Thursday, November 7, 2019

How To Cure Lovesickness, According To The Malleus Maleficarum



In general, the Malleus Maleficarum (a 15th-century witch-hunting manual) is a horrible source for relationship advice. In fact, its passages can often be horribly sexist. For instance, the Malleus Maleficarum stated this lovely line: “it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in a contrary direction to a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives” (Part I, question 6). Yet, despite their poor credentials for giving relationship advice, the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum decided to touch on the topic of love, and not of the brotherly or sisterly kind. In particular, they sought to educate their readers of ways to escape the clutches of lovesickness.

To the credit of the Malleus Maleficarum, the text did admit that most cases of lovesickness, or excessive lust, longing and infatuation, were likely the result of natural and non-diabolical causes. Therefore, the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum addressed the issue in two ways—cures for natural lovesickness, and cures for witchcraft-caused lovesickness. Specifically, their aim was to educate their readers on how to avoid irreligious relationships and situations such as premarital or extramarital affairs. It was a serious topic for the authors, for they believed “if he cleaves to his earthly love, that will be his sole reward, but he will lose the bliss of Heaven, and be condemned to eternal fire” (Malleus Maleficarum, Part II, question 2, chapter 3).


Cures For Natural Lovesickness
Unmarried Sufferers:

1. For the unmarried sufferer of longing or unrequited love, the Malleus Maleficarum advised, “if the law permits, he may be married to her, and so be cured by yielding to nature” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3). The text also offered an experiment that doctors or parents could try out if they believed a person was made bedridden by lovesickness but would not divulge who it was that caused their affliction. For such a situation, the Malleus Maleficarum advised checking the patient’s pulse while various people came to his or her bedside. If the patient’s heart rate quickened when a certain someone entered the room, the doctor or parent could discover the object of their charge’s desires. If the two were then married in holy matrimony, claimed the Malleus Maleficarum, the lovesickness would be cured.


Married Sufferers:

2. For those who were already married or in situations where chasing their desires would lead to an irreligious or illegal outcome, the Malleus Maleficarum claimed that one option was to take medicine or medicinal supplements. No specifics were mentioned by the authors, but they did stress that when browsing through the dubious love-related potions and herbs, only “lawful remedies” should be used (Malleus Maleficarum, Part II, question 2, chapter 3).

3. Another self-help cure that the Malleus Maleficarum offered to those suffering from lovesickness was the idea of avoidance and busywork. For those beleaguered by unattainable or unrequited longing and desire, the authors suggested that such a person should distance themselves from the one they desired and then promptly delve into the most arduous and exhausting tasks available, so as to distract the mind through physical labor. By grinding away at such grueling chores, one could outwait the pangs of longing and survive lovesickness.

4. Group-oriented methods of curing someone’s lovesickness were also proposed by the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum.  One option was for the sufferer to be brought to a mentor or educator. Such a person, claimed the authors of the text, could chastise the victim of lovesickness about their misplaced emotions and use various philosophical arguments to guide them out of their dilemma. An argument favored by the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum for use against people suffering from unadvisable longing was apparently that “such love is the greatest misery” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3). Once the educator or mentor drilled that or a similar statement into the head of the suffering person, the victim of lovesickness, in theory, would be able to move on.

5. If the mentor or educator method seems ineffective, then perhaps the Malleus Maleficarum’s friendly conversation route will be more palatable. For this, the sufferer of lovesickness need only visit a good friend—preferably a friend who is a good liar. This designated friend was then supposed to take up the ignoble task of shattering the aura of love and affection that the sufferer had for the desired person. In short, the Malleus Maleficarum suggested that the friends of a lovesick person could slander and defame the person whom the sufferer fancied. If the person who needed slandering was a woman, the Malleus Maleficarum advised the dutiful friend to “vilify the body and disposition of his [buddy’s] love, and so blacken her character that she may appear to him altogether base and deformed” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3). If smearing the name of an innocent person is not your cup of tea, the Malleus Maleficarum also admitted that introducing the lovesick individual to other men or women was a viable option if such matchmaking would not lead to a sin.


Cures For Witchcraft-Caused Lovesickness

1. Unsurprisingly, as the Malleus Maleficarum was a witch-hunter’s manual, the text inevitably concluded that some cases of lovesickness and inordinate longing was not natural, but brought about by witchcraft. One remedy for such diabolical lovesickness was reportedly to utter certain sacred words, yet the authors of the text neglected to mention which words they had in mind. If simple holy words and phrases did not suffice, then this method could be escalated all the way to a full-blown exorcism, which, besides expelling demons, would apparently cure the witch-borne lovesickness.

2. If an exorcism seemed too much of a hassle for a cure to lovesickness, then this next option provided by the Malleus Maleficarum may be more appealing. According to the authors of the text, the sufferer need only call on their guardian angel in order to be saved from their pesky supernatural lovesickness. In all, this method seems much more appealing than that of the exorcism.

3. Lastly, if the guardian angel is on vacation or not responding, another option presented by the Malleus Maleficarum is for the sufferer of lovesickness to simply head to church and make use of the features that the house of worship has to offer. On these last few methods, the text proclaimed, “Let him daily invoke the Guardian Angel deputed to him by God, let him use confession and frequent the shrines of the Saints, especially of the Blessed Virgin, and without doubt he will be delivered” (Part II, question 2, chapter 3).


Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Tristan and Isolde drinking a love potion, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Adventures Of The Sailor-Donkey Of Cyprus



The Malleus Maleficarum was a 15th-century text that presented bizarre (but, unfortunately, influential) theories about witchcraft and magic, as well as commentary on subjects such as supernatural monsters, demons and other similarly diabolical creatures. Its authors, the inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, did not simply write a dry treatise on the convoluted assumptions of witch hunters and demonologists; they also spiced up the text with supposed first-hand accounts of what they personally witnessed as inquisitors, and they also recorded tales of folklore presented to them by their co-workers. Many of these paranormal yarns are depressing reads, as they often end with the death of an accused (and most likely innocent) witch. Yet, some of the tales preserved by the inquisitors are so bizarre that they come across as quite humorous, which is a delightful change of pace from the otherwise dark and frustrating sections of the Malleus Maleficarum. One such comical digression appeared in part II, question 2, chapter 4 of the text—which featured a sailor who allegedly lived as a transformed donkey for over three years on the island of Cyprus.

To set the scene, a merchant ship was said to have pulled into port at the city of Salamis, in Cyprus, where it loitered for a time to sell its wares and restock its hull with new cargo. The protagonist of this strange tale was an unnamed member of the merchant ship crew. He was something of an antihero, for he seemed to be a loner who was at the bottom of the ship’s hierarchy of importance. While the rest of the crew set about loading and unloading goods, or accomplishing other such tasks, our protagonist was given the menial chore of buying a batch of eggs. In pursuit of this goal, the lone sailor went not to the city market, but to an isolated house which was situated near the beach. Outside of this dwelling, the sailor found a woman who was strolling around her property and enjoying the seaside breeze. The unnamed woman, according to the story, was not all that she appeared. She was allegedly a powerful witch and a member of a significant coven operating in Cyprus.

As the sailor said his greetings and asked to buy some eggs, the woman sized up the stranger with the eye of an intuitive predator. She could tell that he was a disrespected loner who was far away from home—the type of person who might be overlooked if he happened to suddenly disappear. While thinking these thoughts, the woman agreed to sell some eggs to the sailor, asking him to wait outside while she gathered them from her house. After some time, she reappeared from her abode with a basket of very special eggs, which the sailor purchased without any second thoughts. Leaving the mysterious woman behind, the sailor returned to the port, and finding that his crewmates had not returned to the ship, he decided to wander around the docks.

The rest of the crew was apparently having a grand time in the city, and did not intend to return to the ship any time soon. As such, the lone sailor on the docks had only the basket of eggs for company, which inevitably made him bored and hungry. Before long, he decided to snack on one of the eggs, and he found the morsel so delicious that he ultimately ate the whole basket of eggs as he waited for the return of his crewmates. Yet, as mentioned earlier, these were very special eggs, prepared with extra care by an alleged witch. The sailor soon began to feel odd, and started to show peculiar symptoms. As the Malleus Maleficarum exclaimed, “behold! an hour later he was made dumb as if he had no power of speech” (part II, question 2, chapter 4).

While the unfortunate sailor was being attacked by the effects of the bad eggs, the other members of the merchant ship began wandering back to the docks. None of them made notice of the dazed and muted sailor who could now only move by crawling about on all four limbs. Although the lone sailor was not noticed by his comrades, he saw that the crew was finally returning to the ship. Still feeling odd, the sailor crawled his way back, probably hoping they had some sort of medicine or antidote on board for whatever ailed him. As soon as the sailor attempted to board the ship, however, his former crewmates looked on him with shock and annoyance—those nearby even went so far as to pick up sticks and brooms to shoo the poor sailor away. They called his such names as ‘beast’ and ‘animal,’ and before long our protagonist began to piece together what had happened. In the zoological sense of the word, the sailor had become a total ass.

The crew of the merchant ship apparently cared little for their missing crewmate, and they set sail despite the sailor’s absence from the ship. Stranded, the donkey-sailor wandered about Cyprus, searching for food and shelter. It was a rough life, for, as the Malleus Maleficarum rightly said, “since everybody thought he was an ass, he was necessarily treated as such” (part II, question 2, chapter 4). The sailor-donkey eventually realized that only one person on Cyprus would be able to see through his transformed appearance. Therefore, he returned to the city of Salamis and retraced his steps to the seaside house of the alleged witch who had caused his transformation. She agreed to feed and house the sailor-donkey, but there was a catch—in exchange, she wanted him to be her beast of burden for the foreseeable future. The sailor-donkey, so the story goes, accepted the witch’s terms and would spend the next three years hauling supplies, such as lumber and grain, back to the woman’s seaside home.

Life with the witch was a bittersweet existence for the sailor-donkey. On the one hand, he had been unwillingly turned into a beast of burden and was now living a servile existence on the estate of the person who had caused his transformation. On the other hand, the witch and her coven were the only people on Cyprus who knew the sailor’s identity, and while they were away from prying eyes, the witches would give the sailor-donkey the ability to speak. They even reportedly had quite amicable conversations.  

Despite being fed, sheltered and allowed to speak from time to time, the sailor-donkey was not happy. As the tale was recorded in a religious-themed text, it may not be surprising to learn that one of the main complaints that the sailor had was that the witches refused to allow him to go to church. During his fourth year as the witch’s beast of burden, this church-deprivation became too much for the bewitched sailor. As the tale goes, our cursed protagonist was one day hoofing through the streets of Salamis with the witch when he heard the sound of bells ring out from the local church. Hearing those beckoning tones, the sailor clopped his way to the location of the church. Yet, as he still apparently looked like a donkey, he feared to enter, lest he should be shooed away by the congregation. Therefore, he stayed just outside the entrance and knelt in prayer as best he could in his awkward animal form. According to the Malleus Maleficarum, he “knelt down outside by bending the knees of his hind legs, and lifted his forelegs, that is, his hands, joined together over his ass’s head, as it was thought to be, and looked upon the elevation of the Sacrament” (part II, question 2, chapter 4).

