Submitted by DJacobAP t3_109i328 in history

I am currently reading Thomas Asbridge's Creation of the Principality of Antioch and while writing about the inability of Il Ghazi to capitalise on his victory at the Field of Blood, he mentions mentions that muslim armies were notoriously hard to maintain in the field, especially during sieges. How would they have been harder to maintain than a Western European force or even a 'frankish' force in the Levant? What was the system of mustering and why does asbridge think that it was inefficient at retaining troops during longer campaigns? The book's main focus is on the Principality of Antioch in the first three decades of the 12th century.



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Roland_Bootykicker t1_j3ypoxf wrote

Lots of general remarks in this comment section about jihad and fractiousness and “Arab armies,” but it’s helpful to talk about this specific situation. After the Field of Blood, Il-Ghazi didn’t besiege Antioch, but he did lead a raiding army all the way to the Mediterranean coast.

As far as we can tell from the sources, Il-Ghazi’s army in 1119 was made up primarily of Turkmen nomads. These nomads all owned horses and were capable horseback archers, making them very effective warriors in the right situations. However, their main source of income was actually herding sheep and other herd animals - most of them weren’t professional soldiers. Il-Ghazi recruited these nomads mainly from eastern Anatolia, where they would graze their herds and move from pasture to pasture. The longer they were at war and away from their herds, the less they were able to access their stable source of income.

In order to keep his army in the field for as long as possible, Il-Ghazi had to make sure he could pay them. He couldn’t give them wages like one would to professional soldiers, and he couldn’t give them land in exchange for military service like Frankish lords did to their knights. He basically promised them that they would get paid out of the things they were able to steal from raiding the countryside around Antioch.

The good thing about this system is it let Il-Ghazi and people like him do a lot of raiding, because it paid for itself to an extent. The bad thing about this system is that it restricted the things Il-Ghazi could do other than raiding. A long siege was not an attractive prospect for Turkmen nomads - their risk of injury or death was high, and they weren’t able to get wealth from raiding while besieging a city.

Il-Ghazi didn’t have enough money on hand to keep his army together long enough to besiege Antioch - the only thing he could really do (apart from taking a few small castles) was carry out a massive raiding operation, which is what he did. He didn’t achieve any major strategic victory, but he got lots of money in a short amount of time, and he bolstered his reputation with a group of effective Turkmen fighters.

Il-Ghazi couldn’t keep his army together if he wasn’t consistently raiding the countryside around Antioch to pay them. This was why it was so difficult to keep an army together for extended campaigns.


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yrfl9 wrote

Thank you, this is the sort of answer I was looking for. That makes sense, the 'Franks' would've been bound to their land and lord whereas these nomads were more mobile and the prospect of a long siege, especially against a city like Antioch wouldn't have seemed very appealing. Infact now that I think about it, I haven't read about any long siege of a major crusader city until very late into the period, whereas the crusaders had pretty much taken Jerusalem, Antioch and Tripoli by siege. Long and brutal ones in the case of the latter two.


Roland_Bootykicker t1_j3ys7qh wrote

No worries - really happy to help! For a detailed breakdown of military organisation in the 12th century Levant, check out The Crusader Armies by Steve Tibble. For some more detail on Il-Ghazi, the classic reference is a biographical article by Carole Hillenbrand (whose work on the Islamic perspective on the crusades is essential reading imo).


naim08 t1_j3zy8b8 wrote

Your answer was terrific. One minor note: if sieges weapons or mines are being used, then you’d prob need engineers, possibly blacksmiths, possibly sappers, etc whom all require upfront payment. Especially during the latter of the medieval age and gunpowder revolution, such was the case.


Lord0fHats t1_j407fro wrote

It's worth noting this is a fairly common issue facing generals throughout history and not unique to Il-Ghazi.


AtomicSamuraiCyborg t1_j408vgi wrote

Another relevant point is that the nomads were unlikely to have developed significant logistics chains. Being nomads and herdsmen, they are highly efficient when they are roaming over good grazing country for their mounts and herds, and can move extremely fast and require little supply. But as soon as they DON'T have that, they are forced to forage for grazing/provender and their own supply. Going on campaign like this, they're not bringing their herds with them, those stay with their clan. It's their wealth and means of sustenance, it's too risky to bring on campaign. So it's just the nomads serving as warriors and whatever supply train/herds they've brought. They intend to raid and forage for everything else they need, possibly rely on the commander they're serving to provide some supplies as well.

But foraging and raiding have diminishing returns. You can only rob people once, twice if you were generous the first time or waited awhile. Once you've taken everything, there's nothing left. Raiders drive sedentary people away, and they won't come back until they're gone. No point in going home and planting again, just to get raped and pillaged again, if you have any other option. Armies also hunt more game than is sustainable; armies are like swarms of locusts, they strip everything bare. Which means if you're trying to live by foraging (that's not the robbery kind of foraging) you have to keep going further and further afield to find anything, which goes the same for raiding. The further out you are, the more isolated you are, the more likely it is you encounter a superior enemy force and get destroyed. The more the army disperses it's strength, the less effective the siege is. Messengers slip through the lines, the defender sally out, relief forces can get closer without being detected by scouts.

