The Crusades

The Causes and Course of the Crusades

What were the Crusades?

The Crusades were holy wars fought between Christians in Europe and Muslims in the Middle East between 1095 and 1291. Although the main goal of the Crusades was to take control of Jerusalem away from the Muslims, there were many reasons why European knights and others were willing to travel and fight a war in a foreign land.

Why were Europeans willing to fight the Crusades?

For centuries, Christian pilgrims traveled from Europe to Jerusalem. In the 11th century, however, the Seljuk Turks, who were Muslim, began to interfere with these pilgrimages. In 1071, the Seljuk Turks fought against the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert. The Byzantines, who were Christian, lost. The Byzantine emperor asked the Christians in Europe to help protect his empire from the Turks. In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a crusade against the Muslims to regain control of Jerusalem. To all crusaders, he gave this promise:

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the [Muslims], shall have immediate [forgiveness] of sins.
-Pope Urban II, 1095

Besides the promise of forgiveness of sins, there were other reasons Europeans were willing to fight. Read the following list of reasons and decide whether the reason is religious, political, or economic. Then, put a letter next to each reason:
R for religious, P for political, and E for economic.

Religious, Political or Economic?
The desire to take control of Jerusalem away from Muslims.  
The belief that fighting in a crusade would give you forgiveness of sins.  
The chance to travel and make money.  
The desire to defend the Byzantine empire from the Turks.  
The opportunity for younger sons of European nobles to get new land in the Middle East.  
The possibility of opening up new trade routes between Europe and the Middle East.  

Take another look at the reasons why Europeans were willing to fight. Which one would have convinced you most to go on a crusade? Why?


Course of the First Four Crusades

Crusades Years Summary
First 1095-1099 At the urging of Pope Urban II in 1095, the First Crusade succeeded in taking Jerusalem and was the most successful from the European point of view. When Jerusalem fell in 1099, crusaders massacred Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Then the leaders divided up the land into territories, each governed by a European feudal lord.
Second 1147-1149 The Second Crusade started when Europeans lost control of Edessa, territory that they had previously controlled, to the Muslims. Led by King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany, the Europeans failed to regain any land and the crusade was a failure from a European point of view.
Third 1189-1192 The Third Crusade was a response to Jerusalem’s fall in 1187 to Salah al-Din (Saladin). Three great armies from Europe were led by Richard the Lion-hearted of England, Philip II of France, and the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Europe’s greatest warrior. However, Frederick accidentally drowned, the other two kings quarreled, and the whole crusade failed from a European point of view.
Fourth 1201-1204 Instead of going to Jerusalem, the Fourth Crusade went to the Byzantine Empire’s capital, Constantinople, for various reasons. The European armies looted (robbed) the city and overthrew the Byzantine emperor. The main outcomes of the Fourth Crusade were to deepen the division between Greek and Latin Christianity and to hasten the Byzantine Empire’s decline.


There were nine Crusades fought by European Christians against Muslims in the Middle East. The following chart summarizes the first four.

Discuss with a partner: Based on what you have read, were the first four Crusades a success or failure for the Europeans? Why?


A European Describes How Crusaders became Accustomed to Living in the Middle East

Consider, I pray, and reflect how in our time God has transferred the West into the East . . . He who was a Roman or a [European] is now an inhabitant of Palestine [the land around Jerusalem]. . . . Some have taken wives not merely of their own people, but [also Muslim women who became Christian]. . . . Different languages, now made common, become known to both races, and faith unites those whose fathers were strangers. . . . Therefore why should one who has found the East so favorable return to the West?
-Fulcher of Chartres, Chronicles

A Muslim Describes European Medicine

They brought before me a knight on whose leg [a sore] had grown . . . To the knight I applied [medicine] until the [sore] opened and became well . . . Then a [European] physician came to them and said, "This man knows nothing about treating them. Which would you prefer, living with one leg or dying with two?" The [knight] replied, "Living with one leg." The physician said, "Bring me a strong knight and a sharp ax." A knight came with the ax. Then the physician laid the leg of the patient on a block of wood and [told] the knight to chop it off in one blow. Accordingly he struck it--while I was looking on--one blow, but the leg was not [cut off]. He dealt another blow, upon which the marrow of the leg flowed out and the patient died on the spot.
-The Autobiography of Usmah

A Muslim Describes Dining with a European

Among the [Europeans] are those who have associated long with the Muslims. . . . A knight presented an excellent table, with food extraordinarily clean and delicious. Seeing me [not eating], he said, "Eat, be of good cheer! I never eat [European] dishes, but I have Egyptian women cooks and never eat [anything but] their cooking. "
-The Autobiography of Usmah

A Muslim Describes Crusaders Attacking Jerusalem

In fact Jerusalem was taken from the north on the morning of Friday July 15, 1099. The population was put to the sword by the [crusaders]. In the [mosque near the summit of the city, the crusaders] slaughtered more than 70,000 people, among them a large number of Imams and Muslim scholars, devout men who had left their homelands to live lives of [holy] seclusion in the Holy Place.
-Ibn Al-Athir, The Perfect History

A European Describes How Crusaders Attacked German Jews

At the beginning of summer in the same year in which Peter, and Gottschalk, after collecting an army, had set out, there assembled a large [number] of Christians from diverse kingdoms and lands. . . . They rose in a spirit of cruelty against the Jewish people and slaughtered them without mercy; they destroyed the houses and synagogues of the Jews and divided among themselves a very large amount of money.
-Albert of Aix

A Resident of Constantinople Describes How Crusaders Attacked the City during the Fourth Crusade

And so the streets, squares, houses of two and three stories, sacred places, nunneries, houses for nuns and monks, sacred churches, even the Great Church of God and the imperial palace, were filled with [European crusaders], all of them maddened by war and murderous in spirit, all clad in armor and bearing spears, swords and lances, as they [robbed] the sacred places and trampled on the divine things [and] ran riot over the holy vessels. ... Moreover, they tore children from their mothers and mothers from their children, fearing neither God's anger nor man's vengeance.
-Nicholas Mesarites