Arabic: hamla saliniyya
Christian military campaigns against the Muslim rulers in the Middle East from late 11th century until the 13th century.
Inner fortress of the Krak des Chevalier. Now Syria.
View over the hills of Ajlun, Jordan.
Christian soldier, in a symbolical garment, white for purity, and a blood-red cross shown to ones enemies.
The Crusades are often presented as a European attack on innocent Muslims in the Middle East. This is entirely wrong. First, there were more Christians living in the Middle East in these times than Muslims. Second, there were Christian states in the Middle East that predated Islam altogether. Third, what caused the Crusadea to happen in the first place was the takeover of Seljuq Turks who interpreted Islam in a most extreme fashion closing Jerusalem to Christian pilgrims, an act which would be parallel to Mecca being closed for Muslim pilgrims (see Hajj).
Therefore Crusades were initially not an attack on Muslims, but a defense against certain Muslims. Unfortunately, the story about the Crusades have ended up in a en ethical ditch seing all European expansion into non-European lands as intrusion that non-Europeans never would have begun in their place. This view has also been promoted by Muslim and even non-Muslim hisorians.
A correct understanding of the time of the Crusades was that there were far more interests at stake than just religion. Alliances according to ethnicity and culture would at times be formed in place of the original alliances. Muslims could ally with Christians, Europeans with nationals of the Middle East. Quickly, the initial motivations of religion would be replaced with motivations of power and wealth.
could be compared to foreign powers having closeclose to the central regions domination over, at first, Jerusalem and its holy places, and later the campaigns to win back Christian strongholds in the Middle East that were captured during the first crusade. The term "crusade" came to be used for Christian military actions also against non-Christian areas of Europe, but in this encyclopaedia only the first use of the term will be dealt with.
There were numerous crusades, of which 5 were started by the Pope (most important is the first crusade), while others were started by European kings. The crusading period lasted for about 200 year, starting in 1095 and effectively ending in 1291 with the fall of the Latin Kingdom Jerusalem.
Background for the 1st Crusade
The official reason for the crusades is also the most important reason: the aim of liberating Jerusalem from the Seljuq Turkish control, so that the holy places in the city could be protected and pilgrimage to them allowed.
The Seljuq rulers had taken control over Jerusalem in 1070, and they soon appeared as bad protector of Christian interests in the area. Holy places were des neglected, some churches were turned into non-religious buildings or mosques, and many pilgrims were not allowed into town, while others were stolen from, scorned at and sometimes even killed.
But had all this happened a few centuries earlier, there might never have been any crusades, or at least, the crusade would never have been able to complete its mission. Europe was towards the end of the 11th century stronger than it had been for many hundred years: There was more wealth, a surplus of people and better military technology.
The ancient, primitive type of army had been replaced by knights and their laymen. This was an army that allowed a fewer number of people to conduct effective war, but it was also more expansive to equip each knight and warrior for warfare.
There population growth through the 11th century sent many young people, both rich and poor, out into a world where there were no preset life paths set for them. This provided the crusader movement with sufficient troops for conducting a war, many were those who wanted to participate in the crusades in search of adventure, wealth and new career.
Official reason on Christian side
There are several Middle-Eastern explanations, as well as European explanations for the crusades.
In the Middle East, the expansion of the Seljuq Turks had resulted in unstable political situations. Seljuq armies had conquered Syria and Palestine, and they even threatened the Christian Byzantine empire and its many Christian inhabitants.
Another central European factor was that pilgrimage had become more and more popular, where Jerusalem was the most prestigious destination, yet only for the most adventurous of Europeans. Through the 11th century tens of thousands of Europeans performed this pilgrimage. As the access to Jerusalem was stopped in the late 11th century, it was a heavy blow in the face of Christendom.
Over the decades leading up to the first crusade, the pope had become an increasingly important political factor for large parts of Europe. When the pope called for the crusade, it had an impact on sentiments and religious pride which no other European authority could have instigated.