And finally, nobody wants to be the attacker in a siege. Siege camps are awful, filthy places where disease is rife. You're sitting there every day, digging and working and getting shot at, with very little ability to strike back. It sucks, and it's hard to motivate an army to do it with gusto. Nomads are even less likely to care; they are here to raid, it's what they're good at and what they want to be doing, for the reasons above. Fighting in a siege is the kind of thing they absolutely don't want to be bogged down in. Sieges also drag on and on, and most end without taking the city or bastion. It has a low chance of working, honestly. It's simple math to see what a bad deal it is for the nomad raiders, something they are keenly aware of.

There's also the nature of the nomad clans and their relationship with the commander. Nomads are, universally, proud and independent people, shaped by their way of life. If they don't like you and your bullshit, they pack up and move on. They aren't feudal serfs, who are tied by land, oaths, and family back on that land to their lords. They have a high probability of telling you to fuck off and riding away and you not being able to do much about it. They are less levied troops or sworn soldiers than allies of convenience. They are here for the raiding and booty, and your campaign is a good excuse for it. As soon as the raiding and booty prospects look bad, they're gonna fuck off and find better prospects.


Vorpalis t1_j3z9z9c wrote

Huh, that’s the exact same problem T. E. Lawrence had ~800 years later.


amitym t1_j404al8 wrote

Well you know it's like the narrator in that one video game says:


Economics never changes.


Vorpalis t1_j409eo5 wrote

Patrolling the Hejaz almost makes you wish for a nuclear winter!


Viles_Davis t1_j3zctou wrote

Exacting assessment. Well phrased and clearly well thought-out.


Tuga_Lissabon t1_j406ysz wrote

Excellent point.

Also nomadic turkmen are excellent on horseback - hugely dangerous troops which, even when defeated, are hard to pin down and destroy as they'll just vanish - whereas siege work is trench work, digging, setting up siege engines, going through a breach, fighting at the closest and nastiest quarters.

Exactly the fighting they are not built or armed for, and they usually would be unarmoured or have little of it.


thrillhouss3 t1_j3z6y6n wrote

The only answer in this whole comment section. Thank you.


InformationHorder t1_j3z18gb wrote

Sounds like the inspiration for the Dothraki in GoT. They just wanna raid and pillage and move on.


KwisatzHaderach38 t1_j3z2bl2 wrote

GRRM based the Dothraki on the Mongols and other nomadic horse cultures, but yeah similar fighters, similar lifestyle.


Spacefungi t1_j40zkbr wrote

GRRM based the Dothraki on stereotypes about nomadic people, not on the nomadic horse cultures themselves and is often even as far as from the truth as you could be.

Some notable examples: Dothraki hate sheep to the point of killing them and not eating them and only care about horses, while for nomads livestock is their literal sustenance. Dothraki culture also seems to revolve strongly around rape and murder and other barbaric acts that would not be condoned in true historical nomadic cultures.

This wouldn't even be that bad if GRRM just said it was fantasy. Instead he claims it is realistic worldbuilding based on real cultures with a dash of fantasy.


trowawufei t1_j4211i7 wrote

I will say that he paints a picture of the Dothraki “horde” as an extremely complex system that requires excellent communication and coordination processes. Daenerys didn’t get raped by Khal Drogo in the books, but maybe you’re referring to other incidents.


Irichcrusader t1_j411du8 wrote

I suppose you could argue that this view of the Dothraki in GRRM's works comes from the fact that we're usually getting an outsider's perspective on them. Of course they seem utterly barbaric to more "civilized" peoples because all they ever see is the violence and rape, never what goes on in the quieter moments.

That said, surly it can't be denied that nomadic tribes on the warpath could be utterly brutal. There's a reason why groups like the Mongol's had a fearsome reputation, they tended to make terrible examples of cities that defied them.


Spacefungi t1_j41200a wrote

The problem is that GRRM gives us an insider view, which confirms all these outsider stereotypes to be true.

If we would only learn about the dothraki culture from outsiders and hearsay in his books it would indeed be more realistic, but instead we witness ourselves that the dothraki do indeed murder/rape people of their own ingroup, senseless killing of sheep and other nonsense ourselves when we follow characters inside a dothraki group.


Irichcrusader t1_j416j4g wrote

Fair point, been a while since I read the books so I thought most of what we get are outsider perspectives. The killing of sheep and their whole thing about them only eating horse meat is definitely stupid when you stop to think about it.


failsafe07 t1_j3z9u84 wrote

Although it is worth noting that as far as AGOT/ASOIAF goes there are some pretty robust critiques of the way the show/books portray steppe and indigenous American peoples. It’s more of a deeply problematic caricature than an authentic portrayal of we’re being honest


KwisatzHaderach38 t1_j3zbbqp wrote

Doesn't really pertain to where he took the inspiration from, but sure, they're basically a faceless deus ex machina in the show, not much different from the green, scrubbing power of the Army of the Undead in the LOTR films. The ASOIAF books have a lot more nuance, but we'll see how that plays out if he ever finishes the final two.


failsafe07 t1_j3zbzz9 wrote

The book Dothraki are definitely better than the show, although they still have major issues. Bret Deveraux had a great series of articles on the subject over on his blog.

