Why Did the Crusades Start
The Twelfth Century is one of the most exciting and fascinating periods in the History of Christianity. When I was a boy, the Crusaders were presented to me in history books and on film as great heroes undertaking great adventures. Today, under modern historical revision, the Crusaders are denigrated as war mongering imperialists who had no business in the Middle East. The Truth lies right in the middle.
The Holy Crusades were not an attack; they were a counterattack. Christians had set out to conquer lands that had been seized from them a few hundred years earlier by Muslims from Arabia, and the Muslim offensive was continuing. Rome had come under their assault three times; half of Spain had been taken; France, Greece, Sicily and Italy had been repeatedly attacked.
Modern readers who are not history buffs may not realize that all of Northern Africa, including Egypt; as well as modern Turkey, Syria, Armenia, and the Holy Land were Christian lands until the Arabian swarms attacked and established Islam by force. The Holy Crusades were a response to Muslim aggression.
Pope Urban Ii
Pope Urban II—tall, handsome, courteous and eloquent—called a church council to Clermont, France, November 27, 1095. In attendance were bishops, knights and peasants. The Byzantine Patriarch had begged for help to stop the Turks, who were advancing toward Constantinople in force. Urban proceeded to give one of the best sermons of all time.
The Turks had captured Jerusalem in 1076, and ever since had been robbing and murdering Christians living there. No one was safe, not even those making the most sacred pilgrimage to the Holy City. I will only quote part of the sermon:
"From the borders of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople evil tidings have come to my ears. An accursed race has invaded the lands of Christians and depopulated them by fire and steel. These Turks are raping, torturing and mutilating Christian women; have led away many Christians, as slaves, to their own country; they defecate on our most holy places and have torn down the churches of Christ. Who will avenge these wrongs? Take up your arms valiant sons and go!" The crowd rose as one and chanted, "God wills it!"
Christian pilgrims had been making the journey to the Holy Land in relative peace for 1,000 years before the Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) in 1071. Modern readers may not realize that these lands were populated entirely by Christians at the time. Rumors spread around Europe about the mistreatment of Christians, which made the kings, knights and peasants of France, Germany and Italy ripe to respond to Urban's call for what became the First Crusade (War of the Cross). This fight would go on for 200 years encompassing seven major Holy Crusades—and numerous minor ones.
The Peoples Crusade
Before the official First Crusade began, 40,000 people followed a hermit named Peter toward the Holy Land. They butchered some Jews along the way—possibly beginning the centuries of persecution of Jews in Europe as Christ Killers. The peasants only made it as far as Hungary, where they made such pests of themselves through pillaging that they were all killed.
Peter himself escaped, and led a new band that ransacked Belgrade and made it to Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor quickly sent them on to Asia Minor where they killed Muslims and Christians alike before being exterminated by the Turks.
The First Crusade (1096-1099) recaptured Jerusalem for Christendom. 12,000 starving, thirsty, and exhausted men, fresh from a 2,000 mile walk over three years—faced 60,000 well fed, well rested defenders behind 44 foot high walls; they regained the Holy City.
This stupendous victory, achieved after three days of fasting and prayer, was marred by the massacre of Jerusalem's 70,000 inhabitants. The next day, the Crusaders gathered in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to beg God for forgiveness for the slaughter of the innocents.
The Latin Crusaders of the West established a Kingdom in the Holy Land, but their conduct rendered reconciliation impossible with the Church of the East, the Orthodox Greeks. The Crusades also cemented the hatred between the Christians and Muslims that is still ever-present today.
The conduct of the Crusaders is as shocking now as it was then. On their way to the Holy Land they ravaged Bohemia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Byzantium. They started their violence by killing 8,000 Jews in Germany. Each and every port in which the navy stopped was devastated by their conduct. Murder and massacre—even amongst themselves—was common. Most Crusaders never made it home, although more of them died from disease and starvation than in battle.
Five thousand knights, with infantry and support personnel numbering 200,000, set out for the Holy Land. This was at great personal sacrifice for all but the vagabonds. Many of the wealthy ended up selling or mortgaging everything they had in order to purchase horses, weapons and provisions.
Most men left their farms, shops, and families behind. Some took their families with them, leaving their homes behind. Taking up the Cross (the words Crusade and Crusader had not yet been invented), was considered the highest duty of a European man. Only 40,000 out of the 200,000 made it to the Holy Land.
Constantinople dazzled the Crusaders. It was a magnificent city of 500,000 with stunning architecture and massive wealth. Paris, by comparison, only had a population of 30,000.
Their first major victory was scored by recapturing the city of Nicea; the city where the famous First Church Council had taken place in 325. The next major conquest was Antioch, Syria, which had been the first major Christian city a millennium before; where the Apostle Peter had been the first bishop.
The Muslims had taken the city only 12 years earlier. It was considered an impregnable fortress, with walls sixty feet high—and the Crusaders were outnumbered twelve to one. They bribed a Muslim guard into opening a city gate and in they charged. They then massacred the inhabitants. Soon a large army of Turks arrived, and the Crusaders found themselves besieged inside of the city.
