The Medieval Christian Church: The Crusades

Figure 1.--

The Crusades are the series of religious wars launched by the Medieval kingdoms of Europe during the 11th-13th centuries to retake the Holly land from Islamic rulers. Christian pilgrims after the Arab conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries had to travel through Islamic lands to venerate the great shrines in Jerusalem and other Biblical sites in the Holy Land. In addition the Ottoman Turks were increasingly encroaching on the Eastern or Byzantine Empire. The Turks apparently preyed upon Christian pilgrims. Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus, perhaps concerned about the plight of the pilgrims, more likely seeking allies against the Turks, wrote to a friend Robert, the Count of Flanders, in 1093. He recounted the alleged atrocities inflicted on the pilgrims by the Turks. Count Robert forwarded Comnenus' letter to Pope Urban II. Pope Urban like Emperor Comnenus perhaps concerned about Christian pilgrims, more likely seeing a political opportunity, decided to promote a military crusade to seize the Holy Land from the infidel Turks. European Christians at the time were locked in intractable dynastic wars in England, France, Italy, and other domains, destabilizing large areas of Europe. The Pope sought to redirect the fighting to an infidel adversary. Pope Urban's crusade, the First Crusade, was launched in 1095.

Arab Conquest

The Arabs swept through the Holy Land and Mesopotamia, driving back the Byzatines and defeating the Persians in 637 AD. At the time most in the people in the region were Christians and Zoroastrians. The Arabs set about spreading the Islamic faith, but allowed much more religious diversity than was the case of Christian Europe. Despite the overwhelming military victories, the force of Islam was imperiled in 661 in a fight over succession. It was at this time that the schism between the Shiites and Sunnis developed. The Bedouins Arabs by the 8h century had acquired the civilization of the people they conquered. They founded a new capital at Baghdad in 762 which became a bustling center of world commerce and culture at a time that civilization of the West was mired in the Dark Ages. The Abbasid Caliphate is seen as the golden age of Islam--the pinnacle of Arab culture. While Christian Europe after the fall of Rome descended into a dark age, there was an outpouring of learning and culture in the Islamic world. Baghdad in particular became a renowned center for learning, including science, mathematics, philosophy and literature--especially poetry. Renounced universities, libraries, and public baths were built at Baghdad.

The Silk Road

The history of the famed Silk Road is one of many instances in which clothing and fabrics have played a major role in human history. The story of the silk road is one of military adventures and conquest, adventuresome explorers, religious pilgrims, and great philosophers. While it is silk which is often, naturally enough, most strongly associated with the silk road, the flow of ideas and religion as an almost unintended aspect of the flow of trade may have been one of the most significant impacts. Of course most of the people who traversed the silk road were not great thinkers, but common tradesmen who transported their merchandise at great risk for the substantial profits that could be made. They moved camel caravans over some of the most hostile terrain on the planet. The ilk road traversed deserts, mountains and the seemingly endless Central Asian steppe. Some of the great figures of history are associated with the Silk Road, including Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane. Merchandise may have moved over the Silk Road as early as the 5th century BC. The Silk Road is believed to have become an established trade route by the 1st century BC and continued to be important until the 16th century when more reliable sea routes were established as a result of the European voyages of discovery.

Spice Route

The Spice Route was the other great trading route of the Ancient and Medieval worlds. Spices were carried on the Silk Road also, but the main source of spices was well south of China, the Spice Islands (Indonesia), India, and the Malabar (East African) coast. India was at the center of the world spice trade. It is no accident that Indian food is known for its spices. Spices were carried to India from the Spice Islands, sometimes by sea routes. Spices included cassia, star anise, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, mace, and others. The most vluable spice was pepercorns. These spices as well as Indian Indian and Africa spices were then brought by sea to the Middle east by Areab traders. Finally Venetian or other Italian vessels were bring the spices to Europe. Rivalry for the sea routes monopolized by Venice increased the importance of the overland Silk Road. Finally Portuguese sailors in the 15th century established direct contact with the source of spices, undercutting both the Arabs and Venetians.

Christian Pilgrims

Christian pilgrims after the Arab conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries had to travel through Islamic lands to venerate the great shrines in Jerusalem, especially the Holy Sepulcher, and other Biblical sites in the Holy Land. The Arabs after the conquest allow Christian pilgrims to visit these shrines. Caliph al-Hakim (996-1021) prohibited Christian pilgrimages. Persecutions of Christians intensified with victories of the Seljuk Turks over the Byzantines (1071).

