November 18, 1095 - The Crusades
By Cole Fairweather
The Crusades were a series of wars fought over territory that used religion to justify the fight. There were eight Crusades in total (not including the Children’s Crusade) but only the first four are considered historically significant. The Crusades were fought by European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims. The Crusades were one of the most important wars in history since it reshaped empires, improved European life afterwards, and created a lasting effect on both religions to this day.
In the early eleventh century, the Byzantine Empire was under constant attack from the Seljuk Turks. Piece by piece the Muslim Turks took over territory the Byzantines previously had. Some of this territory was considered holy by the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church. The leader of the Byzantine Empire, Alexius I, then decided to call upon Western European Catholics for help despite their relationship not being strong due to the East-West Schism. Pope Urban II decided Christians needed to take the Holy Land back from the Muslims. This of course was for the reason of controlling the Holy Lands and the pilgrims that go to it but also to help make the Church a secular power. In the fall of 1095 the Pope assembled the Council of Clermont in Southern France to decide how to take action against the Turks. They offered freedom of sins to anyone that took up arms which especially appealed to people like knights that committed sins in the past. The Crusaders would also take home a portion of the loot. Soon a wave of supporters, some commoners and some military elite, put crosses on their armor and marched to the Holy Land.
Five different troops were formed each from different regions of Europe led by Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois, Bohemond of Taranto, and Peter the Hermit. Peter led the less organized People’s Crusade group that consisted of commoners and marched to the Byzantines before any of the other troops. Despite Alexius telling Peter to wait for all the other troops, Peters’s army crossed the Bosporus Strait and faced a major defeat at the hand of the Turks. Once the four other Crusader armies got to Constantinople, Alexius wanted their leaders to swear an oath to him that said he would get any land the Turks had taken and any newly conquered land, however only Bohemond took the oath. The emperor decided to first take out the nearby capital city of the Turks, Nicea. In the battle for Nicea, the Turks used mounted archers which nearly took out the first troop of soldiers. Once back up came, the soldiers managed to force Nicea to surrender. The brother of Godfrey of Bouillon, Count Baldwin of Boulogne, then led an army to conquer the cities of Tarsus and Mamistra in Asia Minor along with many others. Count Baldwin and his army then went to the majority-Christian lands of Edessa where they took power due to internal political struggles. Edessa was established as the first “Crusader state” and was named the County of Edessa. The Crusaders then decided it was time to take the major city of Antioch in Syria. The city was significant to the Byzantines because it was previously theirs and they wanted control of it. To Christians, it was the place where the saints Paul and Peter lived and possibly where Saint Luke was born. The soldiers surrounded the city and after many months of not being able to break into the fortified wall, a Christian living in the city was convinced by Bohemond to let the Crusaders in. They broke in and managed to get Antioch to surrender. Finally, the Crusaders marched towards Jerusalem, the place where Jesus once lived and home to some of the most important sites to Christianity. The great walls of Jerusalem proved hard to break down but a ship delivered wood to the Crusaders to build bartering rams, catapults, and siege towers. Godfrey of Bouillon then commanded that the Crusaders scale a weaker part of the wall and on July 15, 1099, the Crusaders got into the city. A slaughter of thousands of Muslims and Jews followed and Jerusalem was once again owned by the Christians with Godfrey of Bouillon declared the new king and Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli were considered the new Crusader states.
After conquering Jerusalem, the First Crusade was over but Muslim forces rapidly started gaining land in a holy war they called Jihad. In 1144, the County of Edessa was conquered by the Seljuk Turks led by the Governor of Mosul, Zangi. This caused for the call for a Second Crusade by Pope Eugenius III along with many other Christians. King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany led the campaign along with some Christian rulers in Spain conquering Muslim cities in the Iberian Peninsula. Conrads’s forces were defeated at Dorylaeum by the Turks but not completely destroyed. The French and German troops then met up at Jerusalem and decided to attack the Syrian city of Damascus. The Governor of Damascus realized he needed support against this group of 50,000 soldiers and called upon the successor of Zangi and new Governor of Mosul, Nur al-Din to help. The Crusaders decided to retreat after news of Nur al-Din’s forces. This defeat ended the Second Crusade with a Muslim victory.
The Third Crusade was started after the Christian Crusaders occupied Egypt and Nur al-Din with generals Shirkuh and Saladin took over Cairo in Egypt from the Crusaders. In 1174 Saladin took control after Nur al-Din’s death and continued the military campaigns against Crusader lands including Jerusalem. Within months Jerusalem fell to the force of Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi warriors all fighting under Saladin. Pope Gregory VIII called for another crusade, the Third Crusade. European rulers such as Frederick Barbarossa (Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire), King Philip II of France, and King Richard I of England (also known as Richard the Lionheart) joined the effort to take back Jerusalem. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa led his army to attack the Seljuks but then drowned in a river in Asia Minor. His troops were weakened so Saladin didn’t have to waste his time to attack them. Some Christian fighters managed to lay siege to the coastal city of Acre which provided a port for Philip II and Richard’s armies to land in 1190. Acre was finally defeated when the two kings arrived and King Philip II returned home. In 1191, Richard fought Saladin’s forces at the Battle of Asurf and won which gave them the city of Jaffa. Once he approached Jerusalem, the ultimate goal of the Third Crusade, Richard decided that even if he does get Jerusalem, it would just go back to the Muslims at some point. He instead signed the Treaty of Ramla and the Treaty of Jaffa with Saladin. They ensured that Muslims would have control of Jerusalem but Christian pilgrims could safely travel there. It also said that Christians would get a strip of land on the coast near Jerusalem.
The Fourth Crusade was called a crusade but was against the Byzantine Empire. Pope Innocent III called for a Fourth Crusade but instead of attacking the Seljuk Turks and other Muslim empires, Crusaders successfully got rid of Emperor Alexius III so that Alexius IV could take control in 1203. Alexius IV wanted to join the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Church with the Roman Catholic Church after they separated during the Great Schism which was in favor of the Catholics. He was therefore strangled to death during a coup in 1204 which prompted Crusaders to attack Constantinople. They took over the city, looted, and almost completely destroyed the city which ultimately led to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire.
The last four crusades aren’t considered important to today’s world. They mostly consisted of Christian forces trying to take over Muslim land like Egypt and Jerusalem but ultimately failing. The very last Crusade was between the Muslim Mamluks and the French and English. The Mamluks took over Acre which was the last remaining Crusader State. This event is considered to be the end of the Crusades.
The Crusades have left a legacy that still lasts today. After the Crusades, the political power of popes was increased and the Catholic Church gained lots of wealth. Trade and transportation was increased due to the amount of ships and roads needed to be built and discovery of new goods in the Middle East. New ideas traded between Muslims and Christians during the Crusades could’ve also helped inspire the Renaissance. There is also a bad legacy. Great Empires like the Byzantine Empire were weakened and some followers of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism still have hate of the other religions due to massacres during the Crusades which affect political views and cultural opinions.
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