The first of the Crusades began in 1095, when armies of Christians from Western Europe responded to Pope Urban II’s plea to go to war against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. After the First Crusade achieved its goal with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, the invading Christians set up several Latin Christian states, even as Muslims in the region vowed to wage holy war (jihad) to regain control over the region. Deteriorating relations between the Crusaders and their Christian allies in the Byzantine Empire culminated in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Third Crusade. Near the end of the 13th century, the rising Mamluk dynasty in Egypt provided the final reckoning for the Crusaders, toppling the coastal stronghold of Acre and driving the European invaders out of Palestine and Syria in 1291.
THE CRUSADES: BACKGROUND
By the end of the 11th century, Western Europe had emerged as a significant power in its own right, though it still lagged far other Mediterranean civilization such as that of the Byzantine Empire (formerly the eastern half of the Roman Empire) and the Islamic empire of the Middle East and North Africa. Meanwhile, Byzantium was losing considerable territory to the invading Seljuk Turks, who defeated the Byzantine Army at the battle of Manzikirt in 1071 and went on to gain control over much of Anatolia. After years of chaos and civil war, the general Alexius Comnenus seized the Byzantine throne in 1081 and consolidated control over the remaining empire as Emperor Alexius I.
In 1095, Alexius sent envoys to Pope Urban II asking for mercenary troops from the West to help confront the Turkish threat. Though relations between Christians in East and West had long been fractious, Alexius’ request came at a time when the situation was improving. In November 1095, at the Council of Clermont in southern France, the pope called on Western Christians to take up arms in order to aid the Byzantines and recapture the Holy Land from Muslim control. Pope Urban’s plea met with a tremendous response, both among lower levels of the military elite (who would form a new class of knights) as well as ordinary citizens; it was determined that those who joined the armed pilgrimage would wear a cross as a symbol of the Church.
THE FIRST CRUSADE (1096-99)
Four armies of Crusaders were formed from troops of different Western European regions, led by Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois and Bohemond of Taranto (with his nephew Tancred); they were set to depart for Byzantium in August 1096. A less organized band of knights and commoners known as the “People’s Crusade” set off before the others under the command of a popular preacher known as Peter the Hermit. Peter’s army traipsed through the Byzantine Empire, leaving destruction in their wake. Resisting Alexius’ advice to wait for the rest of the Crusaders, they crossed the Bosporus in early August. In the first major clash between the Crusaders and the Muslims, Turkish forces crushed the invading Europeans at Cibotus. Another group of Crusaders, led by the notorious Count Emicho, carried out a series of massacres of Jews in various towns in the Rhineland in 1096, drawing widespread outrage and causing a major crisis in Jewish-Christian relations.
When the four main armies of Crusaders arrived in Constantinople, Alexius insisted that their leaders swear an oath of loyalty to him and recognize his authority over any land regained from the Turks, as well as any other territory they might conquer; all but Bohemond resisted taking the oath. In May 1097, the Crusaders and their Byzantine allies attacked Nicea (now Iznik, Turkey), the Seljuk capital in Anatolia; the city surrendered in late June. Despite deteriorating relations between the Crusaders and Byzantine leaders, the combined force continued its march through Anatolia, capturing the great Syrian city of Antioch in June 1098. After various internal struggles over control of Antioch, the Crusaders began their march toward Jerusalem, then occupied by Egyptian Fatimids (who as Shi’ite Muslims were enemies of the Sunni Seljuks). Encamping before Jerusalem in June 1099, the Christians forced the besieged city’s governor to surrender by mid-July. Despite Tancred’s promise of protection, the Crusaders slaughtered hundreds of men, women and children in their victorious entrance into the city.
THE CRUSADER STATES AND THE SECOND CRUSADE (1147-49)
Having achieved their goal in an unexpectedly short period of time, many of the Crusaders departed for home. To govern the conquered territory, those who remained established four large western settlements, or Crusader states, in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch and Tripoli. Guarded by formidable castles, the Crusader states retained the upper hand in the region until around 1130, when Muslim forces began gaining ground in their own holy war (or jihad) against the Christians, whom they called “Franks.” In 1144, the Seljuk general Zangi, governor of Mosul, captured Edessa, leading to the loss of the northernmost Crusader state.
News of Edessa’s fall stunned Europe, and led Christian authorities in the West to call for another Crusade. Led by two great rulers, King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany, the Second Crusade began in 1147. That October, the Turks crushed Conrad’s forces at Dorylaeum, site of a great victory during the First Crusade. After Louis and Conrad managed to assemble their armies at Jerusalem, they decided to attack the Syrian stronghold of Damascus with an army of some 50,000 (the largest Crusader force yet). Previously well disposed towards the Franks, Damascus’ ruler was forced to call on Nur al-Din, Zangi’s successor in Mosul, for aid. The combined Muslim forces dealt a humiliating defeat to the Crusaders, decisively ending the Second Crusade; Nur al-Din would add Damascus to his expanding empire in 1154.