Seljuk Turks

The Caliphiate was seized by the Seljuk Turks in 1055. In addition the Turks were increasingly encroaching on the Eastern or Byzantine Empire. The Turks apparently preyed upon Christian pilgrims who had to pass through Turkish controlled areas to ger from Constaninople to the Holy Lands. .

The Byzantine Empire

The Roman Empire split between an Western and Eastern Empire with capitals in Rome and Byzantium. While Rome or the Western Empire fell in the 5th century, the Eastern or Byzantine Empire continued as a major power. Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus, perhaps concerned about the plight of the pilgrims, more likely seeking allies in his struggle against the Turks, wrote to a friend Robert, the Count of Flanders, in 1093. He recounted the alleged atrocities inflicted on the pilgrims by the Turks. While the Byzantine Emperor played a major role in inciting the Crusades, the Byzantines quickly came to distrust the Crusaders when they began actually arriving in the Holy Land.

Pope Urban II

Count Robert forwarded Comnenus' letter to Pope Urban II. Pope Urban like Emperor Comnenus perhaps concerned about Christian pilgrims, more likely seeing a political opportunity, decided to promote a military crusade to seize the Holy Land from the infidel Turks. The Church and Papacy in the 11th century was at the peak of its prestige and religious fervor was a strongly felt sentiment throughout Europe. European Christians at the time were locked in intractable dynastic wars in England, France, Germany, Italy, and other domains, destabilizing large areas of Europe. The Pope sought to redirect the fighting to an infidel adversary. The Pope also saw a military expedition as helpful in possibly ending the schism with the Eastern Church.

The Peasants' Crusade (1095-96)

Peter the Hermit joined Pope Urban in appealing for action. Peter and Walter the Penniless so inflamed the French peasantry that large numbers of men, women, and children began marching in Spring 1096 without any organization or supplies across Europe toward Constantinople. This is sometimes referred to as the Peasant's Campaign. It was characterized by attacks on Jews and other acts of murder and robbery. Many were killed by the enraged population of the lands through which they marched. Some actually reached Constantinople and many of these were eventually killed by the Turks.

The First Crusade (1095-99)

Pope Urban proclaimed what has become known as the First Crusade in 1095. The actual organized military expedition was launched in 1096. Preparations were made in the Spring and Fall of 1096. The Crusading fervor swept over Europe, a tribute to the effectiveness of the Church in indoctrinating Europeans with Christian dogma. [Wells, p. 561.] Many Godly Christians supported the Crusades out of the most sincere and altruistic beliefs. This was, however, mixed with baser motivations. The Pope hoped to use the Crusades to bring the Byzantine Church to heel. The Crusading nobles and knights saw the possibility of booty and new lands. The First Crusade was an international expedition, made up primarily by English, French, and Italians. The participants include scions of some of the leading families of the Christian West. The French were led by Hugh the Count of Vermandois was the brother of the King of France. Accompanying him were Godfrey, Baldwin and Eustace of Bouillon, sons of the Duke of Lower Lorraine who traced their ancestry to Charlemagne. Another Frenchman was a cousin, Baldwin Le Bourg. Another Frenchman was Raymond IV of Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse, was one of the few who had experience fighting Moslems. He had fought the Moors in the Reconquista underway in Spain at the time and the reason few Spaniards were involved in the Crusades. Raymond was the first Crusader to accept the Cross, symbolizing the Crusader's vow. The English contingent included Robert, Duke of Normandy, a son of William who had only recently conquered England. the Conqueror. The Italian contingent included Marcus Bohemond, Prince of Toranto, son of Robert Guiscard, a Norman, and his nephew Tancred. Gathering their forces the Crusaders conducted attacks on Jewish communities, killing them and seizing their property. The Jews of the Rhineland were the first of the European Jewish communities to be targeted. [Wells, p. 563.] The attacks in the Rhineland were particularly horrendous. The Crusaders proceeded to Constantinople where difficulties ensued with Emperor Alexius Comnenus over who would command the expedition. This and subsequent disputes weakened the Christian effort. Military operations with an impressive army of about 100,000 men commenced May 1097. Nicea was besieged and taken and the Turks defeated at Dorylaeum. Antioch was taken after an arduous march and lengthy siege (1098). Baldwin took Edessa and set up the first of the Crusader states, an independent principality. Bohemund did the same at Antioch. Finally Jerusalem was invested and taken by an army totaling about 20,000 (1099). The entire Jewish and Muslim population of the city is indiscriminately put to the sword. This is the worst of the many Christian atrocities committed during the Crusades. The Muslim world was horrified at Christian barbarity and military success. Islamic armies had experienced success after success against the Christians after energizing from the Arabian desert. Godfrey was elected Baron and Defender of the Holy Sepulcher, the first ruler of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. After Jerusalem falls, the Crusaders defeated the Egyptians at Ascalon (1099). The Knights Templar and Hospitallers were founded by the Crusading knights.

