1976: Lt. Col. Abu Taher 1977: 178 enemies of the people

1209: Massacre of Beziers, “kill them all, let God sort them out”

July 22nd, 2009 Headsman

Today the French town of Beziers remembers the 800th anniversary of the first sack and massacre of the Albigensian Crusade.

Rome was alarmed by the advent in southern France of a mass religious movement, Catharism, with such scandalous doctrines as spirit-body dualism and not giving tons of money to Rome.

Naturally, God said to cut them to pieces.

Beziers was the first town invested by the invading crusader army, left to its fate as the Cathars mustered in Carcassone. Interestingly, this particular city did not so much present that familiar spectacle of Christians killing Christians who thought differently — unless the thought in question was about handing over their neighbors to a throng of land-grabbing nobles.

Part of the Catholic faith did itself honor this day: those Biterrois who refused to abandon to the glories of martyrdom the Cathars in their midst, who are thought to have numbered merely a few hundred. So when the walls fell, it was mostly orthodox Catholics killing orthodox Catholics.

Well, what’s a crusading army with other cities to sack supposed to do?

“Kill them all”

After the fortified city embarrassingly got itself captured within hours by camp followers, Caesar of Heisterbach recorded one of history’s more quotably infamous instances of prayerful deliberation:

When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied “Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain.

Or, in glorious Latin:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

And so they did.

And they killed everyone who fled into the church; no cross or altar or crucifix could save them. And these raving beggarly lads, they killed the clergy too, and the women and children. I doubt if one person came out alive … such a slaughter has not been known or consented to, I think, since the time of the Saracens. (William of Tudela, cited in Cathar Castles)

Ten to twenty thousand are thought to have been slain this day — in what proportions Catholic and heretic, only God can say.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,France,God,Heresy,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Language,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Power,Put to the Sword,Summary Executions,Women,Wrongful Executions

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18 thoughts on “1209: Massacre of Beziers, “kill them all, let God sort them out””

  1. Fiz says:

    Jason, I know this is awful of me, but the “kill them all !” bit cracks me up. After all a Catholic army army against so-called heretics, what else would they do?!

  2. Jack K. says:

    Most distrubing. So much for the peace-loving image of the papacy. If it were not a historical fact one might think it fiction. It appears to be about money and land, not religious doctrine. The slaughter seems well hidden. Not one Catholic I’ve spoken to is even aware of the massacre. Secrets do become revelations. To what extent does ideology effect the social construction of reality?

  3. Patricia Griffith says:

    I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “if Christ came back today he wouldn’t be a Christian.”. I’ll drink to that.

  4. kevin says:

    first read this comment on a spectial forces zippo lighter from vietnam,dident realise it was hundreds of years old!

  5. Kilgore Jr. says:

    Good job. Too bad that Catholicism went soft in the last centuries.

  6. Rudi says:

    If Christ returned now, like how he did 2000 years ago, he’d be slain again.
    In this modern time of religious freedom, the Vatican should give formal apologies for its atrocities these last 2000 years of the Christian era, or Piscean Age. That includes wiping out, or trying to, of other religions – including Cathars.
    The Vatican is ancient Rome adapted to the Christian era.
    I’d say the Cathars are still around, and should be revived. The Cathar bible would be basically the Gnostic Nag Hammadi ones. There are other groups who do follow those basic teachings.

  7. Lorcan Bonda says:

    Everyone knows this is a myth, right? Just like “Let them eat cake!” — this phrase was never uttered. Instead it was passed along as truth, because it sounded true.

    The Albigensian Crusade is a fascinating human event, but not really history. The French King was asked to lead the crusade — he consented only because he was confidant it would not work. He was entitled to call up his army for two months at a time. He figured they would siege Beziers for two months, and then disband the army with a “we tried.”

    When they army arrived, they began setting up the camp for the siege. A few citizens of the city opened the gate to taunt the arriving army. A few horseman rode in a took the gate — before long everyone joined in the plunder.

    There was no strategy, no order, nothing from their commanders — the army was tired from the march. A successful attack was a complete surprise to everyone, but it became “proof of God’s will.”

    The speech from Arnaud Amalric never happened. He didn’t have time.

  8. Edward says:

    First time on this site-also last time. A lot of history buffs and tellers of history are thoughtful and use restraint when tempted to berate a particular group or political/religious system. This is not one of those sites. The author of this article is sardonic and smug, arrogantly placing himself as a moral superior over significant historical figures and events. A disservice to history for sure. Hopefully the author will mature, and learn a new approach…..? Thanks

  9. Meaghan says:

    Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

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