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The Purpose of the Crusades from 1096 AD to 1270 AD

Categories: The Crusades

The Crusades are considered as an integral part of World History.  They were crucial events for Islam and Christendom alike.  What are the Crusades all about? Why did they occur? What was its purpose?  This research paper aims to discuss the definition, origin and most importantly, the purpose of the Crusades.

Definition of Crusade

            The Crusades are military excursions with a religious objective, as these are sanctioned by the Pope and the Church (Sloan, 2000; “Crusades–Battles,” 2008).  Originally, the word “Crusade” meant all missions accomplished on the promise of saving the Christian territories from Muslim occupation (Bréhier, 1908).

  However, during the medieval times, the word had acquired a blanket definition, as it came to include all wars against enemies of Christendom (Bréhier, 1908).  All the Crusades occurred between the eleventh and the thirteenth centuries A.D. (“Crusades–Battles,” 2008).

            According to Sloan (2000), the term “crusade” was derived from the Portuguese word cruzado, which means “mark with a cross.” Other sources, on the other hand, state that the word meant “cloth cross” (Bréhier, 1908; “Crusades-Battles,” 2008).

  As the definition implies, the symbol for the Crusades was the Christian cross (“Crusades–Battles,” 2008), and it was secured on the garment worn by the Crusaders (Bréhier, 1908; Sloan, 2000).

Origin of Crusades

            The Crusades were the result of a rebirth of religious fervor in tenth century Europe (Sloan, 2000).  Nonetheless, this was not the only reason, as the people who were involved with the Crusades joined because of personal interests as well (Sloan, 2000).  The Crusades were also called “holy wars,” as they provided a venue for the papacy to wage a legitimate war against the foes of Christianity (Sloan, 2000).

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            The Crusades also gave the religious an opportunity to obtain salvation by means of pilgrimage (Sloan, 2000).  Four centuries prior, similar pilgrimages have occurred because of the ongoing feud between the Muslims and the Christians (Sloan, 2000).  The destinations of the said pilgrimages include the areas where both religions meet, examples of which are Sicily, Italy, Asia Minor and Spain (Sloan, 2000).  Jerusalem is another pilgrim destination (Sloan, 2000).

            In a way, the Crusades were extremely helpful to the papacy, and it is not only because of the Pope’s objective of taking back lands from the hands of Muslims.  The Crusades also served to translate the belligerent tendencies of the Christians into a productive endeavor (Sloan, 2000).  The Crusades enjoyed popularity and intense support from the Christians simply because they were a manifestation of a divine license to fight other men in the name of salvation (Sloan, 2000).  Meanwhile, the efforts of the Crusaders helped the Church spread the influence of Christianity all over the world (Sloan, 2000).

            The Crusades began in the eleventh century, and stemmed from the existing issues of morality and politics of Western Christendom (Bréhier, 1908).  The year 1095 marked the 30th anniversary of William the Conqueror’s success in the unification of England (“The Church and the Crusaders,” 2007). However, the French had delegated the territories to certain relatives, dividing it in the process (“The Church and the Crusaders,” 2007).  It was these territories that caused feud between brothers, which later resulted in warfare (“The Church and the Crusaders,” 2007).  That is why during that period, Europe consisted of many states which were ruled by monarchs (Bréhier, 1908).  These monarchs were too preoccupied with territorial conflicts while the emperor, who governed over Christendom, was engrossed with investiture problems (Bréhier, 1908).

 Only the pope had a considerable capacity to unify the states; therefore, only the papacy could initiate such an ambitious endeavor like the Crusades (Bréhier, 1908).  The authorities did realize that Europe was very much susceptible to threats from the Byzantine Empire and the Muslims (Bréhier, 1908).  However, the pope could not easily convince people to participate in a bold journey like the Crusades for the reason of the mere pursuit of Jerusalem (Bréhier, 1908).  Fortunately for the pope, the pressing issues with Syria were enough to motivate Christians to embark on the Crusades, and Pope Urban II did not have much difficulty looking for participants (Bréhier, 1908).

            The latter part of the fifth century saw the continuous exposure to the East.  Cities such as Gaul and Italy were visited by Syrians who brought with them Eastern arts, culture and religion (Bréhier, 1908).  In addition, Western Christians have travelled to places such as Syria, Palestine and Egypt, mostly because they wanted to go to Jerusalem.  There were so many pilgrimages to the East, and even attacks by barbarians did not lessen the numbers.  As a response to the demands of the numerous pilgrimages, St. Gregory the Great built a hospice for the pilgrims in Jerusalem in 600 AD (Bréhier, 1908).

            The early part of the eighth century saw the difficulties the Anglo-Saxons had to face just to reach the Holy Land (Bréhier, 1908).  An example of such hardship which was the case of St. Willibald, Bishop of Eichstädt, whose pilgrimage lasted seven long years (Bréhier, 1908).  Following their triumph in the West, the Carolingians sought to improve the state of the Latin citizens situated in the Eastern territory (Bréhier, 1908).  This decision resulted in the agreement between Pepin the Short and Caliph of Bagdad (Bréhier, 1908).

