The Crusades were the first war the Europeans waged outside
Europe. Some of the attitudes that were expressed during the
Age of Hegemony were first revealed during this period - insensitivity
to the culture of non-Europeans, for example, and a propensity
to set up their own kind of state in colonised land.
The motivation in Europe was clearly at least partly religious.
The Europeans (or at least their rulers and leaders) were adherents
of Christianity, a religion that claimed its origin in the territory
now known as Palestine, centered on the city of Jerusalem where
its supposed founder was believed to have lived. During the time
the Byzantine Empire occupied the area a number of Christian
sites had become places of pilgrimage for citizens of that empire.
After the country had been conquered by the Arab armies the whole
area of Palestine, Syria and Egypt came under Muslim rule.
The custom of pilgrimage made it possible for religious leaders
to rouse enthusiasm for liberating the "Holy Places"
from Muslim occupation. From about the 11th century onwards a
few Christians from Europe had begun to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
much as Muslims went to Makkah. There they would visit the places
in the city where Jesus was said to have taught, or that were
mentioned in the New Testament (and buy the fake relics sold
then as now by astute local traders).
However, after the whole region had been conquered by the
Muslim Arabs in 633 they too had made Jerusalem a "Holy"
City, based on the sites referred to in the Quran, especially
the site of the former Jewish Temple on which the Muslims had
built the Dome of the Rock to commemorate the Night Journey of
Some of the dissident Christians of the empire - Monophysites
for example - had welcomed the transfer of power as a relief
from the persecution they experienced from the Orthodox, when
those controlled the central government in Constantinople. Many Christians continued
to live in the conquered area, though they had to pay a non-believers'
tax to the new regime. This of course was on the one hand an
incentive to convert to a religion which was not in fact radically
different from some versions of Christianity - some of the sects
that had been hostile to the Orthodox regime in Byzantium. On
the other the tax was also an incentive for the Muslim rulers
not to pursue conversions. The remaining Christians belonged
to various sects, including the Greek Orthodox, mostly under
the authority of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Others were Monophysites,
opposed to both the Orthodox and the Romans. Few were Roman.
After Greek Orthodox the most prominent were the Armenians. As
was the custom in Middle Eastern empires, each religious community
had considerable autonomy under the rule of its religious leaders,
but were not allowed to bear arms.
By 1071 the Seljuk Turks were pressing on Anatolia and had
conquered the remaining heartland of the Eastern Roman Empire
at the battle of Manzikert. Byzantium thus lost an area of taxable
land and a source of soldiers. It was gravely weakened.
Appeal from Byzantium
The emperor Alexius Comnenus (1081) was under further pressure
from the Turks who had already conquered most of Anatolia and
called from help from western Europe. In 1095 he appealed to
the Pope Urban the second for assistance from the West. (However,
his western territories were also threatened by the Normans who
were making an empire in Sicily and Italy.)
At this time the western (Roman) and eastern (Greek Orthodox) versions of Christianity
had diverged, with a formal split in 1054, each regarding the other as "heretical".
The antipathy by the Orthodox of the east for the followers
of Rome, in the west, made it difficult for him to appeal to
westerners and his reluctance was shown to have been justified
when the westerners sacked Byzantium when they got there - like
a massive stag party of football hooligans. The emperor had wanted
reinforcements for his army - individual soldiers to help him
defend and reconquer the lands he was losing in Anatolia. He
was not himself worried about Jerusalem which was in fact still
open to the small stream of pilgrims. What he got was a large
undisciplined army of wild westerners who cared little for Anatolia.
Pope Urban, however, saw it as a solution to his pressing problem
- too many unemployed Knights and Barons - mainly second and
other sons who could not inherit - struggling among themselves
with private wars to obtain fiefs.
