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Saturday, 14 January 2017

World History: The Crusades

Peter the Hermit
The Crusades are possibly one of the most controversial parts of history with people debating constantly what the purpose of the Crusades were and what they meant. Enlightenment and Victorian European historians have said that the Crusades were a stories of heroes, post-colonial historians have said that the Crusades were the first steps towards later European imperialism, Marxist historians have stated that religion was used as an excuse to make Crusaders wealthy, and the media has portrayed it as a clash of civilizations between Christendom and Islam. Particularly among the hard right and far-right groups you can hear talks of a new Crusade happening now, or one that will happen in the future. This post will try and show that the Crusades was not simply Muslims vs. Christians, or simply guided by greed. Two Crusades which we shall look at were not even about fighting Muslims! First off, we have to look at the Crusade that started it all.

The First Crusade
First Crusade
The First Crusade began in 1095 in a fractured world. Many kingdoms in Europe were often at war with each other, the Byzantine empire was slowly losing land in Anatolia to various Islamic states, and the Muslim world itself was split. In Anatolia, Syria, Iraq and Palestine there was the Seljuq /Seljuk Empire whose rulers were primarily Sunni Turks while in Egypt there was the Fatimid Caliphate which claimed descendant from the Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatima bint Muhammad, (they were Shia instead of Sunni). Just a few years prior to the calling of the First Crusade there was a wave of deaths among the leaders of the Seljuqs and Fatimids. De factor ruler of the Seljuqs, vizier Nizam al-Mulk, was murdered in 1092 and just a few months earlier Sultan Malikshah died under suspicious circumstances quickly followed by his wife, grandson, and other key political figures. In 1094 the Fatimid caliph al-Mustansir died quickly followed by his vizier Badr al-Jamali, and the Sunni Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadi died. Mamluk historian Ibn Taghribirdi later said 'This year is called the year of the death of caliphs and commanders'. The Seljuqs had been slowly taking land from the Byzantines in Asia Minor, so much so that by 1090 they had driven the Byzantines to the coast. However, during the war the Seljuqs had attacked the Fatimids and taken Jerusalem from them. The Fatimids had openly encouraged and allowed Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem for several reasons: they earned money through taxing Christians; it helped appease Christians in their border; and they were Ahl-al Kitab (People of the Book). However, when the Seljuqs conquered Jerusalem where they sacked the city and made it harder for Christians to do pilgrimage (something they later reversed but by then it was too late). Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus in 1094 asked Pope Urban II for aid. His predecessor, Pope Gregory VII, had been concerned about the Byzantines and in 1074 had proposed personally leading 50,000 'volunteers' in fighting towards Jerusalem. Urban decided to defend the Byzantines for a few reasons: he thought it could unite the warring kingdoms in the west; he could retake Jerusalem for Christianity; and he hoped that by helping the Byzantines this could mend the Catholic/Orthodox schism and reunite Christianity. On November 27, 1095 at the Council of Clermont he made a speech calling for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to fight the Seljuqs and whoever did would be absolved from their sins. With the cry of 'Deus Vult!' (God wills it) the First Crusade began.
The People's Crusade
Marxist historiography sometimes states that the Crusades were done by the younger sons of nobles wanting an easy fortune. However, this was not the case. This is seen as many commoners of all ages and sexes took part in what has been called the People's Crusade. During the eleventh century people were very religious so a war-pilgrimage to Jerusalem was seen as the perfect way to show their devotion. A priest called Peter the Hermit from Amiens enthusiastically called for commoners to join in with his crusade, (around 40,000 left Cologne with him including many elderly people, women, and children). Unfortunately for the People's Crusade most of the fighters were either killed or enslaved by the Seljuqs at the Battle of Civetot. Later on the disciplined, armed, and trained Crusading armies came, the Prince's Crusade. These were comprised of people from across France, Germany, Italy, and England although the Seljuqs referred to them as 'Franks'. There were discrepancies in the goals of the Byzantine emperor and the Crusaders. The Crusaders wished to go to Jerusalem whereas the Byzantines were concerned in reclaiming lost land in Asia Minor. The emperor managed to get oaths of fealty from all Crusading leaders, bar Raymond of Toulouse, which said that they would restore imperial rule to all lands, towns, and castles which once belonged to the Byzantines on their way to Jerusalem. While fighting in Antioch a cleric working for Raymond of St. Gilles supposedly saw a vision of where the lance which pierced Christ's side was buried, and after digging they found the 'lance'. Although a little convenient the result of finding the lance served as a huge moral boost for the fighters showing just how much they were devoted to their religious belief. By finding what they believed to be the lance which pierced Christ's side this showed them that they had God's favor. With the Seljuqs weakened from the death of their leaders, no assistance from the Fatimids, (disavowing the notion of it being Christian vs. Muslim), and unprepared in fighting a strong army after fighting the weak People's Crusade the Seljuqs started losing ground in the Levant to the Crusaders. Finally in 1099 Jerusalem fell to the Prince's Crusade.

