“…a race absolutely alien to God…has invaded the land of the Christians..”1 Thus, spoke Pope Urban II on Tuesday November 20, 1095 of the old Julian calendar. The Crusades still fascinate us to this day; we write books about the period, and we view films about the crusades to this day. Although information on the era of the crusades are expansive, unless you are a historian or a history buff, watching anything that the History Channel has to offer, the most we know, we get from the movies. A simple search on the internet will yield over three million results. Let’s start at the beginning…
Pope Urban II’s world at the end of the first millennium
Baptized in 1035 in Châtillion-sur-Marne, in northern France, as Odo de Lagery, the future pope grew up in a world divided by bloody feudal battles and general lawlessness. After the decline and deterioration of the Roman Empire and the rise of the ‘barbarian’ peoples in Gaul, in the fifth and sixth centuries, the Visigoths, Avars, Lombards, battling for territory amongst themselves and the Franks, the region now known as France was ready for peace. By 800 CE as the Franks established dominance over the region and consolidated power under Charlemagne, the empire once again sunk into decay and decentralization by the end of the millennium. Urban’s Latin church was in no better shape, power struggles between the five patriarchates, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome2 claiming primacy over them all; left the Christian church divided and weak. Based on the claim that God empowered St. Peter to do God’s will on earth, that each Roman pope has an unbroken chain of succession; each Pope has the same apostolic authority instilled in St. Peter. In addition, Christ instilled in each pope the authority, refreshed and renewed as each pope took office. At the same time, feudal kings also believed that, by the divine grace, God, conferred to them their right to rule. With the Church struggling for power within itself, and struggling for power with the feudal lords, Urban II, saw an opportunity to unite both church and state under one flag.
Upon becoming Pope Urban II
Thomas Asbridge states in his book The First Crusade: A New History, that, “… virtually all bishops wielded a measure of political authority, being major landholders in possession of their own wealth and military forces.3 As each bishop gained power locally, the feudal lord of that region sought to limit their power and independence of their rule by appointing clergy within their realms that were beholding to that lord. Urban’s predecessor Pope Gregory VII took issue with this practice and stood up against it. Believing that the root of decay in the Latin Church came from the laity, Gregory fought a hard battle with the European lords for a separation of church and state. Gregory’s chief opponent, Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1085 to his abdication in 1105, 4 sought to disenfranchise the pope, convened the national council on January 1076 in Worms, Germany and promptly announced that Gregory forfeited his Papacy. In return, Gregory excommunicated Henry in February 1076 from the church and instructed the Kings’ subjects to renounce him. Gregory died in exile in southern Italy on May 25 1085 with his aspirations left unfulfilled.5 After the short papacy of Victor III5 and the expulsion of the antipope Clement III,6 a favorite of Pope Gregory VII, Odo, on March 12 1088, upon taking the office of Pope, he took the name Urban II. Urban, if not a skillful diplomat, was a tactful one, in the years after taking office, Urban, slowly and gradually began reforming the church, and restoring papal authority.7
A call for Holy War
In March 1095 at the Council of Piacenza, 8 envoys from Constantinople, capital of Greek Christian Empire of Byzantium, 9 requesting help on behalf of their master Alexios I Komnenos. The Byzantine Emperor, once excommunicated by Gregory VII, and then lifted by Urban II, although, not under immediate threat of destruction, complaining of invasion by the Seljuk Turks, requested help from Urban II. In the first fourteen years of his reign, had fought the Normans, and at other times, Komnenos worked with the Seljuk Turks to defeat the Pechenegs. Urban’s initial response for this call for help was to call upon, “many to promise, by taking an oath, to aid the emperor most faithfully as far as they were able against the pagans.”10 The call went unresponsive for a short time, while Urban was contemplating a preaching tour that would firmly establish papal authority, and he would make this tour where he had the home-court advantage, France. By November, while speaking in central France at Clermont, Pope Urban II gave the speech that would call together, European kings, clergy, and the general populace to forge a unifying mindset against an enemy seen as no less formidable than Satan himself. The speech, speech11 laid out with graphic detail a condition of savagery, and destruction that is desperate and is happening at that moment. However, that was not the only thing that incited the westerners to war, Urban promised them something, that every man, woman, and child desired in medieval Europe, salvation. With these words, “All who die by the way, whether by land or sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins, this I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”12 Pope Urban II started a war with the hopes of uniting the East and West, the Kings and Clergy, all under the rule of the Roman church.
