Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 72

In the first millennium of the common era, Christianity had seemed unstoppable. Spreading outward from the Levant across the Mediterranean and Africa, covering the continent of Europe and the island nations of the North Sea. But the rise of Islam had claimed and conquered lands from the Arabian peninsula and Indian subcontinent, across northern African and up to the Iberian peninsula of Spain. By the late 11th century, the Eastern Roman empire no longer held any Italian territory and the language of the people had changed from Latin to Greek. Historians call this latter, eastern half of the formerly unified Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire instead for these reasons. Turko-Persian warriors for the Seljuk Empire threatened Byzantium’s already shrunken borders. 

The Seljuks (also spelled Seljuq) were Sunni Muslims, descended from former residents of the Göktürk Khaganate. In 1025 CE, about 40,000 Seljuk families moved from the Khazar region to Caucasian Albania, on the eastern border of Byzantium. There they established the independent Seljuk Empire in 1037, a place of Persian language and culture, patronized and encouraged by a Turkish ruling class. The Turks’ nomadic Steppes ancestors had lived in yurts as herders, with long distance kinship based societies held together by regular trade events and family celebrations. In Anatolia, Syria, and Azerbaijan this blended with Persian architectural influence in the construction of caravanserai, walled permanent market centers to protect merchant caravans. They could be used as overnight stops and were often guarded. Over a hundred caravanserai have been found in Seljuk lands

Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos petitioned Pope Urban II (1042-1099) for aid in reclaiming his lost Christian territories and beating back the Seljuk Turks. This was immediately reinterpreted as an invitation to go claim the Holy City of Jerusalem for Christians, but not necessarily for Byzantium. The Pope called for a Crusade or “war of the Cross” to depart from Rome on August 15, 1096. However, months before preparations were completed and royal armies were assembled, peasant “armies” of mostly unskilled fighters set out from across western Europe. Medieval depictions of Saracens – a collective term for Muslims, Arabs, Berbers, Bedouins, Egyptians, and more – were based on rumors and wild tales. While a few Muslims did live in some of the larger cities, most European Christians had never met one. Jews were the familiar “nonbelievers”; Saracens were exotic. 

The People’s Crusade was led at first by Peter the Hermit (it’s all in the name) and a priest named Folkmore. Their troops included a few minor knights, a lot of farmers, women, and children. They were a zealous lot, more bent on conversion than attack. Marching in Germany in May of 1096 this ragtag missionary force fell upon eleven Jews in the village of Speyer, and slayed them when they wouldn’t denounce their faith and proclaim Jesus as Messiah. The Bishop secured the larger remainder of the Jewish population in his villa, after securing payment in precious gems and metals. The crusaders moved on to Worms next, where again the majority of Jews were able to buy safety. 

At the end of May a Christian horde of 10,000 men, women, and children mauraders led by Count Emicho reached the cultural epicenter of Ashkenizi Jewry in Mainz, Germany, sometimes called “the Jerusalem of Europe”. Some of the crusaders believed a Holy War could not be won unless the Jews were forced to convert. In addition to their religious zeal, the peasant crusaders were probably motivated by more earthly desires. This was not a professional army with a quartermaster. Many had gone into debt to Jews in their homelands to buy arms, and by the time they’d reached Mainz, their original provisions had run out and they were starving and stealing from Jewish farms. The largest Jewish community in Europe crowded into the hall of the Archbishop of Mainz, after bringing him all their riches to pay Count Emicho. 

Emicho took the gold, then invaded anyway. The archbishopric gates did not hold, and the People’s Crusade stormed through. The Christians showed no mercy, killing young and old, men and women alike. A Jewess mother Rachel killed her own four children and then herself rather than let them be slaughtered by such avaricious cross-bearers. The halakist Kalonymus ben  Meshullam and countless others took his own life to deprive crusaders the satisfaction. At least 1,100 Jewish people of every age died on May 27, 1096 in the single city of Mainz. Various medievalists estimate Christians murdered between 4,000 and 10,000 Jews in the first six months of that year in these Rhineland massacres. 

Further Reading

“Saracens, Demons, and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art” by Debra Higgs Strickland, Google Books

Albert of Aix and Ekkehard of Aura: Emico and the Slaughter of the Rhineland Jews, Medieval Sourcebook

Solomon bar Sampson: The Crusaders in Mainz, Medieval Sourcebook

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 71

Rabbi Moses ben Kalonymus ben Judah of Lucca, Italy (probably) moved with his wife and children to Mainz, Germany around 917 CE. His family was prosperous and well respected among the Jewish communities of Italy, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald (823-877) asked Rabbi Moses to lead the community in Mainz. He was a Talmudic scholar and a halakist, an expert on the whole of Jewish law, from the Bible and Talmud to contemporary legal codes. His descendants became one of the most prominent Jewish families of the country, and in early Ashkenazim. 

