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Camels in early medieval western Europe (2016) (caitlingreen.org)
61 points by Thevet 12 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

Camels were used in present-day Romanian Dobruja up until at least the 1930s, first introduced there probably by the Ottomans or even the Tatars before them. One such article (in Romanian) with a couple of not-so-great but rare black and white photos of said camels: http://adevarul.ro/locale/constanta/povestea-camilelor-dobro...

Europe used to be intertwined with North Africa and current Turkey/Israel a lot in medieval times (those regions were parts of Roman Empire for quite some time). It’s quite recent that very strong ties between Europe and North Africa / closer part of Middle East have been cut more or less.

Wasn't Turkey, well, Anatolia, mostly Greek/Hellenistic in nature, especially along the significant coastline, and wasn't till the ottomen and their "conquista" of the peninsula drove out the Greek and Roman vestiges?

The Anatolian and Thracian lands were part of the Greek cultural sphere historically (well, at least since Alexander's conquests peeling them off of Persia). Alexander's conquests ensured that Egypt and Palestine would remain in Mediterranean-centric empires--these were part of the Roman Empire and then the Byzantine Empire.

The Arab conquests quickly removed Egypt and Palestine from the Byzantine world. The Seljuk Turks moved into central Anatolia (this is what prompted the Crusades), and did seek to take Constantinople, although they were done in by the Mongols instead.

The Fourth Crusade resulted in the sack of Constantinople by Western Christendom. The Latin Empire didn't last terribly long, and the remnants of the Byzantine Empire took it back within a century, but the Byzantine Empire was at this point in a fatal cycle of internal rebellion. At this time, the Ottomans, who start out as a minor Beylik in western Anatolia, take advantage of Byzantine distraction to peel off the lands of Thrace and move their capital to Edirne and solidify themselves as the dominant power in the Balkans. It's from this base that they ultimately defeat the European powers (Battle of Varna) and put the Byzantine Empire out of its misery (conquest of Constantinople).

By and large, the Ottomans actually brought back stability to Thrace and Anatolia, at least for 300 years or so. Anatolia was lost to the Seljuks long before, and the Ottomans were the first power to be able to unify it under a polity since the collapse of the Sultanate of Rum. Christian infighting caused the political instability in the Balkans that the Ottomans were most able to take advantage of.

Note that the change in political control doesn't necessarily correspond to change in the general inclinations of the population. Greeks and Armenians still remained a major part of the Seljuk and Ottomans (although they did decline over the centuries), and the Ottomans were generally quite tolerant of this heritage for the first few centuries (much less so after around 1700).

"By and large, the Ottomans actually brought back stability to Thrace and Anatolia,"

A bit hyperbolic, but what comes to my mind when I hear empire praise is an older quote: "And where they created a dessert, they call it peace"

I mean yes, you can maybe not judge them by our standards (on the other hand, I was just reading about syria and all the different groups fighting there for oil and gas .. so where are our standards actually), but still, I don't like to hear praise for a invading force, even though it might be strong enough to prevent war for some time for its new slaves... (again hyperbolic, I know and also that you probably didn't mean to "praise", just stating the facts)

But thanks for your good summary!

Great summary. I’ve been working through a lot of this on Wikipedia for a while. Do you have any recommendations for books related to the above events?

The best book to recommend about the history of the Ottoman Empire is "Osman's Dream", which covers the history from its origins in the 14th century to the deposing of the last sultan as caliph in 1923.

The crucial point was the sacking of Constantinople. Basically Western Christians sacking the city and raping and destroying center of Eastern Christianity. If Christians would have instead united history could have been quite different. The era of crusades is very interesting and complex. Lots of very important historical events that shaped the world history afterwards happened during those times. Lots of parallels could be drawn even to our current time we are living (hint hint).

The most significant demographic change for the city was actually not the Ottoman conquest, but its destruction and rule by the Western Christians ~200 years prior. These events took the population down from about 400,000 to about 35,000. It never recovered. By the time Mehmed II came along, it was only 50,000.

Constantinople was just one city though. Antioch, Edessa, Trebizond were all major Greek cities which were conquered by the Turks.

It’s pure speculation but if instead of sacking Constantinople and killing all of those people West made an alliance with East, Byzantine Empire could have survived, albeit losing substantial territories in the East. The situation of Eastern Romans was bad with them losing a lot of their eastern provinces but they still had some fight left in them.

The Byzantine Empire was faced with a conundrum. It needed political allies and military support to be able to see off the threats of the Seljuks, then the Mongols, and finally the Ottomans. The major Latin Christendom powers were hesitant to give that kind of consistent alliance to the heretical Orthodox/Catholic split, and many Byzantine emperors did seriously consider the idea of giving up the Orthodox to obtain that support. However, the emperors who did so faced the severe wrath of their core population, driving rebellions instead.

