"We must recapture the holy lands! Death to other people!"

The European dudes set out to retake various lands. They began in 1095 after the earliest capture of Jerusalem by Seljuk Turks brought call from the pope to recover the holy lands of Palestine from the Muslims. They succeeded but then lost it again. They tried again and so on. King Richard I helped with the 3rd crusade (1189) and got captured on the way back.

At least some of the crusades were not only driven by religious factors, but also economic ones. The rise of Islamic countries in the mid east hindered Europe's trade relations with Asia, which was their biggest trading partner.

From the seventh century onwards, at the time that Islam was growing among Arab peoples, the peaks of human culture were at Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. Without the work of Arab scholars at this time, much of Greek and Roman literature would be lost. Western cities like Paris, and even Rome, were considered by the the Arab world to be occupied by barbarians.

In 638 Caliph Omar captured the city of Jerusalem for a growing Arab empire. When visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most revered site of Christian worship, the time for Muslim prayer approached. The Caliph was urged to stay and pray, but he left and used the porch, saying that he did not want to set a precedent which would encourage his zealous followers to claim the church for their own.

This incident illustrates the fact that for centuries after Jerusalem fell into Islamic hands, there was religious tolerance in the city. Under Arab rule, Christians and Jews retained their places of worship and could use them without hindrance. In fact they paid less tax than under the previous Christian administration. A ninth century letter from the Patriarch of Jerusalem says of the Muslim authorities, "they are just and do us no wrong, nor show us any violence."

There is no evidence for large numbers of Arabs entering Syria and Palestine in these centuries, so the people who are called 'Arab' today are largely the descendents of a formerly Christian and Roman population who adopted Arabic and Islam - which at the time was considered to be merely an advanced and more rational form of Christianity.

However, at the end of the eleventh century a movement was unleashed that destabilised the status quo of the Middle-East and led to bitter religious conflict - 'the crusades'.

At Clermont On 27, November, 1095, Pope Urban II made an appeal to his French audience to cease fighting one another and turn to the East against non-Christian enemies. Urban might well have been wanting to raise a force in response to an appeal for help by the Orthodox Christian Emperor at Constantinople - but what he unleashed was a massive movement which aimed at the capture of Jerusalem.

The Pope had tapped the energy not only of genuine religious fervour, but also that created by the circumstances of life in Northern Europe.

For the peasantry, the idea of a crusade came as an opportunity escape from servitude and a land suffering from drought, plague and famine. Following itinerant preachers, thousands of peasant families put all their belongings onto a cart and headed east. Women joined the movement seeking freedom from the strict control of feudal society over their lives.

For the nobility life had become more restrictive during the eleventh century. The customary way for a young prince to make his way in the world was through war, against neighbours, family and peasantry, until a suitable realm was won or he had died in the attempt. But this route to the ownership of land was being squeezed, from above by the control of the great kings and Dukes, and from popular mobilisations of villagers in the 'Peace of God' and 'Truce of God' movements.

As a result, many knights rallied to the idea of the crusade. Here was a chance to earn fame and fortune in the east and at the same time earn the blessings of a Church which had been hostile to their local plundering.

By 1096 thousands of people, from all layers of society, were underway and heading for Jerusalem. As they travelled they proved to be an incredibly destructive force, both to Christians and non-Christians. One German contingent only got as far as Worms and Mainz, dispersing after they had massacred the local Jewish population.

In 1099, after immense hardship that had seen most of the poorer crusaders die from starvation or be taken away into captivity as slaves, the First Crusade reached Jerusalem. When the city was captured, it was with an orgy of destruction. The entire Muslim and Jewish population of the city was wiped out, blood flowed through the streets to such an extent that crusaders were soaked to their knees in it. A contingent of Muslims had been offered refuge at the mosque of al-Aqsa but early on in the morning, the day after the capture of the city, soldiers forced their way into the mosque and slaughtered everyone. Many of those in the building preferred to leap do their deaths from the roof than be put to the sword.

That the violence was so great was not only due to religious sectarianism but the fact that the surviving poor crusaders had no intention of returning to Europe and had only agreed to storm the city on condition that they could take over homes there. The massacre at Jerusalem shocked the civilised world, and the nearby muslim populations were never to forget it.

For nearly a century a small Christian kingdom based on Jerusalem existed in the Middle-East. That they were able to survive was largely because they formed a useful buffer state between two great rival Arab empires based on Cairo and Baghdad. The crusaders themselves began to adapt to local conditions. They inter-married with the local population, learned the language, began to dress, eat and behave like Arabs. It might have been possible for the crusader state to integrate with the Arab world but for the constant influx of fanatical Christian warriors. The military - religious orders of Hospitalars and Templars saw integration as treachery and destabilised the efforts of the kings of Jerusalem to form treaties with local Arab rulers.

