Within fifteen years of the Hegira Jerusalem fell before the arms of Omar (637), and it continued to remain in the hands of Mahommedan rulers till the end of the First Crusade. For centuries, however, a lively intercourse was maintained between the Latin Church in Jerusalem, which the clemency of the Arab conquerors tolerated, and the Christians of the West. Charlemagne in particular was closely connected with Jerusalem: the patriarch sent him the keys of the city and a standard in 800; and in 807 Harun al-Rashid recognized this symbolical cession, and acknowledged Charlemagne as protector of Jerusalem and owner of the church of the Sepulchre. Charlemagne founded a hospital and a library in the Holy City; and later legend, when it made him the first of crusaders and the conqueror of the Holy Land, was not without some basis of fact. The connexion lasted during the 9th century; kings like Alfred of England and Louis of Germany sent contributions to Jerusalem, while the Church of Jerusalem acquired estates in the West.
During the 10th century this intercourse still continued; but in the 11th century interruptions began to come. The fanaticism of the caliph Hakim destroyed the church of the Sepulchre and ended the Frankish protectorate (1010); and the patronage of the Holy Places, a source of strife between the Greek and the Latin Churches as late as the beginning of the Crimean War, passed to the Byzantine empire in 1021. This latter change in itself made pilgrimages from the West increasingly difficult: the Byzantines, especially after the schism of 1054, did not seek to smooth the way of the pilgrim, and Victor II had to complain to the empress Theodora of the exactions practised by her officials. But still worse for the Latins was the capture of Jerusalem by the Seljukian Turks in 1071. Without being intolerant, the Turks were a rougher and ruder race than the Arabs of Egypt whom they displaced; while the wars between the Fatimites of Egypt and the Abbasids of Bagdad, whose cause was represented by the Seljuks, made Syria (one of the natural battle-grounds of history) into a troubled and unquiet region. The native Christians suffered; the pilgrims of the West found their way made still more difficult, and that at a time when greater numbers than ever were thronging to the East. Western Christians could not but feel hampered and checked in their natural movement towards the fountainhead of their religion, and it was natural that they should ultimately endeavour to clear the way. In much the same way, at a later date and in a lesser sphere, the closing of the trade routes by the advance of the Ottoman Turks led traders to endeavour to find new channels, and issued in the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope and the discovery of America. Nor, indeed, must it be forgotten that the search for new and more direct connexions with the routes of Oriental trade is one of the motives underlying the Crusades themselves, and leading to what may be called the 13th-century discovery of Asia.
It was thus natural, for these reasons, that the conquest of the Holy Land should gradually become an object for the ambition of Western Christianity - an object which the papacy, eager to realize its dream of a universal Church subject to its sway, would naturally cherish and attempt to advance. Two causes combined to make this object still more natural and more definite. On the one hand, the reconquest of lost territories from the Mahommedans by Christian powers had been proceeding steadily for more than a hundred years before the First Crusade; on the other hand, the position of the Eastern empire after 1071 was a clear and definite summons to the Christian West, and proved, in the event, the immediate occasion of the holy war. As early as 970 the recovery of the territories lost to Mahommedanism in the East had been begun by emperors like Nicephoras Phocas and John Zimisces: they had pushed their conquests, if only for a time, as far as Antioch and Edessa, and the temporary occupation of Jerusalem is attributed to the East Roman arms. At the opposite end of the Mediterranean, in Spain, the Omayyad caliphate was verging to its fall: the long Spanish crusade against the Moor had begun; and in 1018 Roger de Toeni was already leading Normans into Catalonia to the aid of the native Spaniard. In the centre of the Mediterranean the fight between Christian and Mahommedan had been long, but was finally inclining in favour of the Christian. The Arabs had begun the conquest of Sicily from the East Roman empire in 827, and they had attacked the mainland of Italy as early as 840. The popes had put themselves at the head of Italian resistance: in 848 Leo IV is already promising a sure and certain hope of salvation to those who die in defence of the cross; and by 916, with the capture of the Arab fortress on the Garigliano, Italy was safe. Then came the reconquest of the Mediterranean islands near Italy. The Pisans conquered Sardinia at the instigation of Benedict VIII about 1016; and, in a thirty years' war which lasted from 1060 to 1090, the Normans, under a banner blessed by Pope Alexander II, wrested Sicily from the Arabs. The Norman conquest of Sicily may with justice be called a crusade before the Crusades; and it cannot but have given some impulse to that later attempt to wrest Syria from the Mahommedans, in which the virtual leader was Bohemund, a scion of the same house which had conquered Sicily.
