The Levant, 1263 CE

The Levant, 1263 CE

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List of earthquakes in the Levant

This is a list of earthquakes in the Levant, including earthquakes that either had their epicenter in the Levant or caused significant damage in the region. As it is now, the list is focused on events which affected the territories of modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and to some degree the adjacent areas of South Anatolia, Cyprus island and the Sinai Peninsula (modern Turkey, Cyprus, Northern Cyprus and Egypt).

Louis IX and the Eighth Crusade: Ending at the Beginning

The Eighth Crusade of 1270 CE was, like the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254 CE), led by the French king Louis IX (r. 1226-1270 CE). As previously, the idea was to attack and defeat the Muslims first in Egypt and then either reconquer or negotiate control of key Christian sites in the Levant, including Jerusalem. Tunis was decided upon as the first target, from where the Crusaders could then attack Egypt. The plan was dealt the fatal blow of Louis IX’s death from illness in August 1270 CE, and the campaign was abandoned before it had even properly begun.

Louis IX and the Levant

Louis had led the Seventh Crusade, which had met with disaster at the battle of Mansourah in April 1250 CE. He had even been captured but later released after payment of a ransom and the concession of Damietta on the Nile River. Louis had then stayed in the Levant for four years when he refortified such key Latin strongholds as Acre. 16 years later, the French king once more turned his attention to the Middle East, his second bite at the crusading cherry.

Louis had been sending funds annually to the Latin states in the Levant in the intervening years since his botched first crusade, but the rest of Europe was rather preoccupied with affairs elsewhere. In England, a civil war raged (1258-1265 CE), and the Popes were in constant battle with the Holy Roman Empire over control of Sicily and parts of Italy. It seemed that nobody cared very much for the fate of Holy Sites in the Middle East.

In the Middle East, meanwhile, the situation for the Christian cities looked bleak. The Mongol Empire, seemingly intent on total conquest everywhere, was moving closer and closer to the Mediterranean coast. In 1258 CE Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate, was captured, followed by Ayyubid-controlled Aleppo in January 1260 CE and Damascus in March of the same year. It looked very much like the Crusader states might be next in line when the Mongols made raids on Ascalon, Jerusalem, and northern Egypt. When a Mongol garrison was established at Gaza, an attack on Sidon quickly followed in August 1260 CE. Without outside help, Bohemund VI of Antioch-Tripoli was obliged to accept subservience to the Mongols and permit a permanent garrison to be established at Antioch.

Baibars and the Mamluks

A map showing the various states of the Levant c. 1263 CE.
Light Blue: Mamluk Sultanate
Dark Blue: Latin East

The Muslims, in contrast, staged something of a fight back against the Mongol invaders when the Egyptian-based Mamluks, led by the gifted general Baibars (Baybars), won the battle of Ain Jalut on 3 September 1260 CE. Baibars then murdered the Mamluk sultan Qurtuz and took the position for himself, reigning until 1277 CE. The Mamluks continued their expansion over the following years, fighting the Mongols back to the Euphrates River. The Christian cities suffered too, with Baibars capturing Caesarea and Arsuf, even, too, the Knights Hospitaller castle of Krak des Chevaliers. Antioch would be captured in 1268 CE. The Muslim sect the Assassins were also targeted and their castles in Syria captured during the 1260s CE. Baibars was now master of the Levant and declared himself God’s instrument and the protector of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.

In the complex regional politics of shifting alliances, the Christians of Antioch had actually joined forces with the Mongols to take Aleppo. In contrast, the Christians of Acre decided to remain neutral and side with neither the Muslim nor the Mongols. Whatever the macro-politics, the wider geographical reality by the mid-1260s CE was that the Latin East was on the very verge of obliteration. It was into this complicated political, and to a much lesser extent religious, soup that Louis IX and the Eighth Crusaders were about to blindly leap into.

Recruitment and Leadership

Back in Europe, Louis took up the cross again (if indeed he had ever put it down) in March 1267 CE. The French king had the backing of Pope Clement IV (r. 1265-1268 CE) and a general call was made for nobles and knights in Europe to once again come to the aid of Christians in the Middle East. As in previous campaigns, preachers toured with the Crusade message, a huge pot of cash was accumulated by any means the state could think of, and ships were hired from Marseille and Genoa. As before, Crusaders came from other countries such as England, Spain, Frisia, and the Low Countries, but it was, once more, an expedition dominated by the French. Big names from the nobility who signed up included Alphonse of Poitiers (Louis’ brother), future King Edward I of England (r. 1272-1307 CE), King James I of Aragon (r. 1213-1276 CE) and Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily (r. 1266-1285 CE and also Louis’s brother). An army was gathered of between 10,000 and 15,000 men, similar in size to that of Louis’ first crusade.


The idea that in order to defeat the Muslims and retrieve control of the Holy Land it was best to attack from Africa prevailed, although the first target was not Damietta in Egypt, as in the last Crusade, but Tunis, much further west on the North African coast. The Crusaders needed a mustering point after the various fleets had sailed across the Mediterranean, and the Emir of Tunis, al-Mustansir, was an ally of James I of Aragon. If the region could be controlled, it would provide a solid base from which to attack the Nile in 1271 CE. That was the plan, anyway.

