Essay Preview: The Crusades
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“The Crusades: series of wars by Western European Christians to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.” (Encarta “Crusades”) The Crusades first began in 1096 and ended in the late 13th century. The term Crusade originally meant that the Europeans would use all their efforts to regain the power from the Muslims. They wanted to retake the city of Jerusalem, which was holy to Christians because thats where the crucifixion of Jesus Christ occurred. Europeans later used it to allocate any military efforts against non-Christians. The Crusaders also created feudal states in the Near East. The Crusades played an important role of European expansion and colonialism. “They mark the first time Western Christendom undertook a military initiative far from home, the first time significant numbers left to carry their culture and religion abroad.” (Encarta “Crusades”) In addition to the efforts in the East, the Crusading movement includes other wars against Muslims, pagans, and dissident Christians and the general expansion of Christian Europe. “Originally the object of the crusade was to help the Christian Churches in the East.”(Mayer, 9) ” Also on the agenda was the peace of God, i.e. the prohibition of feuding on certain days and the immunity of certain people, places, and things.”(Mayer, 8). Basically the Crusades were an expression of militant Christianity and European expansion. They combined religious interests with worldly and military views. Christians learned to live in different cultures; they also forced something of their own thoughts and beliefs on these cultures. The Crusades strongly affected the beliefs of people at the time, and to this day they are among the most famous chapters of medieval history.
The crusades began to stir up after the death of Charlemagne, king of the Franks, in 814. After his death Christian Europe was under attack and weak. “Magyars, nomadic people from Asia, pillaged eastern and central Europe until the 10th century.” (Encarta “Crusades”). Starting in the year 800, Viking raids interrupted life in northern Europe and even Mediterranean cities. But the greatest threat came from the forces of Islam. This was in consequence to Muhammad their notorious leader dying, in 632. “By the 8th century, Islamic forces had conquered North Africa, the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and most of Spain.” (Mayer, 39). Islamic armies had bases in Italy, made the size and power of the Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) smaller and conquered its capital, Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire, being as powerful as they were at that time was barely able to hold off the enemy. The Byzantine Empire had felt a force as strong as the Islamic military. Islam threatened them with a different culture and religion, which neither the Vikings nor the Magyars had done. The church became more stabilized and stronger from a reform movement to end the practice where kings installed important clergy, such as bishops, in office. Finally for the first time in many years, the popes were able to bring together European support behind them, a factor that contributed greatly to the popular demand of the first Crusades. Europes population was growing, its urban life was beginning to come back, and both import and export trade were gradually increasing. Due to this increase for the better in Europe, including human and economic resources, they could now support the Crusades. “A growing population and more surplus wealth also meant greater demand for goods from elsewhere. European traders had always looked to the Mediterranean; now they sought greater control of the goods, routes, and profits.” (Encarta, “Crusades”). Thats why material wants corresponded with religious feelings about the Holy Land and the popes newfound ability to gather together and focus a great enterprise.
Pope Urban II was the one who declared the crusade. “In a speech at Clermont in France in November 1095, called for a great Christian expedition to free Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks, a new Muslim power that had recently begun actively harassing peaceful Christian pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem.” (Barker, 14). The pope was led by his position as the spiritual head of Western Europe, by the weakness of the rulers in Germany (the Holy Roman Empire) or France who could take over the effort, and by a call for help from the Byzantine emperor, Alexius I. These factors were perfect causes, and at the same time, it made sense for the call of a Crusade. The first crusade is said to fall in two parts. Part One: “A crusade for the people.” And Part Two: a crusade for the princes.” In any case, Urbans speech was well known to thousands of people of all classes. It was the perfect time and place for his speech. It is like when things go bad in todays society and someone comes along and says, “We should do something about it.” Everybody would agree and make an effort to play a role in it. The First Crusade, which began in 1096, was successful. Their main goal was to free Jerusalem and they did it. After the successful crusade it made Western Christian military in the Near East be dominant for almost 200 years. The Crusaders called this area Outremer, French for “beyond the seas.” The First Crusade was the question of its time. It attracted no European kings or major nobles. It drew mainly lesser barons and their followers. “They came primarily from the lands of French culture and language, which is why Westerners in Outremer were referred to as Franks.”(Krey, 21) The Crusaders faced many obstacles. “They had no obvious or widely accepted leader, they had no consensus about relations with the churchmen who went with them, no definition of the popes role, and no agreement with the Byzantine emperor on whether they were his allies, servants, rivals, or perhaps enemies.”(Krey,24) This made the crusaders not get along with one another. In anything in life, if there is not an agreement it can make conflicts arise. There were different leaders that marched to Constantinople, and they all met up there. How can they actually want to be victorious, without ever meeting each other before? “The contingents of Robert of Flanders and Bohemond of Taranto went by sea via Italy, while the other major groups, those of Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse, took the land route around the Adriatic Sea.”(Barker,56) As the Crusaders marched east, they were joined by thousands of men and even women. There were anything from poor knights to peasants just looking for a reason to live. Many with all sorts of motives and contributions joined the march. Some followed local lords or well-known nobles or wnet east on their own, some even found the sea and then sailed to Constantinople.