Military Orders

The Church authorized knightly or military orders during the 12th and 13th centuries. The three most important were the Teutonic Knights, the Templars, and Hospitallers. These military orders were "true orders" of the Roman Catholic Church. They were governed by the same rules that governing monks, similar to the Benedictine or Augustinian Rules. These orders were essentially only answerable to the authority of the pope. They also had some feudal fealties to both lay and other clerical bodies, this varied somewhat. Substantial numbers of knights became monks. They often joined these military orders and were used to man castles and other fortifications rather than join monastic orders. Like other monks, most of these knights took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These military orders played a prominent role in the Crusades and in the military history of Feudal Europe.

The Second Crusade (1147-1187)

The Christian army launched the Second Crusade in 1147. It was promoted by the Turkish seizure of Edessa, one of the Crusader states (1144). Pope Eugenius III appoints Bernard of Clairvaux to promote the Crusade. The Church issued special indulgences to those who accepted the Cross. These included remission of sins, absolution for sins committed during the Crusade, and cancellation of debts. Many nobles had substantial debts to usurious money lenders. Conrad II of Germany and Louis VII of France led the crusade and gathered a substantial force of about 140,000 men. Military operations, however, proved disastrous. The force was not well received in Constantinople and Conrad and Louis divided their forces. The Germans were annihilated in Asian Minor (modern Turkey). The French along with the surviving Germans were defeated at Damascus. Louis and Conrad retired to Jerusalem to make a stand, but in the end most of the survivors decided to return to Europe in 1149. Other Crusader castles fall. The Jerusalem Crusader states survived for several decades with its strong castle defenses. They are finally retaken by the Turks under Saladin (1187). Salad's great victory at Haddin virtually destoyed the Crusader army is on of the most famous battles in Middle Eastern history. Only Tyre and Acre hold out and they plead to the pope for assistance.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192)

The Third Crusade is perhaps the most fabled in terms of chivalry as it was subsequently mythologized in legend. The conflict between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin is one of the best remembered confrontations of the medieval era. Saladin united the Islamic forces and attacked the Crusader states. The fall of Jerusalem precipitated a religious outcry in Europe. Pope Gregory VIII preached a new Christian crusade. He used accounts of Turkish atrocities to build support. The Crusades had been going on for over a century when Gregory began to promote the new Crusade. The Papacy, however, played a minor role in this Crusade. This is perhaps the best known Crusade because it involved two of the great figures of the Medieval world-Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin. The Third Crusade was led by England's King Richard the Lion Heart, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, and France's King Philip II. Richard and Philip met to determine the terms of command and the division of the spoils. Richard's army was the best trained in Europe. Richard believed in military technology, especially the crossbow. (The pope had outlawed its use against Christians in Europe.) Richard's army was the most professional force that had yet been committed to the Crusades. Frederick died en route to the Holy Land. Richard and Philip took Acre (1190). Upon arriving in Acre, Richard attracted more support than Philip, in part because looting on the way to the Holy Land had enlarged his coffers. Saladin avoided a pitched battle with Richard's army. This crusade is often seen as the apogee of medieval chivalry. In actuality was there was great cruelty against non-combatants, especially by Richard. Here the infidel Saladin was a much more chivalrous warrior. In a prolonged siege, Richard finally takes Acre and afterwards slaughters hostages he had tried to ransom. Richard and Philip quarreled and Philip returned to France. Richard then moves his army south to Jaffa, a necessary stepping stone to Jerusalem. The two armies meet at Arsu and Richard's heavy cavalry prevail. Jaffa is taken 3 days later. Richard marches to Jerusalem, but realizes that he did not have the force to take and hold the city. He realizes that priority has to be given to holding the coast. He begins to negotiate with Saladin, thinking he can return later with a larger force. It is at this time he learns that his brother Prince John is attempting to seize the crown and split Richard's realm with former ally, Philip of France. Richard continued the struggle with little success and failed to retake Jerusalem. A truce concluded with Saladin allows Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Richard finally left the Holy land (1192), but is held ransom in Austria for 15 months. None of the subsequent Crusades had the widespread popular support of the first three Crusades. A historian writes, "By the time of the Third Crusade , the magic and wonder had gone out of the movements all together. The common people had found them out. Men went, but only kings and nobles struggled back; and that often after heavy taxation for a ransom." [Wells, p. 566.]


