Manage episode 283382947 series 2659594
1098. Frankish knights reach the city of Ma’arra. As the crusaders surround the city walls, in an unusual reversal of convention, this time it’s the besiegers who find themselves desperate for food.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Andrea, A.J. and A. Holt. (2015). Seven Myths of the Crusades. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
- Asbridge, T. (2005). The First Crusade. London: The Free Press.
- Heller, S. (2011). ‘Terror in the Old French Crusade Cycle: from Splendid Cavalry to Cannibalism’. Re-Visioning Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary and International Conference, Purdue University, Indiana, 8-10 September 2011. Available at: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=revisioning
- Heng, G. (1998). ‘Cannibalism, the first crusade, and the genesis of Medieval Romance’, Differences, 10(1), pp. 98-174. Available at: http://clworldhistory.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/3/3/10332912/cannibalism_and_crusades.pdf
- Kostick, C. (2008). ‘Pauperes and the first crusade: from Antioch to Jerusalem’, in The Social Structure of the First Crusade. Leiden: Brill, pp. 131-158. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w8h1gw.9?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
- Le Strange, G. (1890). Palestine under the Moslems. London: Alexander P. Watt. Available at: https://archive.org/details/palestineundermo00lestuoft/page/n3/mode/2up
- Maalouf, A. (2012). The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. London: Saqi Books.
- Rubenstein, J. (2008). ‘Cannibals and crusaders’, French Historical Studies, 31(4), pp. 525-552. Available at: http://courses.washington.edu/holywar/Links_files/Cannibals%20and%20Crusaders.pdf
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Welcome to Episode Nine, where we’ll be talking about the First Crusade.
[Intro music continues]
C: Alix, would you like to hear about the First Crusade?
A: I would love to hear about the First Crusade. I really wanted you to tell this story and I don’t really know why; I was like ‘Carmella, please tell me stories!’
C: What you can’t see, dear listeners, is that Alix brought in a knight’s helmet to wear whilst listening to this story.
A: I’m just really excited about the crusades and I don’t know why.
C: How much do you know about the crusades?
A: Not a lot.
C: [Laughs] Good! Because neither do I.
A: I just wanna be told stories about sandy cannibalism. Indulge me.
C: Okay! In 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade. Over the following months, around 100,000 men, women, and children – peasants and knights alike – took up the call to holy war.
A: So this is another of those examples of the Catholic Church telling people that they can go and get people outside of christendom – which we saw was a nice influence of European peace before the big 14th century famine.
C: Yeah. In the 11th century. God has decided that war is okay sometimes. In the right circumstances, in fact, it replaces penance; it wipes your sins away; and is, in fact, a Catholic duty. The crusaders are gonna march to Jerusalem to ‘liberate’ the Holy City and all of christendom.
A: So very much ‘two wrongs make a right’.
C: And of course it helps that, you know, the Pope is just, sort of, gaining his big influence in France and Italy–
A: [Laughs] I love that you’re referring to the Catholic Church as the Pope ‘gaining his influence’. Like he’s a TikTok star.
C: He is becoming an influencer at this time – and having a common enemy for everyone to rally against and march at is just great for him. It’s– He’s gaining followers.
C: [Laughing] I think it’s fair to say the Pope’s an influencer.
A: I think the Pope has probably influenced one or two people throughout the years.
C: The crusade gets off to a banging start.
A: [Snorts] Now I’m just seeing it as a music video.
C: And by the early months of 1098, the crusaders are embroiled in the Battle of Antioch, which is in northwest Syria.
A: So they’ve got quite far. They’re headed in the right direction, which is better than a lot of the people that we talk about on this podcast.
C: Yeah, they are on track to get to Jerusalem at some point.
A: To go and murder some people to get penance for murdering people.
A: Makes total sense.
C: Antioch is about three days’ march from a city called Ma’arra, and in the 11th century – for a bit of background – Ma’arra is a populous town. It has bazaars bustling with traffic; its main produce are figs, almonds, pistachios and olives. They’ve got no army, just an urban militia.
