Today in history: June 10 odd and ends

We’ve got multiple things to note today, none of which really warrant their own separate entry. Let’s take them in chronological order.

On June 10, 1190, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I or Frederick Barbarossa passed away at the age of probably 68. Well, “passed away” doesn’t really convey the right sentiment–he drowned while attempting to cross the Saleph River (now called the Göksu River) near Silifke Castle in southern Anatolia. It’s not clear what exactly happened but the most plausible account has it that Frederick was thrown from his horse in the river, suffered a heart attack on the spot, and due to a combination of that and his heavy armor he drowned in what was actually pretty shallow water. Tragic, right? Anyway I’m not noting this because I’m fond of old Holy Roman Emperors, but because Frederick’s inability to properly ford a river contributed greatly to the failure of the Third Crusade, the Richard the Lionheart one.

Frederick all dolled up in his ill-fated Crusading costume (Wikimedia)

The Third Crusade was led by Richard (d. 1199), with his English army, and France’s Philip II (d. 1223), with his, uh, French army. But it was supposed to be a three-way affair also involving Frederick and an imperial army whose size remains a bit of a mystery. After he drowned, reports had it that he was leading a massive 100,000 man force to liberate Jerusalem from Saladin. But those accounts were probably inflated to emphasize the tragedy of his death, and it’s far more likely that he was leading an army a fifth or less of that size. Whatever the size of Frederick’s army was, most of it dissolved shortly after his death and only a remnant eventually made it to the Holy Land under the command of Duke Leopold V of Austria (d. 1194).

A full German army, and possibly Frederick himself, sure would have come in handy in the middle of 1191, when Philip, angry that Richard was overshadowing him, angry that Richard had up and refused to marry Philip’s sister (to whom he had been betrothed for some time), angry that Richard supported Guy de Lusignan’s claim to the Jerusalem throne while Philip backed Conrad of Montferrat, and keen to go home and see if he could conquer England’s continental holdings while Richard was still in the Middle East, up and abandoned the crusade. Leopold, who also backed Conrad, left too. Without most of the French and German forces (Philip did leave a token army behind to keep up appearances), Richard lacked the forces needed to besiege Jerusalem. He decided to turn his attention to Egypt, but his men nearly revolted. At that point, Richard told his forces that he would gladly march with them to certain death before the walls of Jerusalem, but he would not be responsible for leading them to it, and the crusade fizzled out.

The Battle of Pelekanon took place on June 10-11, 1329 between a Byzantine army led by Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (d. 1341) and an Ottoman army led by Sultan (actually Bey, a lower-level title that signifies that the Ottomans were still little more than a principality at this point) Orhan I (d. 1362). The Byzantines were attempting to relieve Ottoman sieges of both Nicomedia (modern İzmit) and Nicaea (modern İznik). They were outnumbered by the Ottomans but the Ottoman military at this point was limited to very irregular light cavalry while the Byzantines sported a professional military with knights and the whole shebang. Nevertheless, the Ottomans were about to outmaneuver the Byzantines and defeat them decisively.

Orhan I (Wikimedia)

It sounds weird to say because it wasn’t a particularly large clash and the Byzantine Empire lasted for another ~120 years after Pelekanon, but the battle turns out to have been their last chance to hold the Ottomans off and keep their Asian territory. Nicomedia and Nicaea both fell to the Ottomans in the 1330s, and from Pelekanon on the Byzantine-Ottoman conflict played out on European territory.

June 10, 1805, saw the end of the First Barbary War between the United States and the Barbary States, primarily Tripolitania (modern northwestern Libya). The war had started in 1801 over Barbary pirate attacks on US shipping in the Mediterranean. It ended with the US blockading Tripoli, a US-led mercenary army having just captured Derna and threatening to attack Tripoli by land, and with Tripolitanian ruler Yusuf Karamanli (d. 1838) facing rumors of a coup against him. The US agreed to pay ransom for sailors that the Tripolitanians had captured and in return the piracy against US vessels was supposed to cease. It did not, which is why the US fought the Second (and considerably shorter) Barbary War against Algiers in 1815.

Sharif Hussein (Wikimedia)

Finally, June 10 marks the beginning of the Battle of Mecca, and therefore of the World War I Arab Revolt, in 1916. This was the result of months of correspondence between Sharif Hussein of Mecca (d. 1931) and British High Commissioner for Egypt Henry McMahon (d. 1949) in which McMahon flattered Hussein, whose substantial ego had been bruised by the Young Turk government in Istanbul, and made promises of a post-war, pan-Arab kingdom under Hussein’s rule that Britain had no intention of ever keeping. The battle took almost a month, as even though Hussein’s forces vastly outnumbered the Ottoman garrison the Ottomans were better armed and much better trained. The introduction of British-armed and -trained forces from Egypt eventually turned the tide. Hussein was able to pin the destruction the battle caused to Islam’s holiest city on the Ottomans, which won his revolt crucial support throughout the Arab parts of the empire.

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