Was the Pisan campaign against Sardinia in 1016 the first crusade of all?

(ORDO NEWS) — During the First Crusade, the city-state of Pisa, like many other European powers, was moved by the pleas of Pope Urban II, who in 1095 ordered the Christian kingdoms of Europe to launch a holy crusade against Islam and recapture the divine city of Jerusalem.

Led by their enigmatic leader, Daibert, the Pisan chroniclers spoke with characteristic praise of their army’s efforts in the east, declaring that it was Pisan’s courage and might that caused the fall of Jerusalem.

But in reality the Pisans were too late. Daibert and his armada did not reach Laodicea on the Turkish coast until two months after the capture of Jerusalem. But had the Pisans already undertaken the first crusade almost 80 years before?

In 1016, Pisan troops moved against the Muslims of Denia in Sardinia, hoping to retake the island from the Islamic occupiers.

Historians call the Sardinian expedition a “proto-crusade” because it had all the hallmarks of a crusading tradition. It also marked the beginning of the domination of the Pisans in the Mediterranean and their exalted place in the ranks of the first crusaders.

Preparing for an Expedition to Sardinia: The Pisans

By the time of the First Crusade, the city of Pisa was a multinational and economically powerful entity, dominating the Mediterranean. The Duomo, completed in 1092 a few years before the First Crusade, reflected the wealth and glory of Pisa with its smorgasbord of international influences.

Gigantic marble columns connected the growing city-state with the architectural grandeur of antiquity, and the stylistic diversity of its grand facades echoed the eternal artistic triumphs of the legendary civilizations of North Africa, Spain and Byzantium.

The composition of the people was not diverse, as noted by the Italian monk Donizone, who represented a number of ethnic groups in Pisa:

“He who comes to Pisa sees monsters coming from the sea, pagans, Turks, Libyans, and even Parthians and dark Chaldeans, scurrying back and forth along its shores.”

However, Pisa was not always a Mediterranean power. In the 8th and 9th centuries, Pisa, along with other Italian city-states such as Venice and Genoa, was relatively peaceful under the French Carolingian monarchy, preferring to trade rather than fight.

However, after the Muslim conquest of Spain in 711 and the gradual establishment of a Muslim naval presence in the Mediterranean basin, Pisa became increasingly aggressive towards the new Islamic inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula in the struggle for domination of the sea routes from the western to the eastern Mediterranean.

The rise of the Pisans began in 970 after a skirmish in Calabria, on the Italian coast that Muslims periodically occupied throughout the 10th century.

In maritime geopolitics, Calabria was of strategic importance, as it traditionally secured control of the straits separating Reggio and Messina in Sicily, which gave greater access to the Mediterranean.

Signs of Muslim retaliation appeared in 1004 when they attacked Pisa, prompting them to retaliate in 1005 against Muslim-occupied Reggio.

Reggio was chosen by the Pisans because it usually served as a hideout for Muslim pirates, suggesting that the attack was part of a larger effort to destroy the Muslim presence in the Mediterranean.

Evidence shows that at the same time, Muslim raiding parties were wreaking havoc in the cities of southern Italy: Capua, Benevento, Bari and Naples suffered from Muslim raids.

At the same time that Pisa was grappling with the emerging Islamic threat, in the late 10th and early 11th centuries, it also embarked on an ambitious defense program, doubling the size of its city walls in response to Muslim attempts to usurp power.

With the economic expansion of Pisa in the early 11th century, adequate defensive measures such as fortifications were needed to secure Mediterranean trade routes and promote Pisan progress.

It was in this atmosphere that Sardinia became one of the main disputed islands, which eventually led to direct conflict with the Muslims in 1016.

Was the Pisan campaign against Sardinia in 1016 the first crusade of all 2
The richly decorated mihrab in Cordoba, where the Muslim Umayyads, enemies of the Pisans, had their strongest naval base in the Mediterranean. A mihrab is a niche in the wall of a mosque or religious school (madrasah) that indicates the direction of Mecca (qibla), which Muslims turn to during prayer

After the establishment of Muslim power in the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, the Mediterranean experienced a resurgence of Islamic piracy.

