The Peaceful Liberation of the Holy Places in the XIV Century

II - 8 Motives which Guided the Sultan in the Transaction

It is natural that the events of history lose their freshness with the passing of the centuries. They come down to us faded, scattered, or even forgotten. When we look at them again they appear new and incredible.
The transactions of 1333 were not concerned with the simple acquisition of a thing made in a street or a bazaar. They were developed slowly over a period of time according to a political and historical conviction that is difficult to understand. It behooves us to unearth it and to evaluate what happened.
Those persons who have still not understood the natural and legal transfer of their Sacred Places to the Franks in the Treaty of 1333 should consider certain political, historical, and sentimental factors which guided the decision-making policies of the government of Cairo.
The first factor could have been that the Crusader mentality, which has been stressed throughout this paper, continued to exist in the minds of Eastern and Western peoples even after the fall of Acre (1291). Thus, for the Egyptian government, there were two kinds of Western Christians--those who were friendly to the government at Cairo and those who were its enemies. Among the friends, as was mentioned above, were Frederick II, Charles I, and Charles II (1248-1309), all of whom were Kings of Naples and of Sicily and who were also titular Kings of Jerusalem! In the Fourteenth Century King Robert bore all the same titles. He was now one of the contracting parties in the negotiations at Cairo. Thus when Sultan En-Naser agreed to the requests of the King of Naples, he was adhering to a political policy which had become part of the traditional policy of Egypt, namely to favor the friends of his nation. Had he himself taken the initiative to give the Sanctuaries of the Holy Land to a traditionally friendly sovereign, he could not have found a better Frankish king than the King of Naples.
A second important factor was the large quantity of buildings left by the Crusaders. The Crusaders left behind formidable constructions of towers, walls, and castles, with the ever-present secondary works of defense. They left behind the monumental churches and monasteries and the internal decorations of marble, mosaic, and paintings. These grandiose ruins of the past could be found throughout Palestine, Syria, and Phoenicia. They constituted an impressive historical legacy which was admired by local people and tourists alike. They were monuments to the power of the Franks. The government of Cairo was dealing with the descendants of those very same Franks!(*56) They were requesting from the Sultan only a minimal part of all that had been theirs just a few decades before. Moreover, this minimal part was not even final or exclusive!
A third factor, rather sentimental in nature but still influential in the dealings of 1333, was the great esteem which the Eastern Christians and the Moslems had for the Frankish Crusaders. In their opinion these were "the true and first Christians".(*57) All other Christians were fragments separated from the great majority, branches separated from the great tree. This conviction of the Moslems and Oriental Christians regarding the Franks was formed in the Twelfth Century when the Crusaders occupied the Holy Land. They observed that the Crusaders liberated and rebuilt the Holy Places, similar to the Catholic Christians who had built and cared for them from 335 to 1054.
To this religious sentiment we can add a comment of a more military nature. The Mameluke Sultans knew well that the Western Christian princes had fought for possession of Palestine and the Holy Places and that they would do so again. By themselves the Eastern Christians posed no military threat. Neither had they enriched the Egyptian treasury in time of peace. The Sultans of Egypt were not preoccupied with the Emperor of Constantinople and his small Byzantine Empire. They knew that it was poor and dying, attacked continually in the north by the small but fastidious Balkan States, in the south by the threats of the Turkish Sultans of Anatolia, and in the west by Greece, which was itself divided and contested by a constellation of Western powers. The real dangers to Egypt were the people of Armenia, Georgia, Nubia and Ethiopia,(*58) especially if they allied themselves with the Mongols and the Franks. But this danger was becoming increasingly remote. The other small Christian sects certainly posed no serious political threat to the Mameluke Empire, either internally or externally. However, on his part, the Sultan could not refuse to take care of his own subjects, even though they were poor, few in number, or even foreigners in his territory. These same religious people had lived peacefully for centuries in his territory. He had learned that the Western Christians were happy and content in their religious aspirations to have a place of prayer for their own use in the Sanctuary of the Nativity, the Tomb of the Madonna, and in the Holy Sepulchre. Likewise he knew that the Crusader clergy had lived together in these Holy Places in the Twelfth Century. Because of these human and historical considerations we must suppose that the Sultan was prompted to legally grant to the Eastern Clergy some fixed site in the Holy Places. In the absence of official documents or of conventual chronicles we will turn to the testimony of pilgrims to observe what the situation was at that time for the Oriental Rites in the three Sanctuaries. It seems that the pilgrims expressed no great concern over the matter. Nothing out of the ordinary is mentioned.


*56 - Some people may ask the following questions: a) Whether the Sultan of Cairo was convinced that the Rulers of Naples (and thus the Franciscans who were their protégés) represented the true legal successors of the Franks (government and clergy) of the two preceding centuries (the 12th and 13th)?; b) Whether these new parties to the negotiations were consciously assuming the political and religious role in the name of all the Frankish Christians?
The reply can only be affirmative. In the Fourteenth Century the climate of the Crusades continued to exist. It was not the same as the crusader ideal of the Twelfth Century, nor even the Thirteenth. The idea of Crusades was on its way to extinction, therefore their plans were more in the realm of talk than actual military expeditions. For this reason the Franks and the Saracens of the Fourteenth Century were not above reciprocal military action (either by land or by sea). The Christian people and clergy of the Holy Land and neighboring nations always paid the price for these skirmishes.
The question of the legal succession was as deep a concern for the local people of the later periods as it was for the negotiators of the treaty in 1333.

*57 - Iacobus de Verona, Liber peregrinationis, in Revue de L'Orient Latin 3 (1895) 197-198.

*58 - Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-bibliografica, t. IV, 41-42.

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