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The Crusades 2 Essay, Research Paper

The crusades, a series of campaigns that were initially launched by Pope Urban II in 1096 were one of the bloodiest and most ineffective militaristic missions in history. The death toll can not be accurately counted but it is estimated in the millions. It started simply as a plea for help by the emperor of Byzantium to the Roman Catholic Church, but turned into a huge migration. Officially there were seven crusades within a period of two or three centuries, but historical evidence reveals that there was a constant stream of armies, soldiers, and commoners eastward through-out the time period, with slight ebbs and flows. (Heer, Friedrich. The Medieval World p128)

When the Seljuk Turks of the Middle East converted to Islam and took control of Jerusalem and began to attack the Byzantine borders, the emperor in Constantinople, Alexus, asked the western world for help. The church in the west had attempted to help Byzantium, but to not much effect. That was, until 1096 when Pope Urban II delivered a sermon in the French town of Clermont. In the sermon he spoke of redemption in the form of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to regain the Holy Land in the name of Christ. (Duggan, Alfred. The Story of the Crusades p20) This differed from regular pilgrimages in the fact that the destination lied in enemy hands. Therefore it would be necessary to fight for it. All those who left their homes for Jerusalem would be promised entrance to heaven in the afterlife as well as protection of their estates while they were gone.

Pope Urban II’s sermon was widely received all over Europe by peasants and noblemen alike. Crusaders were supposed to mark themselves by wearing a small red cross on their clothing, usually the chest or shoulder. All of Europe soon talked of the crusades and there was a lot of excitement surrounding the whole event. Many prepared to journey to Jerusalem. This was despite the fact that many did not know the way to Jerusalem, let alone its geographic location. The first army was supposed to meet in August of 1096 however the lords and knights of Europe were slow to answer Urban II’s summons.

It was then that a hermit by the name of Peter organized around 15,000 peasants and poor knights to begin what would be known as the People’s Crusade. (Knox, Dr. Ellis L. The Crusades http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/ crusades/00.htm) At this same time, similar bands of fighting men formed, but were unruly and lacked leadership. They resorted to plundering and raiding but were finally stopped by a Hungarian army. Peter marched his troops to Byzantium, but the presence of his crude army was unwelcome. They were soon ambushed by Turks and the bulk of the army was destroyed. The People’s crusade was over

The First crusade truly began when the feudal lords finally began their march to the Holy Land. Some sold their estates while others entrusted theirs to heirs or others to hold for them. This first wave was large in number, well experienced, and very well armed. They too stayed in Byzantium for a period, but were met with almost equal distaste as those of the People’s crusade. Their first victory came in 1097 when they finally crossed into Asia Minor and took the city of Nicea. (Finucane, Ronald C. The Soldiers of Faith. p23) At this point, they choose to reach Jerusalem by an in-land route, despite the Byzantines’ call for a coastal route. The rift between the Byzantines and the crusaders was now too large and the crusaders continued on their way to defeat the Turks at Dorylaeum with no more help from the Byzantines. After that successful battle, both sides had a better idea of what they were truly fighting.

At the point, the crusaders split. Lord Baldwin on Boulogne brought his troops to free the Christian City of Edessa from the hands of the Turks. The remaining crusaders went on to fight at Antioch where a monk dreamt of the location of a very holy relic, the holy lance. Legend held that the Lance had been used to pierce Christ at his crucifixion. When a team went out to the location that the dream foretold, they did indeed discover a lance. The Crusaders proceeded to fight a large battle at which the Turks and Arabs retreated. They’re celebrated and believed that the course of events was a sign from God. Their next step would be to advance to Jerusalem. They set out in 1099 from Antioch, with a smaller force, for some had stayed behind to hold Antioch. Along the way, several more towns fell and the monk who dreamt of the lance was believed to be a fraud. They seiged Jerusalem for a month, believing god would not let them take it because of sins. The priests performed a day of purification rituals and led them around the walls of the city. They finally broke into the walls of Jerusalem on July 13 and proceeded to kill everyone inside they could find, mostly Jews and Muslims. The Crusaders had succeeded in their goal and all that was left was to divide the land among the Christian lords.

The first crusade had been a great blood bath, but was only the beginning. Saint Bernard instigated the second crusade to free the city of Eddessa from the infidels who had recently regained it. The campaign was launched by a mixed military force but in reality, only the French made it to Antioch. An order of knights known as the Templars took control of the remaining French forces, but by this point, there was only confusion and separation. The second crusade ended in humiliation. In 1187, the Muslim king, Saladin captured Jerusalem and sparked the third crusade. Once again, France, England, and Germany answered the call, however Germany was stalled with the death of their leaders while France and England were too busy fighting among themselves to make any progress. The fourth crusade brought the capture and sacking of Constantinople. This permanently ended relations between the Eastern and Western Christian worlds. It also marked the beginning of the decline of the papacy, as Pope Innocent III lost control of his own crusade. The fifth crusade was equally ineffective and was the last officially launched crusade. Jerusalem was recovered during the sixth crusade in a bargain with the Muslims and the seventh was once again a failure. Crusading had lost its passion in Europe. (Heer, Friedrich. The Medieval World p 132)

The atrocities and the disasters, the immeasurable suffering, and the apparently meaningless sacrifices that accompanied the crusades all cast a heavy shadow over the West. The crusades had opened up a new world to the people of Europe. Contact between the Muslim and Christian had been very sparse aside from the rare border skirmish. The launching of the crusades opened up a floodgate of people, and with them, their ideas, inventions, and beliefs, between the Middle East and Europe. The Muslim knowledge of the Greeks and Romans slowly began to trickle back to the feudal western world. This marked the beginning of the end of the Middle Ages and was one of the main causes of Europe’s renaissance.


Duggan, Alfred. The Story of the Crusades. New York: Pantheon Books, 1963

Edbury, Peter W. The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. Hampshire: The Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 1998

Finucane, Ronald C. Soldiers of Faith. London: The Chaucer Press, 1983

Heer, Friedrich. The Medieval World. New York: Mentor Books, 1961

Knox, Dr Ellis L. “The Crusades.” The Classroom. http://crusades.boisestate.edu/eou/ classroom.html 4/6/00

Knox, Dr Ellis L. “The Crusades.” The Crusades. http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/ crusades/00.htm 4/6/00

Michaels, John. “The Crusades” Grolier’s Internet Encyclopedia. 2000 ed.

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