Posted: March 18th, 2023
Justo L.Gonzalez, The Story Christianity, 1 volume (preferably 2010 edition) ii.
The Crusades — interpretation and history
There is much controversy regarding Crusades, their purpose, and the general effect that they left on society. Largely accepted as conflicts that started with the purpose of protecting the Byzantine Empire and Christianity as a whole, Crusades have taken place over the course of several centuries and have had a strong influence on religious ideologies in the Middle East. Although there were many individuals who actually fought in the name of what they perceived as being divinity, a large number of people took advantage of these conflicts by exploiting believers and by gathering wealth that was being brought from the East. In spite of the fact that they were religious in character, the Crusades were also meant to strengthen political and economic conditions in Europe by securing its place and influence in the Middle East.
Christianity and European influences were rapidly spreading in the Middle Eastduring the early first millennium. However, Turkish Muslims also experienced notable progress at the time and were starting to feel that they should exercise authority over the region, as they were well aware that they were superior in numbers and in influence in comparison to Christians. As a result Westerners intervened through devising a system of fighting that would provide individuals who fought in the name of Christianity with indulgences and that was practically a call to arms for everyone who wanted to get their hands on riches.
There are mixed ideas concerning the concept of Crusades, as people in the Middle Ages regarded such a conflict as being “a holy war for a holy cause directed by the hand of Providence through the offices of the Holy Pontiff -the Vicar of God on earth” (Atiya 1962, 17). Other ideas relate to Crusades as being meant to provide the Western World with riches presumably located in the Middle East. To a certain degree, people in the West were interested in organizing bands that would travel Eastfor several centuries before the first Crusade actually took place. Conditions in some of Europe most powerful countries were becoming critical as populations grew and as individuals had the means and the motives needed for them to embark on a journey that would resemble later campaigns that took place during the Imperialist era (Atiya 1962, 18).
The Crusades should be generally understood as a Western Christian offensive started as a response to a growing Islamic influence in the Middle East. Even with the fact that tensions were high before these conflicts actually started, the Byzantine Empire and its Muslim neighbors managed to live in relatively peaceful conditions during the early eleventh century. These divergences grew into full scale conflicts along with the arrival of over-enthusiastic Christians from the West. These individuals are largely responsible for a war that lasted for approximately two centuries.
The fact that the Crusades were seen from different perspectives by Western Christians, Eastern Christians and Muslims is reflected by present day thinking expressed in the Western Europe, in Orthodox European territories, and respectively in the Middle East. “The historical reality of the Crusades was also more complex than the simplistic views that are still used by political, religious, and cultural leaders in both Eastand West” (Nicolle, 7). This made it possible for divergences between Middle Easterners and Westerners to last until the contemporary era, as people continue to have trouble living together peacefully when considering their turbulent past.
In addition to serving as a tool meant to reduce Muslim influence in the Middle East, the Crusades also succeeded in increasing Christian influences across Europe. Christianity came to be more and more appreciated among Europeans as they acknowledged the efforts that it performed with the purpose of protecting its people and its ideologies. One of the first significant Crusades was assembled in 1095, in Clermont, when a church council led by Pope Urban II preached a sermon “called on Frankish knights to vow to march to the Eastwith the twin aims of freeing Christians from the yoke of Islamic rule and liberating the tomb of Christ, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, from Muslim control” (Riley-Smith 1999, 1).
The Pope was familiarized with the thinking of individuals that he was preaching to because he came from the same class as the individuals whom he wanted to influence. Thus, he knew what these people wanted, what they believed in, and what they were determined to fight for.
Pope Urban II was interested in assisting the Byzantine Empire for several years previous to 1095, but he knew that he needed to reach people’s heart in a moment when they would identify with the cause of this conflict and when most of them would be unhesitant about getting actively involved in fighting for Christianity. His sermon is likely to have been prepared long before he actually presented individuals in Clermont with it, considering that he must have acknowledge the importance of such a speech. The Pope came to organize a series of visits in France with the intention of getting as many followers as possible.
