After the death of Charlemagne in 814 and the eventual collapse of his empire, Europe was under attack and on the defensive. Nomadic people from Asia pillaged eastern and central Europe until the 10th century. Beginning about 800, several centuries of Viking raids disrupted life in northern Europe and even threatened Mediterranean cities. But the greatest threat came from the forces of Islam. Eventually these threats became real. Battles broke out and these battles turned to wars spanning from 1095 to 1229; all this over one city, Jerusalem, on country, Israel, one land, the Holy Land.

Islamic forces had already conquered North Africa, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and most of Spain by the 8th century. They also established bases in Italy, greatly reduced the size and power of the Byzantine Empire, and took over its capital, Constantinople. Islam was spreading even faster than the Islamic army was conquering. The five pillars of Islam appealed to many, as did the Koran and the founder of Islam, Muhammad. Eventually, Islam posed a threat of a rival culture and religion which seemed appealing and unstoppable. By the 11th century the balance of power began to swing toward the West.

The church became more centralized and stronger from a reform movement to end the practice of kings installing important clergy, such as bishops, in office. Popes were able to effectively unite European popular support behind them. This greatly contributed to the popular appeal of the first Crusades. Europe’s population was growing, its urban life was beginning to revive, and both long distance and local trade were gradually increasing. European human and economic resources could now support new enterprises on the scale of the Crusades. A growing population created more wealth therefore meant a greater demand for goods from elsewhere.

Thus worldly interests coincided with religious feelings about the Holy Land and so the crusades began. Pope Urban II, in a speech at Clermont in France in November 1095, called for a great Christian expedition to free Jerusalem from the Turks, a new Muslim power that had recently begun actively harassing peaceful Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. These factors were genuine causes, and at the same time, useful justifications for the pope’s call for a Crusade. As a result, Urban’s speech appealed to thousands of people of all classes. This started the First Crusade. The First Crusade was successful in freeing Jerusalem.

It also established a Western Christian military presence in the Near East that lasted for almost 200 years. The First Crusade attracted no European kings. They came primarily from the lands of French culture and language. These Crusaders faced many obstacles. They had no obvious or widely accepted leader, no relations with the churchmen who went with them, no definition of the pope’s role, and no agreement with the Byzantine emperor on whether they were his allies, servants, rivals, or perhaps enemies. These uncertainties divided the Crusaders into factions that did not always get along well with one another.

Some leaders who did show up were Robert of Flanders and Bohemond of Taranto of one group of Crusaders, while the other major groups were those of Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse. As the Crusaders marched east, they were joined by thousands of men and even women, ranging from petty knights and their families, to peasants seeking freedom from their ties to the manor. Many people with all sorts of motives and contributions joined the march. They followed local lords or well-known nobles or drifted eastward on their own, walking to a port town and then sailing to Constantinople.

Few people knew what to expect but they all had one goal, retake the Holy Land. They knew little about the Byzantine Empire or its religion, Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Few Crusaders even understood or had much sympathy for the Eastern Orthodox religion, which did not recognize the pope, used the Greek language rather than Latin, and had very different forms of art and architecture. They knew even less about Islam or Muslim life. For some the First Crusade became an excuse to unleash savage attacks in the name of Christianity on Jewish communities controlling the Holy Land.

The leaders met at Constantinople and chose to cross on foot the dangerous landscape of what is now Turkey, rather than going by sea. Somehow, despite this questionable decision, the original forces of perhaps 25,000 to 30,000 still survived in sufficient numbers to overcome the Muslim states and principalities of what are now Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. The Islamic rulers failed to anticipate the effectiveness of the enemy. They exploited this, taking the key city of Antioch in June 1098, under the lead of Bohemond of Taranto.

The siege of Jerusalem culminated the first crusade in a bloody and destructive Christian victory in July 1099, in which many of the inhabitants were massacred. Un fortunately with victory came new problems. Many Crusaders saw the taking of Jerusalem as the goal; they were ready to go home. Others saw the next step as the creation of a permanent Christian presence in the Holy Land. They looked to build feudal states like those of the West. They hoped to transplant their military culture and to carve out fortunes on the new frontier. Basically the Crusaders recognized the Holy Land’s riches.

They saw such states as the way to protect the routes to the Holy Land and its Christian sites. As a result the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, first under Godfrey of Bouillon, was established along with three other Crusader states, the County of Tripoli, in modern Lebanon; the Principality of Antioch, in modern Syria; and the County of Edessa, in modern northern Syria and southern Turkey. The next two crusades illustrated the tensions and problems that plagued the enterprise as a whole. For the lords a compromise with the residents and Muslim powers made sense; they could not live in constant warfare.