A: I am imagining this militia being fully stocked with just chefs.
C: [Laughs] Just loads of dates and almonds and pistachios.
A: Those are used as the weapons. They’re projectiles; they’ve got their sieves and their frying pans. I think I’m thinking of a scene from Galavant.
C: [Laughs] Yeah, I think that’s what we should be envisioning. Galavant, the historically-accurate–
A: I wish Galavant was historically accurate.
C: The city has no natural defences – it’s on an upland plain – however, they’ve got strong city walls and there’s a dry moat around it. So they’re pretty safe. When they see what’s going on over in their neighbouring town, some of the inhabitants do get out of dodge and go off to further afield to get away from the crusaders, but most of them feel like ‘we’re safe, we’re in our town’.
A: Carrying on the influencer references, I’m imagining this is how the people of Glastonbury feel every festival season. Like, ‘oh God, they’re coming’.
C: [Laughing] The hoards at the gates! However, towards the end of November, thousands of Frankish knights have surrounded the city. They’re led by Count Raymond of Saint-Gilles; Robert II; and Bohemond I.
A: Count Raymond?
C: Count Raymond. There are some good names in here.
A: That sounds like a character from a Disney original.
C: [Laughs] That famous First Crusade cannibalism Disney original…
C: At first, according to accounts from the crusaders, “the haughty citizens railed at our leaders, cursed our army, and desecrated crosses fixed to their walls to anger us. We were so enraged by the natives that we openly stormed the walls.”
A: How dare these bastards not want us just to take their city? Don’t they know we’re liberating– Fucking hell.
C: I think it’s very ‘haughty’ not to want people to invade your home.
A: “Your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries”. Because, you know, that’s how you heckle people who are sieging your city.
C: Cursing their army.
A: Cursing– It is cursing their army.
C: The initial attempt to just storm some walls doesn’t work out as a great attack plan.
A: Yeah, odd that, running headfirst into solid stone.
C: Some of the knights do reach the walls, at least, but they only have two short scaling ladders with them, which won’t actually get them over the walls. So they can’t get in and they have to retreat.
A: Like a really shit version of It’s a Knockout.
C: So they decide to change their strategy, and on 28 November– I find it wild that we can be specific about dates and times in the 11th century. It’s just, you know, amazing to me that we know it was 28 November. History, huh!
A: I know. Stuff happened – it’s weird.
A: Although, we have messed around with the calendar enough that 28 November could be any time. I was thinking about this the other day, but I won’t go into it too much because I’m sure it will be really boring to work out – but when the Julian calendar and the Georgian calendar get exchanged, dates shift around, so New Year’s Day is no longer in April, it’s in January. So… We know it was 28 November, but we have no idea when 28 November was.
C: It’s definitely around winter, as we will find later.
A: I mean, I say ‘we have no idea’; we could sit down for two minutes, probably on Google, and work it out.
C: Yeah, we could just do the work, but, like, there’s no way of knowing . [Laughs]
A: It’s utterly impossible.
C: On 28 November 1098, they lay siege to the city. It’s not without its potential issues as a plan: the armies already faced a famine when they were at Antioch, and they were already doing a siege there, so they’re a bit exhausted from all of that.
A: Why did they want this city? Is it actually on the route to Jerusalem, or are they just so offended at being told to buzz off that they’ve decided to take it?
C: It’s on the route.
A: They could just walk ‘round.
C: Yeah, the idea, though, I guess, of crusading is that you don’t just walk ‘round, do you? You have to liberate the land, free the oppressed Christians who live in the city quite happily alongside the other faiths from the sounds of it, actually. In this city in particular. I’m sure there were cities where Christians were oppressed. Jesus would be a really good example of a time that a Christian god oppressed.
C: In the area.