As a consequence, the great general Saladin was able to unite the Arab world against the Crusader states. In 1187 Jerusalem fell to Saladin's army. By contrast with the crusaders, Saladin was relatively generous with his defeated enemy. Not a building was looted and not a person injured. Saladin posted patrols to keep the streets peaceful.

Saladin offered the rulers of Jerusalem a chance to redeem the 20,000 Christian captives before they were led away to slavery. He set a price which he knew the authorities could well afford. But Muslims were shocked when the Patriarch of Jerusalem paid just ten dinars for his own ransom and left the city, unmolested, with a large train of carts laden with gold, silver and carpets. The plight of the remaining Christians was so pitiful that Saladin unconditionally freed all the elderly men and women and several thousand others.

The Papacy and the European nobility did not give up on the idea of recapturing Jerusalem, but over the years the idea of a crusade became discredited as crusading armies attacked fellow Christians. In 1204 a crusade directed against Christians of the East sacked Constantinople. It was followed soon after by a crusade against the heretics of southern France and later against the German Emperor. The spiritual system of indulgences and heavenly reward was debased. The concept of Holy War became a farce.

The Social and Political Ramifications of the Crusades


The Crusades are among the most well known wars fought in medieval Europe, and many associate them with idealized images of white-clad knights with shining plate armor and gleaming swords. What few people consider is their enemies: middle-easterners who were forced to fight and die for the "crime" of their leaders controlling a city in their homeland: Jerusalem. As you can imagine, these events have had drastic and far-reaching effects, mostly in the Middle East, but also influencing other parts of the world.

Most of the effects can be divided into two categories: those that affected the political situation at that point in time, and those that affect our present situation with the Middle East. Yes, I realize that due to quantum interrelatedness everything that happened during the Crusades (or at any other time) affects our present situation, but it is far easier to deal with the directly visible impacts.

Almost all of the Crusades had some sort of major impact at the time that they occurred, but none were quite so influential as the first. It was the First Crusade that established Jerusalem as something dynamic, something that could be conquered or lost. That the Christian armies were merciless in their methods did not help matters; in the seige of Marra, they dug up copses for food, and when they captured the city, their first act was to kill every one of its inhabitants. In Jerusalem, according to the Gesta Francorum and the personal account of Raymond of Aguiles, the blood in the streets was at least a foot high, perhaps more, at the Temple of Solomon1.

The Second Crusade had little impact in the Middle East, ending in failure before it had hardly begun. While it, too, failed, the Third Crusade made one significant achievement; the monarchs of Europe took Cyprus, shortly before failing to recapture Jerusalem. The possession of Cyprus, however, redefined what political measures might be taken, and became particularly relevant during the last two Crusades, whose main accomplishments were not achieved by armies, but rather by political maneuvering.

Though the Fourth Crusade never reached the Middle East, it, coupled with the Children's Crusade, emphasized the popular perception that Europe had of its Muslim neighbors. That is to say, that they believed it was their right to possess any kingdoms that they desired, simply because the current possessors were foreign. This is very much like the American concept of "manifest destiny", or Yanqui Imperialism that was exhibited in the 19th century.

As far as I can discern, the Fifth Crusade had very little impact on anything. The Sixth Crusade, on the other hand, was very influential in that it established precedent for a European monarch to be the leader of Outremer, at least in title. When Emperor Frederick II crowned himself King of Jerusalem at the end of his rather peaceful Crusade, he set the Framework for the aftermath of the Seventh Crusade.

After King Louis IX failed to take Jerusalem by force, he retreated to Acre, where he governed affairs. The primary reason that he could claim some semblance of legitimacy was due to the fact that a European, King Conrad of Germany, was technically the king. Louis' "just" method governing brought the respect of many Palestinian barons, though his accomplishments mostly faded away after he returned to Europe, a few years later.

That is about all that I was able to discern in terms of the immediate effects of the Crusades. The long-term effects, however, are deeply related to our disturbingly open-ended "War on Terrorism" that somehow manages to encompass Iraq, but I digress. All of the slaughters (both of Muslims and Christians) that occurred during the Crusades have not been without lasting effects.

The primary influence that the Crusades on people attitudes was the distrust that it inspired; Muslims and eurocentric Christians at that point began to view each other as ruthless enemies. Though religion has always fostered hatred, the tradition of consummating this hatred is what makes the Christian-Muslim relationship unique. When Europeans migrated to the New World, they took their prejudices with them, hence our current government's anti-Mulsim attitude.

Another aspect of the Crusades that has affected the current scenario in the Middle East is the establishment of Jerusalem as a city subject to being conquered. Granted, it was targeted because of its biblical significance, but being conquered so many times will inevitably foster political instability. This is not to say that our sposorsing Israel (thereby inhibiting Palestine, which is primarily Muslim) in the last few decades is not a large part of it, but there are other factors.

In this fashion, the impacts of the Crusades have been felt, as tremors of history, through the last several centuries, and are now once again manifesting in terms of violence and bloodshed.





1 Knight, Honest to Man: p82-83; Armstrong, Holy War: p178-179

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