Comnenus, Alexius I
August 15, 1118
"The blood of Christians flows in unheard-of scenes of carnage.... Therefore in the name of God … we implore you to bring to this city [Constantinople] all the faithful soldiers of Christ."
—Alexius I, letter to Robert of Flanders, which partly inspired the First Crusade; quoted in The Story of the First Crusade, http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/firstcrusade/People/Eastern_Christians/alexius_comnenus.htm
Alexius I was the emperor of the Byzantine Empire, the eastern portion of the old Roman Empire based in Greece and Asia Minor, at the time of the First Crusade (1095–99). The first of the Comnenus dynasty, or ruling family, Alexius I inherited a weakened empire at the time of his crowning as emperor in 1081. Byzantium, as the empire was also called, was under attack from all sides, especially from the Seljuk Turks, who had recently converted to Islam. Nevertheless Alexius I managed to restore...
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Angelus, Alexius IV
"[The Crusaders] sent two knights to the emperor [Alexius IV] and demanded again that he should pay them. He replied to the messengers that he would pay nothing, he had already paid too much, and that he was not afraid of anyone."
—Robert de Clari, "The Summons to Alexis," in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/4cde.html#cp.
Alexius IV was one of a long line of emperors of the Byzantine Empire, the eastern Roman Empire. Though his reign lasted only six months, his time spent as head of the empire had far-reaching effects. Alexius IV persuaded the Christian soldiers, or Crusaders, who were gathering for the Fourth Crusade (1202–04) against the Muslims in Egypt to set sail first for his home in Constantinople and put him on the throne as emperor of the Byzantine Empire. If they did this, Alexius IV promised, they would receive enough money, weapons, and ships to fight their Crusade in Egypt as originally planned. But such things do not always work out as expected. Alexius's invitation to the Crusaders led to the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 and the end of...
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November 24, 1072
Turkestan, Central Asia
Military leader and second Seljuk Turkish sultan of Persia and Iraq
"Never have I invaded any country or attacked any enemy without seeking God's help in the plan. Yesterday, however, ... I said to myself, 'Now I am master of the world and no-one can stand against me.' Now God has undone me through the least of his creatures."
—Alp Arslan; quoted in The Annals of the Saljuq Turks.
Alp Arslan (ruled 1063–72), second of the powerful Seljuk sultans (Turkish leaders), was indirectly responsible for beginning the Crusades, the two-centuries-long conflict between Christians and the followers of the Muslim religion. A military leader of great fame, he solidified Turkish holdings in Persia and Iraq, pushing their new empire to the doorstep of the Christian Byzantine Empire (395–1493), that portion of the old eastern Roman Empire where religious ceremonies were controlled by the Eastern Orthodox Church, as opposed to the Catholic Church of Europe. This empire was based mostly in Asia Minor, or present-day Turkey. With his victory over the Byzantine emperor...
(The entire section is 2498 words.)
Philosopher, jurist, astronomer, and physician
"Philosophy is the friend and milk-sister of religion; thus injuries from people related to philosophy are the severest injuries [to religion] apart from the enmity, hatred and quarrels...which are companions by nature and lovers by essence and instinct."
—Averroës; quoted in Averroës: On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy.
Known in the West by his Latin name Averroës (pronounced ah-vair-O-ehz), the Spanish Muslim, or Islamic, philosopher known in the East as Ibn Rushd was one of the greatest thinkers of the medieval world. His commentaries on the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.), in which he attempted to balance faith and reason, not only shaped thought in the Islamic world in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East but also introduced the works of the Greeks to later Latin and Christian philosophers of Europe. Living in Spain and North Africa at...
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July 1, 1277
"Baybars repeatedly demonstrated quickness of action resolution, courage, shrewdness, prescience [foresight], and determination. He seemed to be able to accomplish many things almost at the same time, and to be always on the move directing affairs of state in Egypt and Syria."
—Mustafa Ziada, "The Mamluk Sultans to 1293," in History of the Crusades. Vol. 2, The Later Crusades, 1189–1311.
