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Crusades were military expeditions undertaken by Western European Christians beginning in 1095, usually at the request of the pope, to recover Jerusalem and the other places of pilgrimage in Palestine (now under occupation ,Israel ) known to Christians as the Holy Land from Muslim control. Historians disagree as to when crusading came to an end and have proposed dates that range between 1270 and 1798, when Napoleon I took Malta from the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, a military order established during the Crusades. The name crusade (from Latin, "cross", the emblem of the Crusaders) was also applied, especially in the 13th century, to wars against pagan peoples, Christian heretics, and political foes of the papacy. By extension, the term is used to describe any religious war or political or moral movement.


Archons - knights in a typical Crusader's armourThe origin of the Crusades is rooted in the political upheaval that resulted from the expansion of the seljuk turks in the Middle East in the mid-11th century. The conquest of Syria and Palestine by the Muslim seljuks alarmed Christians in the West. Other Turkish invaders also penetrated deep into the Christian Byzantine Empire and subjected many Greek, Syrian, and Armenian Christians to their rule. The Crusades were, in part, a reaction to these events. They were also the result of ambitious popes who sought to extend their political and religious power. Crusading armies were, in a sense, the military arm of papal policy.

In an effort to understand why Crusaders went on Crusades, historians have pointed to the dramatic growth of European population and commercial activity between the 12th and 14th centuries. The Crusades are thus explained as providing an area of expansion to accommodate part of this growing population, and as offering an outlet for the ambitions of land-hungry knights and noblemen. The expeditions are also seen as offering rich commercial opportunities (=plundering) to the merchants of the growing cities of the West, particularly the Italian cities of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice.

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The First Crusade

The Crusades began formally on Tuesday, November 27, 1095, in a field just outside the walls of the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. On that day Pope Urban II preached a sermon to crowds of laypeople and clergy attending a church council at Clermont. In his sermon, the pope outlined a plan for a Crusade and called on his listeners to join its ranks. The response was positive and overwhelming. Pope Urban then commissioned the bishops at the council to return to their homes and to enlist others in the Crusade. He also outlined a basic strategy in which individual groups of Crusaders would begin the journey in August 1096. Each group would be self-financing and responsible to its own leader. The groups would make their separate ways to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, where they would meet. From there, they would launch a counterattack against the Seljuk conquerors of Anatolia together with the Byzantine emperor and his army. Once that region was under Christian control, the Crusaders would campaign against the Muslims in Syria and Palestine, with Jerusalem as their ultimate goal.

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The Crusading Armies

In its broad outline the First Crusade conformed to the scheme envisioned by the pope. Recruitment proceeded apace during the remainder of 1095 and the early months of 1096. Five major armies of noblemen assembled in late summer, 1096, to set out on the Crusade. The majority were from France, but significant numbers also came from southern Italy and the regions of Lorraine, Burgundy, and Flanders.

The pope had not foreseen the popular enthusiasm that his Crusade would arouse among ordinary townspeople and peasantry. Alongside the Crusade of the nobility another one materialized among the common people. The largest and most important group of popular Crusaders was recruited and led by a preacher known as Peter the Hermit, a native of Amiens, France. Although the participants in the popular Crusade were numerous, only a tiny fraction of them ever succeeded in reaching the Middle East; even fewer survived to see the Christian capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

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The Conquest of Anatolia

The armies of Crusading nobles arrived at Constantinople between November 1096 and May 1097. The Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus pressured the Crusaders to return to him any former Byzantine territory that they captured. The leaders resented these demands, and although most of them ultimately complied, they became suspicious of the Byzantines.

In May 1097, the Crusaders attacked their first major target, the Anatolian Turkish capital at Nicaea (now under occupation, Iznik, Turkey). In June the city surrendered to the Byzantines, rather than the Crusaders. This confirmed the latter's suspicions that Alexius intended to use the Crusaders as pawns in order to achieve his own goals.

Shortly after the fall of Nicaea, the Crusaders encountered the principal Seljuk field army of Anatolia at Dorylaeum (now under occupation, Eskisehir, Turkey). On July 1, 1097, the Crusaders won a major victory there and nearly annihilated the Turkish force. As a result the Crusaders met little resistance during the rest of their campaign in Asia Minor. The next major target was the city of Antioch in northern Syria (now under occupation Antakya, Turkey). The Crusaders besieged the city on October 21, 1097, but it did not fall until June 3, 1098. No sooner had the Crusaders taken Antioch than they were attacked by a fresh Turkish army from Mosul (now in Iraq), which arrived just too late to relieve Antioch's Turkish defenders. The Crusaders repulsed the relief force on June 28.

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The Capture of Jerusalem

Resting at Antioch for the remainder of the summer and early fall, the Crusaders set out on the final leg of their journey in late November 1098. They avoided attacks on cities and fortified positions in order to conserve their forces. In May 1099 they reached the northern borders of Palestine and on the evening of June 7 camped within sight of Jerusalem's walls.

