The Crusades a History with Pictures

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The Crusades – a History with Pictures
Jerusalem has been a special city for three religions- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Jews, it was the city where King David ruled and where the great Temple had stood. For Christians, it was the city where Jesus had lived, preached, and been crucified. For followers of Islam (Muslims) it was where their leader, Mohammed, ascended into heaven for his "night flights with Allah". The city was full of people from all three religions who lived there in peace. Visitors came by the thousands from all over the western world to visit the holy places in Jerusalem.
    Suddenly, in 1071 AD, a group of Muslims ,called Seljuk Turks, stopped allowing Christian visitors to come into Jerusalem at all .

Many Christians complained to the church in Rome.

Twenty four years later, on November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II spoke to a Christian audience in Clermont, France urging his listeners to free the Holy Land (Jerusalem, Israel, and the areas around them) from the Muslim Turks. His words were strong and powerful : " Jerusalem is now held captive by the enemies of Christ, those who do not know God, the heathen (non Christians). Jerusalem wants to be free and begs you to come help! Who will take up this work, who will right these wrongs, who will recover this territory, if you won't ?"

    After Pope Urban's speech a visiting monk reported that the crowd shouted out "God wills it! God wills it!" They began preparing for war, Holy war. 

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 This was actually the first of eight wars that Europeans fought to free the Holy Land from Muslims. These wars, called the Crusades, were fought in the period between 1096 and 1270. Four of the eight crusades involved Europeans in major warfare. 

Click here to see the CRUSADES MAP

    Those who fought were called the crusaders, because they promised to, "Take up the cross" (which means that they would go to war wearing a cross on their armor or shield as warriors for Christ).

  The Christians' Motives 

    Pope Urban had two reasons for sending western Europeans to war. The first was that Christians in the Byzantine Empire needed extra protection against the Muslim Seljuk Turks.  But the more important reason for beginning the crusades was to free the Holy Land from the Muslim infidels ( people who did not believe in Christianity), who were preventing Christians from visiting the holy land.

    Historians believe that 30,000 crusaders left Western Europe to fight in the first crusade. About 4,000 of those were knights, who were happy to try out their fighting skills. The rest of the crusaders were foot soldiers, archers (soldiers with bows and arrows), and cooks. Women and priests also traveled with the men in the army.

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    Peasants had several good reasons for going on the crusade. One reason was that the church promised immediate salvation in heaven to anyone killed while helping to recover the Holy Land for Christians. A second reason was that a peasant would not have to pay his rent to his lord while on a crusade. Third, the crusades also offered peasants an adventure.

The March to Jerusalem
    Traveling by foot and on horseback, the crusaders first went to the important city of Constantinople 
(the capital of the Byzantine Empire) .

The Byzantine emperor's daughter saw the thousands of crusaders who arrived in her city and wrote that they were " full of enthusiasm and they filled every highway…like streams from all directions, joining a river, they flowed forward at us in full force."

    From Constantinople the crusaders marched to Nicaea, the Muslim Seljuk Turk capitol,conquering it in June 1097. Then they went eastward across Turkey.  In 1098, they established the first of their crusader states.

The Crusader States

    Crusader states were small areas of land that were ruled like their countries in Europe. The crusaders chose Kings of these states, though these kings had no more power than a  lord.

 The crusades continued towards the Holy Land. In July 1099, the crusaders reached Jerusalem. 

   After a long and difficult seige, the crusaders entered the city and slaughtered its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants and made the city the capital of another crusader state.

Now the crusaders controlled a narrow strip of land about 500 miles long but only about 50 miles wide. This left them open to continued attacks from Muslim forces along the outer strip . They built huge castles on the eastern border to better defend against these attacks. Knights lived in these castles.

The Christians had regained the Holy Land. Visitors coming to worship at the holy places (called pilgrims) could come again to Jerusalem.

   Many crusaders stayed in Israel (called Palestine) as well as in the nearby land of Syria, enjoying their power as well as the climate, the tasty foods and spices, and the artistic culture and learning . Many crusaders married eastern women and raised families . There was a great deal to appreciate about this eastern part of their world. 

