The Crusades – Christians vs Muslims – What”s it all about?

The Crusades – Muslims vs Christians

The Crusades were military campaigns sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Pope Urban II authorized the First Crusade in 1095 with the goal of restoring European access to the Holy Land, and an intermittent 200-year struggle ensued. Urban was also seeking to reunite the Catholic Church under his leadership by militarily supporting Emperor Alexios I. After centuries of competitive co-existence with the Arabs following the initial Muslim conquests the Byzantine Empire had been defeated by the Turks in 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert.

As a result, the Byzantines lost the fertile coastal area of Anatolia and were forced into competition with Turks migrating westward


Jihad vs. Crusade – Holy Wars in Comparative Perspective


Hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics from many different classes and nations of Western Europe became crusaders by taking a public vow and receiving plenary indulgences from the church. Some crusaders were peasants hoping for Apotheosis at Jerusalem. Pope Urban II claimed that anyone who participated was forgiven of their sins. In addition to demonstrating devotion to God, as stated by the Catholic Church, participation satisfied feudal obligations and provided opportunities for economic and political gain. Crusaders often pillaged the countries through which they traveled, and contrary to their promises the leaders retained much of this territory rather than returning it to the Byzantines.]

The People’s Crusade prompted the murder of thousands of Jews, known as the Rhineland massacres. Constantinople was sacked during the Fourth Crusade rendering the reunification of Christendom impossible. Due to the weakening that resulted from the siege, the Byzantine Empire ultimately fell to the Ottomans.[5] The Catholic Church mounted no coherent response when their last stronghold in the region, Acre, fell in 1291.

Opinions concerning the conduct of crusaders have varied from laudatory to highly critical. The impact of the crusades was profound; they reopened the Mediterranean to commerce and travel, enabling Genoa and Venice to flourish. Crusader armies would trade with the local populations while travelling, and Orthodox Byzantine emperors often organized markets for crusaders moving through their territory. The Crusades consolidated the collective identity of the Latin Church under papal leadership, were a source of heroism, chivalry, and piety. This consequently spawned medieval romance, philosophy, and literature. However, the crusades reinforced the connection between Western Catholicism, feudalism, and militarism, which was counter to the Peace and Truce of God that Urban had promoted





A 12th-century Byzantine manuscript illumination depicting Byzantine Greeks punishing Cretan Saracens in the 9th century (from the Madrid Skylitzes)

  • Crusade is a modern term derived from the French croisade and Spanish cruzada and by 1750, the various forms of the word “crusade” had established themselves in English, French, and German.[9] The Oxford English Dictionary records its first use in English as occurring in 1757 by William Shenstone.[10] When a crusader swore a vow (a votus) to be fulfilled on successfully reaching Jerusalem they were granted a cloth cross (crux) to be sewn into their clothes. This “taking of the cross”, the crux, eventually became associated with the entire journey. They saw themselves as undertaking an iter, a journey, or a peregrinatio, an armed pilgrimage. The inspiration for this “messianism of the poor” was the expected mass apotheosis at Jerusalem.[5]
  • The numbering of the Crusades is matter of debate with some historians considering that between 1096 and 1291 there were seven major Crusades and numerous minor ones.[3] However, others consider the Fifth Crusade of Frederick II as two distinct crusades. This would make the crusade launched by Louis IX in 1270 the Eighth Crusade. In addition, sometimes even this crusade is considered as two, leading to a Ninth Crusade.
  • Popes frequently called political crusades and crusades were also declared as a means of conflict resolution amongst fellow Roman Catholics. The first of these was called by Pope Innocent III against Markward of Anweiler in 1202.[14] Further examples include a crusade against the Stedingers and several against Emperor Frederick II and his sons called by a number of popes.[15] Others include two crusades called against opponents of King Henry III of England enjoying the same privileges as those given to crusaders on the Fifth Crusade.[16]
  • The term widely used for Muslim was Saracen as before the 16th century the words “Muslim” and “Islam” were very rarely used by Europeans.[17] In Greek and Latin this term had a longer evolution from the beginning of the first millennium, where it referred to a people who lived in desert areas around the Roman province of Arabia who were distinguished from Arabs.[18][19] The term developed to include Arab tribes and by the 12th century had become an ethnic and religious marker synonymous with “Muslim” in Medieval Latin literature.[20][21]
  • The terms Frank and Latin given from the period of the Crusades to persons belonging to any of the Western nations of Europe, in contradistinction to the Greeks.[22][23]


During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation of the 16th century, historians saw the Crusades through the prism of their own religious beliefs. Protestants saw them as a manifestation of the evils of the Papacy, while Catholics viewed the movement as a force for good.[24] During the Enlightenment, historians tended to view both the Crusades and the entire Middle Ages as the efforts of barbarian cultures driven by fanaticism.[25] By the 19th century, with the dawning of Romanticism, this harsh view of the crusades and its time period was mitigated somewhat.[26] with later 19th-century crusade scholarship focusing on increasing specialization of study and more detailed works on subjects.[27]

Enlightenment scholars in the 18th century and modern historians in the West have expressed moral outrage at the conduct of the crusaders. In the 1950s, Sir Steven Runciman wrote that “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed … the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God” .[28] In the 20th century, three important works covering the entire history of the crusades have been published, those of Rene Grousset, Runciman and the multi-author work edited by K. M. Stetton.[29] A pluralist view of the crusades has developed in the 20th century inclusive of all papal-led efforts, whether in the Middle East or in Europe[11] Historian Thomas Madden has made the contrary argument that “[t]he crusade, first and foremost, was a war against Muslims for the defense of the Christian faith…. They began as a result of a Muslim conquest of Christian territories.” Madden says the goal of Pope Urban was that “[t]he Christians of the East must be free from the brutal and humiliating conditions of Muslim rule.”[13]