The city was then under Egyptian control; its defenders were numerous and well prepared for a siege. The Crusaders attacked, with the aid of reinforcements from Genoa and newly constructed siege machines, taking Jerusalem by storm on July 15; they then massacred virtually every inhabitant. In the Crusaders' view, the city was purified in the blood of the defeated infidels.

A week later the army elected one of its leaders, Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lorraine, as ruler of the city. Under his leadership the army then fought its last campaign, defeating an Egyptian army at Ascalon (now under occupation Ashqelon, Israel) on August 12. Soon afterwards most of the Crusaders returned to Europe, leaving Godfrey and a small remnant of the original force to organize a government and to establish Latin (Western European) control over the conquered territories.

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The Apogee of Latin Power in the East

In the aftermath of the First Crusade, Latin colonists in the Levant established four states. The largest and most powerful of these was the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. To the north of that kingdom lay the tiny county of Tripoli on the Syrian coast. Beyond Tripoli was the principality of Antioch, centred in the Orontes Valley. Farthest east was the county of Edessa (now under occupation Urfa, Turkey), largely populated by Armenian Christians.

The victories of the First Crusade were largely due to the isolation and relative weakness of the Muslim powers. The generation after the First Crusade, however, saw the beginning of Muslim reunification in the Middle East under the leadership of Imad ad-Din Zangi, ruler of Mosul and Halab ( now in northern Syria). Under Zangi, the Muslim forces won their first major victory against the Crusaders by taking the city of Edessa in 1144 and then systematically dismantling the Crusader state in that region.

The papacy's response to these events was to proclaim the Second Crusade late in 1145. The new expedition attracted numerous recruits, among them the king of France, Louis VII, and the Holy Roman emperor, Conrad III. Conrad's German army set out for Jerusalem from Nuremberg, Germany, in May 1147. The French forces followed about a month later. Near Dorylaeum in Anatolia the Germans were routed by a Turkish ambush, and, demoralized and frightened, most soldiers and pilgrims turned back. The French army lasted longer on the road, but fared little better, and only part of the original force reached Jerusalem in 1148. In consultation with King Baldwin III of Jerusalem and his nobles, the Crusaders decided to attack Damascus in July. The expedition failed to take the city, however, and shortly after the collapse of this attack the French king and the remnants of his army returned home.

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Saladin and the Third Crusade

The failure of the Second Crusade left the Muslim powers free to regroup. Zangi had died in 1146, but his successor, Nur ad-Din, expanded his realm into a major power in the Middle East. In 1169 his forces, under the command of Saladin, took control of Egypt. When Nur ad-Din died five years later, Saladin succeeded him as ruler of a Muslim state that stretched from the Libyan Desert to the Tigris Valley and surrounded the remaining Crusader states on three fronts. After a series of crises in the 1180s, Saladin finally invaded the kingdom of Jerusalem with a massive force in May 1187. On July 4 he decisively defeated the Latin army at Hattin in Galilee. Although King Guy of Jerusalem, with some of his nobles, surrendered and survived, all the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem were beheaded on or near the battlefield. In the aftermath of this victory, Saladin swept through most of the Crusader strongholds in the kingdom of Jerusalem, including Jerusalem which surrendered to him on October 2. At this point the only major city still in Crusader hands was Tyre in Lebanon.

On October 29, 1187, Pope Gregory VIII proclaimed the Third Crusade. Western enthusiasm for the plan was widespread, and three major European monarchs enlisted in its ranks: the Holy Roman emperor, Frederick I; the French king, Philip II; and the English king, Richard I. The kings and their numerous followers constituted the largest Crusading force that had taken the field since 1095, but the outcome of all this effort was meager. Frederick died in Anatolia while on his way to the Holy Land, and most of his army returned to Germany immediately following his death. Although both Philip and Richard reached Palestine with their armies intact, they were unable to recapture Jerusalem or much of the former territory of the Latin Kingdom. They succeeded, however, in wresting from Saladin control of a chain of cities, including Arcre (now under occupation in Israel), along the Mediterranean coast. By October 1192, when Richard finally left Palestine, the Latin Kingdom had been reconstituted. Smaller than the original kingdom and considerably weaker militarily and economically, the second kingdom lasted precariously for another century.

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The Later Crusades

Subsequent Crusades did not achieve anything like the military success of the Third Crusade. The fourth one, which lasted from 1202 to 1204, was plagued by financial difficulties. In an effort to alleviate these, the leaders agreed to a plan to attack Constantinople in concert with the Venetians and a pretender to the Byzantine throne. The Crusaders succeeded in taking Constantinople, which they then plundered shamelessly. The Latin Empire of Constantinople, created by this Crusade, survived until 1261 when Constantinople was retaken by the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus; it had contributed nothing to the defence of the Holy Land.

In 1208, Pope Innocent III proclaimed a Crusade against the Albigenses, a religious sect in southern France. The ensuing Crusade was the first to be fought in Western Europe. It lasted from 1209 to 1229, causing much bloodshed and failing to bring the Albigenses under their control.

