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The Crusades

In the broadest sense, the Crusades were a series of military conflicts initiated by Christians – and more specifically by the Pope – with the objective of recapturing the Christian Holy Lands in Israel/Palestine from the Muslims between the years 1095 and 1291.

Origins of the Crusades

In Western Europe, the Crusades came out of a broader socio-political context that was wrought with conflict and uncertainty. The Byzantine Empire was deteriorating under the threat of Muslim attacks, while at the same time the growing Christianization of those occupying European borders had resulted in a military class ready to fight but with no clear enemy.

Finally, in 1063 Pope Alexander II gave his blessing to initiate an Iberian-Christian war against the Muslims. The warriors themselves were granted an indulgence – a temporary pardon for any sins they might commit – and were each given a cross, either from the Pope himself or else one of his delegates, and were hence named “soldiers of the Church.” In fact, this term became something of a euphemism for the intensifying religious piety that saw no division between the goals of the Church and State.

Taking into account all of these factors, it is no surprise that the Church’s framing of the attack as a Just War to retake the “Holy Land” – not to mention the promise of eternal atonement for the sins of their soldiers – was appealing to many. That is why, when in March of 1095 the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I appealed to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist the Muslims in his territories, the Pope did not resist. And several months later, the First Crusades began.

The Crusades are generally numbered with the following distinctions:

  • The First 1095-1101;
  • The Second (Louis VII) 1145-47;
  • The Third (Philip Augustus and Richard Coeur-de-Lion) 1188-92;
  • The Fourth (Constantinople was taken) 1204;
  • The Fifth (conquest of Damietta) 1217;
  • The Sixth (Frederick II took part, 1228-29; also Thibaud de Champagne and Richard of Cornwall 1239);
  • The Seventh, (St. Louis) 1249-52;
  • The Eighth (St. Louis) 1270.

Legacy of the Crusades

The First Crusade had a monumental impact on the religiosity of those under Christian rule, and inspired a wave of brutality exemplified by the massacres of Jews (although some were spared if they promised to convert), and even other Christians. The Crusaders, made invulnerable by the promise of eternal redemption, were unscrupulous in their methods of attack. In fact, during the Fourth Crusade in the early 1200s, the crusades became just as much about European attack against Christian dissidents as it was about the Muslims.

Any followers of the faith who did not adhere to the Church’s orthodox position were targeted, beginning with the Albigenses who rejected Jesus’ divinity, the notion of celibacy, and the story of creation. Indeed, it was in 1208 when papal delegate Arnald Amalri uttered his famous words regarding how to differentiate between true Christians: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

This led to widespread resistance amongst the populace to express any differing religious beliefs, forcing many opposing religious sects to remain underground.

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