The Crusades – Evan Margiotta

The Crusades, in short, were a series of militant movements by the Roman Catholic Church in order to expand Christian power and gain presence in the holy land, especially Jerusalem. However, per norm, they were much more complicated than this. The idea of the Crusades likely came to be for many  reasons which I will discuss now. First, the obvious cause. In 1071, the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine empire at the battle of Manzikirt, and going on to control much of present day turkey. This resulted in years of unrest and civil war in the Byzantine empire. After 10 years, in 1081, General Alexis Comnenus took control of the Byzantine empire. In 1095 after failure to succeed in resisting Turkish advance, Comnenus sent envoys to ask for help from Pope Urban II to confront  the Turks. This leads into several underlying reasons for the Pope’s acceptance. Of these the most important reason is confronting Islamic expansionism. Comnenus’ request gave the Pope a long waited for reason to start a holy war against the ever expanding islamic influence. National support for anti-Islamic movement was high. The Turks who invaded the Byzantines were Muslim. Tensions between Muslims and Christians changed a lot during this time, and often led to violence. Another reason for the Popes acceptance was that the people of the Roman Catholic Empire were likely to act even without the Pope’s consent. Even with the Pope’s acceptance, several organized  band of knights and commoners under leadership of several leaders including Peter the Hermit and Count Emicho were formed without the consent of any nation. They had already crossed the  Bosphorus into Turkish territory in August of 1096 when the four main armies of the Crusades were meant to depart for Constantinople.

The First Crusade lasted until 1099, when the combined Christian forces under command of Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois and Bohemond of Tarantom captured Jerusalem. The people’s crusades, mentioned earlier were destroyed by the Turkish forces. The main army of the crusades took the city of Nicaea in June of 1097, soon after defeating the main Turkish force in Dorylaeum. They marched from there to the city of Antioch which, after a six month long siege, they finally captured in June of the following year. The crusaders arrived in Jerusalem on June 7 1099. The crusaders built three massive siege towers to take the walls of the Jerusalem. The city fell on July 14, and the crusader army killed tens of thousands of its occupants. Only a few weeks later and Egyption army marched upon the city, but were repelled. This was the end of real Muslim resistance for almost 50 years. Having achieving the goal of capturing Jerusalem the victorious leaders established four large Crusader States.

The Second Crusade was a devastating loss to the Christians. Muslim forces under the leadership of General Zangi captured the northernmost Crusader State in 1147, which led King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany to call for a Second crusade. The German’s were destroyed at Dorylaeum in October, sight of a decisive Christian victory in the First Crusade. Louis and Conrad then called for an attack on Muslim controlled city of Damascus in Syria, but were again defeated by the unexpected arrival by additional Muslim forces led by General Zangi’s successor Nur al-Din. Nur al-Din went on to annex Damascus into the expanding Muslim empire.

Nur al-Din died in 1174, to be replaced by his nephew, Saladin. Saladin increased aggression against the Christians in Egypt further expanding Muslim territory and went on to recapture Jerusalem in 1187. Saladin’s expansionism sparked the Third Crusade led by King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England. There forces went on to defeat Saladin’s in September of 1191, which would be the only battle of the Third Crusade. King Richard and Saladin signed a treaty returning Jerusalem back to Christian control.

Internal struggle in the Christian states strengthened growing tensions between the Byzantine Empire and Europe. The fourth crusade attempted to establish a puppet emperor in the Byzantine Empire who would submit the Byzantine empire to Rome, but failed when their puppet emperor, Alexius IV was killed in protest to his submission of their church to Roman Catholic rule. Instead the crusaders captured and looted the Byzantine capital of Constantinople in 1204.