However, we have yet to speak of the darker side of the First Crusade. Shortly after the Council of Clermont there was intense and violent outbreaks of Antisemitism which spread to Germany and central Europe. On May 3, 1096 Emich of Flonheim's army in Speyer, south Germany ruthlessly massacred the Jewish community and when he went Worms the massacres continued there. As the Crusaders marched through Europe in every town that they went to Jews were massacred. Jews had escaped from Cologne before the armies arrived but the armies hunted them out and murdered them. It is possible that Peter the Hermit's army in Regensburg forcibly baptized the entire Jewish community. Some historians have argued that this was the start of centuries of pogroms and persecution of Europe's Jewish populace. When Jerusalem fell in 1099 Muslims and Jews were massacred by the Prince's Crusade. Sources indicate that Jews were burnt in a synagogue and Muslims were murdered in the mosques which they took refuge in. After the capture of Jerusalem the Crusaders actually renegaded on their oath to the Byzantine emperor. Several 'crusader states' were established: the Principality of Armenian Cilicia, the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thanks to the establishing of these kingdoms some post-colonial historians have argued that this was Europe's first tentative steps to global colonialism. After a brief battle with the Fatimids the  First Crusade ended.

The Second Crusade
Map of the Second Crusade
Following their defeat at the hands of the Crusaders the Seljuqs were unwilling to allow the crusader states to remain. The County of Edessa was the first of the kingdoms to be established, in 1098, and was also the weakest. Saljuq noble Imad ad-Din Zengi besieged Edessa and after a four month siege it fell on December 24, 1144. Later Muslim historians have said that this was the first jihad against the crusader states. In November 1145 the new pope, Eugenius III, was elected and believed that the other crusader states would fall. On December 1 he issued a remission of sins, protection of property, and a moratorium on the payment of interest on debts for anyone who would become a crusader. Among those who went crusading was King Louis VII who had been already thinking of going onto a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Like the First Crusade we can see a clear devotion to Christianity with one abbot, Bernard of Clairveux, saying:
This age is like no other that has gone before; a new abundance of divine mercy comes down from heaven; blessed are those who are alive in this year pleasing to the Lord, this year of remission, this year of veritable jubilee. I tell you, the Lord has not done this for any other generation before, nor has he lavished on our fathers a gift of grace so copious. Look at the skill he is using to save you. Consider the depth of his love and be astonished, sinners. He creates a need- he creates it or pretends to have it- while he desires to help you in your necessity. This is a plan not made by man, but coming from heaven and proceeding from the heart of divine love.
However, Bernard started preaching in northern France and Germany to counteract the preaching of another monk, Radulf. Radulf had been calling for violence against Jews as well as Muslims which had besmirched the image of the First Crusaders. Louis VII also had a second reason to go on the crusade: he feared a rival family could become the counts of Edessa. Unlike the First Crusade where the nobles were largely united with this crusade Louis VII and Conrad III of Germany went separately to Jerusalem where they were defeated separately by the Seljuqs whose forces were largely led by the ruler of Damascus, Mu'in al-Din Anur. Although they reunited to siege Jerusalem they were routed and instead sieged Damascus but were defeated by the Seljuqs. The crusaders had been defeated in the east and the north as well. Crusaders attacked the Wends in northern Germany to convert them from paganism to Christianity. They only had token conversions with many converting back to paganism when the crusaders left, despite the horrific massacres in Pomerania and Mecklenburg. Meanwhile, in Iberia (Spain and Portugal), the crusaders won some victories. By 788 the Umayyad dynasty had conquered most of Iberia and the remaining Christian kingdoms began the Reconquista. The crusaders aided this with in 1147 Lisbon was conquered by Christians.

