medieval


This is a wide topic, I admit, but I try to be as brief as I can.

The medieval era from the fall of western Rome to the rise of renneissance was the era of the heavy cavalry in Europe. The Roman legion was made obsolete by more mobile and better equipped heavy catapracht cavalry, that the Romans adopted from their eastern neighbours in Armenia, Syria, Persia and the Scythians, Sarmatians and the Huns of the wide steppe. The medieval epitome of warfare was the concept of the Knight. Armoured, highly skilled and armed like his predecessor the cataphract with a lance and sword.  A knightly culture and social class ruled over rest of the society for some thousand years and went into decline as the infantryman once again surplanted the heavy cavalry as the foremost element to win any battle.

So highly was the heavy cavalryman regarded in medieval times, that often even though armies consisted from far more greater numbers of infantry (of varying quality) their numbers were not even mentioned or really counted when the strength of an army was evaluated. Examples of this can be found from the opposite ends of the European continent. Even in the long tradition of military training and analysis of the Byzantine empire they would often only count the number of cavalrymen, when they made estimations of their campaign forces. When the English met the French in the battle of Azincourt in 1415, the contemporary sources say that the French outnumbered the English three to one, but in reality this only meant that there were three times the amount of French chevalliers and gendarmes in comparrison to some 1000 English knights and men-at-arms. We know, that there were several thousand English archers and siege specialists on the field as well, but we simply do not have any contemporary estimate as to how many infantrymen (crosbowmen and such) did the French bring. Neither the archers or the crossbowmen, nor any of the possible billmen, spearmen, halbardier, or what ever were expected to have any impact on the result of the battle.

One might think that such disregard of the infantry was the result of mere arrogance coming from a sort of espirit de corps -sort of elitist social culture. In part it was that, and as in Azincourt, sometimes this sort of arrogance was proven to be fatal, but there were reasonable reasons for this attitude. The archers and crossbowmen and what have you other sorts of infantrymen were brought to field battles only to give a supporting role to the “real” soldiers of the heavy cavalry. Their main function was to serve as siege troops. To provide the necessary arrow fodder and shoot their arrows to make both assaults on ramparts and their defence difficult, but not to solve any field battles or even sieges. Thre were battles fought where a score of few hundred heavy cavalry destroyed several times stronger armies of infantry, suffering hardly any losses in turn. In comparrison the individual infantryman, hired or levied, had rudimentary education to the arts of close combat, was poorly equipped and motivated. The armoured man-at-arms in effect ruled the battlefield wether if he was mounted, dismounted or stood on the parapet of a castle.

The military ability of the man-at-arms did not only provide possibility for him to set himself to lead the society, it was also seen as a justification for him to stand in that position. The relevance of the knightly class in the medieval society has often been misunderstood and not seen as significant as it was, because such institutions as the church painted a bit different picture and gave other excuses for those who held power than their ability for violence and quite a bit of the contemporary sources from said era were written and preserved to posterity by the priesthood. But the medieval era was far from being extremely religious. It was superstitious and religion gave plenty of moralist excuses for the violence, but this was because the priests almost invariably came from the same social class as the men-at-arms. The priests were born as sons of knights, lords and well, other priests. Medieval bishops often had themselves depicted in armour, rather than in religious vestments. In general it seems religions do not set the moral standards for any society, rather the society sets the moral standards for the religion they have adopted. For the medieval European Christians church was not much else but a method to justify the feodalist social system, just like for the modern US Christian fundamentalists their churches are mere methods to justify their Capitalist values.

https://i0.wp.com/www.themcs.org/armour/knights/Germany%20Mainz%20Landesmuseum%20Erzbischof%20von%20Koln%201340%20499.JPG

This dude in the picture is the archibishop of Cologne from around mid 14th century. His shield has the cross emblem, not uncommon heraldic device for less religious troop types either, and his helmet bears the bishops mitre as a heraldic device from wich his status can be easily recognized on the field of battle.