The ideological objections also made it difficult to ask for
help. The Orthodox
and Catholic churches differed in certain formulae on "the
nature of Christ" and also in organisation. The Pope of
Rome maintained (at least in theory) a central control of all
the Catholics in the west, whereas the Eastern Orthodox church
had several heads (Patriarchs: Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch
and others). Other differences were that Orthodox priests had
to be married, though bishops, as monks, were not. Catholic priests
were not supposed to be married - mainly because if they were,
their sons would try to inherit church property, the only kind
of wealth in a moneyless society. These differences made it difficult
for the two types of religion to cooperate, especially as each
party regarded itself as entirely "right" and the other
Peter the Hermit was a popular preacher who roused
ordinary people - not trained soldiers - to go on Crusade. In
the so-called People's Crusade almost all of them died.
Bernard of Clairvaux
He was an influential priest, monk and abbot who founded a monastery
and was also involved in the foundation of the Cistercians, an
order devoted to economic growth by developing uninhabited areas
such as the Yorkshire Dales for sheep and wool production.
Templars and Hospitallers
A religious order of knights was founded in 1118 by Hugh de Payens
and eight other knights. They were also endorsed by Bernard of
Clairvaux. Their claim was to guard the Temple site and the pilgrims.
In practice they were a fighting force in the battles with the
Muslims, rather better disciplined than the general armies. They
were decisive in several battles. They were not however under
the control of the kings of Jerusalem.
Another order was that of the knights Hospitaller. These too
were not under control of the king.
The later history of the Templars, after the Europeans had
to leave the Levant, was as revivers of European trade by acting
as a bank and making the roads safe for the goods they carried
about. This was probably more important than their role in the
Crusades. (Nothing to do with the Dan Brown type of literature.) They were
suppressed in 1307 (see Fringe
UK Amazon Review of Templar documents
If one googles "Templars" one finds a large number
of articles on the web about "the Knights of the Temple
of Solomon of Jerusalem". To the professional historian
most of these articles are distressingly inaccurate and lacking
in hard facts about this organisation.
This book is a useful correction to the fantasies. It is a
collection of translations of original French and Latin documents
about the Templars. Many of them were written by officials of
It is useful for students of history to read these documents,
which tell us what is actually known about the Templars, as opposed
to the fantasies that so many authors feel happy to write, presumably
without having read them.
For example, some of the fantasists feel quite happy to state
that the Templars were a subversive, non-Catholic organisation
with secret beliefs. The actual documents provide no evidence
at all that they believed anything other than the ordinary Catholic
theology, nor that their ceremonies were anything other than
the customary rites of the Church.
Their real history is quite spectacular enough without making
them the "fathers" of Freemasonry or other weird religions,
something for which there isn't any evidence. In the case of
Freemasonry there is nothing to connect the Templars after their
suppression in 1312 to the emergence of Masons in the 17th century
- 300 years of absence of evidence.
There are 85 pages on the trial of the Templars at the instigation
of the King of France, Philip the fourth. Interestingly, the
documents about their Trial, when they were suppressed because
the French king wanted their money, remind the reader of the
accusations made during the Show Trials during Stalin's Terror
in the 1930s. The accusations against them are obviously entirely
fabricated. No modern jury could possibly find them guilty, there
being no evidence other than confessions forced from the accused
Did the king, or anyone else, seriously think they were "heretics"?
The documents presented at their trial do not provide hard evidence.
A possible speculation about them might be that their experience
of living in the Middle East among people of different religions
and cultures may actually have made them more tolerant. This
is hinted at by the well-known document (not in this book) of
the Muslim physician Osama Ibn Munqidh who describes a Templar
ordering a Christian fanatic not to impede a Muslim wanting to
pray in the Mosque which the Templars were using as their headquarters
in Jerusalem. If they had learned tolerance - or ordinary human
decency - this in itself may have made them suspect in the fanatical
and ignorant west where people hated the Muslims without ever
having met any. (That's very modern.) Thus there was an organisation
with great wealth partly from generous donations and partly from
successful business, practicing honest banking (if only we had
something like that today) and staffed by people with knowledge
of the real world. Religious fanatics were bound to hate it.
Far from being the practitioners of secret philosophies these monkish-knights
were hard-headed practical men who may well have refounded the
European economy simply by conveying produce under armed guard,
buying in one area and selling in another for a higher price.
What they should be famous for is the revival of the European
economy, making possible the end of feudalism by giving rulers
something to tax - trading and urban life.
