Crusades (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
Article abstract: At issue: Recovery of Christian religious sites in the Holy Land. Result: Dominance of Western culture over Islamic culture in Europe; beginning of European imperialism.
The Crusades began in late 1095 as an attempt by medieval Europe to recover the holy shrines of Christianity that were located in Palestine, otherwise known as the Holy Land. At the time, these religious sites were under the control of Islamic Turks. In total, seven or eight major crusades (depending on the system of numbering) and several smaller ones were launched with this goal in mind. In time, however, crusading efforts would expand beyond the limited objective of the recovery or defense of the Holy Land to include wars of national conquest in Spain and the Baltic States, war against heretics in southern France, and wars against political enemies of the Catholic Church in Germany. Therefore, the Crusades can be defined as wars fought to recover lost territory or to defeat enemies of the Christian church that were sanctioned by ecclesiastical authority and that promised a spiritual reward, known as an indulgence, for those who participated.
In March, 1095, Pope Urban II received an appeal from the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, to help him recruit knights to fight against the Turks in Asia Minor. Alexius feared that Byzantium could no longer hold back the advance of the...
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Crusades (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Among the best-known events of the Middle Ages, the Crusades were a series of armed expeditions by European Christians to conquer Muslim-controlled territory in the Holy Land. Historians have traditionally bracketed these campaigns between the years 1095, when Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade, and 1291, when the Mamelukes, a caste of Muslim slave soldiers, conquered the city of Acre (Israel), bringing to an end any significant European Christian presence in the Holy Land. Historians disagree over the exact number of crusades, though most agree that there were either seven or eight in total.
Like many historical events, the Crusades are difficult to define. The crusading spirit experienced in Europe also was expressed against Muslims in Spain, pagans in northern Europe, heretics in southern France, and even orthodox Christians in the Byzantine Empire. In addition, just as the geographic boundaries of the Crusades are unstable, so too are their chronological parameters. Although Western European Christians lost for good their last significant base in the Middle East in the late thirteenth century, they continued to make minor attempts to recover territory for centuries.
The Crusades were military campaigns waged between two very different cultures that had developed separately but along paths that eventually brought them into violent contact. The Muslims of the Middle East were believers in an energetic religion of conquest and considered themselves the successors to the covenants God had established first with Jews and, later, with Christians. In the twenty-first century, Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle Ages were complicated. At times, believers in the two faiths lived comfortably side by side; at others, relations between them were difficult at best.
Messages in the Qur'an, the sacred book of Islam, about Christians are mixed. While there is hostility toward Christians on account of some of their beliefs, there is also a sense that Jesus's followers are to be respected because they, like Jews, are "people of the Book." Most European Christians, however, failed to realize that Muslims considered themselves successors to a covenant that they (Christians) had once enjoyed. Instead, most Christians considered Muslims to be pagans, and were unaware of Islam's monotheism and its perceived connection between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
It is difficult to determine what role these beliefs played in Muslim-Christian relations during the Crusades. It seems likely, though, that the catalyst that channeled European energy into armed pilgrimages to the Holy Land is to be found in developments occurring simultaneously in the Muslim world. The most significant of these was the advent of the Seljuk Turks. Since 1066 the Seljuks had been attacking the Byzantine Empire, a Christian state, and in 1071, under the command of Sultan Alp Arslan, they defeated the armies of Byzantine emperor Romanus IV at the Battle of Manzikert (in present-day Turkey). The victory was significant, a major defeat that wrested Asia Minor (Turkey) from Byzantine control and placed it under Turkish rule. Soon after, Arslan captured Jerusalem from the Fatimids, an Islamic dynasty whose power base was located in Egypt. Under Seljuk rule, Jerusalem became less accessible to Christian pilgrims, who at times were barred from holy sites, attacked, and even murdered.
For the next two decades, the Byzantine Empire continued to lose territory to the Turks. By 1095 the situation was grave and the Seljuks were poised to strike the Byzantine capital city, Constantinople. Seriously threatened, Emperor Alexius I Comnenus turned to the western Church for help. It was a timely appeal. On the eve of the Crusades, Western Europe was entering a period of cultural creativity, economic revival, political stability, and increased religious devotion. It was a time of energy and confidence, during which many men were willing to take up the cross and travel long distances in search of opportunity and adventure. Pope Urban II, and the nobility of France were willing to indulge this request, believing that it was their duty to help their fellow Christians in the East.