The army of the Eighth Crusade set off for the Middle East in groups, the first being led by James I of Aragon in June 1269 CE, which then, unfortunately, met a storm and disaster. Charles of Anjou set off in July 1270 CE while Edward I was even later and sailed in August 1270 CE. While the Crusaders were dithering, the situation for the Latin states was worsening. As mentioned above, Antioch as taken by Baibars in May 1268 CE after a bloody siege.

Created in Tours, France, sometime between 1245-1248 CE, this stained glass panel depicts King Louis IX (r. 1226-1270 CE) carrying the crown of thorns. Measures 55 x 35 cm. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) / The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Open Access

Through July 1270 CE, the bulk of the Crusader fleet landed at Tunis and the army then moved to Carthage to establish a semi-permanent camp and await the stragglers to arrive. As was typical in medieval warfare, the two great enemies were lack of provisions and disease amongst such a high concentration of humans in the height of summer the Crusader camp was hit by both, and especially problematic was the lack of clean water. Disease and illness struck indiscriminately so that Louis’ son John Tristan died, and even the French king himself, just like on his first crusade, had a serious bout of dysentery. Unlike previously, though, the king did not survive, and after a month of torment, Louis IX died on 25 August 1270 CE. Legend tells (but not his confessor, who was with him when he died) that the king’s last words were ‘Jerusalem! Jerusalem!’

Charles of Anjou, who had only just arrived, took command of the Crusade after Louis’ death. The decision was made to withdraw after a deal was negotiated with the Emir of Tunis to hand over Christian prisoners, guarantee freedom of worship in the city and donate (literally) a golden handshake of 210,000 gold ounces. It was at this point that Edward I of England finally arrived in Africa, but the party was already over. The fleet sailed back to Sicily to regroup in November, but any plans to use the military force to do any good were scuppered along with most of the ships and 1,000 men in a violent storm. Only Edward wished to continue on to the Holy Land, everyone else abandoned the Crusade, the most crushingly disappointing failure of a long line of crusade catastrophes.


Despite the failure, the Papacy did not abandon the idea of crusading. Edward I and his small force of 1,000 men, supplemented by a handful of French knights, arrived at Acre in September 1271 CE on what is sometimes referred to (rather grandly) as the Ninth Crusade. Unsurprisingly, they could do little to stop Baibars’ expansionist plans, but Edward did, at least, gain the benefit of being lauded by poets and songwriters for his efforts as the only European monarch to make it to the Holy Land from the Eighth Crusaders. Louis IX gained an even more spectacular, if posthumous, boost to his image, the king being made a saint in 1297 CE for his services to the cross. Back in the Levant, in 1291 CE with the fall of Acre, the Latin East, established during the First Crusade (1095-1102 CE), effectively came to an end.

The Levant, 1263 CE - History

See Main Page for a guide to all contents of all sections.

