Middle East History

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The Crusades

When thinking about Middle East History and the many events that have taken place over the years, it is important to always look further into the Crusades. Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume considered the Crusades to be the most signal and durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation (Tyerman, xi). He also argued that they engrossed the attention of Europe and ever since has continued to engross the curiosity of mankind. The Crusades were a large part of Middle East History with a number of different Crusades taking place between 1096 and 1291. The Crusades can be defined as a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims to secure control of Holy sites considered sacred by both groups.

“The crusades were a series of military campaigns organized by Christian powers in order to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land back from Muslim control” (Cartwright, 2018). The Holy Land vouchsafed for God’s people and the seat of the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the holiest Muslim city with heavy associations with prophets and religious figures (Cobb, 33). During the Crusades there were eight officially sanctioned crusades along with many unofficial Crusades. Throughout each Crusade there was the presence of a number of smaller crusades. Each Crusade had its own successes and failures but in the end the objective of keeping Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the hands of the Christians ultimately failed. These conflicts can be described as bloody, ruthless, and violent with significant chunks of the cities being massacred. “In 1099, when the first crusaders arrived triumphant and bloody before the walls of Jerusalem, they carved out a Christian European presence in the Islamic world that would remain for centuries…” (Cobb, 2014). The Crusades propelled the status of European Christians and was responsible for making them major players in the fight for land in the Middle East (History.com). Western Europe had emerged as significant power but still sat behind the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Empire. In November 1095 the Pope called upon Western Christians to aid the Byzantines and recapture the Holy Land from Muslim control (History.com). This marked the beginning of the Crusades.

Many significant powers and different people were involved in the Crusades and each one had different motivations. During this time Islam overran much of the territory in the Holy Land that was being controlled by the Byzantines (Khan Academy). The Byzantine Empire was continuing to lose territory. They were motivated to regain lost territory and defend themselves against rivals. The Byzantine Empire had been in control of Jerusalem and other sites holy to Christians for a long time. This was until later 17th century when they lost control of these sites to the Seljuks, a Turkish tribe of the steppe (Cartwright, 2018). The Seljuks were already responsible for defeating the Byzantine army and even capturing the Byzantine emperor Romanos IV Diogenes. This forced the emperor to give up the important cities of Edessa, Hieropolis, and Antioch. By 1087 the Seljuk’s controlled Jerusalem. “The sword of Christendom could prove a very useful weapon in preserving the crown of Byzantine” (Cartwright, 2018).

The Byzantines emperor reached out to Pope Urban II and asked for help a multiple times. In 1091 the pope sent troops to assist the Byzantines against the Pecheneg steppe nomads who were invading the northern area of Byzantine. The Pope’s motivation for the Crusade was to strengthen the papacy in Italy and achieve ascendency as the head of the Christian church for himself. Four years later he was again asked for help. Pope Urban II believed a crusade would increase the prestige of the papacy, as it led a combined western army, and consolidate its position (Cartwright, 2018). The Crusades given wider appeal would by playing on the threat of Islam to Christian territories and other Christians living in these territories. The biggest motivation behind this Crusade was the loss of Christian control of the Holy Land and all of its historical significance to all of Christianity. When the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I Comnenus appealed for help, his appeal was seen as having a number of political and religious advantages. On November 27th, 1095 CE, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade. He made a sermon at Claremont in the kingdom of France. There are a couple of different versions of his speech, but this is a sample of one of them.

“I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to perse all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it is also meant for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it All who die by the way, whether by land or sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of their sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Chris” (Khan Academy).

He said that those who defended Christendom would be embarking on a pilgrimage, all their sins washed away, and their souls would reap untold rewards in the next life (Cartwright, 2018). During this time period Christianity permeated every aspect of life with the idea of sin being largely acknowledged. Urban II’s promise of the cleansing of sins appealed to many. As well as the idea of the church condoning this campaign of violence with the goal of liberation and righteous aim. Pope Urban II traveled all over Western Europe to share his message and to recruit crusaders. “Across Europe warriors gathered throughout 1096 CE, ready to embark for Jerusalem” (Cartwright, 2018). Merchants, European Knights, and even citizens were among the many who joined the Crusade. Merchants were motivated by the idea of monopolizing important trading centers that were currently under Muslim control and earning money by shipping crusaders to the Middle East. European Knights wanted to defend Christianity to gain material wealth in this life and the next one (Cartwright, 2018). Before the Pope could finish organizing the First Crusade, Peter the Hermit lead the People’s Crusade in 1096. This is considered to be the first part of the Crusade. They marched through and massacred Jews on their way to the Holy Land (Khan Academy). When they reached the Anatolian peninsula, they were destroyed by the Turks. After this defeat the Pope was able to organize what would actually be known as the First Crusade.