In the 10th century, pirate strongholds established at Fraxinetum in southern France and Pecina in southeastern Spain were at first independent.

But over time they came under the control of the Umayyads, an Islamic dynasty that exercised dominion over Spain from its capital in Cordoba and sought to consolidate its power in the Mediterranean.

With their brand new acquisitions, the Umayyads continued to sanction and support piracy by attacking Christian cities in southern France and Catalonia.

For Muslim jurists tasked with interpreting the sacred writings of the Qur’an, piracy was another form of jihad legitimized by the divine texts.

Spain’s first Islamic ruler, Abd al-Rahman III, viewed it favorably as an extension of the holy war against the Christians and the heretical Fatami Shiites, who at the time dominated the Mediterranean melting pot.

However, after a few years, the Umayyads began to realize that more wealth could be obtained through the lucrative trade networks of the Mediterranean.

As a result of a change in policy, agreements were made in 940 and 941 that allowed merchants from Barcelona, ​​Sardinia, Narbonne and other maritime trade centers safe passage through Islamic waters.

Until the year 1000, the Mediterranean experienced a period of stability and calm, when Christians and Muslims strengthened their economic power through peaceful trade.

However, cooperation ended in 1004 after a Muslim raid on Pisa, prompting the Pisans to strike back at Reggio the following year. In 1011, the Muslims continued their new aggressive policy: Pisan sources reported that a “fleet from Spain” had arrived to destroy the city.

The change in Muslim policy at the beginning of the 11th century is associated with the rise to power of Mujahid al-Amiri in 1002, an ambitious ruler of the Balearic Islands and Denia, appointed by Amir Muhammad al-Mannur of the Amirid dynasty, who controlled the Umayyad Caliphate in Spain.

After a civil war in 1009, the Amirids fell and Mujahid became the leader of the Muslims in Denia as the Iberian dominions of the Umayyads disintegrated into smaller kingdoms called taifas.

Denia was the richest of the taifs, and many famous and famous Islamic scholars and poets lived in it, who enjoyed the patronage of the caliph. Their main source of income was booty obtained as a result of raids, including captive people, whom they sold to other countries of the Islamic world.

After the Pisans’ counterattack in 1005 under Reggio, Mujahid looked elsewhere for funds after his kingdom had been weakened by defeat.

The Mujahid, whose court was in the port city of Denia, decided to restore the superior economic status of the taifa via the sea, which distinguished him from his Muslim neighbors who preferred land conquests.

No less important than the economic aspects, Mujahid also sought to legitimize his new power through the divine calling of jihad, which he intended to wage through piracy. In the Islamic world, holy war was a requirement for new Muslim kings seeking to prove they were God’s representatives on earth.

This was also the case in Spain, where the first caliph of Iberia, Abd al-Rahman III, confirmed his rule of jihad. In addition, the master of Mujahid, Amir Muhammad al-Mannur, strengthened his dominance even earlier by attacks on Christian lands in the north.

With the establishment of Caliph in 1013, Mujahid began to closely follow the successful examples of his predecessors.

Like Pisa, Mujahid recognized the economic and political importance of Sardinia in the struggle for power in the Mediterranean, and in later years he would take steps to conquer this hotly contested island in order to assert jurisdiction over his new dominions.

Was the Pisan campaign against Sardinia in 1016 the first crusade of all 3
Nearly 60 years after the “Zero Crusade” of the Pisans ousted the Muslims from Sardinia, Lérins Abbey on the island of Saint Honorat was fortified as Muslim raids continued to plague the island

Sardinia was a vital territory in the Mediterranean, linking the busy trade traffic of the Muslim seas in the west with the Italian cities in the north. Therefore, she was central to the expansionist plans of both Muslims and Pisans.

Whichever power controlled the islands, it additionally caused devastating economic damage to the other, which was deprived of access to the most important trade routes, which raised the stakes even more.