Unfortunately, the sailor-donkey was not allowed to pray for long, as the witch had followed him to the church and promptly started beating him when she discovered what he was doing. Fortunately, the outlandish sight of a praying donkey with outstretched hooves had caught the attention of some people on the street, and they subsequently saw the woman appear and smack the donkey with a stick as punishment for the animal’s show of piety. The onlookers found this whole situation incredibly suspicious and they decided to make a citizens’ arrest. They then dragged the woman and the donkey before a local judge. As the story goes, the accused witch confessed after being tortured, and she was able to change the sailor back to normal after they were both escorted to her seaside home. Once the sailor was released in human form, the accused witch was thrown back in jail. According to the Malleus Maleficarum, “she paid the debt to which her crimes merited. And the young man returned joyfully to his own country” (part II, question 2, chapter 4).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (The Taming of the Donkey by Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala  (1841–1871), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, translated by Montague Summers (Dover Publications, 1971).

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Hernán Cortés’ Bloody Sack Of Cholula



In 1519, Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico, leading a band of Spaniards into a precarious political environment that was dominated by the Aztec Empire. To Cortés’ good fortune, the Spaniards eventually landed in a region populated by the Totonacs, a people who grudgingly paid tribute to the Aztecs. By July of 1519, Cortés was able to bring the Totonac cities into rebellion against the then ruler of the Aztecs, Montezuma II. After founding the colony of Vera Cruz and building up his alliance with the Totonacs, Cortés headed inland toward the Tlaxcalans, the fiercest rival of the Aztecs at the time. As there were Totonac warriors—former Aztec tributaries—marching with the Spaniards, the Tlaxcalans reportedly believed that Cortés had aligned with Montezuma II, and therefore the forces of Tlaxcala were at first hostile to the conquistadors. In early September, the Tlaxcalans went to war against Cortés, attacking the Spaniards during the day and ambushing the conquistadors at night. Yet, after the Tlaxcalans suffered several costly defeats, they made peace with the foreigners. When the leaders of Tlaxcala subsequently discovered that Cortés was not aligned with Montezuma, but was instead stirring up all kinds of trouble for the Aztecs, the Tlaxcalans eagerly agreed to an alliance with Hernán Cortés.

Around the time that Cortés and the Tlaxcalans began negotiating, five Aztec diplomats from Montezuma arrived in the Spanish camp. The envoys brought with them gifts of gold, jewels and cloth for Cortés, and they also delivered a message from Montezuma, in which he reportedly promised to pay tribute to Cortés’ liege, Charles V, in exchange for the Spaniards never traveling to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). After peace was formally ratified between the Spaniards and the Tlaxcalans, some of the Aztec diplomats rushed off to inform Montezuma of the happenings. A few days later, more Aztec diplomats arrived (with a further helping of ornate gifts) and they delivered another message from Montezuma, in which he begged the Spaniards not to trust the Tlaxcalans. The Aztecs, however, were not the only ones sowing distrust—during Cortés’ alliance negotiations with Tlaxcala, the Tlaxcalans repeatedly advised the Spaniards not to trust Montezuma or his subject states. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, as the Spanish support for the Totonac rebellion had already shown, Cortés did not have Montezuma’s interests at heart—therefore he traveled to Tlaxcala, soaked up as much local intelligence about the Aztecs as he could obtain, and recruited 1,000 Tlaxcalan warriors to accompany the Spaniards on their journeys.

While the Spaniards were still in Tlaxcala, another message arrived from Montezuma, in which he said it was dangerous to spend so much time with the Tlaxcalans. Montezuma suggested that Cortés travel toward Tenochtitlan, where Aztec-aligned cities would take good care of the Spaniards. The Aztec ambassadors with Cortés pointed out the city of Cholula as an ideal destination—it was one of the most important cities in Mexico and it served as an agricultural, religious and military hub in the region. Most of all, Cholula was staunchly loyal to Montezuma. Upon hearing of the suggested city, Cortés sent a message to Cholula, requesting that leaders from the area come to meet him in Tlaxcala. The Cholulans, in response, sent messengers of low status to Tlaxcala with a message that the chiefs of Cholula would not be meeting with Cortés. Infuriated, Cortés sent the messengers home with a second, angrier-toned request that the Cholulan chiefs come to meet him. The Cholulans responded steadfastly that they would in no way send their chieftains into the territory of Tlaxcala, a long-time enemy of Cholula and the Aztecs. Hernán Cortés found this explanation reasonable and decided to instead bring himself and his forces to the Cholulans. The 1,000 Tlaxcalan recruits went with him.

When Cortés’ party neared Cholula, the city’s leaders and priests came out to meet the travelers on the road. The mood was said to have been joyous until the Cholulans sighted the large contingent of Tlaxcalans in Cortés’ wake. Upon this discovery, the leaders of Cholula forbid the warriors of Tlaxcala from entering the city. When the Tlaxcalans agreed to camp away in some nearby fields, the Cholulans, satisfied, let Cortés and approximately 400 of his Spanish followers, as well as his Totonac allies, enter into the city.

At first, Cortés’ experience in the city was pleasant. The Spaniards and their allies (minus the Tlaxcalans) were given lodging and plenty of good food. Once he had access to the Cholulan leaders, Hernán Cortés began making his usual requests of the locals—convert to Christianity and swear fealty to Charles V. The Cholulans refused the first command, but said they would think about the second. For two days, the cordial atmosphere lasted; local chiefs and priests met with the Spaniards, and the residents of Cholula crowded the streets and rooftops to get a glimpse of the strange foreigners.