I’m a big fan of GRRM and I really hope he’s able to finish the series, because I badly want to read them, but I also like to acknowledge where he falls short in certain areas


leb0b0ti t1_j3zt7lk wrote

I mean.... It is a work of fiction after all. Why should we judge the historical accuracy of a story about dragons, undeads and magic ?


Redingold t1_j40wuj3 wrote

Because Martin directly claims they're an amalgam of real historical cultures with only a dash of fantasy. He makes a direct claim to historical accuracy and it doesn't hold up in the least. Martin has consciously cultivated the appearance that his series is "how it really was" and that in turn distorts what people think about real history.


leb0b0ti t1_j41dgn2 wrote

Ah ok, didn't know he was making such claims.. Must've been a sales pitch because it doesn't make any sense to claim there's any historical accuracy in a fantasy story about dragons lords.


OisforOwesome t1_j40e3nr wrote

This is one of those cases where historical accuracy would have made the show better.

If the showrunners had cared at all about making the Dothraki a credible threat, a few scenes of them doing actual Mongol horse archery stuff would have gone a long way to establishing why everyone in Westeros was frightened of them instead of that being an informed attribute.


leb0b0ti t1_j41cys8 wrote

I agree that actual horse archery would've been really cool to see on screen !


69SadBoi69 t1_j4098sn wrote

I think he is saying not that they're inaccurate historically but that they are too much of a one-dimensional charicature to take seriously


KwisatzHaderach38 t1_j3zfxva wrote

Sure, GRRM can't have it both ways. He's specifically mentioned the Mongols, Huns, the great plains nations, all as inspirations because it's a good talking point to sell the pseudo-authenticity of the books, but was very lazy at best in his depictions because he envisioned them functioning as the trope of "barbarians" without actually putting much thought into what that reveals about his own perspective. He's tried to smooth it over with the "mixed with fantasy" qualifiers, but that's pretty weak. Love the books and the show both, but as far as history goes, it's all much more telling about the stereotypes held by the western mind than anything real.


KwisatzHaderach38 t1_j400f02 wrote

In George's defense, at some time in the early 90's this man thought to himself, I want to see ice zombies attacking a gigantic medieval fortress with dragons overhead. I'll always love him for that.


mangalore-x_x t1_j41k27z wrote

The same could be said about how he portrays European medieval culture.

It is the typical "Medieval Europe being brutish and unsophisticated" Well, in true medieval Europe you could be sued for that.


Devoidoxatom t1_j3zp90s wrote

Yeah. The difference is we barely seen horse archers in the show which was the horse nomad specialty.


Antisocialite99 t1_j3zt8w9 wrote

It was also the thing that made them victorious in battle.

Same with the Sessanid empires horse troops.

Instead dothraki had those stupid sickle things. The fight scene with Jonah Mormont in full armor just not even having to try to trap the guys sickle and easily kill him is it's own demonstration for how useless those are.

And that's key... because they aren't envisioned as having enemies they face in battle that would define their own tactics weapons etc in reaponse to them.


KombuchaBot t1_j4081o4 wrote

Yeah fighting against someone in armour necessitates a stabby weapon not a cutting one.

Matt Easton of Scholagladatoria on YouTube is quite informative on this


Devoidoxatom t1_j3zun81 wrote

Yeah, afaik those sickle type blades were used against cavalry, not by them


meneldal2 t1_j40fysd wrote

They didn't have the best guys for making the fights a bit more realistic.


srgonzo75 t1_j43lxk1 wrote

The khopesh (closest thing you’ll see to a Dothraki arakh) wasn’t steel, when it was in use, and it wasn’t used against heavily armored opponents. It was handy for slashing an opponent while one was in a chariot and moving at a good pace. Scimitars and samshirs operate on a similar principle, using a single edge for greater efficacy when riding past an opponent to slash at them or their mount.


Litenpes t1_j3zzaoo wrote

Excellent summary. One question, why couldn’t he pay them lika an ordrinary army? Or wouldn’t there be a money issue with an ordinary army as well?


Irichcrusader t1_j412fdv wrote

Armies eat through money like you wouldn't believe and before the rise of modern banking institutions, it was extremely difficult to raise funds for a protracted campaign. I don't know if Arab armies in this time differed much from Europeans in how they raised funds, but I can say that European rulers in the time of the Crusades had to go to extreme measures to get the necessary cash. This usually involved selling or loaning out their land to monasteries for a set number of years, selling titles, taking loans from Jewish moneylenders (or outright stealing it) and gathering whatever they could through new taxes. Even then, most Crusaders who came back alive tended to be near penniless.


ThoDanII t1_j40ir4u wrote

Paying an ordinary army with money was the exception, not the rule


amitym t1_j404k16 wrote

They are saying that there was literally nothing to pay with. No cash.


Tiny_Eye1310 t1_j40n3zf wrote

This is a splendidly written reply that I agree with 100%


Just_get_a_390 t1_j406uka wrote

Why was he not able to pay them regular wages? The point about land is very interesting though.


