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The crusades against the Moors

The crusades against the Moors

It seems to me that recent history portrays the Christian crusaders as evil and brutal for taking back Spain from the Islamic Moors who conquered them and toppled the Spanish government and ruled over Spain for decades. Why are the crusader considered the bad guys here?


Maybe you are confusing situations:

Currently, the idea of "Reconquista" is just held to talk about the chronological and geographical frame, but the idea of a "managed" process to take all of the Iberian Peninsula back from the Muslim rulers is generally discredited as a "post-facto" fabrication (giving a "national idea" of "proto-Spain" to the several Christian kingdoms, and giving a political justification for their political union).

After the initial Muslim conquest, the Muslim kingdom in Spain became an Umayyad reduct (the rest of the Caliphate came under Abbasid rule) and quickly developed into small Taifas kingdom. During the period, Christian kingdoms fought Muslim kingdoms, true, but almost as frequently the fighting was between Christian kingdoms themselves or Muslim kingdoms themselves. To put an example, the prototypical hero of the Reconquista, the Cid, was employed by the Muslim ruler of Valencia.

The few occasions in which this was not true was in a few cases in which new Muslim groups came from North Africa(Almoravids, Almohads), unified the Muslim kingdoms and charged North. In those cases the Christian kingdoms were (mostly) able to ally against the pressing threat and, in occasion, get support from the Pope who declared a proper Crusade to entice European warriors against the fresh invasions.

As per the Reconquista itself it was, in fact, quite brutal from both sides. Civilian populations were raided from one and other side, defeated soldiers and civilians could be sold as slaves, etc. In some occasions, religious striffe between Muslims and Christians happened even inside the same population at time of peace1 (with Jews being targetted now and then). That said, it was not more brutal than life and war in other parts of Europe or the Mediterranean at that era.

Now, to the point of your question, maybe you are refering to some details of the decisive battle of the Navas de Tolosa, there was a foreign force (called by the Pope as part of a formal crusade). That crusader force defected before the battle; while some authors blame the heat, many others point that the Crusaders wanted to massacre the surrendered populations (of the towns in the way to the Navas), to which the Christian Kings opposed. Of course, the Crusaders were just in a razzia in which all that what counted was the booty they could get, while the Kings wanted to tax conquered towns and not graveyard.

1: For example, the revolt of the Germanies(Brotherhoods)


It depends who is talking.

As @Alex pointed in his comment

Serious historians do not use the words "good", "bad", "evil" etc. These notions depend on time and culture. So when talking about different time and different culture, a scientist should avoid them.

What is important, the process of taking back Spain (and Portugal) is called not a "crusade", but rather a "Reconquista", which literally means "conquering back" or "reconquer".

If you take back to 8-9th centuries, you will see that Moors did conquer Iberian Peninsula (being stopped at Poitiers). For Spanish and Portuguese the process of "reconquering" is very important part of their history. They have national heroes of this epoch (eg. El Cid or El Gran Capitán). It's hard to say that (common) Christians (meaning people related to Christian side of the conflict) would say anything bad about the Reconquista.

It is clear that Muslims or Moors (in this case meaning all the people who are more related to this side of conflict), who eventually lost the war, try (or tried) to show their opponent as bad.

Today in (popular part of) history there is a tendency to search war crimes everywhere. This can be the reason to answer your question. What you should remember, this war (or process) lasted almost eight centuries (since Moor invasion until the fall of Granada). For such a long period it's difficult to say who was responsible for the start of war, who was good or bad.

Also, many people find now religious freedom as something very important. It's easy to expect 21st century culture values in historical times, but it can't be related. The process of Converso, along with bad reputation of the Inquisition, also the process of conquests in Americas may add to general view of the Reconquista.


Crusades

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns organised by popes and Christian western powers to take Jerusalem and the Holy Land back from Muslim control and then defend those gains. There were eight major official crusades between 1095 and 1270, as well as many more unofficial ones.

Although there were many crusades, none would be as successful as the first, and by 1291 the Crusader-created states in the Middle East were absorbed into the Mamluk Sultanate. The idea of crusading was applied more successfully (for Christians) to other regions, notably in the Baltic against European pagans and in the Iberian Peninsula against the Muslim Moors.

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Involving emperors, kings, and Europe's nobility, as well as thousands of knights and more humble warriors, the Crusades would have tremendous consequences for all involved. The effects, besides the obvious death, ruined lives, destruction and wasted resources, ranged from the collapse of the Byzantine Empire to a souring of relations and intolerance between religions and peoples in the East and West which still blights governments and societies today.

Causes & Motivations

The 11th century First Crusade (1095-1102) set a precedent for the heady mix of politics, religion, and violence that would drive all the future campaigns. The Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118) saw an opportunity to gain western military aid in defeating the Muslim Seljuks who were eating away at his empire in Asia Minor. When the Seljuks took over Jerusalem (from their fellow Muslims, not the Christians who had lost the city centuries earlier) in 1087, this provided the catalyst to mobilise western Christians into action. Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099) responded to this call for help, motivated by a desire to strengthen the Papacy and milk the prestige to become the undisputed head of the whole Christian church including the Orthodox East. Taking back the Holy City of Jerusalem and such sites as the Holy Sepulchre, considered the tomb of Jesus Christ, after four centuries of Muslim control would be a real coup. Consequently, the Pope issued a Papal Legate and set in motion a preaching campaign across Europe, which appealed for western nobles and knights to sharpen their swords, suit up and get themselves over to the Holy Land to defend Christendom's most precious sites and any Christians there in danger.

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The warriors who 'took the cross', as the oath to crusade was known, and made the incredibly arduous journey to fight in a foreign land were motivated by any number of things. First and foremost was the religious aspect - the defence of Christians and the faith, they were promised by the Pope, brought a remission of sins and a fast-track route to Heaven. There were also ideals of chivalry and doing the right thing (although chivalry was in its infancy at the time of the First Crusade), peer and family pressure, the chance to gain material wealth, perhaps even land and titles, and the desire to travel and see the great holy sites in person. Many warriors had far less glamorous ambitions and were simply compelled to follow their lords, some sought to escape debts and justice, others merely sought a decent living with regular meals included. These motivations would continue to guarantee large numbers of recruits throughout all subsequent campaigns.

The First Crusade

Against all odds, the international military expedition of the First Crusade overcame the difficulties of logistics and the skills of the enemy to recapture first Antioch in June 1098 and then the big one, Jerusalem on 15 July 1099. With their heavy cavalry, shining armour, siege technology, and military know-how, the western knights sprung a surprise on the Muslims that would not be repeated. The slaughter of Muslims after the fall of Jerusalem would not be forgotten either. There had been a few cock-ups along the way, like the annihilation of the People's Crusade, a band of non-professional rabble, and a fair amount of deaths due to plagues, disease, and famine, but overall the success of the First Crusade astonished even the organisers themselves. Multinational cooperative warfare could reap dividends, it seemed, and this was the moment when the merchants started to show an interest in the crusades too.

