Crusading, much like Imperialism in the 20th century, was all about expansion. During the middle ages however, it was more about the expansion of religion rather then power, or at least that’s the way it was preached. Crusading by definition is; ” a holy war authorized by the pope, who proclaimed it in the name of god of Christ. It was believed to be Christ’s own enterprise, legitimized by his personal mandate” (1). This essay examines the background of the crusades to offer a better understanding as to why they occurred. It also examines the effects that the crusades had on the world. It is easy to look at the crusades as a violent meaningless act, but one must understand the type of setting this movement occurred during. This was a time when if you took part in the crusades, you were seen as a warrior of god, recruited by the pope. Any man who fought in the name of god would be rewarded in heaven. Popular belief in the 10th and 11th centuries was that the more you did for god, the less accountable you were for you’re past sins. The more deeds you did, the better your credit in the Treasury of God’ (2). The Treasury of God is a summarization of the good deed outweighing the bad deed principle of the time. Acts of violence in the name of god are far less common in the world today. But, as seen with September 11th, jihad or holy war is still occurring. This essay gives a basic timeline and underlying principles behind the crusading missions. Justification for these acts remains unclear and is simply opinion based.
To understand the effects of crusading one must be familiar with the background in which it took place. The major conflict that initiated the crusading endeavors occurred when the Seljuk Turks aggressively took Syria and Palestine. Turkish Muslims also invaded the Byzantine Empire and subjected all classes of people to their rule, even Christians. At the same time, Popes of the 11th century were trying to extend their religious power beyond its original borders. They did this by forcing religion upon certain groups such as: heretics, pagans, and most all non-Christians. When Pope Urban seen the action of the Muslims he then thought it was his duty to Christianize those people. These facts combined started the First crusade in 1095 (3). At a personal level however, crusading could be undertaken for many different reasons. Many European cities were becoming over crowded, meaning many people would join crusades in search of new land. Knights would go in the hope of acquiring power and control over this new land. The chance at commercial success in new places was a huge determining factor for the western merchants of the day. Adventure, money, land, and religion were all big reasons for participating in the Crusades of the Middle Ages (4).
The first Crusade began on November 27th 1095, as a response to the attack on the Byzantine Empire by the Muslims. Pope Urban II inspired many clergy and laypeople to join the crusading force. There was much excitement for the new adventure that awaited the people of Europe. They united at the Byzantine capital of Constantinople and launched a counter attack against the Seljuk conquerors of Anatolia. They then fought and overtook many city-states belonging to the Byzantine Empire with final destination Jerusalem, in their sights (5). The Majority of people who joined the crusades were from France, with others coming from Lorraine, Burgundy, Flanders, and Italy. Many common people were interested in crusading as well as noble individuals. The reason for this was the chance of finding and claiming any land once they had overtaken parts of the Middle East (6). The crusaders enjoyed considerable success during their first couple of years. In only their first month of crusading they conquered Anatolia in the year 1097. During the same year they won a decisive victory over the Turks, during which they nearly annihilated the Turkish army. The first major resistance against the crusaders took place at Antioch, where it took them eight months to defeat two separate waves of Turkish defenders. The final phase of the first crusade was not yet complete; they now looked ahead to Jerusalem. They waited months before attacking, gathering strength as they approached the holy city. On July 15th 1099 the final phase of the crusade was complete. The Egyptians fell to the strong crusaders, Jerusalem was now in the hands of the crusaders. One week later Godfrey of Bouillon was elected to rule over Jerusalem (7).
The crusaders made many advances but it would not belong before those advances would be challenged by conflict. The Muslims were reunified under a strong leader, one Imad ad-Din Zangi. The Muslims attacked the crusaders at Edessa in 1144 and were victorious. The response from the papacy to this second act of Muslim aggression became known fittingly as The Second Crusade’. The second crusade was an absolute disaster. Conrad III of Germany and Louis VII of France were the major players in the second crusade. Both of these armies left to reclaim Jerusalem for the papacy in 1147. Both the German and French armies were ambushed severely on the way to the Holy City. Only a fraction of the original armies of both countries remained when they finally arrived at the city. When the crusading armies attacked the city in July of 1148 they were a depleted group and did not stand much of a chance. The attempt was hugely unsuccessful and what was left of both armies returned home (8).
The Muslims at this time had a considerable amount of power and force. They had defeated the crusade easily and had much time to regroup and prepare once more. Even after the death of Zangi, the Muslims got stronger. Under Zangi’s successor, Nur ad-Din, the Muslims took control of Egypt in 1169. After ad-Dins death Saladin succeeded as new ruler of the Muslims. Saladin before this was a commander in the army when the Muslims overtook Egypt and he was a great military leader. Saladin continued his militaristic ways as leader of the Muslims. He invaded Jerusalem, and defeated the Latin army in 1187. Saladin had control over most cities in the Middle East except for Tyre (9). The response to this aggression was yet again another crusade. Pope Gregory VIII proclaimed the Third Crusade on October 29th, 1187. This time they were more prepared for the crusade but the results were far worse less then anticipated. Not for lacking of planning nor for lack of enthusiasm did they fail. There were three major monarchs involved in this crusade: Fredrick Barbarossa of the Romans, Philip II of France, and Richard the Lion Hearted of England. The size of the force was as large as that of 1095, but it could not muster the same results against a prepared and unified Muslim army under Saladin. Their first downfall was when Barbarossa died on the way to Jerusalem and much of his army returned home. Left alone the English and French could not take Jerusalem or much of the Latin kingdom. But, they continued to fight and eventually won control of many cities along the Mediterranean. The persistence of Richard and Philip paid off because they restored partially The Latin Kingdom. But, this kingdom was a shadow of its former self, being much weaker economically and militarily then before (10).