A Christian bishop, Fulcher of Chartres, wrote: "Now we who were westerners have become easterners. He who was Italian or French has in this land become a Galilean or Palestinian."

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But Christian crusaders could not hold on to their power. During the 1140s, about 40 years after the first crusade, the Muslims began to overpower the crusader states.

The Christian church urged the people to start the battle again.

The Second Crusade,  which lasted from 1147 to 1149, was unsuccessful. Instead of fighting against the Muslims, the armies of King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany fought among themselves.
    Then Muslims almost wiped out the crusader army in Turkey. The small number of men that did make it to the Holy Land could not manage to live peacefully with the Christian lords who had been there for many years now. There was fear that the newcomers would attempt to set up a new government and leave them with nothing. While the crusaders argued among themselves, the Muslims continued to recapture lands.

Saladin's Rise to Power

     In the late 1100s, Saladin was the leader of the Muslim forces. Saladin had been just a young Muslim schoolboy in Damascus,Syria when the Christian knights attacked his city during the Second Crusade. But Saladin, whose name means "Honoring the faith," would become a powerful force in the worldof Islam , the greatest leader against the Christian crusaders.As a young man Saladin served in the army of Syria, a country to the east of the crusader states. When the Syrian army took control of Egypt, south of the Holy Land, the caliph ( the governor of an Islamic country) gave Saladin the job of running the government.Because he was a strong leader, Saladin was able to unite the many small Islamic groups surrounding the crusader states. He became the supreme leader of both Egypt and Syria in 1171.

The Horns of Hattin

    Saladin led the Muslims in an attack against Tiberias, the capital city of one of the crusader states near the sea of Galilee. Knights of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the southernmost crusader state, headed north to free Tiberias from Saladin. Christians and Muslims met in a decisive battle in July 1187.

 The crusader army of about 20,000  included 1,200 knights in full armor and chain mail. It was exhausted from marching all day in the desert. So six miles from Tiberias the crusaders camped in a small valley between two mountain peaks called the Horns of Hattin . During the night several thousand of the Muslim cavalry (soldiers on horses) surrounded the crusaders. Page300 in text

Just before dawn, the Muslims set fire to the dry grass on the hillside that surrounded the valley, and wind blew the flames into the valley where the crusaders were camped. The Muslims charged behind the flames, circling the crusaders.

After the fire died down, the Muslim army finished the work of destruction. Few of the crusaders remained alive. Most of the crusader foot soldiers were sold into slavery. So many crusaders were on sale in the slave market that eventually a crusader could be sold for the price of a shoe.

  Saladin had completely defeated the crusaders.He considered them to be infidels of Islam. With no one left to stop him, Saladin retook Jerusalem, the Muslims' holy city.

The Crusade of Kings

    When news reached the pope in Europe that Jerusalem was again in Muslim hands, he is said to have died of grief. His successor, Pope Gregory VIII, called for a Third Crusade, which came to be called the Crusade of Kings.

    Three kings came to fight : Emperor Frederick I of Germany, King Richard I of England, and King Philip II of France. In 1189, these kings and their armies began preparations to regain Jerusalem from Saladin and the Muslims.

  From the beginning, this crusade went badly. The 70-year-old Fredrick 

drowned in 1190 while swimming across a river in Turkey. Most of Frederick's army was so discouraged that they returned to Europe.

 Richard, who would later be nicknamed " The Lion Heart," 
was a military genius famous for his great courage in battle. But he had an unstable character- generous one moment and violent the next.

Philip, a skilled politician, was no warrior, 

but he was an expert in planning sieges ( how to surround and attack cities and castles).

In April 1191, Phillip began a siege of Acre, an important city on the coast. 


Richard arrived to help Phillip in June. 

The following month, the Muslims surrendered and Phillip headed back to France. 