    • The European "Age of Discovery"
    • South and South East Asia
    • East Asia
    • The Middle East: Ottomans and Safavids - Rivals of European Powers
    • Africa
    • Eastern Europe Becomes a Peripheral Area
    • The European "Age of Discovery"
      • WEB See Discovers' Web [At]
        Includes a List of Online Primary Sources
      • WEB See Columbus and the Age of Discovery
        A splendid, and searchable, collection of over 1100 text articles on Columbus and the encounter of two worlds
      • WEB See Columbus Navigation Homepage
        With maps of the various voyages. , c. 1000 from The Saga of Eric the Red, (1387) [At this Site]
      • Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): Selections from Journal, 1492 [At Medieval Sourcebook]
      • Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): Letter to Lord Raphael Sanchez, 14 March 1493 [At UVA]
      • Christopher Columbus (1451-1506): Letter to King and Queen of Spain, prob. 1494 [At Medieval Sourcebook] or here [At AmericanRev]
      • Vasco da Gama (1460-1524): Round Africa to India, 1497-1498 CE [At this Site]
      • Amerigo Vespucci (1452-1512): Account of His First Voyage, 1497 [At this Site]
      • Fra Soncino: Letter to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, Regarding John Cabot's First Voyage, 1497 CE [At this Site]
      • John Cabot (c.1450-1499): Voyage to North America, 1497 [At this Site]
      • Hans Mayr: The Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco, 1505- [At this Site]
        Activities in Africa , 1519-1522 CE [At this Site]
      • Francis Pretty: Sir Francis Drake's Famous Voyage Round The World, 1580 [At this Site]
      • Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618): The Discovery of Guiana, 1595 [At this Site]
      • Sidi Ali Reis (16th Century CE): Mirat ul Memalik (The Mirror of Countries), 1557 CE [At this Site]
        Europeans were not the only ones to look at other cultures. This is a Turkish Admiral's account of his travels in the world of India and the Middle East.
      • WEBIndian History Sourcebook
      • England, India, and The East Indies, 1617 [At Indian History Sourcebook]
        Various sources, including a letter from Great Moghul Jahangir to James I, King of England.
      • The East India Trade [At Scholiast]
      • Charles D'Avenant: An Essay on the East-India Trade, 1697 [At Yale]
      • St. Francis Xavier: Letter from India, to the Society of Jesus at Rome, 1543 [At this Site]
      • St. Francis Xavier: Letter on the Missions, to St. Ignatius de Loyola, 1549 [At this Site]
      • St. Francis Xavier: Letter from Japan, to the Society of Jesus at Goa, 1551 [At this Site]
      • St. Francis Xavier: Letter from Japan, to the Society of Jesus in Europe, 1552 [At this Site] , 1692, 1715, 1721, excerpts [At this Site]
        How the Catholic Church "lost" China.
      • Will Adams: My Coming to Japan, 1611 [At this Site]
      • Hsu Kuang-chi: Memorial to Fra Matteo Ricci, 1617 [At this Site]
      • Mendez Pinto: The Woman with the Cross, c. 1630 [At this Site]
        A Chinese Christian woman.
      • Père du Halde: Teaching Science to the Manchu Emperor, c. 1680 [At this Site]
      • Père du Halde: The Manchu Emperor and Chinese Music, c. 1680 [At this Site]
      • Père du Halde: Chinese Punishments, c. 1680 [At this Site]
      • Père Gerbillon: A Visit to a Lama, c. 1690 [At this Site] WEBChinese Province of the Society of Jesus -->
      • See Islamic History Sourcebook
      • Old Serbian Tales: Marko and the Turks, c. 1450 [At this Site]
      • James M. Ludlow: The Tribute of Children, 1493 [At this Site] (Translated from a Genoese Letter), c. 1550 [At this Site]
      • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762): Dining With The Sultana, 1718 [At this Site]
      • Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq: The Turkish Letters, excerpts, 1555-1562 [At this Site]
      • WEBAfrican History Sourcebook
      • Leo Africanus Description of Timbuktu [At WSU]
      • Ibn Battuta: Malian Women, [At Internet Archive, from CCNY]
      • Glimpses of the Kingdom of Ghana, 1067 [At Internet Archive, from CCNY]
      • Al Bakri: Description of Ghana [At Internet Archive, from CCNY]
      • Hans Mayr: The Voyage and Acts of Dom Francisco, 1505- [At this Site]
        Activities in Africa
      • Richard Eden: Decades of the New World, 1555 [At WSU]
        European traders at the royal court of Benin.
      • Chart: Atlantic Slave Trade: Carriers and Destinations of Enslaved People [At this Site]
      • John Wesley (1703-91): Thoughts Upon Slavery, 1774 [At UMC]
        Wesley was opposed to slavery, but this is interesting as it includes explict descriptions of the way in which people were enslaved and treated. A great example of the moral force of Evangelical Christianity.
      • Gutherrschaft/Grundherrschaft
      • The Second Serfdom
      • Henry Blount: A Voyage Into The Levant, 1634 [At this Site]
        In this case the "Levant" means Hungary.
      • Paul, Archdeacon of Aleppo: Wallachia in 1657 from The Travels of Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch [At this Site] . [At this Site]
        Sobieski's victory over the Ottoman Turks in 1683.

      Mercantile Capitalism

      Reflections on the Trade and the New Economy

      • Thomas Mun (1571-1641): England's Treasure By Forraign Trade, excerpts, 1664 [At this Site]
      • Thomas Mun (1571-1641): England's Treasure by Foreign Trade, pub 1664, extracts, [At Then Again] and extracts [At Hanover]
      • Josiah Child: Brief Observations Concerning Trade and Interest of Money, 1668 [At Yale]
      • John Locke (1632-1704): Further Considerations Concerning Raising the Value of Money [At Yale]
      • Governor Glen: The Role of the Indians in the Rivalry Between France, Spain, and England, 1761 [At The American Revolution Site]
      • Adam Smith: From The Wealth of Nations, 1776: Of Colonies, and The Cost of Empire [At The American Revolution Site]
      • Daniel Defoe (c. 1659-1731): Robinson Crusoe [At Project Gutenberg][Full text]
        The classic colonialist novel. [At this Site][Modern summary]

      The Internet History Sourcebooks Project is located at the History Department of Fordham University, New York. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and other medieval components of the project, are located at the Fordham University Center for Medieval Studies.The IHSP recognizes the contribution of Fordham University, the Fordham University History Department, and the Fordham Center for Medieval Studies in providing web space and server support for the project. The IHSP is a project independent of Fordham University. Although the IHSP seeks to follow all applicable copyright law, Fordham University is not the institutional owner, and is not liable as the result of any legal action.

      © Site Concept and Design: Paul Halsall created 26 Jan 1996: latest revision 20 January 2021 [CV]

      Geography and Religion

      Geography, and the geological formations and climatological effects derived thereby, have a distinct shaping influence on the everyday lives of people who live in particular areas. This shaping influence extends naturally to the religious traditions that develop in certain places, affecting the figures, metaphors, motifs, and physical structures that are relevant in certain areas of the world. To be meaningful, of course, something must be relevant. The Eastern Mediterranean was shaped by certain geographical and climatological forces that enabled life, through rainfall agriculture, but that also limited life, due to a lack of largescale irrigative rivers, constant aridity, and the blight of frequent drought. Geographical and agricultural motifs developed in the region that both were relevant and meaningful in such a setting. Such agricultural motifs earliest were associated with the figure of the ancient storm-god, and then became associated with his subsequent regional manifestations and alternatives, in the figures of Jewish Elijah, Christian St. George, and Muslim al-Khiḍr. Investigating this particular example offers a good case study for the usefulness of geography of religion as both a theory (geography shapes religions) and as a method (geographical contextualization allows us to see that religious traditions always are a product of both place and time).

