What Were The Crusades Essay Research Paper

What Were The Crusades Essay, Research Paper

What Were The Crusades?

In the year 1095, Emperor Alexius beseeched Pope Urban II in Europe for aid against the invading forces of Seljuk Turks, who were pushing at the borders of the Byzantine Empire. Little did Alexius know, or anyone for that matter, that with the mailing of that letter, one of the greatest religious and military phenomena of the history of the world had just been sparked. In November of that year, in Clermont, France, Pope Urban II stood before a throng of European nobles and peasants, and asked for their aid in recapturing the Holy Land, the home land of Jesus Christ, the Land of the Holy Sepulchre. Despite numerous accounts and retellings both in books and documentaries, the details and true essence of the Crusades remains unknown by the masses. Many questions and controversies arise when the matter is deeply looked into: Why were these Holy Wars undertaken? Were they truly “Holy Wars?” Who made up the armies? What effects did the Crusades have upon the Europe and the world? Fortunately, when the matter is deeply researched many answers are discovered as well. The following is an attempt to answer the mysteries of one of the most glorious conquests and over-ambitious blunders of military history.

Why Were the Crusades Undertaken?

When Pope Urban II read the letter from Alexius, Emperor of Byzantine, a glorious vision of sorts came to the Pope, and he quickly acted and made plans for the First Crusade. At the Council of Clermont, Urban II stood before thousands and appealed to their religiousness with a Holy War to the lands of the Holy Sepulchre in the Middle East. There was little mention of the invasion of the Byzantine Empire by the Seljuk Turks, only word of a terrible army of blood-thirsty heathens. In addition to the liberation of the city of Jerusalem, Pope Urban II appealed to the material desires of the people as well, for a holy crusade would provide land to the conquering armies, which would bring an end to the constant land struggle that the growing population of European nobles seemed to be caught in the middle of. Another reason for the undertaking of a military campaign such as this, was the further expansion of the Western Catholic Church, and the possible reuniting of the Western and Eastern Churches under one authority, which of course, would be Pope Urban II and his successors. During the next five centuries of holy wars, the objectives of these crusades would be seriously questioned, and would be a major factor in the public response to them as well.

Who Fought In the Crusades?

The greater portion of the Armies of Christendom was made up of powerful nobles, their subsequent vassals, and the vassals’ knights. This was due largely in part to the fact that the Crusades were a volunteer military organization in which each man supplied his own weapons, armor, and a horse if he were the owner of one. During the first few crusades, especially the First Crusade, many peasants joined in the fight simply to escape the hardships of everyday life, which were going to kill them anyway. Lessons were soon learned, and in time all the elderly, women, and children were discouraged from taking part because they were burdensome to an army on the move and they also had to be constantly protected from enemy ambushes. They also hounded on the provisions which were always in desperate need by the battle-weary soldiers. With time many monastic clans that were dedicated to the protection of the numerous pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land came to power. These small, yet powerful bands of monk-knights, who only submitted to the Pope himself, were supported by the king in return for protection and activity in the Crusades. A few of the more famous and influential clans included the Templars, the Hospitallers, and the Tuetonics.

When and Where Did the Crusades Take Place?

There were countless crusades throughout the next centuries; some were big, some were small, some were successful, and some ended in terrible disaster. Everything was seen as a direct reflection of God’s view of the people at the time. There were eight major crusades during the next two hundred years. The First Crusade, 1095-1099, was actually made up of two dispatchments. The first, called the Peasant’s Crusade, was an unofficial army led by Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, who left Europe in the spring of 1096 on their way to Constantinople. This roving army of peasants wreaked havoc all over the Balkans against anyone considered an enemy to Christianity, but later in autumn, the real army, the Barons’ Crusade, which was a mix of German and French forces leave Europe and matters come under control. The First Crusade is successful in capturing Jerusalem and setting up four Christian states, but much of the army returns home, leaving very few knights to defend the newest addition to Christendom.

Over the next forty years the Muslim armies retake much of the land lost in the First Crusade, and in 1146 St. Bernard and Pope Eugenius III preach for a second crusade to recapture the Christian States lost to the Muslims. The Second Crusade, 1147-1148, is another combination of French and German forces, but leaders did not especially get along. The German army was defeated in October, 1147, the French in January, 1148, and the crusade was later abandoned after forces were defeated at Damascus.

Another forty years would pass before meetings would commence in 1188 to discuss a third campaign against the heretic forces across the Mediterranean Sea. In 1189, German forces under Frederick Barbarossa begins the Third Crusade, yet drowns while crossing a river in the Middle East. Phillip Augustus of France and Richard the Lion Heart conquer Cyprus and Acre, and make peace with the great Syrian leader Saladin. The Third Crusade is an overall success in the eyes of most of Europe, yet the peace was short lived. Alexius of Constantinople asked the Crusaders for help in overthrowing his rivals, and in 1204 an enormous fleet landed in Constantinople victoriously. This victory was short lived, however, and in four days the Byzantine army, which had previously fled, drove the crusaders from their grand city. The Christian States in Palestine and Syria were never aided, and the Byzantine Empire never fully recovered from this disastrous Fourth Crusade. Also associated with the Fourth Crusade was the Children’s Crusade led by Nicholas of Germany. Nicholas led thousands of children to the Mediterranean where they believed the sea would part for them, but most died during the travels and the rest were sold into slavery by treacherous merchants who had offered to ferry them to the Holy Land.