Third Crusade
Saladin in an Italian painting
The Third Crusade is perhaps the best known crusade. An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known as Saladin, founded the Ayyubid dynasty in 1174. A Sunni of Kurdish origin he managed to become sultan of Syria and Egypt. He is also portrayed very positively in European media with him appearing in Dante's The Divine Comedy, when Dante is in Purgatory he meets Saladin who is there only because he is Muslim and not Christian. The Third Crusade would be the first one where the Crusaders fought against a united Muslim force instead of the Seljuqs and Fatimids. In 1177 the king of Jerusalem had defeated Saladin in battle and the agreement between them allowed free trade between Muslim and Christian traders. However, the person who negotiated this agreement, (Raynald of Chatillon), renegaded on this and started harassing Muslim caravans and ships going to Mecca. When the king died Raynald ignored the new king's orders to release Muslim traders leading to war. By the end of 1187 both Acre and Jerusalem fell to Saladin causing Pope Urban III to supposedly drop dead upon hearing the news. Pope Gregory VIII said that Jerusalem's fall was thanks to the sins of European Christians and declared a new crusade. This call caused Henry II of England and Philip II of France to end their war. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa immediately took up the call and headed to Anatolia unaware that the Byzantines had made a deal with Saladin: if they would impede Barbarossa's journey he would protect the empire. It did not matter much as Barbarossa never made it to Jerusalem. After the Sultanate of Rum (a Muslim power) let him use their lands, (he sacked the capital Iconium when he lost patience with them), he reached the the Saleph River on June 10, 1190. There we do not know what happened. Either he wanted to cool down thanks to the heat so went into the river, or his horse lost its footing crossing the river, but either way Barbarossa drowned.

Meanwhile, in 1189 Philip of France helped Richard overthrow his father who became Richard I, (later called Richard the Lionheart). Richard wished to get to Jerusalem through Egypt but instead the Christian forces went to Acre. During the siege the Christian forces disagreed and some even left to return home. Shortly after arriving Richard sent a message to Saladin for a meeting, however, Saladin refused as they were still at war and they should only meet at the peace treaty saying 'it is not seemly for them to make war upon each other' after the fighting had stopped. Saladin did try and get the release of the Muslim garrison and their families although Richard responded by having 2,700 of the prisoners (including the families of the garrison) decapitated in front of Saladin's army. In response Saladin started executing Christian prisoners. In 1192 Saladin captured Jaffa but told the crusaders to hide in the citadel as he had lost control of his army who wanted revenge for Acre. Conrad of Montferrat, a leading crusader who was briefly King of Jerusalem, was even assassinated in 1192 in Tyre by the Hashashins (Assassins. These were a group of Muslim assassins now in popular culture thanks to the game Assassin's Creed. The English word 'assassin' comes from their name). Eventually in 1192 a peace disliked by both sides was made. Saladin recognized the sovereignty of the crusader states but Jerusalem remained under Saladin's control.

The Fourth Crusade
Crusaders sack Constantinople
The Fourth Crusade is the last crusade against Muslims which we shall focus on. Two decades after the end of the Third Crusade a prominent preacher, James of Vitry, was trying to drum up support for another crusade to the east. In 1198 the new pope, Innocent III, called for a new crusade but unlike the last ones it received mute response from monarchs. England and France had returned to war while the Holy Roman Emperor was struggling to curb the power of the papacy. However, a crusading army was organized and set off in 1202, (it would have done in 1201 but the person chosen to lead it died), under Boniface of Montferrat. As previous crusades had been bogged down in Anatolia to get to Palestine this crusade opted to go through the politically and economically important region of Egypt. However, this involved a navy which the crusaders lacked so envoys were sent to various Italian city states to get a navy. Surprisingly Venetian doge Enrico Dandalo agreed to make a navy as Egypt was a prime trading partner with Venice. The crusaders were supposed to attack Cairo, and Innocent III specifically stated that they could not attack any Christian states. However, the crusaders had little to no way of paying the Venetians for their navy, so they became mercenaries for the Venetians. The city of Zara in Dalmatia had become economically independent from Venice and had rebelled in 1181 which the Venetians had failed to reconquer. Enrico Dandalo wanted the crusaders to take Zara. Some refused to do so and returned home, including Simon de Montfort whose son would later found England's parliament. Zara was captured causing the pope to excommunicate the crusaders, (he later reversed this so only Venetian crusaders were excommunicated). The crusaders then ended up in Constantinople, (modern day Istanbul and capital of the Byzantines). They did this as the son of the former emperor Isaac II, (Alexios), promised to pay the crusaders if they reclaimed his father's throne. In 1203 Isaac was restored with the help of the crusaders and the next January his son become emperor. Alexios could not meet the demands of the crusaders and was deposed in 1204 by a rival, also called Alexios. Angry the crusaders sacked Constantinople. The magnificent Library of Constantinople was burnt, several Roman bronze horse statutes were taken and given to Venice (they are now outside St Mark's Basilica), and 900,000 silver marks were looted. This caused the quick decline of the Byzantines which would finally vanish in 1453 and permanently split the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In the end hardly any crusaders managed to get to the Holy Land. There would be five more crusades to the Holy Land, the continuing of the Reconquista in Iberia, and several in north Africa.

