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Crusades

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Crusades

    The Crusades were a series of expeditions that occurred primarily in the 1100s and 1200s, when European armies fought to gain control of Syria and Palestine. European Christians called this region the Holy Land because it contained the city of Jerusalem and other places associated with the life of Jesus Christ.

    Muslims had captured this territory from the Byzantine Empire in the 700s but had permitted Christians and Jews safe access to pilgrimage sites in the region. After the Seljuk Turks rose to power in the 1000s and began to conquer other Byzantine territory, Emperor Alexius Comnenus asked western European rulers to help him defend his realm. Feeling a responsibility to aid the Byzantines, who were fellow Christians, Pope Urban II convened the Council of Clermont in France in 1095 . Urban called Christians to go on an armed pilgrimage to recover the Holy Land, promising spiritual rewards to those who joined the fight.

    First and Second Crusades.

    Many European leaders answered the pope's call. Armies of trained soldiers, as well as large groups of peasants, left Europe for Palestine. This First Crusade ( 1095 – 1099 ) cost many European lives, but the crusaders also inflicted great casualties and massacred Muslim and Jewish civilians. The crusaders captured Antioch in 1098 and moved on to Jerusalem, which fell the following year. When the Muslim governor of Jerusalem surrendered, the crusader commander promised protection to its inhabitants. His troops disobeyed orders, however, and slaughtered the Muslims and Jews—men, women, and children—within the city.

    The First Crusade established crusader states in the Holy Land. Baldwin of Edessa, a French noble, became king of the new crusader state of Jerusalem in 1100 . Additional crusader states were established in Mesopotamia, Turkey, and Tripoli. European settlers in these states captured and enslaved some of the remaining Muslims, but they permitted most to keep their lands, subject to a tax, and to continue practicing their religion.

    At first, because of local quarrels among themselves, Muslim rulers in surrounding areas were relatively indifferent to the crusader states. The Europeans, however, soon began to encounter more forceful and organized resistance. After Muslim ruler Zangi of Mosul captured Edessa in 1144 , Pope Eugenius III called the Second Crusade to defend the crusader states. Armies from Germany and France reached Jerusalem in 1148 . There, they gathered a force of almost 50,000 men and attacked Damascus, held by the Turkish commander Unur. But Nur ad-Din, Zangi's son and successor, sent reinforcements to Unur and the crusaders retreated from Damascus in defeat.

    Failed Prisoner Exchange.

    For the next 25 years the crusader states enjoyed a period of relative peace. By the late 1150s, however, Muslim forces began taking over neighboring territory. At the same time, internal conflicts divided the rulers of the crusader states. In the 1180s, Reginald of Chatillon, a European noble from Jerusalem, broke a truce with Muslim leader Saladin, Nur ad-Din's nephew, and attacked a caravan. Saladin then declared a jihad against the crusader kingdoms. He achieved his first major victory in July 1187 , at the battle of Hittin, killing Reginald and about 200 other captives and selling most of the foot soldiers into slavery. Jerusalem fell on October 2, 1187, and by 1189 , Saladin controlled almost all of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

    Pope Gregory VIII , meanwhile, called for the Third Crusade, which reached the Holy Land in 1189 . After Christian armies recaptured the city of Acre in 1191 , one of the crusader generals, England's King Richard I “the Lionheart,” negotiated a prisoner exchange agreement with Saladin. When Richard disagreed with the way the exchange was to be implemented, he refused to hand over his remaining captives and ordered them all killed. Richard went on to fight for control of Jerusalem but failed. The Third Crusade ended with a peace treaty in 1192 . Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands, but pilgrims were allowed safe passage to holy sites.

    Capture and Pillage.

    In 1202 the Fourth Crusade was organized against Egypt, which had become the new center of Muslim power. Merchants from Venice, who had agreed to help pay for the expedition, diverted it to Constantinople instead. After helping the Venetians recapture the port city of Zara from the Byzantines, the crusaders conquered Constantinople and pillaged the city. The event outraged the Byzantines and deepened the rift between the eastern branch of Christianity and the Roman church in western Europe.

    Later Expeditions.

    Several other crusader campaigns occurred in the 1200s. Some were focused on Egypt, but they met with little success. One later crusade into the Holy Land became more of an attempt to gain control of the crusader states than to fight a holy war. At one point in the 1220s, Jerusalem was returned to Christian authority by a controversial peace treaty that lasted until 1244 , when Muslims reconquered the city. Christian armies continued to have little success in the region. In 1291 Muslim forces recaptured Acre, the last crusader stronghold, completing the defeat of the Europeans and ending crusader rule. Plans for other crusades to the Holy Land never materialized, largely because of dwindling support and lack of funds.

    Results of the Crusades.

    The Crusades proved largely unsuccessful for western Europe. Christian forces failed to accomplish their main mission of wresting the Holy Land from Muslim control. Although Christians saw the fight for the Holy Land as a sacred responsibility, the Crusades were marked by brutality and greed over land and the spoils of war. Muslims still consider the Crusades a symbol of Western aggression against Islam. See also Saladin ; Seljuk Dynasty.

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