Research Paper: Crusaders and the Church

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Crusaders and the Church

What has been the legacy of the Crusades? Were the Crusades a negative historical event or was there a positive side to these events? Given that the Crusades were politically motivated, and that there were intellectual and technological benefits to Europe, did the Crusades actually benefit the Christian movement? These issues and others will be critiqued in this paper.

What were the motivating factors of the Crusades?

In his book Norwich University professor of history John McCannon explains that medieval popes had the power to demand troops and financial resources in order to launch "holy wars" that were (and are) known as Crusades. These Crusades were fought in order to "convert nonbelievers to Catholicism, to crush Christian movements" that popes believed were "heretical," and to "resist attacks" by Muslims and other foreigners that did not believe in Christianity.

McCannon lists five factors that are considered important motivational reasons for the launch of the Crusades. McCannon: a) "genuine religious fervor" both with Christians and Muslims; b) an ongoing "geopolitical conflict between Europe and the Middle East"; c) the desire many Europeans had to become "…more involved in the international trade network stretching from the Mediterranean to China"; d) the passion for wealth and land that Europeans had, with an eye towards the Middle East; and e) "racial and religious prejudice" (McCannon, 2010, p. 115).

Looking carefully at the First Crusade -- Facts and Myths

McCannon describes the First Crusade (1096 -- 1099), which he says started when the Byzantine Empire requested military help from European Christians due to the fact that the Seljuk Turks had taken over Jerusalem. Hoping to make a dramatic impression on the European Christians, the Byzantines greatly exaggerated the rumors of "Turkish atrocities in the Holy Land" (McCannon, 115). So Pope Urban II called upon the knights of Catholic Europe to help retake the Holy Land from the marauding Turks, and in 1096, a huge army of Crusaders set out for the Holy Land, reaching Constantinople but battling Muslim forces on the way to Constantinople (McCannon, 115). The first Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem and engaged in a bloody fight that ended in the successful seizing of the city.

More than just retaking the holy city of Jerusalem, the First Crusade fighters "butchered almost every Muslim and Jew within its walls"; in the process the Crusaders also killed Christians in Jerusalem due to the fact that the Christians were mistaken for Muslims, McCannon writes on page 115. In time, two centuries later, the Muslims took control over Jerusalem again, once they became more focused on unity among Turks, Arabs and other Muslims, McCannon explains.

Meanwhile, professor Paul F. Crawford challenges some of the historical accounts of the First Crusade. It is often reported erroneously in historic accounts of the First Crusade that the soldiers "…appeared basically without warning, storming into the Holy Land with the avowed -- literally -- task of slaughtering unbelievers" (Crawford, 2011, p. 13). Writing in the peer-reviewed journal, the Intercollegiate Review, Crawford reports that it is not true that ("thuggish") soldiers from the First Crusade "…trundled off, unprovoked, to murder and pillage peace-loving, sophisticated Muslims, laying down patterns of outrageous oppression" that would occur again and again throughout subsequent history (13).

By Crawford's account, what McCannon writes is fairly accurate. But Crawford's narrative suggests that McCannon fell short in giving the real reasons for the First Crusade. In fact, by 632, Christian territories included Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, France, Spain, Italy and island nations Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia. But a hundred years later in 732 Muslims had seized from the Christians, Egypt, Syria, North Africa, Palestine, Spain and the majority of Asia Minor territory, along with France and Italy. Not only did the Muslims seize those territories violently, Jews and Christians were killed or expelled from the Arabian peninsula (Crawford, 14).

Crawford (14) presents "Myth #1: The Crusades Represented an Unprovoked Attack by Western Christians on the Muslim World": Nothing, Crawford insists, based on the narrative reported in the paragraph above, "…could be farther from the truth." Far from being "unprovoked," the Crusades actually represented the "first great western Christian counterattack against Muslim attacks which had taken place continually from the inception of Islam until the eleventh century" (Crawford, 15).

Also according to Crawford's narrative, McCannon is incorrect when he asserts that one of the Crusades' motivating factors was that they were "…hoping to gain wealth and land in the Middle East" (McCannon, 115). Financial considerations did play a role in the planning of the Crusades, Crawford writes (16), as early Crusaders sold many of their possessions to finance their expeditions, but "…very few people became rich by crusading, and their numbers were dwarfed by those who were bankrupted" by their participation in the Crusades.

Historical figures that were instrumental in the Crusades

Certainly Pope Urban II is a significant figure when reviewing the history of the Crusades. Urban, as mentioned earlier in this paper, organized the knights of France in an effort to liberate Jerusalem in 1095. The idea was to return the holy city to Christians, and Urban offered "an unprecedented spiritual reward" for those soldiers who signed on to the First Crusade: "the remission of all their sins" (Phillips, 2009, p. 1). Along with the remission of sins Pope Urban assured the Crusaders that they would "escape the torments of hell, their likely destination after lives of violence and greed" (Phillips, 1). The response to Urban's appeal for warriors was "…remarkable, and in total almost 60,000 people set out for the Holy Land," according to Jonathan Phillips, writing in the peer-reviewed journal History Today. So convincing was Urban in soliciting soldiers that "…people of any and every occupation took the cross," Phillips quotes from Fulcher of Chartres, who was in the First Crusade.

The nationalities and ethnicities of those in the First Crusade included: French, Gauls, Frisians, Allobroges [Savoyards], South Germans and Swiss, Normans, English, Bavarians, Scots, Italians, Danes, Greeks, Armenians, Apulians and Aquitainians (Phillips, 1997, p. 17). Phillips asserts that Urban did not want any kings involved and he did not want "…those who have abandoned the word and vowed themselves to spiritual warfare to either bear arms or go on this journey" (p. 18). In fact Pope Urban "forbid" the above-named individuals from participation.

Another historical figure linked to the Crusades was Frederick II, not as a warrior that used bloodthirsty strategies to take back Jerusalem, but as a different kind of Crusader, a leader fully capable of using diplomacy and negotiation. Frederick II was crowned the king of Sicily when he was just three years of age (in 1198) and he was king of Germany in 1212 and he became Holy Roman Emperor in 1220 (Takayama, 2010, p. 170). Having promised to go on several Crusades, but not having been on even one, Frederick II married Isabella of Brienne (the Queen of Jerusalem) in 1228 and in 1227 an envoy from the sultan of Egypt came to Frederick II's court, asking for military aid; in return for the military aid the sultan would give Frederick II Jerusalem (Takayama, 170). Actually, Takayama writes, sultan al-Kamil had sent envoys previously to Frederick II so the two leaders had established a diplomatic rapport prior to the offer to give Frederick II Jerusalem in exchange for military support. Interestingly, during the negotiations between Frederick II and the sultan's representatives, Frederick II sent "complex problems in philosophy, geometry, and mathematics" to al-Kamil to see if the sultan had "a man of learning at his court" (Takayama, 175). The sultan's court provided correct answers to all the problems, and in time a deal was struck with no bloodshed; it was called the Treaty of Jaffa, and it called for a truce for ten years, five months, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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