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The Crusades were a series of military campaigns that took place between the 11th and 13th centuries against the Muslims, or Saracens, to reconquer the Holy Land (other conflicts, such as the campaigns against the Moors in Spain, the Baltic pagans, or even the Albigensian heretics, were occasionally styled "crusades", but in the popular mind, it is the Palestinian campaigns that dominate). The immediate cause was the petition from the Byzantine Roman Emperor Alexios I to Pope Urban II for help against the Muslim conquests in the Byzantine Empire[1] , but the movement from then on extended to a much bigger and more complex set of conflicts. Although religious fervour was certainly a big factor, the motives, progress, and effects of the various Crusades are deeper and more various than most people think, so perhaps you are better off reading The Other Wiki (among other places) if you want to know more. Nevertheless, here is an overview of the more important crusades―the first through the fifth, which had the approval and blessing of the then reigning Popes, to get you started.

  • The First Crusade: In 1096, after Pope Urban II had called for military action at the Council of Clermont in central France, the mainly Norman and Lombard Crusader forces, led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, his nephew Tancred, Raymond of Toulose and other noblemen, after being warily received in Constantinople and pledging to restore lost territories to the Byzantines, sailed to Anatolia and began conquering the Seljuk-occupied land. All the while being faced by grave deprivation of food and water, they reached Jerusalem in 1099; the city refused to surrender and a lengthy siege began, with Jews and Muslims fighting side by side to repel the attackers, the native Christians having been expelled from the city before the siege. After the city was taken, the soldiers executed the then standard military practice of massacring the inhabitants of a city that refused to lay down arms (so that, we are told, their horses waded in blood up to the fetlocks), though some commanders managed to control their men and allowed the remaining citizens to surrender. Afterwards, the consolidation of the crusader states was completed, with the barons dividing the territory of Palestine (or as they called it, Outremer ― the "Land Beyond the Sea") among them. Godfrey of Bouillon became the first "Frankish" ruler of Jerusalem, though refusing the crown and title of a King and preferring to be known merely as "Defender of the Holy Sepulcher".
  • The Second Crusade: Initially the Muslim leaders did not do anything about the Crusaders, as they had internal conflicts to deal with, and a period of relative calm followed in the Holy Lands between the Muslim and Christian population. Eventually, however, Muslim forces under Zengi, the Turkish Atabeg ("Viscount", more or less) of Mosul (in what is now northern Iraq) finally organized and retook the city of Edessa in 1144; a second crusade was launched to defend the new kingdoms. They had great success in the Mediterranean but failed to win any major battles in Palestine. King Louis VII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III returned to their countries (although not before Louis led a completely futile and idiotic attack on Damascus--one of the few Arab allies of the Crusaders). This crusade was enlivened by the spectacle of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the wife of the King of France, conducting with her ladies-in-waiting a sort of pageant of "women-warriors" (as well as being accused of carrying on an affaire with her uncle(!), Raymond of Antioch).
  • The Third Crusade: Also known as the Crusade of the Three Kings. After the Second Crusade had ended, Turkish emir Nur ad-Din, Zengi's son, took control of Damascus, unified Syria, and subjected Egypt to his rule. When Nur ad-Din died in 1174, his general in Egypt, the Kurd Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known as Saladin, seized power and became his successor. Now commanding a unified Muslim front, Saladin defeated the King of Jerusalem's army in 1187 at the Battle of Hattin, conquered Acre, and headed towards Jerusalem itself; the city, not being able to stand against Saladin's army, surrendered after being put under siege. The fall of Jerusalem after it had been nearly a century in Christian hands caused widespread alarm across Europe, and a new Crusade was called to retake her. King Richard I "The