Many Kalonymus family members in Italy and Germany were halakhists, cantors, scholars, and paytanim – liturgical poets. They authored important commentaries on the Torah and Gaonic responsa. The very first Ashkenazik text is attributed to the family (though there is disagreement over which rabbi within the family wrote it.) Although Jewish citizens in Christian lands were exempt from military service, some Kalonymus fought for the Holy Roman Empire. An aprocyphal story tells of one such soldier giving Emperor Otto II (955-983) his own horse at a crucial moment in battle, saving the day. The family was rewarded with lands and riches. 

Centers of Jewish life and culture in Germany were found in Mainz and in Worms. In nearby France there was also a great renaissance of Jewish poetry, creative literature, jurisprudence, rabbinical authority, and Talmudic study. These were centered in Troyes and Sens. A Jew in France by the name of Rashi wrote new Biblical commentaries designed to combat Christian aggression and antisemitism. He is still considered one of the greatest exegetes, or scholars of the true origins and meanings of the Bible, in history. A school of Tosafist scholars emerged to apply his new methods of Talmudic study, methods still in use today. Also in France, Rabbenu Gershom forbid polygamy, which some Jews were still practicing. 

Medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine River area of northern France and western Germany tended to be fairlysocial and homogeneous. The average size was 30-40 family homes. Guilds were an important part of medieval life for Christians, with guilds for professions, socializing, and salvation. The doctrine of Purgatory stated that an immortal soul did not ascend directly unto heaven, but served a time of penance in the land of purgatory. Christian guilds would hold masses for deceased members up to forty times, and say continual prayers for their souls, to speed their afterlife journey to heaven. Jews were often excluded from professional guilds, so relied more on each other. Rules within Jewish communities were enforced by the Bet Dien, with expulsion as the gravest punishment.

One of the most intimate exceptions to the separation of Christian and Jewish life came in the profession of wet nursing. Some Jewesses were wet nurses to Christian women, but the reverse situation was far more common. A wet nurse could either live-in with the family, or for poorer families who couldn’t afford that, the baby could live with hers. Halakah said that a non-Jew wet nurse must live in the Jewish family home for the duration of her services. Rashi wrote about the Talmudic instruction a wet nurse must be supervised in a Jewish mother’s own domain, bir’shuta. “But she should not give [the baby] to be taken to her [the non Jewish wet nurse’s] home, so that she [the wet nurse] will not kill him.” This was not necessarily a fear of infanticide; Christian babies who lived away survived less often too. The Catholic Church often opposed the practice of Christian wet nurses living in Jewish homes, but it was widespread. 

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Further Reading 

“Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe” by Elisheva Baumgarten, Google Books

Kehillat Israel – “Origins of Ashkenazik Jewish Culture from Judea to Poland” – website

Jewish Virtual Library – Kalonymus

Jewish Virtual Library – Ashkenazim

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 70

William the Conqueror invited Jews to England in 1066, one of his first acts as King. Up through through the 900s, the majority of world Jewry lived in Muslim countries under the Pact of Omar. But over the 10th and 11th centuries a number of factors contributed to the rise of Judaism in Christian lands. Some rulers like King William I encouraged Jewish immigration. Bishop Rudiger of Speyer welcomed Jewish merchants and artisans in 1084, and wrote a charter granting them certain lands and rights in Speyer for he “thought I would increase the honor I was bestowing on the place if I brought in the Jews.”  

There was also a period of Christian-Muslim wars called the Reconquista or reconquest of Christian lands ruled by Muslims. As the fractured nations of the former Al-Andalus fell to Christian armies, the Jewish minorities living there most often chose to stay. In 1066, Muslim Berbers crucified the Jewish vizier of Grenada, and murdered thousands of Jewish men, women, and children. The composition of the Muslim rulers had changed, and many Jews fled to neighboring lands. The Italian city-states were in general more tolerant of Jews, and more focused on trade and commerce. In 983 Rome revolted under Crescentius II, deposing Pope Gregory V and replacing him with Pope John XVI. When Crescentius was defeated, his pope was dethroned and Gregory V was restored. This was precursor to an upcoming massive schism in the Christian faith. 

