Because they began as a quest by “pious” Christians to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim “infidels,” the Crusades are often imagined as a series of conflicts between two clear and well-defined antagonists—Christianity vs. Islam. In actuality, the battle lines were more complex. The Franks who came from Western Europe at the behest of the Pope were often at odds with the Byzantines. That the two camps were Christian—one Latin, one Orthodox—did not stop the Western Crusaders from sacking Constantinople in 1204. Similarly, the rift between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims in the East was exploited by the Franks during the First Crusade, enabling them to re-take and hold Jerusalem. Through two centuries of fighting, Christians allied with Muslims, and Muslims with Christians, when the need arose.
The silver coins in this collection represent some of the disparate peoples who joined the fray during the 200 years of warfare we know as the Crusades:
Armenia Crusader armies on the march needed to cross Christian Armenia to get to the Holy Land. The kingdom of Cilicia (Armenia) supported and allied with the Crusader armies in the late 1100s to the 1300s. Armenian coins were inspired by the designs of the English coins of Richard I, the Lionhearted, a friend of the Armenians and a famous crusader of that period.
Swabia The Germanic territory that was the birthplace of many a royal line, Swabia was the home of Frederick Barbarossa, a prominent figure in the Third Crusade and an associate of Richard the Lionhearted. Duke Philip of Swabia was a key player in the Fourth Crusade, and other knights of the region “took the Cross” throughout the 14th century.
Khwarezmid Empire Muslims from Central Asia with ambitions to push all the way to Egypt, the Khwarezm were ceded Palestine by the Egyptian sultan, who hoped to appease the warlike people. They held Jerusalem during the late 12th century, slaughtering all inhabitants they found, of any religion, without mercy. A formidable foe, they were wiped out in turn by Genghis Khan.
Mamluk Sultanate The word mamluk means slave in Arabic. Once human chattel, these people of the Caucasus developed into a veritable warrior class. The “slave kings,” as they are known, were allied with the Ayyubids in the battles against the Crusaders. They seized control of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria after the Ayyubids were destroyed ca. 1250, and held the Holy Land for over 250 years.
Il-khanate Mongols of Persia, the Il-khans were enemies of both the Ayyubids and Mamluks. Ilkhans (means “lesser” Khans) were repeatedly driven off by the Mamluks. They helped the Crusaders by defeating the Ayyubids, but the Mamluks remained undefeated. Ilkhans tried unsuccessfully to ally with the Frankish crusaders; they ended up allied with their enemy, the Byzantine Christians, in their unsuccessful campaigns against the Mamluks.
Frankish Greece The Frankokratia is the name for the whole of the small Frankish principalities that spouted up in Central Asia and the Middle East after the fall of Constantinople in 1204. These included Thessalonica, Achaea, Argos and Nauplia, Athens, Naxos, Bodonitsa, Salona, and Negroponte, among other places. These principaltities were conquered by knights from the West, mainly sons of the nobility who were not firstborn. “Franks” is what all Western Crusaders were called, regardless of origin.