite sure of the Cimmerians’ origins but with a little help from Herodotus, we can piece together a narrative. The Cimmerians were probably a settled people, not nomads, and lived around the northern Black Sea area. The Cimmerians moved south across rivers, across the Caucasus and harried the borders of the Assyrian and Urartian empires. But the Scythians of the east ultimately expanded into the Cimmerians’ home territory and drove them away, perhaps assimilating some of them in the process.

Scythians

Scythians

Before the Cimmerians lost their homeland to the Scythians, Herodotus describes how the leaders chose not to flee with the rest. Instead, they fought with each other in equal numbers until all had slain each other. That way, they could all die and be buried in their native soil.

Konstantin Bogayevsky

Painting by Konstantin Bogayevsky

It is possible, although not universally accepted, that Cimmerian migrations after the Scythian expansion led to the Cimmerians moving much further into Europe and making them ancestors to Celtic or Germanic people. It is possible this connection was in Robert E. Howard’s head when he created his own version of the Cimmerian people, the barbarian race of Conan. Howard’s Cimmerians live in harsh, gloomy and mountainous conditions. They are uncivilized but they are generally noble and just.

conan the cimmerian by brom 2

Conan the Cimmerian by Brom

Perhaps Conan isn’t all that bad a way to at least start remembering the Cimmerians, since we have such meagre historical/archaeological evidence of the people. Howard’s Cimmerians and Conan are completely fictional, taking only inspiration from history. But then, so was Homer’s vision of the Cimmeria, right at the gateway to the Underworld. So shrouded in history’s silence and literature’s fancy, I suppose the Cimmerians are better remembered through myth and mist than not at all.

Foggy Mountain by leventep

Foggy Mountain by leventep

It was so long ago and far away
I have forgotten the very name men called me.
The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,
And hunts and wars are like shadows. I recall
Only the stillness of that sombre land;
The clouds that piled forever on the hills,
The dimness of the everlasting woods.
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.

– from ‘Cimmeria’ by Robert E. Howard

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Leaders of the First Crusade: Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon, from a fresco painted by Giacomo Jaquerio in Saluzzo, northern Italy, in 1420 ca.

Godfrey of Bouillon, from a fresco painted by Giacomo Jaquerio in Saluzzo, northern Italy, in 1420 ca.

Godfrey of Bouillon (c. 1060 – 18 July 1100) was the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and one of the main leaders of the First Crusade. He was a second son, born in an area now France and then part of the Holy Roman Empire. When Urban II preached the crusade, Godfrey and his brothers, Eustace and Baldwin, decided to gather armies and march for the Holy Land.

Godfrey played minor but consistent roles in the battles of the First Crusade. He was present at the siege of Nicaea and the battle of Dorylaeum and at the capturing of Antioch. Meanwhile, Godfrey’s landless younger brother Baldwin was making a name for himself by becoming Count of Edessa.

Godfrey of Bouillon became a crusading legend when he was one of the first over the walls at the taking of Jerusalem in 1099.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Godfrey of Bouillon

He was offered the crown and according to the later historian William of Tyre, he refused to wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns. Godfrey faced difficulties in his leadership at Jerusalem, first from the Fatimids of Egypt, whom he defeated, and then from Dagobert of Pisa.

Dagebert of Pisa sailing with the other crusade leader Bohemond

Dagobert of Pisa sailing with the other crusade leader Bohemond

Dagobert of Pisa had been chosen as patriarch of Jerusalem, effectively the church authority in the new Latin kingdoms. Dagobert pushed Godfrey to concede Jerusalem to his rule and there was a ceremony held on Easter, 1100, at which Godfrey allowed Dagobert to be his heir upon Godfrey’s death. Dagobert went campaigning with the other Crusader leader, Tancred (who was Bohemond of Antioch’s nephew) and unfortunately for the Patriarch, while he was gone Godfrey died. There are conflicting accounts of how Godfrey died, probably of some kind of illness, but his death prompted the knights of Jerusalem to offer the rulership to Baldwin, Godfrey’s younger brother, instead of Dagobert.

Stained glass window of Godfrey of Bouillon in the Belfry of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.

Stained glass window of Godfrey of Bouillon in the Belfry of Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.

Baldwin would become the first King of Jerusalem, but Godfrey would long be remembered as a crusading hero, showing up in Dante’s Divine Comedy as a warrior of Mars and in one of Tasso’s works of crusading romance.

Leaders of the First Crusade: Bohemond I of Antioch

Bohemond-I Bohemond (c. 1058-1111) was the son of Robert Guiscard (the ‘Fox’), a Norman ruler of Calabria and Apulia who had plagued the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I and taken Sicily. Bohemond travelled with his father on campaign against the Byzantines. When Robert Guiscard died, he left Bohemond as his oldest son from a first wife but the majority of his inheritances fell to Roger, his younger son from a more recent marriage. Bohemond was naturally annoyed and so he made war against his brother Roger. Eventually this culminated in Bohemond settling for the southern-Italian city Taranto and some other possessions, although Bohemond was still an ambitious man.

When the crusaders marched through Amalfi in Italy, where Bohemond was campaigning, he got caught by the crusading fever and began to ready himself right away. As one of the most prominent leaders of the First Crusade, Bohemond managed to cut a deal with the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I that he could go through Constantinople. He also lead the crusaders through Asia Minor, which was no easy task. The Byzantine princess and historian, a fourteen year old when she met Bohemond, wrote an engaging description of the Norman crusader: For by his nostrils nature had given free passage for the high spirit which bubbled up from his heart. A certain charm hung about this man but was partly marred by a general air of the horrible.

