„Robustos Viribus“ Georgians and „Effeminatus“ Greeks

In the History[1], William of Tyre continuously characterized the Greeks on the background of the following periods: pre-Crusade, the First Crusade, the establishment of the kingdom of Jerusalem, the Second Crusade. This seems natural according to the international relations and geographical factors of that time. The anti-Greek mood was clearly visible in the Latins’ worldview. The clear example of this was the depiction of Alexios Komnenos in dark colours by William of Tyre (however, Alexios’ policy was the basis of this). The negative attitude had significant bases. William retold about this in the second and third books of his History. For the author, the most unacceptable was the Greeks’ "feminine softness" and "non-masculine” character. In this context, we find it interesting to draw a parallel between the Iberians’ (the Georgians) and the Greeks’ valour and strength via relying on the author's information. As we have already mentioned, the Greeks are the main characters of the history of Archbishop of Tyre, who tells about the Georgians only in the 16th Chapter of the 11th Book. The issue is interesting for Georgian historiography, because mentioning of the Georgians in Tyre's History is the novelty. It should be noted that Alexander Tvaradze published this information for the first time [Tvaradze, 2008:185] and afterwards, David Tinikashvili used it in his PhD thesis [Tinikashvili, 2015:180-181].

In our case, the comparison of the Greeks and the Georgians, the discussion and analysis of their qualities is the innovation for the Georgian as well as for the European historiography. We would like to mention the following:  from the point of view of the proportion, the author's information (about the Greeks and the Georgians) is unequal, but it is very useful and interesting. William demonstrates the Georgians’ military skills and combat qualities so positively that it encourages us to process the issue in this respect. During describing the combat characteristics of the Greeks, the author uses the epithets "weak", "feminine", “of a feminine nature". Later we will analyse the passages, where the author points to these qualities. He opposes the Greeks’ "powerlessness" and "weakness" to the Latins’ bravery. For Archbishop of Tyre, for the man, who was educated in Bologna and Paris, for whom the knight’s values ​​and principles were a usual phenomenon, the "cowardly" and "lazy" behaviour of the Greeks was unacceptable. That was why he expressed such joy and surprise, when he spoke about Iberia.

  Before moving to the issue, we would like to emphasize the terminology that William used to represent the negative side of the Greeks. In the source, during the formation of the Greeks’ image, he used two words -  "Effeminatus" and "Molles". "Effeminatus" is translated from Latin as: delicate as a woman, weakened, a man with feminine features, over-sensitive, unmanly, faint, feminized. The direct translation of "Molles" is weak, soft. After studying the source, it is easy to guess that the author uses these terms synonymously and points to the weakness and cowardice of the Greeks via relying on the context. For example, in the 4th Chapter of the Book II and in the 11th Chapter of the Book XXII, he uses the term "Mollis", while in the third chapter of the Book XV, "Effeminatus" is indicated and in the 17th Chapter of the Book XVII,both terms are used [William of Tyre, 1949: 1.11, 2.4, 15.3, 17.17, 22.11.]. For the author, these two terms mean the same. They consider the feminization of the Greeks.

  When we talk about the feminization of the Greeks, we must allocate two principles by which William valued them:

  • The inability of the Greeks (which was reflected in the fact that they couldn't  protected their territories);
  • Feminisation of the Greeks (in everyday life).

It is interesting that in both aspects, the Georgians occupy a higher position in William’s eyes. The author starts talking about the inability of the Greeks in the 1st book [William of Tyre, 1943: 1: 11], when he tells about the dialogue between the Patriarch of Jerusalem and Peter the Hermit. The Patriarch says: “We have no hope henceforward of receiving any aid from the empire of the Greeks, although they were more closely connected with us by blood and proximity and have far greater wealth. They are barely able to defend themselves, and their strength has so dwindled away, as your brotherly kindness may have heard, within a few years, they have lost more than half their empire”  [William of Tyre, 1949: 83]. It is interesting that in contrast to other parts (where William talks about the Greeks’ cowardice), in this passage William does not criticize the Greeks. However, the situation changes drastically, when the Crusaders step on the land of the Empire. The Latins always had a negative attitude towards Greeks and William used this for doing his work. When we talk about William of Tyre, we should take into account the fact that he was not only a historian, who described the history of his country, but he was an ideologist and a theorist of the crusades[2]. Byzantium, who failed to protect Christian countries and places of worship, conditioned starting of the march. This was well understood by William. He tried to create a legitimate basis for replacing the Byzantines with the Latins in the east. The author indicated (at least six times)the Greeks’ "powerless" and "feminization".  This can explain the fact that neither Albert of Aachen nor Fulcher of Chartres tells us about Peter the Hermit's and Simon of the Patriarch of Jerusalem's dialogue. We know that William used the notes of these two historians for the determination of the facts of that period. It should not be excluded that this conversation was inserted with the author’s interpretation and the good knowledge of events. Although this is our personal assumption and we do not have any evidence other than the intuition of a historian.

   In Chapter 4 of the Book II, the author recalled the weakness of the Greeks in two places. He pointed out that one of the expressions of failure of the Greeks was the fact that they could not protect their lands. According to the author’s words, Bulgaria’s lands were the places, where people could find any desirable item or goods. In the time of William, all of these was stripped [William of Tyre, 1949: 121-122]. It is interesting that the author connected this fact with two reasons. In his opinion, the poverty and degradation of the empire was  stipulated by the "sinfulness" of the Byzantines, but they fell into sin after the Greek dynasty replaced the Latin dynasty on the Byzantine royal throne. “The barbarous people of the locality immediately took advantage of the weakness of that power” [William of Tyre, 1949: 121]. In this passage, William wanted to say that the newcomer Greeks were initially weak.

