Crusades and Its Consequences
The Crusades were a series of historical events that was of extreme importance in the history of both Eastern and Western cultures. The motivations and reasons for the Crusade have been the subject of much contention and debate. Views include the opinion that the Crusades were essentially a power struggle and reflect the need of the Papacy to extend its political influence. While the Crusades are conventionally seen to have had a mainly religious impetus, yet historical research also reveals other aspects and dimensions, which emphasizes the complexity of the Crusades. Just as debatable and complex are the consequences and impact that the Crusades were to have on the world. These include negative aspects such as the subjugation and domination of other cultures as well as positive aspects such as the extension and broadening of cultural contact. There is no doubt however that the various Crusades had a profound effect on the social, cultural and political development of the world and were possibly the precursor to the era of European expansionism and eventual colonization.
Motivations, reason and causative factors for the Crusades
Consequences of the Crusades.
The Crusades were an historical event that are often understood in conventional terms to have been a “…fulfillment of a solemn vow, to deliver the Holy Places from Mohammedan tyranny.” (Crusades)
However the crusades from a contemporary point-of-view are often debated and seen from different perspectives. For example, the Crusades are also described as “…war-pilgrimages proclaimed by the Popes on Christ’s behalf and waged for the recovery of Christian territory or people, or in their defense.” (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20)
The reasons and the underlying historical facets are complex and the historical significance of the various crusades has had a profound and complex effect on the modern world.
The context in which the Crusades were based was essentially religious in nature. This can be seen in the fact that the very word ‘Crusade” refers to a cross made of cloth, which was displayed on the apparel of those taking part in the crusades. (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20) Therefore the established rationale and motivation behind the crusades was seemingly purely religious in nature. As a consequence, the meaning of ‘crusade’ has since the Middle Ages become a term referring to all wars “…undertaken in pursuance of a vow, and directed against infidels, i.e. against Mohammedans, pagans, heretics, or those under the ban of excommunication.” (Crusades)
However, as this study will attempt to elucidate, the Crusades were undertaken as a result of many complex and often non-religious reasons which are intimately related.
The purpose of this study is to provide firstly a general overview of the Crusades as well as a discussion of the reasons that initiated and motivated these historical events. This analysis will lead to an exposition of the way in which the Crusades have had an effect on the world and to a certain extent shaped our contemporary and political realities. One of the aspects of the Crusades that will be discussed is the view that they can also be seen as a from of domination by the ideals of Christian theology and the subjugation of other people’s view and religions; which has had long-term effects on the world that still affect us today.
2. Motivations, reason and causative factors for the Crusades
The first Crusade was begun in 1095 and the various Crusades continued until “… The fall of the last order-state, Hospitaller Malta, to Napoleon in 1798.” (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20)
The areas covered in the Crusades include Palestine and the eastern Mediterranean region as well as, “North Africa, Spain, the Baltic shores, Hungary, the Balkans, and even Western Europe. “(Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20)
Furthermore, the Muslims were not the only enemies of the Crusaders, who also fought against Pagan Wends, Baits and Lithuanians, Shamanist Mongols, Orthodox Russians and Greeks, Cathar and Hussite heretics. Crusades were also undertaken against Catholics who were against the papacy. (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20)
The Crusades are usually divided into eight campaigns.
A the first, 1095-1101;
the second, headed by Louis VII, 1145-47;
the third, conducted by Philip Augustus and Richard Coeur-de-Lion, 1188-92;
the fourth, during which Constantinople was taken, 1204;
the fifth, which included the conquest of Damietta, 1217;
the sixth, in which Frederick II took part (1228-29); also Thibaud de Champagne and Richard of Cornwall (1239);
the seventh, led by St. Louis, 1249-52;
the eighth, also under St. Louis, 1270.
As has been mentioned, one of the central motivational aspects of these Crusades was religious belief and ideology. The Crusades were therefore conducted against the perceived Muslim “enemies” of the Christian world. However it is equally true that the Crusades were fought against many others who were perceived as being opposed to the power and the doctrines of Christian Rome. Even Catholic dissenters were targets of the Crusades. Therefore, the motivation for the Crusades can also be seen in the context of political power.
There are a number of other complex reasons and causes for the events of the Crusades.
Many of these can be related to religious concerns. The Crusades were instigated by the Catholic Church and were certainly aligned to the power of the Pope and the extension of the Papacy in the world.