C: I don’t want it to sound like I’m like ‘Ha! Christians were never oppressed!’ I mean, they were. They– [Laughs]
A: But also in this instance the Christians are very much there doing the oppressing.
C: Doing the war. Writing about Antioch, one of the crusaders says: “In the ensuing famine one could see more than ten thousand men scattered like cattle in the field scratching and looking, trying to find grains of wheat, barley, beans or any vegetable.” So they want to avoid repeating that.
A: By doing exactly the same thing the next town over.
C: Well no, because this time round they’re going for an aggressive assault-based siege strategy.
A: You look so proud of yourself.
C: I know! We’re talking about siege strategies now, we’re into, like, the proper Medieval warfare.
A: I’m a Victorianist at heart, but I love a wall being blown up. I love a bit of over-the-top strategy.
C: They begin by filling in sections of the moat, and then they send sappers in to undermine the walls. Sappers are the people who dig under walls, and then you collapse the tunnels and then hope that the wall collapses with the tunnel.
A: Which does make sense. It’s a good solid strategy. Or rather… not solid.
C: Wa-hey! Despite Ma’arra having no army, several hundred men sign up to join the urban militia and they manage to resist the besiegers for two weeks. For example, they “hurled stones from catapults, darts, fire, hives of bees–”
A: [With delight] Hohoho!
C: “–and lime” to dispel the sappers who are at the bottom of the walls.
A: And figs and almonds.
C: So next up, the crusaders decide to build siege towers.
A: Can’t go under it… Try and go over it.
C: Exactly. They’re using trees from a nearby wood. They build a great big wooden siege tower to help them scale the walls. It takes nearly ten days to build–
A: That seems kind of reasonable, to be honest.
C: Yeah! And on 11 December, a full-scale attack is launched using the tower.
A: So have they just given up with blowing up the walls?
C: Yep, because they’re having beehives thrown at them whenever they try and go near them.
A: Why aren’t they building tunnels?
C: Because when they try to build a tunnel, they have a beehive thrown at them!
A: Then start further back!
C: [Laughs] I think they’ve decided that the siege tower will be faster. Now the fighters of Ma’arra focus their defence on debuffing the tower, naturally, and some of them also barricade themselves inside the city’s taller buildings as an extra line of defence in case the walls get scaled.
A: Which, fair.
C: However, this leaves the other side of the city – where the siege tower isn’t – exposed, because all the fighters have moved round, which makes it easier for the crusaders to gain access that way using ladders. Which is exactly what they do. And by that night, most of the town has fallen to invaders coming in.
A: So they don’t really come in via siege tower, they just sneak round the back?
C: The siege tower really is a Trojan horse sort of thing. It’s a decoy. The decision is made, once the invaders are in, that they’re gonna hold off any further fighting until dawn – because it’s not like anyone’s going anywhere, I guess – however, some of the poorer crusaders take the opportunity at nightfall to enter the city and do a bit of plundering, because they haven’t been given their fair share of plunder up to this point and decide that now they’re not gonna wait for it to be shared out, they’re just gonna go on in.
A: So they’re in the city, because they’ve climbed the walls; all of the other crusaders have decided that ‘we’re just gonna hang out until morning’.
C: Yeah, so in the morning when all the rest of the crusaders come in, they find that all the good plunder has gone. But of course this is all about, you know, spreading a peaceful, loving religion, right? Not about… stealing resources and treasure. So… I’m sure that they don’t mind that there’s no treasure left.
A: The real treasure–
A: I don’t even have to finish it.
C: The next morning, Bohemond – one of the Frankish commanders – promises that they will spare the leaders of Ma’arra, as long as they promise to stop fighting and gather together in a specific palace out of the way.
A: They started it!
C: The surrender is successfully negotiated. The leaders trust him, they go off to this little palace and gather together out of the way. And then, as an eyewitness account says, “Bohemond took those whom he had ordered to enter the palace, and stripped them of all their belongings, gold, silver and other valuables, and some of them he caused to be killed, others to be taken to Antioch and sold as slaves”. Nice, Bohemond. Good follow-through on your promises.