Other Crusades
There are two crusades against non-Muslims which I briefly want to talk about.
Albigensian Crusade
Innocent III excommunicating the Albigensians
The Albigensian was one of the crusades against Christians. Catharism was a branch of Christianity which emerged in the twelfth century which said that God was a spirit unsullied by physical matter, Jesus was an angel in a phantom body, that the New Testament was allegorical and not truth, and that God and Satan were equal. It even encouraged abstinence in marriage. In Languedoc in southern France Catharism was very powerful, so much so that Innocent III thought it could threaten the entire Catholic church. In 1208 he excommunicated the Albigensians when a papal legate was murdered and a year later a crusade was called. With aid from the French monarchy a war against the Cathars began. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the word genocide, has described this as a genocide saying 'one of the most conclusive cases of genocide in religious history'. At Beziers in 1209 between 15,000 and 20,000 were massacred. Up to a million Cathars are thought to have been killed. Scorched earth policies were even used, like in Toulouse where vineyards were uprooted, livestock slaughtered and farms burnt. In 1229 the crusade officially ended but the persecution of Cathars did not with the Inquisition being set up in 1234 to look for remaining Cathars.

Livonian Crusade
For close to a hundred years there was a crusade in the Baltic region, part of the Northern Crusades, against the peoples of the Baltic and northern Europe in what is now Latvia and Estonia. Pope Celestine III in 1193 called for a crusade against pagans in northern Europe and when peaceful means of conversion failed violence was used. These crusades were fought mainly by the Danish and the Holy Roman Empire with them being the closest kingdoms to the pagan tribes and states. These included wars against the Livs and Latagians (1198-1209), Estonians (1208-27), Saarema (1206-61), Curonians (1242-67), and Semigallians (1219-90). One reason suggested for this crusade was to prevent the spread of Orthodox Christianity into northern Europe. The Kievan Rus had converted to Orthodox Christianity and the Novgorod Republic that replaced it was a major local power. Hence, some have argued that there was a fear that Orthodox Christians would convert the pagan people in the Baltic, so a crusade would convert them to Catholicism before this could happen. The Livonian crusade was much closer to the Albigensian crusade than the Reconquista or 'Holy Land Crusades'. This was a war of conversion instead of 'reconquest'. It did succeed in it's aims with the peoples of the Baltic becoming Catholic.

The crusades show how not everything in history is black and white. The crusades weren't simply a clash of civilizations, a war of religions between Christianity and Islam. We see crusades where Christians fought Christians, Christians fought pagans, Christians betrayed each other, Muslims betrayed each other, and Muslims and Christians made alliances to fight other Muslims or other Christians. It is also easy to forget how the crusades to Jerusalem were also driven by actual religious devotion. People believed they were truly fighting for God by going on a war-pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We also have to consider something else: when was the last crusade? Jonathan Riley-Smith states that crusading never really petered out until the late nineteenth century. Do the Wars of Religion like the Thirty Years' War count as a religion? It is also too easy to place the crusades on today's politics. Particularly the hard right likes to say we are facing a crusade now or in the near future. This belief is born through the idea of a clash of civilizations which was not true then and is not true today. Anyway, thank you for reading and the next World History post will take us to southern Africa to look at Great Zimbabwe.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The Crusades: A History by Jonathan Riley-Smith
-God's War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman
-The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives by Carole Hillenbrand
-A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani
-BBC In Our Time podcast, Baltic Crusades
-Crash Course World History: The Crusades
-The Times Complete History of the World edited by Richard Overy

For the list of other World History posts please see here

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