Crusades and Crusaders

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The crusades were a series of military expeditions promoted by the papacy during the Middle Ages, initially aimed at taking the Holy Land for Christendom. The concept of a crusade was developed in the eleventh century partially as a result of organised Christian forces fighting Muslims in Sicily and Spain. The Holy Land had been in the hands of the Muslims since 638, and it was against them that the crusades were, at least nominally, directed. Expansionism along with desire for adventure, conquest and plunder seem to have been at least as influential in attracting Christians to the cause as any desire to restore Christ's supposed patrimony.

The main crusades spanned more than two centuries (1096-1300 CE). These extended military raids stemmed from changes hat had taken place outside Europe before the time of the Crusades, most notably the growth and expansion of Islam. Christian holy wars such as these bear a striking resemblance to the Moslem practice of the jihad, which by then had become a very successful Islamic institution. By translating the notion of a "holy warrior" into Christian terms, Medieval popes created the crusader, a "knight of Christ." and new religious orders composed of fighting monks most notably the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar.

Popes who promoted the Crusades used their authority to muster an army, appoint its military leaders, and send it on its mission. (Part of the reason for the failure of the crusades was bishops acting as field commanders and chosing the wrong military targets, the wrong battles, and the wrong military maneuvers).

These Church-sponsored wars brought some benefit to Medieval Europe. For instance, crusading allowed westerners to take advantage of the much richer East for the first time since the days of ancient Rome. It served as an outlet for Europe's youth and aggression as population exploded during the High Middle Ages (1050-1300 CE). Sending young men off to fight in a holy cause temorarily stifled the internal wars that had afflicted the West since the collapse of Roman government . That a few of the early Crusading skirmishes produced victories helped Europeans regain a sense of self-confidence, after centuries of losing on nearly every front, they temporarily turned the tables on their military and cultural superiors to the east.

The Church regarded crusaders as military pilgrims. They took vows and were rewarded with privileges of protection for their property at home. Any legal proceedings against them were suspended. Another major inducement was the offer of indulgences for the remission of sin. Knights were especially attracted by what were effectively Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free cards allowing them to commit any sins throughout the rest of their lives without incurring liability in this or the next world.

During the Crusades the Western Church developed new types of holy warrior. These were military monks such as the Knights Hospitaller and Knights Templar. They were literally both soldiers and monks, and took vows for both callings, fulfilling their holy duties by killing God's enemies.

Underlying the crusaders' excursions was the impulse to migrate and conquer, the same drive that had long before pushed their Indo-European forebears out of their homeland and across Eurasia, and that had also motivated the Vikings.

Not since the days of ancient Rome had westerners found many viable opportunities to expand their horizons, not just militarily but also economically, culturally and politically. Crusading gave them a glimpse of the larger world that lay beyond their frontiers. This taste of the globe sparked in them a curiosity about life beyond Europe, which, in turn, helped to lay the groundwork for the colonial period to follow. In fact, one can argue that the Crusades of the twelfth century, not Columbus' expeditions three centuries later, mark the real onset of Western expansionism, arguably the single most significant development of the last millennium The crusaders, modern Europe's first colonists of a sort, headed east, not west

Nine crusades are generally recognised, although there were many others. Many of them collapsed before they got out of Christendom. Some, such as the Children's Crusade, are now disowned as crusades. Others were directed not against Muslims but fellow Christians in Europe, the Church at Constantinople, Christian emperors and kings, sects who rejected the Roman Church, even powerful Italian families hostile to the pope of the day.

The Kings of Jerusalem, France and England at the siege of Acre.
medieval miniature painting of the Siege of Antioch during the First Crusade, by Sébastien Mamerot 1490



The First Crusade (1096-1099 CE)

The spark that set off the Crusades was struck in the East, when the Byzantines first confronted a new Moslem force, the Seljuk Turks. The Seljuk Turks were originally an Asian horde which, like the Huns of earlier times, had penetrated far into the West. By the eleventh century the Seljuk Turks controlled much of the Levant. With Persia in their control, including Baghdad, the capital of the Moslem world, they presented a terrifying prospect: of "Moslem Huns," or Mongol jihadis.

Byzantine concern turned to panic when Turkish forces began expanding into eastern Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The Byzantines were defeated by the Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071and stood on the verge of losing the whole of Asia Minor. Casting about for help and finding none nearby, they were forced to go for their last resort, appealing for aid from the Catholic West.

ince Justinian's Gothic Wars, the Byzantines' failure to impose iconoclasm on the West, and the ever growing claims of the papacy, Byzantium and Western Europe had suffered from strained relations. This tension grew to such a pitch that, by the middle of the eleventh century (during the 1050's CE), they splintered into separate sects: the Catholic Church based in Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Churchs in Constantinople. The result was that, by the time of the Crusades, the Christians of Western Europe belonged to a different religion from their brethren in the Middle East. To re-open the channels of communication between these former allies who did not speak the same language and had not fought side-by-side for centuries seemed difficult, but with Islamicized Mongols poised on Byzantium's borders, this was the only option.

The Turkish situation affected Western Europeans as well. Direct contacts between Moslems and Western Europeans at this time were largely the result of Christian pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem and the Holy Places. Before the Turkish takeover, Moslems had not actively encumbered pilgrims coming and going. As Byzantine-Turkish antagonism increased in the late eleventh century, it had become difficult for Christian pilgrims to pass through Asia Minor and Syria to reach the Holy Lands. The Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus used his conflict with the Turks and its impact on pilgrimage as the basis of an appeal for Western aid. Writing to the Church in Rome, he intentionally spread stories (some aparently invented) of Turkish atrocities against Christians in Asia Minor. He added the inducement of reunifying the recently severed Eastern and Western Churches.

Pope Urban II embraced the idea of helping Europe's "beleaguered allies" and fellow Christians in the East, and proposed a holy war and explained this as an extension of a policy already in place called theTruce of God. This program of measures was part of the Church's attempt to limit warfare within Christendom. In Urban's hands, the Truce of God was remolded into a declaration ending all wars in which Christian fought Christian and deflecting European militarism toward what was perceived as the "real" enemy, the Moslem infidels in the East. Following Urban's ingenious reasoning, the Crusades were the culmination of a "peace" movement. It took some re-reading of the New Testament to find plausible justifications for this new doctrine, but as usual the Holy Book revealed precisely what the Church sought.

