The Religious Crusades were a series of military conflicts of a religious character waged by much of Christian Europe during 1095-1291.
The Religious Crusades originally had the goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule and were originally launched in response to a call from the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire for help against the expansion of the Muslim Seljuk Turks into Anatolia.
The term is also used to describe contemporaneous and subsequent campaigns conducted through to the 16th century in territories outside the Levant usually against pagans, heretics, and peoples under the ban of excommunication for a mixture of religious, economic, and political reasons.
Rivalries among both Christian and Muslim powers led also to alliances between religious factions against their opponents, such as the Christian alliance with the Sultanate of Rum during the Fifth Crusade.
The Religious Crusades had far-reaching political, economic, and social impacts, some of which have lasted into contemporary times.
Because of internal conflicts among Christian kingdoms and political powers, some of the crusade expeditions were diverted from their original aim, such as the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the sack of Christian Constantinople and the partition of the Byzantine Empire between Venice and the Crusaders.
The Sixth Crusade was the first crusade to set sail without the official blessing of the Pope, establishing the precedent that rulers other than the Pope could initiate a crusade.
The Muslim presence in the Holy Land began with the initial Arab conquest of Palestine in the 7th century. This did not interfere much with pilgrimage to Christian holy sites or the security of monasteries and Christian communities in the Holy Land, and western Europeans were less concerned with the loss of far-away Jerusalem than, in the ensuing decades and centuries, the invasions by Muslims and other hostile non-Christians, such as the Vikings, Slavs and Magyars. However, the Muslim armies' successes put increasing pressure on the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire.
Another factor that contributed to the change in Western attitudes towards the East came in the year 1009, when the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre destroyed. In 1039 his successor permitted the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it. Pilgrimages were allowed to the Holy Lands before and after the Sepulchre was rebuilt, but for a time pilgrims were captured and some of the clergy were killed. The Muslim conquerors eventually realized that the wealth of Jerusalem came from the pilgrims; with this realization the persecution of pilgrims stopped. However, the damage was already done, and the violence of the Seljuk Turks became part of the concern that spread the passion for the Crusades.
The origins of the Crusades lie in developments in Western Europe earlier in the Middle Ages, as well as the deteriorating situation of the Byzantine Empire in the east caused by a new wave of Turkish Muslim attacks. The breakdown of the Carolingian Empire in the late 9th century, combined with the relative stabilization of local European borders after the Christianization of the Vikings, Slavs, and Magyars, had produced a large class of armed warriors whose energies were misplaced fighting one another and terrorizing the local populace. The Church tried to stem this violence with the Peace and Truce of God movements, which was somewhat successful, but trained warriors always sought an outlet for their skills, and opportunities for territorial expansion were becoming less attractive for large segments of the nobility. One exception was the Reconquista in Spain and Portugal, which at times occupied Iberian knights and some mercenaries from elsewhere in Europe in the fight against the Islamic Moors, who had successfully overrun most of the Iberian Peninsula over the preceding two centuries. In 1063, Pope Alexander II had given his blessing to Iberian Christians in their wars against the Muslims, granting both a papal standard (the vexillum sancti Petri) and an indulgence to those who were killed in battle. Pleas from the Byzantine Emperors, now threatened by the Seljuks, thus fell on ready ears. These occurred in 1074, from Emperor Michael VII to Pope Gregory VII and in 1095, from Emperor Alexios I Komnenos to Pope Urban II.
The Crusades were, in part, an outlet for an intense religious piety which rose up in the late 11th century among the lay public. A crusader would, after pronouncing a solemn vow, receive a cross from the hands of the pope or his legates, and was thenceforth considered a "soldier of the Church". This was partly because of the Investiture Controversy, which had started around 1075 and was still on-going during the First Crusade. As both sides of the Investiture Controversy tried to marshal public opinion in their favor, people became personally engaged in a dramatic religious controversy. The result was an awakening of intense Christian piety and public interest in religious affairs. This was further strengthened by religious propaganda, advocating Just War in order to retake the Holy Land which included Jerusalem (where the death, resurrection and ascension into heaven of Jesus took place according to Christian theology) and Antioch (the first Christian city) from the Muslims. Further, the remission of sin was a driving factor. This provided any God-fearing men who had committed sins with an irresistible way out of eternal damnation in hell. It was a hotly debated issue throughout the Crusades as what exactly "remission of sin" meant. Most believed that by retaking Jerusalem they would go straight to heaven after death.
