The Crusades (1095-1291) were wars Christians fought against Muslims to take back the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. The First Crusade was a big success: Christians took Jerusalem and ruled it for 88 years (1099-1187). Some of the Crusader states that the Christians set up lasted well into the 1200s.
There were nine numbered Crusades altogether, the first five of which were called by the pope. Most of the Crusaders came from England, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany and Italy) and especially France. The Greeks called them all “Franks”, as did the Muslims, and did not think much of them.
In the late 1000s when the Turks took over the Holy Land, Christians pilgrims could no longer freely come and go. They were thrown in prison, sold as slaves or killed. Even worse, the Turks were on the march to Constantinople, which desperately asked the pope for help.
It was in these circumstances that Pope Urban II called the First Crusade in 1095.
The Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 in a huge bloodbath. They also took Edessa, Tripoli and Antioch. These four cities each became the centre of a Crusader state.
But there was a fifth city that the Crusaders failed to take that was the key to all the rest: Damascus. Failing to take Damascus, each of the Crusader states fell in time.
Saladin, a Kurd, was the one who led the Muslims to take back Jerusalem in 1187. The Christians never got control of Jerusalem after that. Later Crusades failed or scored only small successes.
The Crusades came to an end in 1291 when the last Crusader states fell.
Not all Crusades made it to the Holy Land:
- The Children’s Crusade in 1212 ended with the children either lost at sea or sold as slaves in Egypt.
- The Fourth Crusade in 1204, led by Venice, burned Constantinople and set up a short-lived Latin Empire.
What the First Crusade had done to slow Turkish advance into Christian lands, the Fourth Crusade had more than undone. The Byzantine Empire was never more than a small kingdom after the blow of the Fourth Crusade. It also destroyed any chance of bringing the Catholic and Orthodox churches back together. Only the Turks stood to gain.
The Crusades were not considered to be a great event in the Muslim world at the time. It was nothing compared to the threat Egypt presented to the Muslim world by going Shia under the Ismailis. No one thought to push the Crusaders into the sea till they began to threaten Mecca and Medina.
It was not until the 1900s that Muslims began to see the Crusades as a crime against the Muslim world.
Even in the West it is fashionable to condemn the Crusades. But why are they condemned but the Turks are not? And why is taking back the Holy Land seen as so much worse than taking back Spain, which few condemn? Are we reading history backwards?