Many also saw the vast potential in such a campaign. Pope Urban called the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095. His speech played on the pride of the Franks, noted the opportunities available to those who participated, drew attention to the plight of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, emphasized the conquests of the Muslim Turks, cast Muslims as the enemies of Christ, and offered those who joined the protection of property as well as indulgences. The speech met with great success, including cries of "Deus vult!" ("God wills it!"), and by the following year the First Crusade was mobilized. In 1099, after a bitter siege followed by a bloody massacre that cost the lives of many women and children as well as combatants, the city of Jerusalem fell to the crusaders. As one Christian writer put it "the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles."
The success of the First Crusade astonished many, including the crusaders themselves. Indeed, it is easily arguable that, from a Western European perspective, the first was the most successful of all the Crusades. The successive campaigns, by and large, were called to help Christians who were already in the Holy Land. For example, when the city of Edessa (Turkey), reverted to Muslim control in 1144, Pope Eugenius III called the Second Crusade, which was preached by no less a person than Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most influential personalities of the twelfth century. Although backed by the churchman's clout and by the participation of King Louis VII of France and Emperor Conrad III of Germany, the crusade was a miserable failure for Western Europeans. In 1147, the same year the crusade began, Conrad's army was defeated by the Turks at Dorylaeum (Turkey). The remaining soldiers joined with the army of Louis VII, which had left for the field of battle later than the German forces. Both contingents had traveled through the Balkans to reach their destination and, while doing so, had pillaged territories of the Byzantine Empire. Like the Byzantine emperor Alexius, who greeted the armies of the First Crusade, Emperor Manuel I was nervous about having an unruly army in his kingdom. He, again like Alexius, provided transportation for the crusaders to Asia Minor as soon as he could. The crusaders never did recapture Edessa; instead they targeted the city of Damascus (Syria), the unsuccessful siege of which signaled the end of the campaign in 1148.
The Third Crusade was also called as a defensive response, this time in reaction to the military conquests of the Muslim warrior Saladin, who in 1187 recaptured Jerusalem. Although Pope Gregory VII's appeal motivated numerous European leaders, including Kings Richard I and Henry II of England (who died before the crusade left), Philip II of France and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (who drowned en route in June 1190), the crusade achieved little for those who participated. It came to an end when King Richard signed the Treaty of Jaffa with Saladin in 1192.
The infamous Fourth Crusade followed ten years later, when Pope Innocent III called for a crusade to Egypt. The crusaders arrived in Venice with insufficient money for their passage. In lieu of payment, the Venetians redirected the crusade to the city of Zara, which they wanted recaptured from the Hungarians. The city fell in 1202, and no sooner did it succumb than the army was again redirectedhis time by Alexius IV, son of the recently blinded and deposed Emperor Isaac II. Alexius offered the crusaders 200,000 marks, reunification of the Orthodox and Roman churches, and a large army for a crusade if the crusaders would help restore his father to the throne.
The majority of the crusaders agreed to the proposition and in 1203 headed toward Constantinople. They attacked the city in July, and their successful campaign resulted in the co-coronation of Isaac and his son. Within months, however, the clergy and the people of the city, led by the future Alexius V, rioted against the monarchs. Isaac and his son were murdered in January 1204. In response, the crusaders took Constantinople by force. In May, Count Baldwin of Flanders was crowned the first Latin Emperor of Constantinople, an empire that would last until Emperor Michael VIII reclaimed the throne in 1261.
After the Fourth Crusade's failure to reach Egypt, Pope Innocent called another in 1213. The Fifth Crusade left Europe under the direction of Duke Leopold of Austria in 1217, and within two years the crusaders had captured the city of Damietta. However, the crusaders soon became bogged down by internal conflicts, and the Egyptians took advantage of the delay to fortify their positions. With their supply lines cut and facing considerable flooding due to deliberately broken dykes, this first wave of crusaders retreated from Egypt in 1221. There was a hiatus in the crusade until 1228, when Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II took up the cross. The emperor spent the next year peacefully negotiating a treaty that restored a section of Palestine (which included Jerusalem) to Christian control.
The two final crusades, the Six and Seventh, were led by King Louis IX of France. The army departed in August 1248, and by the following June the crusaders retook the city of Damietta and within a few months began marching toward Cairo. In 1250, Louis's army suffered a disastrous defeat at Mansurah (Egypt), which ultimately forced the crusaders to retreat. By April 6, Louis's forces were surrounded and the king was captured; he was ransomed one month later. Louis remained in the Holy Land until 1254 to negotiate various truces and fortify the cities of Acre, Jaffa, Caesarea, and Sidon. He returned to France in April, where he remained until 1270 when, energized by a report that Emir Muhammad I wanted to convert to Christianity, he departed for Tunis. However, immediately upon arrival in Tunis, Louis became gravely ill and died on August 25. Although the leadership of the crusade passed to the king's brother, Charles of Anjou, Louis's death brought an effective end to the crusade. In some ways the end of this crusade sounded the death knell of the movement. Within twenty years there would no longer be any significant Western European presence in the Holy Land.
