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Lecture 25

The Holy Crusades

From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears: namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God, a generation, forsooth, which has neither directed its heart nor entrusted its spirit to God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by sword, pillage, and fire. . . .

---Pope Urban II, Proclamation at Clermont, 1095

The Crusades, like so much of the modern conflict, were not wholly rational movements that could be explained away by purely economic or territorial ambition or by the clash of rights and interests. They were fueled, on all sides, by myths and passions that were far more effective in getting people to act than any purely political motivation. The medieval holy wars in the Middle East could not be solved by rational treatises or neat territorial solutions. Fundamental passions were involved which touched the identity of Christians, Muslims and Jews and which were sacred to the identity of each. They have not changed very much in the holy wars of today.

---Karen Armstrong, Holy War, 1988

Beginning in the 11th century, the people of western Europe launched a series of armed expeditions, or Crusades, to the East and Constantinople. The reason for the Crusades is relatively clear: the West wanted to free the Holy Lands from Islamic influence. The first of early Crusades were part of a religious revivalism. The initiative was taken by popes and supported by religious enthusiasm and therefore the Crusades demonstrated papal leadership as well as popular religious beliefs. They were also an indication of the growing self-awareness and self-confidence of Europe in general.

Europe no longer waited anxiously for an attack from outside enemies. Now and for the first time, Europeans took the initiative and sent their armies into the Holy Lands. It took courage to undertake such an adventure, a courage based on the conviction that the Crusades were ultimately the will of God. An unintended consequence of the Crusades was that the West became more fully acquainted with the ideas and technology of a civilization far more advanced than their own. The Crusades also highlight the initial phase of western expansion into new lands, a movement of the peoples of Europe that has influenced the course of western civilization ever since.

Biography of ConstantineFrom the third century on, Christians had visited the scenes of Christ's life. In Jerusalem, St. Helena had discovered what was believed to be the True Cross and her son, CONSTANTINE (c.274-337), built the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there. Before the Muslim conquest of the 7th century, pilgrims came from Byzantium and the West in search of sacred relics for their churches. Pilgrimages were a dangerous business and could only be taken amidst hardship. But by the reign of Charlemagne, conditions had improved for western pilgrims: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (763-809) allowed Charlemagne to endow a hostel in Jerusalem for the use by pilgrim traffic.

Stability in both the Muslim and Byzantine worlds was essential for the easy and safe continuance of pilgrim traffic. But in the early 11th century this stability broke down as the Egyptian ruler of Palestine, Hakim (c.996-1021), abandoned the tolerant practices of his predecessors, and began to persecute Christians and Jews and to make travel to the Holy Lands difficult once again. Hakim destroyed Constantine's Church of the Holy Sepulchre and declared himself to be God incarnate.

By 1050 the Seljuk Turks had created a state in Persia. In 1055 they entered Baghdad on the invitation of the Abbasid caliph and became the champions of Sunnite Islam against the Shi'ite rulers of Egypt. In the 1050s Seljuk forces raided deep into Anatolia, almost to the Aegean. Their advance culminated in the Byzantine defeat at Manzikert in 1071, followed by the occupation of most of Asia Minor and the establishment of a new sultanate at Nicaea. Jerusalem fell in 1071 and became part of the new Seljuk state of Syria.

In 1081, and amid disorder, palace intrigue and the capital in danger, the general Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) came to the Byzantine throne. He held off a Norman attack on the Dalmatian coast through an alliance with Venice, and he played one Turkish potentate off against another, slowly reestablishing a Byzantine foothold in Asia Minor. Civil wars among the Turks and the increase of brigands made pilgrim traffic exceedingly difficult.

The schism between Eastern and Western churches provided the papacy with an additional incentive to intervene in the east. In 1073 Pope Gregory VII (c.1020-1085) sent an ambassador to Constantinople, who reported that the emperor was anxious for reconciliation. Gregory VII planned to reunite the churches by extending the holy war from Spain to Asia. He would send the Byzantines an army of western knights, which he would lead himself.