Lion-Hearted" of England and King Philip II "Augustus" of France suspended their war with each other and joined the crusade. Frederick I "Barbarossa" of the Holy Roman Empire also answered the call, but his crusade was cut short when he drowned in the River Saleph in Turkey on his way to Outremer; a tiny fraction of his army straggled on under the command of Leopold, Archduke of Austria. Philip and Richard arrived in Acre in 1190 and 1191 respectively (Richard having paused along the way to be married and to conquer Cyprus) and recaptured the city. However, after a falling-out in the Crusader leadership (Richard had jilted Philip's sister, threw Leopold's banner off the walls of Acre, and was supposedly complicit in the assassination of the King of Jerusalem), Philip and Leopold left the Holy Land, while Richard carried on the campaign, defeating Saladin again at Arsuf and Jaffa. However, it became apparent to Richard that he would not be able to hold Jerusalem with his remaining forces; moreover, Philip, back in Europe, was already plotting against him with Richard's brother, John. Richard therefore reached an agreement with Saladin which allowed unarmed Christian pilgrims into the city, and afterwards pulled back his army and set forth to England. As ill-luck would have it, he was forced to make his way home through the domains of Leopold of Austria -- where he was recognized, seized, and held ransom in the castle of Dürrenstein by Leopold and his overlord, Barbarossa's son, the Emperor Henry VI.
  • The Fourth Crusade: In 1199, Pope Innocent III initiated another crusade to save the remaining Christian territories in the Holy Land through Egypt. After the failure of the Third Crusade, his call was largely ignored by the most powerful monarchs of the time, who were preoccupied in their own conflicts with each other. Nonetheless, those crusaders who heeded his call assembled in Venice, which had offered ships to transport them. However, the Venetians refused to transport the soldiers until the latter had paid in full, as the Venetians had devoted great expenses to preparing the expedition. The famous blind Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, perceived an opportunity to use the crusaders to crush the city of Zara, which had rebelled against Venice. The papal legate reluctantly authorized this, deeming it necessary to prevent the failure of the Crusade, but when Pope Innocent found out, he was alarmed and forbade the attack against fellow Christians under threat of excommunication; it nonetheless duly took place anyway. To make matters worse, one of the crusade leaders, Boniface of Montferrat, had left Venice earlier to meet with the son of the recently deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II "Angelus", Alexius IV "Angelus", who offered money, ships, and men to help the crusaders -- if Boniface and his men would in turn sail to Byzantium and topple the reigning emperor Alexius III Angelus. This unsavory bargain ended in the infamous sacking of Constantinople in 1204, marking the definitive point where the crusades lost their original intent and making the schism between western and eastern Christianity all but absolute. Following crusades would be largely engineered by monarchs more for political than religious motivations; by the end of it almost none of the fourth crusade reached the Holy Land and the Pope excommunicated everyone who participated in it.
  • The Fifth Crusade: Sometimes divided into two different crusades, this began in 1217, when crusader forces from Austria and Hungary joined with John I of Jerusalem. Their remarkable early success was reversed when their foolhardy attempt to capture Cairo in July of 1221 failed, resulting in an eight-year truce with the Egyptians. In 1228 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (called Stupor Mundi, "Wonder of the World") landed in Palestine; through a spectacularly unexpected coup of diplomacy, he reached a peace agreement with the ruler of Egypt and seized the rule of Christian Jerusalem for himself. A section of the kingdom, including Nazareth and Bethlehem as well as the Christian parts of the Holy City itself, was delivered to the crusaders for a period of ten years ― until some Muslims who were not content with their leaders' decision to allow the crusaders back into Jerusalem put the city under siege and expelled the remaining Christian forces in 1244. This is the last time the crusaders would maintain any actual control of Jerusalem itself.

Tropes associated with the Crusades:

  • Anticlimax: In the Third Crusade, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa marched an army of many thousands from Germany to southern Turkey -- and drowned in a river.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: This was what a sizable portion, maybe even the majority, of the First Crusade was (or devolved into at any rate), and especially the latest ones. Prior to the Crusade many of these fellows spent their time robbing and stealing and pillaging each other; much of the violence in the First Crusade was basically them doing in the Middle East what they normally did in Europe. Some historians have posited that a big reason the Pope announced the Crusade is that he feared they would sooner or later get round to sacking Rome, and so directed them against the Saracen aggressor to put their impulses to more constructive use. He promised them pardon for all past sins, but even he was pretty horrified by their behaviour (this included sacking Byzantine cities, i.e. the the people they were supposed to be rescuing from Muslim invaders), and it's debatable how much this pardon affected their actions.
    • Given that actual repentance is needed - i.e. for the absolution of sins by a priest to hold, one must sincerely repent - it doesn't seem likely that this pardon would do anything.
      • While theologically correct, your point comes from the point of view of a Roman Catholic who actually knows their religion. For these guys, it was a different story.
    • They actually did sack Rome--the Normans under Robert Guiscard around 1060. So, needless to say, Urban had very good reason to fear this.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In his chronicle on the First Crusade, Albert of Aix comments on the cannibalism at Ma'arra with the incomparable line: "The Christians did not shrink from eating not only killed Turks or Saracens, but even dogs!"
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: This was a justification some used to persuade others to go on a crusade, killing another Christian was a sin but, but killing Muslims that were seen as enemies of Christianity to "free" the holy land would actually be held as a noble cause that would get one forgiven for their sins.
  • Ax Crazy: Raynald of Chatillon
  • Blue and Orange Morality: As historian Thomas Madden has stated, it is increasingly difficult for a person of a 'modern' secular mindset to understand the origins, codes of warfare, and for the most part deeply sincere spiritual beliefs that motivated Crusader and Muslim alike. Most pop culture and TV history boils several hundred years of conflict down to, "religion is bad because it makes people kill each other." Obviously, there was a lot more to it than that.
  • Career Killers: The Hashashins (whence the word "assassin") were a semi-religious sect that held a few independent territories next to the area of conflict; the name is derived from the "hashish" with which their legendary leader, Rashid ad-Din Sinan, the "Old Man of the Mountain", supposedly brainwashed them and bound them to his will. Their preferred method of dealing with anyone who might threaten them (Muslim or Christian) was quietly disposing of him by means of well-planned assassinations or by leaving a dagger next to his bed to let the target know that he should really leave them alone.
    • Not quite the same as modern career killers, as an Hashashin's career would comprise exactly one kill (their favored modus operandi involved a highly public assassination in which the assassin would definitely be killed).
    • They also worked as deep cover agents, trained in languages and politics for infiltrating enemy organizations.
  • Church Militant: Examples include The Knights Hospitallers, The Knights Templar, and The Teutonic Knights.
  • Enemy Mine: Most of the Christians (French, Greeks, German, English...) and Muslims (Syrians, Turks, Egyptians...) did not like each other, but had to band together to fight the other side. Played best by the Hashassin, Muslim fanatics that even allied at some point with the Crusaders to fight off Saladin.
  • First Installment Wins: Averted; the Third Crusade tends to be the most famous, thanks to Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin.
  • Five-Man Band: For the first crusade...
    • The Hero: Raymond of St. Gilles, the all around leader of the First Crusade, he would step aside and become the Lancer to Godfrey after the latter won the Siege of Jerusalem
    • The Lancer: Bohemond of Antioch, leader of the Normans and constant rival to Raymond
    • The Big Guy: Robert of Flanders, was given the position of the vanguard of the Crusaders
    • The Smart Guy: Gaston le Croise of Bearn, the more philosophical and diplomatic minded member of the Crusaders, although a veteran of the wars in Spain and a capable military leader in his own right
    • The Chick: Adhemar of Le Puy, a priest sent by the Pope to accompany the Crusaders as Spiritual Leader who tried to keep the Crusade leaders united... until his untimely death
    • Sixth Ranger: Godfrey of Bouillon, would become the Hero after Jerusalem was captured