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The Crusader States

To defend the territory now in Christian hands, four Crusader States were formed: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, County of Edessa, County of Tripoli, and Principality of Antioch. Collectively, these were known as the Latin East or Outremer. The trade between the West and East, which went through these states, and the lucrative contracts to ship crusaders to the Levant attracted the merchants of such cities as Venice, Pisa, Genoa, and Marseille. Military orders sprang up in the Crusader States, such as the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, which were able bodies of professional knights who lived as monks and who were given the job of defending key castles and passing pilgrims. Unfortunately for Christendom, the Crusader States always suffered a shortage of manpower and bickering between the nobles who had settled in them. Theirs was not to be an easy existence over the next century.

The Second Crusade

In 1144 CE the city of Edessa in Upper Mesopotamia was captured by the Muslim Seljuk leader Imad ad-Din Zangi (r. 1127-1146), the independent ruler of Mosul (in Iraq) and Aleppo (in Syria), and many Christians were killed or enslaved. This would spark off another crusade in the 12th century to get it back again. The German king Conrad III (r. 1138-1152) and Louis VII, the king of France (r. 1137-1180), led the Second Crusade of 1147-9, but this royal seal of approval did not bring success. Zangi's death only brought an even more determined figure on the scene, his successor Nur ad-Din (sometimes also given as Nur al-Din, r. 1146-1174), who sought to bind the Muslim world together in a holy war against the Christians in the Levant. Two big defeats at the hands of the Seljuks in 1147 and 1148 knocked the stuffing out of the Crusader armies, and their last-ditch attempt to salvage something honourable from the campaign, a siege of Damascus in June 1148, was another miserable failure. The next year Nur ad-Din captured Antioch, and the County of Edessa ceased to exist by 1150.

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The Reconquista

In 1147, the Second Crusaders had stopped off at Lisbon en route to the East to assist King Alfonso Henriques of Portugal (r. 1139-1185) capture that city from the Muslims. This was part of the ongoing rise of the northern Christian statelets in Iberia who were eager to push the Muslim Moors out of southern Spain, the so-called Reconquista (the Reconquest, although the Muslims had been there since the early 8th century). The popes were more than happy to support this campaign and widen the idea of crusading to include the Moors as yet another enemy of the West. The same spiritual benefits were offered to those who fought in the Middle East or Iberia. The Spanish and Portuguese nobility were also keen to have the backing of a higher authority and the manpower and financial resources it promised. New local military orders sprang up, and the campaigns were remarkably successful so that only Granada remained in Muslim hands after the mid-13th century.

The Northern Crusades

A third arena for the crusades, again backed by the popes and wider Church infrastructure, was the Baltic and those areas bordering German territories which continued to be pagan. The Northern Crusades of the 12th to 15th century were first conducted by a Saxon army led by German and Danish nobles who selected the pagan Wends (aka Western Slavs) as their target in 1147. This was a whole new facet of crusading: the active conversion of non-Christians as opposed to liberating territory held by infidels. The crusades would continue thereafter, largely conducted by the military order of Teutonic Knights who called upon knights from across Europe to help them. The order in effect carved out its own state in Prussia and then moved on to what is today Lithuania and Estonia. Quite often brutally converting pagans and probably more motivated by land and wealth acquisition than anything else, the Crusades were so successful in their aims that the Teutonic Knights did themselves out of a job and, by the end of the 14th century, had to focus instead, and with much more meagre results, on the Poles, Ottoman Turks, and Russians.

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The Third Crusade

Back in the Middle East, the fate of the three remaining Crusader States was becoming even more precarious. The new star Muslim leader, Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r. 1174-1193) won a great victory against a Latin East army at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 CE and then immediately took Jerusalem. These events would bring on the Third Crusade (1189-1192). Perhaps the most glamorous of all the campaigns, this time there were two western kings and an emperor in command, hence its other name of 'the Kings' Crusade'. The three big names were: Frederick I Barbarossa, King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1152-1190) Philip II of France (r. 1180-1223) and Richard I 'the Lionhearted' of England (r. 1189-1199).

Despite the royal pedigree, things got off to the worst possible start for the Crusaders when Frederick drowned in a river on his way to the Holy Land in June 1190. Richard's presence did finally end the siege of Acre in the Christians' favour in July 1191, after the English king had already caused a stir by capturing Cyprus en route. Marching towards Jaffa, the Christian army scored another victory at the Battle of Arsuf in September 1191, but by the time the force got to Jerusalem, it was felt they could not take the city, and even if they did, the still largely intact army of Saladin would almost certainly and immediately take it back again. The end result of the Third Crusade was a mere consolation prize: a treaty which allowed Christian pilgrims to travel to the Holy Land unmolested and a strip of land around Acre. Still, it was a vital foothold and one which inspired many future crusades to expand it into something rather better.

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Later Crusades

The subsequent crusades were very much a story of the Christians shooting their crossbows into their own feet. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) somehow managed to identify Constantinople, the greatest Christian city in the world, as the prime target. Papal ambitions, the financial greed of the Venetians, and a century of mutual suspicion between the East and the Western parts of the former Roman Empire all created a storm of aggression that resulted in the sacking of the Byzantine Empire's capital in 1204. The Empire was carved up between Venice and its allies, its riches and relics spirited away back to Europe.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) saw a change of strategy as the western powers identified the best way to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims - now dominated by the Ayyubid dynasty (1174-1250) - was to attack the enemy's soft underbelly in Egypt first. Despite the success, after an arduous siege, of taking Damietta on the Nile in November 1219, the westerners' lack of regard for local conditions and proper logistical support spelt their doom at the Battle of Mansourah in August 1221.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) saw negotiation achieve what warfare had not. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (r. 1220-1250), who had been much criticised for not participating in the Fifth Crusade, managed to strike a deal with al-Kamil, then the Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r. 1218-1238), and Jerusalem was handed over to Christian control with the proviso that Muslim pilgrims could freely enter the city. Al-Kamil was having his own problems in controlling his large empire, especially rebel Damascus, and Jerusalem had no military or economic value at that time, only a religious significance, making it a cheap bargaining chip to avoid a distracting war with Frederick's army.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was launched after a Christian army was defeated at the battle of La Forbie in October 1244. Led by the French king Louis IX (r. 1226-1270), the Crusaders repeated the strategy of the Fifth Crusade and achieved only the same miserable results: the acquisition of Damietta and then total defeat at Mansourah. Louis was even captured, although he was later ransomed. The French king would have another go in the Eighth Crusade of 1270.

In 1250 the Mamluk Sultanate had taken over from the Ayyubid Dynasty, and they had a formidable leader in the gifted former general Baibars (r. 1260-1277). Louis IX once more attacked North Africa, but the king died of dysentery attacking Tunis in 1270, and with him so too did the Crusade. The Mamluks, meanwhile, extended their domination of the Near East and captured Acre in 1291, so definitively eliminating the Crusader States.