After the fall of Acre in 1291, European support for the Crusades remained despite criticism by contemporaries such as Roger Bacon who felt the Crusades were ineffective since “those who survive, together with their children, are more and more embittered against the Christian faith.”[30] The historian Norman Davies summarised the case against the crusades as running counter to the Peace and Truce of God that Urban had promoted; instead they reinforced the connection between Western Christendom, feudalism, and militarism. The formation of military religious orders scandalised the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Greeks. Crusaders pillaged the countries they transited on their journey east. Rather than keeping their oath to restore lands to the Byzantines, they often kept the land for themselves.[3][31][32] The Peoples’ Crusade instigated the Rhineland massacres and the massacre of thousands of Jews. In the late 19th century this episode was used by Jewish historians to support Zionism.[33] The Fourth Crusade resulted in the sacking of Constantinople, effectively ending the chance of reuniting the Christian church by reconciling the East–West Schism and leading to the weakening and eventual fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans. Historians of the Enlightenment criticized the misdirection of the crusades. In particular they pointed to the Fourth Crusade which instead of attacking Islam attacked another Christian power—the (Eastern) Roman Empire. David Nicolle says the Fourth Crusade has always been controversial in terms of the “betrayal” of Byzantium.[34] Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire said the crusaders efforts would have been more profitably employed in the improvement of their native country[3]


The Great Seljuk Empire at its largest extent, in 1092

In the Eastern Mediterranean after Muslim forces defeated the Eastern Roman/Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636, the control of Palestine passed through the Umayyad Dynasty, the Abbasid Dynasty. and the Fatimids.[35][36][37] Toleration, trade, and political relationships between the Arabs and the Christian states of Europe ebbed and flowed until 1072 when the Fatimids lost control of Palestine to the rapidly expanding Great Seljuk Empire.[38] For example, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, only to have his successor allow the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it.[39] The Muslim rulers allowed pilgrimages by Catholics to the holy sites. Resident Christians were considered people of the book and so were tolerated as Dhimmi or “subjugated people” accorded a second-class status, and inter-marriage was not uncommon.[40] Cultures and creeds coexisted as much as competed, but the frontier conditions were not conducive to Latin Catholic pilgrims and merchants.[41] The disruption of pilgrimages by conquering Seljuk Turks prompted support for the Crusades in Western Europe.[42]

Image of Seljuk emperor Alp Arslan humiliating Romanos IV in 1071 after Manzikert. Alp Arslan actually treated Romanos IV well and let him return to Constantinople, where he was killed by the Byzantines. Image from a 15th-century illustrated French translation of Boccaccio‘s De Casibus Virorum Illustrium.

The Byzantine Empire was resurgent from the end of the 10th century, with Basil II spending most of his 50-year reign on campaign, conquering a great amount of territory. He left a growing treasury, at the expense of neglecting domestic affairs and also ignoring the cost of incorporating his conquests into the Byzantine Ecumene. None of Basil’s successors had any particular military or political talent, and governing the Empire increasingly fell into the hands of the civil service. Their efforts to spend the Byzantine economy back into prosperity only resulted in burgeoning inflation. To balance the increasingly unstable budget, Basil’s large standing army was dismissed as unnecessary, and native thematic troops were cashiered and replaced by foreign mercenaries. Following the defeat of the Byzantine army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Seljuk Turks had taken over almost all of Anatolia, and the Empire descended into frequent civil wars.[43] In the Western Mediterranean the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslims began in the 8th century and reached its turning point with the recapture of Toledo in 1085.[44] At the subsequent Council of Clermont in 1095.[45] Urban II tied the ongoing wars in Iberia to his preaching of the First Crusade and the crusading effort but it was not until the papal encyclical in 1123 by Pope Calixtus II that these wars attained the status of crusades.[46] After this, the papacy declared Iberian crusades in 1147, 1193, 1197, 1210, 1212, 1221 and 1229. Crusading privileges were also given to those people who were helping the military orders – both the traditional Templars and Hospitallers as well as the specifically Iberian orders that were founded and eventually merged into two main orders – that of the Order of Calatrava and the Order of Santiago. From 1212 to 1265, the Christian kingdoms of Iberia drove Muslim rule into the far south of the Iberian Peninsula, confined to the small Emirate of Granada. In 1492, this remnant was conquered and Muslims and Jews were expelled from the peninsula.[47]

In Western Europe an aggressive and reformist papacy came into conflict with both the Eastern Empire and Western secular monarchs, leading to the East-West Schism in 1054,[48] and the Investiture Controversy, which had started around 1075 and was still on-going during the First Crusade. The papacy began to assert its independence from secular rulers, marshaling arguments for the proper use of armed force by Catholics. The result was intense Catholic piety, interest in religious affairs, and religious propaganda advocating “Just War” in order to retake Palestine from the Muslims. The majority view was that non-Christians could not be forced to accept Christian baptism or should not be physically assaulted for having a different faith as opposed to a less common opinion that vengeance was a response to injuries such as the denial of Christian faith, government or the opportunity for justified forcible conversion.[49] Taking part in such a war was seen as a form of penance, which could remit sins.[50] Meanwhile, in Europe, the Germans were expanding at the expense of the Slavs .[51] While Sicily was conquered by the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard in 1072.[52]