Approximately one year consequent to Urban’s first sermon regarding a war meant to discourage Muslims in the Middle Eastfrom going against Christianity the first crusaders started to organize a general campaign that came to be known as the First Crusade. This Crusade lasted from 1096 and until 1102 and culminated in the capture of Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, “an achievement made all the greater for contemporaries by the catastrophic defeat by the Turks in Asia Minor two years later of the armies of a third wave of crusaders”(Riley-Smith 1999, 2).
Modern world historians see the first Crusade as happening for reasons other than religion. Christians had control over most of Europe and it was difficult for them to operate in difficult economic conditions. As a result, Pope Urban II raised peoples’ awareness concerning the Middle Eastand regarding how Palestine was apparently a land that contained rivers of milk and honey. People who traveled east alongside of Crusaders were not only interested in the religious aspect of these campaigns. There were also many individuals who wanted to take advantage of these conflicts and who simply wanted to settle in the East as a result of the fact that they were unable to cope with living conditions in Europe. These people were attracted by the prospect of living in a land where basic needs were presumably available to everyone and joined Crusades hoping that they would eventually improve their condition (Atiya 1962, 19). “The First Crusade has come to exemplify the religious fervour that enveloped Christendom, the policies of an aggressive Papacy, and the newly spawned concept of Holy War — which was dramatically exploited by the Church in its offer of the (plenary) Indulgence” (James 2005).
Jerusalem was isolated and the Muslims had limited power over this location, thus making it easier for Crusaders to capture the city. This conquest also represented a strategic defeat over the Muslims, considering that it was basically one of the locations that both belligerent camps considered to be important in the overall course of the conflict. Even though Crusaders were generally motivated by their religious beliefs, it was particularly difficult for these people to think of war as being something different than a conflict that takes place with the purpose of possessing land and ruling individuals. Moreover, Crusaders had a limited understanding of their enemies, as they had trouble comprehending whether they should identify these people as barbarians or whether they should simply focus on considering them pagans. In spite of the fact that there were many Christians who got actively engaged in fighting in the Crusades for reasons other than religion, most of the individuals who took part in the First Crusade were motivated by their “deep ideological hatred of Islam” (France 1999, 188). Even with this, people were still unable to fully understand their role in the Crusades.
Notable Christian leaders seemed unhesitant about forming alliances with Muslim individuals and Crusaders saw many Muslim leaders as they put across great intelligence and humane attitudes — these individuals basically contrasted everything that they knew regarding Muslims. It must have been difficult for allegedly moral Christians to go at war against people that they saw as being very different from how they initially portrayed them.
One of the greatest advantages that the Europeans owned at the time of the Crusades was the fact that they were in possession of superior technology. This made them confident concerning the chances that they had of winning conflicts. However, the Muslims and the Mongols were also advanced when considering their ability to perform warfare and matters were not as simple as Europeans expected when they came across aggressive communities that were equally determined to fight for Middle Eastern territories.
The propositions that Pope Urban II raised in 1095 can seem downright absurd to a contemporary public, as he was urging people to leave everything that they had with the purpose of fighting infidels in the Holy Lands. This was surely meant to be an ideological war, even with the fact that it presented opportunists with a wide range of prospects. One of the reasons for which he related to the riches present in the Middle East is the fact that he was acquainted with economic conditions in France. Similarly, he highlighted the possibility of earning indulgences as a result of fighting in the Crusades because he knew that religion had experienced much progress in the recent decades and that Christians were starting to feel uncomfortable in regard to their sins. One can practically consider that Urban II was experienced in manipulating people through relating to their needs and to their problems.
The fact that the First Crusade saw tens of thousands of individuals from a variety of backgrounds (there were even people from the upper classes determined to fight in the Middle East) joining a campaign that they believed would solve their problems stands as proof regarding the Pope’s oratorical ability. The presence of wealthy individuals in the First Crusade makes it possible for one to understand that religion and wealth were two of the principal concepts in society during the late eleventh century. Individuals fighting in later Crusades even seemed to believe that the call that Urban II made in 1095 was actually late and that Christians should have realized that they needed to take action against the Muslims long before this man’s decision to do something about conditions in the Middle East.