Another war erupted in 1059, as the Normans and Byzantine empire fought over conquest of Italy. Let’s take a moment to marvel at the continued existence of the Byzantine empire more than a thousand years after the founding of Rome. The Byzantines were driven out of Italy for good in 1071. Normandy would continue to engage them in battles of territory in the Balkans for another hundred years, greatly depleting the treasuries of both nations and killing tens of thousands of soldiers on each side, or more. The overall outcome was a stalemate, and weakened militaries. The Normans lost Sicily to the Hohenstaufen dynasty, and Byzantium lost Asia Minor to the Turks. 

In the 12th century, the central European lands of the Carpathian basin became less nomadic and dangerous as nations were established. Saint Stephen I was crowned King of Hungary on either Christmas of 1000 or New Years Day of 1001. Hungarians, then also known as Magyars, were the last invading peoples to found a nation in central Europe. King Stephen I encouraged immigration to his underpopulated kingdom, needing farmers to till the fields and merchants to sell goods. He actively Christianized the pagan population and enforced religious observance among Christian subjects, but granted Jews the right to continue practicing the faith of their ancestors. 

Poland became a kingdom with the coronation of King Boleslaw I in 1025. His descendent Boleslaw the Pious, Duke of Greater Poland, composed a charter in 1264 granting greater freedoms and privileges to Jews in his territory than in any other Christian country. Moreover, the charter contained responsibilities Christians had toward their Jewish neighbors, such as intervening when a Jew was attacked. If a Christian failed to help his Jewish neighbor while crying out from violence, he would be fined. The charter further stated, “We absolutely forbid anyone to accuse the Jews in our domain of using the blood of human beings.” Poland made illegal a vile hate speech that had led to pogroms, riots, and massacres of entire Jewish communities in other Christian countries: blood libel. 

Further Reading

Jewish Virtual Library, Christian-Jewish Relations: Bishop of Speyer on the Grant of Lands and Privileges to the Jews (1084) 

“Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary” by Pál Engel, Google Books

“Scattered Among the Nations: Documents Affecting Jewish History 49-1975” by Jason Aronson, 1993 

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Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Toay, part 69

The Duke of Normandy was William the Bastard. He’d been raised by a single mother, with the social disadvantages of low birth, despite the fact his father was a duke. William sought a bride of good name and good wealth. He found both in Matilda of Flanders, who was even Anglo-Saxon to boot. When he first proposed, she scorned him, being of much higher birth. The accounts of the era are taken with some bemused skepticism due to the bodice-ripper romance style in which they are written. These accounts record that in a second meeting William grabbed Matilda by her braids and threw her; after that she was smitten. 

Pope Leo IX forbade their marriage at the Council of Rheims in 1049. The laws of consanguinity, literally “with blood union” or marriage with blood family, were at their strictest point in history. Relations within seven degrees were forbidden to wed without special papal dispensation. Duke William and Matilda of Flanders were third cousins. The couple wed in secret anyway, in defiance of the Pope. Once they had finished erecting and dedicating a monastery each, they were granted papal dispensation for their marriage after the fact. William took no mistresses and was faithful to Matilda, possibly to spare another child the shame of being a bastard. They had an affectionate marriage. William’s ministers reported he was a kinder husband and father than ruler and king. 

Matilda was independently wealthy and personally gifted her husband the flagship of his invasion fleet. Most of the ships had to be built from scratch as Normandy had no navy sufficient to ferry all the troops across the English Channel. William had soldiers from his territories of Normandy and Maine, but there were also allies, mercenaries, and volunteers from Brittany, Flanders, and northeastern France. Bad winds or good intelligence on Hardrada’s invasion kept them from disembarking in August when the shipbuilding was finished and supplies were loaded. On September 8th, 1066 Duke William left Normandy. Matilda became its regent and served that post popularly and well for the rest of her life. 

William and his troops, cavalry and infantry, landed at Pevensey and proceeded toward London. King Harold had given has roughshod foot soldiers and very few remaining archers a week of rest in the capital but now they moved south. The forces met on October 14th at 9 o’clock in the morning, and the Battle of Hastings raged on for the whole of that day. The English had the high ground up a ridge and formed a shield wall along its edge. When the Norman forces ran up against it, they were repelled back. The volunteers from Brittany balked and fled. Some English pursued them. Once out in the open, the English foot soldiers were easy marks for the Norman archers and knights. 

The Normans began to feignt flight to lure the English to chase after them. It worked. Again and again, English foot soldiers charged after “retreating cowards” only to be slain at the bottom of the hill. But in all the chaos the only man who mattered had taken an arrow to the eye. Harold Godwinson had died, either by arrow or horses or both. His mother offered Duke William Harold’s weight in gold to have his body returned to her, but she was refused. The witengamot met and decided at that point to revive the only other claim against Duke William I they could. They declared (but never crowned) Edgar Ætheling as king. William was furious. Would they have anyone as king to keep a bastard off the throne?