      By Erica Ferg
      Assistant Professor, Religious Studies
      Regis University
      March 2020

      The Way We Usually Think About Religion: A World Religions Paradigm

      A traditional “world religions” perspective remains prevalent within religious studies textbooks and theoretical approaches (Asad 1993, 27-54 Masuzawa 2005). This manner of organization and study focuses on discrete, comprehensive traditions, and normative beliefs and practices (Knott 2010, 478). One way of thinking of religions within this framework is as separate “silos” – massive vertical worlds unto themselves, which do not intersect with other religious traditions. This perspective can make sense from a disciplinary standpoint, but by focusing on individual “world religions” categories to the exclusion of other variables, such as geography, this perspective also can occlude understanding. Moreover, it is artificial: no human phenomena ever exist in a vacuum. The “world religions” paradigm is the theoretical framework from within which most of the investigations involving the popular Jewish, Christian, and Muslim figures of Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr have been undertaken. What that means is that these figures usually have been studied only from within their individual religious traditions. However, in the Eastern Mediterranean, where those figures originated, they share characteristics sometimes considered “peculiar,” or anomalous: in the Eastern Mediterranean region known as the Levant, similarities between these figures largely have revolved around the geographical and meteorological motifs of rain, storms, thunder, lightning, greenness, fertility, fecundity, the ability to appear and disappear, associations with mountains and other high places, local feast or celebration days of April 23, and the motif of vanquishing a dragon.

      In the past, the “peculiarity” of those shared aspects sometimes has led observers to challenge the validity of the figures themselves, even though linkages and similarities between them have never been considered anything but authentic by the local communities who venerate them. In fact, since at least 1200 CE, agrarian communities of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others in the Eastern Mediterranean largely have shared – and sometimes conflated – the figures of Jewish Elijah, Christian St. George, and Muslim al-Khiḍr. In the region, Elijah and St. George are known and beloved for the trait of being defenders of “true” religion over and against “false” gods. Al-Khiḍr and Elijah are associated as well, especially in Islamic religious texts, and al-Khiḍr and St. George share iconographical representation (mounted on horseback or standing, vanquishing a dragon, snake, or human foe underfoot).

      And these motifs extend even further back in time. In 1969, Hassan S. Haddad wrote a brief article titled “‘Georgic’ Cults and Saints of the Levant,” wherein he noted the similarities of Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr among agricultural communities of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Levant (Haddad 1969, 21-39). As a native of the Levant, Haddad uniquely was positioned to have been aware, as well, of the common practices surrounding these figures between local communities of Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others. In his article, Haddad was the first to make the provocative but unsubstantiated claim that “the cults of these ‘georgic’ saints is a continuation, with variations, of the cults of the Baals of ancient Syria” (Haddad 1969, 22), referring to the millennia-long regionally dominant figure of the Syro-Canaanite storm-god, Baal-Hadad, as well as to Baal’s regional syncretic manifestations. Throughout the second half of the second millennium BCE and the first millennium BCE, Baal-Hadad often was named the patron deity of particular cities, inspiring local epithets of Baal-Hadad that linked him with those cities (e.g., Baal of Tyre, Baal of Aleppo). These names do not refer to separate deities, but instead should be considered manifestations of Baal-Hadad as associated with a particular locality (Allen 2015 Schwemer 2008, 15-16 Haddad 1960, 46). Although there is not space in this forum to detail this argument, in my recent book, Geography, Religion, Gods, and Saints in the Eastern Mediterranean (New York: Routledge, 2020), which is the product of nearly a decade of research, I investigate the regional importance and longevity of the storm-god Baal-Hadad, as well as subsequent local counterparts such as Levantine Zeus, Jupiter, and even St. George, and alternative and corollary figures like Hebrew Bible Elijah, Late Antique Elijah, and al-Khiḍr.

      Despite similar characteristics between Baal-Hadad, Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr, and the fact that, for at least the past 800 years, local agricultural communities of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Alawites, and others have venerated and often conjoined these figures, outside of the Eastern Mediterranean, the linkages between these figures previously were unable to be seen. That is because a traditional “world religions” perspective of these figures understood the figures only in isolation, uprooted from their local settings, and separated from their local communities. When we study Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr as regional religious figures, however, and study their Biblical and Qur’ānic texts in the context of contemporaneous religious, political, and geographical influences, their linkages and associations in text, image, and popular practice become much clearer, and their shared agricultural motifs do not appear at all peculiar.

      Using a Different Lens: Geography of Religion

      Geographical motifs in the Levant relating to rain, storms, thunder, lightning, greenness, fertility, fecundity, the ability to appear and disappear, associations with mountains and other high places, local feast or celebration days of April 23, and the motif of vanquishing a dragon, largely have been associated with regional agricultural needs – specifically, with the need for rainfall from the sky.

