Birth of the Crusades

The Birth of the Crusades

Contextual Background

  • Urban II, Pope from 1088-1099, was a leading figure in initiating the First Crusade which marked the inception of the Crusades as a historical period.
  • Prior to the Crusades, the Muslim Seljuk Turks had made advancements into Byzantine territory and restricted Christian access to the Holy Land.
  • The Byzantine emperor, Alexios I Komnenos, appealed to the Pope for military aid against the Turks, providing a direct catalyst for the First Crusade.

Urban II and the Call to Crusade

  • Urban II made a publicly influential speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095 urging Western Christendom to assist the Byzantines and to ensure Christian control of the Holy Land.
  • He aspired to unite the divided factions of Christendom, both for the protection of the Eastern Church and the liberation of the Holy Land from Muslim control.
  • He offered the Crusaders remission of sins or indulgences, promising heavenly rewards to those who died during the Crusade.

The People’s Crusade

  • Before the start of the First Crusade, a popular movement known as the People’s Crusade occurred led by Peter the Hermit.
  • The participants were mostly lesser nobles and peasants rather than professional soldiers.
  • The People’s Crusade faced severe losses against the Turks, demonstrating the early organisational and military challenges of the Crusade movement.

The Launch of The First Crusade

  • The main body of the First Crusade was formally launched in August 1096 from Western Europe.
  • It was a more organised affair than the People’s Crusade, comprising nobility and trained soldiers.
  • Despite numerous challenges, including internal discord and harsh conditions, the Crusaders successfully captured Jerusalem in 1099.

Lasting Impact of the First Crusade

  • Following the success of the First Crusade, several Crusader States were established in the Middle East, acting as Western Christian colonies in Muslim territory.
  • The First Crusade set a precedent for a series of religious wars, or Crusades, that continued intermittently over the next two centuries.
  • It triggered a lingering animosity between Christians and Muslims, intensifying socio-religious divisions that have had long-term geopolitical consequences.