Consequences & Effects

The Crusades had tremendous consequences for all those involved. Besides the obvious death, destruction and hardships the wars caused, they also had significant political and social effects. The Byzantine Empire ceased to be, the popes became the de facto leaders of the Christian Church, the Italian maritime states cornered the Mediterranean market in East-West trade, the Balkans were Christianized, and the Iberian peninsula saw the Moors pushed back to North Africa. The idea of crusading was stretched even further to provide a religious justification for the conquest of the New World in the 15th and 16th century. The sheer cost of the crusades saw the royal houses of Europe grow in power as that of the barons and nobles correspondingly declined. People travelled a little more, especially on pilgrimages, and they read and sang songs about the crusades, opening up a little wider their view of the world, even if it turned out to be a prejudiced one for many.

In the longer term, there was the development of the military orders, which eventually became tied with chivalry, many of which exist in one form or another today. Europeans developed a greater sense of their mutual common identity and culture, which also resulted in a sharper degree of xenophobia against non-Christians - Jews and heretics, in particular. Literature and art perpetuated crusading legends on both sides - Chrisitan and Muslim, creating heroes and tragedies in a complex web of myth, imagery, and language which would be applied, very often inaccurately, to the problems and conflicts of the 21st century.


The many Crusades fought in medieval Europe

Hear the word ‘crusade’ and you think of Templars fighting Saracens in the Holy Land. Maybe a scene from the movie Kingdom of Heaven comes to mind. But at the start of the 13 th century there were multiple crusades raging across Europe. And the Popes in Rome had intriguing ways of getting people to go and fight in them.

The Iberian Crusade against the Moors

Going from west to east, we start with possibly the longest lasting of the crusades. What is now Spain and Portugal – the Iberian Peninsula – was torn apart by a 700-year struggle for control between Christian crusader kingdoms and a Muslim caliphate to the south.

Between the years 711AD and 1492 – Muslim armies first surged across Spain and into France before being pushed back very slowly over seven centuries. At times, the Popes put the Iberian crusade on a par with the Holy Land. Especially as the crusaders enjoyed consistent success in Iberia while the Holy Land saw frequent setbacks. Though the Holy Land always remained the most important given the burning desire to control all the biblical sites such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars

Heading north east to the south of France and we meet the so-called Albigensian Crusade. This was a bitter and bloody conflict between the Roman Catholic church and a Christian heresy often referred to as ‘Cathar’. In the year 1208, Pope Innocent III – often regarded as the most powerful pope ever – gave the green light to a crusade against the Cathars.

So desperate was Pope Innocent to get crusaders to destroy the Cathars that he offered to wipe their sins entirely in return for just forty days military service in France. This meant that after death they would sail through purgatory to their heavenly reward. Heresy was regarded by the church as a horrific existential threat that destabilised the natural order of things – as well as threatening their earthly power.

The Teutonic Knights crusade in the Baltics

Then zooming northwards, we find the Teutonic Knights in battle with the last pagans in Europe. Unless you come from that part of Europe, this has to be the least remembered crusades. But it took well into the fourteenth century for paganism to be completely wiped out by the knights.

The Fourth Crusade attacks Constantinople

Going south we arrive at the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, disgracefully ransacked and burned by crusaders during the Fourth Crusade of the year 1204. This was an unwarranted attack by Catholic knights from across Europe against a city where the eastern orthodox variant of Christianity prevailed.

Officially the papacy was scandalised by what the crusaders did. The blame was firmly placed on the Doge of Venice – Enrico Dandalo. He had financed the Fourth Crusade and wanted his money back. He also was keen on knocking out the Byzantines who had once been trading and maritime rivals but were in terminal decline. Looting Constantinople achieved those cynical aims.

And the Holy Land…

And finally – the Holy Land. The Crusade you all know. From the end of the 11 th century and the seizure of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, there were two centuries of one crusade after another. This activity is roughly encompassed by the lifespan of the Knights Templar (1118 to 1307). Their demise coincided with crusaders being forced off the mainland and on to the island of Cyprus.


Consolidation and Expansion

In any case, by 718 AD, the entire Iberian Peninsula, with the exception of the northernmost region, was under Moor rule. At this point of time, Al-Andalus was a province of the Umayyad Caliphate, and was therefore under the rule of governors. It has been pointed out that almost all of these governors, lasted no longer than two years. Although the governors were appointed either by the Governor of Ifriqiya, or by the caliph himself in Damascus, their authority was in fact undermined by local rulers, who were often the descendants of the initial conquerors. The local lords extended their control over different parts of the peninsula, which in turn enabled them to build up their wealth. As a result, they had the means to oppose the governor if necessary.

Although the Umayyad governors had little success in imposing their authority on the local lords of Al-Andalus, they were somewhat more successful in extending Moor rule beyond the peninsula. As an example, in 719 AD, Al-Samh ibn Malik crossed the Pyrenees, and conquered Septimania (in modern-day southern France). The Moors would remain in that region until 759 AD.

Muslim incursions into Western Europe lasted until 732 AD. In that year, an invading Muslim army, led by Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi, was defeated by the Franks under Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours. Nevertheless, it was the great rebellion of the Berbers, which broke out in North Africa in 739 AD, and subsequently spread to Al-Andalus, that was largely responsible for preventing the Muslims from carrying on further campaigns into France.

Depiction of the Battle of Tours. (Charles de Steuben / Public domain )


  • Publisher &rlm : &lrm Univ Of Minnesota Press 1st edition (March 21, 2012)
  • Language &rlm : &lrm English
  • Paperback &rlm : &lrm 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 &rlm : &lrm 0816660808
  • ISBN-13 &rlm : &lrm 978-0816660803
  • Item Weight &rlm : &lrm 11.2 ounces
  • Dimensions &rlm : &lrm 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches

Top reviews from the United States

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We Are All Moors: Ending Centuries of Crusades against Muslims and Other Minorities by Anouar Majid is a must-read for all immigrants and civil rights activists in Europe and North America.

I've previously reviewed A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent is Vital to Islam and America by Professor Anouar. I also have his book, Freedom and Orthodoxy: Islam and Difference in the Post-Andalusian Age, which I now have renewed impetus to read and review.

We Are All Moors is organized into an introduction, four chapters and a conclusion. The introduction lays out the thesis that the Iberian Peninsula's unified kingdoms of Aragon and Castile began the modern era of the nation-state with the policy of religious and ethnic purification and that the archetype Moors can represent groups all around Europe and North America which governments have viewed as obstacles to consolidation of the purified policy.

Chapter 1 examines the case of the Muslims and Jews in Spain. Professor Anouar amasses documentary evidence of this process. Each is astounding, and this characteristic throughout the entire book makes the book both enjoyable and difficult to summarize. For example, Professor Anouar documents how religion transformed into ethnicity, so that even the Christian descendants of Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula were subject to the state's sanctions. I also did not know that the Muslims were not expelled in 1492, but rather they persevered in the Iberian Peninsula openly for decades and secretly for longer and in the fears of the state for centuries.

