The Quest for the Holy Land The Crusades were a series of eight Christian military expeditions from western Europe conducted between 1096 and 1270 to recapture Palestine, and the holy city of Jerusalem. The word “crusade” comes from the Latin word crux, meaning cross. “to take up the cross” meant to became a crusader. Christians sewed symbols of the cross onto their clothing before going into battle.
Jerusalem is the destination of pilgrimages for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as cultural mother-figure and eternal spiritual honor. The Jewish claim to Jerusalem uses the Torah. It was to Jerusalem that King David brought the ark containing the original Torah. It is the site where the Messiah will appear on the Day to End All Days. At this time all dead Jews will crawl through tunnels in the earth and return to Jerusalem.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the site of Jesus’ life and preaching, as well as his death, reappearance before ascending to heaven and resurrection. The city was home to the original cross and sacred stone of Christ’s tomb. It remains the home of sacred shrines to the Holy Sepulchre. According to the Qur’an, both Jews and Arabs are descendants of Abraham. God’s decree of giving the Holy Land to Abraham is meant equally for the Arabs, who became the first Muslims. In addition, Jerusalem is the site of Muhammad’s ascending into heaven to meet God.
The First (or Peasants’) Crusade Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade in 1095. His call motivated over 30,000 European Christians to take the cross. One reason was he felt he had the responsibility to protect all Christians from the threat of the increasingly powerful Muslim Turks. Another reason was that he knew if he were able to unite all of Europe’s Christian population in a holy war with himself as leader, Bishop Clement could not challenge his authority.
France in the late 11th century was too small and poor for so many people. The French ruling class looked for new opportunities in the Holy Land, hoping to add to their fortunes. For both knights and peasants, the Crusade offered the hope of adventure. Knights had no place to perform the activity for which they were trained (fighting and killing). Since the Pope declared Jerusalem to be the fief of God, it became every knight’s duty to defend the holy city. For peasants, the crusade provided a chance to escape from their lords who ruled their existence. All serfs who took the cross were released from their obligations to stay on the land and pay rent to their lord.
The most popular motivation was to rid Jerusalem of the Seljuk Turks who posed a danger to Christian pilgrims from Europe. All Christians who took the cross and fought for the Holy land were promised forgiveness of past sins. Christians of all classes answered Pope Urban’s call. Women and children went with their husbands and fathers. Peter the Hermit managed to attract peasant followers with his eloquent speaking and religious preaching. The long and difficult journey involved many months of traveling through unfamiliar territory. The knights dressed to fight, wearing coats of chain mail that covered their heads, and carrying long, triangular-shaped shields made of strong wood wrapped in leather. A sword dangled from each one’s belt. Communication was difficult and carrier pigeons were used to pass information along.
The peasant armies engaged in a lot of fighting and attacked farmers, looted cottages and burned wheat fields. Villagers poisoned their wells and attacked crusader camps. Jews were massacred. Four armies took four different land routes through Europe. At Antioch the crusader army slaughtered all the Muslims within the city. Once the crusaders reached the Holy Land it was greatly weakened. Supplies were short, and a fast was declared until food arrived. With their siege towers and scaling ladders, the crusaders entered Jerusalem. Muslim and Jewish men, women and children were killed. Survivors were sold into slavery. The capture was a great victory for the crusaders. Many returned to their homes. Others stayed in the Holy Land. However, many crusaders never returned home, having died of disease or in battle along the way.
The Third (or Kings’) Crusade The Third Crusade was provoked by an increasingly powerful Muslim threat to the crusader states in the Holy Land. Muslim leaders took advantage of the idea of the jihad, or struggle, against the Christians, to capture crusader leaders an produce a great deal of instability in the Christian empire around Jerusalem. Saladin, a great Muslim military leader, was widely respected among many different Islamic groups. He created a more unified Islamic army and made treaties with the European countries which helped him gain strength in the eyes of other Muslims.
Saladin and his men went to war after Christian forces under Reginald of Chatillon attacked a Muslim caravan enroute to Damascus. This battle triggered the Third Crusade. It fought at the Horns of Hittin. His army surrounded the crusader camp and set it on fire. Knights who survived were released if they paid a fine. Others were sold into slavery. The Muslims then recaptured Jerusalem. The Third Crusade is often called the Crusade of Kings. Philip, king of France, Richard, king of England, and Frederick I Barbossa, king of Germany all took the cross and headed toward the holy land.