It has been often presented, that the introduction of gunpowder made the heavy cavalry obsolete, and thus ended the era of the knights. But this is a silly notion, as we know that the heavy cavalry retained it’s elite status on the battlefield even long after Napoleon. There are several reasons why heavy cavalry went into decline and foremost of them is that they themselves started to dismount for combat more and more often during the late medieval centuries.

The warhorse was an expensive asset to loose in combat, so it stood to reason not to waste it in so many frontal charges. While the benefit of the cavalry is the hard hitting mobility, this mobility makes it also an unreliable battlefield asset. If the heavy cavalry decides to retreat, they do it faster than any infantry, and that is one of the main reasons why medieval infantry was considered weak and unreliable, as they had to run away from the field long before their mounted masters decided to, if they did not want to be the ones easily cut down in the chase by enemy heavy cavalry. In the late medieval times some military minds gathered, that infantry could be a lot stronger, if it was armed so that it could withstand enemy cavalry charges on it’s own, without the support of the men-at-arms wether mounted or dismounted. Great national armies began to appear as kings and cantons were no longer dependable on the feodalistic protection racket. With the appearance of the national armies and autocracy slowly the national states appeared as well. And thus the medieval social structure based on the monopoly of violence by the heavy cavalryman crumbled. This in turn released all sorts of new ideas, that led to religious reformation, but more importantly to ideals of human value and enlightenment.

Sadly the history of warfare is not just a straight line of violence and of technological innovation separate from the rest of human achievement, but rather the history of human sociological evolution.

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Have you ever watched a movie with expensive cars in it, or a very plausible space ship interior? Ever wondered what it cost to the film makers to have the expensive car in the film being driven around, abused and even wrecked, or the space ship interior being build? Have you ever seen a movie set in the middle ages with an even remotely plausible set of armour in it? I am not talking about Game of Thrones, or the Lord of the Rings as accurate descriptions of medieval history. But movies set on some particular date from actual history. I have seen some, that could pass, if one was not very knowledged in medieval armour and with the understandable suspense of disbelief in any movies. But most seem to have these terrible pieces of armour bought from the sale at the cheapest costume shop in the internet, and all the medieval people including the armoured knights and men-at-arms seem like they woke up in a dump, wearing rags and scrap metal attached to leather around their bodies. Why? Are the production values for medieval movies lesser than any other sort of movies?

Here is a short film, about the mobility of armour, with a couple of very good reproductions of accurately brightly polished 15th century armour and a couple of the most simple of historical techniques actually found in contemporary sources. Notice also how they demonstrate the fact, that hitting the armour with a sword is a wasted effort:

Any number of sports cars in movies are a lot more expensive than a good quality reproduction of a suit of armour is – that one can find from the markets these days. Why is it then, that movie makers do not invest in this, even when they are making a movie about medieval times with seemingly big budget? Because the audience does not know what an armour should look like? Because the movie makers and the audience expect medieval times to be dark, damp, ragged and dirty? I have no idea what the interior of a future space ship should look like. Do you? But it is obvious, that when the movie makers want the audience to have that particular suspense of disbelief to set in instinctively, they put a lot of effort and money into making the set seem plausible, and not just something they found from a garbage dump.

Perhaps, the problem is, that people do expect certain things from a sports car, space ship interior, and alas an armour in a movie. That previous movies have set the example, that forms much more so, than the actual reality, what to expect. Like the fact, that in movies a car is supposed to explode when it plunges from the road? Or a space ship interior is supposed to have the captain’s seat in the middle of the room? Armour of the bad guys is supposed to be made out of riveted black leather?

The other reason might – just might – be, that the film makers, directors, art directors, costumers and all, have no clue as to what armour really looked like and any remotely sword shaped piece of scrap metal, passes as an actual sword. It seems also, that they have no real interrest to even bother to find out. But why not? Would not a film about fast cars be more applauded, if it did not have the typical movie mistakes, like bursting into flame when all the wheels are off ground? Or a space ship interior presented as no-one had seen one before, for example the captain’s seat in the roof upside down, or something? After all, in space there is no gravity to hold the crew on some common floor and digital graphics can work wonders. What about a totally new concept of making a medieval movie and finding out what the alledged period really looked like and investing in better quality of armour, weapons, and fight coreographs who actually know something about medieval fencing? Why would that be too hard? These items and people are around. If you ever need any and do not know how to find them, contact me.

