Two world religions collided in the Crusades and dramatically affected mediaeval Europe and even us today. Based on St Augustine's ideals, Crusading was a penance and was thus meritorious. Curiously, these religions have much in common. Both religions believe in one God, as do the older Jews. Jews and Muslims both refer to Christians, Jews and Muslims together as being 'People of the Book'.
The Book referred to is the Old Testament, which records Jewish history and a relationship with God back to Abraham, c2000 BC. As St Paul made clear to those suffering from the Romans: Christianity was an invitation to a better world after death. Islam was created c620 AD by the prophet Mohammed and God dictated his writings called the Koran.
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, born c6 BC in Palestine, who preached one God and was crucified by the Romans thirty years later. St Peter declared 'Thou art the Christ', by which he meant the Jewish Messiah. Christians believe that after being crucified, the divine Christ rose from the dead and that this was witnessed by many people such as the apostle Thomas who said, 'My Lord and my God'. With St Peter and St Paul preaching their way to Rome by 100 AD teaching the 'Good News', the Hellenic, gentile world was convinced. Greek terms (universal - katholikos, church - ecclesia, elders - presbuteroi, bishop - episkopos) and Roman organisation have been in use, since the Emperor Constantine used Christianity to help his army win a key battle in 312 AD.
Christianity was persecuted terribly prior to Constantine as Rome could not accept that Christianity was not political. With the edict of Theodosius in 380 Christianity became the state religion and spread rapidly through the Roman Empire and even to neighbouring tribes and kingdoms. After Rome was sacked in 410, St Augustine wrote the City of God of Rome the 'Eternal City'. Rome's special status as an Imperial capital created a growing prestige, which focused on the Bishop of Rome. By 450 with Leo I then Pope, Western Christians recognised the See of Rome as supreme and he was the first Pope buried at St Peter's. By the time of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, Christianity had taken root and by 1200 had spread across Europe, although challenged by Islam.
Mohammed was born c575 in the Bani Hashim tribe in Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. After a series of revelations in which he was ordered to recite a divine message he wrote the codified laws - Koran (which means recitation in Arabic) and, by preaching, founded a community of believers in Islam. Islam means 'surrender' in Arabic and the message is to surrender self to Allah (God). Mohammed is not accepted as other than a messenger and although talented, an ordinary man. The Islamic Creed is 'There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Messenger'.
Mohammed was born into a wealthy family and married well. But Arab roots are desert-based and the Bedouins made Islam powerful. Mohammed's ideas caused tension, since Arabs then had many gods, and he began a period of conflict with Mecca from the nearby desert town of Medina. He won his struggle and political power. This represents a significant difference with the basically apolitical Christian faith, since Islam is both a faith and a political state. Mohammed died in 632 and in the 636 Battle at Yarmuk, Damascus had been seized by the Caliph, the successor to the Messenger. In another five years Islam controlled not only the Arabian peninsula, but also the Persian Empire and Egypt. In 705, Arab armies had crossed the Oxus River and subdued central Asia. In 711 an Arab-Berber army led by a former slave called Tariq gained access to Spain and expanded north until stopped by the Frank Charles Martel in 732 at the Battle of Tours. Although, Spain and Sicily were recovered from Islam, the faith remains in all former conquests and represents about one-sixth of the world's population.
Islam carries with it the urge to convert non-believers and as Muslim armies swept through Jerusalem in 638, and plundered Rome in 846, European Christians became alarmed. Christian pilgrims - including many armed knights - came up against Islam en route to Rome and Jerusalem, because Sicily and southern Italy were occupied by Arab Muslims. The Popes had some legitimate cause for concern and wanted to 'Take back the Holy places'. A clash was inevitable and a match for the Muslims was soon found in Pope Gregory VII. He battled with the European kings over the right to invest bishops, excommunicated the German King Henry IV and historical propaganda had him submit barefoot in the snow before the Pope's castle gate in 1077. (It was not true, but it made good press!) This depth of passion inspired Pope Urban II. A religious war with the Seljuk Turks over the power to control men's minds became inevitable.
Although the Crusades may seem dated, the fundamental issues these men fought over continue to impact on us through the Muslim counter-Crusade called Jihad, the European rape of the Americas, and Muslim/Christian conflicts in Bosnia. Most historians believe that the Crusades shaped our Western European identity, culture, political and social structures, and our values. From the Arabs the West gained new ideas in medicine and mathematics (although the concept of zero originated in India, the term nul is an Arabic word). 'Admiral' derives from the Arabic 'Amîr a'alê', or high leader, brought to Europe by the Hospitallers who used 'amiral' as a title for their own naval leader. (The French continue to use the same spelling for their naval leaders.) From the Persians we continue to use the term checkmate, from the Farsi 'Shäh mät', 'the king is dead'. The Crusades had a significant impact on Britain.
By the end of the XIth century, after years of struggle, Pope Urban II faced two serious challenges to Rome's his control of power. These were the Western European Christian kings and their divine right to rule thesis, and the eastern Byzantine Empire, which did not recognise his biblical authority. Urban found a solution for both problems in the arrival of a letter from Constantinople requesting help against the Turks. Seljuk Turks had migrated into Anatolia, because of Mongol expansion pressures, and had caused trouble for Emperor Alexius I Komnenos. Komnenos felt his request would be a Christian duty. How wrong he was - God save me from my friends! Urban's appeal caused 200 years of mass movements, war, greed, and both fantastic bravery and devotion; as well as the Christian destruction of Constantinople.
Pope Urban's appeal inspired brutal action, and migration for 100,000s. This was no side-show, but a world struggle, led by the Church ("...Take up the Cross...") and resulting in eight separate, armed crusades to Palestine. The most successful was the First Crusade, led by Duke Godfroi de Bouillon, which lasted from 1095 to 1099. Principally Norman and French, Jerusalem was captured and the Christian states of the principalities of Edessa and Antioch, and the county of Tripoli were created.
The First Crusade leaders were Raymond IV of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto, Godfroi of Bouillon, Robert II of Flanders, Robert Duke of Normandy, Stephen II of Blois, and Hugues of Vermandois. This effort was more successful than the Peasants' Crusade, as the aristocracy had plenty of money and provisions, agreed on the enemy, and quickly gained a series of victories and finally captured Jerusalem on 15 July 1099. The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the smaller Crusader States were then established with Godfroi as de-facto king. A second crusade (1147-1149) became inevitable after Edessa was taken by the Emir of Mosul in 1144. This crusade failed because again Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany were not agreed on aims, which led to counter-productive campaigns against their own potential allies in Damascus and Ascalon.
The new Christian states were nominally feudal subordinates to the kingdom of Jerusalem. To protect their new kingdom and Christian pilgrims, the Crusaders built a series of castles. Bishop St Bernard helped establish the Knights Templar, a standing army of warrior monks. Louis VII of France and Conrad III, the German king led a Second Crusade as the fist kings to be directly committed. The county of Edessa had been one of the first states, created on the the frontier deep in present-day Syria. The armies marched on separate routes and separately were defeated by the Seljuk Turks. To make matters worse, after arriving at Jerusalem in defeat the crusaders decided to attack Damascus! Meanwhile, the English stopped en route to help capture Lisbon from the Moors. Because the first crusaders had to fight local bandits and often major battles while travelling by land, later men decided travelling by the sea was safer.
The small kingdom was largely desert with a water problem and was grossly undermanned with few war resources. 'Saladin', a Kurd, drew on Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Egyptians, captured Christians, and mercenaries: it wasn't much of a contest once the Sultan got organised. It seems likely that perhaps the Sultan Saladin was one of the finest knights on either side. Certainly he appears to have been highly moral and generous - despite Western provocations against Arab pilgrims and defenceless villages. The Muslims recovered, fought back and the Second Crusade failed badly.
Crusaders learned that full armour in the searing Mediterranean sun was hot and that the weight meant being outmanoeuvred by the small Arab horses. Meanwhile the Turks gained a leader, Saladin, who was a match for the Europeans and in 1187 he took Jerusalem back from King Guy de Lusignan who appears in history to have been a major loser . The Third Crusade attempted to recapture Jerusalem, and three kings vied for leadership (1189-92): the English Richard The Lion-hearted, the French Philip Augustus, and the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.
