Pope Honorius III began preaching this crusade very shortly after rising to the papacy. After the failure of the Third and Fourth Crusades (enacted by his predecessor, Pope Innocent III), Pope Honorius II was eager to retake the Holy Land. Though the monarchs of Europe contributed little to this crusade, the pope found sufficient support among the French and German barons. The Frisians offered a small fleet of ships, though they lent few soldiers to the cause.

Egypt was decided to be the crusaders' original destination, for a couple of reasons: Even if they managed to take Jerusalem directly, it would fall quickly to the Muslim forces within Egypt. However, if the crusaders could seize Egypt, they could not only attack the exposed flank of Jerusalem, they would do so without having to worry about their back being vulnerable to attack. Additionally, the wealth of Egypt was probably quite attractive to the greedy leaders of the crusade. On May 24, 1218 the crusaders set sail for Egypt.

The campaign for the Holy Land began with an assault of Damietta, a town that guarded Cairo by stopping unwanted ships from traveling along the Nile. Damietta itself was guarded by a small tower in the waterway just outside of the town. It took the crusaders considerable effort and nearly a month to take this tower, which fell in mid-August. By the time they had taken the tower, the soldiers were too few to siege Damietta, and so had no choice but to wait for reinforcements, which arrived in September.

With the arrival of new soldiers, a siege was begun against Damietta. But, with the Egyptians devoting their resources primarily to defending the town, the siege quickly became a stalemate. Then, in early February, a Kurdish chieftain named Imad-ad-Din, who was one of the Egyptian Sultan strongest supporters, began to plot against Egypt. At news of this, the Sultan fled for Cairo, and in the ensuing chaos, the Sultan's armies fell back, leaving Damietta undefended.

The Egyptian Sultan, greatly worried about potentially losing Damietta, offered to give Jerusalem to the crusaders in return for a thirty-year truce. The crusaders, confident that by capturing Damietta they could take the whole of Egypt in addition to Jerusalem, decided to refuse the offer. This would turn out to be the greatest mistake of their campaign.

In March, Egypt received reinforcements, and managed to reassert their defensive position in Damietta, despite multiple attacks by the crusaders. Over the next several months, the crusaders failed in numerous assaults on Damietta and other nearby Egyptian forces, sustaining heavy losses. With morale low and military leaders growing impatient, the Christian army made a valiant (though ill-advised) strike at the Sultan's camp, but were quickly routed, losing thousands of soldiers.

The Sultan once again offered the city of Jerusalem to the crusaders, but the offer was rejected. They were relying on a large army of reinforcements that had been promised by Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, one of the greatest monarchs of the day. In early November, shortly after they refused the offer, the crusaders finally managed to take Damietta by way of an unattended watchtower. Unsure of what to do, the Egyptians pulled back and waited to see the Christian army's next move.

The Christians, however, with no true leader, opted to wait for Frederick II and his army before they committed to any course of action. The Emperor decided to stay in Europe, but most of his army arrived in June of 1221. With their newly increased numbers, the crusaders decided to make an all-out assault on the Egyptian forces. The Egyptians, seeing that they could not defeat the Christians in a fair combat, expediently retreated to the far banks of the Bahr as-Saghir (a river that connects to the Nile).

Fearlessly advancing on the Egyptian position, the crusaders marched to the point where the Nile and the Bahr as-Saghir, and right into a trap. As summer turned to fall and water levels rose, a channel filled in behind the Christian army, cutting off their easy retreat. In a desperate situation, the crusaders decided to use the cover of night to retreat over the small path of land that was left to them.

Unfortunately for the Christians, the Sultan foresaw their retreat and had flooded the land. And so the Egyptians descended on the crusaders, who were hindered by darkness and mud. The crusaders were easily routed. Having their leaders at his mercy, the Sultan demanded that the Christians leave Egypt and agree to and eight-year truce. With no other options available to them, the Christians agreed to these terms.

The fifth crusade had failed.

See also General Wesc's The Crusades node.


The glow and the glamour of the Crusades disappear save for the pathetic sunset splendours of St Louis, as Dandolo dies, and gallant Villehardouin drops his pen. But before St Louis sailed for Damietta there intervened the miserable failure of one Crusade, and the secular and diplomatic success of another. The Fifth Crusade is the last which is started in that pontificate of Crusades - the pontificate of Innocent III. It owed its origin to his feverish zeal for the recovery of Jerusalem, rather than to any pressing need in the Holy Land. Here there reigned, during the forty years of the loss of Jerusalem, an almost unbroken peace. Malik-al-Adil, the brother of Saladin, had by 1200 succeeded to his brother's possessions not only in Egypt but also in Syria, and he granted the Christians a series of truces (1198-1203, 1204-1210, 1211-1217). While the Holy Land was thus at peace, crusaders were also being drawn elsewhere by the needs of the Latin empire of Constantinople, or the attractions of the Albigensian Crusade. (*1*) But Innocent could never consent to forget Jerusalem, as long as his right hand retained its cunning. The pathos of the Children's Crusade of 1212 only nerved him to fresh efforts. A shepherd boy named Stephen had appeared, in France, and had induced thousands to follow his guidance: with his boyish army he rode on a wagon southward to Marseilles, promising to lead his followers dry-shod through the seas. In Germany a child from Cologne, named Nicolas, gathered some 20,000 young crusaders by the like promises, and led them into Italy. Stephen's army was kidnapped by slave-dealers and sold into Egypt; while Nicolas's expedition left nothing behind it but an after-echo in the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. But for Innocent these outbursts of the revivalist element, which always accompanied the Crusades, had their moral: "the very children put us to shame," he wrote; "while we sleep they go forth gladly to conquer the Holy Land."

