Tag Archives: Andrew Holt

Paying for Modern Wars by Looting the Past

The Syrian Government, the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, and others are looting antiquities (e.g. “blood antiquities”) to fund their war efforts in Iraq and Syria. It has become such a standard practice that the sale of illegal antiquities is now being formally taxed by ISIS, and is one of their most reliable revenue streams.

While this is troubling, perhaps it is more troubling, as Prof. Mulder at the University of Texas at Austin points out, that the profiteers are selling their stolen goods to westerners. She writes: Continue reading

The Growing Confidence and Strength of ISIS?

This recent image of ISIS (or “Islamic State”) is troubling for a couple of reasons. It’s not that they are about to mass execute a group of prisoners. They have been doing that all along to journalists, heretics (Shia), Yazidi, and others. What’s new here is that they are not afraid to show their faces and their uniforms are becoming standardized, suggesting a greater degree of both confidence and military professionalization. Continue reading

ISIS and the Medieval Spoils System: The Fate of Captured Women

I don’t know Arabic, but assuming the translations that accompany this widely reported on video of ISIS (or “Islamic State”) soldiers laughing and joking as they wait to receive their share of captured Yazidi slave girls are accurate, then it is deeply disturbing. Around 19 seconds into the clip, one smiling soldier exclaims, “By Allah, man, I am looking for one to get me a girl.” At this, other soldiers in the room laugh and another declares for the camera, “Today is the female sex slave market day, which has been ordained.” The video is available on YouTube here.

Beyond the revulsion one feels for their cavalier attitude toward the enslavement and sexual abuse of children, a crime that fits well with a long list of documented atrocities committed by members of ISIS, I was struck (as a medieval historian) by how well such rhetoric seems to match a twelfth-century Arabic source for the crusading era. Continue reading

St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the U.S. Marine Corps

I was just reading this selection (below) from a chapter in my dissertation. After celebrating the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps recently, then reading St. Bernard’s very positive description of the Templars, it struck me how much he might also have liked modern Marines.

“Writing around the year 1129, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most influential religious voices of
 the twelfth-century, found it troublesome that the knights of his era had grown to love “effeminate locks” and
 silk clothing decorated with silver, gold, and precious stones that were impractical for combat. Indeed,
 Bernard attacked the highly prized traditional masculine persona of secular knights when, regarding their
 flamboyant apparel, he asked, “Are these the trappings of a warrior or are they not rather the trinkets of a
 woman?” This was in stark contrast, Bernard noted, to the unwashed Knights Templars, who dressed simply, wore 
their hair dirty and short, and always maintained what was, for Bernard, the properly rugged appearance of the 
true warrior. In drawing such a sharp distinction between secular knights and Templars, Bernard highlighted
 two models of warrior masculine identity that existed at the time. Yet the differences of appearance 
identified by Bernard above only begin to scratch the surface of the much larger distinctions that existed 
between the two models in how they understood their roles as men and warriors in medieval European Christian

Well, at least Bernard would have appreciated the haircuts and appearance of Marines in the field. Modern Marines would have quite a way to go before they reached the level of chastity and humility of the early Templars (that Bernard appreciated so much).

Early Christian Pacifism?

Below is the text of an old graduate school paper I wrote in 2007 reviewing the historiography of early Christian views of warfare. I am providing it here because I once had it available on an older website I managed and it was, surprisingly, cited in the footnotes of a number of online essays or books published afterward (based on my search of google books). Because I no longer maintain the older website, I wanted to make it available here. There is nothing new here for scholars of the period and it is a bit dated now, since it was written nearly eight years ago, but some seeking trustworthy information on the issue may find it useful as a summary of scholarship on the topic until 2007. I present the text unrevised, as I originally wrote it, and I have kept my old footnotes and bibliography for those seeking to research the issue further. But the reader should know that a number of new scholarly books addressing this topic have been published since 2007 by those who specialize in this area.

As a crusades historian, I was undoubtedly interested in comparing the moral reasoning and justifications for crusading provided by 11th and early 12th century theologians and canon lawyers with early Christian thinkers on the topic. Indeed, in popular understandings of the early Church, the apparent passiveness of early Christian martyrs as well as the works of a number of early Christian writers have been cited to argue that the Church was effectively “pacifist” in its approach to violence (in contrast to later crusades era clerical authors). Yet while crusades era theologians were undoubtedly innovative in their rationales permitting the Christian use of force in the era of the First Crusade, they were not entirely divorced from the “early fathers.” Modern 20th and 21st century notions of pacifism would not apply to the early fathers’ generally non-violent approach (as a religious minority operating in Roman society until the fourth-century). To the contrary, early Christian writers acknowledged that Christians served in the Roman army and in some cases respected the right of the Roman state to use violence to defend its borders (even praying to God for Roman military victories). This is not pacifism by any modern definition. Yet this is not to say that early Christian writers were warmongers as they typically abhorred violence. Indeed, while they may have sometimes saw the use of violence by the Roman state as acceptable, this did not mean they necessarily felt Christians should participate in such violence. This essay attempts to tease out the complexity of these early Christian views on the matter. Continue reading