The Crusades

The mere existance of the Crusades have long been used to attack Christianity by skeptics and scoffers so I offer some words here to give some historical perspective. In war there are often excesses on all sides but I believe that, in our politically correct age, we have lost our historical perspective on many things not the least of which are the times in which the Crusades occurred and very likely the crusades themselves. The general public knows little about the state of decorum in war and warfare generally that belongs to this time and not ours. Our modern academics seem willfully blind in that space. For most of human history international boundrys, where they have existed, have been redrawn by conquest. Most of these conquests have little to do with religion. Bernard Lewis says:

We have seen in our own day the extraordinary spectacle of a Pope apologizing to the Muslims for the Crusades. I would not wish to defend the behavior of the Crusaders, which was in many respects atrocious. But let us have a little sense of proportion.  We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly. The first papal call for a crusade occurred in 846 C.E., when an Arab expedition from Sicily sailed up the Tiber and sacked St. Peter's in Rome. A synod in France issued an appeal to Christian sovereigns to rally against "the enemies of Christ," and the pope, Leo IV, offered a heavenly reward to those who died fighting the Muslims. A century and a half and many battles later, in 1096, the crusaders actually arrived in the Middle East. The Crusaders were a late, limited, and unsuccessful imitation of the jihad--an attempt to recover by holy war which had been lost by holy war.  It failed, and it was not followed up. (Bernard Lewis in Spencer 2007: p 102)

The story of the expansion of Islam is also a story of conquest but that only serves as a backdrop for the story of the crusades. Near the bottom of the time line below we find the Crusades bracketed between the rise of Islam and its expansion into the most powerful world empire of its time and the Mongol invasion that produced the largest ever world empire. There is really no way the show all of the various wars and instability of the time. The Byzantine (eastern part of the Roman) and Sasanian (pre-Islamic Persian) empires fought a series of wars for decades prior to the rise of Islam. These wars weakened both and they both eventually fell to the advancing Muslim armies. Europe was something of a shambles as well. After the fall of Rome to the Barbarians it would be nearly 400 years before another large European empire was to take shape. The kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula were no match for the advancing Moors.

Date Event
476 Rome (the city) falls to the Germanic leader Odoacer, who became the first Barbarian to rule in Rome. The western part of the Roman Empire crumbles. The Roman Empire continues as what we in the west call the Byzantine Empire, although they called themselves Roman. The Roman Catholic Church remained the main unifying force in the Christian West through the middle ages until the time of Martin Luther and the Reformation. 
535 - 554 The Gothic War - Attempt by the Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empire to retake Italy
c. 570-571 Muhammad born near Mecca. Note that Arabia is outside the Roman Empire.
613 Persians capture Damascus and Antioch.
614 Persians sack Jerusalem damaging the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the process.
622-632 Islam expands into the Arabian peninsula under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad.

Rise of the caliphate and Islamic civil wars. 

By the end of this period the Umayyad Caliphate had expanded across North Africa to the Atlantic and into Spain and Portugal. East to present day Pakistan.  Becoming the 3rd largest empire in the history of the world.

637 Jerusalem falls to invading Muslim forces.
651 Arab Muslim armies complete conquest of Persia
652 Sicily is attacked by Muslims coming out of Tunisia (named Ifriqiya by the Muslims, a name later given to the entire continent of Africa).
667 The Muslims occupy Chalcedon, threatening Constantinope. 
674 Arab/Muslim conquest reaches the Indus River. (The largest river in Pakistan.)
711 Moorish invasion - Muslim people from North Africa invade the Iberian peninsula.
711-1238 Reconquista  - Visigoths in Spain and Portugal try to assert independence from Muslim rule. 
732 Battle of Tours: Frankish forces under the command of Charles Martel check Muslim expansion into Europe.
750–1258 Golden Age of Islam
After the Caliphate falls apart a succession of other independent Islamic states expand and contract under both internal and external pressure.
756 - 1870 The Papal States - Territory governed by the Pope

Holy Roman Empire founded - this was an attempt to re-establish the Roman Empire in the West. Only reallly lasted until the death of Charlemane.