In giving knights a holy vocation and calling them "vassals of Christ," Urban II was granting anyone who joined his crusade an automatic indulgence, the forgiveness of all prior sins. Instead of paying penance for murder, killing could spell a sinner's salvation, as long as he slew the right sort of person, an enemy of Christ such as a Jew or a Moslem.. When Urban began to discern how well his new idea was going to work, he took his marketing campaign on the road. In a spell-binding speech before a crowd of Frankish knights, Urban exhorted his adherents to win back "the land of milk and honey" and avenge the Turkish atrocities.. He cited several of the gory details sent him by Alexius Comnenus and ended by bidding them fight "for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of imperishable glory." The crowd chanted back Deus le vult! Deus le vult!" ("God wills it! God wills it!")

The Crusades reflect other aspects of life in Europe at that time, in particular, its burgeoning population during the High Middle Ages. Around the turn of the millennium (ca. 1000 CE), destructive invasions like those of the Vikings had abated and, amid the calm that followed, Europe had repopulated. The crusades were a mechanism for tapping off excess population - the first three occured at roughly 40 year intervals - froving outlets and potential spoils for younger sons with inheritances.

There were political forces at work too. The Crusades were tied to the Investiture Controversy, the struggle for power between the rising authority of the Pope and the traditional ruling political system of the day. From the papal perspective, the kings of Europe had long intruded upon the sacred right of the Pope to run his own business (ie to choose the men who constituted the Church's administration). In calling the First Crusade, Urban II shifted the theatre of action in this conflict to an arena where medieval kings had traditionally reigned supreme, the battlefield. Urban usurped the prerogative of secular rulers to declare an enemy and muster troops for battle.

By reinterpreting the Truce of God as a warrant for Europeans to kill Moslems and not each other, he also sought to embarrass secular leaders for all their intra-European wars which were now presented as "un-Christian," in spite of that fact that the Church had for centuries sanctioned European-upon-European carnage. For centuries to come the increasing claims of the papacy, generally bolstered by forgeries from the papal chancery, would unsettle secular rulers just as much as Orthodox Christians and Western scholars

A majority of Christian Europeans saw Urban's call-to-arms as a means of salvation and a way of ridding the world of infidels. That, to them, referred not only to the Moslems but also the Jews in Europe, many of whom were slaughtered before the knights of the First Crusade set off in search of the Holy Lands. After all, good Christians couldn't send their men off to fight one infidel and abandon the homeland to another. With this early attempt at genocide, the crusaders surged out of Europe, spreading mayhem wherever they went.

The First Crusade had been planned by Pope Urban II and more than 200 bishops at the Council of Clermont. It was preached by Urban between 1095 and 1099. He assured his listeners that God himself wanted them to encourage men of all ranks, rich and poor, to go and exterminate Muslims. He said that Christ commanded it. Even robbers, he said, should now become soldiers of Christ. Assured that God wanted them to participate in a holy war, masses pressed forward to take the crusaders" oath. They looked forward to a guaranteed place in Heaven for themselves and to an assured victory for their divinely endorsed army. The pope did not appoint a secular military supreme commander, only a spiritual one, the Bishop of Le Puy. Initial expeditions were led by two churchmen, Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless. Peter was a monk from Amiens, whose credentials were a letter written by God and delivered to him by Jesus. He assured his followers that death in the Crusades provided an automatic passport to Heaven.

One German contingent in the Rhine valley was granted a further sign from God. He sent them an enchanted goose to follow. It led them to Jewish neighbourhoods of Spier, where they took the divine hint and massacred the inhabitants. Similar massacres followed at Worms, Mainz, Metz , Prague, Ratisbon and other cities. These pogroms completed, Peter the Hermit's army marched through Hungary towards Turkey. On the way they killed 4,000 Christians in Zemun (present day Semlin) , pillaged Belgrade, and set fire to the towns around Niš. They thieved and murdered all the way to Constantinople, by which time only about a third of the initial force remained. The Emperor was astonished. He had asked for trained mercenaries, but what arrived was a murderous rabble. To minimise the risks of danger to his own city he allowed the crusaders to proceed. Once across the Bosphorus, they continued as before. Marching beyond Nicæa, a French contingent ravaged the countryside. They looted property, and robbed, tortured, raped and murdered the mainly Christian inhabitants of the country, reportedly roasting babies on spits. Some 6,000 German crusaders, including bishops and priests, jealous of the French success, tried to emulate it. However, this time an army of Turks arrived and chopped the holy crusaders to pieces. Survivors were given the chance to save their lives by converting to Islam, which some did, including their leader Rainauld, setting a precedent for many future crusaders.

The principal expedition that followed was more organised, although crusaders continued to threaten their Christian allies in Constantinople on the way. The Christian Emperor was shocked to find his capital under attack by Western Christians in Holy Week. He developed a technique for bringing the barbarian Westerners under control by speedily processing batches of them as they arrived. His technique was to induce them to swear fealty to him, then swiftly move them across the Bosphorus before the next batch arrived. On the far side of the water their massed forces were no threat to the city. Apart from further devastating the countryside they could do little but prepare for their first encounter with their non-Christian enemies.

Sieges were laid to a series of Muslim cities. Crusaders had little respect for their enemies and enjoyed catapulting the severed heads of fallen Moslem warriers into besieged cities. After a victory near Antioch, crusaders brought severed heads back to the besieged city. Hundreds of these heads were shot into the city, and hundreds more impaled on stakes in front of the city walls. A crusader bishop called it a joyful spectacle for the people of God. When Muslims crept out of the city at night to bury their dead the Christians left them alone. Then in the morning the Christians returned, and dug up the corpses to steal gold and silver ornaments.