But while the Christians of the West were thus winning fresh ground from the Mahommedans, in the course of the 11th century, the East Roman empire had now to bear the brunt of a Mahommedan revival under the Seljuks a revival which, while it crushed for a time the Greeks, only acted as a new incentive to the Latins to carry their arms to the East. The Seljukian Turks, first the mercenaries and then the masters of the caliph, had given new life to the decadent caliphate of Bagdad. Under the rule of their sultans, who assumed the role of mayors of the palace in Bagdad about the middle of the 11th century, they pushed westwards towards the caliphate of Egypt and the East Roman empire. While they wrested Jerusalem from the former (1071), in the same year they inflicted a crushing defeat on the Eastern emperor at Manzikert. The result of the defeat was the loss of almost the whole of Asia Minor; the dominions of the Turks extended to the sea of Marmora. An appeal for assn ance, such as was often to be heard again in succeeding centuries, was sent by Michael VII of Constantinople to Gregory VII in 1073. Gregory listened to the appeal; he projected - not, indeed, as has often been said, a crusade, (*1*)' but a great expedition, which should recover Asia Minor for the Eastern empire, in return for a union of the Eastern with the Western Church. In 1074 Gregory actually assembled a considerable army; but his disagreement with Robert Guiscard, followed by the outbreak of the war of investitures, hindered the realization of his plans, and the only result was a precedent and a suggestion for the events of 1095. The appeal of Michael VII was re-echoed by Alexius Comnenus himself. Brave and sage as he was, he could hardly cope at one and the same time with the hostility of the Normans on the west, of the Petchenegs (Patzinaks) on the north, and of the Seljuks on the east and south. Already in 1087 and 1088 he had appealed to Baldwin of Flanders, verbally and by letter, (*2*) for troops; and Baldwin had answered the appeal.
The same appeal was made, more than once, to Urban II; and the answer was the First Crusade. The First Crusade was not, indeed, what Alexius had asked or expected to receive. He had appealed for reinforcements to recover Asia Minor; he received hundreds of thousands of troops, independent of him, and intending to conquer Jerusalem for themselves, though they might incidentally recover Asia Minor for the Eastern empire on their way. Alexius may almost be compared to a magician, who has uttered a charm to summon a ministering spirit, and is surrounded on the instant by legions of demons. In truth the appeal of Alexius had set free forces in the West which were independent of, and even ultimately hostile to, the interests of the Eastern empire.
The primary force, which thus transmuted an appeal for reinforcements into a holy war for the conquest of Palestine, was the Church. The creative thought of the middle ages is clerical thought. It is the Church which creates the Carolingian empire, because the clergy thinks in terms of empire. It is the Church which creates the First Crusade, because the clergy believes in penitentiary pilgrimages, and the war against the Seljuks can be turned into a pilgrimage to the Sepulchre; because, again, it wishes to direct the fighting instinct of the laity, and the consecrating name of Jerusalem provides an unimpeachable channel; above all, because the papacy desires a perfect and universal Church, and a perfect and universal Church must rule in the Holy Land. But it would be a mistake to regard the Crusades (as it would be a mistake to regard the Carolingian empire) as a pure creation of the Church, or as merely due to the policy of a theocracy directing men to the holy war which is the only war possible for a theocracy.
It would be almost truer, though only half the truth, to say that the clergy gave the name of Crusade to sanctify interests and ambitions which, while set on other ends than those of the Church, happened to coincide in their choice of means. There was, for instance, the ambition of the adventurer prince, the younger son, eager to carve a principality in the far East, of whom Bohemond is the type; there was the interest of Italian towns, anxious to acquire the products of the East more directly and cheaply, by erecting their own emporia in the eastern Mediterranean. The former was the driving force which made the First Crusade successful, where later Crusades, without its stimulus, for the most part failed; the latter was the one staunch ally which alone enabled Baldwin I and Baldwin II to create the kingdom of Jerusalem. So far as the Crusades led to permanent material results in the East, they did so in virtue of these two forces. Unregulated enthusiasm might of itself have achieved little or nothing; enthusiasm caught and guided by the astute Norman, and the no less astute Venetian or Genoese, could not but achieve tangible results. The principality or the emporium, it is true, would supply motives to the prince and the merchant only; and it may be urged that to the mass of the crusaders the religious motive was all in all. In this way we may return to the view that the First Crusade, at any rate, was fait ecclesiastique.