The Byzantines were effectively forced into a mode where they had to choose between internal and external security, which is a large factor of their terminal decline. By the Fourth Crusade, the Empire was pretty much in a state where the surrounding powers had more reason to wait to pick at its corpse than to help it survive.

I've thought about that a lot too. It's possible, but I think that thread failed when the re-conquered cities were turned into the Crusader States rather than being returned to Greek control. If anything, I feel like the Siege if Vienna would have happened at the walls of Constantinople instead and history would be more or less unchanged.

I can’t reply to your reply for some reason :P

You mentioned Siege of Vienna. Remember that it eventually failed and it culminated with Battle of Vienna when Ottomans were completely defeated and soon after driven out of Europe. I would have thought that had the battle happened outside Constantinople instead of Vienna the history would have been changed completely. Vast parts of Ottoman Empire would probably be part of EU now.

Yup, people forget that the Mediterranean was the middle of the known Earth, not its southern border.

Yes. Romans actually were heavily invested in Northern Africa - today’s Egypt, Libya and so on were valuable parts of their domain. Northern Europe was actually more unstable and more of a “barbarian” land controlled by wild Germanic tribes. Those got later incorporated into the empire through the Roman army which preferred soldiers from Germanic lands in the north due to their valor in battle.

Would you have some pointers to more information on the topic?

The Yale series on the early middle ages has some good info in the first six or seven lectures[1] My favorite relevant tidbit is that Roman North Africa was the major supplier of grain to Italy, at least in the 4th and 5th centuries, when disruptions in North Africa could cause famines in the city of Rome. When the Vandals in Spain were looking around for another juicy piece of the Roman empire to settle in, they (supposedly) wrangled themselves an invitation from the Roman governor of North Africa, whom they promptly betrayed and defeated. They consolidated control of North Africa and held it for almost a century until Justinian, ruling from Byzantium, took Africa back for the empire. At that point, North Africa was a much more important region than Italy was, and many historians argue that Justinian's reconquest of Italy from the Goths immediately afterwards was a waste of time.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZC8JcWVRFp8&list=PL77A337915...

I’d definitely start with Ancient Greece as it preceded Romans and Romans had to wage war agains Greek states in the beginning to become the real deal. Perhaps even start with Alexander the Great and his conquest.

I would then look into Carthaginian wars, famous general Hannibal and his fate. This was a crucial period when Rome was competing with Carthage for the top spot and at times it looked quite dire for Rome as Carthage had an upper hand.

Next interesting period would be Julius Ceazar and especially what happened after his death when his generals were battling to inherit his empire which eventually led to the split into eastern and western Romans. This split later continued when Christianity became mainstream religion and lead to Byzantine Empire.

You can look into the sack of Constantinople and wonder what would happen if Western Christians didn’t sack and destroy Eastern Christians allowing Islam to take over the region.

And then we come to the German rise as German lands become the heart of the indirect continuation of the Roman Empire in the form of Holy Roman Empire.

The History of Rome podcast talks a lot about present day Turkey and the rest of Asia Minor, as well as Carthage and Egypt and other North African places as they were all parts of the Empire.

I don't have anything more specific about later history, but the spice trade and the Orient Express are two (I think) fascinating pieces of history that tie Western Europe to North Africa and eastern Asia. The history of the Crusades is also integral to understand the mixing of these areas... Europe wouldn't have cared if they didn't think east Asia was "theirs" in some way.

I don't have anything more specific about later history

The History of Byzantium podcast picks up right where the History of Rome left off. It's mostly about the east Roman empire, but also covers the all its neighbors.


I would continue the Roman story even after the end of Byzantine Empire. Indirect continuation would be Holy Roman Empire. Very interesting podcasts could be made about its history, intrigue and power struggles. All the way up to events which led to First World War.

Sorry I wrote east Asia when I meant west Asia, but I didn't realize until after I couldn't edit it anymore. West Asia aka the Middle East.

Most of the replies are related to Roman stuff, but more 'recent' checkout the Moors: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moors

They created some amazing architecture and culture in Southern Spain.

The article's record of Spain ends abruptly in the late 7th century, only 4 decades prior to Islamic rule.

So either the Umayyads had no use for camels or Dr Green's research doesn't include records from the period.

Great article!

I believe I've heard about their sporadic use in medieval Europe before, but certainly never in the context of humiliation of ones enemies.

This really supports the whole "reality/truth is stranger than fiction" trope, as we would probably dismiss a novel or movie set in medieval western Europe with scenes that depict people paraded around on camels as "unrealistic".

Another strange historical use of camels was an experiment during the Cariboo gold rush on the west coast of Canada (central British Columbia)


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