An estimated 90,000 men, women, and children were persuaded to participate in the First Crusade (Cartwright, 2018). It was filled with strong warriors and noncombatants, rich and poor, all embarked on an armed pilgrimage to aid their Christian brothers in the east and to liberate Jerusalem from the hands of the Muslims (Cobb, 73). The First Crusade began with the formation of four armies of Crusaders from troops of different Western European regions. When the four main armies of Crusaders arrived in Constantinople, Alexius wanted their leaders to swear an oath of loyalty to him and recognize his authority over any land taken or conquered.

Everyone resisted taking the oath. Many Crusaders believed that Alexius would be their leader, but he had no interest in participating or joining them. He instead was responsible for the shuttle of the armies and helping them with the best ways to deal with those they would encounter (Lumen Learning). In May 1097, the Crusaders and their Byzantine allies attacked Nicaea, the Seljuk capital in Anatolia causing the city to surrender (History.com). The Crusaders and Byzantine leaders continued their Crusade through Anatolia and also captured Antioch. After these successes they began their march to Jerusalem. They arrived in Jerusalem in June of 1099 and launched an assault on the city, forcing the surrender of the city’s governor by mid-July of that same year. They massacred many of the city’s Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Despite the promise of protection, the Crusaders were responsible for slaughtering hundreds of men, women, and children in their victory over Jerusalem (History.com). The slaughter lasted a day with Muslims being discriminately killed, and Jews who had taken refuge in their synagogue were killed when it was burned to the ground by the Crusaders. By capturing Jerusalem and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher the Crusaders had fulfilled their vow (Lumen Learning). From a European point of view the First Crusade was successful because they were able to reclaim a large portion of the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Since the Crusaders had achieved their goal in a relatively and unexpected short time period of time, many Crusaders departed and went home. Those who remained established four large western settlements in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli. They called these settlements the Crusader states. Even though their goal was to help retake land for the Byzantines, they ended up taking land and keeping it for themselves. These Crusader states remained with the upper hand in the region until around 1130. Muslim forces began to gain ground in their own holy war against the Christians (History.com). In 1144 the Seljuk general captured Edessa and the Crusaders lost their northernmost state. After the capture, Muslims killed and sold western Christians. The conquest of the Crusader controlled city of Edessa was considered one of the greatest Muslim achievements (Cobb, 134). However, it was not as meaningful as Jerusalem or Damascus. The fall of Edessa caused Christian authorities to call for another Crusade.

The goal was to recapture the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia from the Muslim Seljuk Turks, which had been in the hands of the Christians since the First Crusade. Pope Eugenius III was the man who called for another Crusade. Christians who joined the fight were promised the same things as they were during the First Crusade. In addition, their families would be protected and cared for while they were away and their loans would be cancelled/suspended (Cartwright, 2018). The second Crusade began in 1147, led by King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany (History.com). Both leaders managed to assemble their armies in Jerusalem and then decided to attack Damascus. They arrived at Damascus in July of 1148 CE and began a siege. It only lasted four days and had to be abandoned because of the difficulty of the defenses and lack of resources for the attackers. Bad planning and poor logistics did not help the Crusaders. The fighting throughout Damascus featured large amounts of casualties on both sides with little progress being made. All the Christian male citizens were slaughtered, and the women and children were sold into slavery (Cartwright, 2018). The combined Muslim forces dealt an extreme and humiliating defeat to the Crusaders and just like that the Second Crusade was over. The Crusade was not successful and ended up causing further conflict between the West and the Byzantine Empire. The Second Crusade was a direct blow to the Byzantine’s carefully constructed alliances and had damaged east-west relations.

Nur al-Din continued to perfect and consolidate his empire and was able to take Antioch in June 1149 CE. He then went on to take over Damascus uniting Muslim Syria. It was obvious at this point that the Muslims would pose a permanent threat to the Byzantines and Latin East (Cartwright, 2018). Next Nur al-Din was able to successfully conquer Egypt, paving way for an even greater threat to Christendom. This would eventually bring about the Third Crusade.

Many attempts by the Crusaders to capture Egypt failed. After Nur al-Din and his forces captured Egypt, the Crusader army was forced to leave. In 1187, Nur al-Din’s nephew Saladin began a major campaign against the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem (History.com). Saladin’s troops destroyed the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin and succeeded in reclaiming the city. These defeats were devastating to the Crusaders and caused even more anger and conflict. The Battle of Hattin left the Crusade armies gutted and opened the Crusader kingdoms to reconquest by Saladin and his armies (Cobb, 188). By the end of 1187 Saladin’s armies had captured most of the territory that the Crusaders had been successful in taking since the First Crusade (Cobb, 189).