While people were less aware of the general purpose of the First Crusade at the time when it happened, matters gradually changed across time as Christians across Europe started to acknowledge the role that they would play in a fight against Muslims and the effects that their participation would have both on the West and on the East. It was not necessarily that Christians in Europe benefited as a result of their involvement in the Crusades, as they also learned a great deal of information that proved to be vital in Europe’s later years. “New technology, crops, patterns of trade, trade-goods and philosophical, medical, scientific and geographical knowledge all poured into a Western Europe eager to learn, exploit, dominate, and conquer” (Nicolle 2001, 7).
Most crusaders are likely to have been unable to understand the full complexity of fighting in behalf of God. Even if their mission were to be justified, most of them failed to comprehend it completely. It is wrong to fight, regardless of the motives, but it is even worse to fight for a cause that one actually associates with his or her personal well-being. Being a part of a Crusade primarily meant that one would be involved in an act of self-fulfillment, considering that the respective individual would be provided with indulgence and that he or she was even able to come across great riches that they would rob from Muslims.
Although the Crusades started as a fight for justice against people that were infidels and that virtually tainted everything that Christianity represented through their behavior, these conflicts turned out to be a bloodbath. Looking at matters from the perspective of a contemporary individual makes it possible for one to understand that the Crusades were essentially very similar to any ideological warfare that has occurred throughout history. However, one’s background is essential in determining how the respective individual perceives the Crusades. While many Christians consider that they should feel guilty for the behavior of their ancestors, many Muslims believe that they were successful in defeating Christians and are likely to believe that it would be wrong for them to accept apologies that they consider irrational (Riley-Smith 2000, 20).
Not only did Muslims fight back all across the duration of the Crusades, as they actually managed to push Europeans back in a series of cases. Muslims succeeded in fighting crusaders and went as far as Spain in their campaigns, demonstrating that they were not as inferior as Christians would have people think (Gonzales 248)
There are a lot of debates concerning the time when Crusades first occurred and the time when they stopped, as some prefer to believe that they happened even before 1095 and that they continued until the contemporary era. Surely, if one were to consider the series of conflicts that happened between the Western World and the Eastern World, the respective individual would understand that warfare continues to dominate affairs between these two regions. Even with this, most people agree that these battles took place “from the preaching of the First Crusade in 1095 to the fall of the last order-state, Hospitaller Malta, to Napoleon in 1798” (Riley-Smith 2000, 20).
All things considered, the Crusades have left a strong mark on history and on how people in the contemporary society behave. Although present-day Christianity is generally inclined to express guilt in regard to the cruel treatment that Crusaders applied to non-Christians that they came across, matters are still critical in the region as Palestinians continue to fight Jewish people for a land that has been disputed for centuries between the West and the East. It surely difficult for someone to determine what group is more entitled to this territory. Even with that, people should focus on their past in trying to understand mistakes that their ancestors have made. Consequent to this, they should understand the concept of morality and attempt to resolve matters in order for the Middle East to cease to be an area of conflict.
Atiya, Aziz S. Crusade, Commerce, and Culture (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1962)
France, John Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300 [book online] (London: UCL Press, 1999, accessed 30 January 2012)
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The early church to the dawn of the Reformation, (Harper & Row, 1984)
James, Douglas “Christians and the First Crusade: Douglas James Explain Why So Many in the Christian West Answered Urban II’s Call to Arms Following the Council of Clermont in 1095,” History Review, no. 53 (2005)
Nicolle, David, The Crusades, (Osprey Publishing, 2001)
Riley-Smith, Jonathan “Rethinking the Crusades,” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, March 2000, 20
Riley-Smith, Jonathan ed., The Oxford History of the Crusades [book online] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, accessed 30 January 2012)
Crusade Propaganda and Ideology: Model Sermons for the Preaching of the Cross (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
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