The mood in Cholula underwent an abrupt change on the third day, however, when dignitaries from Montezuma arrived in the city. They presented another message from the indecisive Montezuma, in which he expressly ordered the Spaniards not to continue on toward Tenochtitlan. Montezuma’s ambassador’s also met with the local authorities in Cholula, resulting in a drastic change in the local attitude toward the Spaniards—they stopped bringing food, the chieftains no longer met with Cortés, and average Cholulans in the streets avoided the Spaniards like the plague.

Curiously, several local priests in Cholula eventually began mediating between Cortés and the leaders of the city, ultimately brokering a meeting between the two sides. In the parley, the Cholulan leadership explained that Montezuma had commanded the city to give no further food to the Spaniards and to not let them travel any further toward Tenochtitlan. In response to this revelation, Cortés merely replied that he would continue on the road to Tenochtitlan anyway, preferably the very next day, and that he wanted 2,000 Cholulan porters to accompany him on his journey. The Cholulans were reportedly startled by the reply, but they agreed to assemble Cortés’ escort at a designated courtyard near the city’s temple.

According to the story put forward by the Spanish sources, Cortés received an incredible number of revelations over the next few hours until sunrise. Cortés’ Totonac allies appeared, claiming that they had found hidden pits in the city that were filled with sharpened stakes, as well as rooftops stocked with stones that could be used as projectiles. They also claimed to have seen earthen and wooden defenses that had been recently been built in the city. Later, some Tlaxcalans who had sneaked into Cholula came to Cortés and informed him that they had seen signs of war preparation at the periphery of the city, including an exodus of baggage and civilians, as well as invocations to the gods for assistance in war. Finally, Hernán Cortés’ interpreter, Malinche (whom the Spaniards called Doña Marina), rounded up three witnesses—two local priests and an elderly woman—who allegedly all confessed that the Cholulans were planning to lead the Spaniards into an ambush of 20,000 Aztec warriors hidden just outside the city.

Although the validity of the evidence, and the motivations of the people who provided it, have long been debated over the centuries, Hernán Cortés and his fellow Spaniards were, at that time, apparently completely convinced that the Cholulans wanted to do them harm. In this state of mind, Cortés sent messengers to his Tlaxcalan allies, telling them to be prepared for battle, and to attack the city if they should hear a gunshot. Finally, before dawn, Cortés marched his Spaniards and Totonac allies to the courtyard where the 2,000 Cholulan porters were due to assemble. He set up troops at all entrances and exits from the courtyard and waited for the Cholulan leaders, priests and escorts to arrive. When these people began to pour into the courtyard, the atmosphere was reportedly joyous—the Cholulans were apparently in a giggly mood that morning and their steps were quick and purposeful. More than the required 2,000 appeared in the courtyard, filling up the space. Among the crowd were two of the informants that Doña Marina had brought to Cortés; these men were subtlety sent away by the Spaniards and were told to lock themselves in their homes.

Despite the ring of Cortés’ troops encircling the courtyard, and the selective sending-away of certain pro-Spanish Cholulans, the people who gathered in the square apparently took little notice of the vulnerable situation into which they had walked. The realization of danger, however, became all too apparent when Hernán Cortés started to speak to the crowd through his interpreter. He accused the gathered Cholulans of nefarious and treasonous acts against himself and his liege, Charles V—a crime that was punishable by death. After Cortés’ speech, the Cholulan leaders reportedly again claimed that they were only following Montezuma’s orders, yet it is unclear if they were referring to the withheld food or the planned ambush of which they were being accused. Whatever the case, Hernán Cortés found the explanation unsatisfactory and decided to show no mercy to the Cholulan chiefs, priests and warriors in the courtyard. As Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of the Spaniards at the scene, described the event, Cortés “ordered a musket to be fired, which was the signal we had agreed on; and they [the Cholulans] received a blow that they will remember for ever, for we killed many of them” (The Conquest of New Spain, chapter 83).

A large portion of the Cholulans in the courtyard were unarmed, as their primary purpose for gathering had been to serve as porters and luggage carriers of the Spaniards. As such, Hernán Cortés’ small band of conquistadors, armed with swords, shields, crossbows and firearms, cut through the thousands of Cholulans in the square with ease in a period of about two hours. In a later dispatch to Charles V, Hernán Cortés claimed that 3,000 Cholulans died in the attack, yet other contemporary 16th-century sources reported as many as 6,000 were killed.

Cortés and the Spaniards were not the only threat to Cholula on the day of the massacre—1,000 Tlaxcalan warriors were still camped outside of the city. When they heard the sounds of gunshots, the Tlaxcalans stormed Cholula to kill, plunder and take captives in the streets. As had happened before the attack at the courtyard, the Spaniards sheltered certain selected Cholulan priests and chieftains from the rampage of the Tlaxcalans, yet many of the other leadership figures in Cholula died in the massacre or on the chaotic streets. When word of events in Cholula spread back to Tlaxcala, more Tlaxcalan warriors arrived at the scene to take part in the sacking of the city.

After an unknown number of days, Cortés began to rein in the chaos. The people who were still alive in Cholula were pardoned and the Spaniards managed to convince the Tlaxcalans to return to the outskirts of the city. Cortés also reportedly asked the Tlaxcalans to release their Cholulan prisoners, although the degree to which this was done is uncertain. A new regime of chieftains and priests, returned to power in Cholula, in which the figures sheltered by the Spaniards during the attack now took prominence. Finally, Cortés was able to broker some kind of peace between the new Cholulan leaders and the Tlaxcalans who had just sacked the city.