Pope Urban II (c.1042-1099) carried on the tradition of Gregory VII. To his Council of Piacenza (1095) came envoys from Alexius, who asked for military help against the Turks. Since Turkish power was declining, perhaps it was a good time to strike. Historians have never understood why Pope Urban II promulgated the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Perhaps we can glean some purpose by looking at the speech itself.

Oh, race of Franks, race from across the mountains, race chosen and beloved by God, as shines forth in very many of your works, set apart from all nations by the situation of your country, as well as by your Catholic faith and the honor of the Holy Church! To you our discourse is addressed, and for you our exhortation is intended. We wish you to know what a grievous cause has led us to your country, what peril, threatening you and all the faithful, has brought us.

From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears: namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God, a generation, forsooth, which has neither directed its heart nor entrusted its spirit to God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by sword, pillage, and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel torture; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision their either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and, dragging forth the end of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until his viscera have gushed forth, and he falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks, and then, attacking them with naked swords, they attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them, and deprived of territory so vast in extent that it can not be traversed in a march of two months. On whom, therefore, is the task of avenging those wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily energy, and the strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you. . . .

What are we saying? Listen and learn! You, girt about with the badge of knighthood, are arrogant with great pride; you rage against your brothers and cut each other in pieces. This is not the soldiery of Christ, which rends asunder the sheep-fold of the Redeemer. The Holy Church has reserved a soldiery for herself to help her people, but you debase her wickedly to her hurt. Let us confess the truth, whose heralds we ought to be; truly, you are not holding to the way which leads to life. You, the oppressors of children, plunderers of widows; you, guilty of homicide, of sacrilege, robbers of another's rights; you who await the pay of thieves for the shedding of Christian blood; as vultures smell fetid corpses, so do you sense battles from afar and rush to them eagerly. verily, this is the worst way, for it is utterly removed from God! If, forsooth, you wish to be mindful of your souls, either lay down the girdle of such knighthood, or advance boldly, as knights of Christ, and rush as quickly as you can to the defense of the Eastern Church. For she it is from whom the joy of your whole salvation have come forth, who poured into your mouths the milk of divine wisdom, who set before you the holy teachings of the Gospels. We say this, brethren, that you may restrain your murderous hands from the destruction of your brothers, and in behalf of your relatives in faith oppose yourself to the Gentiles. Under Jesus Christ, our Leader, may you struggle for your Jerusalem. . . . But if it befall you to die this side of it, be sure that to have died on the way is of equal value, if Christ shall find you in His army. God pays with the same coin, whether at the first or the eleventh hour. You should shudder, brethren, you should shudder at raising a violent hand against Christians; it is less wicked to brandish your sword against Saracens. It is the only warfare that is righteous, for it is charity to risk your life for your brothers.

Pope Urban II emphasized the appeal received from the Eastern Christians and painted the hardships that now faced pilgrims to Jerusalem. He summoned his listeners to form themselves, rich and poor alike, into an army, which God would assist. Killing each other at home would give way to fighting a holy war. Poverty at home would be relieved by riches obtained from the East. If a man were killed doing the work of God, he would automatically be absolved of his sins and assured of salvation. The audience greeted the oration with cries of "God wills it," and the First Crusade had been launched.

On the more popular level, it was Peter the Hermit (c.1050-1115), an unkempt old man who lived on fish and wine, who proved to be the most effective preacher of the Crusade. In France and Germany he recruited an undisciplined mob of peasants, including women and children. They believed Peter was leading them to the New Jerusalem, flowing with milk and honey. The followers of Peter came up the Rhine, across Hungary, where 4000 Hungarians were killed in a riot over the sale of a pair of shoes, and into Byzantine territory at Belgrade. The Byzantines, who had hoped for a well-trained army, were appalled by Peter's mob. They proceeded to arrange military escorts and to take all precautions against trouble. Despite their efforts, the undisciplined crusaders burned houses and stole everything, including the lead from the roofs of churches. Once in Constantinople, the crusaders were graciously received by Alexius Comnenus, who shipped them across the Straits as quickly as possible. In Asia Minor, they quarreled among themselves, murdered the Christian inhabitants and scored no success against the Turks. They were eventually massacred.