The Real Deal
For about 400 years the Muslims, Christians, and Jews existed together in a balance of tension. Since the spread of Islam through the Holy Land, the Muslim rulers, allowed Jews and Christians to worship as they pleased. It was true that the Muslims had destroyed parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and it was true that pilgrims to the Holy Land were sometimes harassed. However, the images Pope Urban II evoked in his speech were simply embellishments to serve in, the Pope’s mind, a greater cause. In the Holy Lands, Kilij Arslan, the 17 year old Sultan of Nicaea, the setting for the first of many battles of the First Crusade, realizing that although the Sultanate under his rule, where still mostly Greeks and Byzantine churches out numbered Muslim mosques, by his subjects still looked upon as an outsider and a barbarian chieftain. As far as Arslan was concerned, upon hearing the word, of the coming Franj, the French Crusaders, realized that he would be fighting for his kingdom and his life, prepared for battle against the Franj.
The term crusade, comes from the French croisade, and Spanish cruzada, to the Medieval Latin word, crucaire, to take the cross.13 When Pope Urban II incited a Holy War against the Muslims, in his speech at Clermont; Urban justified his call to action, by a deep conviction that this war, was not only Roman, it was also Christian. Set forth by St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 CE) that a Just War consisted of three prerequisites that a legitimate authority proclaimed it, like a king or a bishop — must have a just cause, like the retaking of something stolen — and that they fight it with the right intentions, meaning without excessive bloodshed. The Holy Wars that we call the Crusades, was a series of battles that lasted just under 200 years, still have an impact on the world 1000 years later.
The First Crusade and Occupation
The First Crusade lasted from the time of Pope Urban’s call to arms in 1095 to 1099, and an occupation from 1100 – 1140 CE. A series of battles that saw both victory and defeat for both sides at different times, the First Crusade, started with the People’s Crusade led by Peter the Hermit, and Walter Sans Avoir (sometimes called “The Penniless”), who near Nicaea met by Kilij Arslan, and his troops and massacred by them. On a mission to seek help from Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, Peter the Hermit returned to the scene of the battle, and found his troops killed.14 The ultimate triumph of the crusaders at the fall of Jerusalem, and the failure of abiding by the tenets of a Just War — resulted in the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, with little regard to Muslim, Jew, or even Christians. Christians held the Holy Land for 40 years. The founding of the Kingdom of Jerusalem gave the crusaders the fortress upon which they could expand their reach until they held Palestine and a substantial part of Asia Minor. During this time, the Knights Templers established themselves along with the Knights Hospitallers of St. John, in the area as the protectors of the pilgrims and the defenders of the Holy Land.
The Second Crusade and the rise of Saladin
By 1144, with the Crusader states established in the County of Edessa, Principality of Antioch, County of Tripoli, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The County of Edessa the first state established, and the weakest was the first to fall back into the hands of the Muslims. Upon capture of Edessa “…and most of its inhabitants were slaughtered together with the Latin archbishop,”15 Pope Eugenius III, a disciple of Bernard of Clairvaux, after declaring in a papal bull giving absolution of sins of those who take up arms against the Muslims, commissioned Bernard to preach a second Crusade. The bull, directed at Louis VII of France, who was already planning his personal crusade, eventually took up the call, along with Conrad III of Germany, led the campaign of nobles in separate marches against the Turks. The Second Crusade lasted only two years, from 1147 to 1149, ending with both kings returning to their homelands by 1150. The time between the Second Crusade and the Third Crusade saw the rise of the Sultan Saladin. After the death of his uncle, Nur ad-Din Zangi, Saladin consolidates his power by taking his uncles widow, Ismat ad-Din, as his wife – took Damascus under his rule, then by 1183 captured and held Aleppo, Syria, and Egypt.