      Three main features in particular have affected geography in the Eastern Mediterranean. First, its geological structures: the Mediterranean basin, which is composed of a bedrock of limestone, weathers quickly, leaving behind an abundance of rocks, thin, rocky soils, and thousands of caves and grottoes. Being located exactly at the convergence of three continental plates – the African, Arabian, and Eurasian – has created the topography of the region and has resulted in three topographical zones: coastal plains in the west, a central band of mountain ranges, and plains and plateaus in the east. This continental-plate convergence also accounts for the frequency of earthquakes in the region. The second and third major features that have affected the geography of the Levant are related to water. The climatological weather patterns of the wider Mediterranean Sea region govern seasonal wind flows, as well as precipitation. The location of the Levant, situated at the Eastern littoral of the Mediterranean Sea basin, has affected regional climate and rainfall patterns. With its mountain ranges jutting upward next to the sea and just inland of a narrow band of coastal plains, the mountainous topography of the region governs which areas of the Levant attract rainfall – the windward sides of the mountains – and which areas are perennially dry – the leeward sides of the mountains, which descend into dry plains and plateaus to the east. All of that, together with the region’s water resources, of course, has affected the regional possibilities for the practice of agriculture.

      In general, the Eastern Mediterranean is arid, with rainfall totals decreasing from north to south and west to east, and with drought being a regular climatological condition. Despite that, much of the Levant falls within the 400 mm (12 inches) isohyet, and most of the region generally receives, therefore, sufficient annual rainfall to enable the cultivation of rainfall or “rain-fed” agriculture. Moreover, because of the location of the Levant as the western arc of the “Fertile Crescent” in which regional agricultural practices were spread, agriculture long has been practiced in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well. Indeed, the region primarily can be characterized by an agricultural economic base through the mid-twentieth century CE.

      However, unlike in Mesopotamia, with the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, or in Egypt, with the Nile River, the Levant lacks similarly large and annually flooding rivers that can be used as water resources and for largescale irrigation. Instead, the three main rivers in the Levant – the Orontes, the Litani, and the Jordan – as well as smaller regional rivers and hundreds of far smaller, seasonal tributaries, together with a few surface lakes and the regional aquifers, have provided the water resources necessary for life in the Levant. These kinds of weather patterns and water resources distinctly have shaped Levantine religious notions and practices, as well.

      Thus, when we study the Levant, we are confronted with a limestone bedrock landscape, as well as an agriculturally oriented location that simultaneously is arid, and in which water from rainfall always has constituted the main source of water for crop growth and for the success or failure of its human populations. Accordingly, an understanding of regional geography is absolutely essential for a proper understanding of the geographical and meteorological motifs that have developed there and remained relevant and compelling in Levantine culture for the past few thousand years.

      Geography of Religion as A Theory: Geography Shapes Religion

      “Geography is far more important in the study of religions than is generally appreciated. Religious beliefs and ideas, symbols and practice, are naturally affected by the social and geographical conditions in which the theology is elaborated” (Hinnels 2010, 13). Geography, and the geological and climatological characteristics that are thereby derived, have a significant effect upon the daily life and needs of people. Naturally, these factors also affect the development of religious notions: gods and narratives take on particular characteristics or serve particular purposes relevant to and reflective of certain geographical areas (and not reflective of other areas) motifs and metaphors are more meaningful in certain geographical areas than in others and historical religious structures and the locations in which they are built are largely shaped by the landscapes out of which they are born.

      For instance, differences in characteristics and powers between what were the ancient Near Eastern storm-gods largely are attributable to the geographical and climatological traits of the region in which those gods manifested. According to Alberto R.W. Green, “in the cultural and religious evolutions of any region [of the ancient Near East], certain inherent geographical and climatological factors contribute substantially to the local conception of a deity” (Green 2003, 9). Daniel Schwemer argues that “the relative significance and sphere of activities of the individual storm-gods was dependent, among other things, on the climatic conditions in the individual regions” (Schwemer 2007, 129-130). Differences in the ecological and topographical features between hilly northern Mesopotamia and flat southern Mesopotamia are key to understanding different modes of thought concerning regional storm-gods. In northern and western Mesopotamia – those areas characterized by rainfall agriculture and dry farming – the storm-gods occupied positions of high importance within their panthea and often were perceived of as hot-tempered, fickle, and bellicose. People in those regions, dependent on the whims of the weather, resorted to cultic rituals directed to specific gods in order to obtain moisture from the skies. In southern Mesopotamia, the Sumerian god Iškur was responsible for storms, wind, lightning, rain, and thunder, but generally, he belonged to a less-important category of the great gods. This lesser position is likely to reflect both Babylonian geography and agricultural practices: “the storm-god as bringer of rain has no role in the agrarian rituals of Babylonia, where agriculture was characterized by irrigation” (Schwemer 2007, 130-131).