At the upper levels of European society no kings had enlisted in the Crusades, but a number of great lords had been recruited including Godrey of Bouillon (c.1061-1100) and his brother Baldwin (1058-1118), Count Raymond of Toulouse, Count Stephen of Blois (c.1097-1154), and Bohemond (c.1057-1111), a Norman prince from southern Italy. Better-equipped and disciplined, the armies led by these lords converged on Constantinople by different routes.

Emperor Alexius found himself in a difficult position. He was willing to allow the crusaders from Europe to carve out principalities for themselves from Turkish occupied land. At the same time, however, he wanted to assure himself that Byzantine lands would be returned to his control and that any new states created would be his dominions. He understood the practice of European vassalage and the importance attached to an oath taken to an lord. So, he decided to require each European lord to take an oath of liege homage to him upon their arrival. Alexius had to resort to bribery in order to obtain such oaths.

The armies were ferried across the Straits. There was no one in command but the armies did act as a unit, following the orders of the leaders assembled in council. In June 1097 at Nicaea, the Seljuk capital, the Turks surrendered at the last minute to Byzantine forces rather than suffer an assault from the Crusader armies. Crossing Asia Minor, the crusaders defeated the Turks at Dorylaeum, captured the Seljuk sultan's tent and treasure, and opened the road to further advance. Godfrey's brother Baldwin, marched to Edessa, an ancient imperial city near the Eurphrates, strategically situated for the defense of Syria from attacks coming from the east. Baldwin became count of Edessa, lord of the first crusader state to be established (1098).

Meanwhile, the main body of the army was besieging the great city of Antioch which was finally conquered after seven months. Antioch became the second crusader state under Bohemond. The other crusaders then took Jerusalem by assault in July 1099, followed by the wholesale slaughter of Muslims and Jews, men, women, and children, an event recorded by FULCHER OF CHARTRES. Godfrey of Bouillon was chosen as "defender of the Holy Sepulcher," and the third crusader state had been founded. When Godfrey died not long afterward, his brother Baldwin of Edessa became the first king of Jerusalem in 1100. Venetian, Genoese and Pisan fleets assisted in the gradual conquest of coastal cities ensuring the flow of communications, supplied and reinforcements between the East and the West. In 1109 the son of Raymond of Toulouse founded the fourth and last crusader state near the seaport of Tripoli.

Early in their occupation of the eastern Mediterranean the crusaders founded the military orders of knighthood. The first of these were the Templars, created around 1119 by a Burgundian knight who sympathized with the hardships of Christian pilgrims. The Templars banded together to protect the helpless on their pilgrimage. The Templars took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and were given headquarters near the ruins of the Temple of Solomon. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) inspired their rule, based on the rules for his own Cistercians and confirmed by the pope in 1128. A second order, the Hospitallers, was founded soon after the Templars, and was attached to the ancient Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem.

Composed of knights, chaplains, and brothers under the command of a grand master, with branches both in the East and in Europe, the two military orders were the most effective fighting forces in the Holy Land. Each had a special uniform: the Templars wore red crosses on white, the Hospitalers white crosses on black. Later, a third, purely German group became the order of the Teutonic Knights with headquarters at Acre (they word black crosses on white).

The orders grew very wealthy. They had fortresses and churches of their own in the Holy Land as well as villages from which they obtained necessary supplies. Western monarchs endowed the knights richly with lands in Europe. Over time, the original intent of these military orders became lost in personal conflicts. The knights were, after all, a quarrelsome lot. They often allied themselves with Muslims, and so completely lost sight of their original vows of poverty that they engaged in banking and large-scale financial operations. In the early 14th century the Templars were destroyed by Philip IV (1268-1314) of France. The Hospitalers moved first to Cyprus and then to Rhodes in the early 14th century. They were driven to Malta by the Turks in 1522 and continued there until Napoleon's seizure of the island in 1798.

It is a wonder that the crusader states lasted as long as they did. It was neither their castles nor the existence of military orders that made their success possible but the disunity of the Muslims. When the Muslims did achieve unity, crusader states fell. So, in the late 1120s, Zangi, governor of Mosul on the Tigris, succeeded in unifying the local Muslim rulers, In 1144 he took Edessa. Two years later Zangi was assassinated, but the Muslim reconquest had begun.