MoSummoner t1_j407eng wrote

Seems like they didn’t have enough for that or the shepherd job paid better


Stalins_Moustachio t1_j3ytmq2 wrote

There are so many inaccurate statements and generalizations here, that I don't know where to start addressing them. A few of the main ones:

  • Grouping up the multitude of medieval Muslim kingdoms into one generalized category;

  • Arguing that Muslim armies had little to no strategy due to "Jihad", which contextually makes no sense here as a translation or tenant;

  • Muslim armies had no specialization;

  • Medieval Arabs were all "Tribes" who maintained a nomadic lifestyle;

  • Arab political figures only trusted outsiders as fighters.

And more. Please people, it's better not to answer than to make up history as we go!


divaythfyrscock t1_j3zcef5 wrote

Yeah what I’m seeing here is a broad mix of things that were true in certain parts of the Middle East at certain times all jumbled up together to represent the failure to repel the initial crusades (none of which is historical). And also lmao to Jihad being a military doctrine


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yucwd wrote

Yeah I originally asked it on the ask historians subreddit for this reason but didn't get an answer there


SmarterThanMyBoss t1_j3z557p wrote

Try asking again with perhaps slightly different wording in a week or two. This sub has some good comments sometimes but often (especially with very complex subjects that are "popular") people here know just enough to misconstrue the facts.


jumpmanzero t1_j41ueub wrote

Thanks for reminding me that we're not in ask historians, and thus have a bit more leeway in our cites:

>Sieges against Antioch had a history of costly failure. It was well known that the complicated instructions and long deployment time of their weaponry made Antioch's military an ineffective field force. At home, however, these disadvantages were irrelevant; with time for a careful, deliberate deployment, their "holy" hand grenades proved decisive against invaders, human and animal alike.

MPATHG (Cleese et al, 23.19)


Foul-Ole_Ron t1_j42qc1b wrote

>but didn't get an answer there

Try /r/AskHistorians again, and read their wiki on how to formulate a question. This sub will give you answers, but half of them will be based on racial stereotypes, and the main sources will be movies or 'I read somewhere.'


mrgoyette t1_j40l3ol wrote

Thank u for pointing these out.

There's a lot of framing in these responses that it was the Muslims who were landless raiders in the First Crusade. The reality is the opposite. Especially when you are considering the specific case of Antioch.

Bohemond (founder of Antioch) was an Italo-Norman from the Hauteville family. The Hautevilles were raider/mercenaries who emigrated to southern Italy and took their land by the sword. The Italo-Normans left French Normandy because of their inability to pursue landed claims there.

Bohemond is frozen out of his own Italo-Norman claims by his father Robert Guiscard. Guiscard had remarried and declared Bohemond a bastard. Bohemond spent the following decades pursuing (and failing to secure) Byzantine lands for himself in Southern Italy and the Balkans. His campaigns often failed due to his inability to maintain supply, pay, and discipline among his men when attempting to seige strongpoints like Larissa in Thessaly (sound familiar??).

The First Crusade 'starts' while Bohemond is sacking Amalfi (again). He decides his prospects are better sacking the Byzantine/Muslim lands in Asia Minor, gathers a crew, and joins the Crusade.

Bohemond's successes in the First Crusade are won by realpolitik. He prevents his men from pillaging the Byzantine heartland and swears an oath of obedience to the Emperor Alexios. This helps him move in to position in the Byzantine borderlands that he's allegedly winning back for the Byzantines.

When the main Byzantine forces are occupied elsewhere , and Bohemond and his men join the siege of Antioch, he realizes his political opportunity. He opens negotiations with the commander of Antioch once the Byzantine representative leaves. Bohemond cuts a deal with the commander of Antioch (a non-Turk who was stifled by the Seljuk Turk ruling administration of the region). Bohemond pays him off and gains access for himself and his men into Antioch, circumventing the need for a long siege.

Bohemond then declares himself 'Prince of Antioch'. The other Crusaders and Byzantine operatives in the region are otherwise occupied in the anarchy of the moment of the First Crusade. No one disputes Bohemond's claim, likely because these disparate and unaligned forces are focused on the rest of Syria, the Cilician borderlands, and pushing their way to Jerusalem.

Bohemond stays put. He cares about establishing a claim to 'his' land, not 'saving' the Holy Land. After 20 years of fighting (for and against!) Byzantines, Lombards, Venetians, Turkish Muslims, Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, and his own Italo-Norman bretheren, he finally won some land for himself.


[deleted] t1_j3yfqsn wrote



DJacobAP OP t1_j3yoir0 wrote

So in 12th century Syria you would've come across Turks more than Arabs. And secondly Jihad as the main motivation against the crusader states didn't become a major thing until the zengids took power in the region so that take seems off by a few decades on either side


[deleted] t1_j3ypm95 wrote



Hpstorian t1_j436t07 wrote

"Not given much choice in strategy, because you're supposed to follow the Sunnah in everything"... what does this mean?

How is "the Sunnah" a strategy?


opolomoneima t1_j43enyg wrote

It's the example set by the initial holy wars fought by the Prophet and his companions. The tradition in Islam is to as closely imitate these and other little details of the lives of the earliest Muslims. It's stupid from a Christian perspective but it was and very much still is a thing in the Muslim world. Everything has to be referenced back to the way the Prophet did things, or it is illegitimate.