The third crusade was the last crusade with any significant level of success. The fourth crusade was not much of a crusade at all, except for the violence that came with it. Initiated in 1202, this crusade was not as well backed and not nearly as financially viable as should have been at the time. To curb costs the leaders joined with the Venetians and attacked Constantinople. This was a pointless act of crusading and was more just an act of aggressive plunder then of a crusade. The acquisition of Constantinople did nothing to strengthen or defend the Latin Empire (11).
Between the fourth and fifth Crusades a small but interesting crusade took place. The children’s crusade was a movement that took place in June 1212. Though not recognized as an official crusade, it proved just how attractive the idea of crusading was in the West. One small group of child crusaders was established by a young Shepard named Stephen. Stephen was born in a small French town called Cloyes. He had a vision that god had commanded him to raise up an army to fight for the holy land. His groups of followers were made up of children and adults, both of whom marched to King Philip in hopes of starting a crusade. When they arrived there the king turned them away and most of them went home (12). The largest groups of child crusaders came from the Rhineland and were led by a boy named Nicholas. This group marched towards the Holy City, while some turned back for home at Mainz: many continued the journey over the Alps into Italy. At this point many of them got separated, with some headed for Venice and others for Genoa. Some of them made to Genoa in August of 1212, but how many of them actually made the passage to the Holy Land are unknown. Most of them just simply disappeared leaving behind no trace of their journey. Although not backed by any real sense of force, these kids showed a great level of bravery. Once again just a testament to how popular the idea of crusading was to all people of the day.
The fifth crusade was the last of the major crusades. The fifth crusade lasted only four short years and began in 1217. It started with great success, during which the crusaders took the seaport of Damietta. After this the main goal was to capture Cairo and Sinai in order to cut off any link between Egypt and the Latin Kingdom. While aspirations were high these events never occurred. They had to abort the attack on Cairo due to lack of reinforcements. This spelled the end of the fifth crusade, in August 1221 the crusaders had to surrender the port of Damietta (13).
There were other crusades after the fifth but none were given the official title as a crusade. Fredrick II had been promising pope Gregory IX a crusade since 1215, but kept postponing due to political reasons. Finally in August of 1227 he left Italy but returned shortly after due to illness, enraging Pope Gregory. After this the pope excommunicated Fredrick but he continued his passage to the Holy Land in 1228. There he did all his crusading through diplomatic negotiations, a much different tactic then any previous crusade. Fredrick made a deal with the sultan, al-Kamil, which restored Jerusalem to the crusaders and guaranteed 10 years conflict free. Despite this achievement Fredrick was still excommunicated and the pope even proclaimed a crusade against him. It seems as if a crusade was not really crusade in the pope’s eyes without bloodshed. In 1248 Louis IX of France started a crusade to the Middle East. Just like the fifth crusade, Louis and his army captured Damietta on June 5, 1249. The fifth crusaders failed to attack Cairo, but Louis and his men did not. They attacked but it was a great catastrophe for Louis and his men. They neglected to gain control of the water gates on the Nile and the Egyptians flooded them from behind. His whole army was trapped and Louis was forced to surrender in April of 1250. After paying a huge ransom, Louis returned to France and started plotting a new crusade. In 1270 Louis tried to start the last major crusade, but it failed before it even got started because Louis died in the same year (14). For the next couple of hundred years most of the land gained through crusading was lost to the Muslims. They lost Syria and Palestine rather quickly, and by the 16th century all of it was back under Muslim control.
The results of crusading in the Middle East were not of great significance. All that was left of the crusaders was the forts and castles that they left behind. The real effects of the crusades were felt in Europe itself. Commerce in Italy thrived from the new items brought back from the Middle East. New trade markets were introduced after the crusades. Money had to be generated for these crusades and much like in the 20th century the people were taxed. This form of general taxation had a hug impact on the way in which the government was run systematically and fiscally. The experience of crusading would also benefit Europeans in their discovery and exploration of the Americas. But, there was a whole lot of violence occurring in order to achieve these small gains. No major land was claimed as belonging to a certain group (15). Conflicts still arise today because of religion and the claim of land. You need war to have peace but as long as there is war there will never be peace!
1.Corliss Konwiser Slack, Historical dictionary of the Crusades (Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press 2003), 4.
2. Slack, 8.
3. Thomas Asbridge, The First Crusade: A New History (New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004), 20.
4. Asbridge, 44
5. Helen Nicholson, The Crusades (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2004), 32.
6. Asbridge, 23.
7. Nicholson, 103.
8. Jonathan Phillips, The Crusades 1095-1197 (Harlow, England; Toronto: Longman 2002), 175.
9. Nicholson, 134.
11. Jonathan Phillips, The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), 202.
12. Nicholson, 120.
13. Nicholson, 147.
14. Yvonne, Friedman, Encounter Between Enemies: captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2002), 340.
15. Nicholson, 166.
Asbridge, Thomas. The First Crusade: A New History New York; Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Friedman, Yvonne. Encounter Between Enemies: captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2002.
Nicholson, Helen. The Crusades. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2004.
Phillips, Jonathan. The Crusades: 1095-1197. Harlow, England; Toronto: Longman 2002.
Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. London: Jonathan Cape, 2004.
Slack, Corliss. A Historical dictionary of the Crusades. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2003.