Illumination from the Livre des Passages d’Outre-mer (c. 1490) of Urban II at the Council of Clermont (Bibliothèque Nationale)

Emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested military assistance from Pope Urban II at the Council of Piacenza to fight the Seljuqs in 1095, probably envisaging this in the form of mercenaries to reinforce his tagmata and exaggerating the dangers facing the Eastern Empire in order to secure the needed troops[53] On the penultimate day of the subsequent council at Clermont, attended by nearly 300 clerics from throughout France from 19 to 28 November, Urban raised the problems in the Εast and the struggle of the Eastern Roman Empire against Muslims. There are six main sources of information on the Council: the anonymous Gesta Francorum (“The Deeds of the Franks”) dated c. 1100/1101, by Fulcher of Chartres who was present at the council; Robert the Monk, who may have been present; as well as Baldric, archbishop of Dol, and Guibert de Nogent, who were not. All the accounts were written retrsopectively and differ greatly.[54] Robert the Monk—Historia Iherosolimitana, written in 1106/7— writes that the pope asked western Christians, poor and rich, to come to the aid of the Byzantine Empire because “Deus vult,” (“God wills it”) adding that Urban promised Absolution for those who took part, although other sources claim instead, it was remission of all penance due from sins, later called an indulgence. In the accounts Urban emphasizes reconquering the Holy Land more than aiding the Emperor, listing gruesome offences committed by Muslims and focussing on the reconquest of the Holy Land. The propogand for this call to arms was preached across France with Urban himself writing those “waiting in Flanders” lamenting that Turks, in addition to ravaging the “churches of God in the eastern regions,” have seized “the Holy City of Christ, embellished by his passion and resurrection—and blasphemy to say it—have sold her and her churches into abominable slavery.” While not explicitly calling for the reconquest of Jerusalem he does call for the military “liberation” of the Eastern Churches and appoints Adhemar of Le Puy to lead the Crusade, commencing on the day of the Assumption of Mary, 15 August.[55]


First Crusade (1096–1099) and immediate aftermath


The Dark Ages: Life, War and Death – Crusades


Route of the First Crusade through Asia

Inspired by Pope Urban II‘s preaching, Peter the Hermit led as many as 20,000 people, mostly peasants, to the Holy Land shortly after Easter 1096.[56] When they arrived in Germany in spring 1096, units of crusaders commenced the Rhineland massacres in the cities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz and Cologne, despite the efforts by Catholic bishops to protect the Jews. Major leaders included Emicho and Peter the Hermit. The range of anti-Jewish activity was broad, extending from limited, spontaneous violence to full-scale military attacks on the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne.[57] This was the first major outbreak of anti-Jewish violence in Europe and was cited by 19th-century Zionists as showing the need for a Jewish state.[58] When the group finally reached the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Alexios urged them to wait for the western nobles, but they insisted upon proceeding and fell to a Turkish ambush outside Nicaea, from which only about 3,000 people escaped.[59]

The official crusader armies departed from France and Italy in August and September 1096. The bulk of the army divided into four parts, which travelled separately to Constantinople.[60][61] With non-combatants included, the western forces may have contained as many as 100,000 people.[62] The armies journeyed eastward by land toward Constantinople, where they received a wary welcome from the Byzantine Emperor.[63] The main army, mostly comprising French and Norman knights under baronial leadership, pledged to restore lost territories to the empire and marched south through Anatolia.[64][65][66] The leaders of the First Crusade included Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert Curthose, Hugh of Vermandois, Baldwin of Bouillon, Tancred de Hauteville, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto, Robert II, Count of Flanders, and Stephen, Count of Blois. The king of France and Henry IV, Holy Roman Emperor, were in conflict with the Pope and did not participate.[67]

The crusader armies initially fought the Turks at the lengthy Siege of Antioch, which began in October 1097 and lasted until June 1098. When they entered Antioch, the crusaders massacred the Muslim inhabitants and pillaged the city. However, a large Muslim army led by Kerbogha immediately besieged the victorious crusaders, who were now inside Antioch. Bohemond of Taranto successfully rallied the crusader army and defeated Kerbogha on 28 June.[68] Bohemond and his men retained control of the city, despite his pledge to Alexios.[69] Most of the remaining crusader army marched south, moving from town to town along the coast, finally reaching Jerusalem on 7 June 1099 with only a fraction of their original forces.[70]

Jews and Muslims fought together to defend Jerusalem against the invading Franks, but the crusaders entered the city on 15 July 1099 . They proceeded to massacre the remaining Jewish and Muslim civilians and also pillaged or destroyed mosques or the city itself.[71] In his Historia Francorum qui ceperunt Iherusalem, Raymond D’Aguilers exalted actions which would be considered atrocities from a modern viewpoint.[72] As a result of the First Crusade, four primary crusader states were created: Edessa, Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem.[73]

On a popular level, the preaching of the First Crusade unleashed a wave of impassioned, personally felt pious Catholic fury that was expressed in the massacres of Jews that accompanied and preceded the movement of the crusaders through Europe,[74] as well as the violent treatment of the “schismatic” Orthodox Christians of the east.[75]

Following this crusade was a second, less successful wave of crusaders, known as the Crusade of 1101, in which Turks led by Kilij Arslan defeated the crusaders in three separate battles in a response to the First Crusade.[76] Sigurd I of Norway was the first European king to visit the crusading states, as well as the first European king to take part in a crusading campaign, although his expedition was as much pilgrimage as crusade. His fleet helped at the Siege of Sidon. Also in 1107, Bohemond I of Antioch attacked the Byzantines at Avlona and Dyrrachium, in what is occasionally called Bohemond’s Crusade, which ended in September 1108 with a defeat for Bohemond and his retiring to Italy.

12th century

In the early 12th-century, smaller scale crusading continued: Pope Calixtus II promoted the Venetian Crusade of 1122–1124;[77] Count Fulk V of Anjou visited in 1120; Conrad III of Germany in 1124 and Fulk V again in 1129 leading to recognition of the Knights Templar by Pope Honorius II. In 1135 Pope Innocent II‘s grant of crusading indulgences to those who opposed papal enemies is seen by some historians as the beginning of politically motivated crusades.[78] The crusader states were initially secure, but Imad ad-Din Zengi, who was appointed governor of Mosul in 1127, captured Aleppo in 1128 and Edessa (Urfa) in 1144.[79] These defeats led Pope Eugenius III to call for another crusade on 1 March 1145.[80] The new crusade was called for by various preachers, most notably by Bernard of Clairvaux .[81] French and South German armies, under the Kings Louis VII and Conrad III respectively, marched to Jerusalem in 1147 but failed to win any major victories, launching a failed pre-emptive siege of Damascus.[82] On the other side of the Mediterranean a group of Northern European crusaders stopped in Portugal, allied with the Portuguese King, Afonso I of Portugal, and retook Lisbon from the Muslims in 1147.[83] A detachment from this group of crusaders helped Count Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona conquer the city of Tortosa the following year.[84] In the Holy Land by 1150, both the kings of France and Germany had returned to their countries without any result. Bernard of Clairvaux, who in his preachings had encouraged the Second Crusade, was upset with the amount of misdirected violence and slaughter of the Jewish population of the Rhineland[85] A followup to this crusade was the pilgrimage of Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, in 1172 that is sometimes labelled a crusade.[86] At the same time Saxons and Danes fought against Polabian Slavs in the Wendish Crusade or First Northern Crusade. The Wends defeated the Danes and the Saxons did not contribute much to the crusade.[87] The Wends did acknowledge the rule of Henry the Lion. Further crusading actions continued although no papal bulls were issued calling new crusades.[88] Henry restarted efforst to conquer the Wends in 1160 and in 1162 the Wends were defeated.[89]

Detail of a miniature of Philip II of France arriving in the Holy Land

Saladin created a single powerful state, uniting opposition and providing a new threat to the Latin states.[90] Following his victory at the Battle of Hattin he easily overwhelmed the disunited crusaders in 1187 and retook Jerusalem on 29 September 1187. Terms were arranged and the city surrendered, with Saladin entering the city on 2 October 1187.[91] Saladin’s victories shocked Europe. On hearing news of the Siege of Jerusalem (1187), Pope Urban III died of a heart attack on 19 October 1187.[92] On 29 October Pope Gregory VIII issued a papal bull, Audita tremendi, proposing the Third Crusade. To reverse the loss of Jerusalem, Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1152–1190) of Germany, King Philip II of France (r. 1180–1223), and King Richard I (The Lionheart) of England (r. 1189–1199) all organized forces. Frederick died en route, and few of his men reached the Holy Land. The other two armies arrived but were beset by political quarrels. Philip returned to France, leaving most of his forces behind. Richard captured the island of Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191. He then recaptured the city of Acre after a long siege. The crusader army headed south along the Mediterranean coast, defeated the Muslims near Arsuf, recaptured the port city of Jaffa, and was in sight of Jerusalem, but supply problems forced them to end the crusade without taking Jerusalem.[93] Richard left the following year after negotiating a treaty with Saladin. The terms allowed trade for merchants and unarmed Catholic pilgrims to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, while it remained under Muslim control.[94] Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor initiated a German Crusade in 1197 to fulfil the promises made by his father, Frederick. Led by Conrad of Wittelsbach, Archbishop of Mainz the army landed at Acre and captured the cities of Sidon and Beirut before Henry died and most of the crusaders returned to Germany.[95]

13th century

Pope Celestine III called for a crusade against pagans in Northern Europe in 1193 resulting in Bishop Berthold of Hanover leading a large army of crusaders to defeat and his death in 1198. In response to this defeat Innocent III issued a papal bull declaring a crusade against the mostly pagan Livonians.[96] Albrecht von Buxthoeven, consecrated as bishop in 1199, arrived the following year with a large force and established Riga as the seat of his bishopric in 1201. In 1202 he formed the Livonian Brothers of the Sword to aid in the conversion of the pagans to Catholicism and, more importantly, to protect German trade and secure German control over commerce. The Livonians were conquered and converted between 1202 and 1209.[97] In 1217 Pope Honorius III called a crusade against the Prussians.[98] Konrad of Masovia gave Chelmno to the Teutonic Knights in 1226 to serve as a base for the Prussian crusade.[99] In 1236 the Livonian Sword Brothers were defeated by the Lithuanians at Saule, and in 1237 Pope Gregory IX merged the remaining Sword Brothers into the Teutonic Knights.[100] By 1249, the Teutonic Knights had completed their conquest of the Old Prussians, which they ruled as a fief of the German emperor. The Knights then moved on to conquer and convert the pagan Lithuanians, a process that lasted into the 1380s.[101] The Teutonic Order attempted but failed to conquer Orthodox Russia (particularly the Republics of Pskov and Novgorod), an enterprise endorsed by Pope Gregory IX, as part of the Northern Crusades. In 1240 the Novgorod army defeated the Swedes in the Battle of the Neva.[102] and in 1242 they defeated the Livonian knights in the Battle on the Ice.[103] Innocent III initiated recruitment for what became known as the Forth crusade in 1200 with preaching taking place in France, England, and Germany, although the bulk of the efforts were in France.[104] This became a vehicle for the political ambitions of Doge Enrico Dandolo and the German King Philip of Swabia who was married to Irene of Byzantium. Dandolo saw an opportunity to expand Venice’s possessions in the near east, while Philip saw the crusade as a chance to restore his exiled nephew, Alexios IV Angelos, to the throne of Byzantium.[105] The crusaders contracted with the Venetians for a fleet and provisions to transport them to the Holy Land, but they lacked the funds to pay when too few knights arrived in Venice. They agreed to divert the crusade to Constantinople and share what could be looted as payment. As collateral the crusaders seized the Christian city of Zara on 24 November 1202. Innocent was appalled and excommunicated the crusaders.[106] The crusaders met with limited resistance in their initial siege of Constantinople, sailing down the Dardanelles and breaching the sea walls. However, Alexios was strangled after a palace coup, robbing them of their success, and they had to repeat the siege in April 1204. This time the city was sacked, churches pillaged, and large numbers of the citizens butchered. The crusaders took their rewards, dividing the Empire into Latin fiefs and Venetian colonies. In the Venetian period, there was particular attention to improving defences of La Cava and Nicosia.[107] In April 1205, the crusaders were largely annihilated by Bulgars and remaining Greeks at Adrianople, where Kaloyan of Bulgaria captured and imprisoned the new Latin emperor Baldwin of Flanders.[108][109] While deploring the means, the papacy initially supported this apparent forced reunion between the Eastern and Western churches.[110] The Fourth Crusade effectively left two Roman Empires in the East: a Latin “Empire of the Straits”, existing until 1261, and a Byzantine enclave ruled from Nicea, which later regained control in the absence of the Venetian fleet. Venice was the sole beneficiary in the long run.[111]

Pope Innocent III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders (right)

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1208 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania (modern-day southern France). It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the desire of northern France to extend its control southwards as it did with battling heresy. In the end, the Cathars were driven underground, and the independence of southern France was eliminated.[112] In 1221 Honorius III called on King Andrew II to crusade against heretics in Bosnia and Hungarian forces responded to further papal calls in both 1234 and 1241. The later conflict ended because of the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1241. The Bosnian church was Catholic in theology, but continued to be in schism with the Roman Catholic Church well past the end of the Middle Ages.[113] Pope Innocent III declared a new crusade to commence in 1217, along with his summoning of the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215. The majority of the crusaders came from Germany, Flanders, and Frisia, along with a large army from Hungary led by King Andrew II and other forces led by Duke Leopold VI. The forces of Andrew and Leopold arrived in Acre in October 1217 but little was accomplished and Andrew returned to Hungary in January 1218. After the arrival of more crusaders, Leopold and the king of Jerusalem, John of Brienne, laid siege to Damietta, Egypt.[114] which they captured finally in November 1219. Further efforts by the papal legate, Pelagius, to invade further into Egypt led to no gains.[115] Blocked by forces of the Ayyubid Sultan Al-Kamil, the crusaders were forced to surrender. Al-Kamil forced the return of Damietta and agreed to an eight-year truce and the crusaders left Egypt.[116]

Emperor Frederick II (left) meets al-Kamil (right), from a manuscript of the Nuova Cronica by Giovanni Villani

Emperor Frederick II repeatedly failed to fulfill his vows to crusade for which he was excommunicated.[117] Finally he sailed from Brindisi, landing at Acre in September 1228 via Cyprus.[118] There were no battles as Frederick made a peace treaty with Al-Kamil that allowed Latin Christians to rule over most of Jerusalem and a strip of territory from Acre to Jerusalem, while the Muslims were given control of their sacred areas in Jerusalem. In return, Frederick pledged to protect Al-Kamil against all his enemies, even if they were Christian.[119] A followup to this crusade was the effort by King Theobald I of Navarre in 1239 and 1240 that had originally been called in 1234 by Gregory IX to assemble in July 1239 at the end of a truce. Besides Theobald, Peter of Dreux and Hugh, Duke of Burgundy and other French nobles took part. They arrived in Acre in September 1239 and after a defeat in November, Theobald arranged a treaty with the Muslims that returned territory to the crusading states, but caused much disaffection within the crusaders. Theobald returned to Europe in September 1240. Also in 1240, Richard of Cornwall, younger brother of King Henry III of England, took the cross and arrived in Acre in October. He then secured the ratification of Theobald’s treaty and left the Holy Land in May 1241 for Europe.[120]

In the summer of 1244, a Khwarezmian force summoned by the son of al-Kamil, al-Salih Ayyub, stormed and took Jerusalem. The Franks allied with Ayyub’s uncle Ismail and the emir of Homs and their combined forces were drawn into battle at La Forbie in Gaza. The crusader army and its allies were defeated within forty-eight hours by the Khwarezmian tribesmen.[121] King Louis IX of France organized a crusade after taking the cross in December 1244, preaching and recruiting from 1245 through 1248.[122] Louis’ forces set sail from France in May 1249 and landed near Damietta in Egypt on 5 June 1249. Waiting until the end of the Nile flood, the army marched into the interior in November and by February were near Mansura. They were defeated near there, however, and King Louis was captured while retreating towards Damietta.[123] Louis was ransomed for 800,000 bezants and a ten-year truce was agreed. Louis then went to Syria, where he remained until 1254 working to solidify the kingdom of Jerusalem and constructing fortifications.[124]

In 1256, the Venetians were evicted from Tyre, prompting the War of Saint Sabas over territory in Acre claimed by both Genoa and Venice.[125] Venice conquered the disputed property, destroying Saint Sabas’ fortifications, but was unable to expel the Genoese. During a blockade of 14 months Genoa allied with Philip of Monfort, John of Arsuf and the Knights Hospitaller while Venice was supported by the Count of Jaffa and the Knights Templar,[126] By 1261, the Genoese were expelled, but Pope Urban IV, concerned about the impact of the war on the defences against the Mongols, organised a peace council.[127] The conflict resumed in 1264 when the Genoese received aid from Michael VIII Palaiologos, Emperor of Nicaea and Venice failed in an attempt to conquer Tyre. Both sides employed Muslim soldiers, mostly Turcopoles, against their Christian foes and the Genoese had made an alliance with Baybars.[128] The warfare between Genoa and Venice had a significant negative impact on the Kingdom’s ability to withstand external threats to its existence. Except for the religious buildings, most of the fortified buildings in Acre had been destroyed at one point and it looked like it had been ravaged by a Muslim army. According to Rothelin, the continuator of William of Tyre’s History, 20,000 men had lost their lives in the conflict at a time when the crusader states were chronically short on soldiery. The war ended in 1270 and in 1288 Genoa finally received its quarter in Acre back.[129]

Statue of Charles of Anjou in Hyeres

In 1266, Saint Louis’ brother Charles had seized, with Sicily, parts of the eastern Adriatic it had previously controlled as well as Corfu, Butrinto, Avlona and Suboto. The Treaty of Viterbo was agreed with the exiled Baldwin II of Constantinople and William II Villehardouin that the heirs of both Latin princes were to marry children of Charles, and Charles was to have the reversion of the Empire and principality should the couples have no heirs. He also turned his brother’s crusade to his own advantage, persuading Louis to direct the Eighth Crusade against his rebel vassals in Tunis. Louis’s death, illness among the crusaders and a storm that devastated his fleet forced Charles to postpone his designs against Constantinople. Michael VIII Palaeologus was alarmed by Charles’s planned crusade to restore the Latin Empire that had fallen in 1261 and Charles’ expansion in the Mediterranean. Palaeologus delayed Charles by beginning negotiations with Pope Gregory X for a union between the Greek and the Latin churches. At the Council of Lyon, a Union of Churches was declared; Charles and Philip of Courtenay were compelled to extend a truce with Byzantium. The union would later prove to be unacceptable to the Greeks. Palaeologus also provided Genoa with funds to encourage the revolts in Charles’s northern Italian territories.[130] In 1268 Charles executed Conradin — a great-grandson of Isabella I of Jerusalem, principal pretender to the throne of Jerusalem — when seizing Sicily from the Holy Roman Empire. Charles went on to purchase the rights to Jerusalem from Maria of Antioch — the only remaining grandchild of Queen Isabella— creating a rival claim to that of Hugh III of Cyprus, who was a great grandson of Queen Isabella. Charles spent his life striving to assemble a Mediterranean empire. He and Louis regarded themselves as God’s instruments to uphold the Papacy.[131] Ignoring his advisers, in 1270 Louis IX again attacked the Arabs in Tunis in North Africa. He picked the hottest season of the year for campaigning and his army was devastated by disease. The king himself died, ending the last major attempt to take the Holy Land.[132] The Mamluks, led by Baibars, eventually drove the Franks from the Holy Land. From 1265 through 1271, Baibars drove the Franks to a few small coastal outposts.[133] The future Edward I of England undertook to crusade with Louis IX, but he was delayed and did not arrive in North Africa until November 1270. After the death of Louis, Edward went to Sicily and then on to Acre in May 1271. His forces were too small to make much difference, though, and he was upset at the conclusion of a truce between Baibars and the king of Jerusalem, Hugh. Although Edward learned of his father’s death and his succession to the throne in December 1272, he did not return to England until 1274, although he accomplished little in the Holy Land.[134] The accession of a French pope, Martin IV, in 1281 brought the full power of the Papacy into line behind Charles’ plans. He campaigned unsuccessfully in Albania and Achaea before preparing to launch the body of his Crusade (400 ships carrying 27,000 mounted knights) against Constantinople. However, Palaeologus allied with Peter III of Aragon to encourage an uprising known as the Sicilian Vespers in which the crusader fleet was abandoned and burnt. The Sicilians appealed to King Peter, who was proclaimed king with the Angevin house exiled forever from Sicily. Pope Martin excommunicated Peter and called a crusade against Aragon before, in 1287, Charles died, allowing Henry II of Cyprus to reclaim Jerusalem. One factor in the eventual decline and fall was the disunity and conflict that were endemic between the various Latin Christian interests of the Eastern Mediterranean. Pope Martin IV hopelessly compromised the Papacy supporting Charles of Anjou; and the botched secular “crusades” against Sicily and Aragon greatly tarnished its spiritual power. The collapse of its moral authority and the rise of nationalism rang the death knell for crusading, and would ultimately lead to the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism. The Crusade of Aragón was declared by Martin IV against Peter III in 1284 and 1285. Peter was supporting the anti-Angevin forces in Sicily following the Sicilian Vespers, and the papacy supported Charles of Anjou. Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed a crusade against Frederick III of Sicily, the younger brother of Peter, in 1298, but was unable to prevent Frederick’s crowning and recognition as King of Sicily.