I know it's not fashionable in the West to make any generalizations at all, and this is why my analysis was being dunked on, but living in an Islamic culture, I have firsthand experience of this


Hpstorian t1_j43klkl wrote

It is a true generalisation that the idea of the Prophetic example has had an ongoing importance for religious observance amongst Muslims, however your characterisation comes across as an ideological narrative rather than a reflection of the historical reality. Even if we assume that the beliefs/practices of the majority of Muslims are accurately shown by fiqh/aqidah texts: and were universally and prescriptively followed even such discussions vary widely in their understanding of the Sunnah itself.

Your analysis is being dunked on because it seems uninformed. If you read many texts of this period in the region you will find them arguing for the submission to a singular authority in the form of the Caliph, yet even a cursory survey of Muslim history shows that this was rarely even close to the case. That alone shows that it took more than an Alim to make a ruling to define something so complex as strategies of governance.

Living amongst Muslims doesn't equate to historiographical training. If this is a topic that interests you I would suggest reading scholarly works more widely.


opolomoneima t1_j43ol7t wrote

Reality is messy and complicated. It is true that individual Muslims, especially in the modern world are not quite as observant of the prophetic example because of practical reasons and social change. And you'll find variations where people in the heartland of the Muslim World (Arabia, Persia, Pakistan) tend to be more observant than those in the peripheries (Indonesia, Turkestan).

However, all I implied was that the ideological framework of Sharia law greatly affected the actual political, military and social structure of the Caliphates and Sultanates. How could it not be? In practice, it's true that it was impossible to follow rulings to the dot, and rulers had leeway, but to deny that there weren't any commonalities in how kingdoms of this specific period in this specific area operated is missing the forest for the trees. The commonalities I pointed out were quite universal in the Middle East from the late Abbasid period until the 18th century. Even the far away Moroccans were using Slave-Soldiers from the Sahel. There was always at least a nominal Caliph present until WW1, so there's that. Battle strategy could be different but recruitment strategy could not, free tribesmen HAD to be recruited as whole tribes, while slave-soldiers could be better organized. Peasant conscription was rare, as elsewhere in medieval times.

I'm no professional historian. I don't know precise dates and the names of many dynasties. But you can't deny these common strands of history.


Hpstorian t1_j44193m wrote

You say "not quite as observant of the Prophetic example" yet that implies that the "Prophetic example" was understood in a monolithic manner. This is not the case, for even within a single "sect" you find a huge variety of understandings of both the example in question and what it meant for believers. While it is true that there was consensus on a few things (few would deny for example that the Prophet existed) outside of that there was a lot of diversity in interpretation and practice.

The most obvious example is that those we would now think of as "Sunni" and "Shia" sects began as trends in the conceptualisation of legitimate authority. That such a fundamental difference could exist is a pretty clear refutation of what you're saying here.

What in the Sunnah makes it necessary for tribesmen to be recruited that way? When in the life of the Prophet did he use enslaved soldiers from the steppes?

I know you're not a professional historian (and this isn't relevant to the truth or otherwise of my claims but I'm saying it anyway), but I am.

And your approach to this is not informed.


opolomoneima t1_j444fie wrote

The answer lies in the methodology of how Sharia is compiled and interpreted. Islamic law is extremely path dependent, so that theoretical inferences are drawn from what is clearly referenced from the Prophet's life and applied to new situations, which leads to new institutions, like. slave-soldier recruitment. Inferences drawn from these are applied to newer situations and so on.

This is how it went: The earliest Holy Wars were fought by people organized as clearly segmented tribes under the leadership of their chiefs. Alongside them fought believing slaves from places such as Ethiopia and Persia. There was a requirement for every able believer to fight. This much is recorded in the Sunnah.

Now, from this it can be inferred that there are 3 legitimate ways of recruitment: slaves brought along by their masters, allied tribes recruited as a whole and those who are bound as Muslims to a religious duty.

Apply this to the practical situation existing in the 9th century and you get the answer. Out of these 3 options, tribes were difficult to manage and you didn't want to empower the common folk Fellahin too much. So slave-soldiers directly owned by the Sultan became most convenient.

Yes, there are sects. The Shia-Sunni split is the result of a fracture among the very earliest companions right after his death. But within the Sunnis (who are and always were the vast majority) doctrine is pretty much the same. Only minute details of ritual vary, not enough to profoundly affect political structure. Even Iran wasn't Shia majority until very late and Egypt remained Sunni through decades of Shia rule.


omaca t1_j3ywwu3 wrote

I'm pretty sure that at various times the Caliphate(s) did indeed maintain professional armies. Cities like Giza were founded to host muslim armies away from "conquered" locals to avoid provoking rebellions etc.


janbx t1_j3yxj14 wrote

Yes they were called ‘Amsars’. The parent comment is historically inaccurate


[deleted] t1_j3ylw5s wrote



vrenak t1_j3ymlhg wrote

Yes, this super decentralised attitude is also a large part of why arab armies are so bad today.