The Crusades are not well understoodin the popular histories of the East and West. Muslim historiography describes the Crusades as a barbaric Cgristian invasion of the peacful Arab lands. Nothing could be further from the truth, except for the barbaric behavior of many crusders. Islamic armies for centuries hd attaked Christian lands in the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, Iberia, France, the Levant, Anatolia, tIaly, Sicily and other Mediterranean islands, and the Bllkans. The Crusades were the first major Christian counter-offensive against militant Islam. And many Western accounts depict the Cryusdes as a ckear cut clsh of civilizations. In fact it ws much more complicted. An important factor in the Crusader succeses, especially the Franks in the 3rd Crusade, was the Sunni-Shi'i split. An Iranin cab driver menioned to be that the unfolding disastr in !taq during 2014 ws all America's fault. I mentioned to him that the Sunni and Shi'i have been kulling each other for more thn a millenia, a uncomfotorble fact that he did not appreciate. The rest of the ride was an uncomfortable silence. Nor wee the Crusaders a unted group. Soon coomercial, social, and oyherties between Muslims and Crusaders complicatedwhat was not just an ataginistic military ebcounter (late-12th century). When Saladin retook Jerusalem (1187), his relatively generous terms left him a respected figure both in East and West. [Cobb]

The Fourth Crusade (1202-04)

The Fourth Crusade was an inept affair promoted by Pope Innocent III as another attempt to free Jerusalem. The bulk of the effort never even reached the Holy land. [Wells, p. 566.] The Crusade led by Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice and Baldwin Count of Flanders, but never reached the Holy Land. Enrico was able to redirect the objective to Zara, at the time a Christian city in Dalmatia and maritime rival of Venice. The city was sacked and the plunder divided among the Crusaders (1202). The Pope excommunicated the Crusaders for a crime against Christendom, but revoked his decree to save the crusade. The Crusaders next seized Constaninope and restored the deposed Emperor Issac II Angelus (1203). When the Emperor failed to meet his commitments, the Crusaders sacked the city. Baldwin installed himself as Emperor of the Latin Empire. Constantinople, at the time perhaps the richest city in the Christian world. The barbarity of the Western Catholic Crusaders fuels the growing Schism between the Western and Eastern Church.

The Children's Crusade (1212)

The Fifth Crusade was perhaps the most tragic of all. It was the Children's Crusade in which unarmed children set out to recover the Holy Sepulcher from the Moslems. The Children's Crusade began in France where Stephen, a shepherd boy at Cloyes, claimed to have received a divine message to march to the Holy land and crush the infidels. The disgraceful performance of the Fourth Crusade was still in the mind of Church leaders. Stephen's efforts seemed so pure, a perfect antidote to the avaracious Fourth Crusade. Stephen gathered 30,000 boys and girls as he marched through France to Marseilles. Slave merchants provided seven ships. Two foundered off Sardinia. Five reached Alexandria where the children were sold into slavery. A similar crusade developed in Germany led by a peasant boy named Nicholas. This group matched across the Alps to Genoa. Many died of hunger and exposure along the way. Others deserted. Some of the survivors eventually managed to return home.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-22)

Pope Innocent III used the Children's Crusade to shame Christian princes and knights into action. [Wells, p. 567.] King Andrew of Hungary launches the Fifth Crusade targeting Egypt, but ends in disaster. Many historians do not count this expedition as one of the Crusades

The Sixth Crusade (1228-29)

The Sixth Crusade was in part an outgrowth between Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II nd the Papacy. Frederick wanted no part in it. The Pope Innocent III wanted Frederick out of Italy. [Wells, p. 567.] Finally the sanction of excommunication compelled Frederick to honor his pledge. Frederick managed to reoccupy Jerusalem (1228). He takes the crown and negotiates a 10-year truce with the Sultan of Egypt. Frederick then returns to Germany (1229).

The Seventh Crusade (1248-54)

Jerusalem is retaken by Islamic forces (1244). King Louis IX (St. Louis later canonized by the Church) takes the Crusader vow. The Seventh Crusade again targets Egypt. Louis captures Damietta (1249). Louis is subsequently defeated and forced to surrender (1250). Louis is eventually released. He stays in Syria for 4 years, waiting for reinforcements to arrive from Europe. Finally he is forced to admit failure and return to France.

The Eighth Crusade (1270)

The last crusade was promoted by an aging Louis IX with the assistance of England's Prince Edward. Edward was the son of King Henry II and future Edward I. King Louis died after setting up a base near Tunis. Prince Edward gained victories at Acre and Haifa, but ended the Crusade with a 10-year truce.

Christian States Fall

Acre, the last Christian state in the Holy land is taken (1291). This ends the European presence in the Holy Land


The Crusades in Europe lauded by the Church took on an almost mystical aura of goodness, the quest to liberate the Holy land from the Infidel. The term meant a war sanctioined by the pope for that purpose. The word has come to mean any vigorous quest or campaign to advance a laudable cause. President Eisenhower titled his book about World War II, Crusade in Europe. President Bush at first began calling the war against terror a crusade until his Arab allies began to complain. While returning crusaders were lauded as men of the highest ethical standard in Medieval Europe, the truth was very different. There are no actual records, but the Crusaders are believed to have butchered more than 1 million men, women, and children. These are not opposing Saracen military forces, but civilians in cities and towns seized by the Crusaders. When a city fell, the crusading nights would often loot it and put the entire population to the sword.

Catharists (12-14th Century)

Not all Crusades were launched against the Infidel Muslims. As mentioned above, the Jews of Europe were the first victims of the Crusaders. Christians were also targeted by the Crusaders--especially in the 4th Crusade described above. The Popes began using the term Crusade for a range of different military actions, in the process cheapening the exercise and diluting popular support. Popes organized crusades against John of England and Frederick II of Germany. And a crusade against Cathaists Christians in southern France. [Wells, p. 566.] The Pope and the French Church also sponsored a Crusade against free thinking French Christians--the Catharists. Historians use the term Cathaists or Cathari to described a large number of widely defused sects and were related to Gnostic Christianity. The Novatians in the 3rd century who had heretical beliefs about baptism. Some include the 10th century Paulicians in Thrace. The sect by the 12th century was of considerable importance in the Balkans (Albania, Bulgaria, and Slavonia) before the Turkish conquest. In the West the sect began to gain importance in Turin about 1035 and were called Patarini from a street in Milan where rag gatherers were common. The Cathaists gained their greatest influence in southern France, especially around Montaillou, where they were called Albigenses or Poblicants (a corruption of Paulicians). They are also associated with the Waldenses of France, Germany, and Italy. The Catharists held Manichaean view and held to an ascetic life style. Their religious ritual was simple. The Church was apaled at the growing strength of this heresy by the 13th century. The Catharists refused to pay tithes or give obedience to the Roman Church. Religious leaders were called "perfects" or "Good Men". The Church's reaction was to organize the only Crusade ever carried out in Europe. [Weis] The Cathar books and scrolls were destroyed to an extent that there are virtually no surviving documents. All we have are the records of the Dominican inquisitors who persecuted them. Slowly the Catharists fell into the hands of the Inquisition. Many Catharists themselves were also condemned to the flames. The Catharists were doomed by the 14th century Crusade supported by the French monarchy which coveted the lands of unruly nobles who supported them. One writer describes the Crusade that suppressed the Catharuists as the largest land grab in French history. The province of Languedoc where people spoke Occitan was seized by the French. [O'Shea, Perfect Heresy.]

Periods of Calm

Histories of the Crusades normally focus on the periods of conflict and the epic battles. Sometimes neglected, but of smoe importance are the considerable periods of calm in which the Crusader kingdoms lived in relative harmony with the largely Islamic population of the Levant. This is best illustrated by the horror with which newly arrived Western knights viewed the life style and tolerance of the "poulains"--the desdents of the original Crusaders. This wa reported in Outremer, one of the Crusader kingdoms. Newly arrived knights were bent on slaughtering infidels and they saw the poulains not only living in harmony with the infidels, but behavingh like them as well. The poulains dressed like the infidels with burnoses and kaiffyehs and perhaps even more surprising regular bathing with soap and water. [O'Shea, Sea of Faith.]

