posted on Sep, 28 2011 @ 07:09 PM
Although Christianity and Islam shared the same forefather (i.e., Abraham), the struggle between these two siblings was never more evident than in the
Crusading era of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. When thinking about the Crusades, few people consider the crucial role women played in these
unstable times. In the People’s Crusade, although the women were just as ill prepared as the men were, they too set off for the Holy Lands in hopes
of washing away their sins and receiving glory from God for their effort to unshackle Jerusalem from the chains of Muslims. While the men made up the
fighting forces on both sides of the sectarian fence, the Christian and Muslim women played a vital role in the Crusades on the home front as well as
in the Crusader lands. Women such as Anna Comnena, Queen Melisende, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Shagrat al-Durr through their actions and lifetime show
not only that they are paradigms’ for their time, but also the butterfly effect they had on the history of the Crusades and world. Women were often
idealized as virgins, mothers, and even temptresses. Medieval women functioned in society as teachers, historians, writers, prostitutes, artists,
merchants, nuns, midwives and some were even depicted as “the power behind the throne”. On a micro level these women lived in arguably some of
the most volatile times in medieval history.
Anna Comnena, the Byzantine princess is a major source that contributes information about the reign of her father, Alexius I, as well as the first
Crusade. As a young princess, Anna received an admirable education. She trained thoroughly in the study of mathematics, the known laws of science,
history, and Greek philosophy. Although Anna’s mother and father prohibited her from studying ancient poetry, Anna found a way to study the
“forbidden” ancient poetry with one of the imperial court’s eunuchs. Therefore her drive for a sense of higher learning early in life surely
paid its dividends. Anna boasted an unexpectedly well-rounded education that undoubtedly made her one of most learned women of that time. Anna was
the only child for years, and she expected to rule over Byzantium upon her father’s death. Unfortunate for her, the birth of her first brother
deflated those dreams. She would later be the eldest of nine children.
In I097, Anna Comnena at the age of 14 married an already accomplished historian Nikephoros Bryennios. Although, Anna would claim that the marriage
was a political union rather than one of love, their union would last for 40 years. Being a historian, Nikephoros Bryennios had been working on an
essay, which he referred to as “Material For History”. It focused solely on the reign of Alexius I. Nikephoros Bryennios would die before its
completion. At the age of 55, Anna took it upon herself to complete the work of her late husband, but she would change the name to the Alexiad. The
significance of their union coupled with her background of education, and his background of a historian left a timeless collection of Crusade
The Alexiad describes the military and political history of the Byzantine Empire during the reign of her father (1081-1118). Crusade history is
fortunate once again with Anna’s education. Her first person point of view into her father’s lifestyle, feelings, and convictions leaves
historians with a profound insight into her father’s reign. The Alexiad is made up of 15 books that provide clear details of historical accounts
that took place from when she was a child until the death of her father. In the Alexiad, she vividly describes weaponry, military tactics, strategic
battle formations, and historical battles. Anna writes, “When the Franks became aware of the Sultan's presence, they armed themselves fully and
rushed upon the Turks like lions. And then a severe and terrible battle began. Throughout the whole day the fate of the balance swayed equally for
both sides, but when the sun set the Turks were routed and night decided the battle. Many fell on either side and yet a greater number were wounded.
After gaining this brilliant victory the Franks fixed many of the Turks' heads on their spears and marched back carrying these like standards, in
order that the barbarians should see from a distance what had happened, and lose heart through being defeated at the start, and therefore refrain from
a strenuous battle’. She gave a detailed insight into how she perceived warfare and the battle itself between the Franks and Seljuq Turks.
Additionally, she mocks the victors with the line about “marching with the heads of decapitated soldiers” as if the defeated didn’t deserve
humanity. As a woman, in her time she understood from her own eyes what inhumane treatment was. The verbiage she chose when she described how the
Franks armed themselves fully and rushed upon the Turks like Lions, paints a vivid picture in the eyes of its readers.
Anna lived in an era where women were expected to remain in their quarters and attend to family and religious matters, yet because of her uniqueness
and rebellious attitude toward the standard way, make Anna’s priceless contributions of valid historical accounts of the first Crusade instrumental.
Not only has it had a tremendous impact on the history of the first Crusade, it also brings enlightenment and memorializes Anna as a key historical
Queen Melisende of Jerusalem played a significant role in the Crusades. She was the elder daughter of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem. Melisende is one
of the most influential women of the crusading era for many reasons. Her role throughout much of the twelfth century over the crusader Kingdom of
Jerusalem was one of her marks on Crusade history. In 1129 King Baldwin II brought over Fulk V of Anjou from France to marry his daughter. His
reasoning was, upon his death a male would succeed and rule over Jerusalem. Before King Baldwin’s death the king altered his plan and suggested
that the two rule jointly over Jerusalem. After the death of her father, now Queen Melisende and her husband jointly ruled over Jerusalem. In
reality Fulk V of Anjou dominated the Kingdom during the early part of their reign. In the 1130’s, the question of infidelity came up on
Melisende’s part, which provoked a war between the King and Queen. Melisende’s forces were ultimately successful which would grant her greater
authority in the affairs of the city. Apparently from defeat, King Fulk of Jerusalem always sought her council before attempting to delegate within
the Kingdom until his accidental death in 1143.
During this period she was given great leeway in reviving the arts and in the founding of a huge abbey at Bethany. In 1144 the Crusader state of
Edessa was besieged in a border war that threatened its survival. Queen Melisende quickly responded by sending an army, which was lead by Manasses of
Hierges, Philip of Milly and Elinand of Bures. She summoned the help of Raymond of Antioch; he ignored the call because he was preoccupied against
the Byzantine Empire in Cilicia. Although Melisende responded swiftly, Zengi’s forces were too strong for her army to fend off. Edessa fell on
Christmas Eve in the year of 1144. Edessa was the first crusader state acquired, and it was the first one to fall. Melisende sent word to the Pope
in Rome about the crusader’s loss. As a result, a second Crusade was called for. The words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux read: