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An Examination of the Causes and Success of The First CrusadeReligion has served mankind for thousands of years in our search for meaning and direction. Religion serves as a way of defining our lives and providing a sense of meaning or direction, having done so since the beginning of time. While religion may appear to be a peaceful endeavor, it is an endless source of violence and bloodshed. The duality of religion is accurately portrayed in the Christian crusades. The crusades of the late antiquity exemplified this duality of religion and the horror religion can bring.
Thousands upon thousands fought and died, not for king or country, but under God. The kingdoms of Christendom united under the common goal of retaking the holy land and driving the Muslims from Jerusalem. The crusades were by no means a small affair; it was the first time since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire that Europe became organized against a common threat. This holy war served not only as a way to guarantee relative peace throughout Europe but also provided opportunity to acquire wealth and land.
The crusades provided an outlet for aggression and greed without fear of excommunication of religious backlash. Thus the crusades were not a simple mission of aid to the Byzantine Empire; rather it was an opportunity to satisfy the needs of Christendom at the expense of Muslims, a people to which little was known in the western world. According to Palmer Throop, there lie three reasons for a crusade: the first is the honor and fame received by any leader who presents a great army against the enemies of the cross.
Secondly, it provides merits and indulgences, which in turn help to attain salvation amongst its participants. And thirdly, the cleansing of the holy land from the filth of Muslims it would result in a purification of true faith. Thus, the aim of this paper is two fold; first, to determine the factors leading to the beginning of the first crusade, as well as determining to what degree the crusade can be deemed successful.
The term crusade refers to the conquests by European powers into the east in an attempt to cleanse the Christian holy land from Muslims in the name of God. Near the end of the 10th century, Spain had been invaded by Muslim forces which had established themselves in the north. The monks of Cluny, interested in safe passage in pilgrimage to the shrine of saint James, encouraged princes and knights of France and Lorraine to confront the Muslim presence. These conflicts throughout Spain introduced some of the ideals found in the crusades including indulgences as well as land rights. The crusades were formally announced in 1095AD with Pope Urban II at the council of Clermont. The council urged Christians to aid Christians in the east against Muslim invaders. Through Clermont, many problems throughout Europe are presented as well as the crusades as their solution. Europe in the 11th century was still under the influence of the feudal system, known for its unstable alliances and presence of violence. To help manage this situation, the church attempted to impose limits to the practice of war through numerous meetings between 1020 and 1030 .
The purpose of these meetings was to make the practice of war and killing of fellow Christians punishable. This punishment usually meant excommunication, which was the damnation of ones soul and denial from heaven by God’s representative on earth, the pope. The following extract from Robert the monk, a historian of the first crusades, illustrates the concerns of European violence at the council of Clermont:Let none of your possessions detain you, no solicitude for your family affairs, since this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; nor does it abound in wealth; and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber.
This quote outlines a concern not only with the violence afflicting Christian nations but the increase in population as well as the lack of land. Europe was described almost as a confinement “surrounded by mountain peaks” to which the solution to their problem cannot be found. Since the only land available was in possession of other Christian nations, it was impossible to maintain peace. Thus the solution, since land and wealth would ultimately lead to European conflict; a war against an alien enemy seemed a logical conclusion. Through the excuse of foreign aid, Christendom could extend both its wealth and land without civil war at the expense of Muslims .
This the Redeemer of the human race has made illustrious by His advent, has beautified by residence, has consecrated by suffering, has redeemed by death, has glorified by burial. This royal city, therefore, situated at the center of the world, is now held captive by His enemies, and is in subjection to those who do not know God…She seeks therefore and desires to be liberated, and does not cease to implore you to come to her aid… God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of heaven.
This excerpt from Clermont shows the attempt by Urban to enact a sense of religious obligation amongst his council. Jerusalem, the home of Christianity, had been captured by the enemies of all Christendom. Urban makes it seem as if it would be considered selfish not to aid their eastern allies and that they owed military action to God. Not only was aggression requested, it was rewarded. Any Christian who joined the quest to retake the holy land would be absolved from their sins, something usually attained through monastic life or a life of clergy. Whether a murderer or a nobleman, to kill in the name of God brought purity. The Byzantine Empire however did not adapt the same principles.
While soldiers had to obey orders, Saint Basil still urged that any soldier who killed during battle should refrain from communion for three years as a sign of repentance . Throughout Clermont there lied apparent emphasis of European problems being shifted unto the problems of the east. Urban was undoubtedly an intelligent man, he not only identified the problems of Europe but he also outlined their solution. The Muslim faith became a scapegoat for the displacement of European problems as well as a source of salvation.