From another and more holistic perspective, the Crusades can also be interpreted as the beginning of Western imperialism and possibly the start of later colonial incursions in the world. This is underlined by various scholarly views. “Thus the Crusades can be seen as a part in the chapter in Papal and religious history. In addition, the Crusades opened the first chapter in the history of Western imperialism” (McBall et al., 1982, p 447)
In more extensive political and geographical terms, the real reasons for the Crusades lie in the larger development of Western Europe in the Middle Ages. This development was closely connected to the emergent states in the Middle East and particularly to the situation with regard to the occupation of Spain.
After the death of Muhammad, Islamic armies from Arabic countries moved to dominate all of the Middle East, North Africa and most of Spain. The Seljuk Turks conquered large areas of the Middle East, including Palestine and Jerusalem. They also conquered part of the Byzantine Empire. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 67)
These events were to prepare the ground for and lead to the First Crusade in a geopolitical sense.
One of the central reasons given for the Crusades, and a cause of the First Crusade, was the difficulty that Christian pilgrims experienced on journeys to the Middle East and particularly to Jerusalem. There were also personal motivations and causes for the Crusades. This is particularly related to the idea of “holy war” and the personal spiritual benefits that the crusaders could receive for taking part in these wars
While holy war had had a long history, the idea of penitential war was unprecedented in Christian thought. It meant that a crusade was for the crusader only secondarily about service in arms to God or benefiting the Church or Christianity; it was primarily about benefiting himself. He was engaged in an act of self-sanctification. (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20)
Another aspect that needs to be taken into account is the social and cultural milieu at the time of First Crusade. The Middle Ages were a time when violence and the use of violence as a means towards various ends was not seen in the judgmental and pejorative sense that it is today. According to the Oxford History of the Crusades, during the Middle Ages,
Violence was everywhere, impinging on many aspects of daily life. Legal disputes, for instance, were often resolved by means of trial by battle or by recourse to painful and perilous ordeals. Around the time of the First Crusade it was becoming increasingly common for convicted felons to suffer death or mutilation, a departure from the traditional emphasis on compensating the victims or their families Brutality was so common it could be ritualistic. (Bull, 1999, p. 16/17)
The medieval Churches were also not exempt from the use of violent means and methods. As Bull (1999) states; “Historians used to believe that the Church had been pacifist in the early Christian centuries, but had then become contaminated by the values of its host societies in a process which culminated during the period when crusading was at its height,…” however, “The crucial element in the medieval world’s relationship with violence was choice.” (Bull, 1999, p. 16/17)
The Oxford History of the Crusades also emphasizes an important aspect in the assessment and understanding of the Crusades from a modern point-of-view. This is namely that modern perceptions, prejudices and stereotypes should be carefully considered before applying them to any interpretation or understanding of the Crusades. This is an important aspect that relates to a comprehensive historical view of this period.
It should be noted that the response of western Europeans to the First Crusade did not depend on a developed hatred of Islam and all things Muslim… Popular understanding of the crusades nowadays tends to think in terms of a great contest between faiths fuelled by religious fanaticism. This perception is bound up with modern sensibilities about religious discrimination, and… It is a perspective which, at least as far as the First Crusade is concerned, needs to be rejected.
Bull, 1999, p. 16/17)
The first crusade was initiated when Alexis I, the leader of the Byzantine Empire asked Pope Urban II for help in defending his territory against the Seljuk Turks. The religious aspect of this request was that Alexis claimed that the Eastern Christians were suffering as a result of Islamic rule. Another aspect was the danger that Christians pilgrims faced. In this regard it should be remembered that places such as the tomb of the apostle Saint James were sacred and important for pilgrims. Of course, Jerusalem and Palestine were favored pilgrimage destinations due to their proximity to Christian history. However, “…with the defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuks at Manzikert in 1701, Asia Minor became a dangerous place indeed. ” (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 67)
The First Crusade was also seen by Pope Urban II as furthering the Christian cause as a way of reuniting the Western and Eastern Christian Churches. There was dissatisfaction among the Church leaders at this division and there was a deeply felt need to unite and consolidate Christendom. Pope Urban II therefore called a Crusade to return Jerusalem and Palestine to Christian control.
The religious context of the first Crusade was also underlined by the fact that, “The Pope promised those who went on the crusade that if they were killed, their sins would be pardoned, and they would be heaven – bound. If they survived they would share in the wealth of Muslim Middle East.” (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 67)
The First Crusade proved to be successful in terms of the desires of the Papacy. A combined grouping of various armies, numbering about thirty-thousand men, assembled in Asia Minor.
