Friday, 9 December 2016

Gesta Francorum: quisque sibi proximus: `everyone is nearest to himself '.

The First Crusade (1095–1099) succeeded in its gaol to capture Jerusalem, Surprisingly, as the majority of its army consisted of ill-trained troops and though its destination was clear, tactical and strategical manoeuvres were often ill-considered. A major obstacle posed the city of Antioch, blocking the road to Jerusalem. The city was besieged from 21 October 1097 and fell due to treason on 2 June 1098. However the crusaders did not capture the citadel, in which the Turkish troops well-stocked with food supplies had withdrawn. The city was unable to provide the amount of food necessary for the crusaders and so they found themselves soon starving in a half occupied city. To make matters worse, a Turkish relief force had surrounded the city: the besiegers besieged. On June 28 1098 Bohemond came to their rescue, driving the besieging Turkish forces away and conquering the citadel.
A major source for our knowledge of the First Crusade is the Gesta Francorum, written by an unknown author, probably a cleric from Southern Italy. (I have taken this information from the German wiki on the Gesta Francorum, which is based on more recent research than the English entry.) It is from this work that the following description has been taken. I found it in Harrison’s Millennium, a Latin Reader/ 374-1374, but the commentary in that book left some points open regarding understanding and interpretation. I have tried to supply more information in the notes. What is clear anyway, is that idea of sharing in need amongst Christians was completely absent, but who are we to blame them? This short passage simply shows that in times of need everyone tends to take care of himself only. A superficial idea of the Crusades is that it was a Christian enterprise and of course Christian notions were important, especially the idea that taking part in the Crusade would secure one of a place in heaven (ah those fighters for ISIS!), but the historical reality is far more complex. Reading such a short text can be quite revealing.
A translation of this part is not available on internet, but the Latin is fairly simple, though not Classical.

Gesta Francorum, Book 9, xxvi (part)

Pars vero quae erat in castello, agebat bellum cum nostris die noctuque, sagittando, vulnerando, occidendo. Alia autem pars undique obsedit civitatem, ita ut nullus nostrorum civitatem auderet exire aut intrare, nisi nocte et occulte. Ita vero eramus obsessi et oppressi ab illis, quorum numerus fuit innumerabilis. Isti autem prophani et inimici Dei ita tenebant nos inclusos in urbe Antiochiae, ut multi mortui fuerint fame, quoniam parvus panis vendebatur uno bisantio. De vino non loquar. Equinas namque carnes aut asininas manducabant, et vendebant. Vendebant quoque gallinam quindecim solidis, ovum duobus solidis, unam nucem uno denario; omnia enim valde erant cara. Folia fici et vitis et cardui, omniumque arborum coquebant et manducabant, tantam famem immensam habebant. Alii coria caballorum et camelorum et asinorum atque boum seu bufalorum sicca decoquebant, et manducabant. Istas et multas anxietates ac angustias quas nominare nequeo passi sumus pro Christi nomine et Sancti Sepulchri via deliberanda. Tales quoque tribulationes et fames ac timores passi sumus per viginti sex dies.

pars (Turcorum)
in castello: the citadel
sagittando etc.: the ablative of the gerund is used as present participle nominative.
sagitto: to shoot with arrows
prophani: confusion between ph and f in Mediaeval Latin sometimes occurs
vendabatur: Sold by whom? Though a major part of the population of Antioch had been slaughtered by the crusaders, the Christian population was spared, but it seems unlikely that they were the only sellers. More likely is that bread and wine were also sold by crusaders having taken this as booty.
quoniam parvus panis vendebatur uno bisantio:  many took part in the crusades on an individual basis and they had to pay for their own food. Of course the poor could not afford such a price for a piece of bread. A bezant was a golden or silver coin, far out of reach for most of them.
De vino non loquar: i.e. the price of wine was excessive.
Equinas namque carnes aut asininas manducabant: i.e. the Crusaders had to slaughter their own animals.
namque: either affirmative (`and indeed’) or adversative (`on the other hand’, `but’), a Mediaeval Latin usage. In the latter case it would imply a constrast to the preceding sentence. I wish our author would have been more accurate for modern historians.
manduco: to eat (this word had replaced edo)
vendebant: i.e. they sold it to each other (horses and donkeys were personal property.)
gallina: hen
solidis: a solidus is twelve pence and from contemporary  sources it is known that daily living  cost three and a half pence.
unam…uno:  unus is here an indefinite article.
carus: expensive
carduus: thistle
coquo coxi coctum (-ere): to cook
cabellus: horse
corium: hide
decoquo = coquo
delibero: to deliver

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