When the crusaders took Antioch in 1098 they slaughtered the inhabitants. Later the Christians were in turn besieged by Muslim reinforcements. The crusaders broke out, putting the Muslim army to flight and capturing their women. The chronicler Fulcher of Chartres was proud to record that on this occasion nothing evil (i.e. sexual) had happened, although the women had been murdered in their tents, pierced through the belly by lances. Time and time again Muslims who surrendered were killed or sold into slavery. This treatment was applied to combatants and citizens alike: women, children, the old, the infirm — anyone and everyone. At Albara the population was totally extirpated, the town then being resettled with Christians, and the mosque converted into a church. Often, the Christians offered to spare those who capitulated, but it was an unwise Muslim who accepted such a promise. A popular technique was to promise protection to all who took refuge in a particular building within the besieged city. Then after the battle, the Christians had an easy time: the men could be massacred and the women and children sold into slavery without having to carry out searches. Clerics justified this by claiming that Christians were not bound by promises made to infidels, even if sworn in the name of God. At Maarat an-Numan the pattern was repeated. The slaughter continued for three days, both Christian and Muslim accounts agreeing on the main points, although each has its own details. The Christian account describes how the Muslims" bodies were dismembered. Some were cut open to find hidden treasure, while others were cut up to eat. The Muslim account mentions that over 100,000 were killed.

When the crusaders captured Jerusalem on the 14 th July 1099, they massacred the inhabitants, Jews and Muslims alike, men, women and children. The killing continued all night and into the next day. Jews who took refuge in their synagogue were burned alive. Muslims sought refuge in the al-Aqsa mosque under the protection of a Christian banner. In the morning crusaders forced an entry and massacred them all, 70,000 according to an Arab historian, including a large number of scholars. The Temple of Solomon was so full of blood that it came up to the horses" bridles. The chronicler Raymond of Aguiliers described it as a just and wonderful judgement of God. Even before the killing was over the crusaders went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre "rejoicing and weeping for joy" to thank God for his assistance. Muslim prisoners were decapitated, shot with arrows, forced to jump from high towers, or burned. Some were tortured first. Neither was this an isolated incident. It was wholly typical. When the crusaders took Caesarea in 1101, many citizens fled to the Great Mosque and begged the Christians for mercy. At the end of the butchery the floor was a lake of blood. In the whole city only a few girls and infants survived. Soon afterwards, there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such barbarity shocked the Eastern world and left an impression of the Christian West that has still not been forgotten in the third millennium.

By 1101 reinforcements were on the way, under the command of the Archbishop of Milan, to support the Frankish crusaders already in the Holy Land. Mainly Lombards, the new troops lived up to the record of their French and German predecessors, robbing and killing Christians on the way, and blaming the Byzantine Emperor for the consequences of their own shortcomings. At the first engagement with the enemy they fled in panic leaving their women and children behind to be killed or sold in slave markets. As Sir Steven Runciman, a leading historian of the period says: the Byzantines were "shocked and angered by the stupidity, the ingratitude and the dishonesty of the crusaders". They also questioned the crusaders" loyalty to their Byzantine allies. The crusaders had purportedly gone to help Byzantium, and had sworn to restore to the Emperor any of his territory that they recaptured, but not a single one ever did so. Indeed, Eastern Christians were regarded as enemies as much as the Muslims.

Fired by the success of the crusade against the Muslims, Pope Paschal II (the successor to Urban II) gave his blessing in 1105 to a holy war against his fellow Christians in the East. Preached by a papal legate, the new crusade sought to subjugate the Eastern Empire to Rome. This was unprecedented treachery and undisguised imperialism. For the time being such perfidy got the crusaders nowhere.

Christ overseeing the massacre of Jews in before the First Crusade (the victims are wearing characteristic Jewish hats called judenhuts). From a bible of 1250..
Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy a bishop, recognisable by his mitre, riding to battle with other knights at Antioch on 28th June 1098. He is carrying a Holy Lance.
The Siege oif Nicaea during the first Crusade. The Christians are firing severed heads into the enemy camp.
Western crusaders attacking Muslims from a fourteenth-century manuscript (Bibliothèque Boulogne-s-Mer). The two sides can be distinguished by their swords and shields.

The Second Crusade


In the decades following the First Crusade, the Christian overlords of the Crusader States failed to integrate themselves into Middle Eastern society in any meaningful way. Despised by the natives for their imperious and condescending manner, many turned out to be cruel and abusive despots. Even if a minority proved kinder and gentler, the general impression their rule left behind was not favorable. Even their fellow Christians disliked them, as witnessed by one churchman who wrote home complaining:

They devoted themselves to all kinds of debauchery and allowed their womenfolk to spend whole nights at wild parties; they mixed with trashy people and drank the most delicious wines.

Such a situation could not endure, and in 1144, one of the Crusader states fell back into Moslem control. The Second Crusade followed (a generation or so after the First). Pope Eugene III proclaimed The Second Crusade in 1145. It was preached by St Bernard, a leading Cistercian theologian who declared that "The Christian glories in the death of a pagan, because thereby Christ himself is glorified". He also pointed out that anyone who kills an unbeliever does not commit homicide but malicide; in other words they kill not a man but an evil. He knew how to sell a crusade to believers. His spiel was reminiscent of that of a high-pressure salesman selling to credulous punters:

But to those of you who are merchants, men quick to seek a bargain, let me point out the advantages of this great opportunity. Do not miss them. Take up the sign of the cross and you will find indulgence for all sins that you humbly confess. The cost is small, the reward is great....

The Second Crusade was led by the greatest potentates in western Europe: King Louis VII of France and the German Emperor Conrad III. Once again churchmen promoted anti-Semitism in Germany and France. Without the aid of a single enchanted goose the crusaders once again found unbelievers in their midst. Inspired by a Cistercian monk, they massacred Jews throughout the Rhineland — notably in Cologne, Mainz, Worms, Spier and Strasbourg.

A number of crusaders were the descendants of those who had gone on the First Crusade. This time, both Byzantines and the Turks were ready for the barbarian Franks and plotted together to exterminate them. Betrayed by Byzantium the Second Crusade was nearly obliterated as the crusaders tried to pass through Asia Minor.

