11th century - 14th century
The initial spark to ignite the crusading spirit was the persecution of Christian pilgrims and the despoiling of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem by Calif Hakim, around 1010. Generally pilgrims suffered no grief from the Fatimide Muslims and the persecutions stopped after Hakim’s death.
Pilgrimages were not condoned by the early leaders of the Church. Saint Augustine for example was against the practice but with time a journey to Jerusalem was encouraged to cleanse oneself of one’s sins.
The Holy Land had become a popular pilgrim attraction under Byzantine rule, after Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena (maybe the worlds’ first archeologists) excavated the ancient Christian holy sites and restored the Holy Sepulcher. There are countless martyrs and saints in the Catholic repertoire and collecting relics became fashionable. Most every church had a relic or two taken from its namesake, small bones or strings of hair nested in elaborate shrines.
In 637 Jerusalem was taken from the Byzantines by Calif Omar, who did not bother the Christian pilgrims. The harassment only resumed in the 11th century when the Seljuk Turks (Sunni from ancient Perisa) seized the city from their arch-enemies the Fatimides (Chiite Arabs). The Seljuks had already made their way into Syria, Palestine and Anatolia. With Jerusalem as their new base of operations they started raiding Constantinople’s southern and eastern borders. The wake-up call came with the "Battle of Manzikert" in 1071. The tired Byzantine soldiers had been solidly defeated by the Seljuk troops under sultans Alp Arslan and Malik Shah. Emperor Alexius I finally asked Pope Urban II for soldiers to push back the Muslim intruders from Constantinople. He was not thrilled with the idea of such an alliance and with hindsight he would probably have chosen not to.
The East Roman emperors in Constantinople and the West Roman popes in Rome had drifted apart after the death of Constantine in the 4th century; the two factions of the Christian Church had nothing in common. While the popes enforced faith-based, no-questions-asked dogma that prohibited the study of Greek and Eastern philosophies, Greek and Eastern cultures were the core of the Byzantine civilization; the official language was Greek. By the 10th century Constantinople, the largest and grandest city in the known world, was a center for scholars and artists. Though the two didn't get along Muslim expansionism concerned both the East and West Roman Empires. Arab and North African Muslims had already occupied Sicily and Spain. Constantinople was the last stronghold that kept the Turkish Muslims from entering Europe by the eastern route.
The pope saw the political and strategic advantages of seizing Jerusalem from the Seljuks, who had massacred thousands of Christians in the city. Instead of just sending soldiers to Alexius, as the emperor had requested, Urban called on Europe’s nobility to join in a major Crusade, in God's name, against the Infidels. He promised full penance to the crusaders and the safety of their properties during their absence. He was resolute and campaigned tirelessly until the idea took a life of its own. “God wills it!” became a popular cry.
By the time Alexius I Comnenus succeeded his uncle Isaac as emperor Constantinople was lawless and broke. His difficult task was to impose high tarifs and other strong measures to bring order to the city. In 1082 the Venetians helped fight back the Normans but in return for the favor Venice paid no trade tax; it was therefore up to the citizens to foot the bill in restoring the city's infrastructure.
The 1st Crusade officially set off from Italy in 1097 with four armies led by French noblemen, including Godfrey de Bouillon and Robert of Normandy. There is no single leader with no plan of action and the campaign is marred by a falling out between the Frankish and Norman nobles.
Against Urban’s wishes the crusaders occupied Tripoli, Edessa, Antioch, and Nicaea before capturing Jerusalem from the Turks in 1099. After a five week siege, where more crusaders arrived as backup, the Christian soldiers occupied the city and went on a three day killing spree of its citizens. Two years later the city was renamed "The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem" which included parts of Jordan and Lebanon. Godfrey de Bouillon was placed as Baron with the vow to defend the Holy Sepulcher, followed by his brother Baldwin I, who was later crowned as king.
Lesser nobility and younger brothers from noble families migrated to the Holy Land and in the newly captured cities along the Mediterranean, where they set up the same feudal system practiced in Europe. They did not gain the trust of the people and they did not trust each other. The fifteen years of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was a continuous struggle for power between French nobles, namely the Normans and the Franks. The nobles in Edessa and Antioch quarreled with the Byzantines along the borders and managed to maintain authority by dividing even further the natural antipathies amongst local Muslim leaders.