THE THIRD CRUSADE (1189-92)
After numerous attempts by the Crusaders of Jerusalem to capture Egypt, Nur al-Din’s forces (led by the general Shirkuh and his nephew, Saladin) seized Cairo in 1169 and forced the Crusader army to evacuate. Upon Shirkuh’s subsequent death, Saladin assumed control and began a campaign of conquests that accelerated after Nur al-Din’s death in 1174. In 1187, Saladin began a major campaign against the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. His troops virtually destroyed the Christian army at the battle of Hattin, taking the city along with a large amount of territory.
Outrage over these defeats inspired the Third Crusade, led by rulers such as the aging Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (who was drowned at Anatolia before his entire army reached Syria), King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England (known as Richard the Lionheart). In September 1191, Richard’s forces defeated those of Saladin in the battle of Arsuf; it would be the only true battle of the Third Crusade. From the recaptured city of Jaffa, Richard reestablished Christian control over some of the region and approached Jerusalem, though he refused to lay siege to the city. In September 1192, Richard and Saladin signed a peace treaty that reestablished the Kingdom of Jerusalem (though without the city of Jerusalem) and ended the Third Crusade.
FROM THE FOURTH TO THE SIXTH CRUSADE (1198-1229)
Though the powerful Pope Innocent III called for a new Crusade in 1198, power struggles in and between Europe and Byzantium drove the Crusaders to divert their mission in order to topple the reigning Byzantine emperor, Alexius III, in favor of his nephew, who became Alexius IV in mid-1203. The new emperor’s attempts to submit the Byzantine church to Rome met with stiff resistance, and Alexius IV was strangled after a palace coup in early 1204. In response, the Crusaders declared war on Constantinople, and the Fourth Crusade ended with the conquest and looting of the magnificent Byzantine capital later that year.
The remainder of the 13th century saw a variety of Crusades aimed not so much at toppling Muslim forces in the Holy Land as at combating any and all of those seen as enemies of the Christian faith. The Albigensian Crusade (1208-29) aimed to root out the heretical Cathari or Albigensian sect of Christianity in France, while the Baltic Crusades (1211-25) sought to subdue pagans in Transylvania. In the Fifth Crusade, put in motion by Pope Innocent III before his death in 1216, the Crusaders attacked Egypt from both land and sea, but were forced to surrender to Muslim defenders led by Saladin’s nephew, Al-Malik al-Kamil, in 1221. In 1229, in what became known as the Sixth Crusade, Emperor Frederick II achieved the peaceful transfer of Jerusalem to Crusader control through negotiation with al-Kamil. The peace treaty expired a decade later, and Muslims easily regained control of Jerusalem.
END OF THE CRUSADES
Through the end of the 13th century, groups of Crusaders sought to gain ground in the Holy Land through short-lived raids that proved little more than an annoyance to Muslim rulers in the region. The Seventh Crusade (1239-41), led by Thibault IV of Champagne, briefly recaptured Jerusalem, though it was lost again in 1244 to Khwarazmian forces enlisted by the sultan of Egypt. In 1249, King Louis IX of France led the Eighth Crusade against Egypt, which ended in defeat at Mansura (site of a similar defeat in the Fifth Crusade) the following year. As the Crusaders struggled, a new dynasty known as the Mamluks–descended from former slaves of the sultan–took power in Egypt. In 1260, Mamluk forces in Palestine managed to halt the advance of the Mongols, an invading force led by Genghis Khan and his descendants that had emerged as a potential ally for the Christians in the region. Under the ruthless Sultan Baybars, the Mamluks demolished Antioch in 1268, prompting Louis IX to set out on another Crusade, which ended in his death in North Africa (he was later canonized).
A new Mamluk sultan, Qalawan, had defeated the Mongols by the end of 1281 and turned his attention back to the Crusaders, capturing Tripoli in 1289. In what was considered the last Crusade, a fleet of warships from Venice and Aragon arrived to defend what remained of the Crusader states in 1290. The following year, Qalawan’s son and successor, al-Ashraf Khalil, marched with a huge army against the coastal port of Acre, the effective capital of the Crusaders in the region since the end of the Third Crusade. After only seven weeks under siege, Acre fell, effectively ending the Crusades in the Holy Land after nearly two centuries. Though the Church organized minor Crusades with limited goals after 1291–mainly military campaigns aimed at pushing Muslims from conquered territory or conquering pagan regions–support for such efforts disappeared in the 16th century, with the rise of the Reformation and the corresponding decline of papal authority.
List of 9 Crusades to the Holy Land
Crusades were a series of 9 military expeditions which sought to recapture Jerusalem and other places sacred to Christianity from the Muslims. They were formally launched by Pope Urban II in the late 11th century to help the Byzantine Empire against the Seljuk Turks. Soon, however, the Holy Land became the primary objective of the crusaders, many of which weren’t led only by noble motives but economic, political and social as well. Listed below are 9 crusades to the Holy Land between the 11th and 13th centuries.