A few years later the armies of Germany, Hungary, and the Netherlands set out on the Fifth Crusade which lasted from 1218-1221. This time the armies steered away from the normal objective and decided to attack Egypt instead, hoping to split the Muslim Empire in two. In the beginning the attacks along the banks of the Nile were successful, but in the end the Christian armies were defeated at El Mansura. The crusaders agreed to a truce of eight years and were forced to return to Europe.

The Sixth Crusade finally broke this losing streak that the Christian armies had run into, yet the whole campaign went unrecognized by the Church because the leader of the crusade was the excommunicated German king, Frederick II. Frederick and his men recaptured Jerusalem and forced the Sultan of Egypt to sign a treaty. Ironically though, as Frederick was sailing home, the papal armies, which paid no heed to Frederick’s deeds, were invading Jerusalem, even though the city was already theirs.

In 1244 Jerusalem was recaptured by the Turks. Who would lead a seventh crusade? In 1248, King Louis IX led one of the most expensive and well prepared campaigns that Europe has ever seen. The Seventh Crusade, made up of French, German, Italian, and Scottish armies, as well as a small band of Englishmen, was also one the most diverse crusades. The Seventh Crusade started off with a wonderful sign from the Heavens as the armies under Louis took the great city of Damietta without a single loss, but the Egyptians soon returned and pushed their enemies back to their original camps. The crusade ended in another defeat as Louis IX and his men were surrounded and captured in 1254. The ransom was paid, and, after securing the remaining Christian states, Louis returned to Europe where the rest of his life was spent in devotion to the poor and to God.

In 1270 yet another crusade was prepared for dispatchment to Africa by King Louis, but in Carthage Louis met his death and the attack was abandoned. Many more crusades would take place, but none in conquest of the Holy Land. Driving the Muslims out of Spain became a major crusade that is better known as the Reconquista, or reconquest, and there were also many crusades into the lands of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. In the centuries to come the fire of the Holy Wars died down, and the idea of spreading Christianity without violence took the flame as the morals of the previous crusades was looked upon by the now more educated populous of Europe.

What Did the Crusades Accomplish?

In 1095, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in hopes of conquering the Holy Land in the name of the Western Catholic Church and uniting with the Eastern Church. Urban II also wanted to rid Europe of the constant strife of land inheritance that feudalism and a large nobility had presented by conquering vast, unsettled lands. There was also the great fame that would accompany any man that could conquer the Land of the Holy Sepulchre and begin a new empire. The city of Jerusalem was liberated from the hands of the heathens in only three of the of the countless crusades, the First, Third, and Sixth, and even then it was only held for a short period of time. The Byzantine Empire, under Alexius, was hardly helped by the Crusades, as was originally planned, rather it was brought down in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, when another Alexius needed his political adversaries ousted. As far as vast, unsettled land is concerned, after all the dust of two centuries of war settled, the Christian armies had succeeded in holding on to none of the land they had previously conquered, although all the land back in Europe of the deceased nobles would be seized by the kings of their respected countries. The Crusades were such a valiant cause, yet unfortunately they ended up as just one great blunder that directly accomplished none of the objectives.

What Were the Immediate Results of the Crusades?

The process of distinguishing the immediate results of the Holy Wars becomes very difficult due to the fact that the time period consists of many centuries. Following the First Crusade four Latin States were set up that would become the counties of Christendom, and the red cross that symbolized the crusader made the cross a popular sign of Christianity. Although the Latin States were eventually retaken by the Muslim armies, the Latin States gave birth to very strong ties between two otherwise separate worlds. Trade was greatly boosted as nobles returning from the Middle East and Egypt told of luxuries that were available even to the peasant class, such as silk. The people of Europe also discovered how to construct better ships and magnetic compasses, as well as how to use these two together. Another product of the Holy Land that was brought back by the nobles was disease. One such ailment that made its way across the Mediterranean would eventually begin the epidemic known as the Plague or the Black Death. The monstrous drop in population that would ensue made every peasant just as important as the nobles. Yet another unfortunate change that was brought about by the Crusades was the king’s seizing of all lands lost by the countless nobles who valiantly gave their lives on unknown battle fields in previously unknown worlds. The kingdoms of Europe grew by leaps and bounds, as did the power of their respective royal families.

What Were the Long-Term Effects of the Crusades?

