Account for enthusiasm for crusading from the 11th to the 13th century.
The following will discuss, evaluate, and account for the enthusiasm for crusading from the 11th through to the 13th century. Crusading was the name given to the attempts of Western European Christians to regain the lands and the territories in the Middle East lost due to the advance of Islamic forces. The lands, which the varying crusading forces, were primarily interested in regaining from Islamic control were those territories within the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem. All these territories had formally been under Christian control as part of the Byzantine Empire, which had once dominated the Middle East. At the start of the 11th century the Byzantine Empire still remained the dominant power in the Balkans and other parts of Eastern Europe. The Byzantine Empire had not been able to halt the advance of Islamic forces from the late 7th century and had not received any military or naval assistance that had halted the Islamic incursions from Western Europe. Although politically divided Western Europe was overwhelming Christian in religious terms with the papacy holding a great deal of influence over religious beliefs even if it could not exercise political power? As will be discussed below the original motivations for launching the crusades were primarily religious and those motivations continued from the 11th century through to the 13th century. The religious beliefs and views of the Western Europeans had a strong upon their enthusiasm for crusading and their subsequent behaviour towards both Muslims and the Orthodox Christians they came in to contact with.
For the papacy and indeed for many of the Christians within Western Europe the occupation of the Holy Land by Muslims was an intolerable situation which needed to be reversed so that those territories would once again come under Christian control, as they had been part of the Byzantine Empire. Although the Muslims allowed Christian pilgrims to visit the Holy Land and permitted freedom of worship to the Christians and the Jews who still lived there, that did not lower Western European enthusiasm for taking the Holy Land out of Muslim hands. The way in which the crusades were conducted provided ample proof that the religious fervour of the Roman Catholic church which did the most to stimulate support for the crusades was highly intolerant of Islam and Eastern Orthodox Christianity alike. The actual fact Muslims had control of these lands was bitterly resented by the Christians of Western Europe in general, and the Papacy in particular. There was a prevailing sense that this situation was unacceptable and only a temporary sign of weakness within Christianity was a continuous source of enthusiasm for crusading (Roberts, 1996, p. 158). Whilst the Muslims still controlled part or all of the Holy Land then enthusiasm for starting and then continuing the crusades was always likely to remain strong. The strong religious beliefs and dare it be said, prejudices were deeply held within Western Europe between the 11th and 13th centuries, with the result that the crusades remained popular as did the urge to carry on crusading. The first crusade would provide enough momentum to inspire a further three crusades in the period as well as the establishment of crusader kingdoms in the Holy Land. The crusades would heighten the conflict between Western Christianity; it also soured its relationship with the Byzantine Empire and the Eastern Orthodox churches, culminating in the disastrous fourth crusade and the sack of Constantinople (Angold, 1997, p.10).
The Papacy started the enthusiasm for crusading experienced in Western Europe between the 11th and 13th centuries. The first crusade was directly inspired by Pope Urban II who asked for those Western Christians that were capable of going to the Middle East to assist the Byzantine Empire against the expansion of Islamic power in that region should do so (Norwich, 1997, p.256). Urban II’s appeal for people to join the first crusade gained recruits from right across Western Europe. The crusading urge meant that people from states that were rivals or even enemies joined together to fight the Muslims that controlled the Holy Land. The first crusade was truly a multinational fighting force, as were the next three crusades (Connell, 2001, p.8). Urban II’s message that all future crusaders were doing God’s bidding was an astute means of developing and maintaining an enthusiasm for crusading between the 11th and 13th centuries. It was a message that both the Papacy and secular authorities were more than happy to convey throughout this period (Norwich, 1997 p. 256).
The Papacy contended that the crusaders would not only be assured of heavenly treasures during their own after life, the crusaders would be rewarded with earthly treasures as well in their lives before death. For some of those individuals that took part in the crusades the opportunity to gain treasures and their own lands as a result of participation in the crusading campaigns was a greater cause for strong enthusiasm than any other form of motivation. Greed was therefore a strong and virtually continuous factor in the development and the continuing of enthusiasm for crusading between the 11th and 13th centuries. That greed made those that joined the crusades just as dangerous to the Eastern Orthodox Christians of the Middle East as they were to the Muslims who lived in the region (Norwich, 1997 p.257). Indeed, when the crusaders did manage to take land away from the Muslims within the Middle East, the victorious crusaders would set up their own separate kingdoms. The crusader kingdoms were demonstrations of the greed and the pretensions of the crusaders themselves, the territories that they took control of should have been restored to the Byzantine Empire. If the crusaders had genuinely wished to contain Islamic power within the Middle East region, and aimed to keep the Holy Land under Christian control they would restored Byzantine power in these areas. Arguably a Byzantine Empire that had its Middle East territories restored as a result of the crusades would have been in a better position to keep the Holy Land in Christian hands. It is highly doubtful though if returning all regained territories to the control of the Byzantine Empire would have generated so much enthusiasm for crusading between the 11th and 13th centuries (Roberts, 1996 p. 158).