Through the representatives from Haroun al-Rashid, the “keys to the Holy Sepulchre, the banner from Jerusalem and some precious relics” were given to the King of Franks (Bréhier, 1908, para.6) on November 30, 800.  This gesture was symbolic, as it came to signify the “Frankish protectorate over the Christians of Jerusalem” (Bréhier, 1908, para. 6).  Seventy years after, Bernard the Monk went on a journey to Jerusalem, and found that the arrangement was still upheld.  There was prosperity and growth for the establishments, a testament to the regular sending of alms to Jerusalem from the West (Bréhier, 1908).

            However, things began to change by the tenth century.  Europe was facing a sociopolitical crisis, and the pilgrimages were suddenly disrupted by Muslims (Bréhier, 1908).  The Muslims, under the leadership of Caliph Omar, have occupied Jerusalem in 637 AD (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).  Since then, Jerusalem had been under Muslim control.  Despite this, religious tolerance between the two faiths existed (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).  The Muslims gave the pilgrims permission to go about with their religious endeavors, granted that they were to pay for them to be allowed access (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).  On the other hand, they prohibited the construction of new churches and the exhibition of crosses outside church premises (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).

The civil relation between Islam and Christianity was sustained for 400 years (“The Crusaders,” n.d.), until the harassment occurred (Sloan, 2000).  It was found that Muslims were harassing those that visited the Holy Land, which made the trips to Jerusalem almost unbearable.  The situation got worse, as the Fatimite Caliph of Egypt named Hakem demanded that all Christian institutions destroyed in 1009, including the Holy Sepulchre, (Bréhier, 1908).  The aftermath of this event resulted in widespread Christian oppression (Bréhier, 1908).  The year 1027 saw the overthrow of the Frankish protectorate, which was later replaced by the Byzantine emperors (Bréhier, 1908).

            As a people, the Muslims were not conditioned to be always at war; it is their religion that is responsible for their belligerent inclinations (Madden, 2002).  This is because Islam had always been rooted in war (Madden, 2002).  Even during Mohammed’s era, Islam had to resort to warfare to spread its beliefs (Madden, 2002).  Islamic thought had long upheld a dichotomy of the world through the two abodes, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War (Madden, 2002).  Both abodes were for Muslims only, leaving no room for any other religion.

However, tolerance is still possible, but only within the parameters established by Islam (Madden, 2002).  This tolerance, on the other hand, was not an original aspect of Islam.  According to Islamic beliefs, the properties and territories of other religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, should be eradicated and seized (Madden, 2002).  This belief probably originated during the seventh century, the time when Mohammed was fighting against Mecca (Madden, 2002).  Back then, Christianity was extremely influential and had numerous territories to its name, making it susceptible to Muslim attacks (Madden, 2002).

            After Mohammed died, the Muslims devoted their lives to the battle against Christianity (Madden, 2002).  They did indeed succeed in this endeavor; one by one, Christian territories fell in the hands of the Muslims, Jerusalem included.

            Despite the Muslim intimidation, pilgrims continued to proceed to Jerusalem in the eleventh century.  If earlier pilgrimages consisted of members of the wealthier class, this time even middle class citizens participated in the pilgrimages (Bréhier, 1908).  The number of pilgrims increased; Richard, Abbot of Saint-Vannes, brought 700 pilgrims with him in 1026, while Günther, Bishop of Bamberg, led 12,000 Germans to the Holy Land (Bréhier, 1908).  It was Günther’s group that had to defend themselves from Bedouins, proving that the faithful were too devoted to the Holy Sepulchre to retreat (Bréhier, 1908).  This is a testament to the dedication of the pilgrims, that even though they knew the danger inherent in the trip, they still proceeded.  They would willingly risk their lives for this religious endeavor.

            However, it was the Seljukian Turks who became the biggest threat to the pilgrims, the Byzantine Empire and Christendom as a whole (Bréhier, 1908).  One by one, territories were sacked and captured by the Turks: Jerusalem was the first to be captured, quickly followed by Asia Minor, Syria and Antioch (Bréhier, 1908).  Soon, all the territories were under Turkish control. The crimes committed by the Turks against the Christians were plenty: shrines were desecrated, pilgrims were either beat up, kidnapped or killed, while relics and other properties were stolen.  This situation prompted the Constantinople emperors to ask the popes for help, which resulted in communication between Michael VII and Gregory VII (Bréhier, 1908).