There is little reason to think that colonization had been anticipated or encouraged by the pope, let alone by the Byzantine emperor; however, it seems a logical consequence of the Crusade’s success. Nobles maintained links with their families at home, and they built lives and careers that spanned the Mediterranean. In the towns and countryside, daily life in the region did not alter greatly; one military master was much like another. Christian lords had no plan for mass conversion of the natives. They wanted to maintain their privileged position and to enjoy the lives of European nobles in a new setting.

As they settled in, they gradually lost interest in any papal efforts at raising new military expeditions. To the rulers of Muslim states a concerted military effort was necessary. The luck that had enabled the Crusaders to triumph in 1099 evaporated in the face of such realities as the need to recruit and maintain soldiers who were loyal and effective. Islamic rulers turned almost at once to the offensive, though a major blow to Christian power did not come until 1144, when the Muslims recaptured Edessa, on the Euphrates River. This loss marked the beginning of the end of a viable Christian military bastion against Islam.

The News of the fall of Edessa echoed throughout Europe and Pope Eugenius III called the Second Crusade. Though the enthusiasm of 1095 was never again matched, a number of major figures joined the Second Crusade, including Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III and France’s King Louis VII. Conrad made the mistake of choosing the land route from Constantinople to the Holy Land and his army was decimated at Dorylaeum in Asia Minor. The French army was more fortunate, but it also suffered serious casualties during the journey, and only part of the original force reached Jerusalem in 1148.

In consultation with King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and his nobles, the Crusaders decided to attack Damascus in July. The expedition failed to take the city, and shortly after the collapse of this attack, the French king and the remains of his army returned home. After the failure of the Second Crusade, it was not easy to see where future developments would lead. In the 1120s and 1130s the Military Religious Orders had been created to further the Crusading ideal by combining spirituality with the martial ideas of knighthood and chivalry. Men who joined the orders took vows of chastity and obedience patterned after those of monasticism.

At the same time they were professional soldiers, willing to spend long periods in the East. The most famous were the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, called Hospitalers, and the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, called Templars. These groups sent men to protect Christian pilgrims and settlements in the east. This meant that the rulers did not have to depend only on the huge but wayward armies led by princes. These orders of Crusading knights tried to mediate between the Church’s concerns and the more worldly interests of princes who saw the East as an extension of their own ambitions and dynastic policies.

Eventually after the Second Crusade these orders began steadily to gain popularity and support. As they attracted men and wealth, and as the Crusading movement became part of the extended politics of Western Europe, the orders themselves became players in European politics. They established chapters throughout the West, both as recruiting bases and as a means to funnel money to the East; they built and fortified great castles; they sat on the councils of princes; and they too became rich and entrenched. In 1187, Saladin inflicted a major defeat on a combined army at Hattin and subsequently took Jerusalem.

In response to the Church’s call for a new, major Crusade, three Western rulers undertook to lead their forces in person. Richard I, the Lion-Hearted of England, Philip II of France, and Frederick I, called Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. Known as the Third Crusade, it has become perhaps the most famous of all Crusades other than the First Crusade, though its role in legend and literature (Robin Hood) greatly outweighs its success or value. The three rulers were rivals but they served their role of king well. Richard and Philip had long been in conflict over the English holdings in France.

Though English kings had inherited great fiefs in France, their homage to the French king was a constant source of trouble. Philip II had been spurred into taking up the Crusade by a need to match his rivals, and he returned home in 1191 with little concern for Eastern glories. But Richard, a great soldier, saw an opportunity to campaign in the field, to establish links with the local nobility, and to speak as the voice of the Crusader states. Though he gained much glory, the Crusaders were unable to recapture Jerusalem or much of the former territory of the Latin Kingdom.

They did succeed, however, in wrestling from Saladin control of a chain of cities along the Mediterranean coast. By October 1192, when Richard finally left the Holy Land, the Latin Kingdom had been reconstituted. Smaller than the original kingdom and considerably weaker militarily and economically, the second kingdom lasted for another century. In conclusion, the crusades were a very important part of European history that really affects the world. These people fought for what they believed in and, maybe, if they had not fought for what they believed in, we would practice Islam instead of Christianity.

Though many people lost their lives and times were tough, balance of power was up for grabs, and it went on for so long, the crusades were fought over the Holy Land to preserve and protect the aspects of each side’s religion. These first three crusades show, the best, how important they were to everyone and how they could have affected the world today. In the end I tried to summarize but also try to give points that most people did not know about the crusades that make them significant, important, and needed to understand how these people can fight over something like this land, The Holy Land.

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