A number of smaller campaigns were concocted the years after the capture of Jerusalem. Some never took flight and others never reached their goal. Generally the crusaders who traveled to Asia Minor by land (following the path of Peter the Hermit) never reached their destination. Those who passed by the Aegean Sea had better luck. Pilgrims traveled by sea as well, and as more Christians migrated there was little motivation to take part in another campaign.
in 1187 Saladin invaded Jerusalem, which spurred Pope Innocent III to launch the 4th Crusade. It would take him twelve long years to organize and still did not come up with the money to pay for the voyage. The Venetian Doge Dandolo offered to help if the crusaders would first help Venice recover Zara (a trading post on the Adriatic Sea) from Hungary. Alexius IV - son of deposed Byzantine Emperor Isaac II - joined the victorious crusaders at Zara and convinced them to oust his corrupt and inefficient uncle Alexius III in Constantinople, promising money, help in conquering Egypt and a united Church between East and West. Against the wishes of the pope the crusaders, financed by Venice, occupied and plundered Constantinople. Fearing for his life uncle Alexius chose exile in Thrace with his daughter Eudokia and the crown jewels.
Isaac II and Alexius IV became joint emperors of Constantinople in 1204 while the Venetians, who'd financed the campaign, benefited from the monopoly of trade in Byzantium. The next year Alexius V (son-in-law of Alexius III) attacked the Christian fleet, stormed into Constantinople and dislodged the two usurpers. Spurred by Venice the Crusaders recovered the city, shared the spoils, and set up the "Latin Empire of Constantinople" that lasted sixty years.
Pope Gregory X began negotiations with both Emperor Michael VIII in Constantinople and the Mongols in Iran to ally against the Muslims, and the 9th Crusade was officialized by the Ecumenical Council of Lyon in 1274. However, altercations between the Christian princes aborted the expedition. Pope Nicholas IV started another campaign in 1289, after the Mameluke Sultan Qualaoun attacked Tripoli, but he was not able to save the city. By 1291 the Muslims had captured Acre, Tyr, Beirut, and Sidon from the Christians.
A new Muslim threat made an appearence in the north, the Ottoman Turks from Anatolia were were plotting to invade Constantinople. Pope Pius II tried to form a coalition against this last batch of troublemakers. Failing in his attempt to raise money for the expedition he courageously set off by himself as commander of his papal army and died early in the journey.
Altogether the Crusades lasted almost two hundred years, leaving a bloody trail of greed and stupidity, sublimated by a massive power struggle within the Church in Rome which produced a second pope in Avignon. A string of popes and anti-popse ruled simultaneously until 1417, backed (or manipulated) by the kings of Europe. In the end it would be Italian merchants to prosper from the campaigns. They paid scholars to translate Greek and Arabic texts, and were incremental in the revival of the classics in Europe. Their moral and financial participation in the cultural recovery opened new avenues in literature, art and science that gave rise to the Renaissance in Italy.
In a feudal age where chivalry was in fashion the allure of a crusade to distant lands was enticing. Kings set about organizing their own armies, even selling property to fund the project with the prospect of acquiring more territories. Lesser nobles with no future or property in Europe saw it as an opportunity to find fortune.
To retain his authority and his credibility it was important for Pope Urban II that Constantinople remain, under his watch, a Christian stronghold in the East. He condemned the massacre in the Jewish communities by the crusaders when they finally entered Jerusalem in 1099, but there wasn't much the pope could do. From the very start the opportunistic agendas of the nobles was the driving force behind the Crusades.
When Alexius learned of the imminent arrival of an unexpected group of crusaders, a motley army of unemployed led by Peter the Hermit without the consent of the pope, he did his best to limit the damage. He sent food as well as soldiers as a warning not to cause mischief. His goal was to get everybody past Constantinople as quickly as possible and safely south into Asia Minor and Jerusalem, with the Seljuks.
Alexius used diplomacy, food, flattery and gifts to police the waves of European soldiers towards the Turkish soldiers. Many crusaders had made the decision to leave Europe definitely and brought their families as well. He did not want them tempted to settle.
The Knights Templars, created to protect the Christian pilgrims headed to Jerusalem, became increasingly wealthy and powerful. Bickering between the Knights Hospitaliers and the Knights Teutonic weakened later Crusades.
The Templars became lenders and the only Christians allowed to receive interest. The pope and the French king persecuted the Templars for heir lifestyle and way of thinking, but the real reason is most likely the large debt they owed the knights and the remaining Templars were massacred in 1412.
Saladin was born in Tikrit, Iraq, of Kurdish descent. The Syrian Sultan Nur ad-Din sent him to aid the Fatamide leaders in Egypt against the Christians. In 1169 he was named chief of the Syrian army and vizier of Egypt.
He pushed back the Christians and restored Egypt’s economy. In 1186 he united Muslim armies against the crusaders, defeated them at Galilee and occupied the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The Latin Kingdom of Constantinople ended in 1261.
The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem ended in 1291.
The Ottoman Turks occupy Constantinople in 1453, and Jerusalem in 1517.
Latin Kingdom of