Called the "Napoleon of medieval Egypt," al-Zahir Baybars, also known as Rukn al-Din Baybars al-Bunduqdari, or simply Baybars, was the savior of Egypt during the critical years of the thirteenth century when that country faced enemies from both Europe and Asia. Baybars, who rose from slave to soldier to sultan (leader), fought the French during the later Crusades, or holy wars, against Islam, and the Mongols, raiders from the plains of Central Asia who tore through the Middle East and destroyed much of Islamic civilization. An intelligent, spirited, and courageous soldier, Baybars was also an able administrator, bringing the centers of Egypt and Syria back to cultural and artistic life during the seventeen years of...
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Tudela, Benjamin of
Rabbi, traveler, and writer
"The city of Bagdad [Baghdad] is...situated in a land of palms, gardens and plantations, the like of which is not to be found in Shinar....Wise men live there, philosophers who know all manner of wisdom, and magicians expert in all manner of witchcraft."
—Benjamin of Tudela, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela: Travels in the Middle Ages.
Benjamin of Tudela (pronounced to-DAY-la) is the author of one of the most famous early travel books, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela. A rabbi (religious scholar and leader) originally from Spain, Benjamin set out on a world journey around 1159. During the next fourteen years he traveled to more than three hundred cities, including areas in Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, and Arabia. He is also believed to be the first European to approach the borders of China. The book he wrote to describe these travels, Massoath Schel Rabbi Benjamin (first translated in the 1840s), provides scholars with one of the first eyewitness accounts of life in the Middle Ages throughout parts of southern Europe and the Middle East. Benjamin also gave good descriptions of the physical conditions...
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Clairvaux, Bernard of
August 20, 1153
Catholic religious leader and saint
"The earth has been shaken; it trembles because the Lord of heaven has begun to lose his land.... What are you doing, you servants of the cross? Will you throw to the dogs that which is most holy?"
—Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in The Crusades.
Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the most powerful figures of the twelfth century. A Catholic priest and abbot (director) of a religious institution at Clairvaux, France, Bernard's influence stretched far beyond the borders of France. A powerful speaker and convincing writer, on one occasion he helped choose the pope, or leader of the Catholic Church, and had significant influence on another pope in religious and civil matters. Bernard could charm kings yet be firm toward fellow Catholics about leading a religious life filled with prayer...
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December 1, 1083
Byzantine princess, historian, and scholar
"I swear by the perils the emperor endured for the well-being of the Roman people, by his sorrows and the travails he suffered on behalf of the Christians, that I am not favoring him when I say or write such things....I regard him as dear, but the truth is dearer still."
—Anna Comnena, The Alexiad of Anna Comnena, book 14, chapter 3.
Anna Comnena was one of the most famous female scholars of the Middle Ages. The daughter of the emperor of the Byzantine Empire (the successor to the Roman Empire) based in Constantinople, she lived in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and was known for her scholarship in medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and music. However, she is best remembered for her fifteen-volume biography of her father, the emperor Alexius I (see entry), and for a history of the Byzantine...
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Aquitaine, Eleanor of
Bordeaux or Belin, France
Queen of France and England
"Powerful, beautiful, indefatigable [unstoppable], sensuous [appealing to the senses], literary, an eagle soaring above mere mortals, mother of ten royal children she might indeed be. Some regarded her as the Demon mother who had once, in a bath, assumed the shape of a dragon."
—James Reston Jr., Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful and interesting people of the Middle Ages. That she accomplished so much at a time when women usually had little standing (power) in society is amazing. The wife of two kings, she gave birth to three more. Called the "grandmother of Europe" for all the royal lines she started or marriages she arranged, Eleanor was more than simply the power behind the throne. A duchess, or ruler, of the wealthy region of Aquitaine in southern France, Eleanor controlled a huge amount of land. She created a royal...
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Assisi, St. Francis of
October 3, 1226
Founder of the Franciscan Order
"Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor, Of You Most High, he bears the likeness."
—Francis of Assisi, "Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi." Catholic Online. http://www.catholic.org/clife/prayers/prayers.php?section_id=41&name=Saint%20Prayers.
An Italian of the Middle Ages, Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscans, an important religious order (group) that bears his name. Untrained and not even a priest when he set out on his itinerant (wandering) preaching in the early thirteenth century, Francis wanted to reform the church and bring it more in line with the needs of the common people. Born to a rich family, he gave up his personal wealth and...
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December 26, 1194
December 23, 1250
Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
"Of faith and God he had none; he was crafty, wily, avaricious [greedy], lustful, malicious [mean], wrathful [angry]; and yet a gallant man at times, when he would show his kindness or courtesy; full of solace [comfort], jocund [cheerful], delightful, fertile in devices [strategies]."
