The Crusades

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Convincing the People of Europe

The Crusades were promoted by major prelates, even Urban II himself, who toured medieval Europe preaching that the crusades offered a sure means of salvation in the degenerate feudal world. Sermons were terrifying depictions of the torments of hell and churchmen spared no enthusiasm in condemning the sins of their listeners. They offered but one escape, one opportunity for certain salvation—fighting the enemies of the Church in the Holy Land. So moving were the sermons that thousands took up the cross (dedicated themselves to the conquest of the Holy Land).

What Led to the Crusades?

  • Jerusalem had long been a destination for pilgrims from medieval Europe when the city was captured by the Seljuk Turks in 1071. The conquerors, not tolerant of pilgrims, immediately began arresting, imprisoning, and enslaving them.
  • The Byzantine Empire, important to the stability and protection of medieval Europe as a buffer against the growing power of the Arab world, was losing territories to the expanding Turks and other Arab cultures and requested aid from the Church and princes of Europe.
  • Pope Urban II, a powerful and dynamic leader, was eager to seize the opportunity to unite lords and knights under the authority of the Church.

Why Become a Crusader?

Besides the espoused spiritual benefits of joining a crusade, there were many logical, temporal reasons for taking up the cross. While on crusade, warriors became pilgrims and thus answerable only to the Church. Crusaders were temporarily free from the burdens of taxation, worries of debt and interest, and duties of feudalism. Finally, their families and property were protected by the Church, although this proved to be difficult and in some cases impossible.

The First Crusade (1095-1099)

When the Europeans set off for the Holy Land in the summer of 1096, there were five distinct armies consisting of roughly 35,000 men and 3,000-4,000 knights. With them were numerous women and children swept along in the fervor. When they finally reached Jerusalem after enduring months of harsh conditions ranging from heat and thirst to disease and contaminated food and water, they captured the city and slaughtered nearly everyone in it. Their religious quest complete, most of the Crusaders left almost immediately and returned to their homes in Europe.

Those Who Remained

Not everyone abandoned the conquests in the Holy Land. The Crusades led to the development of the religious orders of knighthood, the members of which were warrior-priests who guarded the gains of the Crusaders and participated in the battles of the later Crusades.