Jerusalem had always been largely contested as it is home to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To Muslims it is the place to which Muhammad ascended into heaven, in Christianity is the place of Jesus and to Jews it represents thousands of years of their tribe. It is a city home to numerous religious sites it was a place for pilgrimage long before the first crusade. This pilgrimage was difficult as Muslim kingdoms as well as pirates controlled most of the Mediterranean, thus making the route inaccessible. During the 10th century many of these pirates were eliminated which opened up access to the Mediterranean, the result was a large increase in Greek and Italian merchant fleets . Pilgrimage not only allowed Christians to experience the holy land but also brought back stories of great wealth and culture from the east. One cannot doubt that a desire for central Europeans to venture on the crusades in hopes of procuring these exotic luxuries without the help of Byzantine or Italian merchants would have existed.
The crusades were initially intended to be a war against the peoples of Islam in order to help Christians in the east and retake the holy lands. In the end the crusader armies took Jerusalem and occupied the region for ninety year, but at what cost? To determine what degree the first crusade can be labeled as a success we must first ask three questions: firstly, what was the initial purpose of the crusades? Did it accomplish said purpose, and thirdly, what where the negative implications?At the council of Clermont, Urban II implied a message of peace amongst Christians and the seizure of violence. However, numerous crusader groups, while making their way into the east, took to anti-Semitism. Considering the nature and religious zeal or the campaign, it is not surprising that anti Semitism occurred. In one confrontation a large crusader force, consisting mainly from England, Flanders and Loraine, took an anti-Semitic attitude and slaughtered Jews they encountered without mercy.
In the town of Cologne, their homes were destroyed as well as their synagogues, and their money was taken from them. When the Jews observed this cruelty, many attempted to escape to Neuss where they were discovered by crusaders and massacred. In May 1096 a band of crusaders led by Emico, a German noble, forced its way into the city of Mayence. The crusaders entered the palace where the Jews had taken refuge and slaughtered them mercilessly. Many of the Jews inside of the palace took their own lives rather than subject themselves to the cruelty of the crusaders. In the end countless Jews were slaughtered in the name of Christ. The followers of Peter the Hermit and Walkter sans Avoir pillaged the Hungarian countryside when they ran low on food during the summer months of 1096.
The town of Semelin was also the victim of a conflict with crusaders regarding crime and theft and resulted in the death of four thousand Hungarians and the capture of a large amount of provisions . Upon their arrival at Constantinople the same group burglarized numerous palaces and villas which lay on the outskirts of the city . The amount of death and crime committed by the crusaders in Europe went against the mandate of the mission itself. The crusade against the enemies of God took to anti-Semitism and resulted is a great loss of life and slaughter of Jewish peoples, the worst of which occurred in Hungary. However, this loss of life experiences in Europe pales in comparison to that which occurred in the battles of the east.
The crusader armies originally set to the east to conquer Jerusalem and cleanse the holy land. Along their path to Jerusalem the crusader armies, who were well armed and large in number, won numerous battles against the armies of Islam. The most notable of these cities were Nicea and Antioch. After three years of violence and great distances the crusaders finally reached the walls of the holy city on Tuesday June 7th 1099 . The siege itself was made increasingly difficult due to lack of water and the size of the fortifications. However, due to the zeal of the crusaders and the leadership of the nobility, the Franks broke through the wall on the ninth day of the siege .
The slaughter reached its peak when the crusaders reached the Temple of Solomon, in which the defenders had taken refuge. According to first hand accounts, the slaughter was so extreme “men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins” . Thus the crusaders completed their final goal, the holy city of Jerusalem was cleansed and retaken in the name of Christendom. The homes of the slaughtered became the homes of the crusaders whom wished to stay, for the next ninety years the church f the holy sepulcher would remain under Latin rule.
In conclusion, while the crusades resulted in loss of life and crime throughout Europe, the glory for both Christianity and Christendom made it a great success. The objectives of the first crusade were: the assistance to the Byzantine empire from invading Turks, the cleansing of the holy land from Muslims, the capture of the holy city of Jerusalem and gaining glory in the name of Christendom. Under these goals, the crusade can be named a great success. The Byzantine Empire was saved from the immediate invasion of Islamic forces as well as the recapture of Antioch and Nicea. The Muslim forces in the area suffered crippling defeats, all of which were in the name of Christ. The armies that took part in the crusades all gained glory in the name of their homeland as well as all their religion as a result. This undoubtedly united Christianity, the cooperation of different nobles and Kings would have brought a sense of unity not found in the Feudal system. The opportunity of the crusades removed a large number of war loving Europeans and dispersed them throughout the east.
The new lands acquired from the peoples of Islam provided a place for many of these men to call home as well as prevent war in Europe due to overpopulation. These lands allowed the great population of Europe to be dispersed throughout the east. The last element in determining the success of the crusades is the response to those who participated. Raymond d’Aguiliers said “This day, I say, will be famous in all future ages, for it turned our labors and sorrows into joy and exultation; this day, I say, marks the justification of all Christianity, the humiliation of paganism, and the renewal of our faith.” . Ultimately whether or not Europe experiences crime and death, ultimately the positive benefits of the crusade outweighed the negatives. The crusaders themselves made a statement of their faith against paganism and cleansed the holy land of evil.
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