The first offensive of the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was the capture of the Egyptian seaport of Damietta in 1219. The ensuing strategy called for an attack on Egypt, the capture of Cairo, and then a campaign to secure control of the Sinai Peninsula. Implementation of this strategy, however, fell short of the goal. The attack on Cairo was abandoned when the promised reinforcements of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II failed to materialize. In August 1221 the Crusaders were forced to surrender Damietta to the Egyptians, and in September the Christian army dispersed.

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Frederick II

The Crusade of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II differed in approach from earlier Crusades. Frederick had vowed to lead a Crusade in 1215 and renewed his pledge in 1220, but for domestic political reasons kept postponing his departure. Under threat of excommunication from Pope Gregory IX, Frederick and his army finally sailed from Italy in August 1227, but returned to port within a few days when Frederick fell ill. The pope, exasperated by yet another delay, promptly excommunicated the emperor. On regaining his health, Frederick embarked for the Holy Land in June 1228, as an unrecognized Crusader, without the protection of the Church. Frederick arrived in Acre to find that most of his army had drifted away. He, however, had no intention of fighting if Jerusalem could be regained through diplomatic negotiations with the Egyptian sultan Al-Kamil. These negotiations produced a peace treaty by which the Egyptians restored Jerusalem to the Crusaders and guaranteed a 10-year respite from hostilities. Despite this achievement, Frederick was shunned as an excommunicate by both the clergy and the lay leaders of the Latin states. At the same time, the pope had proclaimed a Crusade against Frederick, raised an army, and proceeded to attack the emperor's Italian possessions. Frederick returned to the West to cope with this threat in May 1229.

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Louis IX

Nearly 20 years elapsed between Frederick's Crusade and the next large expedition to the Middle East, which was organized and financed by King Louis IX of France after the Muslims recaptured Jerusalem in 1244. Louis spent four years making careful plans and preparations for his ambitious expedition. At the end of August 1248, Louis and his army sailed to the island of Cyprus, where they spent the winter in further preparations. Following the same basic strategy as the Fifth Crusade, Louis and his followers landed in Egypt on June 5, 1249, and the following day captured Damietta. The next phase of their campaign, an attack on Cairo in the spring of 1250, proved to be a catastrophe. The Crusaders failed to guard their flanks, and as a result the Egyptians retained control of the water reservoirs along the Nile. By opening the sluice gates, they created floods that trapped the whole Crusading army, and Louis was forced to surrender in April 1250. After paying an enormous ransom and surrendering Damietta, Louis sailed to Palestine, where he spent four years building fortifications and strengthening the defences of the Latin Kingdom. In the spring of 1254 he and his army returned to France.

King Louis also organized the last major Crusade, in 1270. This time the response of the French nobility was unenthusiastic, and the expedition was directed against the city of Tunis rather than Egypt. It ended abruptly when Louis died in Tunisia during the summer of 1270.

Meanwhile, the remaining Latin outposts in Syria and Palestine were coming under increasing pressure from Egyptian forces. One by one, the cities and castles of the Crusader states fell to the vigorous armies of the Mamelukes. The last major stronghold, the town of Acre, was taken on May 18, 1291, and the Crusading settlers together with the military orders of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller took refuge on Cyprus. About 1306, the Knights Hospitaller established themselves on Rhodes which they administered as a virtually independent state and as the last Crusader outpost in the Mediterranean until 1522 when it surrendered to the Turks. In 1570, Cyprus, by then under the rule of Venice, was also taken by the Turks. Other Latin states established in Greece as a result of the Fourth Crusade survived until the mid-15th century.

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Results of the Crusades

The expulsion of the Latins from the Holy Land did not end Crusading efforts, but the response of European kings and nobles to repeated calls for further Crusades was feeble, and later expeditions accomplished little. Two centuries of Crusades left little mark on Syria and Palestine, save for numerous Crusader churches, fortifications, and a chain of impressive castles, such as Marqab, on the Syrian coast; Montreal, in Transjordan; Crac des Chevaliers, near Tripoli; and Monfort, near Haifa, Israel.

The effects of the Crusades were mainly felt in Europe and in the Byzantine Empire, not in the Middle East....

The Crusades had bolstered the commerce of the Italian cities. The plan succeeded - the only nation rich in culture, science, wealth, and art was destroyed - forever. Byzantines and Constantinoples, Byzantine art, economy, byzantine culture was newer again the same. The World has changed completely. After 1204 we can say - they took not only all the riches from Constantinoples. They took the history with them. And they were called "Crusades"! And even today - they shamelessly believe that bronze horses at Venice in front of St. Marco church really belong to them. They really believe that all the icons, golden jewellery and Imperial Crowns belong to them.

The experiments of the papacy and European monarchs in raising money to finance the Crusades led to the development of systems of direct general taxation that had long-term consequences for the fiscal structure of European governments. Although the Latin states in the East were short-lived, the experience of the Crusaders established mechanisms that later generations of Europeans used and improved on when they colonized the territories discovered by the explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries.

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