A series in which I make you feel less lonely, realizing how many other pandemics humans have lived through.
Crusader Epidemic at Antioch
Today’s epidemic is unique in that we don’t know what disease it actually was.
It could have been typhoid, a disease we haven’t covered yet. Fun facts about typhoid: some people aren’t affected (a la “Typhoid Mary), it is a bacterial infection called Salmonella serotype Typhi (a cousin of yer basic salmonella), and humans are the only animals who transmit it. We can’t blame typhoid on rats, bats, cats, or corpses. Typhoid is on us.
What we know about today’s plague is that it was part of the Crusades, one of the more bewilderingly stupid things people have gotten involved in (IMHO).
The First Crusade was from 1095 to 1099. At Antioch, Seljuk Turks ran the city, and Crusaders (French ones) appeared wanting to take it from them. Mind you, there were people who were Muslim and people who were Christian living in the city, but no one really gave a shit about that.
The Crusaders were disappointed because the Antioch was bigger and better defended than they had imagined. They spent the winter of 1097-98 hungry, cold, and wet, while waiting to attack. Some soldiers sneaked off, which to me seems wise.
Then surprise! The Crusaders finally attacked, in June. They won!
A couple of days later, this guy Kerbogha, a Turk, showed up and laid siege to Antioch. The Crusaders had been locked out and suffering. Now they were locked in and suffering.
It all looked pretty bad for the old Crusaders, until someone found… THE LANCE USED IN THE CRUCIFIXION.
I wish there were anything, anything, I could find and be inspired by the way people were inspired by THE LANCE USED IN THE CRUCIFIXION.
I’m not even being snarky here. I have some dirt from the banks of the Mississippi, from Hannibal, dirt endorsed by Mark Twain, and some dirt from Kurt Vonnegut’s yard in Iowa City. I believe in that dirt. I might believe in a cocktail shaker used by FDR.
Anyway they were psyched. They busted out of Antioch and beat Kerbogha’s army.
This seemed like good news.
Just kidding, now they get sick. It was hot, they were hungry, and more and more people got sick.
Around 30 or 40 people died each day. Women were especially vulnerable, women including the wives and sex workers and servants of Crusaders.
As with many diseases back in the day, they didn’t know what to do, so they just had to wait. They sat and watched survival of the fittest do its horrifying work on people with names and faces and laughs and private jokes.
They spent the summer and fall and half of winter being picked off by (probably) typhoid.
Some of the troops were bored, and thus went to attack other nearby cities. They brought their disease with them. Ugh.
About six months after they had won Antioch, the Crusaders convinced Raymond of Toulouse to to head on to Jerusalem, where surely everything would improve and only glory and happiness awaited them. Right?
There are other sieges and diseases related to the Crusades, so maybe we’ll revisit this time in history later on. As stupid as the Crusades seem, they do leave us with a lot of illustrations and paintings that I aesthetically enjoy.