THE MIDDLE AGES
The period of time known as the Middle Ages in Europe was one of great change in the Near East. The expansion of the Turks and the decline of the Byzantine empire were major themes. A group of Turks known as the Seljuks were nominally under the control of the Caliphs in Baghdad, and after they defeated a massive Byzantine army in Manzikert in Eastern Anatolia in 1071 there was little to stop their expansion into Syria. Damascus was conquered in 1075 and in 1078 Jerusalem was under their control. This led to Pope Urban II to make his appeal to regain the Holy Land in 1095. Meeting little concerted resistance, a crusading army began a march to Jerusalem and conquered it in 1099. Along the way a string of forts was erected to control the overland route to Jerusalem. Though ostensibly to protect pilgrims, the crusaders found the land so fertile that they desired to stay. Perhaps the most famous castle they built was Krak des Chevaliers, regarded by many as the most impressive ĎEuropeaní castle in the world. In fact, there are many European castles in Syria that are architecturally in advance of contemporary European castles. Near Eastern stonemasons with a long tradition of military construction made a lasting impact on European architecture.
surprisingly, Muslims also placed emphasis on military architecture
during this period, and well known structures were built under powerful
rulers, particularly in Aleppo. Under the dynasty that takes
itís name from a powerful founder, Zengi (1128-1146) and his second
son Nur al-Din (1146-1174), Aleppo was under the nominal control of the
Sultan of Mosul and the Caliph of Baghdad, though control at this time
was more of a formality than reality. In stages Crusader positions were
challenged and Damascus was soon brought under their control.
Yet perhaps the most enduring legacy of the dynasty was the rise to
power of a nephew of Nur al-Din, a man originally chosen for his
compliance to his superiors, Saladin. A Kurd by birth, he was
assigned the task of bringing Egypt under control, and after he did so,
he ruled the most powerful nation of the Mediterranean. After the
death of Nur al-Din he was offered command in place of Nur al-Dinís
infant son. He quickly established his base in Damascus in 1176
and founded a new dynasty that bore the name of his family (the
Ayyubids). By 1187 he had re-taken Jerusalem. Saladinís
memory in the West is intertwined with his actions. Unlike other
warriors of the period he was known for his mercy, particularly to
civilian populations. Instead of wholesale slaughter - a common
occurrence after battles during this period - he freed thousands.
Preferring diplomacy and negotiation to war, many of his gains were
bloodless. By the end of the 13th century a new force rose to
challenge the descendants of Saladin, the Mamlukes. Their
political organization was perhaps unique in world history.
Originally taken as slaves from the Caucasus mountains and Central Asia,
they were officially slaves of the Caliph. They were effective
rulers in both Egypt and Syria, and effectively stopped the Mongols
before they reached Damascus in the Battle of Ain Jalud. At the
same time by popular acclaim they took the city of Damascus from the
last descendent of Saladin and began operations against the Crusaders.
Under Sultans Baibars (1260-1277) and Qalun (1280-1290) European forces
were finally driven out of Syria.
UNIVERSITY OF DAMASCUS
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