The mainland Crusading states of the middle eastern Outremer were extinguished with the fall of Tripoli in 1289, and Acre in 1291.[136] The remaining Latin Christians largely left for various destinations in the Frankokratia, were killed or enslaved.[137] Minor crusading efforts lingered into the 14th century. Peter I of Cyprus captured and sacked Alexandria in 1365 in what became known as the Alexandrian Crusade though his motivation was as much commercial as it was religious.[138] Louis II, Duke of Bourbon led a French-Genoese campaign in 1390 against Muslim pirates in North Africa and based in Mahdia called the Mahdian Crusade. After a ten-week siege, the crusaders lifted their siege with the signing of a ten-year truce.[139]

Crusades of the 14th and 15th centuries

Execution of Christian prisoners after the Battle of Nicopolis (1396) in retaliation for the Rahovo massacre of Ottoman prisoners

Various crusades were launched in the 14th and 15th centuries to counter the expansion of the Ottoman Empire starting in 1396 with Sigismund of Luxemburg, king of Hungary. Many French nobles joined Sigismund’s forces, including John the Fearless, son of the Duke of Burgundy, who was appointed military leader of the crusade. Although Sigismund advised the crusaders to adopt a defensive posture once they reached the Danube, the crusaders instead besieged the city of Nicopolis. The Ottomans defeated the crusaders in the Battle of Nicopolis on 25 September 1396 capturing 3,000 prisoners.[140]

The battle between the Hussite warriors and the Crusaders, Jena Codex, 15th century

The Hussite Crusade(s), also known as the “Hussite Wars,” or the “Bohemian Wars,” involved the military actions against the followers of Jan Hus in Bohemia in the period 1420 to around 1431. Crusades were declared five times in that period – in 1420, 1421, 1422, 1427 and in 1431. The net effect of these expeditions was to force the Hussite forces, which disagreed on many doctrinal points, to unite to drive out the invaders. The wars were brought to a conclusion in 1436 with the ratification of the Compactata of Iglau by the Church.[141] In April 1487, Pope Innocent VIII called a crusade against the Waldensian heretics of Savoy, the Piedmont, and the Dauphiné in southern France and northern Italy. The only efforts actually undertaken were against heretics in the Dauphiné, and resulted in little change.[142]

The Polish-Hungarian king, Władysław Warneńczyk invaded the recently conquered Ottoman territory and reached Belgrade in January 1444. Negotiations over a truce eventually led to an agreement, that was repudiated by Sultan Murad II within days of its ratification. Further efforts by the crusaders ended in the Battle of Varna on 10 November 1444, which was a decisive Ottoman victory, led to the crusaders withdrawing. This withdrawal led to the fall of Constantinople in 1453, as it was the last Western attempt to help the Byzantine Empire.

In 1456, John Hunyadi and Giovanni da Capistrano organized a crusade to lift the Ottomon siege of Belgrade.[143]

Crusader states

Main article: Outremer

Latin and Byzantine Empires in 1205

The First Crusade established the first four crusader states in the Eastern Mediterranean: the County of Edessa (1098 until 1149), the Principality of Antioch (1098 until 1268), Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099 until 1291) and the County of Tripoli (1104, although Tripoli itself was not conquered until 1109, to 1289). The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia had its origins before the Crusades, but was granted the status of a kingdom by Pope Innocent III, and later became fully westernized by the (French) Lusignan dynasty. These states were recognised by Jonathan Riley-Smith as the first experiments in “Europe Overseas”. The general name given to them is Outremer (French: outre-mer) for “overseas”.[144]

The fourth crusade established a Latin Empire in the East and arranged the partition of the Byzantine territory among the participants. The Latin Emperor had direct control of one fourth of the Byzantine territory, Venice three eighths including three eighths of the city of Constantinople and the remainder was divided among the other crusader leaders. Thus began the period of the history of Greece known as Frankokratia or Latinokratia (“Frankish/Latin rule”), where Catholic West European nobles, mostly from France and Italy, established states on former Byzantine territory and ruled over the mostly Orthodox native Byzantine Greeks. The Partitio Romànie is a valuable document for the administrative divisions (episkepseis) and estates of the various Byzantine magnate families ca. 1203, as well as the areas still controlled by the Byzantine central government at the time.[28]


Christian Dirham with Arabic inscriptions from between 1216 and 1241

Crusades were expensive and as the wars increased, the costs also escalated. Pope Urban II called upon the rich to help those who were “less well-off” and lords on the First Crusade such as Duke Robert of Normandy and Count Raymond of St. Gilles, who had subsidized knights in their own contingents. The total cost of the crusades of 1284–1285 to King Louis IX of France was at about 1,537,570 livres, which was six times his annual income. This may be an underestimation because there are records that show he spent 1,000,000 livres in Palestine after his campaign in Egypt was over. Furthermore, rulers had demanded subsidies from their subjects.[145] Eventually, alms and legacies from the outburst of enthusiasm in the conquest of Palestine were another source of finance. The popes had ordered chests to be placed in churches for their collection and from the middle of the twelfth century, they granted indulgences, to those who contributed to the movement this way, while also encouraging the faithful to make bequests to the Holy Land in their own wills.[146]