First Crusade (1096 – 1099): The First Crusade was launched after Pope Urban’s call to help the fellow Eastern Christians against the Muslims. Conquered lands supposed to be returned to the Byzantine Empire but after capturing Jerusalem in 1099, the leaders of the crusade divided the territories among themselves. They created the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Principality of Antioch, County of Tripoli and County of Edessa and established themselves as the rulers of the newly formed crusader states in the Holy Land.
Second Crusade (1147 – 1149): The second military expedition to the Holy Land was called for by the Church to recapture the County of Edessa that fell to the Muslims in 1144. Two kings, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany, decided to lead the crusade. One year later, they laid siege to Damascus but after failing to capture the city, the German king decided he had enough and left the Holy Land. His French counterpart soon followed his example and the Second Crusade came to an end, failing to achieve anything.
Third Crusade (1189 – 1192): Also known as the Kings’ Crusade because it was participated by as many as three European kings, the Third Crusade was launched after the fall of Jerusalem to the Muslim leader Saladin in 1187. However, Frederick I (Barbarossa) of Germany died on the way to the Holy Land, while Philip II soon departed for France due to conflicts with Richard I of England. The latter won several notable battles but failed to recapture Jerusalem. Before returning to Europe, however, the English king managed to negotiate a free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.
Fourth Crusade (1202 – 1204): Unable to cope with the loss of Jerusalem, Pope Innocent III energetically preached for crusade. He succeeded to raise an army of crusaders who, however, never made it to the Holy Land. On their way to Jerusalem, they captured the Adriatic city of Zara for Venice and shortly thereafter got involved in the struggle for the Byzantine throne. Instead of recapturing Jerusalem as the Pope hoped, the Fourth Crusade ended with the Sack of Constantinople and formation of the short-lived Latin Empire on the conquered Byzantine territories.
Fifth Crusade (1217 – 1221): Despite the infamous failure of the Fourth Crusade, the Popes continued to preach for military expeditions to the Holy Land. Pope Innocent’s successor Honorius III managed to convince Andrew II of Hungary and Leopold VI, Duke of Austria to take up the cross and lead the expedition. However, they chose to start their campaign in Egypt. In 1219, they captured the port of Damietta and were offered all the holy cities in return for withdrawing from Egypt. Encouraged by the success, the crusaders refused which proved to be a mistake. The march to Cairo failed and the crusaders were forced to return home without capturing either Egypt or the holy cities.
Sixth Crusade (1228 – 1229): The Sixth Crusade was a major success for the crusaders despite the fact that it saw little action. At the same time, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederic II who led the campaign was at the time under excommunication. Shortly after arriving to the Holy Land, Frederick II entered into negotiations with the Egyptian sultan who agreed to cease Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem and other holy cities to the Christians.
Seventh Crusade (1248 – 1254): The Seventh Crusade was launched by the French king Louis IX who decided to recapture the Holy Land by conquering Egypt first. Just like the leaders of the Fifth Crusade, Louis IX succeeded to capture Damietta but he failed to capture Cairo. In addition, he was taken captive while trying to return to the port of Damietta. A ransom was paid and the French king was released. But as he prepared for a campaign to the Holy Land, he received a letter that his mother died and returned to France.
Eighth Crusade (1270): In 1270, the French king Louis IX decided to give it another try and launched his second crusade. But rather than the Holy Land or Egypt, this time he chose to start his campaign in Tunis. However, disease broke out among the troops shortly after landing and the French king who got ill himself died shortly thereafter. His brother Charles of Anjou who arrived one day before his death immediately entered into negotiations with the Caliph of Tunis to ensure safe departure of the crusader army.
Ninth Crusade (1271 – 1272): The last in the series of military expeditions that sought to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims was launched by Prince Edward of England who also took part of the Eight Crusade. After the French king’s death and the departure of the French crusaders, the English prince decided to launch his own expedition. In 1271, he landed in Acre and tried to win support for his cause but lack of interest and news from England about his father’s illness prompted him to return home. With Prince Edward’s departure, the attempts of the Christian Europe to capture the Holy Land finally came to an end.
People’s and Children’s Crusades: Pope Urban’s speech at the Council of Clermont where he called for crusade had a major impact on the European public. Although the Pope’s call was aimed at the Christian knights, it also managed to mobilize ordinary people who set out to the Holy Land themselves in 1096. People’s army, consisting mainly of unexperienced and poorly equipped peasants that preceded the First Crusade, however, didn’t stand a chance against the Muslim forces and was destroyed before the main army arrived to the Middle East.
In the early 12th century, several thousand children set out to the Holy Land. The idea was that the knightly army failed to capture Jerusalem and other holy places due to impurity and that children would succeed with their innocence. Many, however, perished from disease and hunger before reaching the Italian ports, while others were sold into slavery. Only a few managed to return home.