When And What Were The Crusades?

Richard I of England ("the Lionheart") helped lead Christians in the Third Crusade into Turkey and the Middle East.
Richard I of England ("the Lionheart") helped lead Christians in the Third Crusade into Turkey and the Middle East.

The definition that is used to broad define all of the crusades are that they were a series of religious wars undertaken by the Catholic Church that took place over roughly a 400 years period between the 11th and 15th Centuries. When most people think of the Crusades, they think of Christians and Muslims warring over the holy land, specifically Jerusalem. However, there would various other minor Crusades used to combat conflict among Catholics, to gain a territorial or political advantages and to combat perceived paganism and heresy from other groups. This article, however, will discuss matters regarding the major European Christian Crusades that occurred and made their way into the Holy Land.

5. Background and Initiation

By the close of the 11th Century, Western Europe had fully emerged from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to become a power, though it still lagged behind the Byzantine Empire (330-1453), Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171), Abbasid Caliphate (750-1517) and the Selijuk Empire (1037-1194). In 1095 Alexios I Komnenous (1056-1118) emperor of the Byzantine Empire sent envoys to Pope Urban II (1042-1099) asking for troops from the West to help the Byzantines confront the threat.from the Selijuk Turks. In November of that year at the Council of Clermont in France the pope called on Christians to take up arms to aid the Byzantines and recapture the Holy Land. The Pope's plead was met with great response, especially among lower levels of the military elite and ordinary citizens. It was decided that all those who joined the crusade would wear the cross as a symbol of the church. Thus the first crusader had begun.

4. Notable Crusades

There were many Crusades during the period between the 11th and 15th Centuries that were undertaken, but the most notable Crusaders were the nine Crusaders to try and conquer the Holy Land. The First Crusade (1096-1099) was launched in response to Pope Urban II's call for help. In three years the Crusaders had conquered all of the Holy Land, climaxing with their victory over the Fatimid Caliphate during the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099. After the Crusaders victory they divided the territory among themselves, established themselves as rulers and created the crusader states of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Principality of Antioch, Country of Tripoli and the Country of Edessa. The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was called to take back the Country of Edessa, which has fallen to the Zengid dynasty (1127-1250). In 1148 the crusaders failed to retake Damascus during the siege. By the next year the leaders of the crusaders had left the Holy Land and the crusade ended accomplishing nothing. The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched in response to the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 to Saladin (1137-1193) the leader of the Ayyubid dynasty (1171-1260). The crusade was mostly successful and they managed to take back the city cities of Acre and Jaffa, but failed in their ultimate goal of retaking Jerusalem. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) started with Pope Innocent III (1161-1216), pushing for a crusade to take back Jerusalem. On the way to the Holy Land they took the city of Zadar for Venice. The fourth crusade never got to Jerusalem as it got involved over the struggle for the Byzantium throne. It ended with the Sack of Constantinople (1204) and the formation of the Latin Empire (1204-1261) as a crusader state. The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) started with Pope Innocent III's successor Pope Honorius III (1150-1227) wanting a new expedition to the Holy Land. This expedition started in Egypt and by 1219 the crusaders took the key port city of Damietta and were offered all holy cities in exchange for leaving Egypt. The crusaders refused as they were too encouraged by their success, but then they failed to capture Cairo and ended up withdrawing from Egypt returning home with nothing. The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) was started without papal authority by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) who led the crusade while under excommunication. There was little fighting in this crusade as Frederick was able to come to a successful negotiation with the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt Al-Kamil (1177-1238) were he ceded Jerusalem, Nazareth, Sidon, Jaffa and Bethlehem to the crusaders. In return the Muslims kept control of the Temple Mount, al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock and the Transjordan castles. The negotiated treaty was set to last ten years and then expire. The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) came after losses in the Holy Land following the decade since Frederick's negotiated treaty expired. This crusade was launched by the King of France Louis IX (1214-1270) who landed in Egypt, took Damietta and then failed to take Cairo. Louis got captured at the Battle of Al Mansurah and was release for a high ransom. Louis then spent the next four years in the crusader kingdom using his wealth to help rebuild defenses and conducting diplomacy before going back to France. The Eighth Crusade (1270) was again launched by Louis IX but this time the crusader started in Tunis. Disease broke out in the came shortly after the crusaders landed and the king died a month later. The king's brother Charles of Anjou (1227-1285) then negotiated with the Caliph of Tunis to ensure safe departure of the army. The Ninth Crusade (1271-72) was launched by Prince Edward of England (1239-1307) and started in Acre. Edward failed to win support for his crusade and was forced to go back to England because of news of his father King Henry III's illness.

3. Death Tolls and Controversies

It is unknown how many people actually died during the crusades since record keeping of the number of soldiers on both sides was either not exact, non-existent or has been lost to time. The number of civilians deaths is completely unknown. Historical estimates estimate that between one to three million people died during the crusaders. In 1099 during the First Crusade, after the Siege of Jerusalem, the crusades viciously rushed through the streets of the city murdering any and all Muslim and Jewish men, women and children. In 1191 during the Third Crusade, after the Fall of Acre, Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199) ordered the massacre of over 3,000 prisoners, including women and children. He got fed up with waiting for Saladin to agree with his negotiate terms and so marched the prisoners to the hill of Ayyadieh and had them killed in full view of the nearby Muslim army encampment. The Muslim army then charged the crusaders, but were pushed back.

2. Decline and Demise

The Ninth Crusade being one of the last major attempts to reclaim the Holy Land due to disunity and conflict along Christians interests in the region, as well as lost of papal authority and spiritual luster due to several botched secular crusades due to political reasons in the 1280's. In 1281 the Mamluk sultan, Qalawan (1222-1290), had defeated the Mongols threat and then turned his attention to defeating the Crusaders occupying the Holy Land. In 1285 he sacked the Hospitalier fortress of Margat and the castle of Maraclea. In 1287 he captured Latakia and in 1289 he captured Tripoli, ending the crusader country there.In 1290 Qalawan started the siege of Acre, but died in November. His son al-Ashraf Khalil (1262-1293), finished the siege, taking the city in 1291. Acre was the Crusaders last remaining power base in the Holy Land and by 1302 the Crusaders lost their last foothold in the Holy Land, when the Isle of Ruad fell to the Mamluks. After the Church lost the Holy Land they focused on organizing other minor Crusades with limited goals, such as pushing Muslims from certain conquered territory or conquering pagan regions. By the 16th Century support for any kind of Crusades had disappeared with the rise of the Reformation and the decline of papal authority.

1. Historical Significance and Legacy

One of the major impacts of the crusades was that not since the days of the Roman Empire had Western Europe been exposed to so many new military, economic, cultural and political ideas, and been able to expand their horizons as they did. This was due to their immense and prolonged contact with the Byzantine Empire, Mongol Empire, and the various Muslim empires in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Through this the crusades was one of the various key factors that historians say helped to later inspire the Renaissance, exploration of the new world and Colonialism. The crusaders also increased the authority of kings, decreased the power and influence of the pope and contributed to the East-West Schism in 1054 between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. The crusades also generated bitterness between Christian and Muslims that was so great it lasted for centuries and even slightly reverberates to this day.


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