Military orders

Central to the debate on crusading ethics are the military orders, particularly the Hospitallers and the Templars. To a modern sensibility it is strange that the church could reconcile monasticism with soldiering. Both the Hospitallers and the Templars became international organisations with depots located across the countries of Western Europe as well as in the East. In contrast the Teutonic knights successfully moved their attentions to the Baltic and the Spanish military orders of Santiago, Calatrava, Alcantara and Montesa concentrated on the Iberian Peninsula. The Knights of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem were founded in 1099 in the aftermath of the first crusade. The order included military, medical and pastoral brothers. Following the fall of Acre they escaped to Cyprus and successively conquered and ruled both Rhodes (1309–1522) and Malta (1530–1801). The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon were founded in 1118 to protect pilgrims en route to Jerusalem. However, they quickly became immensely rich and powerful through banking and real estate. In 1322 the King of France suppressed the order on spurious charges of sodomy, magic and heresy but more probably for financial and political reasons.[147]

Role of women, children, and class

Illustration of the Children’s Crusade by Gustave Doré, 1892

Women were intricately connected with the Crusades, aiding the recruitment of crusading men, taking on responsibility in their absence, and providing financial and moral support.[148][149] Historians argue that the most significant role played by women in the West was maintaining the status quo.[150] Landholders left for the Holy Land, leaving control of their estates with regents, often wives or mothers. The Church recognized that risk to families and estates might discourage crusaders, so special papal protection formed part of the crusading privilege.[151] A number of aristocratic women went on crusade such as Eleanor of Aquitaine who joined her husband, Louis VII.[152] Some non-aristocratic women were also served by undertaking tasks considered suitable such as working as washerwoman.[150] More controversial was women taking an active part, which threatened their femininity, with accounts of women fighting coming mostly from Muslim historians with the aim of portraying Christian women as barbaric and ungodly due to their acts of killing.[153]

Less historically certain was a Children’s Crusade Catholic movement in France and Germany in 1212 that attracted large numbers of peasant teenagers and young people, with some under the age of 15. They were convinced that they could succeed where older and more sinful crusaders had failed: the miraculous power of their faith would triumph where the force of arms had not. Many parish priests and parents encouraged such religious fervor and urged them on. The pope and bishops opposed the attempt but failed to stop it entirely. A band of several thousand youth and young men, led by a German named Nicholas, set out for Italy. About a third survived the march over the Alps and got as far as Genoa; another group went to Marseilles. The luckier ones eventually managed to return home, but many others were sold as lifetime slaves on the auction blocks of Marseilles slave dealers.[154]

Three crusading efforts among the peasants occurred in the middle 1250s and again in the early 1300s. The first, the Shepherds’ Crusade of 1251, was preached in northern France. After meeting with Blanche of Castile, however, it became disorganized and had to be disbanded by the government.[155] The second, in 1309, occurred in England, northeastern France, and Germany, and had as many as 30,000 peasants arriving at Avignon before being disbanded[156] The last one, in 1320, had similar origins as the first shepherds’ crusade but quickly turned into a series of attacks on clergy and Jews, and was forcibly dispersed.[157]


20th-century depiction of a victorious Saladin

Western Europeans in the East adopted native customs, saw themselves as citizens and intermarried.[158] This led to a people and culture descended from remaining European inhabitants of the crusader states — especially French Levantines in Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey — and of traders from the maritime republics of the MediterraneanVenice, Genoa and Ragusa, continued to live in Constantinople/Istanbul, Smyrna/Izmir and other parts of Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean coast throughout the middle Byzantine and Ottoman eras. These people are known as Levantines or Franco-Levantines (pr:”Frankolevantini”)—French: Levantins, Italian: Levantini, Greek: Φραγκολεβαντίνοι, Turkish: Levantenler or Tatlısu Frenkleri—and are Roman Catholic. They are now mainly concentrated in Istanbul, in the districts of Galata, Beyoğlu and Nişantaşı; İzmir, in the districts of Karşıyaka, Bornova and Buca; and Mersin, where they had been influential for creating and reviving a tradition of opera. After the British occupied parts of Ottoman Syria in the aftermath of the First World War the term “Levantine” has been used pejoratively for inhabitants of mixed Arab and European descent and for Europeans — usually French, Italian or Greek — who adopted local dress and customs.

The crusades influenced the attitude of the western Church and people towards warfare. The frequent calling of crusades habituated the clergy to the use of violence. The crusades also sparked debate about the legitimacy of taking lands and possessions from pagans on purely religious grounds that would arise again in the 15th and 16th centuries with the Age of Discovery.[159] The needs of crusading warfare also stimulated secular governmental developments, although these were not necessarily positive. The resources collected for crusading could have been used by the developing states for local and regional needs instead of in far away lands.[160]

With its power and prestige raised by the crusades, the papal curia had greater control over the entire western Church and extended the system of papal taxation throughout the whole ecclesiastical structure of the West. The indulgence system grew significantly in late medieval Europe, later to spark the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s.[161]

The Albigensian Crusade was designed to eliminate the Cathar heresy in Languedoc. One result was France’s acquisition of lands with closer cultural and linguistic ties to Catalonia. The Albigensian Crusade also had a role in the creation and institutionalization of both the Dominican Order and the Medieval Inquisition.[162] The Persecution of Jews in the First Crusade is part of the long history of anti-Semitism in Europe.[163] The need to raise, transport and supply large armies led to a flourishing of trade throughout Europe between Europe and the Outremer. Genoa and Venice flourished through profitable trading colonies in the crusader states, both in the Holy Land and later in captured Byzantine territory.[164]

2 thoughts on “The Crusades – Christians vs Muslims – What”s it all about?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s