1. Definition

The Crusades were Christian military expeditions undertaken between the 11th and the 14th century to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims. The word crusade, which is derived from the Latin word crux ("cross"), is a reference to the biblical injunction that Christians carry their cross (Matthew 10:38). Crusaders wore a red cloth cross sewn on their tunics to indicate that they had assumed the cross and were soldiers of Christ.

2. Causes

The causes of the Crusades were many and complex, but prevailing religious beliefs were clearly of major importance. The Crusaders continued an older tradition of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which was often imposed as a penance; now, however, they assumed a dual role as pilgrims and warriors. Such an armed pilgrimage was regarded as a justifiable war, because it was fought to recapture the places sacred to Christians.

Jerusalem had been under Muslim rule since the 7th century, but pilgrimages were not cut off until the 11th century, when the Seljuk Turks began to interfere with Christian pilgrims. For Christians, the very name of Jerusalem evoked visions of the end of time and of the heavenly city. To help rescue the Holy Land fulfilled the ideal of the Christian knight. Papal encouragement, the hope of eternal merit, and the offer of Indulgences motivated thousands to enroll in the cause.

Political considerations were also important. The Crusades were a response to appeals for help from the Byzantine Empire, threatened by the advance of the Seljuk Turks. The year 1071 had seen both the capture of Jerusalem and the decisive defeat of the Byzantine army at Manzikert, creating fear of further Turkish victories. In addition, the hopes of the papacy for the reunification of East and West, the nobility's hunger for land and at a time of crop failures, population pressure in the West, and an alternative to warfare at home were major impulses.

The Crusades were equally a result of economic circumstances. Many participants were lured by the fabulous riches of the East; a campaign abroad appealed as a means of escaping from the pressures of feudal society, in which the younger sons in a family often lacked economic opportunities. On a larger scale, the major European powers and the rising Italian cities (Genova, Pisa, and Venice) saw the Crusades as a means of establishing and extending trade routes.

3. The campaign

The First Crusade was launched by Pope Urban II in a speech at the Council of Clermont, France, on November 27, 1095. Urban spoke of the need to help the Christian East and to stop the desecration of the holy places, and stressed the moral duty of keeping the "Peace of God" at home. He appealed for volunteers to set out for Jerusalem and promised remission of ecclesiastical penances as an incentive. The response was overwhelming. With the cry Deus vult! ("God wills it!"), thousands took the cross. Bands of poorly armed pilgrims, most of them inexperienced and poor, set out for Constantinople under Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, even before the army gathered. Some began by massacring Jews in the Rhine Valley. Many perished on their way east, and the rest were destroyed by the Muslims when they crossed into Anatolia.

The main army, mostly French and Norman knights under baronial leadership -- Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin of Flanders, Raymond of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy, Bohemond of Taranto, and others -- assembled at Constantinople and proceeded on a long, arduous march through Anatolia. They captured Antioch (June 3, 1098) and finally Jerusalem (July 15, 1099) in savage battles. By the end of the campaign, four Crusader states had been formed along the Syrian and Palestinian coast: the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, where Baldwin was crowned king. Continuing rivalry among the leaders and the other nobles, however, undermined any chance of consolidating these acquisitions almost from the beginning.

The next Crusade had its immediate cause in the loss (1144) of Edessa to the Muslims of Mosul and Aleppo. Challenged by St. Bernard of Clarivaux, King Louis VII of France and the German King Conrad III tried to lead separate armies through Anatolia. What remained of them joined in an unsuccessful siege of Damascus. The only success of this Crusade was the capture (1147) of Lisbon, Portugal, by English and Frisian Crusaders on their way to the East by ship.

The Third Crusade was a response to the conquest (1187) of almost all of the Palestine, including Jerusalem, by Sultan Saladin, who had consolidated Muslim power in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt. The Crusade's illustratious leadership included King Philip II of France, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, and King Richard I of England. Frederick, however, drowned when going to Cilicia, and the Crusading effort disintegrated through attrition and lack of cooperation. Acre was recaptured (1191), but Philip returned to France soon after. Jaffa was secured, mainly through the initiative of Richard, who also occupied Cyprus.

Pope Innocent III attempted to reorganize the Crusading efforts under papal auspices. But lack of funds to pay for the passage of the 10,000 Crusaders in Venice forced a diversion of the mostly French army. At the request of the Venetians, the Crusaders first attacked the Christian city of Zara, in Dalmatia. Then they sailed on to lay siege of Constantinople. The Byzantine capital fell on April 13, 1204; it was looted -- particularly for its treasures of relics -- and made the residence of a Latin emperor, with Baldwin, count of Flanders, as the first incumbent. A Greek army almost casually recaptured the city in 1261.