Chapter 2, entitled "New World Moors," narrates stories of Muslims and those mistaken for Muslims in the Americas. Fascinatingly, the Spanish often considered the native Americans to be "Moors," as that fit well with the ideology of conquest inherited from the Reconquista. The chapter also address Muslims in the United States, particularly the proto-Islamic movements, most notably the Nation of Islam.

Chapter 3, "The Muslim Jews," shows how the Othering process developed in the Iberian Peninsula provided the tools for the Othering of Europe's other significan religious minority, Jews. Moreover, leading Jews of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often asserted a Muslim identity or affiliation as they were asserting Jews' rights in Europe. In fact, Dr. Anouar writes:

If [contemporary conflicting Jews and Muslims] were to bracket off the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a serious but, in the end, political problem and explore the history and bonds they share, perhaps enough goodwill could be generated to help Israelis and Palestinians and other aggrieved Muslims work out a solution.
At the very least, I hope this chapter will convince Muslims to refrain from reproducing inane European anti-semetic rhetoric.

Chapter 4 is, in my mind, the most important chapter of the book for a general U.S. and European audience. "Undesirable Aliens: Hispanics in America, Muslims in Europe" compares the current anti-immigrant hysteria with previous manifestations, demonstrating that the very same arguments used against primarily Hispanic immigrants in the United States were used against previous Others. In fact, even anti-immigrant intellectuals like Samuel Huntington had their antecedents in the halls of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even more revealing, however, is that the arguments and methods have their antecedents in the Inquisition of the Iberian Peninsula discussed in the introduction and Chapter 1.

This whole sad story is only lightened by the resilience of the "Moors" of each age, whose presence each successive wave of persecution fails to erase. Dr. Anouar concludes by relating several instances of acceptance of the "Moor" and the increasing realization that globalization is making the idea of Inquisitorial purity less and less tenable. The United States has a Melville strand of thought upon which it can draw to end its war on its most recent Moors, the largely Hispanic undocumented immigrant population.

Should we make a conscious effort to attain a state of irreversible mestizaje, there is no better group than the Mexicans to lead the way. It is not insignificant that it was a Mexican intellectual who coined the expresion "cosmic race" early in the twentieth century. As . Gregory Rodriguez has shown . although Mexicans are the "largest immigrant group in the history of the United States," the Mexican culture of mestizaje impels them toward inclusion through intermarriage and adaptation. . Miscgenation, or rather, mestizaje, characterized the birth of modern Mexico, from the moment Spanish conquistadors encountered the Aztec empire.
Dr. Anouar movingly concludes:

It is far more sensible to start preparing for a new golden age when every human being on earth and every cultural tradition will be embraced with the love and care now accorded to any species threatened with extenction.
Lastly, the book has 26 pages of notes and 26 pages of index to facilitate review and further research. The University of Minnesota Press is to be congratulated for including these materials.


The Crusades: When Christendom Pushed Back

The year is 732 A.D., and Europe is under assault. Islam, born a mere 110 years earlier, is already in its adolescence, and the Muslim Moors are on the march.

Growing in leaps and bounds, the Caliphate, as the Islamic realm is known, has thus far subdued much of Christendom, conquering the old Christian lands of the Mideast and North Africa in short order. Syria and Iraq fell in 636 Palestine in 638 and Egypt, which was not even an Arab land, fell in 642. North Africa, also not Arab, was under Muslim control by 709. Then came the year 711 and the Moors&rsquo invasion of Europe, as they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and entered Visigothic Iberia (now Spain and Portugal). And the new continent brought new successes to Islam. Conquering the Iberian Peninsula by 718, the Muslims crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into Gaul (now France) and worked their way northward. And now, in 732, they are approaching Tours, a mere 126 miles from Paris.

The Moorish leader, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, is supremely confident of success. He is in the vanguard of the first Muslim crusade, and his civilization has enjoyed rapidity and scope of conquest heretofore unseen in world history. He is at the head of an enormous army, replete with heavy cavalry, and views the Europeans as mere barbarians. In contrast, the barbarians facing him are all on foot, a tremendous disadvantage. The only thing the Frankish and Burgundian European forces have going for them is their leader, Charles of Herstal, grandfather of Charlemagne. He is a brilliant military tactician who, after losing his very first battle, is enjoying an unbroken 16-year streak of victories.

And this record will remain unblemished. Outnumbered by perhaps as much as 2 to 1 on a battlefield between the cities of Tours and Poitier, Charles routs the Moorish forces, stopping the Muslim advance into Europe cold. It becomes known as the Battle of Tours (or Poitier), and many historians consider it one of the great turning points in world history. By their lights, Charles is a man who saved Western Civilization, a hero who well deserves the moniker the battle earned him: Martellus. We thus now know him as Charles Martel, which translates into Charles the Hammer.

The Gathering Threat in the East

While the Hammer saved Gaul, the Muslims would not stop hammering Christendom &mdash and it would be the better part of four centuries before Europe would again hammer back. This brings us to the late 11th century and perhaps the best-known events of medieval history: the Crusades.

Ah, the Crusades. Along with the Galileo affair and the Spanish Inquisition (both partially to largely misunderstood), they have become a metaphor for Christian &ldquointolerance.&rdquo And this characterization figures prominently in the hate-the-West-first crowd&rsquos repertoire and imbues everything, from movies such as 2005&rsquos Kingdom of Heaven to school curricula to politicians&rsquo pronouncements. In fact, it&rsquos sometimes peddled so reflexively that the criticism descends into the ridiculous, such as when Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University and, writes Chair of the History Department at Saint Louis University Thomas Madden, &ldquorecounted (and embellished) a massacre of Jews after the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 and informed his audience that the episode was still bitterly remembered in the Middle East. (Why Islamist terrorists should be upset about the killing of Jews was not explained.)&rdquo Why, indeed. Yet, it is the not-so-ridiculous, the fable accepted as fact, that does the most damage. Madden addresses this in his piece, &ldquoThe Real History of the Crusades,&rdquo writing:

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman&rsquos famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

But what does good history tell us? Madden continues:

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War…. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western [sic] Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.

[The Crusades] were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point, Christianity as a faith and a culture had to defend itself or be subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.

The reality is that in our modern conception &mdash or, really, misconception &mdash of the word, it is the Muslims who had launched &ldquocrusades&rdquo against Christendom. (In the true sense of the word, the Moors couldn&rsquot be Crusaders, as the term means &ldquothose who are marked with a cross,&rdquo and the Muslims just wanted to erase the cross.) And like Martel before them, who ejected the Moors from most of southern Gaul, and the Spaniards, who &mdash through what was also a Crusade &mdash would much later wrest back control over Iberia, the Crusades were an attempt to retake conquered Christian lands. So how can we describe the view taken by most academics, entertainers, and politicians? Well, it is the Jihadist view. It is Osama bin Laden&rsquos view. It is a bit like ignoring all history of WWII until December 8, 1941 &mdash and then damning the United States for launching unprovoked attacks on Japan.