This whole ordeal resulted in the Third Crusade which was led by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, King Philip II of France, and King Richard I of England. The Third Crusade was considered to have made some gains because it got significant buy ins from the kings of Western Europe (Khan Academy). On July 12th Saladin and his troops failed. The Crusaders stormed the city of Acre and the Muslim commander was forced to negotiate a surrender (Cobb, 199). In September of 1191, the Crusader forces defeated those of Saladin in the battle of Arsuf causing him to retreat with many losses. The battle of Arsuf was the first and only pitched battle of the Third Crusade (Britannica). Christian control was reestablished over some of the region. In September of 1192, King Richard I and Saladin signed a peace treaty. The treaty reestablished the Kingdom of Jerusalem and ended the Third Crusade. The Third Crusade had failed to achieve its main goal, which was to regain Jerusalem. Despite not retaking Jerusalem, it was considered a success and ultimately helped get the Christians back on their feet.

In 1198, Pope Innocent III called for a new crusade. At this time power struggles forced them to divert their mission. The new plan was to topple the reigning Byzantine Empire. Alexius IV became empire in 1203. Alexius IV was faced with resistance and was strangled in response. The Crusaders then declared war on Constantinople in what would be the Fourth Crusade. The plan was to take Constantinople themselves. While the Fourth Crusade had very little effect on the Holy Land, it was successful in causing a temporary end to the Byzantine Empire (Khan Academy). This Fourth Crusade was described as a bloody conquest that ended with the devastating Fall of Constantinople (History.com). “The capture of Constantinople by the armies of the Fourth Crusade was one of the most remarkable episodes in medieval history” (Phillips, 2004). After the capture of Constantinople, there was a Children’s Crusade in the year 1212. The children claim that Jesus had told them to go to the Holy Land and covert the Muslims to Christianity. It is believed by some historians that these children then went on this march, but they don’t end up making it to the Holy Land (Khan Academy). Some are sold into slavery along the way while others would die of starvation.

Following the Fourth Crusade the rest of the 13th century was filled with a variety of other Crusades. The goal of these Crusades was not just to fight Muslim forces in the Holy Land but to also fight against anyone who posed a threat to the Christian faith. Jerusalem remained in the hands of the Muslims throughout the first quarter of the 13th century (Khan Academy). Pope Innocence III called for the Fifth Crusade to retake Jerusalem in 1216. The Crusaders attacked Egypt but were eventually forced to surrender to the Muslim defenders. The Fifth Crusade was a failure. The Sixth Crusade began in 1229. It was successful in retaking back some of the land within the Holy Land. Emperor Frederick II was able to achieve a peaceful transfer of Jerusalem back to the Crusaders by negotiating with al-Malik al-Kamil. Jerusalem was now in the control of the Crusaders. The peace treaty only lasted a decade and then Jerusalem was returned to Muslim control. After the Sixth Crusade there is what is known as the Barren’s Crusade. This Crusade was successful in taking territory and a good amount of territory is now back in the hands of the Crusaders (Khan Academy). In 1244 the Muslims are successful in retaking Jerusalem and this brings on the remaining Crusades. From 1248 to 1254, Louis XI of France organized the Seventh Crusade.

It was a Crusade against Egypt, but the overall outcome of this was failure for Louis (History.com). The Crusaders began to struggle and because of this a new dynasty was able to emerge. They called themselves the Mamluks and were able to take power in Egypt. Under the rule of Sultan Baybars, the Mamluks destroyed Antioch in 1268. The response to this became known as the Eighth Crusade. The goal of this Crusade was to aid the remaining Crusader states in Syria, but the mission was actually redirected to Tunis. In 1271 there was one final Crusade. It is often grouped with the Eighth Crusade because it accomplished very little (History.com). It was the last significant Crusade to the Holy Land and marked the end of the Crusades. In 1291 one of last remaining Crusader states was completely taken over by Muslim Mamluks. Historians believe that this was ultimately the end of the Crusader states and the Crusades themselves. At the end of the 13th century and going into the 14th century, the Muslims have successfully retaken the Holy Land and most of the Anatolian Peninsula. Constantinople was the only area left under Byzantine control.

Many different lessons can be derived from the Islamic history of the Crusades. The most important thing to remember is that there was no single, shared experience of the Crusades (Cobb, 274). There was also no such thing as a “countercrusade”. No coherent movement against the Crusaders was really ever present. Instead it was the motivations and endeavors of each different Muslim leader throughout the history of the Crusades. The impact of the Crusades on the Islamic world varies. The Muslims won in the end, but the cost was extremely high (Cobb, 275). Many people believe that the Crusades resulted in the hardening of attitudes among Muslims towards Christianity and the Europeans. While some of this statement may be true, author Paul M. Cobb states that Muslim responses to the Crusade threats did not lead to militant Islam, medieval or modern. The Crusades did, however, lead to a Muslim state formation (Cobb, 276). While the Crusades may not be responsible for making Islam militant, they did help justify the dominion of military elites (Cobb, 277).