They were also the armed forces of the Papal empire which was above the various
kingdoms. A good example is the 1306 reply (page 105) of James
of Molay - the last Grand Master (CEO) of the organisation. He
had been asked by Pope Clement the fifth for his views on whether
there should be a new Crusade. Molay's letter is like a report
of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States
military to the President. He assesses in clear language the
possibilities of invading the Levant. The Crusaders by this time
had been driven out of the lands they had conquered in the previous
centuries. Molay is frank on the need for a very large force
indeed and explains why small forces would be inevitably defeated.
His advice is realistic and professional. Of course no crusade
was called. The enthusiasm of the European rulers was not enough
to finance such an enterprise.
(One is reminded of the advice of the Joint Chiefs to Donald
Rumsfeld in the Iraq war that
he should send larger forces. They were proved right.)
This report was a year before the attack on the Templars by
the king of France who wanted to cancel his debts to the organisation.
What we may consider to be a tribe of people descended from the
Vikings were an important component of the western armies. The
Vikings who settled in northern France (Normandie) had learned
French. Their leader William had gone on to conquer England.
Other Normans had conquered Apulia and Calabria in Italy from the Byzantines, and
then had conquered Sicily from the Muslims. As always it was
second sons who went out looking for new lands to conquer to
get themselves fiefs (see Fedualism). It was Normans who became
rulers of Antioch (Bohemond) and Jerusalem.
There were two groups who set out. The first was an enthusiastic
but disorganised crowd of ordinary people - not Knights or trained
soldiers - stirred up by the preaching of Peter the Hermit. These
streamed across Europe. Most died before even reaching the Byzantine
The other groups were the organised armies of knights and
their support people. On the way their religious enthusiasm took
the form of massacring Jews living in Europe. When they reached
Constantinople Comnenus was quick to move them on in case they
sacked his city. However, their motivation led them not to his
eastern frontier, where he needed them, but to the "Holy
Land" which they gradually occupied - not, however, handing
over the lands they conquered to the Emperor.
Second Crusade (1100-1101)
The Lombard Crusade
Third Crusade (1123)The Venetian Crusade
Venetian Navy defeats Egyptian navy at Askelon.
Salah al Din
The most famous Kurd
in history was the founder of a state that took over all the
land occupied by the Crusaders, and then resisted the Mongols.
He combined Egypt, after conquering the Fatimite Khalifate, and
Syria. His forces conquered Jerusalem in 1187, which provoked
new enthusiasm in Europe leading to the campaign of Richard of
England - coeur de lion.
1191 Richard the first of England lands and restores the position
of the crusaders.
What did they achieve?
Not much in the long run. The kingdoms and counties of Outremer
lasted only as long as they received support and reinforcements
The crusaders conquered and occupied a coastal strip of the lands
now known as Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and parts of Turkey. They
organised these in the same way as their states at home - feudal
kingdoms, counties and lordships. The most important ruler was
the King of Jerusalem, but like the king of France his power
over his feudal vassals was not absolute. The Crusader states
as a whole were known in Europe as Outremer - Overseas.
Only a small number of the people in these states were actually
westerners. Most were the natives whose ancestors had been there
for centuries: some Christians of various sects, others Muslims,
Jews or other local religions. The cultural effect of rule by
the Franks was less even than the later rule by Europeans of
Many of the "native" Christians who had been living
in Palestine and the surrounding areas were massacred, both by
the invading Franks and by the reconquering Muslims. Their own
versions of Christianity were ignored in favor of the westerners'
version (Catholicism). This too has an echo in the modern wars
in the Middle East where long established Christian communities
have been massacred or expelled as a result of western intervention,
as in Palestine and Iraq.
The states formed by the Crusaders were short lived. There
were two main reasons for their failure. One was that Europeans
at home lost enthusiasm for going on Crusade. The Popes continued
to call for Crusades, but, like the UN calling for peacekeeping
troops in modern Sudan,
few responded. The states could not be maintained without continual
reinforcement. As the economy in Europe recovered there was less
need to export surplus knights. The other reason of course was
the better organisation of the Muslims as they developed states
capable of dealing with the Crusader states.