Christendom Pushes Back

So now the year is 1095. Just as the Muslims had invaded Europe from the west in the days of Charles the Hammer, now they are pushing toward it from the east. And just as they had taken the Byzantine lands of the Mideast and North Africa in the seventh century, they now have seized Anatolia (most of modern Turkey), thus robbing the Byzantines of the majority of what they had left. The Muslims are now just a few battles away from moving west into Greece itself or north into the Balkans &mdash the &ldquoback door&rdquo of Europe. Rightfully alarmed and fearing civilizational annihilation, Byzantine emperor Alexius I in Constantinople reaches out to a rival, Pope Urban II, for aid. Inspired to act, in November of 1095 the pope addresses the matter at the Council of Clermont, an event attended by more than 650 clerics and members of European nobility. On its second-to-last day, he gives a rousing sermon in which he appeals to the men of Europe to put aside their differences and rally to the aid of their brothers in the East. Here is an excerpt of the sermon as presented by the chronicler Fulcher of Chartres:

Your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impunity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ&rsquos heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians.

In addition to this call, the pope articulates a second goal: the liberation of Jerusalem and other Mideast holy sites. The pope&rsquos words are so moving that those in attendance are inspired to shout, it is said, &ldquoGod wills it! God wills it!&rdquo The first crusade is born.

Modernity, the Middle Ages, and Myth

Yet, in modern times, much cynicism would be born. People just can&rsquot believe that these medieval &ldquobarbarians&rdquo didn&rsquot have ulterior motives. This brings us to the &ldquoambitious pope&rdquo and &ldquorapacious knights&rdquo bit, the 20th-century myths about 11th-century motivations. Let&rsquos examine these one at a time.

First we have the notion that the Crusaders were imperialists. This is an understandable perspective for the modern mind, as the not-too-distant past has been one of a dominant West colonizing a world of backwaters. Yet this was a recent and relatively short-lived development. Do you remember how Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi considered the eighth-century Europeans barbarians? It was no different in the 11th century Dar al-Islam was the burgeoning civilization. It was the imperialist force &mdash and this wouldn&rsquot change for another 600 years.

Next we have two myths that contradict each other although, considered individually, they may seem tenable. One is that, despite the Crusaders&rsquo purported religiosity, they were just seeking riches by the sword. The other myth is, they were so darn religious that they were seeking to convert Muslims by the sword. It seems unlikely that both could be true, and, as it turns out, neither is.

Today we like to say &ldquoFollow the money.&rdquo Well, if you followed it in the 11th century, it led right back to Europe. The reality is that most Crusader knights were &ldquofirst sons,&rdquo men who had property and wealth &mdash much to lose (including their lives) and little to gain. And just as the United States can drain the public treasury funding Mideast interventions today, medieval warfare was expensive business. Lords were often forced to sell or mortgage their lands to fund their Crusading, and many impoverished themselves. It also doesn&rsquot seem that the average knight entertained visions of becoming &ldquothe man who would be king&rdquo in a faraway land, either. As Madden said in an October 2004 Zenit interview, &ldquoMuch like a soldier today, the medieval Crusader was proud to do his duty but longed to return home.&rdquo

As for conversion, the Crusaders were warriors, not missionaries. They had no interest in converting Muslims in fact, I doubt the notion ever entered their minds. They viewed the Muslims as enemies of God and His Church and a threat to Christendom, nothing more, nothing less. Treating this matter in a piece entitled &ldquoThe Crusades: separating myth from reality,&rdquo Zenit cited medieval history expert Dr. Franco Cardini and wrote:

&ldquoThe Crusades,&rdquo says Cardini, &ldquowere never &lsquoreligious wars,&rsquo their purpose was not to force conversions or suppress the infidel.&rdquo &hellip To describe the Crusade as a &ldquoHoly War&rdquo against the Moslems is misleading, says Cardini: &ldquoThe real interest in these expeditions, in service of Christian brethren threatened by Moslems, was the restoration of peace in the East, and the early stirring of the idea of rescue for distant fellow-Christians.&rdquo

Yet, whether or not the Crusades were religious wars, they certainly flew on the wings of religious faith. And when the Crusaders sought treasure, it was usually the kind that was stored up in Heaven. As to this sincerity of belief, Madden has pointed out that Europe is peppered with thousands of medieval charters in which knights speak of their deepest motivations, of their desire to do their Christian duty. Then, Professor Rodney Stark, author of the new book God&rsquos Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, tells us that while the knights were serious sinners, they were also serious about becoming more saintly. Anne Godlasky of USA Today quotes him as stating, &ldquoThese knights did such terrible things that their confessors kept saying, &lsquoI don&rsquot know how you will ever atone for this &mdash why don&rsquot you try walking to Jerusalem barefoot.&rsquo And they would do it &mdash they took their faith very seriously.&rdquo Moreover, when the Crusaders met with failure, Europeans embraced a characteristically religious explanation: They blamed their own sinfulness. Then, seeking to purify themselves, piety movements arose all across their lands. Perhaps this is why Oxford historian Christopher Tyerman has called the Crusades &ldquothe ultimate manifestation of conviction politics.&rdquo

We should also note that the Crusaders didn&rsquot see themselves as &ldquoCrusaders&rdquo the word wasn&rsquot even originated till the 18th century. They viewed themselves as pilgrims.

Having said this, it would be naïve to think that all Crusaders&rsquo worldly endeavors were animated by heavenly thoughts. Some say that Pope Urban II might have hoped he could regain control over the Eastern Church after the Great Schism of 1054. It&rsquos also said that Urban and others wanted to give those militant medieval knights someone to fight besides one another. As for those on the ground, the Crusades involved a motley multitude encompassing the regal to the rough-hewn, and it is certain that some among them dreamt of booty and betterment. Yet is this surprising or unusual? People are complex beings. Within a group or even an individual&rsquos mind, there are usually multiple motivations, some noble, some ignoble. Charles the Hammer might have very well relished the glory won on the battlefield, for all we know. But it would be silly to think that was his main motivation for fighting the Moors. Likewise, if the Crusaders were primarily motivated by covetous impulses, it was the most remarkable of coincidences. For those dark urges then manifested themselves just when a Christian emperor appealed for aid, just when Europe again seemed imperiled &mdash and after 400 years of mostly unanswered Muslim conquests.

Into the Mouth of Dar al-Islam

But however great the Europeans&rsquo faith, the first Crusade was a long shot. The soldiers had to travel on foot and horseback 1,500 miles &mdash traversing rivers, valleys, and mountains braving the elements dealing with hunger and thirst and whatever unknowns lay ahead &mdash and then defeat entrenched Muslim forces. And the endeavor had gotten off to a rather inauspicious start: An unofficial Crusade comprising peasants and low-ranking knights had already departed &mdash only to be massacred by the Seljuk Turks.

So, now, it is August 15, 1096, and the official Crusader armies depart from France and Italy. Arriving in Anatolia many months later, they lay siege to Muslim-occupied Nicea however, Emperor Alexius I negotiates with the Turks, has the city delivered to him on June 1, 1097, and then forbids the Crusaders to enter. They then fight other battles against the Muslims on the way to their next objective: the great city of Antioch. It is a must-win scenario if they do not take it, they cannot move on to Jerusalem. The siege continues for seven and a half months, during which time the Crusaders are hungry, tired, cold, and often discouraged Antioch&rsquos formidable walls seem an impenetrable barrier. On June 2, 1098, however, they are able to enter the city with the help of a spy. It is theirs.

