All About Crusades
In 1095, when Byzantine Emperor Alexius appealed to Pope Innocent III for military assistance in recapturating Jerusalem, an impressive response ensued from European rulers despite their political differences: They united behind his crusade with enthusiasm.
Motivations included the defence of Christian values, the promise of repentance and swifter admission into Heaven, ideals of chivalry and opportunities for riches and land ownership.
The First Crusade
The fall of Jerusalem in 1099 caused widespread sorrow and outrage throughout western Europe, prompting Pope Urban II to offer knights and laymen who journeyed to Jerusalem an extraordinary incentive: travel would cancel out any remaining sins while anyone killed during crusade could find redemption by killing Moslems instead of each other – an incredible offer which greatly appeased their fears that this war might result in murder or other transgressions being forgiven as long as the killer killed Moslems rather than themselves!
Urban’s appeal tapped into contemporary trends. The prospect of revenge against infidel enemies was an obvious attraction for many; reports detailing maltreatment of Levantine Christians and western pilgrims provided further fuel. Furthermore, crusades offered opportunities for honour, adventure, and financial gain (although churchmen might frown upon such motivations); many laymen often combined such secular motives with religiosity in equal measures.
The enthusiasm that gripped Europe during this crusade was enhanced by its organization and professional leadership compared to earlier medieval crusades. Led by one of Europe’s most effective statesmen (Pope Clement IX), European rulers put aside any previous rivalries they might have had and rallied behind this mission to “take back” Jerusalem; an attempt which proved both successful and devastating in equal measure.
The Second Crusade
After failing in their attempt at retaking Jerusalem in the First Crusade, the Crusaders tried again on three fronts: Moslems in Iberia and eastern Europe as well as pagan easterners of eastern Europe. For this, they needed an experienced leader such as Innocent III who would go on to become one of the greatest popes ever: Innocent III was chosen.
Following Jerusalem’s fall the previous year, Christendom had experienced shock and dismay; as a result of this disastrous expedition they organized their forces and set out on an attempt to capture it once more. Unfortunately this venture proved that taking up arms against Crux wasn’t as simple as had initially seemed in 1095 and 1096.
Louis VII of France was an obvious choice to lead this expedition and, together with Raymond of Antioch, meticulously planned its itinerary. Unfortunately, their efforts proved disastrous in practice.
Poor planning and refusal to heed local advice were major contributing factors as Crusader troops struggled with Syria’s semi-arid steppe environment, being badly underfunded, and their attempt at sieging Damascus soon fizzled due to hardening Muslim defenses and lack of water for attackers. At the end of this disastrous campaign the Crusaders were exhausted but determined to fight, failing to capture Damascus being an enormous setback.
The Third Crusade
The Third Crusade, commonly referred to as the King’s Crusade, began in 1188 following Christian defeat at Hattin which greatly diminished their desire for further expeditions. Its success can be largely attributed to European kings and nobles’ determination that Hattin was only an isolated incident and that their participation in Crusades would eventually prove fruitful.
France, England and Germany all agreed to join in this campaign, marking an impressive feat; their combined forces were estimated at about three times those of Richard Lion-Heart’s army and significantly larger than what Saladin faced at Acre.
Innocent II was convinced this Crusade would be his final one and did everything possible to ensure its success. He contracted shipbuilders for contracts as well as making deals to purchase supplies and provisions in Venice, an emerging maritime power.
This Crusade differed significantly from others which had come before it. The papal campaign for warfare had taken a different path than before, targeting not political enemies like Byzantium but religious heretics such as Hussites from Bohemia and Cathars from southern France.
The Fourth Crusade
By the time of their conclusion in 1300 CE, after two centuries and most of the High Middle Ages (1096-1300 CE), it was difficult to discern any tangible benefits from these bloody military ventures. If anything, they had damaged European culture while sparking self-destructive wars among Europe’s great powers; furthermore, these brutal campaigns had consumed European blood in an endless cycle of violence and death in the Near East.
Pope Innocent III issued an announcement for a Fourth Crusade, promising that anyone willing to go with firm determination to liberate Jerusalem Church for God would be rewarded.
Again, large numbers signed up, though the European monarchs were less enthusiastic; Richard the Lionheart himself was embroiled in an ongoing feud with Philip II of France and therefore decided not to accept the challenge in Sicily himself.
But the Crusaders did set sail, only to experience defeat just short of Jerusalem. This blow left lasting scars on Crusade enthusiasm in Western countries and would lead to decades of fighting over territory that should never have been won in the first place.