A: Yeah, I’m not sure that was the terms of the surrender?
C: Yeah… I mean, he specifically said ‘I will not kill you’, and then killed some of them. So. Yeah, he just lied.
A: Ah, but if you go on crusade you don’t have to do penance for your sins.
C: Because the whole crusade is penance and God’s cool with it. A century later, Ibn al-Athir writes in his chronicle, “For three days they put people to the sword, killing more than a hundred thousand people and taking many more prisoners”. Now, this is a bit of an exaggeration, because the city’s population is estimated at only being around 10k at the time. But even so, you get the idea that a lot of people were killed. It felt like 100,000–
C: Even if it wasn’t actually 100,000.
A: A bit of artistic license. This guy 100 years in the future probably wasn’t actually there.
C: I would say that’s probably the case. Mathematically speaking.
A: And maths isn’t his strong point anyway, as we’ve just seen.
C: Yeah, you know, 10,000, 10,000, what’s the difference?
A: Just an extra zero.
C: Um, 90,000 is the difference.
C: Finally, on 13 January 1099, Raymond gathers his forces – remember Raymond? – he gathers his forces and they continue the march to Jerusalem. As they depart, for good measure, they burn the city to the ground.
A: You could have just walked past!
C: They’re liberating the lands, Alix! [Laughs] By burning them.
A: Liberating them from what? Trees?
C: But this isn’t all. It’s not just the burning and the invasion and the murders, because at some point between the siege and then leaving the city (the timings are uncertain), a number of crusaders (also uncertain how many of them) did begin to eat the bodies of their dead enemies.
A: Because there’d been famine in Antioch and they moved straight on without having a plan.
C: Yep. The sources range on how extensive the cannibalism was, and when exactly it took place, and who exactly did it and how many of them did it – but it definitely happened.
A: And it was definitely crusaders who did done a cannibalism.
C: It was definitely crusaders specifically eating Muslim inhabitants of the city. In the Gesta Francorum – which is a key anonymous account of the campaign’s events, allegedly from an eyewitness, but anonymous – the author writes, “Some cut the flesh of dead bodies into strips and cooked them for eating.” Following the siege, the Franklish chronicler Radulph of Caen reports: “In Ma’arra our troops boiled pagan adults in cooking-pots; they impaled children on spits and devoured them grilled”. Which sounds very theatrical and gruesome.
A: Now you see, I was going to say ‘that doesn’t seem overly Christian of them’. But if you remember our Valentine’s Day episode, St Lawrence, the patron saint of Casting Lots, was roasted to death on a spit. So I suppose it’s thematic? Horrific? But there’s history there.
C: Peter Tudebode, another eyewitness participant, wrote, “After our leaders had seen this [the eating of the dead], they had the pagans moved outside the city gates. There they piled them into a mound and later set fire to them.” So in that account, he’s specifying that it’s only ‘the pagans’ who are being eaten, when we know that in the city, there would have also been Christians, who they’re liberating. So they are specifically targeting Muslims in the city.
A: And that the crusader leaders, when they spot this, put a halt to it. By taking the bodies out and burning them.
C: [Laughs] Attempt to.
A: This account is implying that because the leadership of the crusades put a stop to it, that it’s something that the leadership know is bad, and therefore is only being done by dubious crusaders. Not the good, honourable liberators. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
C: Yeah, so, exactly, those accounts make it sound kind of like a one-off event or short-term series of events with commanders disapproving.
A: ‘Oh, you know what Sir Eatsalot’s like. He’ll–’
[Carmella bursts into laughter]
A: ‘Oh Sir Eatsalot. What are you like, ey?’
C: [Through giggles] I don’t have anything to add; episode over!
A: ‘You’d better put that leg down! We’ve told you before.’