The memory of these wars still has its effects today. On the
Muslim side the extreme brutality of the Farangi (Franks) is
remembered. The memory of the war crimes committed by both sides
lives on: the massacres of the inhabitants of Jerusalem when
the Crusaders captured it - Christians, Jews and Muslims alike;
the massacre of Crusaders at Hattin; the massacre of Muslim captives
by Richard after a battle. Added to the Arab and Muslim experience
of 19th and 20th century colonialism in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, they remain part of the Middle
Eastern historical mythology and affect such things as the language
and motivation of people like Osama bin Laden. Europeans are
still known as Farangi - Franks, the people who invaded their
lands, so long ago. One of the most popular themes for Arabic
tv films has long been the Crusades - perhaps the equivalent
of Westerns in the United States and other western countries.
And which side had the Black Hats? Thus, it was unwise for President
Bush to say that the war
in Iraq was a crusade. Even if he just meant it vaguely to
be "a good struggle", as is common usage in western
countries, many people in Arab countries would have interpreted
it differently. Correct use of language is important. The wars
looked different in the Middle East from the way they look in
Europe - where they are largely forgotten.
Arab nationalists regard Israel
as a similar state to those of the Crusaders - a European colonial
state that has expelled the original inhabitants. Will it last
as long? They note that like the Crusader states it too needs
continual subsidy and reinforcement from the west.
Lebanon and Syria
France's relation to Lebanon
and Syria also goes back to the time of the Crusades. When the
Ottoman Empire was defeated in the first world war France demanded
a mandate of that part of Syria where the Maronite Christians
lived (Christians owing allegiance to the Pope, though with their
own quasi-Orthodox rituals). Syrians thus regard Lebanon as a
sort of Crusader state, maintained only because of the will of
westerners. When the French took over Syria as a mandate, after the first world war, the
first governor went to the tomb of Salah ud Din in Damascus and
announced "we've returned".
Effects on Medieval Europe
The initial call to go on Crusade had some useful effects on
the situation in Europe. It was the height of the Feudal period when each baron and lord
felt little need to support a political system beyond his own
domain. The historic states in Europe were only just beginning
and hardly existed. Instead there was continual warfare between
individual barons, counts and dukes (people who, in modern times,
would be considered Warlords). One of the factors encouraging
this continual war was the large number of younger sons who could
not inherit their father's estate, which would always go to the
eldest son. They had trained in warfare and wanted to acquire
their own estates in battle. There was a surplus of Knights.
(These were the sort of people William of Normandy recruited
to invade England in 1066, and other Normans used to conquer
Sicily and southern Italy.) Many of these younger sons were encouraged
to go off on Crusade and either died in the battles (probably
most of them) or gained new lands in the Levant. At home their
absence resulted in more peaceful conditions and the increase
in the authority of the kings. Pope Urban was well aware of this
problem and had it in mind when he called for Christian Knights
to go east.
Collapse of Byzantium
Alexius Comnenus hoped for western help to strengthen his empire
in its struggle with the Seljuk Turks. The result was the opposite.
After the Crusaders had captured Constantinople in 1204 and sacked
it while setting up a Catholic Latin Empire there, the Greek
empire was weakened so that the most it could do was to survive
as a rump which in reality was a puppet of Genoa and Venice who
fought each other in the shell of the City. The Turkish grip
on Anatolia was confirmed, and the final fall in 1453 became
inevitable as the Ottomans
spread into Europe, eventually occupying all the lands of the
former Byzantine Empire as far west as the "gates of Vienna"
in 1683. (See Balkans.)
It is often said that the Crusades had cultural effects on Europe.
There is some truth in this. As we can learn from the writings
of the physician Usamah ibn Munqidh (born 1095) (in Kritzeck
- Anthology of Islamic literature) the European warriors were
seen over there as crude uncivilised barbarians - not just by
the Muslims but also by the Greeks in Constantinople (see Anna
Comnenus's Journal quoted in Oldenbourg). Ibn Munqidh notes their
ideas of medicine which usually killed the patient, and was shocked
by what he understood as the freedom of women.
