The Crusades were a series of religiously sanctioned military campaigns waged by much of Western Christian Europe, particularly the Franks of France and the Holy Roman Empire. The specific crusades to restore Christian control of the Holy Land were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. There are several reasons for the Crusades, but the importance and relevance of some are debated by scholars even to this day.
In the Middle Ages, Christians considered Palestine the Holy Land because it was where Jesus had lived and taught.
The Arabs had conquered Palestine in the 600s. Most Arabs were Muslims, but they usually tolerated other religions. Jews and Christians who paid their taxes and observed other regulations were free to live in Palestine and practice their own religion. The Arab rulers didn’t usually interfere with Christian pilgrims visiting Palestine, and European traders could generally do business there. During the 1000s the Seljuk Turks, people from central Asia who had adopted the Muslim faith, conquered Palestine and attacked Asia Minor, which was part of the Byzantine Empire.
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When the Turks threatened the capital city of Constantinople, the Byzantine emperor appealed to the pope in Rome.
Because Christian pilgrims going to Palestine came home with reports of persecution from the Turks, the Byzantine emperor’s appeal for help found a reception in Europe.
Pope Urban I wanted to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims. He called a great meeting of church leaders and French nobles at Clermont France in 1095. At the meeting he encouraged the powerful feudal nobles to stop fighting with each other, and to join in one big war against the “unbelievers. Urban’s request made his listeners very enthusiastic and they joined in one big cry, “God wills it! ”
From Clermont people traveled through France preaching the cause. The people who joined the expeditions sewed a cloth cross on their clothes. They were called crusaders, from the Latin word cruciata, which means, “marked with a cross. ” People joined the Crusades, the expeditions to regain the Holy Land, for many different reasons. Most knights joined the crusades for the land and plunder in the rich Middle East. Merchants saw a chance to make money.
The pope promised both heavenly and earthly rewards. Those who died on a Crusade were said to go strait to heaven.
The pope also guaranteed church protection of the crusader’s property and family during his absence. Debtors who joined a Crusade had their debts canceled. Criminals were relieved of punishment. The Crusades appealed to both a love of adventure and the promise of reward- the desire to escape debts or punishment. French and Norman nobles led the First Crusade that lasted from 1096 to 1099. In three organized armies, they marched across Europe to Constantinople.
The crusaders received a hostile reception in Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor had asked for some assistance, but now, seeing three armies approaching the city, he feared they might capture and plunder the capitol. After much discussion the Byzantines allowed the crusaders to pass through Constantinople to begin their long, hot march across Asia Minor toward Palestine. In their wool and leather garments and their heavy armor, the crusaders suffered severely from the heat. Because they had few pack animals, a shortage of food and water plagued them.
Additional problems erupted when the leaders quarreled over fiefs in the lands they captured. Despite these difficulties, however, the crusaders forged on to capture the city of Antioch. Then they marched toward Jerusalem. If the Turks had not also been quarreling and disunited, the expedition would have failed.
Conditions improved as the crusaders marched down the seacoast toward Palestine. Fleets of ships from the Italian cities of Genoa and Pisa brought reinforcements and supplies. The crusaders captured Jerusalem after a short battle and slaughtered the Muslim inhabitants.
One leader wrote to the pope that his horse’s legs had been bloodstained to the knees from riding among the bodies of the dead Muslims. In the Middle East the crusaders set up four small states: the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripole, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They introduced European feudalism and subdivided the land into fiefs controlled by vassals and lords. For almost a century, the Europeans occupied these lands.
Brisk European trade, with goods carried mostly in Italian ships, sprang up.
Christians and Muslims lived in close proximity and grew to respect each other. Many Christians adopted Eastern customs and came to prefer Eastern food and clothing. The Second Crusade began in 1147, after the Turks had recaptured the important city of Edessa and threatened the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In this Crusade, King Louis VII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad III led their armies across Europe to the Holy Land. They were fighting separately, and didn’t join forces until they got to Damascus, which was held by the Turks.
Luis and Conrad couldn’t capture the city and returned to Europe disgracefully in two years. In 1187 the Muslim leader Saladin recaptured Jerusalem.
Two years later the Third Crusade, the “Crusade of the Three Kings,” began and lasted until 1192. King Richard of England, King Philip Augustus of France, and Emperor Frederick Barboarossa of the Holy Roman Empire each started out at the head of a great army to regain the Holy Land. The Europeans failed once again, and an estimated 300,000 Christians and Muslims died.
There were many more Crusades until 1291, when the Muslims captured the last Christian stronghold, in Acre. Fore 200 years a constant flow of Europeans streamed into the Holy Land. Over that period, however, the religious zeal of the crusaders had steadily dwindled. (NEW PARAGRAPH) From a military standpoint, all the Crusades except the first failed. The Muslims eventually recaptured Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine. However, Europeans learned many things of military importance, such as the crossbow, carrier pigeons and messengers, new siege tactics, and gunpowder.
In Europe the Crusades increased the power of kings and decreased the power of feudal lords. Kings imposed new taxes and led armies drawn from their entire countries. The church also got more political power because of its leadership role in initiating the crusades. After the Crusades the status of women changed. When their husbands were gone they managed feudal estates. Europeans were influenced by the ideas exchanged among the crusaders form different countries and between the crusaders and the other people they met.
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