FreeNoahface t1_j42r1iv wrote

It's the exact opposite, things are over-centralized and far too top-down. Everyone from sergeants to NCOs to generals are given much less operational freedom and need to ask permission for things that they'd be expected to just do on their own in the US military.


vrenak t1_j42torg wrote

You're confusing the attitude for the command structure, they're reverse of each other.


IDontTrustGod t1_j3yoza2 wrote

To add to this, to my knowledge, they would often travel “with the whole tribe” quite literally. So many times the male soldiers wives, children etc would be close by, traveling with the army in a second camp. This could lead to more relaxed and fraternal atmosphere within each tribe, while still allowing hostilities between the tribes as another commenter pointed out


MaleficentDistrict22 t1_j3yx8px wrote

Muslim armies at the time, mainly Ilghazis army were primarily made of Turkmen nomads. These nomads liked short campaigns and lucrative raids, however long sieges where one would sit in front of city or castle walls weren’t popular. These nomads would rather just plunder what was in the open, and go back to their horses and sheep. Another thing to note about them is they did not recognize the local emirs/beys as their rulers. These were wild men of the steppe. They avoided paying taxes and disobeyed laws. When things got tough, they would just move somewhere else without any regard for land ownership. Even the Turkish sultanates including Safavids and Ottomans had a hard time controlling the nomads. As a result, the nomads made for undisciplined armies. A Frankish serf or noble would face repercussions for deserting the army of the king, meanwhile the nomads would just move somewhere else.

Seljuk leaders were especially plagued by anarchy after death of Malik Shah. Seljuk central authority was non existent, and the various armies fielded by them would have very shaky chain of command. Among crusader armies you would have knights, and counts and the king, or an appointed commander above them. Meanwhile Seljuks armies a lot of the time would just have a bunch of lords that were not under a single commander and functioned as looser alliances. These commanders/lords would work with each other when it suited them, and simply desert when it didn’t.

I’d say what the author said is true for this time period. Two main Muslim states, Seljuks and Fatimids were collapsing at the time, and especially for the Seljuks the government authority was non existent. Without a legitimate state to pay and feed armies Muslims couldn’t maintain their armies. Though this changes with Zengids and later Ayyubids who built more centralized states that were as capable as any other state in the medieval times.


GRCooper t1_j3yhl3q wrote

There was also a lot of fractiousness in the Muslim world during the era of the first crusade. It was probably difficult to keep control if the guys next to you wanted to fight you almost as much as the crusaders. The crusaders, on the other hand, were more unified in purpose (without factoring in things like dropping out of the road to Jerusalem to found the principality of Antioch ;) )

Good book?


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yo6sa wrote

That one did pop up in my mind because asbridge mentioned that a similar problem plagued saladin's army at Acre during the third crusade. But Saladin's army was more geographically diverse than that of a regional bey like Il Ghazi.

The book is nice, a fun read. I have read other works by asbridge previously and he is a good writer, also uses both islamic and Christian sources to provide a good balanced perspective.


MaleficentDistrict22 t1_j3yxjen wrote

Keep in mind that Saladin ruled one of the greatest Muslim empires, Il Ghazi meanwhile was the governor of a Syrian city. He simply did not have the resources to maintain his army to the same extent as Saladin.


nykgg t1_j40v50x wrote

I’m very surprised and pleased by your thread because he was my undergraduate dissertation advisor. I’d also obviously recommend reading his work (especially The Crusades), but also another book he put me on to: Saladin: The Triumph of the Sunni Revival by Azzam. Potentially the best Saladin biography I’ve read


DJacobAP OP t1_j416tbo wrote

I have already read The First Crusade and The Crusades by him. I'll check out the one on Saladin


Ataraxia25 t1_j3yppq7 wrote

Are you sure bc that logic doesn't track with facts of history- like the European powers were constantly fighting each other back in Europe way more than the the powers in the Middle East fought each other. So by your logic the crusader armies should be harder to maintain in the field.


GRCooper t1_j3ys1p9 wrote

Yeah, but the crusaders weren’t in Europe at the time. They were, to quote Jake and Elwood, on a mission from god

Yeah, I’m sure they didn’t always get along, but if you and your men decide to go it alone in the Levant, you’re a thousand miles from home surrounded by people who want to kill you. That’s a big incentive toward working together

Additionally, the crusaders kind of congregated in Constantinople. Much of the trip they’d have been with their own guys, and probably wouldn’t have seen their European enemies until they’d entered enemy territory.

It’s a lot easier to bug out and go home if it’s a few dozen miles away.


failsafe07 t1_j3zapad wrote

The crusaders were a deeply fractious bunch almost from the get go though. It would repeatedly bite them throughout the period. It didn’t during the first crusade in large part because the region was, if anything, even more fractious than the crusaders were, and to top it off, the specific parts of the region were something of a liminal space between the major powers of the region so after Antioch there wasn’t really anybody with any particular ability or will to stop the progress of the crusade to Jerusalem, so all the infighting wound up not really mattering


mrgoyette t1_j40lr1m wrote

Yes, in fact the Fatimids arguably encouraged the Crusaders to make progress to Jerusalem. The political situation in the region at the time was far more complex than many responses here are making it out to be.