After staying a reported fourteen days in Cholula, Hernán Cortés set out in the direction of Tenochtitlan. The alleged 20,000 hidden Aztecs warriors near Cholula—if they had really been there—had by this time withdrawn, and Cortés faced no further harassment during his trip to the Aztec capital. As was hinted earlier, the events at Cholula were controversial and much debated even in the day of Cortés. During the 16th century, Cortés’ fellow Spaniards questioned the reliability of the evidence presented by the Totonacs, the Tlaxcalans and the interpreter, Doña Marina, which led to the preemptive killing of so many Cholulans. Hernán Cortés’ comrade, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, was especially hostile to the insinuations of a bishop and Dominican friar named Bartolome de las Casas (d. 1566), who alleged Cortés “punished the Cholulans for no reason at all” and accused the Spaniards of “great cruelties” in the city (The Conquest of New Spain, chapter 83). In rebuttal to Bartolome de las Casas’ accusations, Bernal Díaz del Castillo praised an investigation done by a team of “some good Franciscans,” who interviewed the leaders of the new regime in Cholula, and the accounts they received from the city leaders were reportedly identical to the ones presented by Cortés and his companions (The Conquest of New Spain, chapter 83).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Storming of Teocalli by Hernan Cortes, by Emanuel Leutze  (1816–1868), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Destructive Trek Of The ‘Ten Thousand’ Mercenaries Along The Black Sea Coast



In late 401 BCE, an army of over 10,000 Greek hoplite mercenaries fought on the side of the rebel, Cyrus the Younger, against King Artaxerxes II of Persia at the Battle of Cunaxa, which took place somewhere in Babylonia. The rebel leader, Cyrus, was slain during the battle, but the Greek mercenaries survived remarkably intact. With their employer dead and the rebellion crushed, the Greek mercenaries found themselves in an incredibly precarious situation—they were deep in foreign territory beside an army of the king they had just tried to kill. Nevertheless, the two sides maintained peace for a time.

A truce was brokered and Artaxerxes II entrusted the handling of the Greek problem to several governing satraps, including Tissaphernes, a Persian noble who was often entangled in Greco-Persian issues. The mercenaries and the watchful Persians coexisted as the Greeks marched past several villages and cities, yet at a place along what was called the Zapatas River, the situation changed drastically. Both sides blamed the other for the breakdown in relations. Greeks accused the Persians of treachery, while Persians decried the mercenaries for looting. Both sides were partially right—it appears that Tissaphernes provided the Greeks too little food at too high a price, and the mercenaries scavenged for food out of necessity. Whatever the case, the Persians arrested twenty-five of the highest-ranking mercenary officers and executed them, some immediately, and others at a later date.

After the arrest of the mercenary commanders, a group of around one hundred surviving field officers gathered to elect new leadership. The two most important of these newly elected mercenary generals were Chirisophus (a Spartan who would command the front) and Xenophon, an Athenian who took command of the rear guard. That same Xenophon would later write down the experiences of these mercenaries, remembered as the Ten Thousand, in his Anabasis Kyrou (The Upcountry March/Expedition of Cyrus).  

Under the leadership of the likes of Chirisophus and Xenophon, the mercenaries began the next phase of their journey. Persians forces were now openly hostile to the Greek mercenaries, and the stranded warriors-for-hire were often stalked and harassed. Yet, the Greeks were not the only people endangered because of the breakdown in relations. As the Greeks were no longer provided with a supply line by the Persians satraps, local villages and cities (with their food, shelter and wealth) became more and more tempting to the army of hungry mercenaries. In consequence of their foraging and looting, the Greek mercenaries made many enemies during their journey through Mesopotamia and Armenia, and finally the shores of the Black Sea.

Around 400 BCE, the mercenaries reached the Greek-populated city of Trapezus, located on the southeast end of the Black Sea. By this point, the discipline that had allowed the mercenaries to survive Persian armies and local militias in multiple roadblocks, mountain ambushes, and full-scale battles began to diminish. Upon reaching the coast of the Black Sea, more and more mercenaries began to seek loot to the point of insubordination against their commanders. To keep the troops happy (and fed), the mercenary generals were now always on the lookout for places to pillage.

The city of Trapezus was spared, but the region surrounding it was foraged to the extent that scavengers sent out by the mercenaries were gone for more than a day before returning with supplies. Meanwhile, the mercenaries received one or two ships from the Trapezuntians, with which the mercenaries tried their hand at piracy and commandeered several unlucky merchant vessels. Eventually, the people of Trapezus thought of a way to gain a respite from their rowdy guests—they sent the mercenaries off to raid a rival people, called the Drilae. Half of the mercenary army accepted the plan and invaded the Drilae lands, where they besieged and broke into a stronghold and gathered as much loot as they could before being forced out by local opposition.

After the raiders returned from the territory of the Drilae, the mercenaries decided to resume their travels. They had not commandeered enough ships to carry the reported 8,600 mercenaries who were still fit to fight, but some of the camp followers and injured were able to sail alongside the marching adventurers. Departing from Trapezus, the mercenaries and their rag-tag fleet of commandeered ships reached the nearby city of Cerasus. This city, too, was mainly populated by Greeks. Yet, the rowdiness of the mercenaries was increasing and they showed this city less respect than they did Trapezus.

