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5 Major Crusades of the Middle Ages

Amita Ray Mar 22, 2020
Crusades can be described as a continuous struggle between the Christians and the Saracens (Muslims) for a period of about 200 years for the Holy City of Jerusalem. We would like to shed some light on what were the major crusades that took place in the Middle Ages.

Children's Crusade

It took place in the year 1212, in which children, women, and the elderly marched from many parts of France and Germany with the hope to peacefully convert the Saracens in Jerusalem into Christianity. The outcome of this was disastrous as children were sold into slavery.
Crusades were a series of medieval wars fought in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, which were sanctioned by the Pope to recover the Holy Land of Jerusalem from the Muslims (known as Saracens back then), in Europe.
The word 'crusade' is derived from the French word croisade or croisee meaning, 'the state of being marked with the cross' as the crusaders would sew a cloth cross on their clothes. They called themselves as fideles Sancti Petri―meaning the faithful of St. Peter, or milites Christi―meaning the knights of Christ.
The people who participated in crusades were granted indulgences. For them, the crusade was a pilgrimage with the help of which all their sins would be forgiven and they would be ensured of a place in heaven.
Usually, one-tenth of the income of the people were collected as special taxes from the people, in order to fund the crusade. Those who participated in the crusade were exempted from paying taxes. This prompted a lot of people to join the crusades. Prisoners were released and death sentences were reversed if they took part in the crusade.


The First Crusade (August 1096 - July 1099)

★ The first crusade began when the Seljuk Turks took over Jerusalem from the tolerant Abbasid Muslims. They persecuted the Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem as well as its Christian inhabitants.
★ The Byzantine empire was being encroached by the Seljuk Turks and had lost most of its fertile farmlands in the Muslim conquests. This prompted the emperor of Byzantine, Alexius I Comnenus to seek the help of the Pope.
★ Pope Urban II called for a crusade to aid the Eastern Christians, in Clermont, in 1095. The objective of the crusade was to free the Byzantine empire and the holy city of Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks.
The first crusaders were an unorganized and ill-equipped army of peasants, under the leadership of Peter the Hermit and Walter Sans Avoir. These people were able to reach only up to Constantinople and were defeated by the Seljuk Army in Anatolia and Xerigordon. They are often referred to as the "People's Crusade".
★ In 1096, a large army of around 25,000 infantry, under the leadership of the feudal lords, Raymond Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert II - Count of Flanders, and Bohemond of Otranto, began the actual crusade.
They first captured the city of Nicaea; this battle was easy as the Seljuk Turks were already in war with a neighboring state.
★ The crusaders then left for the city of Antioch. On their way, they were ambushed by the Seljuk Turks near Dorylaeum; however, they survived the attack.
The crusaders then captured Antioch after a long and hard struggle of almost eight months, only after Bohemond bribed a traitor to open the gates of the city. They massacred thousands of soldiers and inhabitants of the city. The Christian city of Edessa surrendered to the crusaders.
★ The crusaders arrived at Jerusalem in June 1099, which was now under the Fatimids. The caliph offered the crusaders a peace agreement of protecting the Christian inhabitants and the Christian pilgrims visiting the city.
They, however, refused this offer and attacked Jerusalem. Their first attack on Jerusalem failed. On a subsequent attack, the crusaders managed to breach the city walls, killing thousands of soldiers and citizens. They finally captured Jerusalem in 1099.
★ Although it was initially promised that the states recaptured would be given back to Byzantine Empire, the crusaders were not happy with the contribution that Alexius I Comnenus made to the crusade. Hence, separate feudal states called the Crusader states were formed. The city of Jerusalem, Edessa, Nicaea, and Tripoli comprised the Crusader states.