In response to the conquest of Edessa, St. Bernard preached the so-called Second Crusade. Thanks to the enormous enthusiasm he unleashed, King Louis VII (1120-1180) of France and King Conrad III (1093-1152) of Germany came to the East. But the Second Crusade proved to be a failure. Relations with the Byzantines were worse than ever. The western armies were almost wiped out in Asia Minor. When the remnants of this army reached the Holy land, they found themselves in conflict with the local lords who feared that these newcomers would take over their kingdom. The crusader's failure to take Damascus in 1149 brought its own punishment. In 1154 Zangi's son took Damascus. "Because of my preaching, towns and castles are empty of inhabitants. Seven women can scarcely find one man," St. Bernard once boasted. Now he could only lament that:

we have fallen on evil days, in which the Lord, provoked by our sins, has judged the world, with justice, indeed, but not with his wonted mercy. . . . The sons of the Church have been overthrown in the desert, slain with the sword, or destroyed by famine. . . . The judgments of the Lord are righteous, but this one is an abyss so deep that I must call him blessed who is not scandalized therein.

The next act of Muslim reconquest was carried out in Egypt by a general who was sent to assist one of the quarreling factions in Cairo. This general became vizier of Egypt and died in 1169, leaving his office to his nephew Saladin (1137-1193), a chivalrous and humane man who became the greatest Muslim leader during the period of the Crusades. Saladin brought the Muslims cities of Syria and Mesopotamia under his control and distributed them to faithful members of his own family. By 1183 his brother ruled Egypt and his sons ruled Damascus and Aleppo. In 1187 Jerusalem fell and soon there was nothing left to the Christians except the port of Tyre and a few castles.

These events made a Third Crusade (1189-1192) necessary. The Holy Roman emperor, Frederick Barbarossa (c.1123-1190) led a German force through Byzantium, only to be drowned (1190) before reaching the Holy Land. Some of his troops, however, continued on to Palestine. There they were joined by Philip Augustus of France and Richard the Lionhearted (1157-1199) of England, former rivals in the West. The main thrust of the Third Crusade was the siege of Acre, which was finally captured in 1191. Jerusalem could not be taken but Saladin signed a treaty with Richard allowing Christians to visit the city freely.

Innocent III (1160-1216) came to the papal throne in 1198 and called for the Fourth Crusade. A number of powerful lords answered the call and decided to proceed by sea. The Venetians agreed to furnish transportation and food and also contributed fifty warships on condition that they would share equally in all future conquests. Enrico Dandolo (c.1108-1205) agreed to forgive the debt temporarily if the crusaders would help him conquer Zara, a town on the eastern side of the Adriatic that had revolted against Venetian domination. So the Fourth Crusade began with the sack and destruction of a Roman Catholic town in 1202! The pope excommunicated the crusaders.

The crusaders then turned their sights on a new goal: Constantinople. The German king, Philip of Swabia proposed that the massed armies escort Alexius, a prince with a strong claim to the throne, to Constantinople and enthrone him. If successful, Alexius would finance the subsequent expedition, the goal of which was Egypt. In the spring of 1203, the fortified crusaders attacked Constantinople. Despite advanced warning, the usurper Alexius III, had done little to prepare the city. In the initial assault, the crusaders won a complete naval victory though the city held its ground. A second attack by both land and sea broke through the defenses and Alexius III fled the city. The young Alexius was then crowned Alexius IV. The city was eventually damaged when a group of Franks set fire to a mosque in the Saracen quarter and Alexius IV refused to make the promised payment. Convinced that Alexius IV could not make peace with the crusaders, a faction of senators, clergy and the populace deposed Alexius, who was later murdered in prison by yet another usurper.

In March 1204 the crusaders and Venetians agreed to seize the city a second time and to elect a Latin emperor. This siege ended in a second capture and a three-day sack of Constantinople. The pope criticized the outrage. Whole libraries and collections of art were destroyed but the Venetians managed to salvage what they could and sent it all back to Venice. Of particular importance were sacred relics including a fragment identified as the True Cross and part of the head of John the Baptist.