I do realize that the purpose of films is to satisfy the public at large, who do not know how easily a motorcar explodes. Who expect a space ship interior to be just so as in Star Trek and countless films after it first appeared. Who think they “know”, that the medieval armour is clumsy, bulky and dull, and fights look exactly like the mad hacking, or kung fu jumps in their video games. However, would it not serve the movie, as a piece of art work to stand out from the mass, to promote it widely in the eyes of people who are actually interrested in the subject, be it cars, space ships, or medieval times, that the enthusiasts of the subject would notice the effort to quality? Especially these days, when word gets around in the social media and as such it can serve as advertisment and promote the sale of tickets. Would it not ultimately even serve the egoes of the directors and others responsible, that they actually achieved quality?

I for one am quite sure, that if the general public would even once see a medieval movie, with some high quality reproduction armour and nifty fencing moves taken straigth from the actual medieval fencing manuals, even the most ignorant of the audience would be impressed. It might go against some of their pre-set biases, but seeing is believing, and it might be a box office hit as well. Well, if the film was any good otherwise, anyway…

Do you have an example of a good medieval movie in wich the armour and/or fighting was plausible?

Often enough we hear people appeal to values as a foundation for the society, but where do they come from? Separation of state and science from church is a big issue today even globally, while one can hardly dissect religious values out of politics as long as people have religious feelings. Different societies have different values and many, if not all, societies have even within them a confrontation of values. Are our social values just some form of human interpretation of some invisible fight between two groups of opposing supernatural entities, that we have decided to call the ones benevolent to mankind good and the ones not evil?

Saynte George?

Medieval angel

A traditionally conservative perspective on values is, that they have been inherited from our ancestors and that they are good because they have provided us with the current exellent society. This is the same in almost any society we are talking about. But how good are the societies we live in? Are we moving towards a better society, or from it?

The blind spot of cultural tradition providing us with values lies in people not really recognizing history as something real. The past generations may have had the same religions as the people today, but only in name. The average Christian of the 14th century would not understand the values of the average Christian of today. They might recognize the rituals, and the most obscure and vague, though seemingly important, concepts of the supernatural, like the idea of the salvation. But the actual practical applications of any value based choises would be totally alien to them. The further we as individuals but also as societies come in our understanding of reality, the better information we have at our disposal, the better we become in dissecting what could be objective from our subjective minds, to make ethical evaluations of any given situations. Yet, religions provide authority of these hypothetical god-characters to the values they happen to hold at the moment. As the major religions are also social powerstructures they typically hold on to the values of the previous generation. Minority religions are sometimes even more strict, because they need to keep their adherents on a tighter leash as the values they present as their own are not universally accepted by the society.

Majority religions are strong currents of tradition within societies and they often stand for the status quo of any society. The stagnant situation may be seen as good merely just as an option to possible social unrest. But the biggest religions are often the oldest and inherited from rather socially primitive and ignorant socieities. The ancient religious scriptures and other traditions often enough sport both moving humane issues, that we can recognize even after generations, but equally they are tribally moralistic works of fiction and obvious superstition. It seems universal, that most people become blind to the superstitions of their own cultural heritage, while they are fully capable of recognizing such in some foreign culture. Equally the values inherited from our own culture are seen as good and the cultural values of others (puttin exoticism aside) as evil, or at least strange and questionable. There are simple and easy methods to evaluate the justification and ethics of any cultural values, but these are not often even taught in schools. Why? Because of the fear, what they might reveal us about ourselves to our offspring?