The Second Crusade (1147 - 1149)

★ Edessa was the northernmost and the weakest county of the Crusader states. It frequently suffered attacks by the surrounding Saracen states. In 1144, the Seljuk Turks under the leadership of General Imad al-Din Zangi captured Edessa.
★ The second crusade was launched to recapture Edessa. Pope Eugene III issued the crusade to King Louis VII of France, and King Conrad III of Germany was convinced by Bernard of Clairvaux. This gave rise to the second crusade.
★ However, on their way to Constantinople, the army of Conrad III was almost destroyed (due to floods and a fight with the Byzantine army) in Anatolia, in May 1146. King Louis VII and Conrad III arrived at Constantinople separately in 1147 and 1146, respectively. Conrad III was the first to arrive and decided to move forward without the French.
★ On their way to Antioch, Conrad's army was attacked at Dorylaeum and was destroyed by the Saracens. The Germans were then forced to retreat in February 1148.
★ The French on reaching Constantinople were offered no army by the Byzantine empire. While marching forward to Antioch, Louis VII and his army were continuously attacked by the Turks, and their resources were now meager. Louis VII decided to set sail to Antioch.
However, due to scarcity of ships, Louis VII decided to abandon most of his army and claimed the ship for himself and a few other nobles, whereas his army was supposed to march to Antioch. Unfortunately, most of his army was killed either by the Turks or by disease outbreak before reaching Antioch.
★ The crusade was also joined by the Emperor of Spain, Alfonso VII, whose campaign was against the Moors. In May 1147, they set sail for Jerusalem. On their way there, they were forced to land on the Portuguese coast. Here, they joined hands with the King of Portugal, Afonso I to attack Lisbon. They captured Lisbon from its Moorish rulers in October 1147.
★ The remnants of the French and the German army joined together, along with the army sent by the ruler of Edessa, and set out to capture Damascus. The armies moved forward to Jerusalem and attacked Damascus in May 1148. They lost the battle as the leaders could not agree with each other.
★ Damascus was then captured by the son of Zangi, Nur-al-Din and destroyed the crusading army completely. This was a great victory for the Saracens, and it further laid the foundation for the third crusade.

The Third Crusade (1189 - 1192)

★ After the sudden death of Nur-al-Din, Saladin was crowned as the Emperor of the Turks. Raynald of Chantillon, of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, attacked a caravan of Muslims and took them as prisoners.
This broke the truce that was made earlier between the Turks and the emperor of Jerusalem. This led to the Battle of Hattin in which the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem lost miserably and the holy city of Jerusalem was captured by the Turks in the year 1187.
He then captured the cities of Acre, Sidon, and Beirut. In response to this, Pope Gregory VIII called for the third crusade.
★ King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France took an oath to lead the crusade. Due to the death of King Henry II, this crusade was led by his successor, King Richard I. They sailed for the Holy City from Genoa in Italy in 1189. On their way to Jerusalem, they captured the Moorish city of Silves.
★ A large army led by the Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa was to join the crusade. However, due to the death of the emperor, most of the German crusaders retreated back. The remainder of the crusaders along with the successor of Barbarossa continued their struggle to recapture Jerusalem.
The crusaders captured Acre from the Saracens in 1191. They continued their siege and conquered Cyprus. King Philip II, successor of Barbarossa, and Duke Leopold V of Austria returned to France due to a fallout with King Richard I.
★ King Richard, however, continued his fight to capture Jerusalem. After Acre, he set out to capture the city of Jaffa. On his way, he was attacked by Saladin at Arsuf. Saladin lost this battle and ultimately lost the city of Arsuf. King Richard finally entered the city of Jaffa and captured it.
★ King Richard was forced to sign a peace treaty with Saladin due to the political unrest back home. He was given the Kingdom of Jerusalem, excluding the city of Jerusalem that remained with the Saracens, but it allowed Christian pilgrims to visit the city.

The Fourth Crusade (1202 - 1204)

★ This is considered as the last of the major crusades that were undertaken. It is marked as the final rift between the now-called Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western Roman Catholic Church, and ultimately instigated the decline of Christianity in the Middle East.
★ The intent of this crusade was to conquer Jerusalem, which was under the Saracens, by first capturing Egypt. This crusade was announced by Pope Innocent III in the year 1198.
★ The attack on Egypt was supposed to be a maritime venture, and thus, acquisition of a fleet was of prime importance. An agreement was made with Venice to arrange the transportation of almost 34,000 crusaders. All crusaders were intended to directly attack Egypt from here.
★ But this did not happen. Crusaders set sail from Genoa, Marseilles, and Flanders. Hence, lesser number of crusaders arrived at Venice. The Venetians demanded for the full price promised to them during the agreement, but the crusaders refused.

