The Turk as a Tool of God: Augustinism and the Battle of Nicopolis

The Turk as a Tool of God: Augustinism and the Battle of Nicopolis

By Charles-Louis Morand-Métivier

Paper given at the Vagantes: Medieval Graduate Student Conference, held at the University of Pittsburgh (2011)

Morand-Métivier examines the Battle of Nicopolis (1396) where the Ottomans under Sultan Bayazid defeated a Crusader army of mostly French and Burgundian troops. He focuses on how this defeat was presented in Crusader sources, namely Phillippe de Mezieres’ Epistre Lamentable et Consolatoire and Michel Pintoin’s Chronique de Religeux de Saint-Denis.

Mezieres notes several problems with the Crusader army, beginning with their lack of piousness, which made them unsuited to go on a Crusade for God. He complains that they were not respecting the laws of war, were drunk, and had not prepared for battle. The chronicler writes:

“They had no shame in spending the entire night in debauchery and orgies, and passionately played with dice, which is the origin of betrayal.”

“They stood up and kicked the tables away. They asked for their weapons and their horses. They were drunk after drinking too much wine. They were highly agitated and were not aware of their actions, but nevertheless went to fight.”

During a crucial stage in the battle, out of pride the Crusaders did not listen to the King of Hungary’s advice on how to attack the Ottoman force, a mistake which ultimately led to their defeat.

Pintoin adds that the Crusader knights needed to be punished for their sins, which was the reason why God handed the victory to the Ottomans.  He even presents Bayazid as being the tool of God’s wrath, writing “Great God, your justice is like the great deep, as the prophet said. You are the only one, O Lord, who can do everything you want, and no one can resist your will. You laid your hand on your people, using Bayazid as the tool of your revenge, and you allowed him to exterminate the Christians.”

The execution of the captured Crusaders after the battle – which French sources number between 6000 to 7000, while Ottoman sources claim that only 300 to 400 were killed – are also dealt with by Pintoin. He writes that Bayazid ordered the killings, in part, because of the faults of the Crusaders: “It is not fair, he said, to keep my word to these men who ignored laws and treatises. They soiled their very own laws and regardless of the promises they made to our people, have shown no mercy and exterminated poor people they have promised to spare. I believe that in order to get revenge for so many crimes, we have to kill all our prisoners.”

Morand-Métivier notes how crusading against the Ottomans and other Muslims was justified, in part, by the theory of Just War developed by Saint Augustine.  Since the crusaders failed to live up to the ideals set out by Augustine, the theory of Just War now came to reflect a criticism of the crusades in general, and marked a turning point in the decline of crusading.

Click here to read more from the Vagantes conference

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