We are all engaged in ethical evaluation all the time, wether we know it or not. Because, basicly ethical evaluation is only the evaluation of harm and benefit to us as individuals and us as members of the surrounding society. By society here, I mean the many layers begining from the closest family, friends, social groups, nations and even the entire humanity. As mammals we share with other such an empathetic skill inherent to all social species. It dictates a lot about our behaviour towards each other. We are to individually varying degrees both social and selfish. Most of us learn through our empathetic ability the most simple tools of ethical thinking, like putting ourselves in the position of another, already as little children. The trouble with such a simple tool seems to come from cultural traditions in wich we start to put each other into boxes in order to cope with strangers and to intuitively react to possible threats they present. For example, we form and learn stereotypics of different nationalities, tribes, cultures and at worst even according to the perplexion of people. It seems to be just too hard for some people to try to cope with individuals as the individuals they are and not some predeterminable representatives of this, or that bigger group of people and preferably recognizing such from others with the most superficial glance possible.

Values are results of processes, not some fixed ideals, that could stand on their own just because a god said so, or because we chose them through equally arbitrary method and then mutually simply agreed upon them. But processes represent change and that alone seems overwhelmingly threatening to some people. As if some of us were so inherently fearfull of even a thought of a change. The question is for us to evaluate the processes and choose them according to best results. How then do we decide what is best, or even good? To put it as simply as I can, the method to choose what is good and valuable is, to choose the values, that under most objective scrutany give us the results for general human wellbeing only for the simple reason, that we making the choise are indeed humans. As chosen by the largest group of people with the best awailable information who would prefer the values and conditions resulting in them to themselves and equally to others. That is the value of democracy.

The alledged opinions of supernatural entities have the ethical right to try to influence our ethics, if they can first demonstrate themselves to exist through the most objective scientific methodology we have. If these alledged entities are clever enough to have something worthwhile to say, they bloody well, ought to be able to reveal themselves to us all in an equal manner. Otherwise to hell with them.

If there ever was a historical period, that was burdened with myths, it is the medieval European culture. In contrast, we have surpricingly sobre picture of the Mediterranean antiquity and their culture. This is because of the medieval monks, who painstakingly copied some of the histories and high scholarship of the ancient philosophers. Only occasionally did the monks add anything to the ancient scriptures, to mold them to more reflect their own worldviews. The monks lived in a culture that was obsessed about the truth being found from the ancient scriptures, hence they did put a great value on the ancient wisdom. That wisdom did affect even the monks and scholars of the all encompassing Catholic church. That is one of the reasons for the division within even such very authoritarian international system as the medieval church.

Most myths about the medieval times now familiar to us were infact invented during the centuries after what we now in hindsight call medieval times. Many of them were invented by the religious reformists acting against the Catholic churhc, in order to oppose any sentiments of lost golden age by those who might yearn for times when Christendom stood almost undivided and the Roman Catholic church ruled over almost all of Europe. Propaganda to remind people, that those seemingly unified times of western church were not such happy times at all. Such propaganda came from the necessity, that the new protestant movements could not blame the Catholic church for crimes that were equally manifest in the newly founded protestant societies – like for example social inequality.

The philosophers of enlightenment period and their agnostic and deist values have been blamed for launching some of those myths degrading the medieval era and especially blaming the allencompassing Catholic church value base. However, it is more like they were the victims of their predecessors in a society that knew precious little about the past other than anecdotes and was only just on the brink of the invention of actual scientific methodology, not to speak about the application of this method to investigate history and historical claims.

The problem of historical research is, that the vast amount of knowledge to even understand the research results of any one particular subject is ever surmounting and seems difficult to handle. Therefore historical research drags some of the assumptions of the past generations and those form the common understanding of history. Outdated studies with questionable methodology get referred to and act as authority. Of course, the study of history is like any other science – self correcting and ultimately we can leave myths to the place they deserve, but unavoidably the biases people have by political, or religious views affect the interpretation of results.

A new phenomenon, now that we have started to understand how much of medieval times have been misunderstood, or misrepresented, is that some people want to rehabilitate the entire period. Since we now understand that medieval people actually washed themselves and did not live in squallor (at least if they were wealthy enough to choose not to), it still does not mean that for example the crusades were a good idea nor morally justifiable by such ethically acceptable notions as self-defence.

