The Crusades

“The Crusades: series of wars by Western European Christians to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.” (Encarta “Crusades”) The Crusades first began in 1096 and ended in the late 13th century. The term Crusade originally meant that the European’s would use all their efforts to regain the power from the Muslims. They wanted to retake the city of Jerusalem, which was holy to Christians because that’s where the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred. Europeans later used it to allocate any military efforts against non-Christians. The Crusaders also created feudal states in the Near East. The Crusades played an important role of European expansion and colonialism. “They mark the first time Western Christendom undertook a military initiative far from home, the first time significant numbers left to carry their culture and religion abroad.” (Encarta “Crusades”) In addition to the efforts in the East, the Crusading movement includes other wars against Muslims, pagans, and dissident Christians and the general expansion of Christian Europe. “Originally the object of the crusade was to help the Christian Churches in the East.”(Mayer, 9) ” Also on the agenda was the peace of God, i.e. the prohibition of feuding on certain days and the immunity of certain people, places, and things.”(Mayer, 8). Basically the Crusades were an expression of militant Christianity and European expansion. They combined religious interests with worldly and military views. Christians learned to live in different cultures; they also forced something of their own thoughts and beliefs on these cultures. The Crusades strongly affected the beliefs of people at the time, and to this day they are among the most famous chapters of medieval history.

The crusades began to stir up after the death of Charlemagne, king of the Franks, in 814. After his death Christian Europe was under attack and weak. “Magyars, nomadic people from Asia, pillaged eastern and central Europe until the 10th century.” (Encarta “Crusades”). Starting in the year 800, Viking raids interrupted life in northern Europe and even Mediterranean cities. But the greatest threat came from the forces of Islam. This was in consequence to Muhammad their notorious leader dying, in 632. “By the 8th century, Islamic forces had conquered North Africa, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and most of Spain.” (Mayer, 39). Islamic armies had bases in Italy, made the size and power of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) smaller and conquered its capital, Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire, being as powerful as they were at that time was barely able to hold off the enemy. The Byzantine Empire had felt a force as strong as the Islamic military. Islam threatened them with a different culture and religion, which neither the Vikings nor the Magyars had done. The church became more stabilized and stronger from a reform movement to end the practice where kings installed important clergy, such as bishops, in office. Finally for the first time in many years, the popes were able to bring together European support behind them, a factor that contributed greatly to the popular demand of the first Crusades. Europe’s population was growing, its urban life was beginning to come back, and both import and export trade were gradually increasing. Due to this increase for the better in Europe, including human and economic resources, they could now support the Crusades. “A growing population and more surplus wealth also meant greater demand for goods from elsewhere. European traders had always looked to the Mediterranean; now they sought greater control of the goods, routes, and profits.” (Encarta, “Crusades”). That’s why material wants corresponded with religious feelings about the Holy Land and the pope’s newfound ability to gather together and focus a great enterprise.