With the Crusades lasting 200 years during the High Middle Ages, there were definitely areas where the Crusades were successful, but in the end Jerusalem and the Holy Land fell back under Muslim control. The Crusades resulted in defeat for the Europeans, but many people argue that it was successful in extending the reach of Christianity and Western civilization. Trade and transportation also improved all throughout Europe in order to finance the Crusade. The Crusades had created a constant demand for transportation and supplies. Some historians believe that the Crusades created a heightened interest in travel and learning that may have paved the way for the Renaissance. Followers of Islam believed that the Crusades and the Crusaders were immoral because of the bloody and savage nature of the wars (History.com). The massacre of Muslims and Jews caused bitter resentment throughout Europe that lasted for years to come. The Crusades changed Europe and the entire world (Khan Academy). One of the biggest impacts of the Crusades was the death toll. The death toll throughout the entire 200 years was estimated to be between 2 and 6 million just from Western Europe.

In Europe at this time this accounted for about 4-10 % of the population (Khan Academy). The Crusades also had a major impact on the territory and territorial expansion. There were large numbers of territories lost and also regained during this time. A major theme present throughout the Crusades was the power of the Pope. The Roman Catholic Church grew in wealth and the power of the Pope was elevated because of the Crusades (History.com). The Crusades were started by a Pope and many of the following Crusades were also organized by the Pope. As bloody and dark as the Crusades were considered to be, they were also directly associated with learning (Khan Academy). Many people traveled from Western Europe to the Middle East and the Holy Land. Knowledge was being merged and spread to foster further learning among people. The years of bloody conflict that were brought on by the Crusades ultimately influence Middle East and Western European nations for many years. The Crusades are even responsible for influencing political and cultural views today. When thinking about Middle East History and the many events that have taken place over the years, the Crusades cannot be forgotten. After looking into all of the different aspects of the Crusades, it is clear that they were a large part of Middle East History. It is also very clear the impact each of the Crusades had during that time and how each of them is a crucial part in understanding the relationship between Muslim and Christianity throughout history. “The Crusades present a phenomenon so dramatic and extreme in aspiration and execution and yet so rebarbative to modern sensibilities, that they cannot fail to move both as a story and as an expression of a society remote in time and attitudes yet apparently so abundantly recognizable” (Tyerman, xii).

Works Cited

  1. “”An Overview of the Crusades (part 2).”” Khan Academy. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/medieval-times/the-crusades-technology-and-culture/v/an-overview-of-the-crusades-part-2.
  2. Baldwin, Marshall W., and Thomas F. Madden. “Crusades.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 Oct. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Crusades/The-Third-Crusade.
  3. Cartwright, Mark. “”The Crusades: Causes & Goals.”” Ancient History Encyclopedia. April 03, 2019. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.ancient.eu/article/1249/the-crusades-causes–goals/.
  4. Cartwright, Mark. “Second Crusade.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 25 Apr. 2019, www.ancient.eu/Second_Crusade/.
  5. “”Crusades.”” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Crusades. Accessed April 03, 2019. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04543c.htm.
  6. Gada, Muhammad Yaseen. 2017. “Muslim Responses to the Crusades: A Brief Survey of Selected Literature.” Mediterranean Quarterly28 (1): 117–29. doi:10.1215/10474552-3882830.
  7. “”Impact of the Crusades.”” Khan Academy. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/medieval-times/the-crusades-technology-and-culture/v/impact-of-the-crusades.
  8. “”Introduction to the Crusades.”” Khan Academy. Accessed April 03, 2019. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/world-history/medieval-times/the-crusades-technology-and-culture/v/introduction-to-the-crusades.
  9. McLean, John. “Western Civilization.” The First Crusade | Western Civilization, courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldhistory/chapter/the-first-crusade/.
  10. “”Spread And History.”” Christians And Muslims: 125-46. doi:10.4324/9780203392881_chapter_7.
  11. “The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople.” History Today, www.historytoday.com/archive/crusades/fourth-crusade-and-sack-constantinople.
  12. Theron, Jacques, and Erna Oliver. 2018. “Changing Perspectives on the Crusades.” HTS Teologiese Studies, no. 1. doi:10.4102/hts.v74i1.4691.
  13. Tyerman, C. (2005). The Crusades : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  14. Whitaker, Natalie. 2013. “The First Crusade: Pagan Virtues as Crusade Justification.” LOGOS: A Journal of Undergraduate Research 6: 91–100.
  15. Yurto?lu, Nadir. “”Http://www.historystudies.net/dergi//birinci-dunya-savasinda-bir-asayis-sorunu-sebinkarahisar-ermeni-isyani20181092a4a8f.pdf.”” History Studies International Journal of History10, no. 7 (2018): 241-64. doi:10.9737/hist.2018.658.”
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