Mongols and Ottomans (13th Century)

The Arab world t the nend of the Crudases faced an aeneny from the East--the Mingols. They were an even moee barbaric and dngerous an enemy than the Franks. The Mongols sacked Baghdad (1258), By this time the Abbasid Caliphate was a non-entity, barely controlling Baghdad. The Mongols pressed on, but a small force was stopped ny the Egyptian Mamluks--the Egyptian slave dynasty. . It would provet to be tge fathwst te Mongols advanced in the West. The Crusaders were divided as Louis XI began to prepare another Crusade to counter the new threat of the . The Mamluks miltary strength and diplomtic skills proved decisive. Three of the Crusader kingdoms were destroyed. This left obly a weakened Jerusalem. The loss of Acre essentually ended the Crusades. The rise of the Ottomons reversed the Crusades (late-13th centyry).


Some historians downplay the importance of the Crusades, mentioning only the short-lived Crusader states and the construction of imposing castles in the Holy Land. Infact the Crusades were some of the most momentous events of the Medieval era and their consequences are difficult to overstate or completely comprehend. While the motivation for the Crusades were largely religious and to a lesser extent political, the consequences were largely cultural and economic, leading to first the conquest of the Christian Balkans and eventually the Levant, inluding te Holy Lands and other Arab lands ((erly-16th century). [Cobb]


The Church began the Crusade as the undisputed cultural master of Europe with immense prestige. The failure of the Crusade must have shaken the prestige of the Church. More importantly the Crusaders who left Europe with unquestioning religious fervor were exposed to both Byzantine and Islamic culture, in both cases more refined that the Christian West. Chastened by war, they returned to Europe with a more skeptical view of the Church and its teaching. Many held views which if expressed in public would have been held as heretical. The Church and Papacy was never able to regain the prestige it commanded at the onset of the Crusades.


One of the major purposes of the Crusades as conceived by the Church was to reduce the constant fighting between Western Christian principalities and redirect this martial energy toward the infidel Muslims. Here the Church achieved some success. The political significance of the crusades, however, is much greater. The Crusades for all their barbarity marked a major turning point in world history. This was the first joint effort of Western Christendom. For the first time the people of Western Europe of all classes conceived of themselves as people with common bonds and ideals. One historian writes. "Here for the first time we discover Europe with an idea and a soul. .... The fact of predominant interest to the historian of mankind is this will to crusade suddenly revealed to a new mass possibility in human affairs." [Wells, p. 562.]


Supporting large Crusader armies in the Holy land required a substantial expansion of maritime commerce. European port cities expanded, especially those in Italy from which supplies were dispatched. Venice and Genoa become major powers, not only from shipping supplies to the Crusader, but from cargos received from the East. The arts of navigation improve allowing the construction of larger ships. This knowledge and technology will be acquired by Portugal and Spain in their voyages of discovery. These voyages were largely inspired by the desire to obtain the luxury goods such as silk, cotton, spices, and porcelain that the Crusaders found in the East. A tremendous demand was created for these products, but they were very expensive because Turkish and Arab middlemen controlled access. The voyages of discovery, both the Portuguese voyages around Africa and Columbus' voyage west, were designed to establish trade contacts with the East, primarily China. These goods were not unknown to Europeans before the Crusades. Access to the Silk Road and Spice Route are factors which helped to build support i Europe in addition to religious fervor.


The exposure to the vigorous and rich Byzantine and Islamic culture heritage broadening the intellectual horizons of the Christian West. Islamic writings as well as classical works lost to the West began to the West after the call of Rome began ton reach Western scholars. This fueled a spirit of inquiry just as universities began to be founded in the West. This intellectual ferment was to lead ton the Renaissance which began in Europe in the 14th century.

