Monday, October 1, 2012

The Black Count



From The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo:

In Nantes the army saved costly lead musket balls and time by organizing mass drownings.  As Thomas Carlyle described it, "Women and men are tied together, feet and feet, hands and hands; and flung in: this they call Mariage Republicain, Republican Marriage."  The Army of the West carried out most of its mass drownings using specially constructed barges that they floated into the middle of the Loire, loaded with approximately 130 victims each, and scuttled by opening special trapdoors designed for the purpose.

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Since the Middle Ages, the Knights had been based in Malta, which they turned into the most impregnable fortress island in Europe.  Would-be holy Knights showed up from everywhere, hoping to win fame and glory for God by fighting Islam in a sunny climate.  But the island was also a refuge for adventurous scoundrels of every variety, such as the Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio, who, after committing murder, fled to Malta in 1607 and was made a knight in return for painting his masterpiece The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.  (According to some sources, Sir Caravaggio then got into another violent altercation, with a fellow knight, and left Malta in disgrace.)

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In spite of the order's vows, including chastity, Malta also became renowned for the beauty and laxity of its prostitutes, with the best ones going to the Knights and their guests.  And fighting the infidel on the high seas, they took in so many galley slaves and so much booty that they began to seem like a Christian version of the Barbary pirates.  The pope heard of the Knights' lax morals and sent an inquisitor to the island in 1574; he set up shop in a mansion in the shopping district.

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the message Napoleon now imparted, that the French would be liberating Egypt from the tyrannical Mamelukes, a caste of hereditary foreign warriors who were originally slave-soldiers serving the local Egyptians.  (Like other "slaves" of the high Middle Ages, the Mamelukes were white, and to this day some of the elite families of Egypt have the pale skin and blue eyes indicative of that ancestry.)  The fearsome slave-soldiers had been imported by Egypt's rulers in the thirteenth century from the lands around the Black Sea and the Caucasas Mountains to enhance their power.  But the Mamelukes had then overcome their masters and seized control, until forced in turn by conquering Ottoman armies a few hundred years later to share power in a kind of uneasy partnership.
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