The crusades were military expeditions undertaken by European Christians during the 11th and 12th centuries, to regain control of Jerusalem and other Christian holy places from Muslim rule. Although officially sanctioned by their churches, there were also unofficial popular crusades organised by ordinary citizens.
At first, no Arab-Muslim world understood them at all; now, however, most believe we know all there is about them – which could prove fatally misinformed.
The First Crusade
Pope Urban II initiated his Crusade for Jerusalem in late 1095 as a response to an imminent threat: Seljuk Muslim control over much of Asia Minor was under challenge from Shiite Fatimids of Egypt; further, many men from across Christendom (mercenaries included) saw this campaign as their opportunity to gain entry to Heaven or at least be paid accordingly.
Women, the elderly and those suffering from illness were discouraged from joining; however, any man wishing to take part could join. Once on board a crusade, each man took an oath that their journey would end only upon reaching Jerusalem; failure to comply resulted in excommunication from their church.
In March 1096, the first crusaders set sail from Western Europe and encountered immediate challenges. Ill-equipped and traveling through a foreign land with unfamiliar customs that caused friction among them and led to internal bickering, they quickly fell prey to conflict due to mistrust of each other’s motives and religious convictions proving powerful enough for them to overcome these hurdles and reach Jerusalem by 1099.
At Ascalon in July, surviving Crusaders defeated an Egyptian army that had come to recapture Jerusalem. The slaughter that ensued was horrific – some estimates indicate up to 75,000 deaths – but their victory allowed for Christian control to return and Godfrey of Bouillon was chosen king of a newly established Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Crusade did several important things during its brief existence that were significant for both internal European affairs and church affairs: legitimizing medieval church’s military role as an international player; creating and reinforcing devotional trends with St George becoming the symbol of its triumphs and strengthening existing ones (such as by protecting Christian pilgrims); legitimizing militarized roles within church leadership as international players; legitimizing medieval church military involvement with international politics (which had reemerged after 1304); legitimizing military involvement as key player in international politics (both factors were key), legitimizing medieval church military role as key player; legitimized militarized role medieval church was playing within global politics (international politics); legitimized militarized role medieval church as key player within international politics; created an extensive crusader kings lineage that lasted (one form or another) until 1324 (which continued up until 1324), as well as reflecting and reinforcing devotional trends (through St George becoming associated with Crusades victories) etc etc etc etc etc etc etc
The Second Crusade
The Second Crusade marked an historic first when European Christians joined together in battle to regain territory from Muslims. It began with a plea from Byzantine Emperor Alexius to Pope Urban II asking for help combatting Turkish threat; thousands volunteered as crusaders wearing white tunics with red cross sewn on them to defend Christianity against Turkish invasion.
Crusaders set off from various European cities and converged upon Constantinople. At the end of each month, nearly 10,000 armed men had amassed there.
After initially experiencing success, Conrad III’s German crusader army began experiencing numerous issues. They weren’t equipped for the harsh terrain or food supplies and ignored local advice which hindered their progress and delayed reaching their destinations.
At Dorylaion, Crusaders were attacked by an army of Muslim Seljuk Turks using archers and cavalry to outnumber and ultimately defeat European Crusaders.
Louis VII led the French crusader army. However, he made the unfortunate error of disobeying advice and moving his troops into areas with limited food and water sources, leaving them more susceptible to attacks as well as disease caused by hunger. This mistake ultimately resulted in Damascus on July 24th to 28th 1148 being one of the most costly defeats for Europe’s armies and created massive casualties on both sides.
By the end of the Second Crusade, most Christian cities in the Middle East had fallen under control of Saladin’s Zengid dynasty; however, crusaders did capture some coastal towns controlled by Muslims as well as Jerusalem itself.
The Second Crusade marked the start of a series of military expeditions conducted by Christians to regain land taken from them by Muslims during medieval Europe’s Crusades period. These campaigns would continue for two millennia, lasting until 1370 and witnessing betrayals, defeats, and conspiracy claims from both sides – but ultimately are considered one of medieval Europe’s major events.
The Third Crusade
Failure of the Second Crusade in 1149 CE to capture Jerusalem led to a different type of crusade – this time it would involve two of Western Europe’s most powerful monarchs leading their forces across Europe to Jerusalem and other Holy Land territories.
Frederick I Barbarossa is perhaps best remembered as leading his army from western Europe across the Rhine into Eastern Europe and then north into the Balkans. His army included knights and archers from various Western European states.
Richard I of England stood in stark contrast, placing both his country and crusade first regardless of his inability to rule at home. A great leader on the battlefield who helped break through Muslim defenses at Acre while also brokering the Treaty of Jaffa, yet his reckless impulsivity during battle left him vulnerable when he returned.
Philip II of France was Richard’s French rival who put kingdom before personal glory. With an army at his command and Genoese ships at his disposal, he made rapid travel arrangements to Holy Land.
Once in the Middle East, both kings began efforts to exert control. Zangi’s Seljuk Turks attacked Edessa in 1144 and caused widespread fears of its collapse – something which quickly materialised when Nur al-Din, governor of Mosul, captured Damascus.
At this stage, Muslim states had begun to realize their strength against Western knights and, most notably, this became evident during an epic field battle at Arsuf in September 1191 CE.
This battle marked a turning point. Crusader knights proved superior to Muslim troops. Saladin had to retreat, and decided not to engage in further full-scale conflicts against Christian knights.
The Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade (1204-1204), was an armed expedition led by Latin Christian forces originating in France that ultimately resulted in the sack of Constantinople, capital of Greece’s Byzantine Empire governed by Greek Christians. Although originally intended as an operation to recover Jerusalem and unite Western European and Asia Minor under papal control through unification through Byzantine dominion (Byzantine Empire), events transpired that led to redirecting crusader efforts at Byzantines instead, which ultimately resulted in their ultimate destruction resulting in worsened division between Western and Eastern Churches schism.
Pope Innocent III initially called for the Fourth Crusade with the goal of recovering Jerusalem after it had fallen to the Third Crusade, yet failed to recapture it. To increase recruitment, he offered forgiveness of sins as an incentive, while inviting French abbot Bernard of Clairvaux to preach on its merits as recruitment tool.
The Crusaders’ recruitment drive proved highly successful, with them gathering in northern France to begin their departure. Unfortunately, however, due to financial restrictions and mistakes such as an outbreak of disease in their camp that delayed departure. Furthermore, French commander Louis VII made arrangements with Venetians for fleet services which he could not pay for; these contracts proved inequitable due to financial restraints.
By the time of their arrival at Venice in 1202, Crusader forces had become greatly diminished. Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice took advantage of this by changing their goals – suggesting they capture Zara, a Catholic city on Dalmatia, as a token gesture towards compensating Venetians – instead of taking Zadar port as they had originally intended. With no further resistance they successfully captured it without further struggle from Venetian forces.
After this, the remaining Western forces dispersed into several Latin states that would eventually form part of Byzantium. Baldwin of Flanders became the first Latin Emperor, while Boniface of Montferrat established his Kingdom of Thessaloniki as an vassal state to the Latin Empire.