Reader Comments

One reader writes, "I read your pages on the Crusades. The theme I gather from you is that Christians were heartless, evil people who murdered millions. The Moslems were innocent and simply defended themselves. Interesting revisionist history. Who is more tolerant of other religions now?" -- Tim Drevline This is of course not what we said. In fact many crusaders were moved with religious zeal. That religious zeal unfortunately resulted in terrible attrocities inflicted not only on Muslims, but Jews and Christians as well. This of course is not unlike the religious zealetry of modern fundamentalist Islam. Tim's response reflects a widely held popular view in America that the Crusades were a glorious episode in European history. President Bush reflected this view when he at first began talking about a crusade against terrorism, but quickly dropped the reference when its meaning was explained to him. Notice that time has not quoted from our page, but rather stated is objection to our attempt to describe what actually occurred. The popular view that Tim reflects is not supported by medieval scholars. HBC explained Tim, "I will grant you, however that you have picked up a part of the page. One of the elements you do not grasp is that Muslims were not the only targets. Before a single Muslim was killed, the Crusaders butchered the Jewish population of large areas of Germany and France. Christians and Jews were also killed in the Holy land. The Fourth Crusade ended up primarily seizing and butchering the population of Constantinople--at the time a Christian city. Other Crusades were launched against Christians--the best known the suppression of the Catharists in France. This is not revisionist history. It is addressed in detail in any modern assessment of the Crusades. It is one reason President Bush quickly stopped talking about a crusade against terrorism. The lack of toleration of modern Islam is a very different question, You may not like modern Muslims, but that does not mean you can rewrite Medieval history with modern prejudices. We do agree, however, that the issue of Islam and disent and Islam and toleration are important one that needs to addressed.

Conflicting Views

Arabs and Westerners tend to have very conflicting views of the Crusades. This includes both the period before and after the Crusades. Western scholarships now have reached a general consensus over the Crusades themselves thsat isquite similar to Arab historical views. There are, however, wide guls between the West and Arabs on the poeriod before and after the Crusades. Arabs tend to view the Crusades as un justified, flagesant aggressiion. The war-like European crusaders attacking the peaceful people of the Holy Land. Very rarely do they mention the 400 years of unrelentng attacks by the Arabs on the Christian kingdoms of the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. In the Arab minf, the Arab attacks on Chrstian kingdoims were rightious sactions. Onlt the Christisan attacks on Arans were morally unjustified. Christians on the other hand for centuries have viewed the Crusades as the effforts of pure hearted Cristian kings and knights to recover the Holy Land on God's name. Arabs were apauled by the war-like ferocity of the "Franks" and their barbarity. Here modern scholaship hass tended to bring the Western view of the Crusades themselves closer to the Arab point of view. The peiod after the Crusades, however, are depicted very differently. Most Westerners believe that the Crusades ended with the end of te 13th century. Westerners studying history then turn their fiocus away from the Middle East toward the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. Many Arabs on the other hand are convinced that the Crusades nerver ended.

Modern Funtamentalist Islam

AlQaida and other Islamic Fundamentalists often refer to "Crusaders" to describe Americans and Europeans in their fuzzy view of history that seems to make no destinction between the 11th and 21st centuries. It is as if a millenium did not exist. The interesting aspect of how Fundamentalists viuew Crusades is the histiorical context. Fundamentalists and indeed many modereate Muslims are offened that Christian Rurope would invade territory that had been Islamicized. Never mentioned is the fact that beginning in the 7th century, Islam had launched Jihad against Christian kingdoms. The Middle East and North Africa in the 7th century was largely Christian. Never do Islamic scholars questioned the invasion of these kingdoms and the Islamization of the population. Granted that Islam was often (but not always) less brutal toward Christians than Christians were to Muslims. The fact remains that Islam waged a war of conquest against Chritiandom. That war had carried into Spain and France and in the years after the Crusades into Eastern and Southern Europe. The Islamic view is that it is morrally acceptable to invade and Islamicize Christian and other populations, but a moral outrage for Christians to invade Muslim lands. It should be recalled that the Crusades were not a massive Christian assault on Islam, but a military campaign to recover the Holy Land. We do not mean to justify or condemn the Crusades, but simply to put them in the historical context. They do seem a very modest responswe by Christian Europe to the massive expansion of Islam and Islamivation of former Christian populations.


Cobb, Paul M. The Race for Paradise: An Islmic History of the Crusades (2014), 360p. Cobb's book is a needed addition to the history of the Crusades, providing a needed look on the Muslim perspective.

Drevline, Tim. E-mail message, March 24, 2004.

O'Shea, Stephen. The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars (Walker, 2001), 333p.

O'Shea, Stephen. Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Mediterranean World (Walker, 2006), 411p.

Wells, H.G. The Outline of History: The Whole Story of Man (Doubleday & Co.: New York, 1973), 1103p.


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Created: July 22, 2003
Spellchecked: March 25, 2004
Last updated: 1:49 AM 11/14/2014