  “There were other provinces also in the same district, Arcadia, Thessaly, Macedonia, and the three provinces of Thrace, all of which were involved in the same misfortune. Nor were these the only possessions which the Greeks had lost by their weakness. For, even later, after the Greek Emperor Basil[3] had subjected that same Bulgarian people, no one was permitted to occupy or cultivate the land in the more remote provinces. Especially was this case in those which border on foreign kingdoms and through which their own lands are approached, namely, the two Dacias. The same conditions exists today” [William of Tyre 1949: 122]. By saying so, William showed his audience how weak and soft were Greeks. They lost lands all the time. They did not even have an access to cultivate the land near the border.

On the background of the above mentioned, it is interesting that William perceived the Georgians differently. In the 11th book [William of Tyre 1949: 490], he wrote: “Formerly the latter people had been suspected and dreaded by the Iberians, but now these, in their turn, became greatly superior to them both in forces and experience in arms. Thus the Persians, who for a long time had been wont to inspire terror even in far-distant kingdoms, now felt that it sufficed to find even temporary peace within the limits of their own territories” [William of Tyre, 1943: 11:16].

  From this concrete note as well as from William's good education and experience, we can  assume that he was well aware of the political situation and he knew international relations of the 12th century quite well. Such attitude is not accidental. Supposedly, William knew the Georgians. He had the acknowledge not only about the country and the people, but had direct contacts with them. As we know, William was sent twice to the Byzantine with a diplomatic mission at the time of Amalric I[4]. He had to live in Constantinople for a long time and supposedly, the personal contacts and observations created his viewpoint about the Georgians. This idea is proved by William’s reference to the Georgians: “But divine mercy pitied our sufferings and raised up a rival kingdom against the overweening insolence of the Persians in the race of the Iberians. By the grace of God, this nation gained such increase and strength through their continual successes that they crushed the pride of the Persians” [William of Tyre, 1943: 11:16]. The 11th Book tells about the reign of Baldwin I during 1100-1118. Accordingly, the Great Schism of 1054 had already happened and of course, for the educated man like William, it would be naturally known that the Georgians were pursuing the Greek tradition of Christianity[5]. This fact might not be realised by an ordinary person getting no theological education. However, this difference would not be overlooked by an ecclesiastical man. During writing about the Georgians, William took into consideration the religious and political contexts. The above mentioned is the argument for us to present William’s positive attitude towards the Georgians. Moreover, William’s attitude could be fuelled by the fact that the Georgian state, like Byzantine, did not argue with the Latins about theological doctrines. During the Crusades, among East Christian allies, Georgia was an absolute ally for Western knights. The Iberians did not view Christianity from a narrow prism. In our opinion, it would be the starting point for the author for the expression of his positive attitude towards the Georgians. The Georgians, unlike the Greeks, did not consider the issue of “Filioque” too important, while Byzantine turned the whole imperial policy into this theological dispute. Our general conclusion must be one more argument for understanding William’s positive attitude towards the Georgians.

  The Latin historian saw in the Georgians that crusade soul and military art, which was so acceptable for his knightly mentality. For the Archbishop of Tyre, the Georgians with their Byzantine tradition (Orthodox Christianity) and courageous spirits were more close than Orthodox (being in schism), but feminine Greeks. In our viewpoint, that is why the author calls the Georgians "Robustos Viribus" (brave men) and "Multa Strenuitate Commendabiles" (very strong in military affairs).

  It is also interesting to draw a parallel between the Byzantines’ and the Georgians’ defence abilities. As Patriarch Simon II of Jerusalem and William claimed, Byzantium lost half of the kingdom in a few years. According to the author, it was reasoned with the feminization of the Greeks and degradation of military qualities. The Georgians, as a result of continuous fighting, took the Persians’ power away and relieved other Christian countries of the east. Here we see the opposite face of Byzantium. It seems that William was aware of the fact that the Georgians, unlike the Greeks, understood the idea of ​​the crusade. William did not call the Georgians crusaders. It was natural. The Georgians did not go to free Jerusalem, but the author emphasized that the Iberians relieved other kingdoms and saved them from the Persians’ captivity [William of Tyre, 1943: 11:16]. Williams saw in the Georgians the rising Christian state, which was perceived as the ally of the crusaders during the protection of the Holy Land. Their fight was similar to crusaders’ fight. During the characterization of the Georgians, the author was really precise and objective.


[1] The short form of “A history of deeds done beyond the sea”. 

[2] When William of Tyre wrote his history, only first two Crusades had been carried out.


[3] Basil II was the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire in 976-1025. The contemporaries called him Basil Junior and Basil Porphyrogenitus to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil Macedonian. During the first stage of his ruling, the civil wars dominated in Asia Minor. However, he managed to suppress them. After that he stabilized the Empire, expanded it and increased the emperor’s power. Despite the constant wars, he showed himself as a strong ruler and expanded Byzantine. Basil had the 40-year war against the Bulgarians. As a result of the victory, he completely subordinated the Bulgarian Empire and added it to his Empire. According to his order, 15 thousand Bulgarian prisoners were blinded. For this brutality, the emperor was called the Bulgar Slayer. In 1018 Bulgaria became a part of the Byzantine Empire.

[4] The king of Jerusalem in 1163-1174.

[5] They were Orthodox Christians.


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