Medieval Mursday: Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 1)

I didn’t intend to have another Mursday, but it takes a little while to do the research for these posts, and I can only do it when I have time and decent internet access.

I’m going to have to break my one-page rule for the Crusades. So far, all of my information (minus pictures and reading suggestions) takes up just one printed page. I’m trying to distill medieval history down to its most vital elements–the basic things everyone should know (especially re-enactors).

But the crusades span several hundred years. The first crusade alone has a complicated political and religious back story that takes a while to even summarize. And I couldn’t bear getting the crusaders to Jerusalem without also covering how they got kicked out again. So, I’m going to two-part the crusades.

I hesitate to call them a watershed event (although I will definitely use that term a few posts from now when I address the Black Plague), because they don’t have a huge impact on Europe, but in a lot of ways they are a perfect snapshot of the politics, religion, and culture of the entire middle ages.

Jerusalem: The Navel of the World

In 70 AD, after 4 years of rebellion, Roman legions captured Jerusalem. In 395, when Eastern and Western Rome made their split official, Eastern Rome (Byzantium) inherited Jerusalem. In 638, Jerusalem was captured by Arabs who were recent converts to Islam. Christians were still allowed to make pilgrimage, so there wasn’t much fuss in Europe about the change of ownership.

Things changed, however, in the 11th century when the city was conquered by the Seljuq Turks and they began harassing Christian pilgrims and destroying Christian holy places (including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 1009).

Useless Trivia: Medieval maps usually had Jerusalem at the center, in keeping with its nickname “navel of the world.” This idea was probably taken from Judaism, which attaches deep spiritual importance to Jerusalem and claims it was the site of many Biblical events.

History Needs a Reason to Have a Crusade; Knights Just Needed a Place

There are several reasons why the First Crusade took place. 1) Emperor Alexios Komnenos of Byzantium was losing territory left and right to the Turks, so he wrote to the Pope to ask for military aid. Pope Urban II, at the Council of Clermont, gave a public speech of such epic proportions that many people signed up for the crusade at once.

2) The Pope offered an indulgence to all crusaders, which meant all sins, up until that point, were forgiven. Also, many people thought it important to protect the pilgrimage routes and holy places.

3) The rise of primogeniture ensured that only one son would inherit, leaving the rest with no source of income. While some “second sons” ended up in the Church, most ended up as mercenary knights. But as Europe began to stabilize, wars—and opportunities for cash—were harder to come by. Knights began provoking international incidences and pillaging peasants just to make a buck. (The idea of a knightly code of chivalry was developed, in large part, to stop this problem.)

So, in order to get all of those hoodlums out of Europe, Pope Urban worked everyone into a religious frenzy and sent them east to Alexios. First, they killed large number of Jews on their way out of Europe. Then, when they arrived in Constantinople, Alexois took one look at them and gave them food and sent them on their way.

Useless Trivia: Going on crusade was referred to as “taking the cross,” because when people made the decision to go, they pinned a fabric cross on their clothes.

Slow but Steady Wins the Race

The Pope made his appeal in 1095. The main army didn’t leave Europe until 1096. Their first battle, for Nicea, was in 1097. Antioch was taken in 1098. Jerusalem wasn’t captured until 1099.

Suggested Reading/Watching

Jewish Diaspora
History of Jerusalem
The First Crusade
A History of the Crusades by Steve Runicman
The Crusades – Crescent & The Cross (DVD)

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