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Pope Urban II was the one who declared the crusade. “In a speech at Clermont in France in November 1095, called for a great Christian expedition to free Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks, a new Muslim power that had recently begun actively harassing peaceful Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem.” (Barker, 14). The pope was led by his position as the spiritual head of Western Europe, by the weakness of the rulers in Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) or France who could take over the effort, and by a call for help from the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I. These factors were perfect causes, and at the same time, it made sense for the call of a Crusade. The first crusade is said to fall in two parts. Part One: “A crusade for the people.” And Part Two: a crusade for the princes.” In any case, Urban’s speech was well known to thousands of people of all classes. It was the perfect time and place for his speech. It is like when things go bad in today’s society and someone comes along and says, “We should do something about it.” Everybody would agree and make an effort to play a role in it. The First Crusade, which began in 1096, was successful. Their main goal was to free Jerusalem and they did it. After the successful crusade it made Western Christian military in the Near East be dominant for almost 200 years. The Crusaders called this area Outremer, French for “beyond the seas.” The First Crusade was the question of its time. It attracted no European kings or major nobles. It drew mainly lesser barons and their followers. “They came primarily from the lands of French culture and language, which is why Westerners in Outremer were referred to as Franks.”(Krey, 21) The Crusaders faced many obstacles. “They had no obvious or widely accepted leader, they had no consensus about relations with the churchmen who went with them, no definition of the pope’s role, and no agreement with the Byzantine emperor on whether they were his allies, servants, rivals, or perhaps enemies.”(Krey,24) This made the crusaders not get along with one another. In anything in life, if there is not an agreement it can make conflicts arise. There were different leaders that marched to Constantinople, and they all met up there. How can they actually want to be victorious, without ever meeting each other before? “The contingents of Robert of Flanders and Bohemond of Taranto went by sea via Italy, while the other major groups, those of Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse, took the land route around the Adriatic Sea.”(Barker,56) As the Crusaders marched east, they were joined by thousands of men and even women. There were anything from poor knights to peasants just looking for a reason to live. Many with all sorts of motives and contributions joined the march. Some followed local lords or well-known nobles or wnet east on their own, some even found the sea and then sailed to Constantinople. Nobody knew what to expect from their journey, and then they did know what to expect when they began the “Holy War.” “They knew little about the Byzantine Empire or its religion, Eastern Orthodox Christianity.”(Mayer, 67) Few Crusaders understood the Eastern Orthodox religion, which meant they had no clue about the pope; they spoke Greek rather than Latin, and had very different styles of art and architecture. They also had no clue about Islam or Muslim life, this is incredible considering they were entering an Islam religion and Muslim life. The First Crusade became an excuse to unleash attacks in the name of Christianity on Jewish communities along the Rhine. The leaders met at Constantinople and chose to cross on foot the unfriendly territory and dangerous landscape of what is now Turkey, rather than going by sea. This was a questionable way of entering Constantinople. “Somehow, despite this questionable decision, the original forces of perhaps 25,000 to 30,000 still survived in sufficient numbers to overcome the Muslim states and principalities of what are now Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) Shortly after the defeat of these states Islam was disunited. Its rulers were not able to anticipate the power of the enemy. The Franks, had a temporary advantage. “They exploited this, taking the key city of Antioch in June 1098, under the lead of Bohemond of Taranto.”(Krey,43) Then, they moved on to Jerusalem. “The siege of Jerusalem culminated in a bloody and destructive Christian victory in July 1099, in which many of the inhabitants were massacred.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) After the bloody war came new problems. Like I stated earlier, many Crusaders set their goal at taking Jerusalem; they were ready to go home to their families. “Others, especially minor nobles and younger sons of powerful noble families, saw the next step as the creation of a permanent Christian presence in the Holy Land.”(Krey, 89) They wanted to build feudal states like those of the West. They hoped to transfer their military culture and to create a new frontier. The Crusaders were small-minded when it came to Eastern life, but they did consider their resources. They also utilized these states to stop anyone going through the routes to the Holy Land. “The result was the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, first under Godfrey of Bouillon, who took the title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre, and then under his brother Baldwin, who ruled as king.”(Krey, 91) Also in consequence to the conquering of many states they controlled three more states: the County of Tripoli, in modern Lebanon; the Principality of Antioch, in modern Syria; and the County of Edessa, in modern northern Syria and southern Turkey.