★ The Venetians, thus, used the crusaders to attack Zadar and regain it from the Catholic Hungarian rulers.
★ In 1203, the crusaders attacked the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and captured it for Alexius IV who offered to pay them 200,000 silver marks, although there was no money to pay the crusaders. This enraged the crusaders, and they ransacked and looted the city.
★ When Pope Innocent III heard about this, he was enraged and rebuked the crusaders. A treaty was signed shortly after this, and the so-called Latin Empire was established, which was divided equally between the Venetians and the other leaders of the crusaders.

The Fifth Crusade (1213 - 1221)

★ Pope Innocent III fiercely strove for another attempt to recapture Jerusalem. However, due to the disastrous outcome of the previous crusades, his attempts did not materialize.

★ After his death, his successor, Pope Honorius III continued to urge the monarchs to go on another crusade.
★ Finally in 1217, a fifth crusade was announced. The crusaders intended to capture Egypt first and then besiege Jerusalem. They planned to do so by first capturing Damietta and then seize Cairo.
King Andrew II of Hungary, Duke Leopold VI of Austria, and William I were some of the leaders who took part in the crusade. They sailed to Cyprus where they were joined by John of Brienne, Hugh I of Cyprus, and Bohemond IV of Antioch.
★ The reign of the crusade was maintained in the hands of the Church to avoid another ill-fated result like the previous one. Pelagius of Albano was the crusade leader.

★ The crusaders then joined hands with Kay Kaus I, the Emperor of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in Anatolia. He attacked the Ayyubids in Syria so that the crusaders would not have to fight them.
★ In 1218, they attacked Damietta that was under the control of Ayyubids and captured it. Their next goal was to launch an attack on Cairo as it would be impossible to capture Jerusalem without capturing Cairo.
★ Malik Al-Kamil tried to negotiate peace with the crusaders. He offered them Jerusalem in return of Damietta. Although most of the leaders agreed to this, Pelagius of Albano refused to make peace, leading to a further loss of thousands of souls.
★ The crusaders then planned to attack Cairo. This attempt was unsuccessful as they were expecting a relief army to be provided by Frederick II which never arrived; their resources were dwindling due to the loss of a large number of men due to the flooding of the Nile River. The crusaders were then driven out of Damietta by an army led by Malik Al-Kamil.


The key highlight of the sixth and seventh crusade was that they were not sanctioned by the Church, but were undertaken by the monarchs themselves.

The Sixth Crusade (1228 - 1229)

★ The sixth crusade lasted only for a year. This crusade finally regained a Christian hold on Jerusalem for a short period of fifteen years, under the leadership of the Roman Emperor Frederick II.
★ While sailing to Jerusalem, Fredrick II landed in Cyprus with an intent of claiming Beirut. This resulted in the alienation of the Ibelin from the side of Fredrick II. Fredrick II was excommunicated, and as a result, a lot of crusaders left the fight.
★ Realizing that his army could not win against Al-Kamil's army, he negotiated a peace settlement with Al-Kamil. He was given the city of Nazareth, Sidon, Jaffa, and Bethlehem.

The Seventh Crusade (1248 - 1254)

★ The seventh crusade was carried out by King Louis IX in order to recapture the Holy City from the Mamluks, in 1245.
★ He first sailed to Cyprus in 1248, then attacked the city of Damietta, and captured it. Louis then attacked the city of Cairo and lost miserably.

★ This crusade ended with a disastrous loss for King Louis IX and his army, and they were held captive and were finally ransomed for 800,000 gold coins.
The crusaders not only fought to avenge the Holy Land, but also massacred thousands of Jews, Pagans, Moors, and Heretics all over Europe in the name of protecting the sovereignty of Christianity.