What Are The Crusades?

The series of military expeditions collectively known as The Crusades, changed the course of history.

The Crusades were a series of military expeditions promoted by various popes and kings to protect the holy city of Jerusalem from Moslem invaders. Though they began as completely religious missions, just about anyone could find a self-serving reason to join these holy wars of prophets and profits, pun intended. The term crusade has come to mean any military effort by Europeans against non-Christians.

There were eight major crusades in all, and numerous other small, ill-prepared military expeditions which attempted to free the Holy land from the infidels.

This crusading trend all started when Pope Urban II, in a speech at Clermont, France, called for a great Christian expedition to free Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks, a new Muslin power which had recently begun tormenting Christian pilgrims.

Of all eight attempts, the first was considered the most successful. It got underway in 1096, and was led by French, Italian and German nobles wo proceeded on land to Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor hastily directed the relatively small force of Crusaders about 3000 Knights and 12,000 infantry against the Turks. The Crusaders won the city of Antioch and later the Holy City of Jersalum....for a time.

The formidable strength of the Second Crusade was dissipated as the Crusaders advanced through Asia Minor with the Turks harassing their march and interrupting their supply lines. Historians go so far as to call this crusade "a dismal failure."

The Third Crusade was noteworthy and is the most famous, because the three leading crowned heads of Europe participated. Richard I, (called Richard the Lion-Hearted) of England, Philip Augustus of France and Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire, took up the cross and led the troops. In actuality, the three rulers were rivals.



Of the three, only Richard saw the Crusade through to the end. Frederick drowned and Philip quarreled with Richard and returned home pleading ill health. But, Richard met his match in Saladin and was unable to take Jerusalem. In August of 1192, Richard and Saladin agreed to a truce. Even today, Richard the Lion-Hearted is often referred to as one of the "great crusaders." A remarkable soldier, Richard was very much in his element during the Third Crusade.

The later crusades accomplished very little and by 1291 the crusading spirit was gone. But historically speaking, the

crusades were important.

The East enjoyed luxuries only dreamed about by many Europeans. The Crusades were able to open new and lucrative trade routes to the Orient. Supply routes set up for the wars remained long afterward as purely economic and cultural links between Northern Europe and Italy and between Italy and Byzantium.

The nobles enjoyed this opportunity to conquer new land for fiefs, while their knight's found adventure, glory and the spoils of war. The pope's reputation and authority seemed to soar with every Moslem killed and the Christian sought salvation byh converting "heathens" and protecting Jerusalem.

In the long-term, the Crusades finally failed with the Moslem capture of Jerusalem, and later Constantinople. They did have a great effect on Europe, giving it a broader, cosmopolitan viewpoint, at least according to some scholars.

These expeditions opened a floodgate of new ideas from the East and brought back manyh classical concepts that the West had lost during the dark ages. The Crusaders also mastered important stone-working skills which helped Europeans construct the great castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. In addition, the flavor of sacred Byzantine art showed itself very clearly in Western art.

Italy, in particular Venice, emerged from the Crusades the big winner. Europe's appetite had been whetted by the East's luxury goods and sea-trading Venice established itself as the powerful intermediary. The Venetians prospered, expanding their power to control the entire Adriatic area politically. It became Europe's economic leader until new trade routes to the East were developed several hundred years later.

The Crusades weakened the structure of the Byzantine Empire and thus helped bring about its end by 1453. Scholars say the Crusades acted as a catalyst, helping to speed up a series of developments which had already began to change the basic fabric of the European order.

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