After the first crusade, the only success in critic’s eyes they began to fail. “The Crusades of the 12th century, through the end of the Third Crusade in 1192, illustrate the tensions and problems that plagued the enterprise as a whole.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) They could not live in constant warfare. Constant warfare led to many deaths, lack of economy, and of course loss of land. But they depended on soldiers and resources from the West. The West would come through rarely for them, unless there was open conflict. They began to fight locally, looking for resources they lacked. This violated the policy set forth by the states, which stated there should be no fights among allies. “Nor was the situation helped by the arrival of European princes and their followers, as happened when the Second and Third Crusades came East; European tensions and jealousies proved just as divisive in the East as they had been at home.”(Barker, 56) The fall of Edessa began the Second Crusade. Pope Eugenius III mead it clear there was need for the next crusade. “Though the enthusiasm of 1095 was never again matched, a number of major figures joined the Second Crusade, including Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III and France’s King Louis VII.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) Like in the first crusade they made a questionable decision on how to enter the holy land but this time they were not rewarded the were destroyed. “Conrad made the mistake of choosing the land route from Constantinople to the Holy Land and his army was decimated at Dorylaeum in Asia Minor.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) The French army held their own, but it also suffered casualties during the journey, and only a fraction of the original number of soldiers entered Jerusalem in 1148. In a discussion with King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and his nobles, the Crusaders led an attack against Damascus in July. They failed to take the city, and after the failure of this attack, the French king and his injured army returned home. The Second Crusade resulted in nothing. It was a failure from the beginning. “In fact the only military gains during this period were made in what is now Portugal, where English troops, which had turned aside from the Second Crusade, helped free the city of Lisbon from the Moors.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) After the failure of the Second Crusade, they were unsure about the advancements they would make in the near future. After the Military Religious Orders had been created to help the Crusading era by combining spirituality with the martial ideas of knighthood and chivalry. “Men who joined the orders took vows of chastity and obedience patterned after those of monasticism.”(Encarta, “Crusades) They were willing to spend long periods in the East. “The most famous were the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, called Hospitalers, and the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, called Templars.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) they were sent to Outremer to protect Christian pilgrims in the east. Outremer finally had an advantage and did not have to depend only on the huge armies led by princes. These orders helped bring together church interests and also the worldly interests of creating dynasties in the east.
After the disappointments of another failed crusade, the Third Crusade, Western forces would never again threaten Muslim power. “From that point on, they were only able to gain access to Jerusalem through diplomacy, not arms.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) In 1199 Innocent III called for another Crusade to regain their power over Jerusalem, To prep up for this Crusade, the ruler of Venice transported French and Flemish Crusaders to the Holy Land. However, the Crusaders never fought the Muslims. They were unable to pay the Venetians the amount they wanted, they had to bargain with the Venetians. In Payment they agreed attack one Zara, one of Venetians rivals. “When Innocent III learned of the expedition, he excommunicated the participants, but the combined force captured Zara in 1202.”(Encarta, “Crusades”) The Venetians knowing they had the crusaders in the palm of their hands had the Crusaders attack the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, which failed on April 13, 1204. For three days and three nights the Crusaders attacked the city. Afterward the Venetians gained control on Byzantine trade. The Latin Empire of Constantinople was recognized, which lasted until the Byzantine Empire regained power in 1261. Also new Crusader states sprang up in Greece and along the Black Sea. The Fourth Crusade did not even threaten the Muslim powers. Trade and commerce had reached the top, as Venice had hoped, but it made the thoughts and beliefs of the Eastern and Western churches differ even more. Crusades after the Fourth were not as huge as the ones before. They were more about personal gain than anything else. “Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II vowed to lead a Crusade in 1215, but for domestic political reasons postponed his departure.”(Barker, 69) Under pressure from Pope Gregory IX, Frederick and his army finally sailed from Italy, but returned within a few days because Frederick was very sick. The pope, enraged with fury, excommunicated the emperor. Frederick did not care about what the pope proposed and head out for the Holy Land in June 1228. There he created his unusual Crusade almost completely by diplomatic negotiations with the Egyptian sultan. The Egyptians restored Jerusalem to the Crusaders and a guarantee from hostilities for ten years. “However, Frederick was ridiculed in Europe for using diplomacy rather than the sword.”(Encarta, “Crusades”).

In Conclusion the Crusades were a failure. They gained everything so fast, but it was slowly lost. “On the other hand, to hold territory under a Christian banner so far from home, given the contemporary conditions of transport and communication, was impressive.”(Encarta, “Crusades”). The most important effect of the Crusades was economic. The Italian cities prospered from the transport of Crusaders and replaced Byzantines and Muslims as merchant-traders in the Mediterranean. Trade passed through Italian hands to Western Europe with a tremendous profit. This power became the basis of economics in the Italian Renaissance. It also made powers such as the Atlantic like Spain and Portugal to seek trade through India and China. “Their efforts, through such explorers as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, helped to open most of the world to European trade dominance and colonization and to shift the center of commercial activity from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.”(Encarta, “Crusades”).

Barker, Ernest. The Crusades: Books for Libraries Press. New York. 1923.

Krey, August C. The First Crusade: The accounts of Eye-Witnesses and Participants.
Princeton University Press. 1921
Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades: Second Edition. Oxford University Press. 1965
Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia 2004.