The Crusades were a series of military campaigns waged by much of Christian Europe. Given that the term "crusade" today is used more generally to mean any type of campaign mounted to right some perceived wrong, it is important to note that the word derives from the Latin word crux ("cross"); and, as originally employed, a crusade was fundamentally driven by a Christian religious motivation. The closest modern word in meaning to the medieval "crusade" is jihad.
Crusades were fought mainly against Muslims, though campaigns were also directed against pagan Slavs, Jews, Russian and Greek Orthodox Christians, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites, Waldensians, Old Prussians, and political enemies of the popes.
Somewhere between the years 1218 A.D. and 1225 A.D., the young knight, Nicolas de Brabant was framed for murder in Wales, and permitted to "take the cross" (i.e. go on crusade) instead of being sent for trial. In the Holy Land he took part in at least one battle, located near a Moorish castle, in which he was badly wounded and nearly died.
At some later time, after recovering from his injury, he returned to Europe. He may have been on his way back to Brabant when he stopped in Paris and met Janette DuCharme, who not only found him physically attractive, but also fascinatingly disillusioned and ripe for seduction, both sexual and spiritual. The crusader had no way of knowing that she was a vampire, nor that, when she introduced him to her master, LaCroix, he would offer him an immortality that would take from him his humanity.
The Muslim presence in the Holy Land began with the initial Arab conquest of Palestine in the seventh century A.D. This put increasing pressure on the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire. Pilgrimages were allowed to the Holy Lands, but for a time pilgrims were captured and some of the clergy were killed. The Muslim conquerors eventually realized that the wealth of Jerusalem came from the pilgrims; with this realization the persecution of pilgrims stopped. However, the damage was already done; and the violence of the Seljuk Turks became part of the concern that spread the passion for the Crusades.
The Crusades were, in part, an outlet for an intense religious piety which rose up in the late eleventh century among the lay public. This was further strengthened by religious propaganda, which advocated war to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims. The immediate cause of the First Crusade was the Byzantine emperor Alexios I's appeal to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into territory of the Byzantine Empire. Later that year, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II called upon all Christians to join a war against the Turks, promising those who died in the endeavor would receive immediate remission of their sins. There was resounding response.
After pronouncing a solemn vow, a crusader received a cross from the hands of the pope or his legates, and was thenceforth considered a "soldier of the Church". Most believed that by retaking Jerusalem they would go straight to heaven after death. Another theory was that if one reached Jerusalem, one would be relieved only of the sins one had committed before the Crusade.
The Siege of Antioch took place in 1098, and ended when the city was finally betrayed and the Franks entered through the water-gate of the town. Once inside the city, they then massacred the civilians, destroyed mosques, and pillaged the city. The crusaders then marched on to Jerusalem, where the pattern was repeated. As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created in the Holy Land: the County of Edessa (1098 to 1144), the Principality of Antioch (1098 to 1268), the County of Tripoli (1104 to 1289), and the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099 to 1291), which had as vassals the Principality of Galilee, the County of Jaffa and Ascalon, the Lordship of Oultrejordain, and the Lordship of Sidon. The history of the Crusades thereafter largely involves the European struggle to keep these lands as, one by one, they returned to Muslim hands.
After a period of relative peace in which Christians and Muslims co-existed in the Holy Land, Muslims conquered the town of Edessa. A new crusade was called for, most notably by Bernard of Clairvaux. French and South German armies marched to Jerusalem in 1147, but failed to win any major victories. They launched a pre-emptive siege of Damascus, but failed to capture it. On the other side of the Mediterranean, however, the Second Crusade met with great success as a group of Northern European Crusaders allied with the king of Portugal, and retook Lisbon from the Muslims in 1147.
In 1187, Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, recaptured Jerusalem from the Christians. His armies spared civilians; and for the most part left churches and shrines untouched to be able to collect ransom money from the Franks. The reports of Saladin's victories shocked Europe. Pope Gregory VIII called for a crusade, which was led by several of Europe's most important leaders: Philip II of France, Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart), and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor. European forces captured the island of Cyprus in 1191, massacred the inhabitants of Acre after it surrendered, and recaptured Acre and Jaffa. However, the crusade ended without the taking of Jerusalem. Instead, a treaty was negotiated with Saladin to allow unarmed Christian pilgrims to visit the city.
The Fourth Crusade was initiated in 1202 by Pope Innocent III, with the intention of invading the Holy Land through Egypt. Because the Crusaders lacked the funds to pay for the fleet and provisions that they had contracted from the Venetians, they instead sacked Constantinople—a Christian city—in 1204. This is often seen as the final breaking point of the Great Schism between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church attempted to set a another crusade afoot, and in 1215 formulated a plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. In the first phase, a crusading force from Austria and Hungary joined the forces of the king of Jerusalem and the prince of Antioch to take back Jerusalem. In the second phase, crusader forces captured Damietta in Egypt in 1219, intending to use it as a spearhead for conquering Egypt. However, when they launched an attack on Cairo in 1221, they were forced to surrender. The Egyptian ruler, Al-Kamil, agreed to an eight-year peace agreement with Europe.
In 1228, Emperor Frederick II—who had repeatedly vowed a crusade but failed to live up to his words—was excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. He nonetheless set sail for the Holy Land where he negotiated a treaty with Al-Kamil that allowed Christians to rule over most of Jerusalem, while the Muslims were given control of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa mosque. The peace brought about by this treaty lasted for about ten years. However, in 1244, following a siege, the Muslims regained control of the city.
There were additional crusades in 1248–1254, 1270, and 1271-1272, none of which was successful.
The Crusades had far-reaching political, economic, and social impacts, some of which have lasted into contemporary times. Western and Eastern historiography have presented very different views of the crusades, in large part because "crusade" invokes dramatically opposed sets of associations—"crusade" as a valiant struggle for a supreme cause, and "crusade" as a byword for barbarism and aggression. However, this contrasting view is not recent. Christians in the past often struggled with the tension between military activity and the teachings of Christ to "love one's enemies" and to "turn the other cheek". For these reasons, the crusades were controversial even in their own day.
In Western Europe, the Crusades have traditionally been regarded by laypeople as heroic adventures, though the mass enthusiasm of common people was largely expended in the First Crusade, from which so few of their class returned. Today, the "Saracen" adversary is crystallized in the lone figure of Saladin, and his adversary in the archetypal crusader king: Richard the Lionheart in the English-speaking world, Frederick Barbarossa in Germany, and Louis IX in France. Muslims traditionally celebrate Saladin as a hero against the Crusaders, seen as cruel and savage invaders.
The crusades were never referred to as such by their participants. The original crusaders were known by various terms, including fideles Sancti Petri (the faithful of Saint Peter) or milites Christi (knights of Christ). They saw themselves as undertaking an iter (journey) or a peregrinatio (pilgrimage), though pilgrims were usually forbidden from carrying arms. Like pilgrims, each crusader swore a vow that would be fulfilled by successfully reaching Jerusalem; and they were granted a cloth cross (crux) to be sewn into their clothes. This "taking of the cross", the crux, eventually became associated with the entire journey. The word "crusade" developed from this.
- Adapted from the Wikipedia article on the Crusades.