      In old Norse mythology, Fimbulvetr (“Fimbulwinter” or “great winter”) is the harsh winter that precedes the end of the world. This event is described in the Poetic Edda, an anonymous collection of Old Norse poetry that comes from the 13th-century Icelandic Codex Regius and represents our earliest-extant source of Norse mythology. Fimbulwinter consists of three consecutive winters with no intervening summers, during which time snow comes from all directions and most of the living world dies of the cold. Fimbulwinter precedes Ragnarök, a cataclysmic series of wars and great events in which some of the great gods die before the world is entirely submerged by water, and, eventually, renewed again. The mythological narrative of Fimbulwinter – and in particular its origins in snow and ice – was relevant among its communities precisely because of the specific geography and geology of cold northern climates. Similar phenomena and characteristics neither appear in the mythological or cosmogonic stories of warmer-weather locations, like the Levant, nor would they have resonated with the same effect among people there. Of course, Fimbulwinter represents just one of dozens of possible examples of the influence of northern geography and climate upon the development of Norse mythological narratives and figures.

      Another way in which we can see the effects of geography on religious narratives, figures, motifs, metaphors, and structures – in this example, in the area of the Levant – is through the notion of “agrarian religion,” first identified and coined by James Grehan in his 2014 book, Twilight of the Saints: Everyday Religion in Ottoman Syria and Palestine (Grehan 2014). “Agrarian religion” in the Levant consists of a “fine attunement to the essentially agrarian conditions of everyday existence” as much urban as it was rural, it was the expression of an entire social and economic order whose rhythms were tied to the slow turnings of the seasons, and finely attuned to the vagaries of earth, sky, and environment” (Grehan 2014, 140 and 16). This was an experience shared by all peoples in the region, regardless of distinctions in religious identity(ies), social class, urban or rural location, age, or gender. Agrarian religion in the Levant, in Grehan’s formulation, was driven by geographical influences and characterized by sacred sites, essential agricultural needs, shared religious culture, and saints and holy figures. Sacred sites in the region intimately are related to geography, and often were hulled from the rocky landscape or simply created around natural wonders, consisting of holy mountains, noteworthy rock formations, and caves – especially caves with access to subterranean water. Agricultural concerns, foremost among them water, droughts, and crop yields, shaped the contours of agrarian religion. Scholars of religious studies tend anachronistically to think of historical religious communities in the region as being theologically distinct from one another. However, before the ascendency of mass literacy, textual religion, the growth of a religious infrastructure that was sufficient to police and enforce particular theological positions, and a concomitant rise in exclusivist sectarian religious identities, religious communities in the Levant were marked more sharply by a shared agrarian religious culture than they were differentiated by distinct doctrinal characteristics. Geographical and geological conditions, which change very slowly, underlie agrarian religion in the Levant. Agrarian religious culture is therefore naturally slow to change and associated with a longue-durée perspective (Grehan 2014, 16). Phenomena and characteristics associated with agrarian religion endured in the region for a very long time indeed, and only began to be eclipsed during the course of the twentieth century CE.

      Geography, of course, does not drive religious belief. Many important religious notions, in the Levant, in Norse traditions, and certainly in every religious tradition – have nothing whatsoever to do with geography. But geography does have a distinct shaping influence on religion. This influence exists in a religious culture for as long as geography can be said to be the most influential factor impacting everyday life. As the agrarian orientation of our societies gradually has diminished since the mid-20th century CE, the original influence of geography has persisted within our religious traditions – it’s just that, usually, we can’t see it any longer.

      Geography of Religion as a Method: “Geographical Contextualization”

      Religious traditions are always a product of both time and place. If you want to understand the origins of yogic texts and practices within Hindu religious traditions, you must seek to contextualize their emergence by investigating the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for the 4th-century CE religious, political, and geographical (relating to place) conditions that combined to influence their development. Those conditions and influences are likely to extend beyond the disciplinary realms of “Hinduism” and of Hindu theology. To that end, and as compared with a traditional “world religions” paradigm, theories associated with the field of Geography of Religion represent a more-promising approach for understanding the ways in which locality and temporality inform religious phenomena.

      Since the 1960s, the field of Geography of Religion has evolved in various ways, but one of its more important contributions is the “contextualization of religion” that is evident in local, geographically oriented studies of religion (Stump 2008, 177 Knott 2010, 476-491). That is, according to a Geography of Religion theoretical perspective, religions inherently are “geographically contextualized”: prevailing political, social, religious, and physical-geographical conditions evident within a particular locality are understood to influence the development and manifestation of that locality’s religious traditions at any given point in time.

      Using this method, texts, images, and sites associated with particular gods or other religious figures, with motifs, and with metaphors can be geographically contextualized. That is, texts, images, and sites can be thought of like artifacts that can tell us a great deal about the societies in which they were produced. They represent moments-in-time each text, image, or site functions like a small window into history. These then can be examined for evidence within them of contemporaneous religious, political, and geographical influences, helping to produce a picture of specific gods, religious figures, motifs, or metaphors that accounts for the intersections within them of time and place. This, in turn, helps us more precisely to analyze specific religious traditions and better explain particular complexities that otherwise would be inexplicable.

      Returning to the major example of this article, the characteristics shared by Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr in the Eastern Mediterranean long have been considered “peculiar” when those figures were studied solely as products of their respective religious traditions i.e., when they were studied from within a “world religions” paradigm. The lens of geography, however, is far more useful in this instance than is that of “world religions.” Rather than searching within only the single “silo” of the religious tradition of Christianity in order to investigate in isolation the “peculiar” characteristics of St. George – which results in precious little explanation – using the lens of geography allows us to pan out, to investigate these same characteristics in other regional figures, across religious traditions, and across time, which helps explain not only the noteworthy and unusual characteristics of St. George, but also to identify developments and changes, as well as linkages and interconnections with other spatially and historically proximate religious traditions and figures, like Elijah and al-Khiḍr, and even the ancient storm-god Baal-Hadad.