—The Chronicle of Salimbene; quoted at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/salimbene1.html.
Given the nickname "Wonder of the World," Frederick II was one of the most powerful emperors who ever ruled what was known as the Holy Roman Empire (962–1806 C.E.), the central kingdom of Europe that included present-day Germany and parts of Italy. Richard Cavendish, writing in History Today, called him the "most gifted, vivid and extraordinary of the medieval Holy Roman Emperors." The life of Frederick II can be taken as symbolic of the fight between church and state throughout the Middle Ages; the emperor battled the...
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Bouillon, Godfrey of
Boulogne, France, or Baisy, Belgium
July 18, 1100
Knight and duke of Lower Lorraine, leader of the First Crusade and first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
"He was a religious man, mild mannered, virtuous, Godfearing. He was just, he avoided evil, he was trustworthy and dependable in his undertakings.... He was considered by everyone to be most outstanding in the use of weapons and in military operations."
—William of Tyre, "History of Deeds Done beyond the Sea," in The Crusades: A Documentary History.
Godfrey of Bouillon (pronounced boo-YOHN) was a medieval knight, or trained soldier, as well as a duke of the region of Lower Lorraine (in present-day northwestern Germany). He played a major part in directing military operations in the latter part of the First Crusade (1095–99), the European Christian mission to retake the Holy Land in Palestine from the Islamic and Turkish forces that held it. One of several powerful families of...
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Payens, Hugh de
Champagne or Burgundy, France
Crusader; founder of Knights Templars
"In  certain noble men of knightly rank, religious men,...promised to live...without possessions, under vows of chastity [purity] and obedience. Their foremost leaders were the venerable Hugh of Payens and Geoffrey of Saint Omer."
—William of Tyre, "The Foundation of the Order of Knights Templars," in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/tyre-templars.html.
Hugh (also called Hugues) de Payens was a French nobleman who fought in the Holy Land during the First Crusade (1095–99), the initial stage of what became a two-hundred-year conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic Middle East over control of Jerusalem and Palestine. Staying on after the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusader forces, Hugh and a small group of other knights, or trained soldiers of noble birth, founded a...
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June 16, 1216
"I have decided...to convoke a general council, by means of which evils may be uprooted...morals reformed, heresies wiped out, the Faith strengthened princes and people won to the cause of aiding the Holy Land..."
—Pope Innocent III, calling for the Fifth Crusade at the Lateran Council in 1215; quoted at http://www.catholicism.org/OGP/pope_chapter7.htm.
The most powerful of the medieval popes (leaders of the Catholic Church), Innocent III was a strong and talented administrator who brought the church to the zenith, or highest point, of its political power. Using the threat of excommunication (expulsion from the church) for princes, kings, and even entire countries, Innocent III put his papacy, or office, above that of political rulers of the time, including the kings of England and France as well as the German emperor. He called for the Fourth Crusade (1202–04), and though the Crusader armies eventually were beyond...
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Al-Kamil, Sultan Al-Malik
Sultan of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria
"In  al-Kamil gave Jerusalem to the emperor [Frederick II].... The news of the handing over of Jerusalem to the Franks arrived and all hell broke loose in all the lands of Islam."
—Medieval Muslim chronicler Sibt bin al-Jawzi; quoted in The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives.
Al-Malik al-Kamil was sultan, or leader, of Egypt and later of Syria during both the Fifth (1218–21) and the Sixth (1228–29) Crusades. After successfully defending Cairo, the capital of his caliphate (kingdom) in Egypt from the Crusaders in 1221, he once again needed to deal with a Crusader army in 1228, under the leadership of the German emperor Frederick II (see entry). This time, however, he used diplomacy, or bargaining, rather than force. The result was that Jerusalem passed to the Christian West and al-Kamil was criticized by most of the Islamic world. However, the sultan had reasons for his choices. The city of Jerusalem was no longer as defensible as it once had been, nor were the Crusaders the only enemy al-Kamil was facing in the region. He also had to battle his own family for ultimate control of Egypt and Syria. His diplomatic tactics...
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April 25, 1214
August 25, 1270
Tunis, North Africa
King of France
"The crusades of Louis IX mark both the culmination and the beginning of the end of the crusading movement. None of the earlier expeditions was as well organized or financed, none had a more inspiring leader, none had a better chance of success."