The immediate cause of the First Crusade was Alexius I's appeal to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into territory of the Byzantine Empire. In 1071, at the Battle of Manzikert, the Byzantine Empire was defeated, which led to the loss of all of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) save the coastlands. Although attempts at reconciliation after the East-West Schism between the Catholic Western Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church had failed, Alexius I hoped for a positive response from Urban II and got it, although it turned out to be more expansive and less helpful than he had expected. When the First Crusade was preached in 1095, the Christian princes of northern Iberia had been fighting their way out of the mountains of Galicia and Asturias, the Basque Country and Navarre, with increasing success, for about a hundred years. The fall of Moorish Toledo to the Kingdom of León in 1085 was a major victory, but the turning points of the Reconquista still lay in the future. The disunity of Muslim emirs was an essential factor. While the Reconquista was the most prominent example of European reactions against Muslim conquests, it is not the only such example. The Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered the "toe of Italy," Calabria, in 1057 and was holding what had traditionally been Byzantine territory against the Muslims of Sicily. The maritime states of Pisa, Genoa and Catalonia were all actively fighting Islamic strongholds in Majorca and Sardinia, freeing the coasts of Italy and Catalonia from Muslim raids. Much earlier, the Christian homelands of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, and so on had been conquered by Muslim armies. This long history of losing territories to a religious enemy created a powerful motive to respond to Byzantine Emperor Alexius I's call for holy war to defend Christendom, and to recapture the lost lands starting with Jerusalem.
Saint Augustine of Hippo justified the use of force in the service of Christ in The City of God, and a Christian "just war" might enhance the wider standing of an aggressively ambitious leader of Europe, as Gregory saw himself. The northerners would be cemented to Rome, and their troublesome knights could see the only kind of action that suited them. Previous attempts by the church to stem such violence, such as the concept of the "Peace of God", were not as successful as hoped. To the south of Rome, Normans were showing how such energies might be unleashed against both Arabs (in Sicily) and Byzantines (on the mainland). A Latin hegemony in the Levant would provide leverage in resolving the Papacy's claims of supremacy over the Patriarch of Constantinople, which had resulted in the Great Schism of 1054, a rift that might yet be resolved through the force of Frankish arms. In the Byzantine homelands, the Eastern Emperor's weakness was revealed by the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, which reduced the Empire's Asian territory to a region in western Anatolia and around Constantinople. A sure sign of Byzantine desperation was the appeal of Alexius I Comnenus to his enemy, the Pope, for aid. But Gregory was occupied with the Investiture Controversy and could not call on the German emperor, so a crusade never took shape. For Gregory's more moderate successor, Pope Urban II, a crusade would serve to reunite Christendom, bolster the Papacy, and perhaps bring the East under his control. The disaffected Germans and the Normans were not to be counted on, but the heart and backbone of a crusade could be found in Urban's own homeland among the northern French.
In the 13th century, Crusades never expressed such a popular fever, and after Acre fell for the last time in 1291 and the Occitan Cathars were exterminated during the Albigensian Crusade, the crusading ideal became devalued by Papal justifications of political and territorial aggressions within Catholic Europe. The last crusading order of knights to hold territory were the Knights Hospitaller. After the final fall of Acre, they took control of the island of Rhodes, and in the sixteenth century, were driven to Malta, before being finally unseated by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.
A traditional numbering scheme for the Crusades totals nine during the 11th to 13th centuries, as well as other smaller sorties that were mostly contemporaneous and are unnumbered. There were frequent "minor" Crusades throughout this period, not only in Palestine but also in the Iberian Peninsula and central Europe, against Muslims and also Christian heretics and personal enemies of the Papacy or other powerful monarchs. Such "crusades" continued into the 16th century until the Renaissance and Reformation, when the political and religious climate of Europe was significantly different from that of the Middle Ages.