Steven Runciman on the Children's CrusadeFaith at its purest and most innocent was perhaps inherent in one of the most horrifying and disastrous episodes, the so-called CHILDREN'S CRUSADE of 1212. For these children, faith, love and hope could destroy the infidels where force alone had failed. Their motivation was more simple, more primitive and naive. Their faith and love was part of that general trend toward regeneration and spiritual awakening that we mentioned at the start of this lecture.

There were two Children's Crusades which started simultaneously in 1212, one from the Rhineland, the other in the Loire valley. A ten year old boy, Nicholas, preached the Children's Crusade at Cologne and is said to have recruited more than 20,000 children to his cause. When the pilgrims reached Italy, many of the girls were taken into brothels and others were taken as servants. Those boys who eventually carried on to the east were sold as slaves.

In May 1212, there appeared at Saint-Denis, a twelve year old boy by the name of Stephen. He was alleged to have gathered 30,000 children but at Marseilles they fell into the hands of thieves and were sold as slaves at Alexandria. Over 2000 alone perished when their ships sank in the Mediterranean. The Children's Crusades were not merely a brief episode but rather part of that deeply rooted unrest which had disturbed the conscience of the masses. Above all, the miracles associated with Stephen (it's said that animals, birds, fish and butterflies joined him) point forward to two other figures -- St. Francis of Assisi and Joan of Arc.

In the Fifth Crusade (1218-1221) the Christians attempted the conquest of Egypt on the notion that this was the center of Muslim strength. That Crusade was a miserable failure. Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) personally led the Sixth Crusade (1228-1229). No fighting was involved. Speaking Arabic and long familiar with the Muslims from his experience in Sicily, Frederick secured more for the Christians by negotiation than any crusader had secured by force since the First Crusade. In 1229 he signed a treaty with Saladin's nephew that restored Jerusalem to the Latin world. Bethlehem and Nazareth were also handed over and a ten year truce was signed.

The last two major crusades were organized by the saintly king of France, Louis IX (1215-1270). In 1248, Louis attacked Egypt with the idea of then regaining Palestine. A horrible strategist, Louis' and his army were defeated, taken prisoner, and made to pay an enormous ransom to obtain their freedom. Louis tried again in 1270, leading his troops on an expedition to Tunis in North Africa. There was no success here either as Louis and much of his army died from plague.

Slowly, the Christian possessions in the Holy Lands were retaken. Acre, the last stronghold of the crusaders, surrendered in 1291.

The ultimate effect of the Crusades on European history is certainly debatable. What is certain is that the crusaders made very little direct impact on the east where the only visible remnants of their conquests were their castles. There may have been some broadening of perspective that comes from the exchange and the clash between two cultures, but the interaction between Muslim and Christian was more meaningful in Spain and Sicily than it was in the Holy Lands.

The Crusades did manage to reduce the number of quarrelsome and contentious knights in Europe. The Crusades provided an outlet for their penchant for fighting and it has been argued that European monarchs were able to consolidate their control much more easily now that the warrior class had been reduced in number.

The Crusades also contributed to the economic growth of the Italian port cities of Genoa, Pisa and Venice. Of course, the great wealth and growing population of 11th century Europe had made the Crusades possible in the first place. The Crusades may have enhanced trade but they certainly were not the cause of the revival of trade. Italian merchants would have pursued their trade with the east regardless of whether or not the Crusades took place.

In general, it can be said that the almost incredible success of the First Crusade helped raise the self-confidence of the medieval west. For centuries Europe had been on the defensive against Islam -- now a western army could march into a center of Islamic power and take their coveted prize. With this in mind, the 12th century became an age of optimism and rebirth (see Lecture 26). To the Christians of the west it must have seemed as if God was on their side and that they could accomplish anything. But there was a negative side to the crusading balance sheet. There is no escaping the fact of the Crusader's savage butchery -- of Jews at home and of Muslims abroad. The Crusades certainly accelerated the deterioration of western relations with the Byzantine Empire and contributed to the destruction of that realm, with the disastrous consequences that followed. And western colonialism in the Holy Land was only the beginning of a long history of colonialism that has continued into the 20th century.

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