—Joseph R. Strayer, "The Crusades of Louis IX," in History of the Crusades. Vol. 2, The Later Crusades, 1189–1311.
Louis IX, who ruled as king of France throughout much of the thirteenth century, was a deeply religious and moral man, a legendary figure in French history who was so much admired by other leaders that he was asked to settle international disputes. As a youth he ruled jointly with his mother, Blanche of Castile (1188–1252). He came to the throne in 1236, governing one of the richest kingdoms in the Christian West. He used much of that wealth to fight two holy wars against the Muslims in...
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April 6, 1135
December 13, 1204
Spanish-Hebrew philosopher, theologian, and author
"...May neither avarice nor miserliness, nor thirst for glory or for a great reputation engage my mind; for the enemies of truth and philanthropy could easily deceive me and make me forgetful of my lofty aim of doing good to Thy children."
—Maimonides, "Oath of Maimonides," in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/rambam-oath.html.
One of the foremost scholars of the medieval world at the time of the Crusades, Rabbi Moses Maimonides (pronounced my-MON-uh-deez)—who was also known as Ramba'm (from the first letters of his name)—was as influential outside the world of Jewish thinkers as he was within it. In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides organized Jewish law and tradition in a way that could be understood by the average faithful person without an interpretation provided by a rabbi, or Jewish religious leader and scholar....
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Edessa, County of Edessa
Nablus, Kingdom of Jerusalem
Queen of the Kingdom of Jerusalem
"Melisende seems to have loved power for its own sake. She knew how to make herself obeyed, but she was incapable of turning [her] authority....Her regency [rulership] was marked by military disasters and political errors caused by her inability to rise to a crisis."
—Zoé Oldenbourg, The Crusades.
Melisende was one of the most powerful women on either the Christian or Muslim side during the Crusades, several religious wars in the Holy Land spanning two centuries. The daughter of the third ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem—the Crusader state carved out of Palestine by the Christians after they took the city from the Muslims in 1099—Melisende ultimately became the coruler of Jerusalem, first with her husband, Fulk V of Anjou, from 1131 until his death in 1143 and then with her young son, Baldwin III, from 1143 to 1152. There were rivalries and infighting among the powerful in Jerusalem, including between Melisende and her husband and son, that made these troubled years.
During her reign, the forces of the Muslims made a comeback...
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Hermit, Peter the
"There was a priest, Peter by name.... In response to his constant admonition [scolding] and call [for a Crusade]...every class of the Christian profession, nay, also women and those influenced by the spirit of penance [seeking forgiveness of sins]—all joyfully entered upon this expedition."
—Albert of Aix, quoted in The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-witnesses and Participants.
Peter the Hermit was a French preacher at the time when Pope Urban II (see entry) called for a Crusade, or holy war, against the forces of Islam in Palestine and Jerusalem. The pope demanded that Christians, both rich and poor, go to the Holy Land and end the centuries-long Muslim occupation there. Peter, a poor, ragged preacher living in the French region of Flanders, took the pope's words to heart. He began to preach throughout France and Germany and succeeded in raising a "people's" army of twenty thousand to forty thousand men, women, and children. Most of these people were peasants, or poor workers on the land, who listened to Peter's fine speeches about eternal salvation (forgiveness of sins) and thought it was a way out of their continual poverty and hunger. He...
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Richard I, the Lionheart
September 8, 1157
April 6, 1199
Chaluz, Aquitaine, France
King of England
"Since the beginning of the world we have never heard of such a knight, so brave and so experienced in arms. In every deed at arms he is without rival, first to advance, last to retreat.... His deeds are not human."
—A Muslim leader, quoted in Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade.
Richard I was king of England for a decade at the end of the twelfth century, but in that time this "absent" king spent only six months in the country he ruled. Although he was born in England, he was raised at his mother's court in the French province of Aquitaine, speaking French and practicing the noble art of poetry. But this third son of King Henry II of England (1133–1189) also practiced the manly arts of battle to such an extent that he was dubbed Coeur de Lion, or the "Lionheart," for his bravery and mercilessness. More famous in literature than in life,...
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March 4, 1193
Muslim warrior and leader
"I have become so great as I am because I have won men's hearts by gentleness and kindliness."