In 1016, after a series of first sorties, a fleet of 120 Mujahid’s ships and a detachment of 1,000 cavalry soldiers set off for Sardinia.

For Mujahid, he simply continued the Muslim story of intrigue in Sardinia, as the island had often been used by Muslim invaders in the past. For example, in 841, an Islamic raiding party that attacked Rome used Sardinia as a forward base.

The Mujahid was trying to capture the island, which had traditionally been a no-man’s-land, fragmented by weak pockets of Islamic and Christian control.

During the time of Mujahid, the island was ruled by a number of weak local magnates who swore allegiance to the Byzantine Empire, but were unable to defend the land from external attacks.

As a result of the mixed population, the remains of an Islamic settlement remained on the island, which the Mujahid used to his advantage. For example, the church of San Giovanni in the village of Asemini was rebuilt from the ruins of a North African-style mosque.

2 Islamic funerary inscriptions have also been found in the area, indicating the existence of a large Muslim community on the southeast coast of the Cagliari region, where the Mujahid and his jihadist troubadours originally landed.

In response, a huge combined flotilla of Pisan and Genoese ships was sent. In fact, the last time the Pisans sent such an armada to defend Sardinia was almost 200 years earlier, in 829, which indicates the importance they attached to the return of Sardinia to their orbit.

The participation of the papacy was also important, which was extremely concerned that the Muslim attack took place in the immediate vicinity of the house. By his order, the naval forces of the Pisans and the Geons, who were often enemies, were united.

Pope Benedict VIII announced the granting of privileges to those who fought against the hordes of Mujahid, and sent a vermillion banner with Christian troops for spiritual support.

In addition, according to Thietmar, an 11th-century German bishop, the Pope urged Christians to take up arms against Muslims who were marauding along the coast of Luni. He portrayed the exploits of Mujahid in direct confrontation with God and his armies as “enemies of Christ.”

The division between good and evil was reinforced by a story in which a Mujahid sends a bag of chestnuts to the Pope to show the number of Muslim soldiers he will release against Christianity.

In response, the Pope sends a sack of millet to Mujahid to show the number of Christian soldiers he will send to protect the interests of the Lord in Sardinia.

This religious response from the papacy led many historians to characterize the expedition to Sardinia as a proto-crusade.

All the hallmarks of the crusade, such as papal support, promises of divine reward, and the sharp division between good and evil delineated by anti-Muslim rhetoric, were evident along with the cooperation of the Christian kingdoms of Pisa and Genoa against the common Islamic enemy.

Indeed, divine intervention may even have played an important role in the downfall of Mujahid’s forces. Finding himself outnumbered by the combined Pisan and Genoese fleet, Mujahid ordered his ships to flee.

Subsequently, they fell into a violent storm and were crushed against the rocks of a dangerous bay, where they foolishly decided to land.

Beginning of the Mediterranean Empire

After the loss of Sardinia, Mujahid abandoned his imperial ambitions in the Mediterranean. Despite this, he continued to harass the Pisans, making small attacks in 1018, 1019, 1021 and 1028. His successor, Ali, was no different from the others, unsuccessfully trying to retake Sardinia from 1044 to 1056.

But the acquisition of Sardinia allowed the Pisans to expand rapidly, and Muslim raids became increasingly ineffective in the 11th century as the Italian city-state consolidated its hold on the Mediterranean.

In the second half of the century, the Islamic poet Abu al-Arab Musab al-Sikilli, knowing about the new change of power, declined an invitation to go to Seville from Sicily, arguing that: “the sea belongs to Rum, and the ships sailing on it are subjected to great risk.”

Eventually, the Muslims turned to heavy taxation of their subjects to replenish their treasury as the proceeds from piracy and plunder dried up.

The year 1016 marked a turning point for the Pisans, who survived a meteor shower after an expedition to Sardinia. It was also a “proto-crusade”, a Christian weapon of expansion that would be fully realized and developed almost 100 years later by the paladins of Europe on their journeys to Jerusalem.


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