The city of Jerusalem was the center of faith for three major world religions. For the Jews it was their homeland. It had been promised to them by Jehovah, who they believed had covenanted with Abraham to give him the land of Israel. To the Muslims, Jerusalem was the location where the Prophet Muhammad had ascended into heaven. After Makkah, and Medinah, Jerusalem was Islam’s third most holy city. To the Christians, Jerusalem was both the location of Christ’s birth and the location of his death.
Jerusalem was conquered by Islam in the 600s CE and would remain in their control for many centuries to come. In 1095, Pope Urban II called for volunteers to travel to Jerusalem and fight to take it back from the Muslims. He called their mission a crusade. The word “crusade” comes from the word Crux, which means “cross” in Latin. Those who volunteered for the crusade would be called crusaders, meaning that they took the cross of Jesus upon them. These crusaders were promised that they would receive eternal life if they died while fighting non-Christians. As a result of the rhetoric these Christians killed thousands of non-Christians, including Jews and Muslims, as they traveled to Jerusalem. In some cases they slaughtered entire Jewish communities.
People were so enthusiastic that several groups set off for Jerusalem. While the nobles were planning their crusade, the peasants grew restless and organized their own crusade. Thousands of peasants from France and Germany set out for Constantinople. They believed that God would just knock down the walls of Jerusalem anyway as soon as they got there, so there was no need for fighting or weapons. Some of them didn't even take any money. Most of these groups found that traveling and fighting were harder than they had imagined, and most of them died on the way. One group decided it was too hard to get to Jerusalem to fight the Muslims, and instead stopped in Germany to fight the Jews. Thousands of Jews were robbed and killed by these Crusaders, just because they were not Christians.
Finally in the fall of 1096 the main Crusade left for Jerusalem. They went by different routes, some by land and some by sea, to Constantinople. By the time the Peasant’s Crusade reached Constantinople, they lost one third of their members. Here the Emperor Alexius was quite surprised to see them and not altogether pleased. He expected trained soldiers, not peasants. The emperor gave them supplies and sent them to Asia Minor to fight the Turks. The peasant army was almost completely wiped out by Turkish bowmen.
This “Nobles Crusade” would be the first of nine total crusades that Christians would carry out as they attempted to control Jerusalem. When the Crusaders reached Jerusalem in May, 1098, they were surprised to see all the civilized things in the city of Jerusalem - mosques, and hot baths, and advanced medicine. By 1097, the nobles finally set out on their crusade. Approximately, 30,000 crusaders arrived in Asia Minor and defeated the Turks. After two years of traveling in the desert, the crusaders finally reached Jerusalem. They laid siege upon the city, surrounding it for two months. Finally the city fell and the crusaders entered, killing almost all of the non-Christians who inhabited the city, including men, women and children. The Crusaders managed to take Jerusalem, as well as some other important cities along the Mediterranean coast. They settled down there as the kings of Jerusalem, in their own new country. So the First Crusade was a big success for the Europeans, and a setback for the Muslims.
Eight more crusades would follow, in an effort to keep control of the city in the hands of the Europeans. The fall of Jerusalem sent a wave of fury throughout Europe. Pope Gregory VIII declared a third crusade – The Crusade of Kings. The kings of Europe, realizing that Saladin could not be dealt by only one or two armies, allied themselves to take revenge. Many European kings took part including Richard the Lion-heart, Frederick Barbarossa, Philip II, and King Guy de Lusignan. All the crusaders achieved was the capture of the city of Acre which was only conquered after a siege of two years and the death of about one million and twenty thousand crusaders. When the city was finally acquired, a treaty was signed in which the Muslims had to pay 200,000 gold coins within one month and the Holy Cross was to be returned to the crusaders. Otherwise, the 2,700 captives inside the city (who were to be released if the payment was fulfilled) would become slaves. However, since Saladin could not pay the price because the distances were far between Muslim lands and he did not have enough resources to pay it, the Muslims were all massacred.
Other crusades include the Children's Crusade that took place in 1212 CE. A French boy, speaking in the manner of Peter the Hermit, lead several thousands of his young followers. The young crusaders arrived at Marseilles, expecting the water for them to open so that they could walk to the Holy Land. However, most of the crusaders were sold to slave dealers by merchants. This crusade was a great embarrassment to the Church.
Another crusade, the Fourth Crusade (also known as the Sack of Constantinople) that took place in 1204 CE was a total failure. Instead of fighting the Muslims to get Jerusalem, they ended up fighting themselves. They sacked the city of Constantinople and did a great amount of looting in it.
The history of the crusades is filled with the mercilessness of the crusaders and the kind-heartedness of the Muslims. The Muslims were massacred everywhere the crusaders arrived, while the Christians were treated kindly by the Muslims. The crusaders achieved the main purpose of the crusades and kept Jerusalem for a while. But the spirit of the people seen before the first crusade took place was never matched again. Later all of the cities taken by the Christians were to be taken back by the Muslims. In short, the crusades acquired what they wanted for a short while, but then lost all of it to the Muslims and instead made one another an enemy.