—Saladin to his son, Zahir; quoted in Saladin.
The most famous of all heroes of the Islamic faith, Saladin (pronounced sa-la-DEEN) attempted to unite the Islamic world to fight the Christian Crusaders who had taken over the Holy Land of Palestine. The two centuries of conflict between East and West, Islam and Christianity, began in 1095 with the First Crusade, when the Christians tried to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims. This was accomplished in 1099, leading to two centuries of intermittent (on and off) warfare between the European Christians and the mainly Arab followers of the prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632 C.E.), founder of the religion of Islam. Having been named sultan (ruler of a Muslim state) of Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and...
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Armenia or Turkey
Sultana of Egypt
"Capable and beautiful, [she] must have been one of very few women in history who commanded an army in a major battle, as she did against Louis IX, King of France."
—Sir John Glubb, Soldiers of Fortune: The Story of the Mamlukes.
One of a handful of strong female Muslim leaders at the time of the Crusades, Shajarat al-Durr was a slave who rose from the ranks of mistress, or lover, to become the wife of the sultan (Muslim leader) of Egypt. Following the death of her husband during the Seventh Crusade (1248–54), she assumed joint control of the Muslim forces with two other counselors and helped defeat the Crusader armies of French king Louis IX (see entry) at the Battle of Mansurah. After a palace revolt, she was made sultana, or female leader of Egypt, a position she held for three months. She was displaced by those uncomfortable with a female leader and replaced by a Mamluk soldier, Aybeck. Yet Shajarat would not give up her power so easily. She went on to marry Aybeck and in essence continued to rule Egypt on his behalf as he fought enemies abroad until her execution for treason in 1257. Shajarat al-Durr's tale is full of plots, high...
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Sinan, Rashid Al-Din
Syrian Ismaili Shiite Muslim leader
"Be assured that we do not kill any man in this way for the sake of reward or for money, but only when he has first inflicted [caused] an injury on us."
—Sinan, quoted in Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade.
Rashid al-Din Sinan was known to westerners during the Crusades (Christian holy wars against Islam from the eleventh to thirteenth centuries) as the Old Man of the Mountain, or Shaykh al-Jabal. Sinan—who was a dai, or spiritual leader and missionary of the radical Ismaili Shiite sect (subgroup) of Islam, an extreme religious group—led a community of some sixty thousand faithful from his mountain castle of Masyaf, a fortress built high in the mountains of northern Syria. The leader of the Syrian Ismailis for three decades, he fought both Crusaders and other Muslims, especially those of the rival Sunni sect majority, including Saladin (see entry). As leader of the faithful, Sinan also instructed his fidais, or loyal followers, to assassinate supposed enemies of the Ismailis. Called hashashin, these fanatical killers are the source of the English word "assassin,"...
(The entire section is 2680 words.)
Chätillon-sur-Marne, Champagne, France
July 29, 1099
"The Turks and Arabs have attacked....They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire.... On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you...to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends."
—Urban II, "Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, according to Fulcher of Chartres"; quoted in the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2,hy>fulcher.html.
Urban II, a French pope (head of the Catholic Church), ruled at the end of the eleventh century. He was known as an excellent organizer and tireless worker for renewed political power for the church. Following the rule of Gregory VII, who was pope from 1075 to 1085, Urban II helped solidify gains made for the papacy, or the office of the pope, against the political power of the kings of Europe. He developed a central governing...
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Munqidh, Usamah ibn
July 4, 1095
November 16, 1188
Arab lord, soldier, and writer
"When one comes to recount cases regarding the Franks [Christian crusaders], he cannot but glorify Allah ... for he sees [the Franks] as animals possessing the virtues of courage and fighting, but nothing else."
—Usamah ibn Munqidh, An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh.
Usamah ibn Munqidh, a Syrian nobleman and soldier of the twelfth century, sat down at the end of his long and adventurous life and composed his memoirs, known in English as An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades. This autobiography presents a colorful picture of daily life in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa from roughly the time of the First Crusade (1095–99), when European Christians first came into conflict with the Islamic world over control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, through the Second Crusade (1147–49), when Muslim fighters began to take back parts of the Middle East from the Crusaders, to just before the Third Crusade (1189–92), when the great military leader Saladin (1137–93; see entry) took back Jerusalem from the...
(The entire section is 2412 words.)