Crusades: Definition, History, Religion & Characteristics

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The Crusades: Meaning & Definition

Crusades: Military and religious campaigns promoted by the Papacy to recover the Holy Land.

Date 1096 – 1291
Place Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus, North Africa.
Belligerents Christian kingdoms vs. Muslim sultanates
Outcome Initial victory of the Christians and final victory of the Muslims.

What were the Crusades?

The crusades were military and religious campaigns promoted by the Papacy to regain the Holy Land, which had fallen to the Muslims. There were 9 expeditions and they took place between 1096 and 1291. The most important were the first, the third and sixth, as they allowed the temporary recovery of the city of Jerusalem and the establishment of several Christian kingdoms in the Middle East. All the others ended in resounding failures.

Its name comes from the red cross that was sewn on the clothes of those who participated in the crusades, who were called crusaders. They could be laity, religious or members of religious-military orders, such as the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Hospitallers of San Juan, among others.

The Papacy also called crusades to other military and religious campaigns carried out during the Middle Ages, for example, those that were carried out in the Iberian Peninsula, in Eastern Europe and in Southern France against the Cathars.

This article refers exclusively to the crusades to the Holy Land.

How many were the Crusades?

In total, the crusades were nine military and religious campaigns, although some authors consider the ninth as part of the eighth. Their dates and results are detailed below:

Number Date Outcome
First 1096 – 1099 Christian victory
Second 1147 – 1149 Muslim victory
Third 1189 – 1192 Muslim victory
Quarter 1201 – 1204 Conquest of Constantinople
Fifth 1218 – 1221 Muslim victory
Sixth 1228 – 1229 Christian victory
Seventh 1248 – 1254 Muslim victory
Eighth 1270 Christian defeat by epidemic
Ninth 1271 – 1272 Muslim victory

After the end of the Ninth Crusade, the Christian church tried, without success, to organize new military campaigns. The fall of the City of Acre in 1291 marked the end of the Crusader presence in the Near East.

Representation of the Crusades

Representation of the taking of the city of Jerusalem by the crusaders, in 1099.

Characteristics of the Crusades

The main characteristics of the crusades were the following:

  • They were promoted by the Papacy and supported by the main Christian kingdoms of Europe, including France and England.
  • A total of 9 campaigns were organized, taking place between the end of the 11th century and the end of the 13th century.
  • Their geographical setting was the coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • His main motivations were the religious fervor and expansionist interests of the European Feudal nobility, who sought to seize land, slaves and wealth.
  • They meant persecutions and deaths of MuslimsJews and Orthodox Christians.
  • The Papacy granted an indulgence of sins to all those who participated in the crusades.

Origin of the Crusades

The origin of the crusades dates back to the end of the 11th century, when Pope Urban II summoned the Council of Piacenza (1095), in which he received the ambassador of the Byzantine Empire. He requested help to stop the advance of the Seljuk Turks, who had occupied almost all of Anatolia and were intolerant of the Christians. Faced with this news, Urban II summoned the Council of Clermont (1095), in which he summoned the first crusade.

The objective proclaimed by the Papacy was to recover the Holy Sepulcher of Jesus Christ, which had fallen into the hands of the Turks. Since Jerusalem and its surroundings are sacred to both Christians and Muslims, the believers of both religions fought with great fervor to protect their ideals, their faith and their holy places.

Although the crusades were religiously motivated, other factors were also important, such as the ambitions of European feudal nobles, who wanted to conquer new territories, and the aspirations of Italian merchants, who wanted to expand their mercantile networks.

Causes and Consequences of the Crusades

Causes of the Crusades

Among the main causes of the crusades can be highlighted:

  • The desire of the Christians to regain Jerusalem, which had fallen into the hands of the Muslims.
  • The Catholic Church‘s concern for the spread of Islam.
  • The quest for the fame, riches and lands that the crusades promised. This was the reason why they had a lot of convocation among European kings, princes and nobles of the time.
  • The ambitions of merchants, especially Genoese and Venetians, who wanted to expand trade and establish commercial exchanges between East and West.

Consequences of the Crusades

The main consequences of the crusades were the following:

  • The Pope’s leadership over the Christians of Western Europe and the spread of Christianity to the East was reinforced.
  • The aggravation of the conflict between Rome and the Orthodox Church, due to the occupation of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.
  • The enrichment of Western culture due to the influence of Arab and Byzantine art and science.
  • The opening of trade routes between East and West.
  • The strengthening of the nascent bourgeoisie as a consequence of the profits provided by the provisioning and transport of the armies and the increase in traffic with the East.
  • The weakening of the feudal system, which gradually began to be replaced by commercial capitalism.
  • The death of large numbers of people, especially women, children and the elderly during the taking of cities and the attacks on caravans and pilgrims.

image The siege of Tire by the Crusaders and the Venetian fleet, in 1124.

The siege of Tire by the Crusaders and the Venetian fleet, in 1124.

Protagonists of the Crusades

Some of the main protagonists of the crusades were:

  • Urban II (1042-1099): Pope of the Catholic Church between 1088 and 1099. Of French origin, he presided over the Council of Clermont and called the first crusade.
  • Pedro de Amiens (1050-1115): clergyman of French origin, also known as Pedro the Hermit. In 1096 he organized a crusade made up mostly of peasants, which was annihilated by the TurksPeter survived and participated in the taking of Jerusalem.
  • Federico Barbarroja (1122-1190): Holy Roman Emperor, participated in the third crusade. After defeating the Muslims twice, he drowned in Anatolia, falling into the Saleh River wearing heavy armor.
  • Saladin (1138-1193): Sultan of Syria and Egypt, founder of the Ayubid dynasty. He defeated the Christians at the Battle of Hattin (1187) and reclaimed Jerusalem for the Muslims.
  • Richard the Lionheart (1157-1199) : King of England between 1189 and 1199, participated in the third crusade. In 1192, he signed the Treaty of Ramla with Saladin, establishing a three-year truce and free access for Christians to Jerusalem, which was left in the hands of the Muslims.
  • Louis IX of France (1214-1270): King of France, of the Capetian dynasty. He participated in the seventh crusade, which led him to Egypt, where he was taken prisoner and had to pay a ransom for his freedom. He then organized the eighth crusade, but after landing in Tunisia a plague broke out and he died a victim of dysentery and scurvy.
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