During the 13th century several attempts were made up to revive the declining enthusiasm for Crusades. The Muslims, however, under the Ayyubid rulers, were in firm control of Syria and Palestine, and their devotion to jihad ("holy war") against the Europeans strengthened their resolve. The Fourth Crusade was followed by the tragic episode of the Children's Crusade (1212), in which thousands of children perished from hunger and disease or were sold into slavery on their way to the Mediterranean. An expedition under a papal legate tried to strike at the heart of Ayyubid power in Egypt (the Fifth Crusade, 1217-21). The harbor of Damietta (Dumyat) was finally taken (1219), but all further hopes, nourished by peace offers from the Muslims and by alleged prophecies of help for the Crusaders, were crushed by a Nile flood that delayed the Crusaders' advance to Cairo. During a peaceful expedition to the Holy Land (The Sixth Crusade, 1228-29), Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II negotiated the return of important pilgrimage sites (among them Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Lydda and perhaps Nazareth) without bloodshed. Frederick crowned himself king of Jerusalem, but the city was retaken by the Muslims in 1244.

King Louis IX of France led two Crusades. The first, with 15,000 or 25,000 troops, was directed against Egypt (The Seventh Crusade, 1248-54). Louis succeeded in occupying Damietta, but he was forced to return the city, together with a large ransom, when he and his army were defeated and captured. For a time Louis took residence in Acre, from which he ruled the coast for 4 years (1250-54). While he was in the East, he tried to form an alliance with the Mongols against the Muslims. A second campaign against the sultan of Tunis in North Africa (the Eighth Crusade, 1270) was equally unsuccessful. In the meantime, Jaffa and Antioch were lost to the Mameluke Sultan Baybars (1268). The last Christian bastion on the Syrian coast, Acre, was stormed by the sultan in 1291.

During the 13th century, Crusades were increasingly used by the papacy against foes in the West. A precedent had been set by the Crusade against the Slavic pagan Wends in Germany (1147) and the granting of Crusaders' indulgences for the fight against Muslims in Spain. These Crusades were followed by Crusades against the Albigenses (heretics in southern France; 1209-29) and the Baltic Prussians and Lithuanians. The French Angevins took Sicily from the German Hohenstaufen dynasty as Crusaders with papal consent. This use of Crusades as mere tools of power politics continued into the 14th and 15th centuries.

4. Results

The results of the Crusades are difficult to assess. In religious terms, they hardened Muslim attitudes toward Christians. At the same time, doubts were raised among Christians about God's will, the church authority, and the role of the papacy. Religious fervor yielded to disinterest, skepticism, and a growing legalism (as, for example, in the use of indulgences). On the other hand, the Crusades did stimulate religious enthusiasm on a broad scale. They inspired a great literature in Latin and in the vernacular, especially the Romance languages. Contacts with the Muslim world started to replace ignorance about other cultures and religions with a certain respect for them. The idea of religious conversion by force gave way to a new emphasis on apologetics and mission. Peter the Venerable, an abbot of Cluny, had the Koran translated into Latin (1143), and Saint Francis of Assis tried in person to convert the sultan of Damietta during the Fifth Crusade. Later Franciscans continued the concern for mission to the Muslims.

Politically, the Crusades did not effect much change. The Crusader states and the Latin Empire of Constantinople were short-lived. Only the military orders founded in the East (the Hospitalers, Templars, and the Teutonic Knights) had an appreciable influence on later European politics. The almost endless quarrels among rival lords in the Levant exposed a fatal weakness of the West and strengthened the Muslim conviction that the war could be carried farther west. In this sense, the Crusades led directly to the Turkish wars of later centuries, in which the Ottoman Empire expanded into the Balkans and threatened the very heart of Europe. Today only the ruins of Crusader castles remain as evidence of the knights' presence in the East. More than 100 castles and fortresses were built, the majority during the defensive phase after the Second Crusade (Krak des Chevaliers, Castle Blanc, Chateau Pelerin, Margat, Monfort).

Economically, the Crusades imposed huge burdens on the clergy and the laity. The growing economy of Western Europe was drained of funds in support of the expeditions. At times, the papacy was unable to support any other causes effectively. Still, the Crusades furthered the rapid growth of a money economy, of banking, and of new methods of taxation. The widening of the geographical horizon prepared Europe for the discoveries of the modern age. Trade, architecture, and the growing urban culture, particularly in France and Italy, were stimulated through the Crusades, and Islamic science, philosophy and medicine deeply influenced intellectual life in the West. Much of this influence, however, came through contacts with the Muslims in Spain and Sicily; the Crusaders in the East generally remained isolated from the surrounding culture. Thus an evaluation of the results, as well as of the phenomenon of the Crusades themselves, remains an issue for debate.




A. Give the meaning of the following words:

a) indulgence

b) papacy

c) crusaders

d) holy war (="jihad")

e) holy land

f) knight

B. Answer the following questions:

a) Why did the Crusades start?

b) When the Crusades were led by European priests and knights, what were the consequences for the people in Europe?

c) Why were the Crusades important for the European economy?

d) Were the Crusades important to science? Point out some reasons for your answer.

e) Was it totally necessary for European people to set out for the Crusades?

f) Why were the Crusades, in their major parts, unsuccessful to Europeans?

C. Write a small composition. Give your opinions about the text you've just read.