C: [Catching her breath] Contrary to that, the commanders of the invasion also claim, in an official letter that they send to the Pope the following year, “A terrible famine racked the army in Ma’arra, and placed it in the cruel necessity of feeding itself upon the bodies of the Saracens”. So a famine starts to become more of a long-term thing, right? That’s not just one case of Sir Eatsalot having a go. We have another account from Robert the Monk – that’s an amazing name – he’s writing around 1107, so a decade or so later.
A: He’s a very unoriginally named DnD character.
C: He says: “Nothing could be found that they might eat or capture. And so, with hunger and suffering driving them, horrible to say, they cut the bodies of the gentiles into strips and cooked and ate them”. Ralph again, Ralph of Caen – he was writing between 1112 and 1118 – he claimed, “The bread failed, and hunger grew strong. I am ashamed now to tell what I have heard and what I have learned from the very perpetrators of this shame”.
A: The shame is quite performative.
C: Yes, there’s a lot of ‘terrible to write about this, but they were roasting babies on spits, guys!’ He wasn’t there, but he is allegedly writing based on eyewitness accounts.
A: I believe that. We’ve covered in a lot of cases famine and siege and warfare leading to survival cannibalism by necessity. But normally it’s the people inside the siege. Once the siege has been successful, you’ve normally not fucked it up so much that you have no food. Aka by burning everything down.
C: Yeah. And it’s interesting that some of these accounts – exactly – are placing the cannibalism as happening after the siege. They get into the city and are immediately like, ‘Thank God, we’ve been starving for so long! Finally, some good fucking food.’
A: This episode is all over the place with its cultural references.
C: Baudry of Bourgueil–
A: I love that name!
C: He’s writing around the same time as Ralph. He says, “It is said, and has been confirmed” – I don’t know how he confirmed it, but anyway –, “that many ate Turkish flesh, that is, human flesh” in “wicked banquets”.
A: Don’t like the phrase ‘banquet’.
C: No. According to him, the crusade leaders regretted the acts. but acknowledged that “inescapable necessities demanded the law’s violation”.
A: It was incredibly escapable, because you didn’t need to take the city. Okay, you don’t need to take any of the cities–
C: You don’t need to do a crusade.
A: I don’t want to come across like I’m advocating for doing the crusade at all, but, stay on topic.
C: Raymond – one of our leaders – claimed that many of the bodies had been decaying for as long as two weeks by the time they started to eat them.
A: Why were they still there?
C: They sort of hung around before deciding to march on for Jerusalem; they weren’t sure what to do. He claims, however, that the men ate “with gusto” in public squares, striking fear into the hearts of both “our men and the foreigners”.
A: Ah. I didn’t realise that there were still citizens of Ma’arra around. I think I got distracted by the 100,000s of deaths. That makes it so much worse.
C: Yeah, despite all the murder and the burning down, the city did survive. It’s still a city today.
A: Oh, that’s good!
C: All of these accounts so far have placed the cannibalism after the siege, e.g. during a famine, which is something that we’ve seen before, like you said. But actually there are also accounts that place it during the siege, e.g. in the midst of war, which creates a slightly different picture.
A: My question if it’s in the midst of war is, who are they eating? Because they hadn’t made their way into the city. Once they’re in the city, they’ve won.
C: I don’t have an answer to that. That’s a good question – I hadn’t even thought of that, Alix.
A: [Laughs] Bit of crusader on crusader action.
C: [Laughs] We’re not Bills & Boon-ing this one!
A: We can Bills & Boon crusader on crusader action.
C: Another account, Fulcher of Chartres – who was a crusader, but he wasn’t at the siege of Ma’arra – he wrote: “When the siege had lasted twenty days, our people suffered excessive hunger. I shudder to speak of it, because very many of our people, harassed by the madness of excessive hunger, cut off pieces from the buttocks of the Saracens already dead there, which they cooked and chewed, and devoured with savage mouth […] And thus the besiegers more than the besieged were tormented”.
A: I have some thoughts. My first thought is, when he says ‘were already dead’ – they were dead because you killed them in a war.