Richard, nicknamed the Lion Heart for his bravery in battle, led the troops, but they were too weak to capture the Holy City. He and Saladin became great enemies. The Third Crusade was not won decisively by either Richard’s or Saladin’s forces. Although Richard had many successes in battle, Saladin’s armies were also powerful. The crusaders were never able to recapture Jerusalem. The crusaders were allowed to remain in control of their states along the Mediterranean coast. Muslims would permit Christian pilgrims to visit the holy shrines in Jerusalem. The Muslims remained in control of the holy City. Jerusalem would never be conquered by the Christian crusaders.
The Fourth Crusade: The Sack of Constantinople Pope Innocent III called for the Fourth Crusade to unite Christians and free the Holy Land of the non-Christians. Although the crusading spirit had dwindled, a group of French knights took the cross, pledging to free Jerusalem. They were aided by merchants from Venice, who committed all of Venice’s wealth and resources to help the crusaders, in exchange for the promise of half of the wealth the army acquired or stole during their journey. When the secret agreement to invade Egypt was disclosed, many soldiers who had considered themselves pilgrims abandoned the army.
As the crusaders set sail on Venetian ships, they were asked to attack the city of Zara to pay off their debts. They continued to Constantinople and looted and destroyed the Muslim quarter of the city. Even with the Pope protesting, the crusaders set fires to libraries, desecrated churches, stole paintings, sculptures, jewelry and gold, and shipped the stolen wealth back to the Venetian bankers to pay off their debt. The results of the Fourth Crusade were tragic for the Byzantine Empire. The beautiful, glittering city of Constantinople forever lost its splendor and glory. The once magnificent Byzantine capital was in ruins.
The Children’s Crusade The Children’s Crusade began in 1212 in France and Germany. Two boys, Nicholas from Cologne and Stephen from Cloyes, became the leaders. Children carried bundles, candles and staffs on the procession “to God.” They represented the ideal of poverty-stricken, innocent crusaders armed only with divine will; not the wealth and knightly training of the many of crusaders who had gone before them. While the children’s dedication was admired. Many, including Philip II of France, demanded that the children return to their homes.
The children gathered in Cologne, then traveled up the Rhine River, over the Alps, into Lombardy, and Genoa, Italy.They believed that God would part the seas for them. When this failed to happen, the crusade broke apart. Barefoot, hungry, exhausted children were scattered. They were offered ships to return to their homes. Two that set sail sank, killing all on board. Other ships were owned by merchant slave-traders who tricked the children. Girls were raped, some were killed, many were sold to Muslim slave markets. Those who returned home were lost, sick and had lost their faith in God. The Church claimed the tragic fate of the children crusaders was the work of the devil.
The Europeans reaped considerable and long-term benefits. The Crusades gave thousands of Europeans an opportunity to see the world and cultures of the East. These people wanted to possess the rich goods they had seen - rugs, silks, spices, camphor, musk, ivory and pearls. This desire made trade necessary. Italian merchants from Genoa and Venice set up trading stations. Trade was exceedingly profitable. It was one of the important outcomes of the Crusades. The Impact of the Crusades
The Crusades also weakened both feudalism and the manorial system of medieval Europe. Many knights left their fiefs to fight in the Crusades, and many serfs were freed. Kings became more powerful. And the Crusades increased the use of money throughout Europe. Nearly 200 years of struggle between the crusaders produced important changes in the Muslim world. The Muslims won nearly all of Asia minor, but were driven from Spain. Europeans retained naval control of the Mediterranean. After the death of the Muslim leader Saladin, the Muslim world became split.
The Crusades did produce positive results. The Muslims learned to improve their defenses and built better fortifications based on the castles of Europe. Europeans came into closer contact with the rich accumulation of Muslim learning. Arabic works on science and philosophy circulated throughout Europe’s universities. Other interchanges took place in the form of trade, commerce and language. Words as sugar, syrup, cotton, admiral and magazine came from Arabic. Sailors passed their free time playing chess. The introduction of paper led eventually to the development of the printing press in Europe. The Muslim pointed arch led to vaulted ceilings of European cathedrals.
The Muslims also benefited. He textile industries of the Byzantines led the Muslims to develop mills. The Muslims also adopted the Byzantine way of maintaining an army. In trade, the Muslims acted as go-betweens for all goods flowing through the Muslim world. Silks and spices from the East were traded for furs, leather goods and wood from Europe. Although Muslims were familiar with Christianity and generally respected Christians as “People of the Book” (Bible), Christians were bitterly opposed to Islam.