The Purpose of Crusades

            Because of the Seljukian Turks’ attack towards Byzantine Empire and Christendom, the idea of the Crusades emerged.  The initial idea consisted of the pope sending out troops to the East with three objectives in mind: “to re-establish Christian unity, repulse the Turks, and rescue the Holy Sepulchre” (Bréhier, 1908, para.8).  Unfortunately, this plan was not put into action; there were several factors that served as hindrances.  To begin with, the Investitures had the pope preoccupied (Bréhier, 1908).  Also, emperors Nicephorus Botaniates and Alexius Comnenus both disapproved of a Roman religious union.  Lastly, the war that had suddenly erupted between the Normans of the Sicilies and the Byzantine Empire was another factor (Bréhier, 1908).

            The Birth of the Crusade

            However, the Crusades still came into fruition, this time under the authority of Pope Urban II (Bréhier, 1908).  In fact, many historians consider the concept of the Crusades as Pope Urban II’s brainchild (Bréhier, 1908).  In the year 1095, Pope Urban II had a conference in Clermont, France (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).  After eight days, the pope delivered a speech to the crowd, in which he declared his desire to save Jerusalem from the hands of the Muslims (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).  Pope Urban II also said that all those who would participate would have immunity from the sins that will be committed in the Crusades (“The Crusaders,” n.d.).  The crowd responded well to the pope’s call, and answered him with the statement: “It is the will of God” (“The Crusaders,” n.d., para. 2).

            The Unofficial Crusade under Peter the Hermit

            Nonetheless, it was Peter the Hermit who started the Crusades.  From Picardy, he had traveled to Jerusalem and saw the Holy Sepulchre for himself (Bréhier, 1908).  It was this visit that encouraged Peter the Hermit to approach the pope about his intentions about the Crusade.  In turn, Pope Urban II gave Peter the Hermit his blessing (Bréhier, 1908).  Hence, it was Peter the Hermit who led the first crusade, despite its unofficial status (“The Crusades Begin,” n.d.).

            The crusade of Peter the Hermit began in 1095, in which he gave sermons to peasants to encourage them to participate in the crusades (“The Crusades Begin,” 2007).  As a result, he had gathered a small group of people who would journey to Jerusalem (“The Crusades Begin,” 2007).  It was Peter the Hermit’s fervor for preaching that worked to his advantage.  It was this quality that converted peasants into crusaders, people who embraced his teachings so much that he was considered as a saint (“The Crusades Begin,” 2007).  Regardless of his contribution to the Crusades, the scholars have downplayed his part, making him appear less important than how he was earlier portrayed by the likes of Albert of Aix and William of Tyre (Bréhier, 1908).

            Unfortunately, the crusade of Peter the Hermit was unsuccessful. The crusaders exhibited disorderly conduct while traveling; they stole food and supplies from the people’s homes (“The Crusades Begin,” 2007).  In addition, they killed Jews while they were still in the European territory (“The Crusades Begin,” 2007).

            The first official Crusade had one simple objective : the retrieval of Jerusalem from Muslim control (“The First Crusade,” 2008).  In a military perspective, this was the most victorious among all the other Crusades (United Methodist Women, n.d.).  The first Crusade invaded the Holy Land, an attack that lasted for five weeks (Metropolitan Museum of Art [MET], 2007).  In 1099, Christianity had gained Jerusalem back (MET, 2007). The Second Crusade occurred between 1147 and 1149, and was led by Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (MET, 2007).

  This was not as successful as the first one, because the Muslim forces had regained their strength (MET, 2007).  By October 1187, under the leadership of   Salah al-Din, the Muslim troops recaptured the Holy Land (MET, 2007).  The Third Crusade was successful, insofar as it recaptured Cyprus and Acre city (MET, 2007).  The most destructive Crusade, not to mention the most disappointing for the Church was the Fourth Crusade (MET, 2007).  The Crusaders deviated from the original plan, and attacked Constantinople instead (MET, 2007).  There were three more Crusades after.

In conclusion, the Crusades were rooted in the defense against Muslim aggression.  The main purpose of the Crusades was to reclaim control over the Holy Land, and unite Christendom once again.  The Crusades are indeed a significant part of history, as it plays a key role in the development and growth of Islam and Christianity.  Regardless of one’s religion, these events must be considered so that the mistakes committed in the past must not be repeated.  In the end, the difference in religion must be celebrated and respected.

References (2008). Crusades-battles.  Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

Bréhier, L. (1908). The catholic encyclopedia (D. Potter, trans.) New York: Robert Appleton Company. (n.d.). The crusaders capture Jerusalem, 1099.   Retrieved February 8, 2008, from (2008). The first crusade.  Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

Madden, T.F. (2002). The real history of the crusades. Crisis Magazine, 20 (4), n.p. (2007).  The church and the crusaders.  Retrieved February 8, 2008, from (2007). The crusades begin. Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2007).  The crusades (1095-1291).  Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

Sloan, J. (2000). The crusades in the Levant (1097-1291).  Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

United Methodist Women. (n.d.) The christian crusaders. Retrieved February 8, 2008, from

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