The initial object of the Second Crusade was to recapture Edessa (in what is now eastern Turkey), which had fallen to the Muslims in 1144. Initial contingents were led by military commanders like the bishops of Metz and Toul. On the way, travelling by sea, the crusaders besieged Lisbon, which at that time was a Muslim city. After four months the garrison surrendered, having been promised their lives and their property if they capitulated. They did capitulate and were then massacred. Only about a fifth of the original crusader force got as far as Syria, where the real crusade started. It proved a failure, at least partially because tactical targets were selected for religious rather than military reasons. A military tactician might have gone for Aleppo, but the crusade leaders agreed on mounting an attack on Damascus, apparently because they recognised its name as biblical. The leaders argued amongst themselves until the crusade collapsed in 1149, having failed to take either Edessa or Damascus. The whole thing had been a disaster. As Runciman put it:

…when it reached its ignominious end in the weary retreat from Damascus, all that it had achieved had been to embitter relations between the Western Christians and the Byzantines almost to breaking-point, to sow suspicions between the newly-come Crusaders and the Franks resident in the East, to separate the western Frankish princes from each other, to draw the Muslims closer together, and to do deadly damage to the reputation of the Franks for military prowess.

What little of the expedition made it to the Holy Lands ended up fighting with the survivors and descendants of the First Crusade. They saw this new European incursion as a band of thugs sent to rob them of their lands. The result was that most participants in the Second Crusade returned to Europe empty-handed, a pitiful troupe of whom Saint Bernard was forced to admit, "I must call him blessed who is not tainted by this." This disaster killed most Europeans' interest in crusading for another generation.

The Muslim Turks extended their rule to Egypt soon afterwards. St Bernard had been promised a victory by God, but instead of this he had provided a complete disaster. Bernard and his supporters tried hard to work out why God's purpose had been so badly frustrated. Perhaps the best solution was that the outcome had been a great success after all, because it had transferred so many Christian warriors from God's earthly army to his heavenly one. Not everyone was convinced. Meanwhile the Christian forces resident in the East accommodated themselves to the realities of Eastern life. Eventually they would come to terms with the fact that until their arrival Muslims, Jews and Christians had lived together in amity. Resident Christians often preferred their old Muslim masters to their new Christian ones.

Muslim captives who chose to convert to Christianity rather than die were allowed to, but only if there were no further monetary complications. When Cairo offered 60,000 dinars to the Templars for the return of a putative convert, his Christian instruction was promptly suspended and he was sent in chains to Cairo to be mutilated and hanged. Such incidents brought little glory to either side, but it is fair to say that Muslim princes generally conducted themselves with a degree of honour and chivalry lacking amongst the Christians.


Jerusalem Retaken

In 1187, almost 90 years after it had been captured by the Christian army of the First Crusade, Jerusalem was retaken by the Muslim warrior Saladin (c.1137-1193). Originating from Tikrit in modern-day Iraq, Saladin had first demonstrated his military prowess in the 1160s in campaigns against crusaders in Palestine. Succeeding his uncle as a vizier in Egypt, he conquered Egypt in 1175 and then set about improving that country's economy and military strength. Following further campaigns in Syria and Mesopotamia, in 1186 he proclaimed a jihad that led to his capturing Jerusalem for the Muslims in the following year.

In addition to his abilities as a military leader, Saladin is renowned for his chivalry and merciful nature. It is known, for example, that in his struggles against the crusaders, he provided medical assistance on the battlefield to the wounded of both sides, and even allowed Christian physicians to visit Christian prisoners. Once the battle to retake Jerusalem was over, no one was killed or injured, and not a building was looted. The captives were permitted to ransom themselves, and those who could afford to do so ransomed their vassals as well. Many thousands could not afford their ransom and were held to be sold as slaves. The military monks, who could have used their vast wealth to save their fellow Christians from slavery, declined to do so. The head of the Church, the patriarch Heraclius, and his clerics looked after themselves. The Muslims saw Heraclius pay his ten dinars for his own ransom and leave the city bowed with the weight of the gold that he was carrying, followed by carts laden with other valuables. As the prisoners who had not been ransomed were led off to a life of slavery, Saladin's brother Malik al-Adil took pity. He asked his brother for 1,000 of them as a reward for his services, and when he was granted them he immediately gave them their liberty. This triggered further generosity amongst the victorious commanders, culminating in Saladin offering gifts from his own treasury to the Christian widows and orphans. As a contemporary historian has remarked, "His mercy and kindness were in strange contrast to the deeds of the Christian conquerors of the First Crusade".

In contrast to the generally honourable behaviour of the Muslims, the Christians repeatedly made promises under oath and them reneged upon them, often with the encouragement of the priesthood. In 1188 the King of Jerusalem, Guy, who had been captured by Saladin, was released. Guy had solemnly sworn that he would leave the country and never again take arms against the Muslims. Immediately, a cleric was found to release him from his oath. Despite this sort of behaviour, Muslim leaders generally stuck to their own promises. They were rather bemused by the cynical behaviour of the Western Christians. Often the cynicism worked to the Muslims" advantage. For example, Saladin was pleasantly surprised to find that Italian city states were prepared to sell him high quality weapons to be used against crusaders.

When the Emperor in Constantinople heard of the Muslim victory, he sent an embassy to congratulate its leaders. Eastern Christians had already generally allied themselves with the Muslims, regarding them as fairer and more civilised rulers than the followers of the Church of Rome. Now they asked to stay in Jerusalem, were allowed to do so, and gave "prodigious service" to their new masters.


The Third Crusade


With Jerusalem no longer in Christian hands, some sort of reprisal was called for — another crusade — but this time one that was well-organized and well-equipped, and no one better to do that than the foremost regents of Europe. The rulers of Germany, France and England joined forces in the name of God to avenge this affront to Christendom at large.