Who would defend the crusaders? Several groups of people might be interrested in defending the justification of these holy wars. One group is the right wing political looneys, who as ever the nazies, are always ready to distort history for their own cause. Today, in Europe at least, the anti-semitists of the past day have very racistic feelings for the immigrants from the rest of the world (at least as long as we are not talking about a bought wife from South-East-Asia). They share suspicion of Islam with the extremist Christian groups who would also creamcoat the crusades as these have been a big question mark on the benevolent nature of general Christianity and of course we have some extreme Catholics, who, are indeed ever disturbed by the constant reminders of the questionable nature of their form of faith and cause.

This serves as a great wittness to the victory of secular ethics and morality over religious tribal moralism as even the religious people finally accept that the mere word of a god transmitted by some demagogue (in the case of the crusades invariably the pope) to kill people seems like an undefendable moral position. However, this was not the case for the crusader. He did not have to invent such ethical excuses like claim to self-defence to attack the heretic, infidel, or pagan, as he had every reason by the social values of his surrounding society to kill those enemies of the”mother” church and conquer the holy sites like Jerusalem.

Such disfiguration of history as to claim, that the crusaders were only defending Europe, are of course ridiculous. Some crusades were indeed launched as a response to a plea of help by the Byzantine empire, who was attacked by the Turkish tribes, but they did very little to help the schismatic Byzantines. Instead they moved straight to Palestine to conquer Jerusalem and some of the neighbouring cities. And after they had been driven out of the “Outremer” they finally backstabbed the Byzantine empire by conquering their capital Constantinople, after wich the Christian empire never really regained it’s former strength and was slowly devoured by the advancing and consolidating Turks.

One of the myths concerning medieval times is that the crusades were against the Muslims. No they were not. Most of the crusaders had no idea of what a Muslim is before they arrived to Palestine and most of the crusades were not even directed there, or elswhere against the Muslims, but against other Christians within Europe.

A crusader in the 1st Crusade of King Magnus 1348 to Russia.

A crusader in the 1st Crusade of King Magnus 1348 to Russia.

I have a couple of words in defence of the crusaders… Surpriced? I believe most of them set of to war in a distant land in good faith, that what they were doing was ultimately right and justified by the ultimate authority of a particular god. I think they were wrong, and their deeds were mostly just evil. It is terrifying how people end up doing all sorts of evil not motivated only by personal greed, but by false beliefs, that they have a good cause to do the evil. They were the victims of social and religious indoctrination and ignorance of ultimately a violent society.

What is the most absurd myth about medieval times you have run into?

Some people have told me, that the medieval people knew, that the earth we are standing on is a sphere. This can be traced down, for example, from some medieval illustrations in which the planet is depicted as round. The interresting question is, who in the medieval times was aware of this? Was it common knowledge among the vast masses of people, or was it only privy knowledge of the University professors who knew about the Ptolemic model of the Universe? What was their understanding of it?

I have also been told, that Galileo Galilei was NOT martyred for science, because the medieval church was NOT opposed to science. Yes I know, put like this, it sounds a bit weird and it is a bit of a simplification of the idea, but essentially what I have been told to think. Well, he was not burned on the stake, because he recanted his statements, so I guess it must be so. Is it? The interresting question here is, who in modern times even knows why poor Galileo was accused of herecy? Most people have heard his name…

Galileo Galilei was accused of herecy because of his heliocentric views in 1633. He recanted, and was not sentenced.  Eventually heliocentricity was lifted from the cencorship list of the Catholic church in 1758 (only some hundred years after the trial, but who is counting) and allready in 1992 (less than 400 years after the trial) the pope John Paul II apologized the treatment of Galileo!!! Besides, today we know, that Galileo was indeed wrong – The sun is not the center of the universe.

According to a couple of recent studies 66% of people in Europe and 74% in the US are aware that the earth revolves around the sun. In these studies it was also revealed that only 66% of Europeans and some 48% of US population were aware, that human beings have evolved from other animal species. Or to be more precise, these are the persentages of people who got it right when asked. This essentially means that a good part of them only managed to guess right. While all the people who got it wrong obviously did not know these elementary scientific facts, there is a group of people who also have little, or no clue, but managed to make the right guess. Even accepting that these studies do not tell the entire story, I find this alarming. Do you?