Consequences for Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians
From the Muslim perspective, the lasting effects of the Crusades on the Islamic Middle East were fairly negligible. To many Muslims, they were just episodes in a long running clash with Christians. In fact, as Carole Hillenbrand notes, it is only in the recent past that Muslims have taken an interest in the Crusades as a discreet set of historical events: modern Arabic terms for "the Cross wars" (al-salibiyya) or "the war of the Cross" (harb al-salib) were not introduced into the language until the nineteenth century. However, as Thomas Madden points out, the crusading movement did have some negative effects on the Muslim world, including slowing the conquest of Islam. The mere presence of European Christians in the region distracted Muslims and prevented the local populations from forming into a unified Islamic state. It is possible that by diverting Muslim energy and material resources, the Crusades may have bought Europe time to prepare itself for the threats that the Turks would pose to the continent in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.
The consequences of the early crusades for the Jews of Western Europe were dramatic. As Robert Chazan notes, a great paradox of the Crusades is that, although numerous high churchmen condemned violence against Jews, they also initiated undertakings that led to the persecutions that some later tried to suppress. Long embedded in the European psyche was the notion of Jews as the enemies of Christ. The year 1096 was a notably devastating one for German Jews. Whereas John, bishop of the German city of Speyer, was willing and able to protect the Jews of his diocese, the Jews of Worms were not as lucky. Turned on by their neighbors and unable to be protected effectively by the town's bishop, many in this city were massacred or forced to convert. The Jews of Mainz also fell prey to violence, and many chose to die by their own hands rather than succumb to the crusaders. Suddenly and tragically, the once renowned Jewish community of Mainz was decimated.
The Second Crusade brought more attacks upon the Jews of Europe, although none were as severe as those of 1096. The Jews, the Church, and secular governments took precautions as the crusade was called. Indeed, one of the most vocal protectors of the Jews was the preacher of the crusade, Bernard of Clairvaux. The Third Crusade, which came on the heels of the coronation of King Richard I of England, inflamed anti-Jewish passions once again. Riots broke out in London in 1189, followed by others in the kingdom which destroyed a number of Jewish communities. Clearly, then, the Crusades had disastrous social and cultural consequences for Europe's Jews. They had highly negative economic consequences as well, because anti-Jewish violence was not only a religious instrument, it was also a financial one that could be used to force Jews to forgive the debts of the Christian populace.
The consequences of the Crusades for the orthodox Christians of the Byzantine Empire were also devastating. As George Dennis states in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World:
Muslims believed force might be used to bring all people under the sway of Islam; Western knights believed that they were called not only to defend but "exalt" Christianity and that attacks on its enemies could be holy and meritorious. The Byzantines believed that war was neither good nor holy, but was evil and could be justified only in certain conditions that centered on the defense of the empire and its faith. They were convinced that they were defending Christianity itself and the Christian people, as indeed they were (Laiou and Mottahedeh, 2001, p. 39 ).
The defense came at a great cost. The pillage and desecration of the holy city of Constantinople in 1204 by their fellow Christians ripped wounds into the communal Orthodox memory that have yet to be healed. The empire lost many of its cultural and sacred treasures, which were carried off to western Europe in general and to Venice in particular. In addition, as the Latin Empire of Constantinople reigned, the outlying territories broke apart into separate independent states, striking a great and lasting blow to the unity of the empire. After the reassertion of Greek political authority in 1261, the politically fragmented state was unable to withstand the military blows it continued to sustain. Its strength would continue to be weakened for the next two hundred and fifty years by attacks from Charles of Anjou, the Venetians, the kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria and, most notably, the Ottoman Turks. The Turks would ultimately bring the once great empire to an inglorious end during a siege led by the founder of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Mehmet II, on May 29, 1453.
SEE ALSO Catholic Church; Religion; Religious Groups
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Gabrielli, Francisco, ed. (1969). Arab Historians of the Crusades, tran. E. J. Costello. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. (1989). Chronicles of the Crusades: Nine Crusades and Two Hundred Years of Bitter Conflict Brought to Life through the Words of Those Who Were Actually There. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Joinville and Villehardouin (1963). Chronicles of the Crusades, tran. M. R. B. Shaw. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books.
Odo of Deuil (1948). De profectione Ludovici VII in orientem (The Journey of Louis VII to the East), ed. and tran. Virginia Gingerick Berry. New York: Norton.
Dawn Marie Hayes