According to Xenophon, a certain Clearetus and a band of warriors went rogue and attacked some villages that were under the protection of Cerasus. Three elders from the afflicted villages traveled to Cerasus to report the incident. They delivered their message, but were soon after murdered by some of the guilty mercenaries. The mercenaries also caused trouble for the Greek inhabitants of Cerasus—Xenophon claimed that a mob of angry mercenaries tried to stone an unfortunate market official named Zelarchus to death.

From Cerasus, the mercenaries bumbled their way into the midst of a civil war among a group of people known as the Mossynoecians, which roughly translates to ‘those who live in wooden towers.’ The mercenaries joined the rebel side of the conflict and besieged what the Greeks thought was the capital city of the region. The mercenaries captured the city for the rebels, but not before looting the buildings and setting fire to its wooden structures.

After helping the rebel Mossynoecians win their war, the mercenaries continued their march westward along the coast of the Black sea. They then reached the Chalybian people, who were likely spared maltreatment because they were subjects or allies of the Mossynoecian regime that the mercenaries had just helped. After the Chalybians, the Greeks encountered a group called the Tibarenians. The appraising eye of the mercenaries recognized that the land would be easy for an army to maneuver over and that the Tibarenian settlements were poorly defended. It was a tempting target for even the most pacifistic of the mercenary leaders. The Tibarenians, who likely had heard tales of the devastation left behind in the wake of this mercenary army, sent out delegates to offer the foreigners friendship and military access. Xenophon (in third person perspective) gave a blunt account of the his and his comrades’ response to these delegates: “The generals wanted to attack the villages, to give the men a little something by way of profit, so they refused to accept the tokens of friendship which arrived from the Tibarenians, but told them to wait until they had decided what to do” (Anabasis Kyrou, Book V, section 5).

After delivering this eerie response, the mercenary generals called for animal sacrifices to be performed and had diviners read omens to determine if the gods were in favor of the Greeks attacking the Tibarenians. As stated earlier, the mercenary commanders were eager to attack, so when the first sacrifice and omen reading produced a disappointing outcome, they sacrificed a second time…and a third time, so on and so forth. Xenophon described their battle with the will of the gods: “They performed sacrifices, and eventually, after many victims had been sacrificed, the diviners unanimously declared that the gods were absolutely opposed to war” (Anabasis Kyrou, Book V, section 5). With no divine support for the planned raids, the mercenaries accepted the friendship of the Tibarenian people and marched peacefully through their land to reach the Greek-inhabited city of Cotyora.

The Tibarenians were lucky, for when the mercenaries reached Cotyora, they quickly began to cause drama. Although the city and the mercenaries initially exchanged cheerful greetings, held religious processions and competed in athletic contests, the warriors-for-hire soon began to cause tension by scavenging from the local villages. The mercenaries caused such a stir that delegates from the powerful city of Sinope (the colonizer of Trapezus, Cerasus and Cotyora) arrived on the scene and told the mercenaries to behave themselves or face dire consequences.

The army, however, did not change their ways. They went on to threaten Sinope to send a fleet of transport ships for the mercenaries to use, and later attempted to extort money from the city of Heraclea. Even after the mercenaries reached Byzantium—the seat of Spartan power in the region—the roaming army remained chaotic. The mercenaries momentarily occupied Byzantium, forcing the Spartan officials to seek shelter in a stronghold. Yet, there were smooth-talkers in the ranks of the mercenaries who were able to miraculously talk the Spartans out of imposing any drastic consequences. Instead, the army left the city and offered their services to Prince Seuthes of Thrace.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Sketch of the Ten Thousand reaching the Black Sea, by Bernard Granville Baker (1870-1957), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Anabasis Kyrou (The Expedition/Upcountry March of Cyrus) by Xenophon and translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • https://www.ancient.eu/image/128/map-of-persia-and-the-march-of-the-ten-thousand/ 
  • https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/the-battle-of-cunaxa-and-the-march-of-the-10000/  

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Vengeful Tale Of Hrafsi Ljotolfsson



Hrafsi Ljotolfsson lived in Iceland around the time of the Age of Settlement (approximately 860-930). His father, the blacksmith Ljotolf, had been given permission to settle on lands belonging to Kjallak, a powerful figure who claimed as his domain everything in Iceland between what was then called the Dogurdar River and Klofningar. Under uncertain terms, Ljotolf and his family settled down in a place called Fellswood.

Kjallak had at least eight sons, of which Eilif the Proud, Asbjorn Muscle, Bjorn Whale-Belly and Thorgrim Tangle-Weed are the most important for this story. It should also be noted that Thorgrim Tangle-Weed and Bjorn Whale-Belly both had children, the former a daughter named Alof and the later a son named Kjallak the Younger. Additionally, the younger Kjallak had a foster-brother named Oddmar, whom the Kjallakssons treated as one of their own. All of these people would play a role in the life of Hrafsi Ljotolfsson.

Ljotolf fathered far fewer children than Kjallak. The blacksmith had with him in Fellswood three sons—Thorstein, Bjorn and the aforementioned Hrafsi. The mothers of these brothers were not recorded, but Hrafsi’s mother was said to have been someone different than the woman who birthed Thorstein and Bjorn. Hrafsi apparently looked physically different than his brothers, and the talk of the town was that his mother had been a giant.

Kjallak’s clan and the smaller family of Ljotolf were able to coexist in peace for a time, but everything was about to change when Kjallak’s granddaughter, Alof Thorgrimsdottir, suddenly fell ill. Without any signs of warning, Alof became delirious or insane and the 10th-century Icelanders could make no sense of her unexpected mental breakdown. In the end, Thorgrim Tangle-Weed (Alof’s father) became convinced that his daughter had been cursed. This theory was supported by other members of the Kjallak clan and they soon pointed the finger at Hrafsi Ljotolfsson, who, after all, was said to have been the son of an otherworldly giant.