One effect that was brought about by the Crusades was, obviously, a strong mistrust between the Christian and Muslim nations around the Mediterranean and all around the world. There was also a deep mistrust between the Western Christians of Europe and the Eastern Christians of the Byzantine Empire, most likely brought about by the senseless capturing of Constantinople in 1204, which would eventually bring down the Byzantine Empire. In addition to this, one of the greatest changes brought about by the Crusades was the gradual end to the Middle Ages. Politically, the great amounts of land now under the possession of one man, gave rise to nation-states and the end to feudalism, which only emphasized war. The increased trade, especially in Italy, would eventually give birth to a new middle class of merchants as well as new ideas which would bring about the long-awaited Renaissance. The post-Plague population of Europe, which was also out form under the constraints of feudalism, demanded more attention which brought about the primitive beginnings of civil rights. Following the losses of the Crusades the power of the Church was weakened, and the whole mindframe of Holy War backfired in the faces of the Church leaders as internal-Crusades and religious reformation took root.

In conclusion, military history is filled to the brim with heroic, lost causes and plans that are so overly-ambitious that their failure is inevitable, but the Crusades are unique both in their duration and their grandeur. The Christian West attempted to seize the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, which is a task the Byzantine Empire, and even the nations of today, have proven to be quite nearly impossible. Though the original objectives of the Crusades, which were to spread Christianity and take back the Holy Land, were later tainted by greed and personal ambition, who’s objectives were also never satisfied, the Crusades still represent a glorious religious campaign and a key turning point in the course of history.


Beck, Roger B. World History: Patterns of Interaction. (Ch. 13-14). McDougal Littell of Houghton Mifflin. Evanston, Illinois. (1999). I used this text book for the definition of the Middle Ages, as well as to find general information and second opinions on my paper’s topic, the Crusades.

Biel, Timothy Levi. World History Series: The Crusades. Lucent Books. San Diego, California. (1995). This book had great information on Pope Urban II and the intentions of the Crusades. There was also a great timeline on the inside cover.

Bridge, Antony. The Crusades. Franklin Watts. New York, New York. (1982). This account of the Crusades had great information, especially on arts, which influenced my cover work.

Finucane, Ronald C. Soldiers of the Faith. St. Martin’s Press. New York, New York. (1983). This book had lots of great information on the interaction of the Muslims and the Christians both in and out of war, which helped a lot in the final stages of the paper.

Knox, Dr. Ellis L. http://history.idbsu.edu/westciv/crusades/00.htm . Boise State University. (1995). This site was the key to stopping my procrastination, and it had great information those who made up the Crusades and the aftermath and effects of the Crusades.

Lyon, Bryce. “Middle Ages.” World Book Encyclopedia. World Book Publishing, Inc. Chicago, Illinois. (1994). This article was used as a general overview of the time for the definition of the Middle Ages. It also had the effects of fuedalism well layed out within the paper.

Molho, Anthony. “Renaissance.” World Book Encyclopedia. World Book Publishing, Inc. Chicago, Illinois. (1994). I used this article to find out when different countries got out of the Dark Ages and how. It also checked my spelling of Renaissance, so that was a plus.

Nelson, John Russell. How Did the Crusades Lead to the End of the Middle Ages?. Whitehead Test Publications. San Antonio, Texas. (1995). This paper was a godsend to me because, when I was all stressed out, in put the long-term effects of the Middle Ages in plain and simple terms.

Nelson, John Russell. How Did the Roman Catholic Church Influence the Middle Ages?. Whitehead Test Publications. San Antonio, Texas. (1995). This paper was used in the definition of the Middle Ages, and in the art cover.

Regan, Geoffrey. Lionhearts: Richard I, Saladin, and the Era of the Third Crusade. Walker and Company. New York, New York. (1998). This book contained great information, obviously, about the Third Crusade, and good biographical information on Saladin and Richard the Lion Heart.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A Short History. Yale University Press. London England. (1987). Mr. Riley-Smith did a great job. This was used mainly for more details on leaders, especially in the later crusades, and also a little information on the immediate effects of the Crusades.

Querry, Donald E. “Crusades.” World Book Encyclopedia. World Book Publishing,

Inc. Chicago, Illinois. (1994). I used the encyclopedia as a general overview of my topic to get me moving so I could no longer procrastinate, and I also found some immediate results of the Crusades that no one else had mentioned.

Siberry, Elizabeth. Criticism of Crusading: 1095-1274. Oxford University Press. New York, New York. (1985). This book had a lot of information on how the Crusaders themselves viewed God and his decisions on the outcomes of their

battles, as well as their fighting for foregiveness of their sins.

Steffens, Bradley. World Disasters: The Children’s Crusade. Lucent Books, Inc. San Diego, California. (1991). Obviously this book was used for imformation on the Children’s Crusade of 1212, yet it also had additional information on the hardships faced on all Crusades.

Uknown, Author. http://www.homeusers.prestel.co.uk/church/templars/templars.htm . Site on the World Wide Web. (1998). This site provided information on the monastic clans of knights that defended the streets to the Holy Land. I also got many of my visuals for the Power Point, on this site or others advertised on it.


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