Those Angry Young Men

The laws of primogeniture and the First Crusade

What in the world, you might well ask, could the First Crusade and some rather obscure Medieval “laws of primogeniture” have to do with our current civilizational crises? Perhaps quite a bit. First, what exactly is “primogeniture”?
Primogeniture is the common law right of the firstborn son to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings. It is the tradition brought by the Normans to England in 1066. According to the Norman tradition, the firstborn son inherited the entirety of a parent’s wealth, estate, title or office. In the absence of children, inheritance passed to the collateral relatives, in order of seniority of the collateral line.

The effects of these laws on the noble warrior class — and on the poor commoners as well — were enormous. Those sons born second in line were often highly trained and well-equipped combatants instilled with a strong warrior ethos — but with no appreciable income. A dangerous situation, highly trained warriors with nothing to do. All too often these disenfranchised, less-than-glorious knights resorted to internecine fighting or common brigandage. But what could be done about them?

In March 1095 at the Council of Piacenza, ambassadors sent by Byzantine Emperor Alexius I called for help with defending his empire against the Seljuk Turks. Later that year, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called upon all Christians to join a war against the Turks, promising those who died in the endeavor would receive immediate remission of their sins.

There has long been conjecture among medieval scholars that a major part of Pope Urban II’s calling for the Crusades (just thirty years after the introduction of the primogeniture laws) was that it presented a perfect opportunity to gainfully employ these troublesome errant knights and give Europe a well-deserved respite from the wanton violence.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too great a shock to realize that this poor old wounded world of ours has all too often been ruled by men just out of their adolescence. More than one teenager ascended to the Imperial Roman throne (among them the notorious Caligula). Here’s some interesting statistics.

The world
Population: 6,602,224,175 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 27.4% (male 931,551,498/female 875,646,416)
15-64 years: 65.1% (male 2,174,605,518/female 2,124,494,703)
65 years and over: 7.5% (male 217,451,123/female 278,474,917) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 28 years
male: 27.4 years
female: 28.7 years (2007 est.)

Life expectancy in Imperial Rome:
Tombstones show that the life expectancy of women was 34 years as contrasted with 46 years for men because women often died in childbirth.
Resource: Encarta
Or as low as this:
[Roman] life expectancy at birth [was]in the range of 20–25 or less (Macchiarelli et al., 1998)
CIA World Fact Book
So, somewhere between 20 and 46 years life expectancy.

Angry young men. To see them in action just watch a world cup soccer match in South America or Brussels. Or more to the point, take a closer look at those inflamed Arab streets. What do you see? Angry young men with nothing to do. Angry young men, overflowing with testosterone, just itching for a fight. And of course a notable absence of women. Here’s some more interesting statistics.

Gaza Strip
1,551,859 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 44.4% (male 353,489/female 334,770)
15-64 years: 53% (male 420,618/female 402,297)
65 years and over: 2.6% (male 16,483/female 24,202) (2009 est.)
Median age:
total: 17.4 years
male: 17.2 years
female: 17.5 years (2008 est.)
Resource: CIA World Fact Book

And this —

The median age of the Israeli Arab is 14 and just entering his reproductive years… anxious to make BOTH Love and War! Another way of looking at this is that half of all Israeli-Arabs are under the age of 14!
Resource: Masada 2000

So the angry young men are still with us, and they are still angry. Our world is replete with them. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Arab world. That volatile hyper-masculine, often adolescent, world of generational revenge, brutality and violence, that self-destructive warrior culture which the good pope tried, somewhat successfully, to ameliorate. But this time it’s the angry young Muslim men who are on a Crusade, a worldwide jihad against the West. Perhaps we can learn from the lessons of history. Perhaps we can better recognize our foes, and realize that they are predominantly angry adolescents. Unfortunately, the cynical, hate-filled mullahs have, it appears, successfully harnessed all that testosterone. It is aflame on the Arab street. Can we somehow find a way to extinguish this terrible flame before it engulfs our world?