Bohemond, sketch by Lowgan (on newgrounds):

Bohemond, sketch by Lowgan (on newgrounds)

In 1098, Bohemond played a large role in capturing Antioch. He managed to get a wealthy weapons maker called Firouz to spy for him within Antioch. Firouz was an Armenian Christian who was unhappy with his position in the Turkish government. His wife had been seduced by a Turkish soldier, he had been fined and he was ready to betray the Turkish rule in Antioch. One day Firouz threw a rope ladder over the wall for Bohemond’s men, inciting the Armenians within Antioch to massacre the Turks, leading to the crusaders taking the city.

Boehmond captures Antioch by L.Gallait, 1840, "Croisades, origines et consequences"

Boehmond captures Antioch by L.Gallait, 1840, “Croisades, origines et consequences”

After he and Raymond of Toulouse secured Antioch against the reinforcements of the Turkish Atabeg, Kerbogha, Raymond left to pursue more territory and Bohemond stayed behind in Antioch. He kicked Raymond’s forces out, seizing the city for himself. But neither Raymond of Toulouse nor the Byzantine Empire were on Bohemond’s side. Bohemond’s family had harried the Byzantines and he was far too brash and Norman for the Komnenian family’s liking. He’d also regularly insulted Raymond, who believed he had found the Holy Lance – Bohemond wasn’t so sure.

At any rate, Bohemond got himself captured by a Turkish commander in 1100 and was held for three years before anyone ransomed him. In the meantime, his nephew Tancred had been ruling Antioch and irritating the Byzantines.

Tancred

Tancred

Suffering more setbacks to expansion, Bohemond returned to Europe in 1104 and began building an army. He told tales of high chivalry and adventure and he was so charismatic and illustrious that Henry I, King of England, forbade him from coming ashore since he would have such sway over the nobles. But he managed to to win the hand of Constance, daughter of the King of France. They had a son, Bohemond, who would later rule Antioch as Bohemond II.

The Marriage of Bohemond and Constance

The Marriage of Bohemond and Constance

Foolishly, Alexius used his new army of over 30,000 to try and attack Emperor Alexius I. He was defeated and had to give way to the Treaty of Devol in 1108, which was intended to make Antioch a vassal state of Byzantium and install a Greek Patriarch for the church there. For Bohemond, this was the end of his expansionist dreams and he died a few years later in Sicily. For his nephew Tancred, who had more than a pinch of his uncle’s zeal, the treaty was an affront to his right of conquest. So in actuality, Antioch was not made a vassal state of Byzantium until 1158.

Leaders of the First Crusade: Raymond IV, Count of Toulouse

Raymond_IV_of_Toulouse crus

Raymond IV of Toulouse, painted by Merry-Joseph Blondel (1840s)

Raymond IV of Toulouse (sometimes known as Raymond of Saint-Gilles) was an old, rich, deeply religious and well respected man when the First Crusade was preached in 1095. When the crusaders were pushed to swear an oath of fealty to the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, Raymond managed not to lower himself to the emperor – instead he swore an oath of friendship and was allowed to proceed with the crusade. The historian and princess Anna Komnene said that her father Emperor Alexius I had a ‘deep affection’ for Raymond (The Alexiad Book 10).

Raymond’s major role in the First Crusade comes when rumour reaches him that Antioch has been abandoned by the Turks. He rushes his army in, but found the city was still defended. Antioch was only captured after a siege in 1098 and after this the Turks, led by the Atabeg (a governor and soldier in charge of raising the Turkic crown prince) called Kerbogha. Kerbogha laid siege to Antioch to try and win it back from the Crusaders.

During this time, Raymond was ill but hopes started to look up when the monk Peter Bartholomew proclaimed that he had found the Holy Lance. Well, he had a vision of where the Holy Lance was and they started digging, finding nothing until the over-enthusiastic Peter Bartholomew jumped into the pit and digging a bit further managed to produce the Lance. Did he have it up his sleeve the whole time? That’s what some people were whispering. But Raymond was convinced.

Finding the Holy Lance, 15th century depiction

Finding the Holy Lance, 15th century depiction

Due in part to Kerbogha’s bad intelligence about the Crusader Franks being an undisciplined lot, and perhaps due to their high morale on finding the Holy Lance, Raymond’s men defeated the Turkish besiegers and Antioch was theirs. After Raymond left, the other Crusade leader Bohemond took over Antioch and Raymond was left to find other territories.

Citadel of Raymond of Toulouse in Tripoli, modern Lebanon

‘Mons Peregrinus’, the Citadel of Raymond of Toulouse in Tripoli, modern Lebanon, known as Qala’at Sanjil in Arabic

After Jerusalem was taken by the Crusaders in 1099, Raymond was offered to be King of Jerusalem. He seemed to feel it would be wrong to be a king where Jesus had died and so he refused the crown. Instead Raymond became involved in various territorial disputes with Bohemond, then participated in the disastrous Crusade of 1101 where the Turks destroyed the Frankish forces.

Raymond survived, however, and eventually in 1102 he laid siege to Tripoli, building the Mons Peregrinus in the process. In 1105 Raymond died. Tripoli was taken after his death and became the fourth crusader state.

The Holy Land – a narrative playlist