Hrafsi responded quickly to the allegations. He rejected the claims and proposed his own suspect—Oddmar, the foster-brother of Kjallak the Younger, who had apparently been with Alof when she fell ill. This accusation obviously soured the relationship between Hrafsi and Oddmar, but the scheme worked and Hrafsi caused enough doubt to be found not guilty of Alof’s madness. Consequently, Thorgrim Tangle-Weed must have felt socially or emotionally obligated to give Hrafsi some sort of apologetic gift for the wrongful accusation. Thorgrim offered him an island called Deildar Isle, yet the stubborn Hrafsi wanted money in addition to the island. While this was being negotiated, Thorgrim’s father, Kjallak, stepped in and forbid Hrafsi from receiving either the money or the island.

Outraged at this outcome, Hrafsi Ljotolfsson then escalated the already mounting tensions by reportedly stealing money from the Kjallak clan and then pointedly sailed with the plunder to Deildar Isle. Eilif the Proud, the mightiest of the Kjallakssons, went to the island presumably to retrieve the stolen wealth, but he was forced to flee after being hit by a non-fatal arrow. Despite the theft and archery, relations between the two sides seemingly calmed for a while. The families, thankfully, became cordial enough for Bjorn Whale-Belly and Bjorn Ljotolfsson to even compete in friendly games together. Yet, when Whale-Belly accidentally killed his opponent during one such game, the feud was destined to continue on its bloody course.

In response to his son’s death, Ljotolf mobilized his remaining sons and friends, preparing them for war. They convinced or tricked Oddmar to send Bjorn Whale-Belly into an ambush. Bjorn’s son, Kjallak the Younger, accompanied his father on the ill-fated trip. Despite the unexpected presence of the innocent son, Ljotolf launched his ambush and killed Bjorn Whale-Belly, likely doing the same to Kjallak the Younger. With the killings complete, Ljotolf and his sons went into hiding.

When the Kjallak clan learned of the deaths, they wanted blood—equal or more than that which Ljotolf and his kin had spilled. Eilif the Proud, who had by now recovered from his wound, led the war party into Fellswood and they scoured the region for their hated foes. Ljotolf and his son, Thorstein, were eventually found hiding together in a cave. Eilif reportedly slew them both single-handedly.

Hrafsi Ljotolfsson, now the last member of his family, was in no way ready to admit defeat. He reportedly infiltrated deep into the territory of his rivals, arriving at Orrastead, where Asbjorn Kjallaksson was hosting a feast for his father and other family members. In a likely-embellished feat, Hrafsi reportedly disguised himself as a woman, snuck into the hall while the revelry was in full swing, and audaciously murdered Asbjorn in sight of all the banqueters. To top off the deed, Hrafsi reportedly jumped out a window or smashed through a wall to make his escape.

The Kjallak clan was obviously going to take revenge, but they decided to take their time plotting the downfall of the giant-spawn, and therefore delayed their payback until the right moment. They eventually won over to their side a certain Thord Vifilsson, who had, until then, been a family friend of Hrafsi. Thord successfully hid his defection from Hrafsi and managed to lure the last Ljotolfsson to a vulnerable cliffside, where the Kjallak clan had set up an ambush. Unfortunately for Thord, the Kjallakssons launched their attack before their accomplice could flee the scene. Hrafsi, realizing that he had been betrayed, reportedly pushed Thord Vifilsson off the cliff in a rage before turning to face the ambushers. Eilif the Proud was present at the fight, but, for whatever reason, chose not to participate in the attack. Instead, he watched as his brothers and friends, in a tight shield-wall formation, advanced against the formidable Hrafsi. The ultimate fate of Hrafsi Ljotolfsson remains vague—the Book of Settlements, the source for this story, abruptly ends with “They couldn’t get at him until they’d crowded round him with boards. Eilif sat by idle when they attacked Hrafsi” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 111). As a supposed son of a giant, and a man who could reportedly break through walls, it is possible that Hrafsi escaped, but the odds of that are silm, and he never made a reappearance in the often-overlapping stories of the Book of Settlements.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Scene of Egil Skallagrimsson, by Johannes Flintoe (d. 1870), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Dramatic Downfall of Bishop Praetextatus Of Rouen



Praetextatus reportedly became the bishop of Rouen around 544. In his early years in office, he apparently was able to stay out of the limelight. Yet, by the 570s, Praetextatus began to dabble in the bloody Merovingian politics of the Frankish empire. Although the bishop had a network of supporters in Rouen and the church, his meddling in the affairs of the nobles would eventually leave him publicly criticized, exiled, and ultimately assassinated.

The downfall of Praetextatus began innocently enough—with him performing a royal marriage around 576. Medieval weddings could often be politically and genealogically complicated, but that particular wedding raised some eyebrows even among those living in the 6th century. The groom was Merovech, the son of King Chilperic of the Franks (r. 561-584) and the late Queen Audovera—the first of three women that King Chilperic would marry during his lifetime. After Audovera was set aside (and reportedly killed), Chilperic married a Visigothic princess named Galswintha. This woman, however, was soon murdered and Chilperic immediately married a mistress named Fredegund. Galswintha’s cruel death, however, set the different branches of the Merovingian Dynasty into decades of feuds. As it happened, Galswintha had a sister named Brunhild, who was married to King Sigebert, a brother of Chilperic. The brothers went to war and Sigebert was seemingly on the winning side. Yet, the balance of power suddenly shifted in 575, when Sigebert was assassinated, reportedly on the orders of Chilperic and Fredegund. While this tale may seem like a long digression from the marriage later overseen by Bishop Praetextatus, the relevance of the story will soon be made clear.