Further Reading

“Sweyn Forkbeard’s Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England, 991-1017” by Ian Howard, Google Books

Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 13, Mark of Schleswig

“Queen Emma: A History of Power, Love, and Greed in 11th-Century England” by Harriet O’Brien, Google Books

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 68

The Battle of Stamford Bridge took place less than a week after the Battle of Fulford. In September 1066, King Harold I force marched his troops from London to York to reinforce the battered army in the north. They covered about 190 miles in just four days. The Northumbrians who had capitulated to the Viking army of King Harald Hardrada of Norway and his English ally Tostig Godwinson (brother of the English king) had been ordered to deliver hostages to the Norwegians. Stamford Bridge was chosen as the rendezvous point. The English Harold’s troops were undetected until they were bearing down on their foes. 

The Scandinavian army was taken completely by surprise, and many were entirely unarmored for this hostage pickup. Historians aren’t exactly certain if there was a Stamford Bridge itself, what it was constructed from (wood, stone, or earth), and where it was. The precise battlefield location of Stamford is unknown and the archeological evidence for such a bridge is not strong. However, the historical records of the fighting definitely describe a bridge and seem to describe a wood plank style based on details I will address momentarily. There is some also disagreement about how the Vikings were assembled before the attack. The favored theory is that about half were standing on either side of the river bank when the English troops appeared. 

On that September 25th morning, 15,000 English horsemen, archers, and foot soldiers bore down upon 6,000 Norwegians. All those Vikings on the left bank were killed, almost immediately. But as the English tried to cross the bridge itself that choke point slowed them down. A single Viking axeman cut down 40 English soldiers by standing at the far end of the bridge and hacking anyone who made it that far. He was relentless and did not stop until an Englishman swam beneath the bridge with a spear and thrust it up through a gap in the bridge into the axeman’s neck, killing him. 

The Viking army, unarmored, formed a shield wall and relied on defensive maneuvers, too unprotected to risk attacks. A messenger was sent dashing away for help. Eventually they were reinforced by another 3,000 troops. These Viking ship guards led by Eystein did have their armor on, and most likely they accounted for the majority of the 3,000 Viking survivors of the battle. Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson were among the dead. Their invasion campaign had failed. King Harold I made peace negotiations with the survivors. There were so few, they needed only 24 of the 300 ships they’d arrived in to depart. 

The English hard fared slightly better. They had 5,000 lives lost in the battle, compared to 6,000 for the Vikings. At Fulford earlier in the week they’d lost another 900. Half of the English armed forces had died within a single week fending off the Norwegian invasion. They had succeeded at a tremendous cost. If Harold had been given time to rebuild his forces, he might have held his throne. If he’d had only one invasion to contend with, he proved himself capable of handling it quickly and decisively. But just three days after the Battle of Stamford Bridge, Duke William of Normandy landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex for his own invasion. Harold had to force march his troops 190 miles south back to London again to face it. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 67

When the people of Northumbria rebelled against Tostig, King Edward had replaced him as Earl with Morcar, son of Ælfgar, son of Lady Godiva. That sometimes traitorous Earl of Mercia (and before that Earl of East Anglia) had three children: Morcar, Eadwine, and Ealdgyth. After Aelfgar’s death around 1060, and around the time of King Edward’s death on January 6th, 1066, Morcar and Eadwine moved against Harold Godwinson’s appointment as king. They objected to the scope of imbalanced power the Godwin family held compared to others, especially their own. King Harold I won them over by making Ealdgyth his queen consort. Her first husband, King Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, had been killed by enemy Welshmen when Harold invaded Wales in 1063. 
Now Tostig Godwinson was more on the outs with his brother the King than either. Feeling he had equal claim to the throne, and perhaps still holding Harold responsible for spoiling the friendship between Tostig and Edward at the very end, Tostig began raiding the north of England and trying to muster support to overthrow his brother, without much success. Tostig sailed away; some stories say he meant to land in Norway and others that strong winds blew him off course. Either way Tostig found himself in the court of Harald Hardrada, King of Norway. Hardrada wanted the English throne and argued it had once been the promised inheritance of his ancestor, a question for legal scholars certainly. 

