The crusades were military expeditions launched against the Muslims by the Christians in an attempt to regain the Holy Land. They
took place between 1095 A.D. and 1270 A.D. It was one of the most
violent periods in the history of mankind.
The starting point of the crusades was on November 18, 1095
A.D. when Pope Urban II opened the Council of Clermont. On November
27, outside the French city of Clermont-Ferrand, the Pope made an
important speech . He called upon everyone to help the Christians in
the east to restore peace. The crowd’s response was very positive.
Garments were cut into crosses which were attached to people’s
shoulders in an imitation of Christ (Matthew 10:38).(1) The original
object of the First Crusade was to help Christian churches in the
east. The new goal became to free the Holy Land from Muslim control,
Pope Urban II stayed in France until September 1096 to provide
leadership and guidance for the members of the First Crusade. He
urged churchmen to preach the cross in France. Urban wanted the
crusading army to be mostly made up of knights and other military
personnel. Since the news of his speech at Clermont spread through
the west, people from all social classes and occupations joined the
Crusade. As a result of Urban losing control of personnel, violence
was launched against the Jews of northern France. This violence was
mostly instigated by bands of the urban and rural poor led by men like
Peter the Hermit and Walter Sans-Avoir.
These groups lacked supplies and discipline. They attempted
to reach Constantinople but most of them never got that far. The
leaders in lands which they passed through were frightened and killed
many of the crusading bands. Some did get to Constantinople and
traveled across the Bosphorus in August 1096. There they split into
two groups. One tried to overtake Nicaea and was unsuccessful. The
other was ambushed and slaughtered near Civetot in October. The
remaining crusaders retreated to Constantinople and joined the second
wave of the Crusade.
The crusaders were eager to start the journey to Jerusalem but
they needed to capture the Anatolian Turkish capital of Nicaea first
because it blocked the road that would be their main supply route. It
was held by Seljuk Turks. In May 1097, the crusaders attacked Nicaea.
The Turks realized that they were defeated and agreed to give the city
to the Byzantines in exchange for the lives of their men. The
Byzantines agreed to this and on June 18, Nicaea was under Byzantine
control. The leaders of the crusade disagreed and wanted to slaughter
the Turks because they were enemies of Christ.(2) On June 30, 1097,
the crusaders were ambushed at the city of Dorylaeum by Seljuk Turks
led by Kilij Arslam the Seljuk Sultan. The fight continued until July
1. The crusaders won a big victory and nearly wiped out the Turkish
force. This victory opened up the way to Anatolia.
The crusaders attacked Anitoch in northern Syria on October
21, 1097. “This was the main obstacle on the road to Jerusalem.”(3)
In a long and gruesome battle, the city finally fell on June 2, 1098.
The crusaders were quickly attacked by a new Turkish army from Al
Mawsil. They arrived too late to revive Anitoch’s Turkish defenders
and they were forced to retreat on June 28.
The starting date for the march to Jerusalem was set for
November 1, 1098 but was delayed by an epidemic as well as fighting to
the south of Anitoch. On January 13, 1099 the commander-in-chief,
Count Raymond IV of Toulouse, led the crusaders’ march to Jerusalem.
They avoided attacks on cities to conserve forces. In May 1099 they
reached the northern border of Palestine. On June 7 they camped on
the summit of a hill where they could see Jerusalem. Many soldiers
had tears of joy on that day. The hill was named Montjoie.
Jerusalem was well fortified and only vulnerable from the
north and the southwest. On June 13 they tried to storm Jerusalem but
were driven back because of insufficient supplies. Extreme heat and a
water shortage lowered morale. A priest called Peter Desiderius told
them that if they fasted and held a procession around the walls of
Jerusalem with sufficient piety, the city would be theirs within nine
days. The crusaders did this and, when they completed building
three mini castles, they assaulted Jerusalem on July 13. “There was a
frenzy of killing as everyone was hacked down.”(4) The governor and
his staff were the only Muslims to escape alive. The Jewish library
containing 8 Torah rolls and 330 manuscripts survived.