Yet the Crusaders soon find themselves besieged and trapped in Antioch with the arrival of Muslim relief forces. Nevertheless, they manage a break-out on June 28, defeat the Turks, and, after a delay caused by internecine squabbling, move south to Jerusalem in April 1099. Starving after a long journey, they arrive at the Holy City on June 7 &mdash with only a fraction of their original forces. Despite this, Jerusalem will not pose the problems of Antioch, and they capture it on July 15.

The First Crusade successes give Christendom a foothold in the Mideast for the first time in hundreds of years with the establishment of four outposts known today as &ldquoCrusader states.&rdquo They are: the County of Edessa and the Principality of Antioch, founded in 1098 the Kingdom of Jerusalem, founded in 1099 and the County of Tripoli, founded in 1104. Perhaps the tide has finally turned in Christendom&rsquos favor.

But it was not to be. It was still a Muslim era, and more Crusades would be launched in the wake of Islamic triumphs. In fact, there was a multitude of Crusades &mdash if we include minor ones &mdash lasting until the end of the 17th century. However, it is customary to identify eight major Crusades, dating from 1096 through 1270, although this does omit many significant campaigns.

Great passion for a second Crusade was sparked when the County of Edessa was overcome by Turks and Kurds in 1144. Led by Kings Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany and advocated by St. Bernard, it was an utter failure. Most of the Crusaders were killed before even reaching Jerusalem, the campaign did more harm than good &mdash and Muslim power continued to grow.

Because of this, Madden writes, &ldquoCrusading in the late twelfth century &hellip became a total war effort.&rdquo All are asked to answer the call, from peasants to patricians, either by devoting blood and treasure to the defense of Christendom or through prayer, fasting, and alms to make her worthy of victory. Yet these are the days of the great Muslim leader Saladin, and in 1187 he destroys the Christian forces and takes one Christian city after another. And, finally, after almost a century of Christian rule, Jerusalem surrenders on October 2.

The loss of the Holy City inspires the Third Crusade. Led by storybook figures such as England&rsquos King Richard the Lionheart, German Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, and France&rsquos King Philip II, it is sometimes called the Kings&rsquo Crusade. Yet it is no fairytale affair. Frederick&rsquos army quits the campaign in 1190 after their aged German leader drowns while crossing a river on horseback, and King Philip leaves after retaking the city of Acre, owing to continual friction with Richard. Despite this, the English King is undeterred. Displaying brilliant leadership and tactical skill, he fights his way south, taking on all comers, and eventually recaptures the Holy Land&rsquos entire coast. Yet the crown jewel, Jerusalem, eludes his grasp. Believing he would not be able to hold it (since most Crusaders will be returning home), he must swallow hard and settle for what he can get: an agreement with Saladin to allow unarmed pilgrims unfettered access to the city. Richard then returns home and never sees the Holy Land again, dying from a battle-related wound sustained in Europe in 1199.

While the passion for Crusading remained strong in the 13th century and the Crusades were greater in scope, funding, and organization, they were lesser in accomplishment. There would be no more Richard the Lionhearts. Mideast Christian lands would slowly be overcome. And Jerusalem would never again be in Crusader hands. In fact, by 1291, the Crusader kingdom had been wiped off the map.

The Next Crusades Battle: ?The History Books

Because the Crusades ultimately failed to achieve their objectives, they are typically viewed as failures. And this brings us to a common Crusades myth. It&rsquos said that those medieval campaigns are partly to blame for anti-Western sentiment in today&rsquos Middle East, but this is nonsense. The reality is, as Madden told Zenit, &ldquoIf you had asked someone in the Muslim world about the Crusades in the 18th century he or she would have known nothing about them.&rdquo This only makes sense. Why would the Crusades have been remembered? From the Muslim perspective, they were just routine victories &mdash like so many others &mdash events that would just naturally fade into the mists of time. What in truth is partly to blame for Islamic anti-Western sentiment is 19th-century pro-Western propaganda. That is to say, when England and France finally started colonizing Arab lands, they wanted to rubber-stamp imperialism. To this end, they taught Muslims in colonial schools that the Crusades were an example of an imperialism that brought civilization to a backward Middle East. And, not surprisingly but tragically, when imperialism was later discredited, the Crusades would be discredited along with it. Muslims would start using the false history against the West.

But there are many Crusade myths. For example, some would characterize the campaigns as anti-Semitic. Yet, while there were two notable massacres of Jews during the Crusades, there is more to the story &mdash as Madden also explained in the Zenit interview:

No pope ever called a Crusade against Jews. During the First Crusade a large band of riffraff, not associated with the main army [the aforementioned &ldquoPeople&rsquos Crusade&rdquo], descended on the towns of the Rhineland and decided to rob and kill the Jews they found there…. Pope Urban II and subsequent popes strongly condemned these attacks on Jews. Local bishops and other clergy and laity attempted to defend the Jews, although with limited success. Similarly, during the opening phase of the Second Crusade a group of renegades killed many Jews in Germany before St. Bernard was able to catch up to them and put a stop to it.

This obviously adds perspective. In every war there are rogue forces that commit transgressions. Why, the United States had the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Yet, to echo Madden on this count, it would be unfair to claim that the goal of American forces was to, respectively, murder innocent civilians or commit sexual abuse.

There were other Crusader sins as well. In the Second Crusade, the warriors foolishly attacked Muslim Damascus, which had been an ally of the Christians. Worse still, the Fourth Crusade saw the sacking of Constantinople itself &mdash occupied by the very eastern Christians the Crusades were designed to protect &mdash after the Crusaders helped an imperial claimant gain the Byzantine throne and then were refused the aid he had promised them as a quid pro quo. In response, the pope at the time, Innocent III, condemned the attack (and he had already excommunicated the Crusade). Nevertheless, the damage was done. The act widened the Great Schism of 1054 to perhaps irreparable proportions.

Yet, again, perspective is necessary. Medieval armies didn&rsquot have modern discipline or rules of engagement, and they were, above all, medieval. You could not have put hundreds of thousands of men in the field during the course of centuries in that age without writing some dark chapters. Really, though, you couldn&rsquot do it in the modern age, either.

With all these failures and missteps, we may wonder why Europeans continued Crusading well beyond the 13th century&rsquos close. We may ask, was it worth the blood and treasure? Yet the answer boils down to one word: survival. The threats to Europe mentioned earlier would not remain theoretical. The Muslims would extinguish the Byzantine Empire &mdash and Constantinople would be renamed Istanbul. They would cross into the Balkans, and their descendants would clash with Christians there in the 1990s. The Ottoman Turks would capture the Italian town of Otranto in 1480, prompting the evacuation of Rome. The Ottomans would occupy what is now Hungary for 158 years. And, in 1529 and 1683, they would reach the gates of Vienna.