The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth crusades returned their attention to Muslims in the Holy Land. All four of the Crusades were easily repelled by the Mamluks, a growing Islamic Dynasty that gained control over several Islamic states and Jerusalem in the 13th century after a slave revolt put Mamluk, a former slave of the sultan into power in Egypt. However the Muslims victory over the Christians was short lived when the expanding Mongol empire reached the Holy Land in 1260.At the time the Mongols controlled an area of nearly 13 million square miles, approximately 22.29% of the world’s land area, expanding from the Pacific Ocean to modern day Ukraine in the Northwest and the edge of the Holy Land in the Southwest. Under the rule of the descendants of Genghis Khan, the Mongol empire had united all of Asia and was set to lay siege to all of Europe. The Muslims managed to halt the Mongol advance in 1260, but were faced again from the threat of the Christians, who sensing Muslim weakness launched another Crusade which was abruptly stopped when King Louis IX was killed in North Africa. The Muslims stood firm against the Mongols and Christians, defeating the Mongols in 1281, ending their western prospects and capturing the final crusader state in 1290. After that the Church only organized minor crusades, with limited goals that did not succeed in regaining  any territory. The crusades stopped for good with the rise of reformation in the 16th century.

In reflection the Crusades were mostly a failure for the Christians. The First Crusade was the only successful Crusade, which was probably because of public backing and Byzantine supplies. The Christians can be possibly be understood as seeing the Crusades only a defensive measure against Muslim influence. The Muslims can be understood as seeing their resistance to the Crusades as only defending the holy land. Their was very little chance for peace between the two sides as both believed they had divine right to the land they were in war over. Only decisive victory over one another could end the conflict. The Muslims control of the Holy Land and Jerusalem could had led them to further expand north into Europe if pressure from the Mongols had not have risked a potentially devastating attack on the Muslim heartland if Muslim armies and resources pushed to far North.

Crusades 1-4 map



2 thoughts on “The Crusades – Evan Margiotta

  1. This is a very interesting and widespread conflict, both through area and time. I truly did not know about half of the conflict. I think a conflict similar to this would have happened eventually due to constant tension between the Christian branches and the Islamic religion, but I think this was a huge series of events with drastic changes in how the world worked and was run as well as just stabilizing of empires. I’m not so sure if violence as such that that occurred in the Crusades really should have been supported by figures such as the Pope, as the Christian faith doesn’t really sponsor such militaristic and aggressive actions. A couple questions that I would pose for you are: Do you think something as violent and drawn out as the Crusades could occur in modern day, and if not a situation identical, something similar? Also, do you think the Crusades could have been a factor that created a lot of current day tension between the Christian and Muslim faiths? (PS please trade us China)


    • Thanks for your insight. I doubt something of the scale and magnitude of the Crusades could happen today. Even though religion still causes violence today, I don’t feel that any religion could have the influence or power to wage war against a religion as large and wide spread as Christianity or Islam. Both Christianity and Islam have both grown since the 13th century, and with that growth has come divisions within the religions. No religion, at least none as widespread as Christianity or Islam, could ever, as a whole, make war on another entire religion. This is also unlikely because the church and the state are now separated in countries most likely to declare war on one another. While religious leaders have power and influence they lack armies, funding, and manpower to provide for a war. Additionally, in the 13th century, one religion was usually the definite majority in a country, it was much easier to say that nations are Christian or Muslim or Jewish, but now, especially in the case of Christianity, religion is spread globally. Although Hitler tried, and luckily failed, it is virtually impossible to wage war on every nation that is primarily the religion being persecuted, or harbors people of that religion. Even ethnic religions, who are in one place will not likely wage war on each other because they are not seeking to convert the people around them or gain more power or land. I thing the closest thing we could see to the Crusades is what is going on now. Which is asymmetrical warfare/terrorism against another religion. Islamic fundamentalism has been the primary source of conflict in the world since the end of the clod war. However, the resistance they are receiving is not from religions, but from states. Most people that fight terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are not doing it for their religion, but for their nation or to protect themselves. On the matter of the Crusades leading to modern tensions between Christians and Muslims, I think its hard to say. I believe there is a lot of confusion surrounding the Crusades, at least in America, but in other parts of the world I feel it could very well be a factor in tensions between the Christians and Muslims. (PS your not getting China)

      Liked by 1 person

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