In March 1095 at the Council of Piacenza, ambassadors sent by Byzantine Emperor Alexius I called for help with defending his empire against the Seljuk Turks. Later that year, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called upon all Christians to join a war against the Turks, promising those who died in the endeavor would receive immediate remission of their sins. Crusader armies managed to defeat two substantial Turkish forces at Dorylaeum and at Antioch, finally marching to Jerusalem with only a fraction of their original forces. Atrocities, including widespread cannibalism, took place as in the Siege of Maarat in 1098. In 1099, during the Siege of Jerusalem, the Crusader army took Jerusalem by assault and massacred the population, as was standard at the time for a city whose residents had militarily resisted occupation. As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created, notably the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Following this crusade there was a second, less successful wave of crusaders. This is known as the Crusade of 1101 and may be considered an adjunct of the First Crusade.
After a period of relative peace in which Christians and Muslims co-existed in the Holy Land, Muslims conquered the town of Edessa. A new crusade was called for by various preachers, most notably by Bernard of Clairvaux. 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, an independent city that would soon fall into the hands of Nur ad-Din, the main enemy of the Crusaders. On the other side of the Mediterranean, however, the Second Crusade met with great success as a group of Northern European Crusaders stopped in Portugal, allied with the Portuguese, and retook Lisbon from the Muslims in 1147. In the Holy Land by 1150, both the kings of France and Germany had returned to their countries without any result.
In 1187, Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, recaptured Jerusalem, following the Battle of Hattin. Pope Gregory VIII called for a crusade, which was led by several of Europe's most important leaders: Philip II of France, Richard I of England (aka Richard the Lionheart), and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick drowned in Cilicia in 1190, leaving an unstable alliance between the English and the French. Before his arrival in the Holy Land Richard captured the island of Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191. Cyprus would serve as a Crusader base for centuries to come, and would remain in Western European hands until the Ottoman Empire conquered the island from Venice in 1571. Philip left, in 1191, after the Crusaders had recaptured Acre from the Muslims. The Crusader army headed south along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They defeated the Muslims near Arsuf, recaptured the port city of Jaffa, and were in sight of Jerusalem. However, Richard did not believe he would be able to hold Jerusalem once it was captured, as the majority of Crusaders would then return to Europe, and the crusade ended without the taking of Jerusalem. Richard left the following year after establishing a truce with Saladin. The truce allowed pilgrims from Europe to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land (Jerusalem), although it was still under the control of the Islamic Empire. On Richard's way home, his ship was wrecked and he ended up in Austria, where his enemy, Duke Leopold, captured him. The Duke delivered Richard to the Emperor Henry VI, who held the King for ransom. By 1197, Henry felt ready for a crusade, but he died in the same year of malaria. Richard I died during fighting in Europe and never returned to the Holy Land. The Third Crusade is sometimes referred to as the Kings' Crusade.
The Fourth Crusade was initiated in 1202 by Pope Innocent III, with the intention of invading the Holy Land through Egypt. Because the Crusaders lacked the funds to pay for the fleet and provisions that they had contracted from the Venetians, Doge Enrico Dandolo, enlisted the crusaders to restore the Christian city of Zara (Zadar) to obedience. Because they subsequently lacked provisions and time on their vessel lease the leaders decided to go to Constantinople, where they attempted to place a Byzantine exile on the throne. After a series of misunderstandings and outbreaks of violence, the crusaders sacked the city in 1204. This is often seen as the final breaking point of the Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox Church and (Western) Roman Catholic Church.
The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the Cathars of Occitania (the south of modern-day France). It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the concerns of northern France to extend its control southwards than it did with heresy. In the end, both the Cathars and the independence of southern France were exterminated.
The Children's Crusade is a series of possibly fictitious or misinterpreted events of 1212. The story is that an outburst of the old popular enthusiasm led a gathering of children in France and Germany, which Pope Innocent III interpreted as a reproof from heaven to their unworthy elders. The leader of the French army, Stephen, led 30,000 children. The leader of the German army, Nicholas, led 7,000 children. None of the children actually reached the Holy Land; they were either promised free transport but sold into slavery in Egypt or North Africa, died in shipwrecks crossing the Mediterranean Sea, returned home, settled along the route to Jerusalem, or died of hunger during the journey.