After the First Crusade, four Levant states were established:
Jerusalem,Tripoli, Anitoch, and Edessa. The success of this
crusade was largely due to the isolation and weakness of the Muslim
The Muslim reunification started in the Middle East under Imad
ad-Din Zangi, the ruler of Al Mawsil and Halab. The Muslims got their
first great victory versus the crusaders when they captured Edessa in
1144 and destroyed the crusader state in that region. This led to the
Second Crusade, which was proclaimed late in 1145. Many people joined
the crusade, including the King Louis VII of France and the holy Roman
emperor, Conrad III.
Conrad’s army left Nuremberg, Germany for Jerusalem in May
1147. A few weeks later the French army set out for Metz. The
Germans tried to cross central Anatolia in October, but the Seljuks
defeated them near Dorylaeum. The survivors fled to Nicaea. The
other German contingent, led by Otto of Freising, was defeated by
Turks at Ladoicea. The remaining crusaders fled to the coast of
Pamphylia and were slaughtered in February 1148. Few survivors
finished the trip to Syria by ship.
The French army had reached Constantinople on October 4,
1147. The French then journeyed through Byzantine territory in west
Asia Minor. The Turks destroyed most of them, but the French king,
the German Emperor, and some knights survived and traveled by ship to
Outremer from Antalya on the southern coast of Asia Minor. Zengi had
died before the crusaders arrived so his sons took control, Saif
al-Din in Mosul and Nur al-Din in Aleppo. Joescelin II, the Frankish
count of Edessa, took advantage of Zengi’s death and tried to regain
his capital, but Nur al-Din massacred the Edessan population and
On June 24, 1148 the High Court of Jerusalem met at Palmarea
near Acre. The decision was made to attack Damascus, since Edessa was
no longer the war objective. On July 24, they camped along the west
side of Damascus. The Palestinian barons convinced the two kings that
the orchards on the west were making the siege more difficult, so they
moved to the southeast. They couldn’t stay very long in the
southeast because it was a hot waterless plain. On that same day they
withdrew their army. The Second Crusade had failed miserably. There
was only one success from the whole crusade: a group of Dutch and
English crusaders had captured the cities of Libson and Tortosa.(6)
The Muslims had time to regroup after the Second Crusade, and in 1169,
Nur al-Din’s forces took Egypt. Saladin took control of the Muslims
when Nur al-Din died on May 15, 1174 in Damascus. In 1180 he joined
forces with the Anatolian Seljuk sultan, Kilij Arslan II. Saladin
stopped the unification of Aleppo and Mosul in 1182, brought Aleppo
under his control in 1183, and made a four year truce with the Franks
in 1185 after invading Palestine in 1183.Reynald of Chtillon,
leader of the Franks, broke the truce when he heard of a rich caravan
of unarmed merchants traveling on the east bank of Jordan. In
retaliation, Saladin invaded Palestine in 1187. The Franks got their
forces together to withstand Saladin at Zippori.
On July 4 Saladin defeated the Latin army at Hattin in
Galilee. Jerusalem surrendered on October 2. On October 29, 1187,
Pope Gregory VIII, who succeeded Pope Urban II after he died
from shock of the defeat at Hattin, declared the Third Crusade. Three
major European monarches joined: the holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I;
the French King, Philip II; and the English King, Richard I. It was
the largest force of crusaders since 1095. Frederick died in
Anitoch along with many others as a result of an epidemic. Most of his
army returned to Germany. Philip and Richard reached Palestine but
couldn’t regain Jerusalem. Many cities along the Mediterranean coast
were freed from Saladin’s control. On July 12, 1191 Acre
surrendered to the Christians. Richard left the Holy Land on October
9, 1192. The Latin Kingdom had been restored.
In 1198 Pope Innocent III proclaimed a Fourth Crusade. In
April 1202 the crusaders asked the Venetians for transport because
they overestimated the number of people who would sail. The Venetians
agreed to postpone the payment due to them if the crusaders helped
them recapture Zara which had been taken from them by Hungary. The
leaders of the crusade had no other choice. Some protested, saying
that an attack on a Christian city is a sin. On November 24, Zara was
captured. The entire army was excommunicated but the Pope lifted it
when he heard of the situation. On June 24, 1203, the fleet anchored
at Chalcedon, and on July 17, Constantinople was attacked from sea and
land. Emperor Alexius III fled in fear. Isaac II Angelus and his son
Alexius IV became co-emperors. In a revolt in January 1204, both were
murdered. Alexius V Ducas Murzuphlus became emperor. On April 12,
1204, they stormed the city and took control of the walls. On April
14 Constantinople was captured. The Crusaders and Venetians murdered
and looted for three days. Afterwards the crusaders started their own
empire in the Byzantine ruins with a Catholic religion, French speech,
and Italian commercial
The Albigensian Crusade was from 1202-1229. During the 12th
Century Albigensians made many converts in western Languedoc.