Irichcrusader t1_j414719 wrote

In addition, the leaders of the First Crusade deserve credit for (mostly) putting their differences aside and trying to work as a unified army. Bohemond, due to having the most war experience, was voted as the overall commander, but he still had to consult the other leaders when a big decision had to be made.

By contrast, a lot of later Crusades included several Kings with large egos that made it very difficult to work with one another. Of course, that's only one factor in why later Crusades failed. The Fourth Crusade, for all its twists and turns, showed remarkable cohesion and that may well be because it was a "Princes" crusades made up of Counts, Dukes, and whatnot that were prepared to fight under a single elected leader.


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yqkme wrote

No they aren't wrong I'd say. Levant was deeply fractured when the crusades began, with the seljuq sultanate in a decline and local warlords vying for power


Mackntish t1_j3zlg4v wrote

>List of conflicts in Europe

Are you joking? Arabs had a different take on the feudal system (Itqa) that was less centralized. The had multiple heads of faith, mostly terrestrial kings an emperors claiming the titles. They had a different marital structure leading to more pretenders to claims. They had a different succession system, often favoring the bold and ruthless. They lived on totally different lands with different forms of sustenance gathering. If you buy into Marx's substructure and superstructure, their dominant economic activities were different, changing every fabric of their society when compared to Europeans. Their armies were drafted differently, paid differently, drilled differently, comprised of different types of units, with different oaths to their lords, and with religion playing a different role.

You can't just wave that away with a chronological list of wars. It's not even relevant! Army cohesion is an internal affair. War is an external affair. What you've said is the worst type of history. It sounds plausible at first blush, but could not misrepresent the situation more if you had tried.


Borne2Run t1_j3zhcj2 wrote

This isn't really the case, its more that the Crusaders were an endless tide of religiously motivated semi-nomadic pillagers that descended upon Anatolia and the Levant. They were effectively a check on Muslim expansion in the region as a Christian antithesis to the nomadic Turkic armies of the period.

The Crusader counts were constantly betraying each other, and the Byzantine forces under Alexios Komnenos. Their heavy cavalry often won the day if they could actually get in close. Otherwise, they were prone to charging in recklessly and getting ambushed.


mrgoyette t1_j40leoc wrote

Specifically regarding Antioch, the Crusaders were definitley not 'unifed in purpose'. Other leading Crusaders disputed Bohemond's claim as 'Prince of Antioch'.

But, there was such an anarchy unleashed in the region at the time that Bohemond basically squatted in Antioch while the other Crusader elements and Byzantine forces were busy pursuing different aims (securing the Cillician borderlands, marching on Jerusalem).


Low_Ad487 t1_j3ylqsr wrote

Muslim Armies (I think) were not full-time armies. So people would sometimes want to go back home after the danger is gone.


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yoo49 wrote

Weren't European forces the same too? Raising levies during wartime and disbanding afterwards?


JonhaerysSnow t1_j3yp6kq wrote

Yeah but the European forces were basically trapped in Asia and couldn't afford to make it home unless the lord they came with also wanted to leave.


DJacobAP OP t1_j3ypwiw wrote

Most of them either returned after the first crusade or settled in the Levant since their lords founded their own states or acquired lordships. Besides they were connected by the sea.


JonhaerysSnow t1_j3ysvkk wrote

I think you need to do some more research on how the Crusades were actually organized and functioned. There's a BIG difference between "settling down afterwards" and leaving early.


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yuujl wrote

Would you like to suggest any particular text? I know there is a difference but they weren't trapped. If the king of Jerusalem disbanded his levies they didn't go back to Europe


MaximusDecimis t1_j3yp5df wrote

Not in their entirety. While some portion of the force would be disbanded, there were also full-time “soldiers”.


Low_Ad487 t1_j3yp4gc wrote

Yeah, but the Muslims didn't have specialized units (i think) so it's only light cavalry and skirmishers + light sword/spear infantry. Unlike the fully tranined Swiss or French heavy knights for example. They kinda were all levies and every person had their own weapons and horses like back in the Roman Republic times.


Stalins_Moustachio t1_j3yqwjp wrote

Sorry, but this is definitely not true. There was an elite class of cavaliers, commonly referred to as Fursan, who were supplemented with the highly trained and specialized Mamlukes. They were no less specialized than their European counterparts Alongside that correction, grouping together various kingdoms, empires and states under the monolith term "Muslims" does very little to reflect the diverse array of strategies, units, and tactics found across the medieval Muslim world.


Low_Ad487 t1_j3ystm7 wrote

Mamluks were specialized indeed, my bad. Though they were also light cavalry units. Muslims did not have any kind of heavy units (as far as I know) until the ottomans came into the scene.


DJacobAP OP t1_j3yplq7 wrote

That's a valid point. The Turks during this period would've definitely relied mostly on horse archers mounted on light horses while the European/Frankish forces would've had an elite core of knights (who were still in a very early stage of development)


Stalins_Moustachio t1_j3ze3eo wrote

There was no standing army anywhere in Europe or the Middle East at the time. I recommend checking out some sources that explain how feudalism (known as Iqta' in the Muslim world) worked in Europe


fuddstar t1_j3yymig wrote

It’s this. Professional fighting forces.