By processions, prayers, and preaching, the Church attempted to set another crusade afoot, and the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) formulated a plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. In the first phase, a crusading force from Hungary and Austria joined the forces of the king of Jerusalem and the prince of Antioch to take back Jerusalem. In the second phase, crusader forces achieved a remarkable feat in the capture of Damietta in Egypt in 1219, but under the urgent insistence of the papal legate, Pelagius, they then launched a foolhardy attack on Cairo in July of 1221. The crusaders were turned back after their dwindling supplies led to a forced retreat. A nighttime attack by the ruler of Egypt, the powerful Sultan Al-Kamil, resulted in a great number of crusader losses and eventually in the surrender of the army. Al-Kamil agreed to an eight-year peace agreement with Europe.
Emperor Frederick II had repeatedly vowed a crusade but failed to live up to his words, for which he was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX in 1228. He nonetheless set sail from Brindisi, landed in Palestine, and through diplomacy he achieved unexpected success: Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem were delivered to the crusaders for a period of ten years.
The papal interests represented by the Templars brought on a conflict with Egypt in 1243, and in the following year a Khwarezmian force summoned by the latter stormed Jerusalem. The crusaders were drawn into battle at La Forbie in Gaza. The crusader army and its Bedouin mercenaries were outnumbered by Baibars' force of Khwarezmian tribesmen and were completely defeated within forty-eight hours. This battle is considered by many historians to have been the death knell to the Kingdom of Outremer. Although this provoked no widespread outrage in Europe as the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 had done, Louis IX of France organized a crusade against Egypt from 1248 to 1254, leaving from the newly constructed port of Aigues-Mortes in southern France. It was a failure, and Louis spent much of the crusade living at the court of the crusader kingdom in Acre. In the midst of this crusade was the first Shepherds' Crusade in 1251.
The eighth Crusade was organized by Louis IX in 1270, again sailing from Aigues-Mortes, initially to come to the aid of the remnants of the crusader states in Syria. However, the crusade was diverted to Tunis, where Louis spent only two months before dying. For his efforts, Louis was later canonised (the city of St. Louis, Missouri, USA is named for him). The Eighth Crusade is sometimes counted as the Seventh, if the Fifth and Sixth Crusades are counted as a single crusade. The Ninth Crusade is sometimes also counted as part of the Eighth.
The future Edward I of England undertook another expedition in 1271, after having accompanied Louis on the Eighth Crusade. He accomplished very little in Syria and retired the following year after a truce. In their later years, faced with the threat of the Egyptian Mamluks, the Crusaders' hopes rested with a Franco-Mongol alliance. The Mongols were thought to be sympathetic to Christianity, and the Frankish princes were most effective in gathering their help, engineering their invasions of the Middle East on several occasions. Although the Mongols successfully attacked as far south as Damascus on these campaigns, the ability to effectively coordinate with Crusades from the west was repeatedly frustrated most notably at the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260. The Mamluks eventually made good their pledge to cleanse the entire Middle East of the infidel Franks. With the fall of Antioch (1268), Tripoli (1289), and Acre (1291), those Christians unable to leave the cities were massacred or enslaved and the last traces of Christian rule on the Syrian mainland disappeared. The very last Frankish foothold was the island of Ruad, three kilometers from the Syrian shore, which was occupied for several years by the Knights Templar but was ultimately lost to the Mamluks in the Siege of Ruad on September 26th, 1302.
The Crusades in the Baltic Sea area and in Central Europe were efforts by (mostly German) Christians to subjugate and convert the peoples of these areas to Christianity. These Crusades ranged from the 12th century, contemporaneous with the Second Crusade, to the 16th century. Contemporaneous with the Second Crusade, Saxons and Danes fought against Polabian Slavs in the 1147 Wendish Crusade. In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights led Germans, Poles, and Pomeranians against the Old Prussians during the Prussian Crusade. Between 1232 and 1234, there was a crusade against the Stedingers. This crusade was special, because the Stedingers were not heathens or heretics, but fellow Roman Catholics. They were free Frisian farmers who resented attempts of the count of Oldenburg and the archbishop Bremen-Hamburg to make an end to their freedoms. The archbishop excommunicated them, and Pope Gregory IX declared a crusade in 1232. The Stedingers were defeated in 1234.