Innocent III preached a crusade against Raymond VI of Toulouse,
protector of the Albigensians. The crusade turned into a fight for
control of the Pyrenean kingdom of Catalonia and southern France.
There was a lot of blood shed. In the Peace of Paris in 1229, the
Capetian monarchy began shaping Languedoc into a French kingdom.
The church of Rome got a firm hold on southern France. The Christians
failed to bring Albigenses under their control.
The Children’s Crusade of 1212 began in Rhineland and Lower
Lorraine. In the spring large crowds of children gathered there. The
leader was a boy named Nicholas from Cologne. The goal of this
crusade was to capture the Holy Land. The French King persuaded a
large group of French children to return home. The group led by
Nicholas reached Genoa on August 25. They expected God to allow them
to walk across the sea but that didn’t happen. What happened
after that is a mystery. The story most believe says that two
Marseilles merchants provided seven ships for the children. Two
wrecked off Sardinia and the children on the other five ships were
sold into slavery in North Africa and Egypt.
In 1213 Innocent III opened a new crusade. He had no doubt
about the Fifth Crusade because the Book of Revelations said that
Islam would last less than 666 years. It started in 622 A.D. so they
thought it would end by 1288 A.D. Innocent III died on July 16, 1216
and Honorlus III became his successor. “He was dedicated to the
crusade but lacked the political strength and energy of Innocent
III.”(7) In return for the capture of Zara during the Fourth Crusade
, the Venetians agreed to transport the Hungarian army. The crusaders
arrived at Acre in May 1218. Egypt was now the target. If they could
get it, all of southern Palestine could be easily attained. On May
29, 1218, the fleet anchored off shore and the army was placed on the
west bank of the Nile. The crusaders overtook a tower protecting
Damietta. Instead of attacking Damietta, the crusaders waited for
reinforcements. Saladin’s nephew, Sultan al-Kamil, attacked the
crusader camp but was defeated . In September al-Kamil offered
Jerusalem, Palestine, Galilee, and the return of the true cross if the
Christians evacuated Egypt. Cardinal Pelagius, leader of the
Christian army, rejected the offer. He didn’t want to come to terms
with the Muslims. On November 5, 1219, Damietta was captured. In
August 1221 the Crusaders attacked the Egyptians but were forced to
Emperor Frederick II took up the Sixth Crusade in 1215.
Political problems in the west kept him from joining. He wanted to
boost his appearance by regaining the Holy Land. Pope Gregory IX
excommunicated him in 1227 when his journey was delayed more because
of an illness. He finally left for the Holy Land in June 1228. In
February 1229, Sultan al-Kamil surrendered Jerusalem because he was
afraid of Frederick’s expedition. A ten year truce was agreed upon.
No blood was shed during this peaceful, political crusade.
King Louis IX of France organized the Seventh Crusade after
the Muslims recaptured Jerusalem in 1244. Louis spent four years
planning and at the end of August 1248, Louis and his army sailed to
Cyprus. The army spent the winter in Cyprus while waiting for
reinforcements. The fleet left at the end of May and stopped off at
Damietta on June 5, 1249. On June 6 the citizens of Damietta
evacuated in a panic. The crusaders spent the summer in Damietta
waiting for reinforcements. On November 20, 1249, the army started to
march to Cairo. In the spring of 1250, they attacked Cairo. Louis
surrendered to the Egyptians in April 1250. Damietta was given up and
a ransom was paid.
The Europeans’ calls for more crusades were stupid and didn’t
accomplish much.(8) Italian cities had better commerce and there was
a greater interest in exploring the orient thanks to the crusades.
New trade markets were established. The direct general taxation
system was developed during the crusades.
As you can see, the crusades were one of the most violent
periods of time in the history