The two men talked. Tostig promised to drop his own pursuit and support Hardrada’s claim to the throne if they could form an alliance against his brother Harold. His motive was not power: it was personal. Hardrada equipped a fleet and they set out in August, landing in the north at the mouth of the Humber River on September 18th. Their armies moved toward York and on the 20th, they met the northern Earls Morcar and Eadwine. King Harold and the bulk of the army were in the south, waiting for the expected invasion force of Duke William I of Normandy. Hardrada showing up with 6,000 Vikings this soon was not expected. Still Morcar had been moving more troops to Fulford, the capital of Northumbria, in anticipation of some trouble. He had 5,000 troops to meet them. 

The landscape favored Hardrada and Tostig. Eadwine and Morcar had river on the right, swamp on the left, and marsh land to the rear preventing a hasty retreat. To make matters worse, the Danes and their mercenaries had the high ground. There was no tactical choice for the English troops but to hold the line. England hit first, going after weak points in the Viking line before they had time to fully prepare for battle. But this early success was quickly undone as the Northmen caught up. They pushed the English back nearly to the gates of the city. York surrendered on the condition the invaders would not enter the city – not pillage or plunder or worse. Their formal earl Tostig and his ally agreed, and their armies camped some distance from York. They made arrangements to pick up hostages from the city later in the week, a common practice to ensure conquered places stayed conquered. If they didn’t rebel, the hostages were well treated. 

The Battle at Fulford Gate was an unmitigated Viking success. Though each side suffered about 15% casualties, with 900 Vikings slain and 750 English, Hardrada’s army gained territory and their mission objective. In war you can lose more lives and still win, if you are willing to sacrifice enough of them. King Harold heard this news and force marched his troops about 190 miles from London to York, in just four days. When the Vikings went to meet up with the hostages from York, King Harold and his armies were prepared to give them the surprise of their lives. 

Jewish Persecution: 1 CE – Today, part 66

When King Magnus of Norway and Denmark died in 1045, he declared that his uncle Harald Hardrada should rule Sweden and Sweyn II should reign over Denmark. The two men had been allied in war against him, but on his deathbed with no better heirs he appointed them to stop the bloodshed. However they simply started fighting each other, as Harald went to war with Sweyn over Denmark. If you recall, Magnus and King Harthacnut of England had not so long ago signed a treaty over Denmark and Norway, before Magnus controlled both, that made each the other’s heir. Harald Hardrada wanted to recreate Cnut’s North Sea empire for himself, and he wanted the old treaty to mean that he had a claim to the English throne Harthacnut had once sat upon. Denmark was not his only goal. 

In either 1053 or 1057, Edward the Confessor learned about the existence of his relative Edward the Exile or Edward Ætheling (“crown worthy”). This other Edward was a surviving son of Edmund Ironside and had a stronger claim to the throne than the Confessor himself. King Edward invited his distant nephew back to England along with his Hungarian wife and young son Edmund, presumably to make the younger Edward his heir. Unfortunately Edward the Exile died almost immediately after arriving. The numerous natural early deaths (age 50 or younger) in the Wessex family line have caused historians to speculate on the possibility they carried one or more congenital disease. 

Meanwhile, William the Bastard Duke of Normandy had very good reason to think he was Edward’s presumed heir. During the English king’s falling out with his Godwin in-laws, the Norman Duke had held a Godwin son and grandson as civilized hostages to ensure no further misdeeds. William claimed that the childless Edward promised to make him, his cousin once removed on his mother’s side, the heir to the English throne. Some people immediately objected on the grounds of Williams low birth: his father was a duke and he’d inherited, but his mother had been a loose woman, an unmarried mother, a bastard maker. 

Construction on the cathedral King Edward commissioned was nearly complete on the December, 1065 day he walked through Northumbria with Queen Edith, Tostig, Harold Godwinson, and their retinue. Rebels rose up against them and Tostig cut down 200 men. He accused Harold of conspiring with the rebels, and of undermining his and Edith’s rule as earls. But no one would stand for Tostig and the king was forced to expel his favorite. He never recovered from the experience, becoming too ill to attend the opening ceremony of Westminster Abbey. He slipped into a coma, and regained consciousness only long enough to entrust England’s “protection” to Harold and Edith. This was a maddeningly vague word, not a helpfully precise word like “crown” or “throne” or “reign”. 

King Edward the Confessor died January 5, 1066 with no known heir. While the succession issue was usually resolved through primogeniture, inheritance by the oldest son, in truth English law did not say that it was an inherited power. Nor did it say the king could promise it away, to Normans or brothers in-law or by treaty. By law, the position of king was elected by the witengamot of clerics and secular leaders, all men. That body chose Harold Godwinson over the boy Edmund Ætheling and with that, the Earl’s legacy exceeded him. All the nobility were already gathered for the Christian Feast of Epiphany celebrated on January 6th, so the coronation of Harold II was held during that ceremony the very next day.