It is indeed true that to thousands the hope of acquiring spiritual merit must have been a great motive; it is also true, as the records of crusading sermons show, that there was a strong element of "revivalism" in the Crusades, and that thousands were hurried into taking the cross by a gust of that uncontrollable enthusiasm which is excited by revivalist meetings to-day. But it must also be admitted that there were motives of this world to attract the masses to the Crusades. Famine and pestilence at home drove men to emigrate hopefully to the golden East. In 1094 there was pestilence from Flanders to Bohemia: in 1095 there was famine in Lorraine. Francigenis occidentalibus facile persuaderi poterat sua rura relinquere; nam Gallias per annos aliquot nunc seditio civilis, nunc fames, nunc mortalitas nimis afixerat. (*3*) No wonder that a stream of emigration set towards the East, such as would in modern times flow towards a newly discovered gold-field - a stream carrying in its turbid waters much refuse, tramps and bankrupts, camp-followers and hucksters, fugitive monks and escaped villeins, and marked by the same motley grouping, the same fever of life, the same alternations of affluence and beggary, which mark the rush for a gold-field to-day.
Such were the forces set in movement by Urban II, when, after holding a synod at Piacenza (March, 1095), and receiving there fresh appeals from Alexius, he moved to Clermont, in the south-east of France, and there on the 26th of November delivered the great speech which was followed by the First Crusade. In this speech he appealed, indeed, for help for the Greeks, auxilio ... saepe acclamato indigis (Fulcher i. c. i.); but the gist of his speech was the need of Jerusalem. Let the truce of God be observed at home; and let the arms of Christians be directed to the winning of Jerusalem in an expedition which should count for full and complete penance. Like Gregory, Urban had thus sought for aid for the Eastern empire; unlike Gregory, who had only mentioned the Holy Sepulchre in a single letter, and then casually, he had struck the note of Jerusalem. The instant cries of Deus volt which answered the note showed that Urban had struck aright. Thousands at once took the cross; the first was Bishop Adhemar of Puy, whom Urban named his legate and made leader of the First Crusade (for the holy war, according to Urban's original conception, must needs be led by a clerk). Fixing the 15th of August 1096 as the time for the departure of the crusaders, and Constantinople as the general rendezvous, Urban returned from France to Italy.
It is noticeable that it was on French soil that the seed had been sown. (*4*) Preached on French soil by a pope of French descent, the Crusades began - and they continued - as essentially a French (or perhaps better Norman-French) enterprise; and the kingdom which they established in the East was essentially a French kingdom, in its speech and its customs, its virtues and its vices. It was natural that France should be the home of the Crusades. She was already the home of the Cluniac movement, the centre from which radiated the truce of God, the chosen place of chivalry; she could supply a host of feudal nobles, somewhat loosely tied to their place in society, and ready to break loose for a great enterprise; she had suffered from battle and murder, pestilence and famine, from which any escape was welcome. To the Normans particularly the Crusades had an intimate appeal. They appealed to the old Norse instinct for wandering - an instinct which, as it had long before sent the Norseman eastward to find his El Dorado of Micklegarth, could now find a natural outlet in the expedition to Jerusalem: they appealed to the Norman religiosity, which had made them a people of pilgrims, the allies of the papacy, and, in England and Sicily, crusaders before the Crusades: finally, they appealed to that desire to gain fresh territory, upon which Malaterra remarks as characteristic of Norman princes. (*5*) No wonder, then, that the crusading armies were recruited in France, or that they were led by men of the stock of the d'Hautevilles. Meanwhile newly-conquered England had its own problems to solve; and Germany, torn by civil war, and not naturally quick to kindle, could only deride the "delirium" of the crusader.
(*1*) Tradition credits a pope still earlier than Gregory VII with the idea of a crusade. Silvester II. is said to have preached a general expedition for the recovery of Jerusalem; and the same preaching is attributed to Sergius IV. in tots. But the supposed letter of Silvester is a later forgery; and in 1000 the way of the Christian to Jerusalem was still free and open.
(*2*) The comte de Riant impugned the authenticity of Alexius' letter to the count of Flanders. It is very probable that the versions of this letter which we possess, and which are to be found only in later writings like Guibert de Nogent, are apocryphal; Alexius can hardly have held out the bait of the beauty of Greek women, or have written that he preferred to fall under the yoke of the Latins rather than that of the Turks. But it is also probable that these apocryphal versions are based on a genuine original.
(*3*) Ekkehard, Chronica, p. 213.
(*4*) The Chanson de Roland, which cannot be posterior to the First Crusade - for the poem never alludes to it - already contains the idea of the Holy War against Islam. The idea of the crusade had thus already ripened in French poetry, before Urban preached his sermon.
(*5*) Book i. c. iii. (in Muratori, S.R.I., v. 550).
Extracted from the entry for CRUSADES in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.