I was actually going to post this yesterday, but dial-up and WordPress do not get along well, so I thought I would save myself the headache and upload it from my super-fast computer at work.
The Crusades: Not Terribly Romantic
When the Crusaders took Ma’arra on their march to Jerusalem, they resorted to cannibalism. The Crusaders said they were starving. The Muslims in the area said they did it as a scare tactic. Either way, worse was to come.
When the crusaders finally took Jerusalem in 1099, they engaged in wholesale slaughter of the inhabitants. Many Jews were burned alive in their main synagogue, while Muslims were slaughtered in the Al-Asqua Mosque. Even Christians died in the sacking of the city because the crusaders didn’t bother to ask whose side they were on.
By the crusaders’ own accounts, their horses moved through blood up to their knees in some places, and when the bodies of dead were taken outside the city to be burned, they were piled in pyramids higher than the walls of the city. Tens of thousands of people died in the taking of the city.
Division of Spoils
Once the First Crusade was over, Europeans were in charge of 4 kingdoms/principalities: Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Tripoli. For some, this was the land of opportunity (some historians liken it to the “Go West!” movement in America). Landless knights in Europe had a chance to get land in the Crusader states. Peasants also had a chance to get land and more freedom.
However, most people who went on crusade (well, those that survived, anyways) went back to Europe with their loot. Why live in a desert when you have enough spoils to buy decent land in France or the Low Countries? This was the number one reason why the Crusader States didn’t last very long: there were too few knights to defend them.
Monastic Orders and Trade
Jerusalem remained Christian only 88 years. The city of Acre lasted the longest, falling in 1291. But, although they lasted less than 200 years, the Crusades had three big impacts on Europe:
1) They reopened the West to trade. Thanks to contact with the East, medieval Europeans had increased access to silk (and some cotton), spices, citrus fruits, sugar, rice, perfume, etc.; 2) They formed the Templars and Hospitallers, who gave us modern banking (complete with Traveler’s Checks and safe-deposit boxes) and hospitals; 3) They reduced the population in Europe, which helped keep famine and widespread plague at bay. (More on that in the future.)
Those Other Crusades
What about Crusades 2-9? And what about the other ones, like the Children’s Crusade? Well, from a historical standpoint, they’re not very important. The Second Crusade actually weakened the position of the Crusader States. The Third Crusade (lead by Richard the Lionheart) helped the States by halting Saladin’s unchecked conquest, but ultimately it did not recapture Jerusalem.
(In case you are wondering about my seeming gratuitous use of Wikipedia for these articles, I actually only use it to fact-check my names and dates. The vast majority of my knowledge comes from reading actual books and from 4 years of medieval history classes in college.)