Have you ever wondered about sci-fi movies where the film makers obviously could not understand the difference between a galaxy and a solar system? Or why on earth do the alien species from other planets look like humans with rubber masks on? Well, call me a geek, but I have. No longer do I have to wonder such blatant idiocies. If almost half of the audiences even here in the western world have no clue wether the earth revolves around the sun, or that human beings are animals evolved under specific conditions from other species on this particular planet, then none of such stupid and illogical things should disturb them a bit. And after all it is all just entertainment.

The really frightening thing is, that these are more or less democratic countries where we, the adult population are all voters. When we are voting for candidates do we understand what sort of leaders we are choosing? If the basic understanding of science is this poor, the choises made can be really bad. It is paradoxical how far our science has taken the limits of human information and how little of it the common man understands.

Our position in the universe, or our origins as a species may seem like trivial things in modern politics, but when people are choosing representatives to make decisions about things like nuclear power, military funding, climate change, euthanasia, abortion, or any other decision involving ethics and science, then what kind of choises will be made and on what grounds? Their personal beliefs in their preferred superstition (read religion)? Can we expect the politicians to make informed choises based on known facts, if they are chosen by and representing people who have no clue of the most basic facts?

How important is this lack of information and understanding of it? As whith any choises we have to make,  whith better information better choises are made. Correct?

*The research about European knowledge was an Eurobarometer from 2005 and the research about US science knowledge was a study by the National Science Foundation on Public Attitudes and Understanding 2012.

It has been estimated by archaeologists, that the genetical and cultural ancestors of Finns have lived in Fennoscandian peninsula for some 12- 10 000 years. (Double the age of the earth if compared to the genealogies of the Bible.) First historical comment is from Cornelius Tacitus 97 AD whose account does not even make it very clear if he is actually talking about Finns, or our close relatives the Saami, or the Estonians. Or if, actually the Sithones whose lifestyle closest resembles, the one we now know from archaeology, our ancestors had, is a description about our ancestors, or some of our Swedish neighbours (whose lifestyle choises may have been rather similar to our ancestors).

The Swedes and other Scandinavians reappear to the pages of history, since their disappearance from record with the downfall of the Western Roman empire, when their neighbours the French and the Britons re-learn to write historical annals again. And the early descriptions from the 8th century are of norther barbarians coming with their boats to plunder and pillage. Today still those barbarians are called the Vikings. But despite Finland is one of the Nordic countries, it is not part of geographical Scandinavia. Most of the Finns are not ethnic Scandinavians (though some are) and the Finnish language is not a germanic language as the Scandinavian languages. Thus the Finns were not Vikings. Not as such.

When the Vikings were assimilated to the Christendom in the 11th century and they in their turn learned to write historical annals and chronicles, they also describe northern barbarians coming to raid and pillage. And those barbarians were called the Finns. Presumably this raiding had been going on for centuries before, but it only ended up in historical sources when the people subjected to this horror first could make historical sources of their predicament.

One of the ancient Norse Sagas tells us of the Norvegian king Olaf, who tried to Christen the Norwegians but failed and was martyred in the process and subsequently was also proclaimed a saint. This saga also tells us how he as a young man and a “sea king” raided Finland but was defeated by the tribal army of the Finns and barely succeeded in escaping the storm conjured by the Finnish witches. Now, even though we do not take it at face value that Finns actually managed to conjure a storm by magic, it is interresting, that the saga describes both Finnish witches summoning the storm and the subsequent weather conditions very much like the ones we specifically often get in our sea areas today.

Both Swedish and Russian early chronicles tell tales of the Finns attacking on their territory and coming with fleets of ships to raid. The Novgorodian chronicles tell how the “Sum” (the Finns Proper) and “Jem” (the Central Finns) made repeated attacks against territories taxed by the city of Novgorod and how the merchant princes decendants of mighty Variagi Norhtmen drove these raiders from their lands.

A tribal Finnish warrior armed with a spear, sword and a wooden leather covered shield whith a wooden boss. He wears a fur hat, a cloack that is bound by a fibula from his hip, leaving his right hand free to act, a kneelength woollen tunic, linen underwear, woollen hose, leg wrappings and leather shoes. He does not carry his bow nor arrows and has for some reason stepped down from his skis into the snow.

