Now Boarding Crusades 1-9 (Part 2)

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.

Suggested Reading

The Crusader States

The Siege of Ma’arra

The Kingdom of Jerusalem

The History of Silk

(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.)

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)