      Identifying the common geographical and cultural environment for these figures explains as well why these figures are not shared in the same way outside of the Levant. Shorn of long-term associations in community practice and in iconography, Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr are known among their respective religious communities around the world mainly by the content of their canonical texts. Those texts usually have been interpreted in tradition-specific ways that reinforce internal theological principals and religious identities and leave no natural reason, on the basis of their texts, to understand Baal-Hadad, Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr as anything other than discrete, unrelated figures from within their respective – and “separate” – religious communities.

      Lastly, Geography of Religion as a method helps underscore, as well, the importance of cultural context within religious studies. The phenomenon of local communities of Jews, Christians, and Muslims venerating Elijah, St. George, and al-Khiḍr in the Eastern Mediterranean for at least the past 800 years is inextricable from the cultural and geographical contexts of the Eastern Mediterranean. That suggests that we in religious studies need better to recognize regional specificity even for “global” religions and that we need to recognize the existence of regionally specific relationships between religious traditions. Geography of Religion methods allow us the opportunity more clearly to understand both of these phenomena.

      Asad, Talal. 1993. “The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category.” In Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam, 27–54. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

      Green, Alberto R. W. 2003. The Storm-god in the Ancient Near East. Biblical and Judaic Studies from the University of California San Diego, edited by William Henry Propp, vol. 8. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

      Grehan, James. 2014. Twilight of the Saints: Everyday Religion in Ottoman Syria and Palestine. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

      Haddad, Hassan S. 1969. “‘Georgic’ Cults and Saints of the Levant.” In Numen, 16, Fasc. 1 (April): 21-39.

      Haddad, Hassan S. 1960. “Baal-Hadad: A Study of the Syrian Storm-god.” PhD diss., University of Chicago.

      Hinnels, John R., ed. 2010. The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

      Knott, Kim. 2010. “Geography, Space and the Sacred.” In The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd ed., 476–491. New York: Routledge.

      Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of World Religions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

      Schwemer, Daniel. 2008. “The Storm-Gods of the Ancient Near East: Summary, Synthesis, Recent Studies Part Two.” In Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 8, no. 1: 1–44.

      Schwemer, Daniel. 2007. “The Storm-Gods of the Ancient Near East: Summary, Synthesis, Recent Studies Part One,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 7, no. 2: 121–168.

      Spencer, Allen. 2015. The Splintered Divine: A Study of Ištar, Baal, and Yahweh Divine Names and Divine Multiplicity in the Ancient Near East, Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records 5. Munich: De Gruyter.

      Stump, Richard W. 2008. The Geography of Religion: Faith, Place and Space. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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      Origin of Christianity: the early Christians and the Jewish community

      Although it attracted little attention among pagans and Jews in its early years, the rise of Christianity was by far the most important “sectarian” development of the Roman period. Largely owing to the discoveries at Qumrān, many scholars now regard primitive Christianity, with its apocalyptic and eschatological interests, as part of a broad spectrum of attitudes within Judaism itself, rather than as peripheral to Jewish development or to the norm set by Pharisaic Judaism. Indeed, Jesus himself may now be classified as an apocalyptic prophet whose announced intentions were not to abrogate the Torah but to fulfill it. It is possible to envision a direct line between Jewish currents, both in Palestine and the Diaspora in the Hellenistic Age, and Christianity—particularly in the traditions of martyrdom, proselytism, monasticism, mysticism, liturgy, and theology and especially with the doctrine of the Logos (Word) as an intermediary between God and the world and as the connection of faith and reason. The Septuagint in particular played an important role both theoretically, in the transformation of Greek philosophy into the theology of the Church Fathers, and practically, in converting Jews and Jewish “sympathizers” to Christianity. In general, moreover, Christianity was more positively disposed toward Hellenism than was Pharisaism, particularly under the leadership of Paul, a thoroughly Hellenized Jew.

      Even after Paul proclaimed his opposition to observance of the Torah as a means of salvation, many Jewish Christians continued the practice. Among them were two main groups: the Ebionites—probably the people called minim, or “sectaries,” in the Talmud—who accepted Jesus as the messiah but denied his divinity and the Nazarenes, who regarded Jesus as both messiah and God yet still regarded the Torah as binding upon Jews.

      The number of Jews converted to any form of Christianity was extremely small, as can be seen from the frequent criticisms of Jews for their stubbornness by Christian writers. In the Diaspora, despite the strong influence of Hellenism, there were relatively few Jewish converts, though the Christian movement had some success in winning over Alexandrian Jews.

      There were four major stages in the final break between Christianity and Judaism: (1) the flight of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem to Pella across the Jordan in 70 and their refusal to continue the struggle against the Romans, (2) the institution by the patriarch Gamaliel II of a prayer in the Eighteen Benedictions against such heretics (c. 100), and (3 and 4) the failure of the Christians to join the messianic leaders Lukuas-Andreas and Bar Kokhba in the revolts against Trajan and Hadrian in 115–117 and 132–135, respectively.