The Crusaders beat the Turks on 1097 and succeeded in capturing Nicea, the capital of Turkish Asia Minor. In 1099 the Crusaders took control of Jerusalem. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 67)
After the First Crusade a number of Christian states were established along the Mediterranean Sea. However there was disagreements between the different rulers of the states and they could not provide a unified front against the Muslims. As a result these states was attacked and defeated by the Muslim forces.
The Second Crusade occurred when Edessa was conquered by the Muslims in 1144. This Crusade was headed by the French King Louis VII as well as the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 67)
However due to a lack of cooperation between the French and Germans, this Crusade failed and they were defeated by the Turks.
The Third Crusade was initiated by the conquering of Jerusalem by the Muslim leader Saladin. Saladin had created a unified Muslim state from Egypt, Syria and other areas of the Middle East. The Third Crusade was therefore begun in reaction to this event. The Crusade did not however manage to liberate Jerusalem, although it did have other minor successes; the city of Acre northeast of Jerusalem was conquered by the Crusaders.
There were five more Crusades that were undertaken. These Crusades were however influenced to a large extent by growing political dissention and strife, as well as other negative undercurrents in Europe. There was also as general disillusionment with the wars after the failure of the Second Crusade.
The Fourth Crusade actuality took place in Europe and was directed at Constantinople. The First Crusade had provided the model for the subsequent Crusades. The general pattern that was followed was that of a holy war which was promoted and sanctified by the Papacy against the Muslims, who were seen as dividing and retarding the growth of Christianity.
There are also interpretations of the later Crusades, which suggest that political and other issues came to dominate the motivations of these Crusades. One view is that the Fourth Crusade had, to a certain extent, lost the initial religious motivations and become more aligned to a search for power and political conquest. Some scholars see the Fourth Crusade as “perverted.” “To many, the Fourth Crusade is the classic case of how perverted the crusades were. Not only was this crusade not directed towards Jerusalem, it was not even directed against the Muslims. And in the end, the crusaders gained land, not religious glory. ” (Haas, L. 2001. p. 881)
The Fifth Crusade was focused on Egypt as a centre of Muslim power. The city of Damietta was taken in 1219. However the capital, Cairo, was not able to be conquered by the Crusaders and they finally gave up Damietta a few years later.
Besides the First Crusade the most successful Crusade was the sixth. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 67)
The aim of this Crusade were achieved with no violence and the leader of the Crusade, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II “… managed to regain control of Jerusalem by negotiating a treaty with Muslim leaders.” (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 72)
The Seventh Crusade was led by King Louis IX of France and achieved little success. When the state of Antioch was conquered by Muslims in 1268, this led to another Crusade. However this final Crusade came to an end when Louis IX died of the plague in the Middle East. All of the Crusader states were eventuality conquered by the Muslims, with the last Crusader city falling in 1291. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 74)
4. The consequences of the Crusades.
Assessments of the Crusades and their impact on the world are varied. One view that is commonly held is that in terms of the initial goals and objectives, the Crusades”…failed in their mission to win the Middle East for Christian Europe.” (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 74)
On the other hand there are scholars who claim that the Crusades had a more positive consequence in that it succeeded in adding new dimensions to Western and European culture. In other words, this view relates to the cultural impact on Western society as a result of the exposure to new and different thinking and world views. This led to change and even an expansion of Western consciousness. Related to this view is the opinion that, notwithstanding its various negative effects, the Crusades also had the somewhat ironic result of opening up the possibilities of greater understanding and tolerance. This view is amplified in the comment that the Crusades in fact, “….exposed western Europeans to a completely different culture, and many of those who settled in the crusader states learned to appreciate other customs than their own. ” (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 74) further impact of the Crusades was the enrichment of language through the introduction of various Arabic words such as tariff, bazaar and divan. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 74)
There were also various other influences that permeated Western culture as a result of the exposure to Middle Eastern culture. These included new types of food, such as sugar and rice, as well as different and new material and cloth. Furthermore, these aspects were to have significant historical implications as they increased and promoted trade – which in turn was to lead to further European expansion and exploration. For example, the search for trade routes and the exploration of the East by journeys such as those undertaken by Marco Polo to Asia and China. There was also an increase in interest in geographic exploration which can also be seen to be related to the Crusades.