After staying in Acre for a few weeks, Richard became impatient when plans for peace with Saladin were going slowly. Richard ordered the throats to be cut of all 2,700 Muslim prisoners within the city's walls.

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Richard and Saladin

    During the next year, Richard and Saladin fought many battles. Richard regained some territories but failed to regain Jerusalem. Each leader made various peace proposals, and in September 1192, the two leaders signed a five-year treaty. Under this treaty, the crusaders could keep their cities along the coast from Jaffa north, and pilgrims could once again freely visit the holy land.

 According to one writer, Richard sent word to Saladin that he had agreed to a treaty so that he could, "go back to his country (England), collect more money and men and return and take all of Jerusalem away from Saladin". Saladin replied that he "thought Richard so pleasant and upright", that if he must lose Jerusalem, he would rather lose it to Richard's mighty power than anyone else's.

The Fourth Crusade
     In 1198, Pope Innocent III asked for a 4th crusade.

However,this crusade would prove to be disastrous to the Byzantine Empire. 

    In this fourth crusade, the crusaders decided to go to the Holy Land by sailing the Mediterranean Sea rather than by land. 

But the crusaders needed money, a lot of money . The ruler and the bankers in the city of Venice made a deal to provide the crusaders with ships and supplies in return for a share of the riches that the crusaders found. The crusaders continued on to Constantinople now in debt to the Venetian bankers . There, in 1204, the ruler of Venice persuaded the crusaders to attack Constantinople and put a new Emperor in charge of the Byzantine Empire. He also promised the crusaders they could have all the treasures and riches they could find in the city.

For three terrible days, the crusaders burned libraries, looted churches, and stole many valuable works of art,  jewels, and gold.They then shipped their stolen goods to Venice to finish paying off their debt. Later historians have referred to this as
"the sack of Constantinople." In the selection below, you can read an eyewitness record .

  "How shall I begin to tell of the deeds done by these wicked men? They trampled the images underfoot instead of adoring them. They threw the relics of the martyrs into filth…. They broke into bits the sacred altar of Santa Sophia, and distributed it among the soldiers. When the sacred vessels and the silver and gold ornaments were to be carried off, they brought up mules and saddle horses inside the church itself."

    The spirit of the crusades had been lost. Very few crusaders ever made it to the Holy Land. The  "enthusiasm "  seen in the first crusades had been replaced by a hunger for wealth.

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    Since these holy wars did not achieve their purpose, they may be judged as having ended in failure for several reasons . First, Jerusalem, considered the "center of the earth" for Christians, remained in the Muslims' control. Second, Constantinople, the jewel of the Byzantine Empire, was vandalized. Third, people lost respect for the crusaders because of the abuses of innocent people by the knights of the Fourth Crusade.

         Fourth, in Europe, the crusades proved to be a particular disaster for one group-the Jews. Crusaders considered both Jews and Muslims to be infidels ( people who did not believe in Christianity). So as the crusaders traveled across Europe towards Jerusalem, they took every opportunity to persecute both the western and eastern Jews. They robbed them, killed them, tortured them, and destroyed their businesses and their homes without mercy, simply because they were Jews.
    In a number of ways though, Western Europe did benefit from the crusades.  Because the Byzantines and the Muslims had carefully copied ancient writings, the crusaders were able to bring these Roman and Greek writings back to Europe. This knowledge spread a new interest in literature and art over Europe.
Since many of the crusaders brought back valuable goods like spices, gold, silver, silk and religious art stolen from Muslim, Jewish, or even Christian  cities, people began to desire these things more and a rich trade developed to get them.

European cities such as Venice and Genoa in Italy became very wealthy and powerful because of the increased trade in the  Mediterranean with eastern countries.

    The third major effect was improved technology. Crusaders learned how to make better ships and more accurate maps. They began to use magnetic compasses to tell different directions. These crusades would lead to even greater adventures. After fighting for nearly 200 years for control of the Holy Land, Europeans finally left the area to the Muslims. Europeans in the 1400s would begin to explore other parts of the world- Africa, the Far East, and the land that would be called America.

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