In the Middle Ages, kings and knights from Christian countries mounted military expeditions called Crusades to try to conquer the

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The Crusades
In the Middle Ages, kings and knights from Christian countries mounted military expeditions called Crusades to try to conquer the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular.

n the Middle Ages, the Muslim world stretched from India to Spain, including Jerusalem and the Holy Land. It was scientifically and culturally ahead of the Christian countries of western Europe.

By 1070, more and more Turkish nomads were settling in the Christian Byzantine Empire and the Byzantines felt threatened by this. Then, from 1087 onwards, Turks stopped Christian pilgrims from entering Jerusalem.

In 1095, Pope Urban II promised the knights of Europe forgiveness of their sins if they went on a Crusade to win back Jerusalem for Christianity.

An army of knights and nobles captured Jerusalem in 1099. It was claimed that the Crusaders killed the Muslims until the streets ran with blood. The loss of Jerusalem was a terrible blow to the Muslims.

Over the next three centuries there were many more Crusades. The Crusaders failed to keep any of the territory they conquered, but they discovered many new things, including better castle design, gunpowder, science, medicine and numbers that were easier to use than Roman numerals.

Writers in the 1800s portrayed the Crusades as great romantic adventures. In fact, the Crusaders were invading a foreign country, and many Crusaders committed what we would regard today as criminal atrocities.
The Muslim realms

In the Middle Ages, medieval kings and knights from Christian countries mounted military expeditions called crusades to try to conquer the Holy Land and Jerusalem.

The Muslim religion was founded by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Arabia in the 600s. Its followers believed in the new religion, Islam, and the Muslim empire grew rapidly. By 732 Muslims had conquered most of the Middle East, North Africa and Spain.
It would be too simplistic to see the Crusades as an attack by powerful westerners on the Muslims of the Middle East. In fact, one historian has described the Crusades as "barely a pinprick" on the Muslim world.

The Muslim world was politically and militarily the greatest force on earth, much greater than the tiny kingdoms of Western Europe. It was also far more scientifically and culturally advanced.

Reasons for going on Crusade
In the 1000s, tension increased between Muslims and Christians:

  • In 1071, Muslim Turks defeated the army of the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert and Turkish nomads settled in the Christian Byzantine Empire. In 1095, the Emperor of Byzantium appealed to Pope Urban II for help. Pope Urban II asked the knights of Europe to go on a Crusade to win back Jerusalem for Christianity.

In the 1090s, the Muslim Turks made it harder for Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem.

  • An army of knights and nobles captured Jerusalem in 1099. It was claimed that the Crusaders killed the Muslims until the streets ran with blood. The loss of Jerusalem was a terrible blow to the Muslims. For them, Jerusalem was, and still is, the third holy city of Islam.

  • The Crusaders took over the two Muslim sacred buildings, the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. They deeply offended the Muslims by the way they behaved in them.macintosh hd:users:lauramitchell:desktop:018_bitesize_ks3_history_crusade_reasons_516.png

Christians in Spain began to move southwards and recapture lands that had once been Christian from the Muslims.

The historian Giles Constable says: "each participant made his own crusade". Some reasons for going were:

  • To obey the Pope's call.

  • To be forgiven for past sins. This was important for knights who had killed many people in battle.

  • To steal and kill. Kings encouraged violent knights to go on Crusade because it got them out of the country.

  • To see the world, have an adventure and prove their bravery.

  • To get land overseas. This was tempting for a younger son who would not inherit his father's lands.

  • Serfs joined the Crusades because the Pope promised them their freedom if they went.

Overview of the Crusades
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Historians disagree about what to include as 'the Crusades', but a sensible list would include:


First Crusade

First an army of peasants led by Peter the Hermit set off for the Holy Land. They were massacred by the Turks. An army of knights followed, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, which captured Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusaders massacred the Muslims until, it was said, the streets ran with blood.


Second Crusade

King Louis VII of France invaded the Holy Land, but was defeated at Damascus.