Yet the tide would finally turn against Dar al-Islam. The Ottomans would lose the Battle of Vienna in 1683, and, more significantly, Europe was blossoming. It would outpace the Muslim world technologically, and in its march toward modernity, the Christian &ldquobarbarians&rdquo would become the burgeoning civilization. In fact, they would become dominant enough to forget how recent their time in the sun is &mdash and how, perhaps, it almost never was.

So, were the Crusades really a failure? Sure, there was no Charles Martel and Battle of Tours, no Duke of Wellington at Waterloo there was no history-changing engagement where we could say, ah, that is where we slew the dragon or &ldquothis was their finest hour.&rdquo And they accomplished none of their stated goals. But the Crusades era might have constituted a &ldquoholding action,&rdquo a time when Christendom was pushed toward the abyss and, outweighed and wobbling, pushed back. Of course, this isn&rsquot the fashionable view. But it is easy today to characterize those medieval warriors any way we wish they are no longer around to defend themselves. But had they not defended the West, we might not be troubling over the past at all &mdash because we might not have a present.

Selwyn Duke

Selwyn Duke (@SelwynDuke) has written for The New American for more than a decade. He has also written for The Hill, Observer, The American Conservative, WorldNetDaily, American Thinker, and many other print and online publications. In addition, he has contributed to college textbooks published by Gale-Cengage Learning, has appeared on television, and is a frequent guest on radio.


Resources

Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file.
Listen as Mr. Dowling reads this lesson.

Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on the Middle Ages.

The Byzantine was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East until 1453, when it fell to Turkish warriors. Diocletian was Emperor of Rome from 284 to 305CE. In 285, he appointed a Caesar to rule the western half of the empire. Constantinople is located on a well defended peninsula. The Bosporus Strait leads to the Black Sea, while the Sea of Marmara leads to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1095, Pope Urban II launched the first of many Crusades, or “wars of the cross." Saladin (1137 – 1193) was a Kurdish warrior who led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states. A bronze statue in Damascus was unveiled to commemorate the 800th anniversary of his death.

The First Crusades

The Crusades were based on the idea of a holy war against infidels (unbelievers). Christian wrath against Muslims had already found some expression in the attempt to wrest Spain from the Moors and the success of the Normans in reclaiming Sicily. At the end of the eleventh century, Christian Europe found itself with a glorious opportunity to go after the Muslims when the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I, asked Pope Urban II for help against the Seljuk Turks. The pope saw this as a chance to rally the warriors of Europe for the liberation of Jerusalem and the Holy Land of Palestine from the infidels. The Holy City of Jerusalem had long been the focus of Christian pilgrimages. At the Council of Clermont in southern France toward the end of 1095, Urban challenged Christians to take up their weapons and join in a holy war to recover the Holy Land. The pope promised remission of sins: ‘‘All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.’’ The enthusiastic crowd cried out in response: ‘‘It is the will of God, it is the will of God.’’

The initial response to Urban’s speech reveals how appealing many people found this combined call to military arms and religious fervor. A self-appointed leader, Peter the Hermit, who preached of his visions of the Holy City of Jerusalem, convinced a large mob, most of them poor and many of them peasants, to undertake a Crusade to liberate the city. One person who encountered Peter described him in these words: ‘‘Outdoors he wore a woolen tunic, which revealed his ankles, and above it a hood he wore a cloak to cover his upper body, a bit of his arms, but his feet were bare. He drank wine and ate fish, but scarcely ever ate bread. This man, partly because of his reputation, partly because of his preaching, [assembled] a very large army.’’

This ‘‘Peasant’s Crusade’’ or ‘‘Crusade of the Poor’’ consisted of a ragtag rabble that moved through the Balkans, terrorizing natives and looting for their food and supplies. Their misplaced religious enthusiasm led to another tragic by-product as well, the persecution of the Jews, long pictured by the church as the murderers of Christ. As a contemporary chronicler described it, ‘‘They persecuted the hated race of the Jews wherever they were found.’’ Two bands of peasant crusaders, led by Peter the Hermit, managed to reach Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor wisely shipped them over to Asia Minor, where the Turks massacred the undisciplined and poorly armed mob.

Pope Urban II did not share the wishful thinking of the peasant crusaders but was more inclined to trust knights who had been well trained in the art of war. Three organized crusading bands of noble warriors, most of them French, made their way eastward. The crusading army probably numbered several thousand cavalry and as many as ten thousand infantry. After the capture of Antioch in 1098, much of the crusading host proceeded down the Palestinian coast, evading the well-defended coastal cities, and reached Jerusalem in June 1099. After a five-week siege, the Holy City was taken amid a horrible massacre of the inhabitants—men, women, and children.

After further conquest of Palestinian lands, the crusaders ignored the wishes of the Byzantine emperor and organized four Latin crusader states. Because the crusader kingdoms were surrounded by Muslims hostile to them, they grew increasingly dependent on the Italian commercial cities for supplies from Europe. Some Italian cities, such as Genoa, Pisa, and especially Venice, grew rich and powerful in the process.

But it was not easy for the crusader kingdoms to maintain themselves. Already by the 1120s, the Muslims had begun to strike back. The fall of one of the Latin kingdoms in 1144 led to renewed calls for another Crusade, especially from the monastic firebrand Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He exclaimed, ‘‘Now, on account of our sins, the enemies of the cross have begun to show their faces. . . . What are you doing, you servants of the cross? Will you throw to the dogs that which is most holy? Will you cast pearls before swine?’’ Bernard even managed to enlist two powerful rulers, but their Second Crusade proved to be a total failure.

The Third Crusade was a reaction to the fall of the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1187 to the Muslim forces under Saladin. Now all of Christendom was ablaze with calls for a new Crusade. Three major monarchs agreed to lead their forces in person: Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany (1152�), Richard I the Lionhearted of England (1189�), and Philip II Augustus, king of France (1180�). Some of the crusaders finally arrived in the Holy Land by 1189 only to encounter problems. Frederick Barbarossa drowned while swimming in a local river, and his army quickly disintegrated. The English and French arrived by sea and met with success against the coastal cities, where they had the support of their fleets, but when they moved inland, they failed miserably. Eventually, after Philip went home, Richard the Lionhearted negotiated a settlement whereby Saladin agreed to allow Christian pilgrims free access to Jerusalem.

The Later Crusades

After the death of Saladin in 1193, Pope Innocent III initiated the Fourth Crusade. On its way east, the crusading army became involved in a dispute over the succession to the Byzantine throne. The Venetian leaders of the Fourth Crusade saw an opportunity to neutralize their greatest commercial competitor, the Byzantine Empire. Diverted to Constantinople, the crusaders sacked the great capital city of Byzantium in 1204 and set up the new Latin Empire of Constantinople. Not until 1261 did a Byzantine army recapture Constantinople. In the meantime, additional Crusades were undertaken to reconquer the Holy Land. All of them were largely disasters, and by the end of the thirteenth century, the European military effort to capture Palestine was recognized as a complete failure.