In 1259 Mongols led by Burundai and Nogai Khan ravaged the principality of Halych-Volynia, Lithuania and Poland. After that Pope Alexander IV tried without success to create a crusade against the Blue Horde. In the 14th century, Khan Tokhtamysh combined the Blue and White Hordes forming the Golden Horde. It seemed that the power of the Golden Horde had begun to rise, but in 1389, Tokhtamysh made the disastrous decision of waging war on his former master, the great Tamerlane. Tamerlane's hordes rampaged through southern Russia, crippling the Golden Horde's economy and practically wiping out its defenses in those lands. After losing the war, Tokhtamysh was then dethroned by the party of Khan Temur Kutlugh and Emir Edigu, supported by Tamerlane. When Tokhtamysh asked Vytautas the Great for assistance in retaking the Horde, the latter readily gathered a huge army which included Lithuanians, Ruthenians, Russians, Mongols, Moldavians, Poles, Romanians and Teutonic Knights. In 1398, the huge army moved from Moldavia and conquered the southern steppe all the way to the Dnieper River and northern Crimea. Inspired by their great successes, Vytautas declared a 'Crusade against the Tatars' with Papal backing. Thus, in 1399, the army of Vytautas once again moved on the Horde. His army met the Horde's at the Vorskla River, slightly inside Lithuanian territory. Although the Lithuanian army was well equipped with cannon, it could not resist a rear attack from Edigu's reserve units. Vytautas hardly escaped alive.
To counter the expanding Ottoman Empire, several crusades were launched in the 15th century. The most notable are:
the Crusade of Nicopolis (1396) organized by Sigismund of Luxemburg king of Hungary culminated in the Battle of Nicopolis. It is often called the last of the crusades.
the Crusade of Varna (1444) led by the Polish-Hungarian king Wladyslaw Warnenczyk ended in the Battle of Varna.
and the Crusade of 1456 organized to lift the Siege of Belgrade led by John Hunyadi and Giovanni da Capistrano.
The Aragonese Crusade, or Crusade of Aragón, was declared by Pope Martin IV against the King of Aragón, Peter III the Great, in 1284 and 1285.
The Alexandrian Crusade of October 1365 was a minor seaborne crusade against Muslim Alexandria led by Peter I of Cyprus. His motivation was at least as commercial as religious. It had limited success.
The Hussite Crusade(s), also known as the "Hussite Wars," or the "Bohemian Wars," involved the military actions against and amongst the followers of Jan Hus in Bohemia in the period 1420 to circa 1434. The Hussite Wars were arguably the first European war in which hand-held gunpowder weapons such as muskets made a decisive contribution. The Taborite faction of the Hussite warriors were basically infantry, and their many defeats of larger armies with heavily armoured knights helped affect the infantry revolution. In the end, it was an inconclusive war.
The Swedish conquest of Finland in the Middle Ages has traditionally been divided into three "crusades": the First Swedish Crusade around 1155 AD, the Second Swedish Crusade about 1249 AD and the Third Swedish Crusade in 1293 AD. The First Swedish Crusade is purely legendary, and according to most historians today, never took place as described in the legend and did not result in any ties between Finland and Sweden. For the most part, it was made up in the late 13th century to date the Swedish rule in Finland further back in time. No historical record has also survived describing the second one, but it probably did take place and ended up in the concrete conquest of southwestern Finland. The third one was against Novgorod, and is properly documented by both parties of the conflict. According to archaeological finds, Finland was largely Christian already before the said crusades. Thus the "crusades" can rather be seen as ordinary expeditions of conquest whose main target was territorial gain. The expeditions were dubbed as actual crusades only in the 19th century by the national-romanticist Swedish and Finnish historians.
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