Its absence implies laxity in command structures, which makes battle strategy nigh on impossible. There’s also a bit of a pre-Islam legacy of tribal smash n grab light cavalry fighting styles in play, but that’s also a part of under developed military professionalism.

For the initial crusades in the 11thC western forces were superior siege experienced, paid soldiers. Under Saladin in the 12thC, Muslim soldiery started getting its act together to more efficiently fight the western military machine.

Islamic forces and battle strategies would continue to evolve over the coming centuries to meet and better foreign invaders - and each other. See 1453 Mehmed II siege and conquest of Constantinople.


ThoDanII t1_j40l8g5 wrote

If you do strategy in battle you do it wrong

laxity is not the domain of non profession armies.

There could and have been very professinal armies and soldiers who did not make it their profession and vice versa.


emcdunna t1_j3zsbj6 wrote

Lol the crusades is one of the worst understood parts of history. If you want to understand, start reading a lot of books on it. The pop culture history is very inaccurate and in many cases the exact opposite of the truth


Ok-Country2163 t1_j44d6pi wrote

agreed, especially the oversimplification of "Christian" vs "Muslim" trope


BalakofShaam t1_j421i10 wrote

Good answer above on the soldiers themselves but a key thing to note is that during this time it wasn't "Muslims vs Other", that came later with Zengi and Saladin.

It was Aleppo vs Damascus vs Mosul. When the "Franks" first came, the three city states basically played a staring contest with each other, thinking of ways to use the invasion for their own upperhand. So lots of retreats, fake promises and betrayals.

Nobody actually thought the Franks were a threat until Jerusalem fell.


HarlequinLord t1_j3zpgah wrote

I don’t know why this popped up in my feed but holy crap I’m happy it did. This is a fascinating read.


Due_Signature_5497 t1_j40jnx9 wrote

Because The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch was notoriously unstable.


Vivid_ger_3717 t1_j42mbth wrote

Muslim armies of the past were able to maintain a high level of effectiveness in the field due to a number of factors. One important factor was the strong sense of religious and cultural unity among the soldiers, which helped to increase morale and cohesion within the ranks. Additionally, Muslim armies were often well-trained and disciplined, and had access to advanced military technology and tactics.

Additionally, the Muslim empire was vast and diverse and the armies were composed of soldiers from various ethnic groups and regions, this diversity could be a source of strength as well as a problem, as it could lead to difficulties in communication and coordination.

Another important aspect that helped Muslim armies to maintain their effectiveness was the ability to draw on the resources of the vast Islamic empire and the support of the population. This gave them a logistical advantage over their opponents, as well as a steady stream of new recruits.

It's important to note that this is a generalization and it could vary depending on the period of time, the specific army, and the context.


Lord_Zeron t1_j40invk wrote

You can turn to r/askhistorians for this


Yungdaggerdick696969 t1_j41dizc wrote

Muslims have the same concept and belief about being a martyr (jihad) as everyone, we just fully believe it in every aspect of life. Studying and becoming a functioning member of society is jihad, raising your kids to be good people is jihad etc. Jihad is the way of sacrifice. You cut off one thing to gain two more, whatever your beliefs are ofc, so this translated heavily into warefare. Spain and Portugal didn’t become Muslim lands for close to eight centuries just like that did they. I advise you to read more about Muslim warfare because some of the acts are bordering on suicide missions without context


Stentata t1_j41pwhc wrote

Listen to Dan Harlan’s Hardcore History titled King of Kings. It predates Islam and covers the history of the near east up to Alexander the Great. However, it provides an extensive explanation of the geographic, and subsequent cultural and tactical differences between the “Asian” (mostly Persian) and European militaries. The geography doesn’t change much between antiquity and the crusades, so those differences carry through and are still applicable.


_Silly_Wizard_ t1_j3yl5ui wrote

I was reading 1453: the fall of Constantinople a few years back and as I recall, a large part of the reason Muslim invaders were able to field such problematically large armies was that the soldiers were expected to be self-sufficient, responsible for their own daily upkeep.


Yeangster t1_j3ylkaj wrote

That was true of most medieval armies, including the Crusaders.


Creative_Scallion_63 t1_j3yydyf wrote

Read about the siege of Chittorgarh. Thats one of the most famous sieges in Indian History. Rana Pratap Singh's Fort of Chittor was placed under siege by Mughal Emperor Akbar who was a muslim and his armies were comprised of muslim soldiers too.


Wazza17 t1_j3zc0a8 wrote

How did the pray five times a day work if you were in battle?


Stalins_Moustachio t1_j3zd6lm wrote

There is a unique exception in times of war that allowa for a contingent of worshippers to remain vigilant while the other row prostrates, and vice versa. It's often coined as the 'Prayer of fear.' During an actual battle, however, it's unheard of.


ThoDanII t1_j40lcot wrote

exactly like the maccabeans kept sabbath in combat, they fought


hotmailer t1_j42ae8m wrote

They take like 2 minutes to do each. I'm sure they could find 10 minutes total a day.