After the loss of Jerusalem, a Third Crusade was preached by Pope Gregory VIII. It was jointly led by Frederick Barbarossa, Philip of France, and Richard I of England (The Lionheart). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Baldwin, went along too. Richard had been crowned on 3 rd September in 1189 with crusading fervour already in the air. English Christians emulated their continental co-religionists, and took to murdering Jews, starting with those who had come to offer presents to their new king. This sparked further persecutions throughout the country, most notably in York. Soon the crusaders, including those who had engaged in the murder of Jews, departed for the East along with their continental co-religionists. Frederick Barbarossa died on the way, an event that mystified the crusaders, but which Muslims immediately recognised as a miracle wrought by God for the one true faith. Philip and Richard squabbled and attempted to bribe each other's armies to change allegiance (three gold pieces per month for English knights who joined Philip: four for French knights who joined Richard).

Eventually, Philip gave up and went home. Richard went on to capture Acre in 1191. Saladin was unable to pay for the release of the survivors quickly enough, so Richard ordered the massacre of his 2,700 captives, many of them women and children. They waited in line, each watching the one in front have their throat slit. Wives were slaughtered at the side of their husbands, children at the side of their parents while bishops blessed the proceedings. Corpses were then cut open in the hope of finding swallowed jewels.

Richard found further success difficult to come by, and a truce was made with Saladin, although Richard felt free to break it when it suited him. Despite Richard's behaviour, Saladin continued to treat him with respect when they met on the battlefield, apparently because Richard's fighting prowess impressed him. When Richard's horse fell, wounded in battle outside Jaffa in August 1192, Saladin sent a groom through the mêlée with fresh mounts for him. The Lionheart's treatment by his Muslim enemy contrasted with his treatment by his own Christian allies. On his way home later that year Richard was captured and imprisoned by a fellow crusader, Leopold, Duke of Austria. He was eventually released on payment of the Christian sum of 150,000 marks (£100,000), literally a king's ransom.


Troisième croisade. Philippe Auguste assiège Acre (1191). Grandes Chroniques de France de Charles V. Paris, XIVème siècle. Bibliothèque nationale de France.


The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204)



The Fourth Crusade was preached by Pope Innocent III and lasted from 1202 to 1204. The new Pope Innocent III began by doing his homework. He devised a means by which to avoid the problems that had destroyed the previous two Crusades. He avoided the division of leadership by putting himself in charge alone. To confound the supposed treachery of the double-dealing Byzantines, he chose to send the next wave of crusaders by sea, enabling them to avoid Byzantium completely.

Innocent arranged to contract ships and supplies from the port city of Venice, by now a great sea-power. Problems developed before this Crusade even got on board. All participants thought someone else was paying for the "rental" of the ships. When the crusaders began to arrive in Venice they were greeted with outstretched hands but no one had any money to pay their passage.

Although intended to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims by way of Egypt, the crusade was hijacked by the Venetians and directed against the Christian cities of Zara and then Constantinople, which offered a softer target and richer pickings. Zara, one of Venice's subject states on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, had recently revolted from the city's maritime empire and, to avoid Venetian reprisal, the people of Zara had delivered their city into the Pope's embrace. Zara was now one of the Papal States, an currently under construction by the Roman Church.

In exchange for cash, the Venetians contracted with the crusaders to stop in at Zara on their way and force it back under Venice's control. Such an agreement was certainly not part of Innocent's plan for this Crusade. When he learned about their agreement with the Venetians, he withdrew his support of the Crusade, along with his funding. When that did not stop them, he  excommunicated them all, expelling them from the Church and condemning their souls to perdition. This too made no difference. The crusaders sailed to Zara and delivered it back into Venetian hands as they had been paid to do.

There the crusaders came upon a Byzantine exile, a pretender to the throne who had recently been exiled from Byzantium and who offered them a substantial sum if they would put him on the throne. With the sanction of the Venetians who saw nothing but advantage in causing turmoil in Byzantium (their trading rival), the crusaders were diverted again. This time they headed in the direction of Constantinople.

There, the crusaders' approach inspired panic among the Byzantines. The reigning Emperor, along with others, fled Constantinople. Meeting no resistance, the crusaders entered the city and set their "Latin" nominee for Emperor on the throne, then headed of for the Holy Land.

Almost as soon as they sailed out of Constantinople's harbor, their Latin pretender was murdered. When the news of his assassination reached them, the crusaders turned their ships around and headed back to secure their supply lines. When the crusaders found the city bolted tight against them, the stage was set for a siege

Contrary to historical precedent, these crusading marauders accomplished the seemingly impossible. Byzantium fell to siege for the first time ever to the descendants of the Byzantines' nominal allies, western Europeans. Constantine's "New Rome" finally fell to mercenaries from the original Rome.

Constantinople was taken, the Emperor deposed, and Baldwin of Flanders was set up in his place. The Sack of Constantinople in 1204 lasted three days. The great library there was destroyed when the crusaders ransacked it, then stabled their horses there. Ancient learning and literature was lost in that catastrophe, almost certainly including the complete works of ancient authors whose writings now exist only in tattered fragments. Some were entirely lost. The victorious crusaders amused themselves in the usual way, even though this was the capital of Christendom. As well as the standard bout of destruction, the men of the cross desecrated imperial tombs, plundered churches, stole holy relics, wrecked houses, vandalised libraries, destroyed whatever loot they could not carry, raped nuns, and murdered at will. They also set a prostitute on the patriarch's throne in Sancta Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom, the greatest Church in Christendom. Later a Latin (i.e. Roman Catholic) patriarch was installed, and the Venetians shipped off the remaining treasures to their own city, where some of them remain to this day. We have sympathetic accounts of these events, including one of an Abbot threatening to kill an Orthodox priest if he did not hand over a stash of “powerful” relics. The Eastern Churches still harbour bitter resentment about the behaviour of Western Christians during this time. Here is a modern Orthodox bishop on the subject:

Eastern Christendom has never forgotten those three appalling days of pillage. "Even the Saracens are merciful and kind," protested Nicetas Choniates [a contemporary historian], "compared with these men who bear the Cross of Christ on their shoulders". What shocked the Greeks more than anything was the wanton and systematic sacrilege of the Crusaders. How could men who had specially dedicated themselves to God's service treat the things of God in such a way? As the Byzantines watched the Crusaders tear to pieces the altar and icon screen in the Church of the Holy Wisdom, and set prostitutes on the Patriarch's throne, they must have felt that those who did such things were not Christians in the same sense as themselves.