Pirenne Theses: Without Muhammad there would be no Charlemane

800-1000 Saracens, Magyars (Huns?), Vikings (Vikings converted to Christianity )
846 An Arab expedition from Sicily sailed up the Tiber and sacked St. Peter's in Rome.
1000 Conquests stopped
1071 Battle of Manzikert - traditionally thought to be the triggering event for the Crusades - fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuq Turks on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert (modern Malazgirt in Muş Province, Turkey). The decisive defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes played an important role in undermining Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia, and allowed for the gradual Turkification of Anatolia.
1095-1291 The Crusades. The Europeans try to "liberate" Jerusalem from Muslim rule.
1206-1294 Mongol invasion - Genghis Khan and the boys come out of Mongolia and take much of Europe and the Northern part of Muslim lands.  This empire became the largest ever world empire. See Mongol Empire. Interestingly the Mongols accept Islam.


All of this is to show what the times were like in a rather course way. When I pull things like this together I begin to wonder if empires are actually good things as they provide security for the regular guy who is just trying to get by. That can of course be the case but it is still tough on a man when marauding hoards come over the hill scattering flocks and trampling crops. There are times between conquests of relative peace and stability. Still for someone who is living under the domination of a foreign power and culture there can be some discontent. Now as then it is difficult to know where the loyalty of the ordinary guy lies. If this is the political and security side, I need some words on the religious and perhaps theological side.

The Roman Catholic Church had developed a system that I will call sacramentalism, using the term a bit more broadly than the reference, by this time. Sacramental penance being part of that system. Pilgrimages to the Holy sites in Jerusalem were important in that process. The notion of Indulgences, which were part of Luther's issues with the Papacy later, were also becoming more formalized and became the driving force for many of the Crusaders. (The crusader were promised indulgences for participating and the wealthy gained indulgences for sponsoring them.) There is much more to be said here but these innovations are part of the theology of the West but not that of the East. This is part of what Lewis is saying above. The notion of Holy War was foreign to Christianity prior to this time. The Crusades were also a departure from Augustine's notion of Just War. In that regard, Augustine himself was a departure from what had traditionally been a pacifist Christianity.

Many will point to Constantine (ruled 306-337) and his use of the Christian banner but we must recall that Christianity had been outlawed and persecuted prior to Constantine's time. (It was the 311 Edict of Toleration that put an end to official persecution.) Constantine's view was that God had granted him victory and the power that came with it. It was 68 years between Constantine's conversion and the edict that made Christianity the official religion of Rome and it was an edict of Theodosius (ruled 379-395) at that. Conquest and empire building was really Constantine's issue not a point of existing Christian doctrine.

We arrive at the Crusades with a fractured Europe with the Roman Catholic Church holding much political power; a fractured Christianity, the schism east and west was in 1054; pressure from advancing Muslim forces beginning in 711. 

It has been customary to describe the Crusades as eight in number as in the following table. These days it seems that most add much later expeditions, among them those of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In reality the Crusades continued until the end of the seventeenth century, the crusade of Lepanto occurring in 1571, that of Hungary in 1664, and the crusade of the Duke of Burgundy to Candia, in 1669. There are some who include the activities of the Spanish Conquistadors of the 1400's in the Americas. Same go as saying the crusading period did not end until the French Revolution when Napoleon put an end to the last crusader state. All of this makes this page much more work so for now at least I will stick to the traditional list. 

Dates Crusade Comment
1095 - 1101 the first

Pope Urban II, at the Council of Clermont in 1095, responding to an appeal from the Byzantine emperor Alexios Komnenos, calls for a Crusade against the Muslims

Reached Jerusalem c 1096 - 1099

1145 - 47 the second headed by Louis VII - a failure
1188 - 92 the third

conducted by

Philip Augustus - King of France - started out and went home

Frederick Barbarossa - the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death on the way to the crusade.

Richard Lion Heart (Coeur-de-Lion) - King of England - The main hero who faught Salidin (An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub) the first Saltin of Egypt

1204 - 1206 the fourth

The Conquest of Constantinople

Pope Innocent III ascends to papacy and redefines the Crusades.

  • Crusaders now try to convert the people to Christianity.
  • The Pope broadens the use of indulgences
  • calls "internal" crusades - The Albigensian Crusade or Cathar Crusade (1209–1229)
1217 the fifth which included the conquest of Damietta
1228-29 the sixth in which Frederick II took part also Thibaud de Champagne and Richard of Cornwall (1239)
1249-52 the seventh led by St. Louis
1270 the eighth also under St. Louis 4/13/10 6/22/16 6/26/16 6/26/16 6/26/16 8/14/16