Driven by religious fervor, love of adventure and dreams of personal profit, crusaders from western Europe for 200 years attempted to expel the Muslims from the Holy Land. All the great and colorful figures of this era were caught up in the consuming cause, from Peter the Hermit, who inflamed the First Crusade, to the saintly Louis IX, King of France, who inspired the Sixth and Seventh.

For centuries peaceful pilgrims had been traveling from Europe to worship at the birthplace of Christ. The rise and spread of Islam in the Near East during the seventh century did not interrupt this traffic. By the tenth century bishops were organizing mass pilgrimages to the Holy Land. During the eleventh century, however, Christian pilgrims encountered persecution, and when the Seljuk Turks, new and fanatical converts to Islam, came sweeping and plundering into the Near East, the situation became especially tense. The Seljuks seized Jerusalem from their fellow Muslims and then swept north into Asia Minor.

The Empire tried to bar the invader, but at the battle of Manzikert (1071) the Turks captured the eastern emperor and scattered his army. Within a few years Asia Minor, the chief source of Byzantine revenue and troops, was lost, and the emperor was writing to western princes and to the pope seeking mercenaries to aid in the rescue of lost territories. In addition, tales of alleged Turkish mistreatment of Christian pilgrims circulated throughout Europe, and rumors were enough to inflame men’s minds. In 1095, after the Eastern Emperor, Alexius I, sent out an urgent appeal for help, Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade to regain the Holy Land.

The motives of the Crusaders were often mixed and in conflict. The word "crusade" itself comes from "taking the cross," after the example of Christ. Thus, on the way to the Holy Land the crusader wore the cross on his breast. On his journey home, he wore it on his back. From the end of the eleventh century to the end of the thirteenth, Christian Europe, led by the popes, launched seven major crusades, as well as various small expeditions.

The First Crusade was composed of feudal nobles from France, parts of Germany and southern Italy, where the Norman (or Viking) invaders had settled. They proceeded overland to Constantinople where they were hastily dispatched to fight the Turks. It was the most successful of the seven Crusades. With 5,000 knights and infantry, it overcame the Turks and captured the Holy City — Jerusalem. This Crusade captured a long strip of territory along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and created the feudal Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. It survived until 1291 when its last remnant fell to the Muslims.

In 1147 Bernard, the mystic of Clairvaux, called for the Second Crusade. The crusade achieved nothing and after two years melted away. Pope Urban at Clermont then offered total remission or "indulgence" for every crusader who headed for Jerusalem "out of pure devotion." From there it was a slight step farther to confer like benefits upon those who were unable to go on a crusade but who contributed to the cause. A man could virtually buy a substitute.

In 1187 Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, brought vigorous leadership to the Muslims and Christians soon responded to the cry for the Third Crusade in 1189, ending with a three-year truce between King Richard and Saladin.

Upon ascending the papal throne in 1198 Innocent III threw himself into the effort of reviving the crusades with the Fourth Crusade. In 1202 his crusaders sacked Zara on the Adriatic coast then attacked Constantinople itself and set up the Latin Empire of Constantinople in 1204, which lasted until 1261, but the ancient city never fully recovered. Other crusaders marched and meandered east during these years but none of the holy efforts postponed the predictable, the return of the Holy Land to Muslim control. The era of the crusades ended in 1291 when Acre, the last stronghold of the Christians in the land where Jesus walked, fell to those who denied his deity.

[tags]Bernard, BlogRodent, Byzantine, church-history, ChurchRodent, Crusades, history, Innocent-III, Jesus, Peter, Pope-Urban-II, Saladin, Constantinople[/tags]


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