Brunhild’s young son, Childebert II, succeeded his father as a king of the Franks, and his position was supported by another Merovingian co-king of the day, Guntram (r. 561-593), who was Chilperic’s brother and Childebert’s uncle. Although Childebert II was able to escape the machinations of Chilperic and Fredegund, his mother Brunhild had less luck, as she was captured by Chilperic and banished to the city of Rouen. There, however, the widowed queen dowager met the unlikeliest suitor—her nephew Merovech, the rebellious son of King Chilperic. To bring the narrative full circle, it was Bishop Praetextatus of Rouen who oversaw the marriage of this odd couple in 576. When Chilperic heard of his son’s union with Brunhild, he promptly disputed the marriage and separated the couple. From that time on, Chilperic questioned the loyalty of his son, as well as that of Bishop Praetextatus. Merovech would spend the rest of his life trying to flee from his father’s influence and apparently wanted to reunite with Brunhild at her new base of power in Austrasia.

In 577, Chilperic and Fredegund turned their wrath on Bishop Praetextatus. The bishop already angered the powerful couple when he performed the marriage of Merovech and Brunhild. In addition, rumors began to spread that Praetextatus had been also guarding bundles of treasure belonging to the newlyweds. Chilperic wanted the valuables for himself, but the bishop had reportedly smuggled around three-fifths of the treasure to the court of Brunhild in Austrasia before the king was tipped off. Bishop Praetextatus was further accused of using the remaining two-fifths of the treasure left behind in his city to fund a bribery operation meant to support Merovech and undermine Chilperic.

When all of this was made known to Chilperic, he convened a council of bishops in Paris and asked them to judge Praetextatus, urging that the man be stripped of his bishopric and sent into exile. Among the bishops was Gregory of Tours, who wrote of the trial in his text, The History of the Franks. Praetextatus apparently had very few friends among the judges. Gregory of Tours claimed that he was the only bishop in the group to speak in defense of Praetextatus, yet he also claimed that he would not personally go against church law and precedent for Praetextatus’ sake. Despite these poor odds, Bishop Praetextatus apparently prepared an effective defense and had the initial advantage during the trial. With the tide turning, Chilperic and Fredegund reportedly began using other means to sway the judges—Gregory claimed that the king used threats and the queen tried bribery. In the end, Bishop Praetextatus publicly confessed to using Brunhild’s money to harm Chilperic’s interests. Praetextatus was subsequently removed from his bishopric and sent into exile on an island somewhere near Coutances. Although it is plausible that Bishop Praetextatus was guilty of what he confessed, Gregory of Tours claimed that the bishop only made his confession after being given false assurances of a pardon.

Praetextatus got off easy compared to the rest of Merovech’s faction. Chilperic’s wayward son was trapped by his father’s forces in 578. With no options for escape, Merovech apparently chose death instead of letting himself be captured.  His friends and companions, unfortunately, faced a much worse fate—mutilation, torture, and execution were among the punishments they suffered. Yet, as so many proverbs stress, those who live by the sword die by the sword. King Chilperic, too, met with a violent death in 584, when he was struck down by an assassin at Chelles.

When news of Chilperic’s death reached Praetextatus, the exiled clergyman returned to Rouen, where the locals welcomed him back with open arms and proclaimed him to be their bishop once more. Praetextatus then went to Paris to meet with King Guntram, seeking to gain royal support for his reappointment to the bishopric. Ironically, the widowed Fredegund and her young son, Chlotar II, were also in Paris, where they were being sheltered from the faction of Brunhild. When Fredegund learned that Praetextatus had returned from exile and was attempting to regain his bishopric, she tried to sabotage his plans. Yet, King Guntram decided that the years of exile were enough penance and he approved of Praetextatus’ reappointment to the bishopric of Rouen.

Unfortunately for Praetextatus, King Guntram sent Fredegund and her supporters to live at a manor near Rouen. The two were able to co-exist for a time, but they were known to get into arguments. Fredegund would apparently tell Praetextatus to enjoy his bishopric while it lasted, for she or her son would eventually send him back into exile. The bishop, for his part, would reportedly retort on such occasions that Fredegund’s political heyday was over and that she would be better to focus on her spiritual needs and motherhood. One such comment from the bishop was said to have particularly enraged Fredegund, ending the working relationship between the two figures forever. On February 24, 586, Bishop Praetextatus was reclining on a bench in his church when an assailant with a knife dealt the clergyman a fatal blow. Although mortally wounded, the bishop clung to life for several hours. Neither Praetextatus nor other clergymen in the church at the time could identify the assassin, but virtually everyone was said to have believed Fredegund was responsible for the killing. According to Gregory of Tours, Fredegund had the audacity to visit the wounded Bishop Praetextatus as he lay on his deathbed, which unsurprisingly caused quite a scene. Praetextatus reportedly told her, “as long as you live you will be accursed, for God will avenge my blood upon your head” (Gregory of Tours, History, Book VIII, section 31). The future did not play out quite as the bishop had hoped—Fredegund died peacefully in 597 and her son, Chlotar II, won the Merovingian family feud and executed the elderly Brunhild in 613.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Fredegund by the deathbed of Bishop Praetextatus, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971. 
  • https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/praetextatus-rouen-st 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Fredegund 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Brunhild-queen-of-Austrasia 
  • https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fredegund-c-547-597 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Chilperic-I