In the fourth Lateran council of 1215 Innocent found his opportunity to rekindle the flickering fires. Before this great gathering of all Christian Europe he proclaimed a Crusade for the year 1217, and in common deliberation it was resolved that a truce of God should reign for the next four years, while for the same time all trade with the Levant should cease. Here were two things attempted - neither, indeed, for the first time (*2*) - which 14th century pamphleteers on the subject of the Crusades unanimously advocate as the necessary conditions of success; there was to be peace in Europe and a commercial war with Egypt. This statesmanlike beginning of a Crusade, preached, as no Crusade had ever been preached before, in a general council of all Europe, presaged well for its success. In Germany (where Frederick II himself took the cross in this same year) a large body of crusaders gathered together: in 1217 the south-east sent the duke of Austria and the king of Hungary to the Holy Land; while in 1218 an army from the north-west joined at Acre the forces of the previous year. Egypt had already been indicated by Innocent III in 1215 as the goal of attack, and it was accordingly resolved to begin the Crusade by the siege of Damietta, on the eastern delta of the Nile.

The original leader of the Crusade was John of Brienne, king of Jerusalem (who had succeeded Amalric II, marrying Maria, the daughter of Amalric's wife Isabella by her former husband, Conrad of Montferrat); but after the end of 1218 the cardinal legate Pelagius, fortified by papal letters, claimed the command. In spite of dissensions between the cardinal and the king, and in spite of the offers of Malik-al-Kamil (who succeeded Malik-al-Adil at the end of 1218), the crusaders finally carried the siege to a successful conclusion by the end of 1219. The capture of Damietta was a considerable feat of arms, but nothing was done to clinch the advantage which had been won, and the whole of the year 1220 was spent by the crusaders in Damietta, partly in consolidating their immediate position, and partly in waiting for the arrival of Frederick II, who had promised to appear in 1221.

In 1221 Hermann of Salza, the master of the Teutonic order, along with the duke of Bavaria, appeared in the camp before Damietta; and as it seemed useless to wait any longer for Frederick II, (*3*) the cardinal, in spite of the opposition of King John, gave the signal for the march on Cairo. The army reached a fortress (erected by the sultan in 1219(afterwards, from 1221, the town of Mansura),and encamped there at the end of July. Here the sultan reiterated terms which he had already offered several times before - the cession of most of the kingdom of Jerusalem, the surrender of the cross (captured by Saladin in 1187), and the restoration of all prisoners. King John urged the acceptance of these terms. The legate insisted on a large indemnity in addition: the negotiations failed, and the sultan prepared for war. The crusaders were driven back towards Damietta; and at the end of August 1221 Pelagius had to make a treaty with Malik-al-Kamil, by which he gained a free retreat and the surrender of the Holy Cross at the price of the restoration of Damietta.

The treaty was to last for eight years, and could only be broken on the coming of a king or emperor to the East. In pursuance of its terms the crusaders evacuated Egypt, and the Fifth Crusade was at an end. It is difficult to decide whether to blame the legate or the emperor more for its failure. If Frederick had only come in person, a single month of his presence might have meant everything: if Pelagius had only listened to King John, the sultan was ready to concede practically everything which was at issue. Unhappily Frederick preferred to put his Sicilian house in order, and the legate preferred to listen to the Italians, who had their own commercial reasons for wishing to establish a strong position in Egypt, and to the Templars and Hospitallers, who did not feel satisfied by the terms offered by the sultan, because he wished to retain in his hands the two fortresses of Krak and Monreal.

(*1*) In 1208 Innocent excommunicated Raymond VI of Toulouse on account of the murder of a papal legate who was attempting to suppress Manichaeism, and offered all Catholics the right to occupy and guard his territories. Thus was begun the First Crusade against heresy. Raymond at once submitted to the pope, but the Crusade continued none the less, because, as Luchaire says," the baronage of the north and centre of France had finished their preparations," and were resolved to annex the rich lands of the south. In this way land-hunger exploited the Albigensian, as political and commercial motives had helped to exploit the Fourth Crusade; and in the former, as in the latter, Innocent had reluctantly to consent to the results of the secular motives which had infected a spiritual enterprise. The Albigensian Crusades, however, belong to French history; and it can only be noted here that their ultimate result was the absorption of the fertile lands, and the extinction of the peculiar civilization, of southern France by the northern monarchy. (See the article Albigenses.)
(*2*) A canon of the third Lateran council (1179) forbade traffic with the Saracens in munitions of war; and this canon had been renewed by Innocent in the beginning of his pontificate.
(*3*) He had promised the pope, at his coronation in 1220, to begin his Crusade in August 1221. But he declared himself exhausted by the expenses of his coronation; and Honorius III. consented to defer his Crusade until March 1222. The letter of the pope informing Pelagius of this delay is dated the 10th of June: it would probably reach his hands after his departure from Damietta; and thus the Cardinal gave the signal for the march, when, as he thought, the emperor's coming was imminent.

Extracted from the entry for CRUSADES in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.