      Year 4993 – 1233 CE – Burning of Maimonides' works

      The translation of The Guide of the Perplexed ( Moreh Nebukim ) from Maimonides led a prominent rabbi, Solomon ben Abraham of Montpellier, to condemn it as heretical. The problem is that he made his condemnation his mission in life, and endeavoured to gather support against the works of Maimonides. He succeeded to get backing from prominent rabbis from his previous pupils, of which Jonah Gerondi (known as Rabbenu Yona), and together they issued a devastating excommunication of Maimonides' works in 1232. But they they did worse: in 1233 they went to Dominican monks, the very Order that was tasked of the Inquisition against Christian heresy, to announce the heretical nature, as they saw it, of Maimonides' books. Although this issue was more related to Jewish doctrine and should not have involved Christian authorities, the monks seized the opportunity of this denunciation to order the public burning of all the books of Maimonides, and the same order was carried out in Paris and the rest of the French kingdom.

      The rest of the Jewry was filled with horror and condemned the over-zealous rabbis to have caused such damage to their brethren, and put in danger the Jewish communities at the hand of the Dominicans who pursued their quest to burn the "heretical" Jewish works. This however was not enough to stop the stubborn Solomon, as he went to further denounce to the Dominicans those he regarded as supporters of Maimonides' works.

      John Cabot’s Early Life

      Giovanni Caboto was born circa 1450 in Genoa, and moved to Venice around 1461 he became a Venetian citizen in 1476. Evidence suggests that he worked as a merchant in the spice trade of the Levant, or eastern Mediterranean, and may have traveled as far as Mecca, then an important trading center for Oriental and Western goods. He studied navigation and map-making during this period, and, similarly to his countryman Christopher Columbus, appears to have become interested in the possibility of reaching the rich markets of Asia by sailing in a westward direction.

      Did you know? John Cabot&aposs landing in 1497 is generally thought to be the first European encounter with the North American continent since Leif Eriksson and the Vikings explored the area they called Vinland in the 11th century.

      For the next several decades, Cabot’s exact activities are unknown he may have spent several years in Valencia and Seville, Spain, and may have been in Valencia in 1493, when Columbus passed through the city on his way to report to the Spanish monarchs the results of his western voyage (including his mistaken belief that he had in fact reached Asia). By late 1495, Cabot had reached Bristol, England, a port city that had served as a starting point for several previous expeditions across the North Atlantic. From there, he worked to convince the British crown that England did not have to stand aside while Spain claimed most of the New World, and that it was possible to reach Asia on a more northerly route than the one Columbus had taken.

      Author information

      Present address: Thalassemia and Haemophilia Genetic PND Research Center, Dastgheib Hospital, Shiraz University of Medical Sciences, 71456-83769, Shiraz, Iran

      These authors contributed equally: Hovhannes Sahakyan, Ashot Margaryan, Siiri Rootsi and Richard Villems.


      Estonian Biocentre, Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu, 51010, Tartu, Estonia

      Hovhannes Sahakyan, Lauri Saag, Monika Karmin, Rodrigo Flores, Alena Kushniarevich, Jüri Parik, Bayazit Yunusbayev, Anu Solnik, Ene Metspalu, Doron M. Behar, Mait Metspalu, Siiri Rootsi & Richard Villems

      Laboratory of Evolutionary Genomics, Institute of Molecular Biology of National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, 0014, Yerevan, Armenia

      Hovhannes Sahakyan, Ashot Margaryan, Zaruhi Khachatryan, Ardeshir Bahmanimehr, Anahit Hovhannisyan & Levon Yepiskoposyan

      Lundbeck Foundation, Department of Biology, GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, 1350, Copenhagen, Denmark

      Statistics and Bioinformatics Group, Institute of Fundamental Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, Manawatu, 4442, New Zealand

      Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

      Department of Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology, University of Tartu, 51010, Tartu, Estonia

      Jüri Parik & Richard Villems

      ARL Division of Biotechnology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721, USA

      Department of Genetics and Fundamental Medicine of Bashkir State University, Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia, 450076

      Bayazit Yunusbayev & Elza K. Khusnutdinova

      Core Facility, Institute of Genomics, University of Tartu, 51010, Tartu, Estonia

      Tuuli Reisberg & Anu Solnik

      Institute of Biochemistry and Genetics of Ufa Federal Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ufa, 450054, Russia

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      Study design: H.S., A.M., L.Y. and R.V. Frequency, SNP genotype and STR data: H.S., A.M., M.H., T.K. and A.S. Sequencing: H.S., J.P., E.M., M.M., S.R. and R.V. Data analyses and interpretation: H.S., A.M., L.S., M.K., R.F., A.K., T.R., D.M.B., S.R. and R.V. Provided samples: H.S., A.M., M.H., A.K., Z.K., A.B., J.P., B.Y., E.M., A.H., E.K.K., M.M., L.Y., S.R. and R.V. Wrote manuscript: H.S., A.M., M.K., S.R. and R.V., with inputs from all co-authors. All authors reviewed the manuscript. H.S., A.M., S.R. and R.V. contributed equally to this work.

      Corresponding author

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