The Crusades

We Only Won The First One

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

      Contrary to the widely held opinion that the Crusades were initiated to colonize Arab lands and convert Muslims to the Christian faith, they were in fact a purely defensive maneuver by European countries against a formidable, religiously-inspired effort, by Middle Eastern countries to conquer the world in the name of Allah. That effort had already gobbled up two-thirds of Europe at a time when it was experiencing the ill effects of three hundred years of the Dark Ages.

That the Crusades had the flavor of a religious counter movement to Islam cannot be denied, since a common faith was the unifying glue that would allow competing European principalities to fight on one side, together. The notion that a crusade would free the Holy Land of infidels was simply the sugar on top of what would prove to be an incredibly hard and distant war of territory, riches, and glory.

Pope Urban II called for a Crusade in 1095, responding to a request from the Emperor of Constantinople (the remnant of the Roman Empire) for military help against the Seljuk Turks. Urban saw the possibilites in this request: reducing European warfare by uniting against a common enemy, and gaining glory for the church. In a stirring speech in France in the autumn of 1095, he extolled Europeans to "take the cross" and free the Holy Land from the heathen. It would take a year for an army to form, and another year to walk from Europe (through Constantinople) to the Holy Land.

The First Crusade was the only successful one, though the details of it are dim in the minds of most Westerners, probably because it is now Hollywood which supplies our "history", and Hollywood has chosen to be more interested in the Third. The First was mostly fought by French knights and their soldiers, led by Robert of Flanders and Raymond of Toulouse. The crusaders fought through hundreds of miles of enemy territory, wearing steel armor in unfamiliar heat, capturing all of the principal cities, such as Antioch, and Jerusalem itself in 1099, after a six week battle. These knights would return to France three years after having left it.

Fifty years later, when the Turks had recaptured a portion of the middle east, the Second Crusade was launched, but was defeated within Asia Minor (modern Turkey.)

Muslims under a formidable leader named Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187 and this launched the Third Crusade in 1189. This is the one which included all of the colorful characters which delight Hollywood: Saladin, Richard Lion Heart, King Philip II of France, German Emperor Frederick (Barbarossa). The Third Crusade was essentially Richard's war, as he defeated Saladin in several battles but could not capture Jerusalem. The crusaders went home when Saladin agreed to allow Christian pilgrims to enter the city freely. Richard would be captured in Germany on the way home, and had he not been, we would not now have that neat story of "Robin Hood".

The Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) was unlike the others in that it turned its strength on its ally, Constantinople. When the crusaders (mainly French) reached Venice (a major maritime power at the time) with the intent of taking ship across the Med, the Venetians had raised the price, offering ships in return for a combined crusader/Venetian attack on Constantinople (a competitor), a city which had never been taken. The crusaders and Venetians took that city, and abandoned plans to go to the Holy Land.

The Children's Crusade (1212) was a pathetic effort to get God to act through children in re-taking the Holy Land. The children (many were under 12) never reached there, either dying along the way or ending up as slaves to Muslims.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) saw crusaders conquer a city near the mouth of the Nile in Egypt, and that was it.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) was led by Emperor Frederick II of Germany who, without a fight, got the Muslims to give Jerusalem to the Christians! Muslims would take it back in 1244 and this led to France's King Louis IX to launch the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) which produced some successes before Louis was captured. After paying the large ransom, he raised another army in Europe, which became the Eighth Crusade (1270), which was a short effort since Louis died (old and ill) soon after arriving in the Holy Land.

After this, Europe turned its interest in other directions. In 1492, the Muslims were finally ousted from Spain, and in that same year the New World was discovered. Europe decided to leave the Middle East to followers of Islam.

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