Crusades in the Middle Ages

The Crusades in the middle ages were a series of wars that the Christians of Europe launched against the Saracens. Saracens was a term that the Crusaders used to describe a Muslim. The Crusades began in 1905 prompted by Pope Claremont’s declaration at the Council of Claremont, which called for Christians across Europe to wage a holy war against the Muslims.

His declaration prompted Christians all across Europe to attach crosses to their garments to denote that they were Christian knights or crusaders ready to take on the so-called infidels. There were eight crusades in total; the first four are known as the Principal Crusades while the remaining ones were Minor.

The primary cause of the crusades in the middle ages was conflict between the Muslims and Christians over the city of Jerusalem and the Holy shrines of Palestine. To the Christians, Jerusalem was significant to their religion and in particular, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre represented the place of crucifixion and death of Christ.

Pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a common thing for Christians even though Jerusalem was under the control of the Muslims. However, in 1095 the Seljuk Turks took over Jerusalem and prevented Christians from visiting the Holy Land for pilgrimage. The initial conflict that ensued saw the maltreatment of Christians who then were inspired to reclaim back the holy city of Jerusalem. 

First Crusade 1095–1099

Following the invasion of the Byzantine Empire by the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantine emperor Alexius I requested the western European countries for help. Later in 1095, Pope Urban II declared war against the Seljuk Turks by urging Christian to join in the war against the aggressors.

The pope equated the importance of this war to going on pilgrimage and he promised to absolve the sins of the Christian crusaders who went to war. The crusade army started in France and Italy and set off to Antioch on 15 August 1096. They succeeded to capture Antioch and Jerusalem in June 1099 in a bloody war in which they killed Muslims and damaged their places of worship.

Second Crusade 1147–1149

After the first crusade, Muslims and Christians lived side by side peacefully in the Holy Land but later, the Muslims took over Edessa town. Several priests including Bernard of Clairvaux called for a fresh crusade to capture back the town from the Muslims. The French (under King Louis VII) and the army of Southern Germany (under Conrad III) led this second crusade.

They were unsuccessful in their invasion of Jerusalem as Damascus fell under the control of the Muslims. The other leg of the second crusade was taking place within Europe where the crusaders were able to reclaim Lisbon from the Muslims. Others were successful in capturing the city of Tortosa in 1148.

Third Crusade 1187–1192

The Muslims endured infightings for a long time but Saladin united them into a single formidable state. The Byzantines also joined forces with Saladin, as they were scared of the crusaders. Following the Battle of Hastings, Saladin was able to seize Jerusalem. On October 29 1187, Pope Gregory VIII called for a third crusade to take back the holy city. Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Germany), King Philip II Augustus (France) and King Richard (England) set up a crusade.

Frederick died on the way to Jerusalem and King Philip went back to France before the battle was over. Richard seized Cyprus from the control of the Byzantine. He was also able to capture Acre and the city of Jaffa and even though Richard and other crusaders were so close to Jerusalem, Richard was unsure that he would be able to maintain control of the city, as most crusaders would go back to Europe. Richard negotiated a treaty with Saladin allowing Christians to travel to the Holy Land for pilgrimage.

Fourth Crusade 1202–1204

Pope Innocent III initiated the Fourth Crusade in 1202. His plan was to use Egypt to invade Jerusalem. The crusaders did not have the resources to cater for the transport and provisions they had hired from the Venetians thus they instead helped Doge Enrico Dandolo to bring calm to the revolting city of Zara.

The pope was unimpressed by this and thus excommunicated the crusaders. Instead of heading to Jerusalem, the crusaders headed to Constantinople where they tried to enthrone an exiled Byzantine. Because of infighting, the crusaders decided to sack the city and instead created a Latin Empire consisting of crusader cities. While the pope did not support the methods the crusaders used, he supported the getting together of the Western and Eastern churches.

Fifth crusade 1217–1221

The Church formulated other methods of taking back the Holy Land. The plan was two-fold; the first leg was a gathering of crusaders from Hungary and Austria who collaborated with the prince of Antioch and the King of Jerusalem to reclaim Jerusalem. The second leg saw crusaders succeed in the capture of the Egyptian city of Damietta in 1219.

They tried to lunch another attack in 1221 under the instructions of Pelagius, a legate of the Pope, but this was unsuccessful. The Egyptian ruler Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil attacked the crusaders who were attempting to go invade Jerusalem through Egypt; the crusaders suffered massive casualties and unsuccessfully surrendered. Europe signed a peace treaty with the Egyptian ruler, which lasted eight years.

Sixth Crusade 1228–1229

In 122, Pope Gregory IX excommunicated Emperor Frederick II who had repeatedly failed to establish a crusade. However, he sailed to the city of Acres from Brindisi where he entered into a peace agreement with the ruler of Egypt, Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil. This agreement enabled Christians to have control over a large part of Jerusalem including a strip of land from Acre to the holy city. Meanwhile Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock was allocated the Muslims.

Frederick declared himself King of Jerusalem upon the death of his wife Yolanda, who was the heir to the throne of Jerusalem. A majority of Muslims were unimpressed by Al-Kamil’s decision to give the Christians control of Jerusalem. They thus engaged in a battle with the Christian breaking the ten years of relative peace and in turn regaining control of Jerusalem.

Seventh Crusade 1248–1254

The Templars, a knight group of crusades who represented the interests of the pope, triggered a battle in 1243 with Egypt. The Egyptian forces invaded Jerusalem where they were met by the crusaders in Gaza. The crusader’s army was weak and was defeated in just under two days. Subsequently Louis IX of France set out to wage a crusader war against the Egyptians from 1248 to 1254. However, the crusaders were defeated on their way to Cairo and the Arabs captured King Louis who was only release after the French paid a large ransom.

Eighth Crusade 1270

In 1270, King Louis IX attempted to attack Tunis and his army was destroyed by diseases due to the hot climate of North Africa. The king died in battle and his death marked the end of the crusades.

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