Running out of food, the Crusaders resorted to drinking horse blood—and cannibalism in order to survive. After three days of fasting and prayer, eight hundred Christian knights charged out of the city and broke the siege. The Crusaders emerged with a miraculous victory.
When the First Crusade reconquered Jerusalem, they did not behave well. Afterwards, they all went home save the 2,300 left behind to defend Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s defense was put under the command of the newly crowned (Christmas Day, 1100) King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I. Still, all of Europe rejoiced that the Holy City was back in Christian hands.
Who Was El Cid
El Cid of Spain was a knight named Rodrigo Diaz, who died in Valencia in 1099. He is the national hero of Castile, and the forerunner of other national heroes such as William Wallace, the Braveheart of Scotland, and Joan of Arc of France. All European nations eventually made historical figures into national heroes.
The re-Christianization of Spain, known as the Reconquista, was an 800-year process. The population of northern Christian Spain grew at a much faster rate after 1000—than did southern Muslim Spain—largely because of immigration from France and Italy. In the north, agriculture boomed and new towns and monasteries sprung up. Even the key city of Toledo was recaptured by the Christians in 1085.
Unfortunately, African Almoravid Muslims, a devout warlike people who glorified jihad, soon invaded Spain. They not only hated Christians—they also hated the type of Muslims those in Spain had become. They viewed them as pleasure-lovers living in luxury with their poets, artists and musicians. To the Almoravids, the sultans of Spain lived in sin, with homosexuality, adultery, prostitution, and alcohol running rampant.
The Historian Gabriel Jackson, in his book The Making of Medieval Spain wrote: "Once cannot help but sensing among the literate ruling class a widespread boredom and cynicism, an appetite for novel sexual sensations, and a striving after verbal cleverness for its own sake."
The Almoravids conquered Muslim Spain, and took Valencia from the Christians. But soon there came from Africa another group of Muslims, an even stricter fundamentalist group known as the Almohads, who destroyed wine shops and brutalized unveiled women. In 1149, they attacked Spain and terrorized everybody—the Muslims, the Christians, and the Jews.
The Knights Templar was founded by Hugues de Payens in 1118 as a military organization to protect Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. These were monk warriors, known for spiritual purity as well as extraordinary fighting skills and valor. The Knights Templar were objects of admiration to Europeans; greatly feared by Muslims. They would one day number 20,000 members, including 2,000 knights.
The Knights Hospitaller began as a Benedictine organization, founded by one Brother Gerard, to care for poor, sick or injured Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. They built a hospital with a capacity of 2,000 patients in Jerusalem. Eventually, 8,000 of the Knights Hospitaller were soldiers.
The Second Crusade
The entire nobility of France participated in the Second Crusade under King Louis VII. St. Bernard went on tour through the heart of Europe to drum up support. He personally persuaded King Conrad III of Germany to commit his forces to the Second Crusade. Soon thereafter, the Jews were to be persecuted by Germans, supposedly upon rumors they had collaborated with the Muslims in the Holy Land.
Christmas Eve, 1144, found the Turks had reconquering Edessa amid yet another slaughter—a slaughter of Christian non-combatants by Muslims. A year later, Pope Eugene III called for another Crusade. Five armies—a much larger force than in the First Crusade—set out for the Holy Land.
A man named Zengi led the Turkish army in their conquering of Edessa. He was a sadistic savage, who frightened even his own men, and was known to crucify them if they so much as marched out of time. He taught that Muslims had a duty to conduct perpetual jihad—the taking up of arms against any and all non-Muslims.
The Second Crusaders reached Edessa, but were slaughtered by the Turks. The Crusaders regrouped in order to attack Damascus, where they lost again. They had expected the Byzantine army to help them, but this never materialized. In fact, it was discovered that the Byzantine Christians were secretly assisting the Muslims under a pact that they in turn would be left unbothered in Constantinople. The Byzantines also attacked some of the Crusaders as they tried to go home.
The Second Crusade achieved little outside the liberation of Lisbon, Portugal, from the Muslims, en route to the Holy Land. The survivors limped back home. Europe was devastated by this loss. It had believed that its heavily armored Knights were invincible, and the Muslims had learned that the Europeans could be driven out. They determined to cleanse the Middle East of all Christians.
The Twelfth Century was a time of renaissance in Europe. Paper-making first appeared in 1144, followed by an explosion of books, literacy and libraries. The Latin language was markedly improved. Law had begun to be systematized. Many authors turned to writing history. Translators blossomed, and books translated from Greek and Arabic spread. Prosperous cities emerged and Europe as a whole enjoyed a population boom. Universities were established, the most famous of which was at Bologna, Italy. Averroes of Cordoba, Spain (1126-1198), a Muslim scholar, sparked interest in studying Aristotle across the continent.The first known secret society was formed, the League of the Holy Court. A code of behavior gradually took shape, later known as chivalry.
The sources used for research include: The Christians by the Christian History Project (highly recommended); Europe by Norman Davies; The One Year Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten; A Short History of Christianity by Stephen Tomkins; and numerous internet sites.