C: [Laughs] Yep, probable.
A: You can’t use the excuse that ‘they were already dead, we didn’t kill them for food’, if you killed them anyway. And just happened to eat them. Still counts as murder-cannibalism!
C: ‘We just found them like this, I swear. I was just holding them for a friend!’
A: [Sternly] Sir Eatsalot…
C: [Laughs] Well, Sir Killsalot got there first.
A: My second thought.
A: No, I’m quite sure the besieged had a worse time being said killed and eaten.
C: Ah, but, you know, did they suffer as much?
C: Another chronicler, this one’s a German fellow called Albert of Aachen–
A: My God, everyone gets on crusades, don’t they?
C: He claims that the fact that the besiegers were forced to turn to cannibalism is what made Raymond so determined to capture the city, and is what made the aggressive siege tactics come into play – because they wanted to get it over as quickly as possible.
A: That would then imply to me that the cannibalism was crusader on crusader.
C: Nah-ah, here we go, I’ve got his direct account, and it’s not crusader on crusader. Because, as he says, “Such suffering from hunger grew up around these cities that the Christians, in the face of the scarcity about which you have heard, did not fear to eat – wicked to say, much less to do – the bodies, cooked in fire, not only of the Saracens or Turks they had killed, but also of the dogs that they had caught”. Which, er, really reveals how Albert sees Saracens and Turks there right, huh?
A: The level of 12th century racism is quite clear.
C: Allegedly, inhabitants of the region saw “fanatical Franj” – which is another word for Franks.
A: You learn something new every day.
C: “Fanatical Franj, the Tafurs, roam[ing] through the country-side openly proclaiming that they would chew the flesh of the Saracens and gathering around their nocturnal camp-fires to devour their prey.”
A: This now isn’t necessarily sounding like desperation, this is sounding like being a dick.
C: It’s also giving the other side of the story, so we’ve go the accounts from the crusaders but we also have the accounts from locals.
A: The people being hunted.
C: Another chronicler, who was born in a neighbouring city three years before the events – so wouldn’t remember them directly, but was around at that kind of time – wrote, “All those who were well-informed about the Franj saw them as beasts”. And an anonymous poet from Ma’arra wrote, “I know not whether my native land be a grazing ground for wild beasts or yet my home!”.
C: Clearly an intense suffering and legacy is left behind.
A: And the impact of this legacy is about the beastly nature of the crusaders and those connections to food and eating, rather than the lying and the siege and the murder and the burning, so it really made an impact.
C: Yeah, it’s sort of remembered in Arabic literature for ages, that crusaders are cannibals. But some sources actually claim that Ma’arra wasn’t even the first time that cannibalism had taken place during the First Crusade. So it’s the most definite one, but not necessarily the only one. For example, in the 12th century epic, the Chanson d’Antioche – which is about the city of Antioch – it claims that the first cannibalism in fact took place during that siege there. And in this account, the Tafurs – who we mentioned earlier, they’re a group of poor men travelling barefoot and often without weapons along with the knights – in this account, they roast Saracen bodies on spits just outside Antioch’s walls, making the defenders cry: “Oh, lord Mahomet! What great cruelty! Take vengeance on those who have shamed you, those who have eaten your people are truly not human. They are no longer Frenchmen but instead are living demons.” And this is in a French poem. So clearly the French were hearing this feedback as it was happening.
C: The army leaders also hinted at cannibalism in Antioch in a letter from September 1099, addressed to the Pope, where they wrote: “Hunger in the city had grown to such an extent that some were hardly able to keep themselves from making banquets of men.” Wink wink. There was certainly famine at Antioch as well – a worse and longer famine than the one at Ma’arra.
A: Which again implies that, [sarcastically] sure, they got through Antioch and it was just when they got to Ma’arra that they decided to do a cannibalism. Not the longer and worse famine and siege, but just a small one on the side.