The Western Church saw nothing wrong with its conduct. It is true that the Pope was initially irritated by the crusade having been diverted to attack Zara. But His Holiness was soon reconciled by a victory in his name over the Emperor, and any pretence that the crusade was ever intended to fight the infidel was abandoned. A papal legate, Peter of Saint-Marcel, issued a decree absolving the crusaders from having to proceed further to fight the Muslims. The new Emperor in Constantinople, Baldwin, wrote to the Pope about the sack of the city as "a miracle that God had wrought". The Pope rejoiced in the Lord and gave his approval without reserve. Modern historians tend to take a different view. As Sir Steven Runciman put it "There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade".

In 1208 Pope Innocent III launched crusades against the Cathars in southern France, and in 1211 against Muslims in Spain, but it was difficult to raise interest in expeditions to the more distant and dangerous Holy Land. The year 1212 saw the so-called Children's Crusade. This crusade was preached by a French shepherd boy aged around 12, inspired by a vision of Christ. Christ gave him a letter for the King of France, and despite the King's indifference, the boy succeeded in rousing 30,000 recruits, none over the age of 12. The crusader children were blessed by priests and marched off to Marseilles. The idea was that God would protect them and supply them with suitable fighting skills. He would even part the sea so that they could walk from Marseilles to the Holy Land. But God declined to perform his promised miracle at Marseilles. Instead two men, monks according to one tradition, Hugh the Iron and William the Pig according to another, offered the children ships free of charge to take them to their destination. Most accepted, embarked, and were promptly sold as slaves to African Muslims. This was not an isolated incident. Roman Catholic traders were engaged in an established commerce involving the sale of young boys to Muslim rulers.

Some 40,000 German children also set out on the crusade, but God declined to perform his promised miracle for them either. How many ever arrived to fight, if any at all, is not known. Few ever returned home.

Meanwhile in the Holy Land the resident Christians were becoming ever more accustomed to Eastern life. They wore robes and turbans, ate Eastern food, married Eastern women and learned Eastern medicine. Alliances were made between powerful rulers, often irrespective of religion. Christians accepted Muslims as their feudal Lords and Muslims accepted Christians as theirs.


The Albigensian Crusade, or War against the Cathars


A perceived success in hindsight, the siege of Constantinople reinvigorated Western Europeans' interest in religious warfare with the East.

Called by Innocent III in 1208, the so-called Albigensian Crusade took many years to complete. It was directed not against the Moslem East but at lands inside Europe, a shift in focus for a formal "Crusade". The ostensible aim of this campaign was to rid the Languedoc of the Albigensians, a religious sect which declined to recognize the authority of the Roman Church, claiming to more faithfully represent early Christianity.

The days when Crusades could be justified as an extension of the "Truce of God" were by now long past. Even so, the rewards were the same as for any other crusade, namely a guaranteed place in heaven. This proved very attractive to many, since it was much less risky to go on a Holy War - across hundreds of miles of hostile barren lands and even more hostile population

Not even trying to head east but fighting fellow European Christians seemed to many so far from the true spirit of crusading. So Innocent's campaign was never numbered with the other Crusades. It was not the "Fifth Crusade" but the "Albigensian Crusade" .

For more on the Cathars and the crusade against them, visit this leading website on the Cathars


The Albigensian Crusade

The Childrens' Crusade


The "Crusade" was preached in France by a peasant boy named Stephen from a village near Vendome in France, and a boy named Nicholas from Cologne in Germany, encoraged in both places by the local clergy. The sorry business was related by a chronicler:

In this year [1212] occurred an outstanding thing and one much to be marveled at, for it is unheard of throughout the ages. About the time of Easter and Pentecost, without anyone having preached or called for it and prompted by I know not what spirit, many thousands of boys, ranging in age from six years to full maturity, left the plows or carts which they were driving, the flocks which they were pasturing, and anything else which they were doing. This they did despite the wishes of their parents, relatives, and friends who sought to make them draw back. Suddenly one ran after another to take the cross. Thus, by groups of twenty, or fifty, or a hundred, they put up banners and began to journey to Jerusalem. They were asked by many people on whose advice or at whose urging they had set out upon this path. They were asked especially since only a few years ago many kings, a great many dukes, and innumerable people in powerful companies had gone there and had returned with the business unfinished. The present groups, morever, were stfll of tender years and were neither strong enough nor powerful enough to do anything. Everyone, therefore, accounted them foolish and imprudent for trying to do this. They briefly replied that they were equal to the Divine will in this matter and that, whatever God might wish to do with them, they would accept it willingly and with humble spirit. They thus made some little progress on their journey. Some were turned back at Metz, others at Piacenza, and others even at Rome. Still others got to Marseilles, but whether they crossed to the Holy Land or what their end was is uncertain. One thing is sure: that of the many thousands who rose up, only very few returned.

Source: Chronica Regiae Coloniensis Continuatio prima, s.a.1213, MGH SS XXIV 17-18, translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), p 213


The Fifth Crusade


This crusade was preached by Pope Innocent III but undertaken in the reign of Pope Honorius III. It was led by Cardinal Pelagius of Lucia and lasted from 1217 to 1221. Although ultimately intended to recover Jerusalem, the main force was initially directed against Egypt. Damietta (a Mediterranean port on the Nile delta) was besieged. Saladin proposed a deal. He would cede Jerusalem, all central Palestine, and Galilee if the crusaders would spare Damietta. Pelagius rejected this offer, against military advice. Damietta duly fell to the Christians, confirming God's support for the Crusade. Surviving inhabitants of Damietta were sold into slavery, and their children handed over to the Christian priests to be baptised and trained into the service of the Church.

If the crusade leaders had been willing to read books ratherthan burn them, the campagn might have been more successfull in the longer term. As it was, the ignorance that had afflicted the West since the Fall of Rome now became apparent. If Pelagius had read Herodotus, he would have known about the annual flooding of the Nile. But virtually no one in Western Europe could read Greek. Pelagious and his knights had landed on the shores of the Nile just at the time of the annual flood. Trapped in high waters, they met a watery end at hands of the natives there. Saladin soon recovered Damietta by force. The Christian campaign had been another failure, undermined by a combination of personal and national jealousies along with the lack of strategic insight on the part of Cardinal Pelagius, a man who has been described as "an ignorant and obstinate fanatic".