Effects of the Crusades

Whether the Crusades had much effect on European civilization is debatable. The crusaders made little long-term impact on the Middle East, where the only visible remnants of their conquests were their castles. There may have been some broadening of perspective that comes from the exchange between two cultures, but the interaction of Christian Europe with the Muslim world was actually both more intense and more meaningful in Spain and Sicily than in the Holy Land.

Did the Crusades help stabilize European society by removing large numbers of young warriors who would have fought each other in Europe? Some historians think so and believe that Western monarchs established their control more easily as a result. There is no doubt that the Crusades did contribute to the economic growth of the Italian port cities, especially Genoa, Pisa, and Venice. But it is important to remember that the growing wealth and population of twelfth-century Europe had made the Crusades possible in the first place. The Crusades may have enhanced the revival of trade, but they certainly did not cause it. Even without the Crusades, Italian merchants would have pursued new trade contacts with the Eastern world.

The Crusades prompted evil side effects that would haunt European society for generations. The first widespread attacks on the Jews began with the Crusades. As some Christians argued, to undertake holy wars against infidel Muslims while the ‘‘murderers of Christ’’ ran free at home was unthinkable. The massacre of Jews became a regular feature of medieval European life.

The Roman Catholic Church shared in the challenge of new growth by reforming itself and striking out on a path toward greater papal power, both within the church hierarchy and over European society. The High Middle Ages witnessed a spiritual renewal that enhanced papal leadership and the religious lives of the clergy and the laity. At the same time, this spiritual renewal also gave rise to the crusading ‘‘holy warrior’’ who killed for God, thereby creating an animosity between Christians and Muslims that still has repercussions to this day.


The Ottoman Threat

Meanwhile, from the mid-fourteenth century, the Ottoman Turks had pushed into Europe. After their victory over the Serbians at the epic Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Ottomans expanded through southeastern Europe, gradually conquering the region&rsquos Greek Orthodox princes but being steadfastly defied by the important (and Roman Catholic) Hungarian kingdom. However, Western Europe was not seriously threatened by the Turks before the 1520s, and while calls for help in campaigns against the Ottomans stimulated a significant response in the West in the late fourteenth century, they drew only a limited response in the 125 years after the disastrous denouement of the so-called Crusade of Nicopolis in September 1396.

The crusade was reminiscent of the original Crusades, in its pan-European appeal, which transcended even the Great Schism (discussed below), and in the transnational composition of the Christian forces. The bulk of the crusaders&rsquo army was composed of the forces of the Hungarian king, including troops from across Central and Eastern Europe: Bohemia, Bosnia, Carinthia, Styria, Transylvania, and Wallachia. But it also included many contingents from Western Europe: Burgundy (then virtually an independent kingdom), England, France, Germany, Spain, Venice, and the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of Saint John. And while no kings took part, the elite of Latin Christendom was represented: the Germans were led by Frederick of Hohenzollern the French, Burgundians, and possibly the English were led by the duke of Burgundy&rsquos son and heir, John, count of Nevers by Philip of Artois, high constable of France and by two famous French soldiers, the Maréchal Boucicaut and Enguerrand de Coucy, count of Soissons, each of whom was celebrated across Christendom as the very model of a medieval general and knight-errant.

The defeat of the Christian army on September 25, 1396, at Nicopolis, on the Danube, was a decisive blow to the Christian cause in the Balkans. The Crusade of Nicopolis was in some respects the end of an era it was the last great transnational crusade.

Although Burgundians were again to see service outside the walls of Nicopolis, aiding the Wallachians in 1445, the Polish and Hungarian armies in the so-called Crusade of Varna in 1444 were joined by only a few Czech, German, and Italian troops, despite the appeals of Pope Eugenius IV the crusade ended in a defeat at Varna (on the Black Sea coast in modern-day Bulgaria) more disastrous than that at Nicopolis. Likewise, only a small force of Italian troops and ships went to aid the Greek Orthodox defenders of Constantinople during its final siege by Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. Three years later there was a very limited response to Pope Callistus III&rsquos efforts to raise troops to relieve Mehmed II&rsquos siege of Belgrade, despite a papal pronouncement that the city&rsquos fall would endanger the whole Christian world. Thanks to the leadership of János Hunyadi and the religious zeal of the defenders, the siege ended in a remarkable Christian victory, celebrated by the ringing of church bells all over Christendom. But it owed little to Western aid. Several subsequent fifteenth-century popes, including Pius II, a veteran of Varna, attempted to organize a united Christian coalition against the Turks, but although in 1480 the Ottomans briefly occupied Otranto, on the Italian peninsula itself, papal efforts received a lukewarm response until the sixteenth century.

The lack of enthusiasm in Western Europe in the fifteenth century has been attributed to the shock of the defeat at Nicopolis. Yet it is also the case that, for most of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Catholic kingdoms of Central Europe&mdashBohemia, Hungary, and Poland&mdashsucceeded reasonably well in their wars with the Turks, despite some defeats. In an era when the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417) divided Christendom, between initially two and later three rival popes, for nearly 40 years, and when the emergence of prominent &ldquoheretical&rdquo movements in England (the Lollards) and Central Europe (the Hussites) posed the first major challenge to the Papacy&rsquos authority for 200 years, Western Europeans made aiding their fellow believers against Muslims a low priority, especially as long as the Ottomans were being largely kept at bay and seemed a very distant threat.

These attitudes, however, meant that the fate of Southeastern Europe&rsquos Orthodox Christians was sealed. They henceforth faced sustained repression and at times brutal persecution by the Ottomans, which resulted in many conversions to Islam. Although Orthodox Christian communities survived, abhorrence toward Muslims was engendered and attitudes were entrenched that literally took centuries to erase&mdashattitudes of suspicion and hatred toward both Muslims (the conquerors and oppressors) and Roman Catholics (perceived as having abandoned their fellow Christians). The separate identities of Bosnians, Croatians, and Serbians in the Balkans are largely defined not by language, but by religion&mdashhistorically and culturally, Bosnians were Islamic, Croatians Catholic, and Serbians Orthodox. The wars between these three religio-ethnic groups of the 1990s, and the genocide practicd by Serbian extremists against Bosnians (many of whom were not actually Muslim), were in a sense the last rites of the religious wars begun in the 1370s.


Into the Modern Era

Four bronze horses which were once part of a chariot group which stood atop the monumental entrance gate of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. They are now in St. Mark’s cathedral, Venice, Italy after being taken as booty in 1204 CE during the Fourth Crusade. / Photo by Tteske, Wikimedia Commons

The crusades cast a very long shadow indeed, with works of art, literature and even wars endlessly recalling the imagery, ideals, successes and disasters of the holy wars into the 21st century CE. There was a process of hero-worship, even in medieval times, of such figures as Saladin and Richard the Lionhearted who were praised not only for their military skills but, above all, for their chivalry. Following the Reformation, the opposite happened and the crusades were brushed under the historical carpet as a brutal and undesirable aspect of our past that was best forgotten.


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