C: There are reports of people eating pack animals; buying a few beans at a week’s wages; the warhorses eating their own harnesses– Here’s a fun fact that I learned about warhorses in the First Crusade: they were only 12 hands tall, which about four feet!
A: [With joy] Oh ho ho!
C: [Giggles] The knights were just riding ponies! Why didn’t I know about this?
A: Ha! They’re teeny tiny.
C: They hadn’t bred up the great big horses that we have today yet. They were just– [Laughs] Riding Shetlands through the– [Laughs] Anyway, that’s not the takeaway from this episode but it was interesting to learn. So the question is, was cannibalism a one off or a recurring fact of the First Crusade? Now, there’s an interesting account from [in a French accent] Guibert of Nogent.
A: Is he French?
C: I assume. Guibert claims that one one occasion, the Tafurs took the body of a Saracen and roasted it in view of the enemy as if they were going to eat it.
A: That just seems like taunting and intentional cruelty, so I don’t think you get to complain about the people on the city walls saying rude things to your armies, if your response to that is ‘yeah we’re gonna eat your dead mate’. There’s a bit of escalation there. Which kind of makes you look like the bad guy.
C: Well, we’re getting into theory territory here, but is it intentional as an act of psychological warfare? So, there’s another account from William of Tyre, who claims that at Antioch, one of the crusade leaders – Bohemond – had a few prisoners executed and prepared as if to be eaten, with the goal of driving spies out of their camp. So in these cases, eating doesn’t take place during the siege as an act of desperation, but as an actual part of siege warfare.
A: I don’t like this part of siege warfare as much.
C: No… But siege warfare is very theatrical by nature. It’s about being stronger; you’re surrounding your enemy, you’re cutting off their supplies, and then you just have to wait for them to surrender or starve. You can both see each other the whole time, and it’s just really important to keep up appearances and to show that you are not to be messed with, right? So perhaps if you’re in a famine and starving to death and eating bodies, the best thing to do is not to show that you’re suffering, but to turn it into a, ‘Mwahaha, look how evil we are! We are eating your dead for fun!’
A: I really don’t like that the crusades are an automatic ‘get out of jail’ card for sin. I feel like the crusaders use that far too much.
C: Mmm. So my theory here – my theory – is that there is cannibalism out of desperation, which, as we know, we don’t disapprove of. But cannibalism out of desperation turned into a tactic of war in order to invade a city–
A: Which we do disapprove of.
C: That one’s bad. Don’t do that one, please.
A: There is a culture of cannibalism in western Europe. It is one of the many things that have been exported by colonialism.
C: Yes. And I think it would be a good explanation for why the cannibalism has been so reported on and remembered, if it’s happening in these theatrical displays, rather than something that’s just happening, you know, behind the scenes.
A: And if it’s being put in French chronicle accounts for a French audience in this very over-dramatic style. Because while we found that people don’t tend to do the ‘Mwahaha, look how evil we are for having eaten human flesh’ out of desperation, people are willing to discuss the fact that they had to resort to cannibalism to survive.
C: Yeah, it seems like they’re not ashamed of the fact that they had to resort to cannibalism.
A: It’s amazing how many sources we have for cannibalism in the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. We have stories from, like, 100 years ago where we’re struggling to piece together evidence. And here it’s just like, ‘Yup, definitely did it. They did some cannibalism here, here and here.’ We have enough sources that we can confirm that it’s not just one story that’s originated in one place. There’s enough variance, we’ve got local and we’ve got crusader narratives that are all working together. Why doesn’t everyone write stuff down like Medieval chroniclers? It would make life much easier.
A: Thank you for telling me about the crusades. It lived up to everything I wanted and more. The main takeaway is that the horses were really small!
C: Yes, that’s the important thing: tiny horses. Plus the knights did cannibalism.
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on the First Crusade. I can’t help it, I just really like it when they blow up the walls in siege warfare.
C: Join us next time, when we’re heading out to a war-torn sea on an overcrowded lifeboat.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]