As the defeated Christians sailed off, stories of their atrocities triggered a wave of persecution of Christians communities in Egypt, which until then had happily coexisted with their Muslim masters for centuries.


Frederick II's Crusade


Like the Albigensian Crusade, the next European expedition to the East is not numbered.

The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II organised his own crusade while under sentence of excommunication, and pursued it between 1222 and 1229. Despite the Pope's machinations and much to his embarrassment Frederick's military and strategic skill led to a negotiated settlement under which Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem came under Christian control. On his return to Europe the victorious Frederick crushed the papal forces that had been sent to destroy him, and the Pope had no choice but to lift the sentence of excommunication.

This one also disqualified as being too far from the spirit of crusading. Even after Frederick managed to return Jerusalem to Christian control, the pope would not acknowledge it as a "Crusade" Moslem forces retook Jerusalem soon afterwards, where it remained until the twentieth century.


The Sixth Crusade

The Sixth Crusade was proposed by Pope Gregory IX, but found few takers, previous crusades having proved such failures. Led by Louis IX, the King of France it proved another utter failure, never getting anywhere near the Holy Land.



The Seventh Crusade


The Seventh Crusade lasted from 1248 to 1254. It was initiated under Pope Innocent IV, Jerusalem having been lost to the Muslims again in 1244. It was led by King Louis IX of France ( St Louis) who started by attacking Egypt. Once again Damietta was captured, and once again the Sultan offered to exchange it for Jerusalem. Once again the offer was rejected, and once again the Muslims won Damietta back by force of arms. Louis himself was captured and had to be ransomed for 400,000 bezants (gold coins). After his release he went to the Holy Land but failed to recover the holy cities, and so gave up and went home.

Innocent's successor, Pope Alexander IV, tried to organise yet another crusade, this time against the Mongols, but he was unsuccessful. Had he had a better grasp of strategy he might instead have allied Western Christendom with the Asian powers. Nestorian Christianity was still influential in Asia, and the Mongols might easily have become allies, some of their leaders having already been baptised. Western and Eastern forces combined could have overcome the forces of Islam. In 1254 the Great Khan Mongka, whose mother had been a Nestorian Christian, had offered to recover Jerusalem for the Christians, if they would co-operate. But European Christians were unwilling to co-operate with each other, much less a remote and unknown semi-heathen whose mother had been a heretic. In time the victorious Mongols would themselves convert to Islam and spread their new religion throughout Asia, eclipsing Christianity from the Levant to the Far East.


Louis IX en route from Aigues-Mortes to Égypt for the seventh Crusade

The Eighth Crusade


The Eighth Crusade was proposed by Pope Gregory X, but not organised until a later reign. It lasted only from 1270 to 1271, and was initially led once again by St Louis. An English contingent was made up largely of men who needed to hold on to lands they had taken by force in the baronial wars of the 1260s. By joining a crusade they were assured of the protection of the Church, and thus able to keep their newly acquired property. The project was another failure. It collapsed after Louis died of disease while attacking Carthage (modern Tunis).


The King of France and the Holy Roman emperor fighting Saracens

The Ninth Crusade


The Ninth Crusade continued St Louis's Eighth Crusade. It was led by Prince Edward, the future English King Edward I, between 1271 and 1272. Edward reached the Holy Land and was mystified by what he found. The Venetians were supplying the Sultan with all the timber and metal he needed to manufacture his armaments, while the Genoese controlled the Egyptian slave trade. Like Edward, new arrivals were generally surprised by the realities of life in the East. Italian city states jostled with each other for trade with Christians and Muslims without distinction. Senior churchmen paralysed strategic military initiatives. Noble families argued and betrayed each other without compunction. So did the representatives of European nation states, jealous of each other's favour or success. Members of the Eastern and Western Churches bickered continuously. Military Orders squabbled with each other and subverted military expeditions when they threatened their own commercial interests. The Knights Templar created the first true multinational banking corporation serving Christians and Muslims alike, while Muslim Assassins continued to pay homage to the Hospitallers. Native Christians resented their supposed saviours from the West, and would have preferred life under Byzantine or Muslim rulers. Edward got nowhere in such a milieu, so alien to his preconceptions. Like earlier crusades, this one fizzled out, a total failure.

Civil wars in the remaining Christian territories in the East hastened the end of the crusading period in the Holy Land. Christian princes burned each other's castles and besieged each other in their strongholds. Western Christians were regarded as barbarians by almost everyone. They were likely to kill anyone on a whim, whether Muslim, Jew or Christian. In 1290 newly arrived Italian crusaders went on a Muslim-killing spree in Acre, but since they assumed that any man with a beard was a Muslim, they murdered many Christians as well. The Italians seem to have been even worse than most of their fellow crusaders:

…the Italians, with their arrogance, their rivalries and the cynicism of their policy, caused irremediable harm. They would hold aloof from vital campaigns and openly parade the disunity of Christendom. They supplied the Muslims with essential war-material. They would riot and fight each other in the streets of the cities (Runciman).

By the last Crusade, many in Europe had come to see the Pope as no more than another war-mongering king.

When in 1291 the last Christian outpost in the Middle East, the port city of Acre, fell to Moslem forces, the Crusades were brought to an ignominious close. As a sign of this, at his great centennial Jubilee in 1300, a celebration of Christianity's might and longevity, Pope Boniface VIII offered indulgence to Christian pilgrims if they would "crusade" to Rome, not Jerusalem. It was the papacy's admission that crusading had failed.


Louis IX embarks on Crusade

Further Crusades In 1297 Pope Boniface VIII preached a crusade against the Colonnas, a powerful Italian family that regarded the papacy almost as its hereditary possession, and that felt free to take papal treasure at will, even when the papacy was temporarily out of its control. The crusade was announced, complete with indulgences, but Colonna forces captured the Pope. Although he was rescued, he died a month later, a broken man. New crusades against the Turks were proposed by a number of fourteenth century popes, but they never got started. Benedict XII , Innocent VI , Urban V and Gregory XI all proposed them, and Urban even got as far as proclaiming his in 1363, but nothing ever came of it.