Unfortunately Frederick drowned en route and Philip did not trust Richard - these crusades did not go well!. They did re-capture Acre before Philip and most of the French left. Richard stayed with his French nephew, Henry (whom he made King of the never-reoccupied Jerusalem), took a series of Palestinian coastal cities and made a treaty with Saladin. Richard, perceived as epitomising knightly behaviour, then returned to England, his brother (then) Prince John, Robin Hood and history. (Like Robyn Hode, Richard had a good public relations team: neither was as virtuous as Hollywood portrays.)
The French chronicler Fulcher of Chartres, writing as a witness, noted that both Irish and Scottish Crusaders were at Acre. He observed that Europeans met for the first time as Europeans at Acre and gained a sense of civilised community. The strategic plan to relieve the Turkish siege of Acre was to reverse the deployments to catch the Turks between two Christian armies. Although there were heavy Christian casualties during the six hour battle, the Crusaders were successful. King Philip then left with most of the French, but King Richard's English, Normans, some Irish, Scots, and Count Henry (his French nephew), stayed. They went on to secure Christian access to Jerusalem.
All sides agreed that 'the man of the moment' was King Richard I of England: the Lion Heart. After taking Cyprus as a base for his ships, and the long siege of Acre, Richard led the Crusaders, through the Saracens' lines and into the principal Christian bastion of Acre - while keeping Saladin out. The walls had been breached, but there was just time for the Crusaders to kill the Saracens inside and then seal the breaches against Saladin's army outside.
It was at that point that Philip returned to France; Barbarossa, had already drowned, but Richard went on to make English Crusading history. It was Richard who brokered a deal with Saladin to allow Christians access to Jerusalem again, while that city remained in Turkish hands. It was Richard who stayed to provide some direction to the battles and support to his troops. Richard was surely no more moral than his fellow kings, but is now remembered, by the English, as the champion crusading knight. There were few other European successes to show for this Crusading effort in the Levant, except for the understandable legacy of Arab mistrust of the West.
One salient result was that with Richard away from defending his father's Angevin empire, and England in John's less capable hands, Philip was able to recover France from England. In fact, Richard was killed trying to recover his own lands in Normandy. Without the crusades and Richard's distraction, Europe would have looked quite different.
The last five Crusades were disasters. This was not Christianity's finest hour. Not content with killing locals, for the crime of a different religion, Christians also killed Christians. French Fourth Crusaders burnt, killed, pillaged and broke the power of Greek Christian Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire. They eliminated the Roman Church's rival for power, albeit not as envisaged. Those knights never even reached the Holy Land, but stayed in Constantinople and robbed it of its wealth. In parallel to these crusades to the Holy Land, were others to recover Spain from the Moors and Arabs. That process was ultimately successful, but Spain remained at least in part in Moorish hands until 1492.
Islam was itself divided by religious splits between Sunni and Shia followers, and also Turks, Egyptians and Mamelukes. The Muslim world was shaken in 1037 with the invasion by the Seljuk Turks from the northeast. The Seljuks created a very large Middle Eastern empire. The centrally placed Christians were able to exploit the internal Arab shifts in power. Externally, Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes drove all before them and swooped down on the fringes of the Arab world, thus catching the Persians and Turks between the Mongols and Christians. This led to a focus on Egypt, where the Nile seemed to provide naval access for mobile logistical support. It seems the Crusaders forgot about drinking water, a detail that caused much trouble during their remaining effort. In 1212, the survivors of an additional Children's Crusade either wound up in slave markets or died of hunger and exposure.
In the Sixth Crusade (1248-1254) Louis IX of France wanted to destroy the power of Egypt. His army took Damietta (1249), but they were defeated and taken prisoner at Mansura. Louis was only released after a ransom was paid in 1254. The Seventh, and final, Holy Land Crusade (1270) was doomed when Louis IX went to Tunis where he and many of his army caught the plague. In 1291 the Mamelukes (1250-1517) captured Acre, and Tyre, Beirut, and Sidon were abandoned by the Christians. The Lusignan Dynasty continued to rule in Cyprus until 1489 and the Knights of St. John in Rhodes until 1523. The Fifth (1218-21) and Seventh (1248-54) Crusades mired in the Nile delta, where the French spent considerable time seeking drinking water and dodging the Nile floods. The German Emperor Frederick II delayed starting on the Sixth Crusade (1228-29) for so long Pope Gregory IX excommunicated him. Louis IX was made a Saint for his effort in the Seventh and Eighth (1270) Crusades - when his Queen was nearly captured.
The principal Christian stronghold had been Acre and after successful mining of the enormous walls, Acre finally fell on 18 May 1291. The Muslims had little to learn from the Europeans about psychological warfare and Robinson records that:
The 1291 fall of the last Templar strongholds, Tortosa and Athlit, signalled the end of Christian power in the Holy Lands for five hundred years. The Arab historian Abu'l Fida summarised the situation "...With these conquests, all the lands of the coast were fully returned to the Muslims, a result undreamed of. Thus were the Franj...expelled from all of Syria and the coastal zones. May God grant that they never set foot there again!" The next Christian army to enter Jerusalem was General Allenby's in 1917. The Crusades were a failure and with Pope Clement V, real temporal papal power was lost.
If the Crusades caused struggles for wealth and power in the new kingdom, they also gave birth to a new religious phenomenon, the religious pilgrim. There had always been pilgrims, but never so many, or so widespread. The crusaders themselves were penitent military pilgrims, but they left after fulfilling their vows. Pilgrims were frequently robbed, killed, or sold into slavery before even arriving in the Holy Land; and once there, had to avoid the wars and marauding bands of thieves. This raised the need for protection between the isolated, fortified, Christian states and the protection of the crusading armies. There was a pressing need and after the First Crusade many poor knights were ready to join a disciplined body with pay, position and prestige. That led to the formation of the Templars (1118), Hospitallers (1130), and Teutonic Knights (1198). Their vows, common to disciplined monastic orders, were of poverty, chastity, and obedience - the exact opposite of knightly carousing.
Only knights were trained and disciplined to fight and knights were desperately needed by King Baldwin II. Few wealthy pilgrims would travel in a lawless area, even if it was the Holy Land, and Baldwin needed their wealth. The King gave the Templars the Al-Aqsa Mosque, built by the Muslims on the site of Solomon's temple,. They would be The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, known as the Knights Templar, or just the Templars. Pope Honorius II and the young, brilliant Bishop, soon-to-be-Saint, Bernard of Clairvaux worked hard to establish the Order. They gave the Grand Master the status of bishop and authorised individual Templars to administer last rites to their fellows. Templars were responsible directly to the Pope, and were forbidden to raise ransoms for captured Templars - ensuring they would fight. Templars were the model for the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Teutonic Knights. These extinct orders continue in the Masons, Shriners, St. John's Ambulance and others.
Templars were used in Spain against the Moors, and about 1299, fought with Edward I against the Scots. The Templars were disbanded in spurious charges by the French King Philip, and rather than face public burning many knights fled. Before going underground to escape notice and reversing their earlier allegiance, Templars fought with Robert the Bruce against Edward II. Templar castles, revenues and logistics provided Christians critical discipline and support in a 200-year war.
Training is important to all armies and the Scots illustrated how difficult it is to win battles without iron discipline. Templar recruits were taught how to fight and stay together, manoeuvring as formed bodies rather than fighting as individuals. Their support was always accepted for the hardest military tasks, like leading the vanguard, or guarding the army rear against cavalry attacks. The Templars analysed the needs for armour and weapons and set procedures in place to ensure a steady flow of the best designs and effective materials. Templar forges were established in both the Middle East and Europe to ensure the supply of weapons. The Templars fought continually with the Turks, Kurds and Arabs and saw that the small Arab horses outmanoeuvred the larger European war-horses. The light cavalry formed was parent of modern reconnaissance forces. Templar weapons had no adornments, which influenced our European weapons are still plain.
Templars wore white surcoats over their armour with red crosses for recognition and a large flag indicated their battle rallying point. Columbus used the same symbols on his epic journey for the same reason. Monastic dedication ensured absolute professionalism and obedience to combat orders. Security was based on the Templar rule, limiting those who needed to know - which may have worked against them when Philip IV of France deliberately destroyed them in 1314. The Crusades initiated cruel, destruction but they had a major influence on their times. Christian Europe was created and established as a world force. The Crusades exposed men to the Orient and gave them an understanding of other peoples and created a sense of national identity. This led to the later European conception of the sovereign, political state, and citizen. As popes fought with kings, a powerful new middle class of skilled workers, artisans and entrepreneurs would be established to supply the crusaders and move them around. Crusading led to the end of feudalism by revealing the wider world, and Templar military advances doomed independent Scotland.