The Battle of Hattin and the Third Crusade
“Regard the Franj, behold with what obstinacy they fight for their religion while we the Muslims, show no enthusiasm for waging holy war.” -Salah Al-Din.16 On July 4, 1187, Saladin, defeated the Crusaders at the Battle of Hattin. Raynald of Châtillon, a French nobleman and Lord of Oultrejordain, Raynald, repeatedly broke treaties with Saladin. In 1186, Raynald attacked a large caravan passing through protected lands, breaking the truce with Saladin. King Guy of Jerusalem, reprimanded Raynald, unrepentant, replied that essentially he was lord of his own land. Sihab al-Din (1155 – 1191CE), a Muslim philosopher, described the meeting, “The king of the Franks was brought in, and the sultan asked him to sit down at his side. The king was very hot and thirsty, and the sultan gave him snow-covered water to drink, and the king of the Franks gave some of it to the prince Raynald, lord of Kerak. But the sultan said to him; ‘This damned man did not drink water with my permission, if it had been so he would be safe.'” Sihab al-Din continues, “The sultan then spoke to the prince and rebuked and scolded him for his breach of faith and his attempted attack against the two sacred famous cities. The sultan himself rose and with his own hand, he cut the prince’s neck. A violent fear seized the king of the Franks, but the sultan reassured him.” Saladin laid siege to, and captured Jerusalem in October of 1187, the Kingdom of Heaven came under Muslim rule. Historians note that Saladin did not massacre the populace, but ransomed them or sold them as slaves. Saladin allowed the Jews to resettle the city. With the fall of Jerusalem, Pope Gregory VIII, in October of 1187, issued a papal bull, calling for a Crusade to take Jerusalem back, offering indulgences and protection of property of those who heed the call. Responding to the call was Richard I of England, Phillip I of France, and Fredrick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. The Crusaders recover several cities from Saladin, but not Jerusalem. While on his way to Antioch, Fredrick drowned in the Saleph River, while bathing. Saladin died in 1193 after signing a treaty with Richard to allow Jerusalem to remain in Muslim hands, but allowing Christians pilgrims to enter the city.17
The Fourth and Fifth Crusade
Internal fighting in the Byzantine court left the empire bankrupt; Emperor Alexios III Angelos found that his enemies were not the surrounding Turks, but the Venetians. Alexios took the throne from his older brother Isaac while he was on a hunting trip, upon his return he blinded and imprisoned him in Constantinople. Pope Innocent III, almost immediately upon taking office, Innocent called for the Fourth Crusade with his intent to recapture the Holy Lands. Pope Innocent III lost control of the Crusade from the beginning, as troops rallied to attack Egypt, along with the Venetians to provide transport. However, Isaac escaped from Constantinople, and offered payment to the crusaders for help in regaining the throne. The Crusaders laid siege to Constantinople on July 11 1203 and quickly had the city under control. The Crusaders released Isaac from prison and along with his son; Alexios IV Angelos the Crusaders set them up as Emperors. Alexios, unable to repay the debt to the Crusaders, the people revolted and deposed Alexios at the end of January 1204, and by February 8 the people murdered Alexios. On April 19 1213, Pope Innocent convened the Fourth Council of the Lateran that took place in 1215. The council among several items confirmed the elevation of Fredrick II as Holy Roman Emperor, and the organization of the Fifth Crusade. Innocent died in 1216, and in 1217, Pope Honorius III started preparations for control of Damietta in northern Egypt. The thinking being that control of the port would mean control of the Nile.18 In 1219 Francis of Assisi, who attended the Fourth Lateran Council, crossed lines between the Crusaders and met with Sultan Melek-el-Kamel. Francis challenged Muslim scholars to a theological debate, failing to convert the Sultan to Christianity; however, the Sultan was so impressed with Francis, that he allowed him to preach to his subjects.19 In 1221, Melek-el-Kamel stopped the Crusaders at Cairo by opening dams and flooding the Nile. Melek-el-Kamel offered peace to the Crusaders, which lasted eight years.
The Sixth Crusade
Once again, church and state had been at odds each other, Pope Gregory IX, upon taking office in March of 1227, immediately called upon Fredrick II to sail to the Holy Land. Fredrick II had previously vowed several times to Crusade on behalf of the last Pope and failed to do so. In September, Fredrick set sail from Brindial; however, three days later returned claiming illness.20 Gregory excommunicated Fredrick on September 20, 1227. Fredrick eventually went to the Holy Land with a small army, however, his excommunication by the pope, meant all actions in the Holy Land were unsanctioned, and did not have Gregory’s blessing. In February of 1229, Fredrick and Sultan Melek-el-Kamel agreed to a 10-year peace, and through diplomacy alone, Fredrick regained Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, In March of that same year Fredrick claimed the crown of the King of Jerusalem based on his marriage to Isabella II of Jerusalem.
The Seventh Crusade
In 1244, Jerusalem reverted to Muslim control. In Europe, Fredrick II and the newest pope, Innocent the IV struggled for control, in 1245 during the First Council of Lyons, Innocent excommunicated Fredrick II and called for a new crusade against the “insolent Saracens.”21 This time, Louis IX of France, (later St. Louis) led the Crusade. Along with his brothers and their armies, attacking and winning the port at Damietta in 1249, Louis launched his Cairo campaign. During the march to Cairo, Louis lost to the Egyptians in the Battle of Fariskur and taken prisoner. On May 8 1250, after paying a ransom of 400,000 dinars and agreeing not to return to Egypt, Louis, his brothers and 12,000 prisoners left Egypt for Acre. The Templars loaned Louis the ransom. Louis’s grandson Philip IV of France on Friday 13 1307 arrested hundreds of Knights Templars in a ploy to disband the organization and the debt that he owed.22 Louis stayed in Acre, rebuilding other crusader cities, including Jaffa and Saida, leaving in 1254 returning to France.