King Peter I of Cyprus organised his own crusade, which attacked and took Alexandria in 1365. The subsequent massacres followed traditional lines of Jerusalem in 1099 and Constantinople in 1204. Crusaders massacred native Christians indiscriminately along with Jews and Muslims. Some 5,000 survivors, representing all three religions, were sold into slavery. European triumphalism over this victory soon waned. Muslim bitterness was revived, Venetian merchants were almost ruined, the spice and silk trades dried up, pilgrims" access to the Holy Land was imperilled, and native Eastern Christians were persecuted once more. Christendom became alarmed at what might happen next. Providentially, Peter was assassinated in 1369, and a peace treaty was signed the following year.

In the fifteenth century, Pope Martin V organised an unsuccessful crusade against the Hussites, a Christian sect in Bohemia. Pope Eugene IV tried to organise another crusade to recover the Holy Land, but it was a failure. A few years later Cardinal Cesarini persuaded the King of Hungary to support another crusade against the Turks. A ten-year truce was in place, but the Cardinal gave assurances that an oath sworn to a Muslim was invalid. Battle was joined at Varni in Bulgaria, in 1444, where the Christian forces were roundly defeated, leaving Cardinal Cesarini amongst the dead. The annihilation opened up central Europe to the Muslims and further weakened Constantinople.

In 1453 the Turks finally sacked Constantinople, news of which terrified European leaders. Pope Nicholas V tried to organise a crusade to recover the city, but it was yet another failure. Pope Callistus III did manage to organise one, funded by the sale of indulgences, but it was diverted and finished up attacking Genoa. Pope Pius II was so keen to revive the Crusades that he went himself, but hardly anyone else could be coerced into going with him. He waited near the coast at Ancona in the summer of 1464, hoping for others to turn up. His attendants concealed the fact that no supporting armies were on the way, and drew the curtains of his litter so that he should not see the desertions from his own fleet. When a few Venetian galleys hove into sight His Holiness died, apparently of excitement, and the crusade was promptly abandoned. Over the next three centuries, several further attempts were made at organising a crusade, but nothing came of them.


The Results of the Crusades

The Crusades are more telling in their failures than their successes. Because of them, the credibility of the Pope as the agent of God on earth suffered irreparable damage, especially those Crusades that turned out not so well, which added up to virtually all of them in the long run. But even the ones that did succeed in some respect accomplished little real good over time.

Laying the groundwork for the destruction of the Byzantine Empire can hardly be seen as a boon to Europe, if for no other reason than Byzantium no longer could serve as a buffer state against Moslem expansion to the west. That opened Eastern Europe to Turkish incursion, the consequences of which can still be seen in the recent conflicts in the Balkan region. Ironically, then, the two parties which had instigated these grand experiments in foreign atrocity—the Byzantines and the papacy—suffered the most in the end.

In sum, by all reasonable standards none of the Crusades profitted Europe much, certainly not in proportion to their cost. Only the First Crusade delivered any substantial and immediate gains. Moreover, the commercial progress, the extension of trade which might have followed in their wake, didn't, as if even that would excuse the extermination of so many souls. Besides, even then only the Venetians in the wake of the Fourth Crusade managed to advance their mercantile interests in the East long term. But, on the whole, was the toppling of Constantinople a fair price for this small gain? Few would say so today.

Still, to be fair to the complexity of these military expeditions, they surely amounted to "more than a romantic bloody fiasco," as some historians claim, but not much more. Surely, then, there's something to be learned from all this somehow but what that lesson is has yet to be determined since we still live today in the aftermath of the Crusades' devastation. Until we decide what drove our ancestors to this mad exploit, how we became the enemy of our brethren in the East, we will find no safe path out of the morass of intolerance and animosity which characterizes Christian-Islamic relations in the modern world. No other aspect of life today makes it clearer that there can be no secure future as long as we continue to war over our past and what-really-happened back then.

The object of the crusades had been to save Eastern Christendom from the Muslims. They were undertaken with God's encouragement, support and promise of victory. When they ended they had proved a disastrous failure. The whole of Eastern Christendom was under Muslim rule. The Crusades, especially the later ones, had been characterised by partisan self-interest, short-sighted pettiness, internal squabbles, strategic mismanagement, poor military leadership, bigotry, barbarism, corruption and dishonour. The implications were wide-ranging. The popes had succeeded in ruining the emperors of both East and West, while strengthening and unifying disparate Muslim enemies. The greatest Church in Christendom, Sancta Sophia, was now a mosque. Many Eastern Churches, which had always enjoyed toleration under Muslim rulers, now suffered persecution and decline. The schism between East and West, which might have been healed by allies in war, was instead made permanent. Asia was lost to Christianity and was soon to convert wholesale to Islam. The balance of world power had shifted irrevocably. The death toll of these expeditions will never be known accurately for either side, but it is certain that it numbered hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions. Most of the dead were Christians. In fact Christian forces themselves may have killed as many Christians and Jews as they did Muslims.

Both sides fought fiercely, not to say barbarously. Christian virtues such as mercy and cheek-turning had been almost totally absent throughout, at least on the Christian side. At the end of it all nothing positive had been achieved. Before the crusades, Muslims had established a great reputation for tolerance. Now that they had suffered Christian atrocities and perfidy, they had become fanatical in defence of their religion. As Runciman wrote of the slaughter at Jerusalem during the First Crusade: "It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that recreated the fanaticism of Islam". Muslim respect for Eastern Christians was superseded by hatred and contempt for Western ones.

The bitterness that was generated between the Christian West and the Muslim Levant was so great that its effects rumbled down the centuries and echo to the present day. Across many Eastern countries the word for a western foreigner is ferenghi, a corruption of Frank, and an echo of the fact that crusaders were usually referred to as Franks in the Middle Ages — but this is far from the most serious reverberation from the crusades.



While on a crusade, make sure that you are armored and protected well. Visit this website for more info.






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