7 Not only was Roman organisation adopted, the boundaries of a bishop's authority are a province, but also use of State Councils. Constantine ordered the first Council at Nicea in 325, and the bishops agreed on a statement of faith, called the Nicean Creed. The second, ordered by Theodosius I, defined Christians as followers of Christ, and condemned schisms and reaffirmed the Creed. A third settled the divinity of Jesus at Ephesus in 431. The last Imperial council in 451 at Chalcedon agreed the Trinity doctrine.
12 It is difficult to find either biblical or Crusader place names as the languages by which they were known when they were powerful have often changed. Edessa is in Turkey, inland from the Mediterranean coast, north of the Euphrates: Count Baldwin (later King) took Edessa by guile. Antioch is difficult to locate since it is no longer a significant centre. The name has changed and it is inland from the coast, off the northern tip of Cyprus. Antioch is at about the same longitude as the Syrian city of Aleppo, just below the coastal curve to the south and Lebanon. Tripoli is the second largest city in Lebanon located on the coast north of Beirut. Acre is now called Akko and is near Haifa on the Israeli coast. Jaffo is now Jaffa and its modern Israeli suburb is Tel Aviv. Archbishop William of Tyre chronicled much Crusade history.
14 Robert Payne, The Dream and the Tomb, p. 191 and John Robinson, Dungeon, Fire and Sword, p. 98 note that Yusuf Ibn Ayyub was the son of the Kurdish Emir of Baalbek, Lebanon. As a warrior and Muslim hero he called himself 'Rectifier of the Faith' and he would be known in Arabic as Salah al-Din, corrupted to Saladin.
16 Fulcher was at the Council of Clermont and joined the First Crusade as a chaplain. His Gesta Francorum Iherusalem Peregrinantium, covers from c1100 to c1125. His account was extended by William, Archbishop of Tyre (and his assistant) Historia Rerum in Partibus Transmarinis Gestarum, and by Ibn Al-Athir of Mosul. Such accounts are widely quoted.
18 Michael Rogers, The Making of the Past, The Spread of Islam, pp. 107-108, notes the Islamic construction, energy and creativity during this period. He further notes that Islamic palaces were cities of up to 20,000 people. Although the early Umayyad desert palaces have disappeared, the Alhambra and Topkapi show the 'fantastic' decoration and the exploitation of Gothic engineering.
21 Not only was there wealth, but the Crusades introduced new luxuries like al-kandiq, more commonly known in the West as candy; and the cotton cloth mosulin (from the town of Mosul), better known as muslin; while the light open-weave fabric made in Gaza is known as gauze. Some of this wealth resulted in an expansion of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the construction in Jerusalem and other centres of new buildings and art. (See A Display of Crusader Sculpture, p. 3.) Ironically, one of the French chateaux in Lebanon was Belle Forte and in 1917 the British Foreign Secretary was to give his name to the Balfour Declaration partitioning Palestine (then 93% Arab) and provide a home for the Jews. (Mr Balfour's antecedents presumably derived from those French colonists.)
22 Robert Payne, The Dream and the Tomb, p.125, William of Tyre claims the Templars began in 1118, with permission by Baldwin I to Hugh de Payens and nine knights. Edward Burman, The Templars, says in 1119. Baldwin gave the Templars the Al Aqsa Mosque as a headquarters.
24 The kings of Castille held Spanish power, which was itself named because of the castles which barred northern Moorish expansion. Robinson op cit, p. 414 notes the English use of Templars. Marzieh Gail Avignon in Flower, notes the French treatment was unique in Europe, p.32.
26 Ibid, Robinson notes on p.45 that Arab armies 'danced' together to the beat of cymbals and drums, pacing themselves to the rhythm of the music. Today's English Morris dancers mime the Moorish dancers from whom the Templars learned the techniques to train Christian armies to move together. (Moor derives from the Spanish Mora for black berries - the skin colour of some of the Berbers.)
27 Philip's recovery of supreme French power followed his establishment of the Popes at Avignon.
28 At the palace in Brussels is a fine statue to Godefroid de Bouillon, first King of Jerusalem, there are crusader statues across Europe and Israel. These seem symbolic proof of crusading impact on Europe.
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