A tribal Finnish warrior armed with a spear, sword and a wooden leather covered shield whith a wooden boss. He wears a fur hat, a cloack that is bound by a fibula from his hip, leaving his right hand free to act, a kneelength woollen tunic, linen underwear, woollen hose, leg wrappings and leather shoes. He does not carry his bow nor arrows and has for some reason stepped down from his skis into the snow.

The Swedish chronicles tell how one of the mythical early kings of Sweden – Erik the Holy – took to arms to stop the Finns raiding on the Swedish shores and archipelago. His attempt to pacify the Finns was called the first crusade in these stories. According to this legend he took with him a Gaelic Bishop called Henrik and sailed to Finland where he asked the Finns to accept the Christian faith, but they made mockery of him. Then  the Finns gave him battle, but lost. Then the king returned to Sweden and left his bishop to rule in Finland in his stead. The legend also tells us how one of the Finnish chieftains rebelled and made a martyr of the said bishop.

The so called first crusade has no surviving contemporary sources and alltough king Erik who led the warparty is a historical character and confirmed so by some contemporaries, his ally the Bishop Henrik has regrettably left no contemporary sources of himself. But the legend was written down after a shorter a while – only some 150 years – than it took the Islanders to write down their sagas telling tales from the Viking age. So, we have every reason to believe that the descriptions of the legend of the first crusade to Finland are based on actual events, though we do not know wether how accurate the description of events is. Certainly we do not think that the mythical parts about the rebel Chieftain Lalli loosing all of his hair by miraculous revenge for him killing a bishop is very accurate. Or do we?

It is surmissable, that the reason why the legend describes a divine revenge as the fate of chieftain Lalli, is because the Swedish rule was not really established in Finland at the time and no actual revenge for killing the Bishop could be achieved. The kingdom of Sweden was only in the process of forming and internal strife was constant. Hence, the Swedish kings were busy fighting for their position, and alltough a crusade/raid/counterstrike/pre-emptive strike against the Finns Proper may have been a good propaganda stunt for a contestant to the throne initially a continous war beyond the sea against foreign barbarians would have been expensive and futile, while there were other contestants to the throne.

It has been presented that Christianity came to Finland peacefully through the work of missionaries and merchantmen, but I believe this view is strongly informed by an ideal vision of what Christians of our day would see their religion as. A religion of love and peace and a very model of humanist ideals of secular society. But there are no historical nor sociological reasons or evidence to assume that the early Finns turned from their own religious and spiritual traditions into other sort of religion any more peacefully than any of our neighbouring nations and infact there are an abundance of evidence to the countrary. A nother religion is assumed by a tribe or a nation only when their leading figures assume it for military/political/economical reasons. Or when such leadership is overthrown by a new group of leaders who receive military/political/economical support from the new religion.

The way Finns are depicted in the early chronicles by our neighbouring Scandinavians and Russians is as a horde of pillaging pagan raiders moving rapidly by boats and armed by spears, bows, shields, axes and swords. A picture confirmed by the abundant archeological evidence from the era. The Finns do not equal in fame or achievement of their neigbbours the Vikings as fierce barbarians. But according to the archaeological evidence some of them did travelled whith the Scandinavians all the way to Byzantium and perhaps beyond.

On the field between the villages of Tannenberg and Grünwald in Poland the armies of the Polish kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on one side met the army of the Teutonic Order and their crusader allies in the summer of 1410. The battle was one of the largest battles throughout the medieval times and several thousand men were killed during a single day. Not many battles fought in one day even in modern times have reached equal carnage, and most of it was achieved in bloody close combat.

A common soldier lost among the dead knights in the field of Grünwald.

A common soldier lost among the dead knights in the field of Grünwald.

The Teutonic knights had chosen and prepared the battle field and were present there in the early morning hours in characteristic German proficiency waiting for the Polish army to arrive. It was a hot summer day and the knights were sweating in their armuour.