    • Token Evil Teammate: Tancred of Galilee, another Norman knight. He was kept in check by Bohemond until he became his own ruler...
    • Tagalong Kid: Robert Curthose of Normandy, disgraced at home in England, despite being the son of the famed William the Conqueror his contribution to the crusade was rather minor and consisted of only himself and a small guard
    • Crutch Character: Hugh of Vermandois, one of the early crusaders, an ineffective soldier and leader but with a sizable army. He left the Crusade and returned home after a few battles before the Crusaders reached Jerusalem
    • Early-Bird Cameo: Baldwin of Edessa, Godfrey's younger brother, who would have qualified for The Smart Guy if he had stayed with the Crusaders. Instead he campaigned with the Crusaders only for a bit before marching his army to the east and becoming Count of Edessa. He would later return to Jerusalem and become it's first real king...
    • Eleventh-Hour Ranger: Guglielmo Embriaco, who appeared out of nowhere during the Siege of Jerusalem with siege engines.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: Alexios Komnenos' call for help from the West resulted in the Crusades.
  • Gone Horribly Right: That call for help? It's believed the Emperor only intended to ask for a contingent of Western mercenaries to bolster the Byzantine army.
  • Historical Domain Character: Godfrey de Bouillon occasionally appears, but the big star is Richard the Lion Heart, followed by his opponent Saladin.
  • Handicapped Badass: Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the "Leper King", as his nickname implies, suffered with leprosy throughout his life; nevertheless, he did not let this prevent him from fulfilling the role of a tough young warrior-king. He was only 13 when crowned, won a decisive victory over Saladin at sixteen at the Battle of Montisgard, and is often portrayed sympathetically in works related to him.
  • Idiot Ball: Passed between Christian and Muslim leaders like a game of Hot Potato.
  • Knight Templar: Both sides had people that were willing to do whatever it took to achieve victory, but really that's standard mediæval fare.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: After the capture of Ma'arra in Syria in the First Crusade, the crusader army was so beset by famine that they turned to eat the bodies of the dead Muslims.
  • Pirates: Raynald of Chatillon's Red Sea fleet, which threatened Mecca itself at some point.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Subverted and played straight in an interesting anecdote. Saladin captured a number of Crusader princes, one of whom, Raynald of Châtillon, had even more of a reputation for Rape, Pillage and Burn then most warlords(on either side) had (not only had Raynald harried the Muslims, he had once tortured the Christian Patriarch of Jerusalem). Saladin passed around water, which was a symbol and each drank as a sign that the captor had pledged his protection. When it got to the hapless Raynald, Saladin said "I did not give him permission to drink" and then swiped his head off.
  • Seasonal Rot: As the Crusades progressed, most of the religious fervor died out. Most "Crusaders" by the late stages of the conflict were actually simple mercenaries and adventurers that were more interested in glory and loot than they were about defending what was left of the Christian kingdoms in the Levant or recapturing the holy places.
    • Culminated during an event in which a band of hastily recruited Italian crusaders went on a rampage of sacking and pillaging in the city Acre, the capital of the Christian kingdom by then, against both Christian and Muslims citizens with only the Templars putting a stop it, nonetheless that incident was enough to give the Mamluk sultan the justification he wanted to conquer the city.
  • The Good King: Saladin was famous among all rulers for his religious tolerance and humane treatment of prisoners and occupied peoples. Richard The Lionheart is also usually portrayed this way.
    • Godfrey of Bouillon would be an example but he refused to ever take the title of King of Jerusalem insisting that only no man could be crowned king in the city where Christ was crowned. He's essentially made into an idealized figure by most chroniclers of the crusades and made a hero in a number of epic poems.
  • The Siege: Quite a few. The most notable are probably the one that gave Jerusalem to the Crusaders in the First Crusade, and the one that gave the same city to Saladin later.
    • Another important siege was the Fall of Acre which marked the end of the crusades in the Levant. In contrast to the "peaceful" surrender of Jerusalem, Acre choose to fight to the last man against a large Mamluk army, which slaughtered everyone who did not mange to escape trough the city's harbour.
  • Vestigial Empire: Byzantium Basileia ton Romaion, the Empire of the Romans
  • Worthy Opponent: Even though he was the Muslim leader, Saladin was highly respected by King Richard and many of the crusaders fighting against him (and vice versa).