In a political sense the Crusades had a profound effect on aspects of European political structure. One of the most important of these aspects was the reduction of the power and cohesiveness of the feudal system. This was due to the fact that the feudal lords were required to provide much of the expenditure in terms of human resources and materials for the Crusades. This was to result in a considerable reduction of the power and influence of the feudal lords throughout Europe and to a decline in the feudal system; which led in turn to profound changes in the structure and makeup of European society.
The historical implications and the ripple effect of the Crusades can be followed to show that they often had a marked impact on later developments in the world. Related to this is the view that the Crusades were an initiatory factor for the “Age of Exploration” that was to lead to the Renaissance. Another result of the Crusades was the creation and shaping of the nation of Spain with the removal of the Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. (Corrick, James. 1995. p. 66)
One important way in which the Crusades affected the world was the impact that it had on the Roman Church. As has been pointed out in this paper, the history of the Crusades is intimately linked to the authority of Rome and the Papacy. The decline of the crusading movement is also therefore seen to be linked to the decline of the authority of the Papacy. Some critics state that the eventual result of the Crusades was to “…undermine the pope’s temporal power.” (Noss David. 1984. p.447)
Another issue in world development was the way that the Crusades opened up cultural exchange which also led to the distinctions between East and West – an aspect that is of central concern in the modern world.
There are many different historical, sociological and political views of the Crusades and their impact on the world. From one perspective the Crusades are seen as a power-driven and imperialistic attempt to take over other regions under the guise of religion. However, other studies also point out that this is a simplistic view which does not take into account the various complex religious, cultural, economic, political and geographic realities of the time.
The Crusades is often interpreted in a contemporary context in a negative sense as forming part of the ideology of “holy war.” This is an aspect; which has increasingly negative connotations in our time. The term ‘holy war’ is often taken to refer to the justification of violence under the disguise of spiritual and religious goals. This is a view that the modern world has become extremely suspicious of and it reflects badly on the Crusades.
From this perspective the Crusades are seen not as a justified and idealized religious search for spiritual unity, but rather as a self-righteous and false attempt to obtain power and land under the guise of religion. Many scholars support this view by citing the numerous records and documents that clearly show the often cruel and unjust actions of the Crusaders. “The crusading Christians, while at times motivated by deep religious conviction, were often opportunistic. They were commonly illiterate. They at times committed incredible acts of cruelty.” (Renick, 2005, p. 11) more graphic example of the many tales of Crusader cruelty is as follows.
When the crusaders were attacking Antioch, they used the heads of slain Turks as ammunition for their primitive cannons. Apart from using the heads as ammunition, about three hundred head were placed on stakes in front of the city to demoralize the defenders of the city. The crusaders finally broke through and slaughtered the inhabitants.
However, there are also opposing views and many historians claim that accusations of cruelty and barbarism by the Crusaders are mythical and unjustified. They refer for example to the fact that there is considerable doubt about the number of Muslims killed in Jerusalem. (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20) central critique in many studies concerns the legitimization and condoning of violence by the Roman Church. This was an attitude towards violence that was only to change in the late sixteenth century. “Only in the sixteenth century did the nearly universal conviction that the use of violence depended on Christ’s direct or indirect authority begin to be undermined.” (Riley-Smith, J. 2000, p.20)
Notwithstanding the various viewpoints and critiques of the Crusades, there is little doubt that these historic events had a profound and far-reaching impact on the world and helped to shape the modern world.
Bull, M. (1999). 2 Origins. In The Oxford History of the Crusades, Riley-Smith, J. (Ed.) (pp. 15-34). Oxford: Oxford University.
Corrick, James. (1995) The Late Middle Ages. San Diego: Lucent Books.
Crusades. New Advent. Retrieved July 26, 2006, at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04543c.htm http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001037063
Haas, L. (2001). The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople. The Historian, 63(4), 881. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=65567896
Housley, N. (1992). From Lyons to Alcazar. New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved July 29, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=65567896
McBall Edward et al. (1982) World Civilizations. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Noss David. (1984) Man’s Regions New York: Macmillan, 1984. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5009653177
Renick, T.M. (2005, June 14). Crusades Revisited. The Christian Century, 122, 11. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=72527140
Riley-Smith, J. (Ed.). (1999). The Oxford History of the Crusades. Oxford: Oxford University. Retrieved July 29, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=72527140
Riley-Smith, J. (2000, March). Rethinking the Crusades. First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life 20. Retrieved July 29, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001188268
The Crusades. Retrieved July, 2006, at http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/crusades.html
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