Third Crusade

In 1187, the Muslim ruler Saladin had recaptured Jerusalem. The Crusaders (who included King Richard I of England) captured the port of Acre. But they quarreled, and failed to capture Jerusalem. On the way home, Richard was kidnapped.


Fourth Crusade

The Pope wanted to unite western and eastern Christians under his authority. He diverted this Crusade, with the help of Venice, and captured Constantinople in 1204. Christians fought Christians.


Children's Crusade

An army of young people set off on Crusade. They were kidnapped and sold as slaves.


Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Crusades

All failed.


Battle of Nicopolis sometimes called the 'last' Crusade

An army of French and Hungarian knights was massacred. Some historians refer to it as the 'last' Crusade.


The Crusades failed, but they changed the western world.

Rather than defeating the Muslims, the Crusades provoked a Muslim backlash. In 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople and by 1529 had conquered south-eastern Europe, including Hungary, and were besieging Vienna.

However, the Crusades changed western Europe:

  • The Crusaders learned more about warfare – better castle design and gunpowder.

  • Muslim scholars taught European scholars many things about science and medicine. The number system they used (1, 2, 3, 4) was more straightforward than Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV) and made calculations easier to do. We still use this system today.

  • Western Europeans learned that the Muslim world stretched to India and traded with China. The Crusades taught them that the world was much bigger than they had thought.

  • Western Europeans learned about many things they had never seen before eg lemons, apricots, sugar, silk, cotton and spices used in cooking.

  • These goods were in great demand and became very expensive, especially as the Muslims charged merchants high duties to pass through their lands. One of the reasons Christopher Columbus discovered America was because he tried to avoid these duties by sailing west to India.

  • Not all the Crusaders went home after fighting the Muslims. Many of them who went to the Holy Land liked it so much that they stayed and adopted a Middle Eastern way of life, including using bathhouses and soap.


Western interpretations

In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders were seen as Christian heroes.

Writers in Britain in the 1800s, like Sir Walter Scott, produced a romantic, chivalric interpretation of the Crusades - a meeting of noble warriors on both sides who respected each other.

20th century writers, however, tended to condemn the Crusades as 'violent white colonialism' for which Christians needed to ask forgiveness.

Some historians have compared the attempts to conquer kingdoms in the Holy Land to the establishment of colonies by the British Empire in the 1800s.

In recent times, there has been a growing opinion that the Crusades were defensive – a reaction to Muslim aggression – and that they were not as violent as had been claimed.

Eastern interpretations

Muslim writers of the time condemned the Crusades. Many Muslim writers saw the Crusades as an unimportant event in their history until 1900 when the Ottoman Empire in Turkey got into difficulties. Muslim writers started to portray the Crusades as aggressive empire-building wars waged by western colonialists.

This opinion grew in the 20th century when France, Germany, Italy and Britain ruled many Middle Eastern states. Some feel that there is a 'legacy of bitterness' in Muslim countries against the Crusades. Osama bin Laden called the Americans 'Crusaders' in his speeches on the Internet.

Are YOU a Crusader?

  1. What is the ‘Holy Land’?

  2. What was the main reason for European knights going on a crusade in 1095?

  3. When was Jerusalem first captured?

  4. Why is the ‘Holy Land’ so important to the Muslim religion?

  5. During the Crusades how was the Muslim world describe as?

  6. Name 5 reasons why there was tension between the Muslims and Christians?

  7. Name three reasons that historian Giles Constable gave for individuals going on a Crusade

  8. Create your own timeline in your book about each Crusade given a brief overview of what occurred and what was achieved

  9. Name 5 ways in which the Crusades changed western Europe

  10. Explain in your own words how the West and the East each interpreted the Crusades

  11. Find the definitions for the following words: colonialism, Constantinople, massacre, nomads, Byzantine Empire, Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, Serfs,

  12. Write a paragraph of your interpretation of the Crusades. Do you think that it was a racist attempt to expand the British Empire or vicious embarrassing wars? A waste of resources or worthwhile?

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