Works dealing with, or set in the era of the Crusades:

Film

  • Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott, features Orlando Bloom as a French blacksmith who enlists in a crusader army to the defend the now conquered city of Jerusalem from the Saracen leader Saladin. It's not exactly historically accurate, but that's pretty much a given, and it's (relatively) fair to those involved. At least, it only demonizes the people who everybody agrees were jerkasses in real life (*Cough* Raynald of Châtillon *Cough*).
    • The main problem with this movie is that it made the Knights Templar the main villains of the piece, while in reality most of the people who were Knights Templar in that movie, weren't in real life.
  • Nearly all versions of Robin Hood have King Richard I out fighting the Crusades, leaving his no-good brother Prince John in charge. In some versions (Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves, for example), Robin himself is a Crusader.
  • King Richard and the Crusaders, from 1954 pits a knight of the Third Crusade not against the Muslims, but against the corrupt Christian "Castellains" (a stand-in for the Templars of the novel), while Saladin is played as a supporting hero by Rex Harrison.
  • Derek Jacobi's crime-solving Benedictine monk Cadfael is a veteran of the First Crusade.

Literature

  • Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Set Free) Poetic version of the First Crusade; the original version included fantasy elements, which Tasso later suppressed, to no good literary effect.
  • Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (and its various film versions -- and the opera by Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan) and The Talisman (and its film version, unimaginatively re-titled King Richard and the Crusaders); the former features characters who have returned from the Third Crusade, the latter is set actually in the crusade itself. King Richard the Lion Heart is prominent in both. The ubiquitous Templars are villains in both.
  • Throughout the Requiem series of books by Robyn Young, which follows the fall of the Templars, we see the fall of Acre and the attempts of the Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and Pope Clement V to get another crusade going. They never do.
  • Piers Anthony's For Love of Evil portrays some of the horrors of the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars of southern France.
  • Jan Guillou's Crusades Trilogy focuses on the life of Arn Magnusson, a Swede who is forced to join the Knights Templar as penance. During his service in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade, he saves the life of and later befriends Saladin, who saves Arn's life in turn and gives him the means to return to his homeland and establish himself as a force to be reckoned with.

Music

Theatre

  • Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing is set in Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, with Saladin as one of the main characters.

Video Games

  • Age of Empires II has you control the forces of Saladin and Frederick I.
  • Assassin's Creed is set during the Third Crusade. You play as a member of the third side in the conflict, the Hashshins. Again, it isn't much of a historic representation of the period, what with those pesky Templars orchestrating the entire thing in yet another of their Ancient Conspiracy schemes.
  • One of the campaigns in the Kingdoms expansion for Medieval II: Total War takes place in the Holy Land after the First Crusade. You can play as the Kingdom of Jerusalem, The Principality of Antioch, The Turks, The Egyptians, or the Byzantine Empire. Focused, of course, around Palestine and Egypt.
    • Oh, and in the main game of Medieval II, if you gain enough favor with The Pope, you can ask a Crusade to be waged on one of your enemies. On the other hand, if you manage to conquer the Papal States, the Pope will launch a Crusade on the Vatican. Look forward to wave after wave of Christian armies marching on you.
      • Only if you're a Catholic or Islamic faction, but if you're playing an Orthodox one, you can conquer Rome without worrying about a Crusade.
  • Crusader Kings. Exactly What It Says on the Tin, especially with Deus Vult expansion.
  • Dantes Inferno has the crusades and behaviour of crusaders as a major plot point, as Dante was a crusader in his back story.
  • Stronghold Crusader, with both historical campaigns and a skirmish mode featuring opponents such as Saladin and Richard the Lionhearted.

Notes

  1. Indirect causes included the arrival of the Turks, which threw off the political equilibrium developed between the Byzantines and the Arabs and had led to the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the persecution of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, and the depredations of the Norman lords of southern Italy on the Empire's European holdings, which both Pope and Emperor thought to be quite threatening to Christendom--if the Byzantines were attacked on both sides, they could no longer be the eastern bulwark of Christian Europe against the Muslims, who what with the Turks were now again in an expansionist mode.
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