The military and territorial successes of the first crusade was a strong factor in the development and the subsequent maintenance of widespread popular enthusiasm for crusading campaigns between the 11th century through to the 13th century. The forces of the first crusade were able to take possession of Jerusalem away from Muslim control, alongside the Lebanon, and much of Syria. The brutality of the Western European crusader armies during the first crusade made a lasting impression upon the Islamic populations within the Middle East. The onset of the crusades only increased the desire of the Muslim powers within the Middle East region to regain and maintain control of the Holy Land as well as all the other territories lost to the crusaders (Lenman, 2004 p. 214). The crusader kingdoms that were established after the apparent success of the first crusade kept the concept of crusading to the fore front of Western European thought, mainly as a means of recruiting knights and soldiers that were needed to defend the crusader kingdoms. Knights and soldiers were needed to garrison the forts and to resist the Muslim forces that were relentlessly advancing into the crusader’s territory Norwich, 1997 p. 257). The crusader kingdoms did not have enough financial resources and, enough soldiers to maintain their resistance to increasingly powerful and well led Muslim forces for prolonged periods of time. The basic Muslim military strategy was to pick off the crusader kingdoms one by one. The crusader kingdoms were not as well supported from Western Europe as strongly as they would have liked. That lack of substantial levels of support from the crusaders Western European supporters made it easier for the Muslim forces within the Middle East to conquer the territories which they had lost as a result of the first crusade (Roberts, 1996 p. 158).
Ironically enough, it was the failure of the crusader kingdoms to survive the successful counter attacks of the Muslim forces within the Middle East region that prompted renewed enthusiasm for crusading. That enthusiasm resulted in the second, third, and fourth crusades throughout the remainder of the period between the 11th and the 13th century. Over all the recruitment drives to persuade people to participate in the crusades were successful, whilst the crusades themselves were military failures as they ultimately failed to restore Christian control over the Holy Land. However the launch of these crusades was a success in terms of ensuring that those crusading remained able to be highly enthusiastic about playing a role in the subsequent conflicts between the crusaders and the Muslim forces. The majority of people in Western Europe had generally held a great deal of confidence in the second crusade being every bit as successful as the first crusade had been. The popular enthusiasm for crusading during the 11th century and through to the 13th century was assisted by the high levels of confidence that people had in the ability of the crusaders to achieve their objectives (Angold, 1997 p.194). Potentially, at least the third crusade was a campaign that would finally end Muslim control of the Holy Land once and for all. The crusaders were certainly confident of success. The third crusade could also be used to argue that there were significant levels of enthusiasm for crusading as it offered prospects for crusaders to become famous as well as rich. Going on a crusade could allow the individual crusaders the opportunity to enhance their reputations for being brave, being a good military commander, or being a devout defender of the Christian faith. For these reasons, kings, prince’s, and knights were frequent participants in the crusades. In the case of the third crusade, the most notable individual taking part was the English king Richard I, who earned the nickname of Richard the Lion heart (Angold, 1997 p. 178).
By the time of the fourth crusade in 1204, popular enthusiasm for the practice of crusading still seemed to be very strong. However, the fourth crusade also clearly demonstrated that crusading was more concerned with greed and an increasing dislike of the Eastern Orthodox churches as it was about gaining control of the Holy Land. Instead of improving the position of the Byzantine Empire, the fourth crusade actually reduced it as a consequence of the sacking of Constantinople. The sack of Constantinople was ample demonstration that greed and prejudice were factors that created, developed, and maintained enthusiasm for crusading, as much as religious beliefs and a unmistakable belief of superiority over other religious faiths. There would be further less sustained and much smaller crusades that proved just as incapable as the four main crusades of removing Muslim control of the Holy Land. Ironically enough Jerusalem was briefly regained for Christianity in 1229 by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. His personal crusade had been launched to persuade the Papacy to remove the excommunication order against him. The Christian control of Jerusalem was only a short-term success; it was lost to Muslim forces in 1244 (Roberts, 1996 p. 159).
Therefore, to conclude there were various factors that explain how and why there was a great deal of enthusiasm for crusading from the 11th century, right through to the end of the 13th century in the countries of Western Europe. The primary inspiration for starting the crusading process had been religious, and religious fervour was a constant reason for maintaining enthusiasm for crusading campaigns throughout the period. The divisions within Christianity has previously allowed the Muslims to gain control not only of the Holy Land, but the bulk of the Middle East, with the Byzantine Empire showing increasing signs of weakness. It was the Papacy under the guidance of Urban II that developed the concept of the crusades as a means of regaining control of the Holy Land and slowing down the decline of the Byzantine Empire. Enthusiasm was bases on the combination of religious fervour, the search for personal fame and fortune, factors that easily maintained popular support for crusading throughout this period. Greed and religious prejudices were also strong influences in the brutal behaviour of the crusaders who excused their actions by arguing that restoring the Holy Land to Christian control merited earthly as well as heavenly rewards.
Angold M, (1997) The Byzantine Empire, 1025 – 1204, Longman, London
Connell E S, (2001) Deus Lo Volt, a chronicle of the crusades, Pimlico, London
Lenman, (2004) Chamber’s Dictionary of World History, Chambers, Edinburgh
Norwich J, (1997) A Short History of Byzantium, Viking, London
Roberts J.M, (1996) A History of Europe, Penguin, London and New York
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