The Eighth and Ninth Crusades
By 1265, the Mongols had started invading Muslim territories, Mamluk Sultan Baibars rose up to fight against both Mongols and Franj, seizing control of Nazareth, Antioch, and other cities. In 1270 Louis IX of France, now in his 50s returns to the Holy Lands to retake lands taken by Baibars. Louis lands at Tunis in July and by August dies of an illness. Upon hearing of Louis’s death, Baibars cancelled plans to attack Tunis, and went on to attack Tripoli. Louis’s brother Charles I of Sicily and the future King of England, Edward I (Longshanks), accompanied Louis and upon his death changed course and in 1271 went on to Acre. Edward tried to form an alliance, with the Mongols, as Louis had attempted in the Seventh Crusade. Baibars agreed to a ten year-truce with the Crusaders in May 1272, and Edward along with his troops left in September of that year. In 1277, Baibars attacked the Sultanate of Rûm in Anatolia now in the hands of the Mongols, unable to hold any conquered territories, he withdrew south to Damascus in Syria where he died in September. The Ninth Crusade was the last official Crusade to the Holy Lands; other Crusades persisted in other lands against other peoples.
The Fall of Acre and Ruad
By the end of the 13th century, the Crusaders lost all but Acre, and the Templar stronghold Ruad, a mile off the coast of Tortosa. In 1290, Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil marched on Acre and in April 1291 laid siege to the fortress. On the morning of May 18, the Sultan launched a massive attack on the city, and by nightfall most of the city except for the Templar headquarters was in the hands of the Muslims. After much bloodshed, on May 28 Acre the final tower collapsed. Al-Ashraf Khalil’s enemies assassinated him in December of 1293.23 After the fall of Acre, the Knights Templar retreated to the garrison on Ruad. In 1302 after surrounded by a fleet of 16 ships, the garrison resisted until faced with starvation, Brother Hugh of Dampierre, went to negotiate with the Mamalukes a surrender, they agreed, but recanted and killed or took the Templars prisoner.
With the Templars return to Europe, by 1305 Pope Clement V suggesting that the Hospitallers and Templars combine and form one group. Pope Clement, in league with Phillip IV of France, in 1307 arrested the Knights Templar and eventually dissolved the order. This alliance between Pope and King went directly against Pope Gregory VII and Pope Urban II issue with the investiture of clergy by the nobility. After 200 years, of Crusades, battles between Pope and Kings, between East and West, and between Christian and Muslim, countless men and women dead on all sides, the Crusades utterly failed.
1 Holy Warriors – New York Times,(March 12 2010) Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/books/excerpt-holy-warriors.html
2 Five Latin Church Patriarchates – New Advent, (n.d) Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11549a.htm
3 Thomas Asbridge (2004) The First Crusade: A New History, The Roots of Conflict Between Christianity and Islam p. 12
4 Henry IV – Wikipedia. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV,_Holy_Roman_Emperor
5 Victor III – Wikipedia. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Victor_III
6 Antipope Clement III – Wikipedia. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope_Clement_III
7 Ibid. 3 p. 14
8 Council of Piacenza – Wikipedia. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Piacenza
10 Ibid. 3 p. 15
11 Speech at Council of Clermont – Fordham University. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-5vers.html
13 Wilfred Funk, Litt. D. (1950), Word Origins: and their romantic stories
14 Peter the Hermit – New Advent, (n.d) Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11775b.htm
15 Edessa – New Advent. (n.d) Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05282a.htm
16 Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild, 1984. Al Saqi Books, 26 Wetbourne Grove, London W2
17 Treaty of Ramla – Wikipedia. (n.d) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Ramla
18 Damietta – (n.d) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damietta
19 Francis of Assisi – (n.d) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi
20 Fredrick II – New Advent. (n.d) Retrieved http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06796a.htmbr> 21 First Council of Lyons – New Advent. (n.d) Retrieved http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09476b.htm” title=”First Council of Lyons
22 Templars – Wikipedia. (n.d) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_IV_of_France#Suppression_of_the_Knights_Templar
23 Al-Ashraf Khalil Wikipedia. (n.d) Retrieved from – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ashraf_Khalil