Those who settled on their new estates learned from their
neighbors and adopted such customs as washing, knives and forks,
better medical ideas and of course the local language - Arabic.
They married local women and their children acquired even more
of the local culture. Some of these customs filtered back to
their homelands. Probably the more profound ideas of science
and philosophy came to Europe not via the Crusaders but from
the scholars who went to Muslim Spain and acquired the texts
in Toledo at the School of Translators or from Sicily where the
regime of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the second - Stupor Mundi
- also brought together Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars
(see "Baptised Sultans" in book list).
It may well be that one of the sources of hostility to the
Templars in Europe was not just their wealth but also their tolerance,
learned in the Levant. The Europeans at home interpreted this
as heresy or too much sympathy for the "infidel". They
were accused of being "secret Muslims". Ibn Munquidh
records an instance of Templar sympathy for a Muslim who wished
to pray in the former Mosque converted into the Templars' Headquarters
in Jerusalem. This would seem to be a rare example of human decency
rather than secret adherence to Islam. However, Oldenbourg notes
that those Crusaders who had settled in the Levant tended to
be more tolerant than those newly arrived from Europe. Munqidh
also notes this.
The Crusaders had provoked a defensive force in Salah al Din
and his dynasty, creating a strong state in the area of the Levant by conquering
the Fatimite state in Egypt and combining it with his main base
in Syria. The result was a military culture strong enough to
resist the Mongols under Hulagu when they arrived in 1243. The
Empire was able to reconquer Aleppo and Damascus from the
Mongols. This was a setback to the further invasion of the Mongols.
Was this an after-effect of the Crusades, preventing the Mongols
destroying Egypt and the Mediterranean world? In the north they
reached Poland. In the South they were defeated in Syria. If
the Mongols had reached north Africa the world might have been
very different, even today.
The idea of "religious" wars was extended to other
areas. The Reconquest in Spain
was regarded as a continuing Crusade. The activities of the Teutonic
Knights in the Baltic
(similar to the Templars) were also a religious duty, and, most
notoriously, the persecution of the Cathars in Provence (Albigensian
crusade 1209). In Bosnia (1240 & 1345) too the Pope called
for a Crusade against the Bogomils, a dissident group, possibly
related to the Cathars, but this also extended to massacre against
the Orthodox, one of the distant causes of the current Balkan problems.
610 - Mohammed began his preaching
532 - Death of Mohammed
633 Muslims conquer Persia
636 Conquest of Palestine and Syria
642 - Conquest of Egypt
711 - Invasion of Spain
1054 - Schism between Rome and the Orthodox
1071 - Battle of Manzikert, fall of Anatolia
1095 - Comnenus appeals to the Pope
1096 - First Crusade sets out, massacres Jews in Germany
1099 - capture of Jerusalem
1100 - Baldwin I king of Jerusalem
1118 - foundation of Templars
1174 - Saladin comes to power in Damascus
1187 - he conquers Jerusalem
1191 - Richard arrives
1204 - capture of Constantinople - Latin Empire
1209-1229 - Albigensian Crusade
1243 - arrival of Mongols
1244 - Jerusalem captured by Turks
1260 - Mongols capture Aleppo and Damascus
1261 - Greeks recapture Constantinople from
the Latin emperor
1291 - final fall of the Frankish states
1307 - suppression of Templars
Zoe Oldenbourg - The Crusades
Steven Runciman - History of the Crusades
through Arab eyes
Der Heilige Krieg der Barbaren. Die Kreuzzüge
aus der Sicht der Araber.
Armstrong - Holy War
Im Kampf für Gott
Brief History of the crusades
James Kritzeck - Anthology of Islamic Literature
Useful account of the role of King
Richard in the Crusades
Lionheart and Lackland: King Richard,
King John and the Wars of Conquest
The Templars - Manchester Mediaeval texts
The Templars: Selected Sources (Manchester Medieval Sources)
DVD Kingdom of Heaven - Ridley
Kingdom Of Heaven [Blu-ray] 
Kingdom Of Heaven [UK IMPORT]
Königreich der Himmel (Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]
Baptised Sultans, Norman kings of Sicily