The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIV Century

II - 1 The Seeds of Hope

Cyprus and Armenia remained the only nations in the vanguard against the Mameluke Empire. Without the help of Europe or the Mongols they could not attain any lasting results. Accordingly, these two nations had to act with tact and prudence. However, King Henry of Cyprus interpreted prudence in a military sense. "The best defense was a powerful offense." In 1292 he made an assault against Alexandria with twenty-five galleons. It was an inestimable blunder, both militarily and politically. The Sultan of Egypt replied to this useless and dangerous bravado by ordering a fleet of one hundred galleons to attack Cyprus.
As a result of its allegiance with the Mongols, Armenia once again suffered devastation, massacres, and loss of lands (1293,1294). On the other hand, Cyprus was saved by a series of lucky circumstances. A continual change of Sultans, enthroned and deposed at the pleasure of the Emirs (heads of the armies), accounted for an unstable internal political situation in Egypt.(*30)
Al-Ashraf Khalil's dreams of grandeur were drowned in his own blood (1294). His successor was his brother, An-Naser Muhammed, a boy nine years old. After only one year he was replaced by Al-Adel Kitbugha, who reigned for only two years (1294-1296). He was replaced by Al-Mansur Lagin, who fought against the Armenians. Three years and two months later he too was assassinated (January 16, 1299). For the second time An-Naser Muhammed, now 14 years old, became Sultan of Egypt.
Meanwhile the Mongols, at peace after internal and external affairs were solved, thought again about possessing Syria and Egypt. The Sultan Khazan, along with his perennial allies the Armenians and the Georgians, invaded Syria with a powerful army (December 23, 1299). He defeated the Egyptians near Homs. In January of 1300 he also occupied Damascus. Upon hearing this news there was general rejoicing in Europe. Small Crusades were organized with the intention of guaranteeing the liberation of Jerusalem. Some considered Jerusalem already liberated. It was the common belief in Europe that the Christian allies were being sent by Khazan to occupy Jerusalem, which had already been in his hands for a year!(*31) The truth was that in February he had retired peacefully to Persia and that the Mamelukes had easily reoccupied Syria.
Khazan had promised that he would return after a short while. He kept his word. In 1303 he advanced with his customary allies. He almost made it to Damascus without incident, however, through an error of the ally's army he was unexpectedly routed by the Mamelukes of En-Naser. He returned to Persia with a decimated force.(*32)
At the loss of Acre (1291) many Christians continued to hold onto a seed of hope that some army from Europe or Persia might be able to liberate the Holy Land. With this last defeat of the Mongols they finally had to admit that their last hopes had been in vain.
In conclusion, they now needed to change their plans of action. They had to give up their passion of conquering the territories with armies. Instead they had to save the Holy Places by sincere religious devotion: no longer with warfare, but with peace.
Meanwhile in Egypt, the present situation resembled the recent past. There was no stable government. En-Naser was deposed for a second time and Al-Mudaffar Baybars II (1308-1309) was proclaimed Sultan. After only eleven months he was assassinated and for the third and last time En-Naser Muhammed was enthroned. This time he would reign for thirty years, dying in Cairo on December 21, 1340.
This Sultan, who experienced humiliation from his own citizens and fellow-believers during his youth, proved to be a wise leader and an observant and good Moslem. He went to Mecca three times. He transferred the most beautiful and artistic materials from the Crusader cathedral in Acre to Cairo in order to adorn the mosque built on the Citadel. He was rather tolerant toward the Eastern and Western Christians. He promoted the study of the sciences and the arts. He ordered many public works, re-activated the economy of the country and initiated foreign trade. He enjoyed one of the longest reigns as Sultan and was certainly the only one who reigned three times!
En-Naser also distinguished himself by receiving the ambassadors of the Christian kings with good will. He gave consent to their just requests of him. Above all he allowed Christian Religious to enter the Holy Places. He also entered into legal agreements with the Frankish Sovereigns of Naples which allowed the official and historical entrance of the Frankish Clergy to the Holy Places. Likewise he made arrangements for the Eastern Clergy to have a place in the three principal Sanctuaries of the Holy Land.


*30 - The Christian principalities of the Levant suffered continually from these ceaseless wars. However the situation in Egypt was not much better. Despite a certain satisfaction from the booty taken from the Christian armies and the euphoria of victory, there were problems. The killings of the sultans and their followers, the epidemics, and the long three year famine (1294-1296) caused by the low waters of the Nile, seriously affected the Egyptian people (cf. F. Tournabize, Histoire politique et religieuse de l'Arménie, Paris 1900, 226).

*31 - Some authors say that Hetun II, the Franciscan King of Armenia (1294), came to Jerusalem on this occasion with his troops and with the Georgians and that he lived there for about one year. Other, like Runciman, speak of Khazan coming for a third time to Syria and mentioning that he pushed on the Jerusalem in 1308 with his Christian allies (Runciman, A History of Crusades, III, 439). For further information on the European response at the reported victory of Khazan and preparations for another Crusade, cf. G. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, III, Quaracchi 1919, 30-31.

*32 - Tournabize, Histoire politique et religieuse de l'Arménie, 226: "Après avoir tenu ferme pendant un jour, un corps important de l'armée alliée, pressé par la soif, se pr´cipita vers la rivière qui coulait au bas de la montagne sur laquelle il campait. Ce mouvement fut la cause d'un désastre. La pluspart des Arméniens et des Tartares furent tués sur le champ de bataille ou périrent, soit en fuyent à travers les plaines inondées, soit en traversant l'Euphrate gonflé par les pluies".

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