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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

Byzantium and the Crusades

The First Crusade and Byzantium 


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Primitive Islam had distinguished itself by tolerance. Some separate cases of assaults on the churches and Christians occurred in the tenth century, but they had no religious motive so that such unfortunate incidents were only sporadic. In the conquered regions the Arabs had, for the most part, preserved churches and Christian service. They had not prohibited the practice of Christian charity. In the epoch of Charlemagne, at the beginning of the ninth century, there were inns and hospitals in Palestine for the pilgrims; new churches and monasteries were being restored and built and for that purpose Charlemagne sent copious alms to Palestine. Libraries were being organized in the monasteries. Pilgrims visited the Holy Land unmolested. These relations between the Frankish empire of Charlemagne and Palestine, in connection with the exchange of some embassies between the western monarch and the caliph Harun ar-Rashid, led to the conclusion supported by some scholars that a kind of Frankish protectorate had been established in Palestine under Charlemagne; as far as the Christian interests in the Holy Land were concerned, the political power of the caliph in that country remaining untouched. On the other hand, another group of historians, denying the importance of those relations, say that the protectorate was never established and that it is a myth quite analogous to the legend of Charlemagne's crusade to the Holy Land. The title of one of the recent articles on this subject is The Legend of Charlemagne's Protectorate in the Holy Land. The term Frankish protectorate, like many other terms, is conventional and rather vague; but a discussion of it is important in order to show that already at the opening of the ninth century the Frankish Empire had very important interests in Palestine, a fact which is of considerable significance for the further development of the international relations preceding the crusades.

In the second half of the tenth century the brilliant victories of the Byzantine troops under Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces over the eastern Arabs made Aleppo and Antioch in Syria vassal states of the Empire, and after that the Byzantine army probably entered Palestine. These military successes of Byzantium had a repercussion in Jerusalem, so that the French historian Brehier judged it possible to speak of the Byzantine protectorate over the Holy Land which put an end to the Frankish protectorate there.

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