The battle was joined before noon and the feroucious assault of the Lithuanian army on the left wing of the Order army was repelled. The bulk of the international crusading force followed in pursuit of the Lithuanian retreat and the Polish right flank was exposed. The Grand Maister of the Order, Ulrich von Jungingen saw the opportunity to bring the battle to a  swift and victorious end. He himself led the charge of the well rested elite of the Battle Brethren of the Teutonic knights to the side of the exposed Polish center.

The onslaught of the Teutonic knights was directed on the Great Krakovan banner of the Polish chivalry. They had allready been committed earlierly and run out of their impetus, and now they simply had to weather the fierce charge of the Teutonic Battle Brothers. In the ensuing melee the Krakow flag the standard of this unit under immense pressure was siezed by the Teutonic knights. This spelled doom on the Polish side. If the Polish knights of the Krakow banner had lost heart the entire Polish army might have fallen like a deck of cards. But they did not fall back. Instead they doubled their efforts to reclaim their beloved standard and achieved this. It was a surprice to the Teutonic warrior monks.

By all previous experience, the mere shame of loosing their standard in the first place should have broken the Polish, or any other military unit of the day. Yet, it did not. The Polish and their allies from Chech and Smolensk stood their ground.  As a result the elite of the Teutonic monk knights found itself fully committed in the battle and surrounded by enemies. Their high commander the Teutonic knights Ulrich von Jungingen was a target very close to the enemy and as such was cut down. By the time some of the Lithuanian units that had retreated the battlefield returned the Teutonic army was being broken.

The international crusaders had dispersed out of the field in their pursuit of the much lighter Lithuanian cavalry and had achieved to actually catch very few of the Lithuanians. The Teutonic knights were in full flight from the field and the Polish slaughtered the footsoldiers and servants of the Teutonic knights in the wagon fort camp of the Teutonic army.

Chroniclers tell us that the Polish king Jagiello had the barrels of wine in the Teutonic encampment hacked to pieces, because he was affraid that if the Teutonic army would reorganize and return to the field the Polish army would be too damn drunk to meet the threat. They say the Polish knights and soldiers salvaged what wine they could after that hot summer day in their helmets and even in their shoes…

We do not know what happened with the Great Krakow banner. What psychological or sociological symbolism drove the Polish to act as if in desperation. Did it have anything to do with intent, or even the flags themselves. In the tumult of close combat and in a distortion of a situation when a several hundred men strong unit loses it’s baner, how many men actually have time to take heed at the event. Most are locked in deadly combat for their lives.

However, this episode reminds of the story told by none other than Julius Caesar, when his legiones first invaded Britain. The entire operation was about to be repelled by the Britons who would not let the Romans take as much as a foothold on dryland. At that moment the standard bearer of a Roman legion made a radical move. He threw his standard overboard to the horde of the Britons and jumped right after it himself. So great was the commitment the legionaries felt for their sacred standard, and so great was their fear of the shame of losing it, they all stormed the beach and won the day. Was this about heroism, cunning, or fanaticism?

When the Americans took with them the Flag of the US onto the moon, was it a cunning way to claim moon for their nation? Could anyone, even by organizing that enormous feat to leap between two heavenly bodies, have an ethical right to claim an entire moon for their own? Does not the moon still belong to all of us on earth? Equally, just like before the US citizens taxmoney funded moonflights? Does the moon belong to anyone regardless of how many flags we ever bring there? If not, then what land belongs to whom and by what right? Did these astronauts represent humanity, or the nation of United States of America? Only a fraction of humans are Americans and only a fraction of those people are US citizens and taxpayers.

What about the Russian effort to claim the natural resources under the Arctic by posting a Russian flag at the North pole on the bottom of the sea by submarine? Do these expensive symbolical gestures hold much value in the minds of people? Shall the future citizens of the USA and Russia think they have some special priviledges on these places, because their nations were the first ones to plant a flag there?

Are we humans susceptible to such symbols as flags? Is it an inherent trait of ours as it appears in so many cultures throughout human history, that we may enter into a state of mass psychosis because what a flag, or other inanimate object symbolizes to us? Or are these simply the results of some menial traits of our psyche being used in accordance with our cultural heritage in crowd controll by those who know better?

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